So here’s to a beginning. I have been wanting to write for a while but haven’t been able to pull together the words as to all that I have been feeling and learning. It has been on my heart to share some of my experiences that have truly shaped me to be the person I am. It has pressed on me to share about some of my darkest times and how I was carried through. This blog is dedicated to the Lord, the very one who carries my world.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

My Darkest: Part 2

I began to despise my own body. I knew were it not for my lupus, I wouldn’t even be in this mess. I had plenty of friends go on to live their lives the way they saw fit, dating various guys, without any regard for faith. Why hadn’t they encountered such trouble? Why was it harder for me? I knew there was no going back.
Some time passed, and I went for another checkup. I decided to change doctors. I just couldn’t face the other doctor again. As I had feared, things progressed. My cells had begun to change. My doctor, however, could not have been more kind. Over our time together, I told her of various dating experiences. She seemed to want the best for me. Like some sort of personal cheerleader who was in on my biggest secret. Still cheering me on. Taking me for who I was, not for what I had done or what diagnosis I carried. My girlfriends had not been so kind. I knew there was snickering and chatter behind closed doors. I knew judgments had been made. I also knew there wasn’t much I could do about it. But not from my doctor. She even went on to tell me of a lawyer friend she wanted to set me up with. Extremely flattered, I knew I had found a true friend in her.
Knowing how guarded doctors typically are with their patients, I treasured her openness with me. It was as if God had sent her to me. Showing me grace. Showing me full acceptance. When I least deserved it. When I couldn’t even manage to accept myself.  
My time with her, however, was short lived as pathology reports continued to reveal progression and cellular changes. I couldn’t help but wonder if I was going on to develop cervical cancer as we had feared.
It didn’t look good.
She referred me on. It was time to see a gynecology/oncology surgeon.
A week later I stepped into a different waiting room. This was unlike any other waiting room I had entered. As I made my way to the front desk, I noted six women, mostly older, scattered throughout the room. Most of whom had no hair. Two covered their heads with decorative wear. One had a walker. Another made her way to the nurse, giving her a big hug. Two of the other women talked to one another, knowingly. There were bonds here. There was history here. And I could feel it.
I wondered if I was going to be like these women. Was I going to endure what they had? Was I going to lose my hair? Needing a distraction, I walked across the room to grab a cup of coffee. I caught a smile from a middle aged woman sitting next to a man, likely her husband. I sat down in my chair, bewildered. How had I gotten here? How had one poor decision landed me in such a place? I knew I had turned from my faith. But this. I had not suspected this.
Doing things my way seemed to be ruining everything.
I took a sip of my coffee and exhaled. I knew that I was going to have to live with the consequences of my decision, however that played out. I also knew I was about to find out exactly what that was going to look like.   
It was time to meet the surgeon.
I was brought back to a very large exam room with too many instruments laid out on a long counter, running the length of the room. My heart began to race, noting these were big instruments that I had not previously encountered. Likely painful ones. I heard myself let out a tiny whimper, clinging to the sides of the exam table, hoping they weren’t for me.  
A moment later, the surgeon entered with an assistant and a big smile. I immediately liked her. It surprised me how much I liked her as we talked about family and medicine. She sat on her stool, short hair bobbing and legs crossed, reviewing my records. Concerned, she let me know that my lupus was going to be a problem. I wasn’t going to be able to rid this on my own. The fact that I was on prednisone further complicated things, making any kind of healing difficult. She told me we were going to be good friends, and that I was going to be seeing her a lot. I wasn’t particularly happy to hear this. She went on to say I did not have cancer, but that things were still concerning. My reports revealed a type of cellular change called “neoplasia”, and if not addressed would certainly go on to become cancer. I wondered what it all meant. She went on to say I was going to need surgery. Laser surgery. And it was going to be painful.  
I swallowed hard, knowing I had little option but to concede. I had dealt with pain before. Life with lupus had taught me well how to handle discomfort of all kinds. I hoped I could handle this. I hoped it wouldn’t all be too much. Surgery sounded scary to me. The idea of anesthesia put my stomach in a knot. Was I going to be okay?
As I walked out of her office, while in part relieved at receiving what I felt to be good care, I also couldn’t shake the feeling that I had been playing it all wrong. Doing things my way was not the fun I thought it would be. It was not the carefree, lighthearted existence I imagined.
How was I going to get out of this?
Two weeks later, I opened my eyes in the post anesthesia care unit, or PACU. My mom was standing over my bed, smiling warmly at me. It took me a minute to recognize where I was, as the effects of the anesthesia were still wearing off. It felt good to have her on my side. More, I had made it through surgery. I breathed a sigh of relief, hoping the pain wouldn’t be too severe over the next few weeks. I knew I still had a good amount of pain medication in my system. Moments later my relief was replaced with feelings of nausea. A nurse came and administered some intravenous ondansetron. I exhaled, hoping I wouldn’t have to stay too long. As a patient, I didn’t do well with hospitals.
I just wanted to go home.
An hour passed and my mom made her way downstairs to grab some lunch. I was waking up now, and my thoughts were clearer.
I didn’t know it then, but while she was gone, something unexpected was about to occur.
I moved my legs around in my bed, growing uncomfortable for having been in the same position for too long. I glanced towards the nurses’ station and noted a man in blue scrubs. He began walking in my direction. I felt myself get nervous, noting he was attractive.
Was he coming over to me?
No, I was being silly.
He wasn’t my doctor.
Seconds later, he made his way over to my bedside.
He didn’t say more than a few words.
He smiled and said hello. He went on to tell me I was going to be alright.
He told me this wasn’t the end for me.
He told me he was engaged.
And that his fiancé had herpes.
He smiled and said there were guys like him out there.
And just as quickly as he came, he was gone.
I was stunned.
Did that really just happen?
More, how did he know I needed to hear just that?
Who was he?
Tears rolled down my cheeks. And for the first time in a long time, I said a prayer. A prayer of thanksgiving. His words had been so healing to me. So simple. And yet so healing.
It was as if God had sent him to me, letting me know I was not alone. I hadn’t been alone the whole time. The whole time he had been there with me, accepting me. In all my mess.
Psalm 34:18 says, “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit”.
Hope had been infused.
He loved me at my darkest.
Even when I didn’t love me.
He was still chasing after me.

