Ambushed. . .

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Recently I visited the subject of grief with a description of being “ambushed” by the emotion. The terminology did not originate with me, but was adopted by Daniel’s dear widow, now my true daughter in spirit, as she has dealt with his death. A friend then commented on the post with the observation that, although she had never heard the term used as a descriptor of grief attacks, she thought it could apply to attacks of anxiety. And I began to think. . .

There are many emotional “ambushes” that occur in our lives. The attacks come from a concealed position and strike with surprise (see definition number 3 above), usually, but not always, from an enemy of our emotional equilibrium. Some examples:

  • Grief.  The most benign memory, the most ordinary event, can precipitate the sudden recollection of loss. A photograph, the sight and sound of an ambulance, the smell of a hospital corridor, the sight of the loved one’s handwriting or craft–all can be the stimulus that brings a wave of fresh grief to our awareness. And we feel truly “ambushed” by the surprise attack which often comes from the “concealed position” of a truly innocent occurrence.
  • Anxiety. My friend’s observation regarding anxiety led me to think that a fresh definition of panic attack might be an “ambush” of anxiety, accompanied by the physiological components of the stress response. Performance anxiety can “ambush” us when taking a test or speaking in public. It can be especially problematic when being evaluated in the performance of a physical skill. (I am remembering nursing skill labs!) A good friend says that stress is a reminder that we are still alive. But sometimes I become so stressed with worry about the outcome of a situation or even imagined or dreaded future events that anxiety almost overwhelms me. What about you?
  • Depression. I think one can be “ambushed” by full-fledged depression when vague emotions of sadness or discouragement or futility or fatigue suddenly morph into the overwhelming dark hopelessness of depression. We wonder where it came from, how it got there, and what to do. In the best case scenarios, we have a support network of family, friends, and, if needed, professionals who can rescue us from the enemy that has taken us by surprise.
  • Anger. It may be a sense of righteous indignation. Or it may come from a real or perceived personal attack, insult, or oversight. If anger truly ambushes me, it is the most frustrating of situations, because attempts to express it often result in tears, and I lose all ability to communicate in a logical and articulate way. So then I am angry with myself!

But what about more positive emotions that surprise us from some concealed place within our hearts? Like—

  • Faith. My walk of faith can wax and wane. The times when it grows weak can “ambush” me with any or all of the above negative emotions. Then, through the invisible cord of God’s love and mercy, I am somehow drawn back into closer communion with my Creator, Savior, and Lord. I begin to once again feel a stabilizing presence in my heart and the certainty that I am here for a purpose, for a higher calling. And this results in an ambush of–
  • Joy. Yes, I think we can be “ambushed” by joy. It, too, can be lying in wait for us. It can come at the most unexpected times, times when we are reminded that a higher power is in control and that we are loved. The birth of a child, precious moments spent with family or friends, corporate worship (especially in music), and the gratification of work well done are a few examples.

I wonder. What emotion is lying in wait “from a concealed position” waiting to strike you “in surprise”? Will you be ready to counter it with the stability that faith offers? Where are you in your walk? Can you identify other emotions waiting to “ambush” us?

I would love to read your thoughts.

Daniel. . .

It seems an odd time to be so grieved about losing Daniel. I made the mistake of viewing an old YouTube video posted by Doug Holtz after Daniel’s death by suicide. I can’t find it on YouTube anymore but have saved it on my Facebook page. I was overwhelmed with a fresh sense of loss. Anyone who knew Daniel knows he could be charming, funny, yet subject to serious mood swings. I have seen both his loving side and his angry side. He was very intense, either way.

