When you’re drowning.

“We are drowning.”

I said those words to one of my most trusted friends today. Words that I’ve been avoiding. Words that I haven’t let my heart feel. But the most accurate words to describe how I truly feel under the “I’m fine!” attitude.

Today I also realized there are 32 unread text messages on my phone. Mostly from people I love. Some checking in, some waiting for a question answered, some funny gifs that I’ve yet to open. My life also has 32 things on hold. Heavy things. Things I’m trying to hold up from the water so even as I’m drowning, I won’t let anyone or anything down.

It’s not that I have problem saying no, it’s one of my favorite words (I’ve obviously been hanging out with my two year old). We have almost zero extracurricular activities this summer. We’ve rarely seen friends. We haven’t made it to our long weekend in St.Louis. The things I’m holding up have almost nothing to do with me. But the people I hold dearest. The people who live in my home. They are carrying heavy, tired, broken hearts…and I am holding them.

Do you know this feeling? The tightness of your chest that you don’t notice until you sit down at the end of the day. The tears that are always close to the surface but rarely fall. The constant strain to grab a breath just in case your lungs have to hold air for a while before you can resurface.

Maybe you’re holding foster care and financial stress and aging parents. Or maybe it’s homeschooling and foster care and mental health. Maybe your combo is infertility and self-employment and moving. It’s possible your situation is a mix of all of those scenarios.

Whatever it is that has you drowning, I see you, I feel it, I know it’s hard. I know your arms are tired and your lungs are burning. I know your prayers are more angry than loving. I know you’ve have to apologize to the Creator for being bitter and ungrateful.

Guess what? He sees you too.

“For the Lord is our judge, the Lord is our lawgiver, the Lord is our King. It is He who will save us.” Isaiah 33:22

Whatever the injustice. Whatever the pain. Whatever it is that is starting to cover your head. Our Lord, our King, He will save us.

Today, by verbalizing my complete feeling of drowning, I turned it over to the King letting Him know I was ready for saving. I still don’t know what that looks like for me. But I do know that I was not created to live in a state of drowning…and neither were you.

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“I am Safe. I am Strong. Jesus Loves me.”

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“I am SAFE”

“I am STRONG”

“Jesus LOVES ME”

 

Trauma doesn’t begin when children are taken from their home and placed in foster care. Often times, children have endured a lifetime of trauma and traumatic situations before they are removed. Even a baby removed at birth can have a history of trauma. Children in the foster care system have been hurt by those they trust and they carry that hurt with them in their day-to-day life. The hurt shows itself through behavior such as: anger, self-harm, depression, rage, anxiety, and a whole host of other emotional manifestations.

 

Lately we have been working through a lifetime of toddler anxiety. All toddlers go through an anxious stage, where they are clingy, maybe afraid of the dark or monsters or bugs. But trauma behaviors are so much more. More than being afraid. More than needing to be held by mommy. I pray fervently that you never have to see your two year old have a full-blown panic attack, because it is one of the deepest hurts I have had to endure. It is helpless. And as irrational as two year olds are under normal situations, anxiety riddled toddlers have zero control over any irrational thoughts or behaviors.

 

Toddler anxiety in our home looks like extreme fear, sleepless nights, and a lot of tears (both from toddler and mommy). Having a routine, melatonin, deep hugs, and recently our little mantra have been helpful, not a cure, but helpful. And this morning we saw a mini-breakthrough. As the puppy started to get riled up, as she would normally start to cry and jump into my arms, she looked right at him and told him:

“I am SAFE”

“I am STRONG”

“Jesus LOVES ME”

My sweet girl is starting to speak words of truth over herself as I have spoken and prayed over her for months. She may not fully believe it, and it may be a lifetime of needing reminders, but these are the truths we are sowing in her little heart. I pray she always knows safety, uses her strength, and feels the love of Jesus.

 

Change the Conversation.

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I never say, “He committed suicide.” I always say, “He died of mental illness.” My dad was sick. The sickness was fatal. The sickness killed him. And the sickness is taboo and often time brings awkward feelings when I talk about it in normal every day conversations.

There are so many terrible fatal diseases in our world and mental illness is one of them. It is a sickness as serious as any other fatal illnesses that have touched your life. It is why I know, when I tell others that my dad was sick for a long time, and eventually succumbed to his illness, I know I am not lying. Mental illness is real, it is ugly, and it can be fatal if not properly treated. Your friend, your cousin, Kate Spade, Robin Williams, Anthony Bourdain, my dad. They didn’t just choose to stop being. Their brains were broken.

This week, I have seen mental illness shake my personal community, and the world as a whole. Mental illness induced suicide has rocked my personal world more than anyone should have to bare. I’ve been on the sidelines as friends and relatives spiraled. I’ve known it was coming and I have been shocked when I received the news. And until mental illness is treated with the same respect, perseverance, and dedication to knowledge as other illnesses, we are still going to be shocked when we lose another precious life.

 

The conversation has to change.

 

“Just pray more.”

“He must have not felt loved.”

“I wish you would just decide to be happy.”

“Don’t take those pills! When I feel sad I just hit up the gym.”

“I didn’t even know she was depressed!”

“I don’t understand why he chose to take his life.”

 

Have you ever said or heard these things when talking to others about depression, bipolar disorder, ptsd, or suicide? It is ok if you have. I was there too at one point in my life. But first hand experiences and education changed my tune. If you have ever been touched by mental illness (you most likely have, by the way), make a choice to be informed. Decide that you want better for this world, for your friends, your family, yourself! Be aware of friends who start to party unusually hard, family members who have pulled away, habitual canceled plans, interest that start to fizzle. Care with a fierce intensity. Use some of the many resources at our fingertips to start changing the conversation about mental illness in your circle. Because as your circle changes so will the world.

To my friends who are in deep dark places of hurting: I have been there. I have spent hours in a hot shower trying to get the sting of panic and depression to lessen. I’ve felt the weight of the world pressing on my chest. I have poured over scripture begging God to change my brain. I have spent days in bed willing the world to care. My dear friend gave me permission to use her words, words that be both deeply believe, and you can too…

“I want to remind everyone to persist. If you feel alone and disconnected from everyone in your life, maybe to the point you feel them losing interest in your struggle–persist. If you have been stuck in a rut for 5 years, even with professional help–persist. If you feel as if you’re just “done”–persist. Nothing lasts forever. Neither happiness nor sadness. Please persist. I’ve been there and I still end up there occasionally. But when it’s good, it’s really good. And life is surprising. Just keep persisting. Remain here and see where you end up. It’ll be worth it. You owe yourself as much time as possible. Persist.”

Jesus cares. And He sees you. He knows what it feels like to be hurt and betrayed. He loves you. He gave us brains to use, hearts to feel, and souls to love. He also allows doctors to use their knowledge to learn how to heal and treat this terrible sickness. Let us use our God-given brains, hearts, and souls to focus on changing the conversation surrounding mental illness.

 

Here are some fantastic resources to start and continue a healthy conversation about mental illness:

https://twloha.com/learn/

https://www.mentalhealth.gov/

https://www.mentalhelp.net/