My Darkest: Part 1

I made my way to my doctor’s office one hot July day. It was always hard finding parking in the city. I circled the same block several times, desperate to find a spot. My appointment was beginning in five minutes. I clenched my teeth, wondering if I would make it. Frustrated, I punched the gas, only to quickly hit the brakes as someone pulled out in front of me. I threw my hands up in the air, growing more annoyed. I hated city driving. It frustrated me having to stop every few blocks. Though I didn’t mind being able to get away with a bit more. Speeding. Coming to a complete stop. These were not on the radar of most officers. They had more pressing things to worry about. And most of us on the road knew it.
I continued driving, exasperated as I was now six blocks away. I considered just going home only to finally spot a place to park. I winced, pulling in the lot, noting a sign that read “ten-dollar parking”. That was certainly more than I was prepared to pay. But I had run out of options. I reluctantly grabbed a ticket, rolled my eyes and made my way down the street, determined to make it in time. I never liked to be late.
The air was heavy that day, and the sun beat down on me as I approached the large brick building. It was hard to take a deep breath in the scorching heat. I saw three kids playing in a rundown park across the street. I wondered how they tolerated it. It was as if the temperature didn’t affect their little bodies, shouting and running to and fro. I wiped the beads of sweat off my forehead and upper lip as I made my way up the steps of the building. I then quickly put my hand under my hair to pat off the moisture from the back of my neck, wishing I hadn’t taken so much time that morning to do my now frizzing hair. As I entered the office I was immediately struck by waves of cool air, my reward for having made it after all. I quickly gave my name to a large woman behind a glass window and sat down in the waiting room filled with children’s toys and brochures on STDs and infertility. I glanced around, noting a pregnant girl sitting across from me quietly reading a magazine. A child, no older than two was playing with a toy car, seated on his mother’s lap three seats to my left. I wondered where all the single girls were. I had at times wondered if I was in fact the only one left. As I looked around, my stomach began to turn, knowing my office visit was not going to be like the others. I was not a mom.
Not even close.
I glanced at the children’s table to my right. I didn’t particularly like the sinking feeling I got, as if I somehow didn’t belong at my own doctor’s office.
Moments later my name was called by young girl with a bright smile and a long brown ponytail. I followed her past the exam rooms to my doctor’s office. She cheerfully told me I could have a seat on one of the brown cushioned chairs and that an exam was not needed today. I knew this was a follow up appointment. I knew I would be receiving results of my recent gynecological exam. But what was there to talk about?
Five minutes later my doctor entered with cracked smile, welcoming me. I had only met her one other time prior. Still, I could sense something was wrong. My heart began to race in seeing her take a deep breath. She sat down gracefully, tucking her curly hair behind her ears. She leaned in towards me, hands folded together on her desk. I braced myself, not knowing what was coming. She began to tell me I had contracted a virus. A virus called the human papilloma virus, or HPV. My eyes widened and my body froze. She went on to say “it was very common and that about eighty percent of the population had been exposed at one time or another”. My mind began to race as I further stiffened into my chair.
She was still speaking but I no longer heard her words. 
This was not happening.
Not to me.
No, she had to be wrong.