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This week has brought losing him so vividly back to me. Death by suicide has been in the national news with the deaths of two very-public figures. Both were said to have had “mental health issues” prior to their deaths. Suicidal ideation slips into the minds of those who struggle with depression with such subtlety that it makes me cringe. We think we are watching for “signs”, but often miss those very hints that speak to our loved one’s despair. A couple of thoughts:

  • If you are struggling with depression and find yourself dealing with thoughts of harming yourself, please let your friends, family, healthcare professional know. Daniel refused to seriously seek help for his issues. We were left helpless to be with him through that last day, helpless to save him from himself. The stigma associated with depression, bipolar disorder, suicidal ideation, even psychosis, must go away. Our daughter was saved through the intervention of a good friend, a family practice physician, and a gifted psychiatrist. If only Daniel had been open to acknowledging that he had a problem and seeking help. . .
  • If you have lost someone to suicide, don’t be afraid to share your feelings with others. Families need to acknowledge the circumstances of their loved one’s death openly. Friends need to listen without judgment or platitudes. Church family can be a great resource for comfort if, once again, judgment and platitudes are left out of the discussion. Support groups, where you are in the midst of other survivors of suicide, are a valuable resource in which you can openly share your grief, anger, confusion and healing in a confidential setting.

We lost our Daniel. Yet he left behind my beautiful and smart and insightful and loving daughter-in-law, who is now, and forever will be, a part of our family and “my” daughter. He left behind a beautiful, smart, loving, best-mother-in-the-world to his two grandchildren, one granddaughter he met, one grandson just born. What a loss to him, what a gift to us!

I struggle with the hurt. I want, more than anything, for his death to not be in vain. This family, I hope, will be an example of open discussion, a resource for others, and loving support for each other. I long for the day when suicide is no longer a leading cause of death.

If you are having thoughts of self-harm, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline Call 1-800-273-(TALK)8255.

For folks in my “neck of the woods”:

DR. ROBERT E. ELLIOTT FOUNDATION www. elliottfoundation.com with S.O.S. (Survivors of Suicide) support group meeting first Tuesday of each month at 7 p.m. in Willow Room at South Campus Unity Health White County Medical Center located at 1200 South Main Street, Searcy, Arkansas.

 

If you’re happy, and you know it . . . .

If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands (clap, clap);

If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands (clap, clap);

If you’re happy and you know it, then your smile will surely show it;

If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands (clap, clap).

I have, as many children of my generation, sung many renditions of the above verse. Things about stomping one’s feet or shouting Amenall to demonstrate one’s inward joy. But what happens when that inward joy, any outward sign of happiness, the basic desire to live are subtracted from a life? I have experienced it, not personally (although sometimes I think I may get there!), but as an observer, a caregiver, a mother. And, just to make things really clear for you–IT’S NOT PRETTY.

Our journey through this struggle has encompassed eleven years of our lives. Of course, I know it really began prior to that, but I was in the state of blissful ignorance/denial that parents sometimes love to embrace. The doubts sometimes haunt me. If I had recognized it sooner, would things be different? Would my child’s body be unscarred, her mind clear, her moods stable? Would the fear of losing her be relegated only to things like motor vehicle accidents and terrible physical illnesses and terrorist attacks and vicious murderers? Would I no longer take a deep breath before going to wake her in the morning, my heart seized with the fear that this time she would not awaken to my touch?

I suffer with her, you know. A recent relapse resulted in the most vacant expression I could ever imagine would cross one’s visage. Her eyes were deep wells of emptiness, and I knew we were, once again, in trouble. I knew that because she couldn’t hide it, and, believe me, she is the ultimate master at putting on the good front. Carefully dressing, accessorizing, making up her face, and always smiling sweetly in the presence of others. She is a loving, sensitive, tormented soul dedicated to suffering in silence so no one will be worried. Little does she realize that I see through it all.

ECT is the course of treatment at present, with its frightening and debilitating memory loss. However, she not only now smiles sweetly and silently, but also sleeps and eats and graces us with an occasional laugh that lights her face with forgotten joy. And, I will gladly and gratefully take that in trade–to replace the fear that she will finally, in desperation, tired of the torment, convince herself that life is, indeed, not worth the struggle.

Dear Reader, I know we all have our ups and downs, heartbreaks, disappointments, and generally bad days. I pray none of you or your loved ones have the burden of true, life-threatening, intractable depression. I wrote this for me–a catharsis of sorts–but also for you. If you are one of those suffering, hang in there, get help, don’t give up. If you are one of the fortunate ones who are “happy and you know it”, don’t just clap your hands. Get down on your knees and thank God, for that is one of the greatest blessings you will ever know.

Out of the fog…………….

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Sometimes my mind is like this fog. Details are fuzzy. Focus is absent. Clarity of thought seems impossible. Thoughts weigh heavy and gray in the corridors of my mind. It may be disappointment or worry, grief or exhaustion,  frustration or anger, depression or distraction that renders my mind temporarily incapable of orderly, logical action. On mornings like that I just long to retreat from the responsibilities which await me. To my mind and body it seems that the best course of action would be to crawl back between the covers, burrowing down into that warm little world that I just left behind, feeling the comfort of my husband’s presence beside me, and just refusing to show up for the day’s activities. But, on most days………

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the fog gradually begins to disperse as the sun’s rays break through. I need the light to illuminate my mind and warm my heart, but how? It cannot come from my determination, for that is weak. Nor from my physical strength, for I feel I have none. The will to persevere comes only from God’s grace and the ultimate light that shines forth from His love.  I try to encourage myself to open to that light, to lean on His loving arms as they lift me up, to yield to His gentle prodding as He encourages me to carry on the work of this life. And, at last………..

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the day breaks forth in my soul, bright and clear. The blue sky is reflected in the pond as the gentle wind turns the windmill, which offers a lesson within itself. The head of the windmill turns, you know, seeking the strongest breeze. And, when it finds that stream of air, it stops in place as the wind turns the blades to create power for the pump which oxygenates the water. What if we kept our hearts and minds in constant search of the strongest stream of God’s spirit, constantly adjusting our vision and attitude and attention to seek His will for the day? And, what if, as we located the power surge of God’s spirit, we paused and let its refreshing, rejuvenating, energizing, inspiring force flow through us to bring light and love to the world around us? What would this world be like then?

Lord, grant me the grace and strength to lean on you and to seek your power this day.

Familiar Faith

One of the best gifts ever......
One of the best gifts ever……

This well-worn paperback was gifted to me in December of 2001, and I began reading it in January of 2002. I have read portions of it every year since. Its cover has been reinforced with tape. Many pages are highlighted and underlined. My copy bears a copyright of 1997.

Just think, it has been my constant companion for over twelve years. I’m not sure what keeps me drawn to it. Its title speaks volumes. It seems I am always in need of reinforced strength, for the daily needs are always there, although they wax and wane in intensity. The book is a compilation of Bible verses (pure King James Version), poetry, and quotations from (I presume) spiritual leaders. Some of the language is rather archaic, and I have seen modernized versions, and have bought a few of the updated volumes as gifts for family and friends, but I tend to prefer the original verbiage.

Yesterday’s selection included this paragraph:

“It is possible–when the future is dim, when our depressed faculties can form no bright ideas of the perfection and happiness of a better world–it is possible still to cling to the conviction of God’s merciful purpose toward His creatures, of His parental goodness even in suffering. We can still feel that the path of duty, though trodden with a heavy heart, leads to peace. We can still be true to conscience. We can still do our work, resist temptation, be useful, though with diminished energy, and give up our wills, even when we cannot rejoice under God’s mysterious providence. In this patient, though uncheered, obedience, we become prepared for light. The soul gathers force.”
William Ellery Channing (emphasis mine)

It’s not a very cheerful passage, is it? But, more than once over the past 12 years, it has impressed me. Life is not always easy or enjoyable. A friend of mine says that feeling stress gives us reassurance that we are still alive. And now, as I struggle with this transition into truly becoming an accomplished writer (translated PUBLISHED!), which does not at the moment seem to be going my way, Mr. Channing’s admonition was just what I needed. It was the necessary reminder that there is still work to be done. That this is no time to quit. That God does have a plan. And my soul gathers force to persevere.

Of course, writing is not the only path that requires perseverance. The challenges of everyday life require a stubborn stick-to-itiveness. One must keep on keeping on when faced with family illness or estrangement. One must still do the work that needs to be done, whether going to the job and giving a fair day’s work for a day’s pay or cleaning house or cooking meals or balancing the budget. Perhaps the most immediate challenge is finding the will to get out of bed and face the day. One step, one task, one day at a time is what it takes.

So, here I am, sharing this moment, my thoughts with you. And I shall be bold and “publish”. And, just perhaps, it will speak to someone out there who also feels the stress and needs daily strength and hears this challenge to hang in there and keep the faith.

Blessings to all………

An elephant in the house

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There’s an elephant in this house. It (I will not dignify it with gender!) is huge, gray, and impervious to all my efforts to show it the door. It took up residence ten years ago, but we, through the grace of God and expert medical help, were able to relegate it to the attic, where it slept and, unfortunately, appears to have gathered strength, for its next foray into our world. And, crash back in, irrespective of the hearts and minds and emotions it was devastating, it did, and took up residence, which I do hope and pray is temporary.

That elephant, you see, is depression, and a stronger, more persistent interloper is hard to find. It took up residence with a dearly beloved child. But never think that depression is a respecter of persons. Once it enters the house, its presence is felt by all. Each individual experiences it uniquely, but no one is unscathed. There is no swifter road to a personal battle with depression than seeing one’s child sucked into the dark void of its depths. There is no more certain road to a personal experience with depression than grieving over a child’s helplessness and hopelessness and, again unfortunately, observing that child’s sometimes tragic efforts to escape from its pit of darkness.

The other salient point to recognize about depression is its cloak of invisibility. Everyone knows the elephant is in the house, sitting or standing in the corner, rather lonely in its isolation. Because, though everyone is thinking about it, feeling it, hating it, no one is talking about it!! There seems to be an inherent human tendency to believe that, if it’s ignored long enough, it will just go away. WRONG!! The only way to weaken, and ultimately defeat, the elephant, is to acknowledge its presence. That which we fear can defeat us. Envision the big gray elephant as simply a bully who needs only to be confronted to be defeated.

The psalmist gives life to depression’s form and substance in Psalm 77:1-2:

“I cried out to God for help;
I cried out to God to hear me.
When I was in distress, I sought the
Lord;
at night I stretched out untiring
hands
and my soul refused to be
comforted.”

Yet the writer of Lamentations (?the prophet Jeremiah) speaks a message of hope in chapter 22, verses 22 through 24:

“Because of the Lord’s great love we
are not consumed,
for his compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
I say to myself, ‘The Lord is my
portion;
therefore I will wait for him.'”

It is my experience that the only way to deal with the elephant is through faith. It is only through the grace of God that we can push that big gray elephant back into the attic (or basement or cellar or wherever we can relegate it to). But when faith falters, and the elephant is treading roughshod on the hopes and dreams of a loved one (or our own hopes and dreams), what are we to do? My top ten strategies:

1. Pray.
2. Enlist other prayer warriors.
3. Demonstrate unconditional love to the elephant’s prey (so, if you are the prey, that means loving oneself unconditionally!).
4. Maintain as much normalcy as possible.
5. Talk about the elephant. Recognize its presence, the reality of its influence, and don’t be afraid to call it by its real name.
6. Pray some more.
7. Share your hurts, worries, and fears with trusted family and friends.
8. Read the Bible–it is rich in messages of comfort.
9. Do whatever you do to escape from the elephant’s attack–read, write, cook, sew, train for a marathon, go dancing–you fill in the blank. (Guess which one I chose!)
10. Pray without ceasing.

Please don’t leave with the impression that I am writing as an expert. This is not an instructional piece, but more of a catharsis for me. I am tired of the elephant cohabiting with my family. I am ready for it to leave. And I am going to do all of the above (and anything else I can think of) to relegate it to the far corner of our world with the stated intent that it should, “Go away, you big bully, and don’t you ever, ever come back!” I hope and pray it works this time.