Panic stricken, it was all I could do not to shake. She went on to say that I would require regular checkups to ensure the virus did not progress. Most people were able to successfully clear the virus on their own. However, given my faulty immune system, I would not be one of them. Those that were not able to clear the virus were at risk for progression on to cervical cancer.  
I had sex once. And now I might have cancer.
How could this be happening? Humiliation and shame swept over me as I sunk deeper into my chair. I pictured myself running out of her office with great speed and never coming back. But my legs felt heavy against the chair. Didn’t she know that I had only been with one guy? One. That I had waited my whole life to find love?
What was I supposed to do now?
It felt like some kind of bad dream.
Didn’t she know this wasn’t me? No, I was the girl that had always played by the rules.
She went on to lecture me about safe sex practices, and I found myself getting annoyed.
Wasn’t it a bit late for that?
More, why wasn’t she telling me that I would be okay? That my life hadn’t just completely ended in that moment. That I wasn’t to be permanently deemed a leper in society as I now feared. But she didn’t say any of that. She just said her doctor words, and I was on my way.
I left her office, head spinning.
The full weight of her words didn’t truly hit me until I reached my car. As I opened the door, I realized I didn’t remember walking back to it. My mind was elsewhere, filled with racing thoughts of fear and guilt. Flushed in a panic, and now overheated, I wondered what my parents would think. I swallowed hard, as I felt I could sense their disapproval from twenty miles away. Would they now be ashamed of me?
For the first time in my life, I was ashamed of me.
Still, I knew I had to gather what little courage remained and tell my date about my recent discovery. I had to get it off my chest. I felt like I was going to implode. A small part of me was relieved in being truthful. I knew others may have kept quiet.
As I dreaded, he stopped calling.
He didn’t return any texts.
In an instant, he was gone.
And my worst nightmare had become my reality.
Devastated and alone again, I knew I now carried a secret. It was a secret I never wanted to carry. A secret I would try to hide, even from myself. But it was unrelenting. It hung over my head, tormenting me. Telling me I wasn’t good enough. It caused me to feel deformed in some unrepairable way. It whispered to me when I was alone, telling me I was unlovable.
And in all my heartache and shame,
I listened.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Not So Merry Go Round

Before I knew it, days turned into weeks. And weeks turned into months. It wasn’t long before that chilly eve where it all began had been long forgotten. But the high. The rush of it all. That was something I held onto. Something I continued to search for. Desperate to find.
The hope for love consumed me.  
It was hard at first, having felt so mature in so many ways and yet so naïve to this particular area. Almost jarring to my fragile heart. I quickly came to learn I possessed the emotional dating maturity of a 13-year-old, not above things like passing notes and leaving my phone number on napkins. But I was swimming in a pool of 26-year-olds. Who had been dating for years.
Still, I wasn’t going to let that intimidate me.
But it did change how I played the game. To start, I didn’t know there was a game to be played. I didn’t know the rules or about ‘playing hard to get’. No, I went foolishly in, heart wide open. Believing the best. Trusting what was said. More, I didn’t know to pay attention to red flags. I didn’t know red flags were often an indicator to run. Hard and fast. In the opposite direction. I didn’t know the importance of moving on.
In part, I blamed my good nature and naivety on my upbringing. I didn’t expect others to be cold. I didn’t expect to find such darkness. Such selfishness. I didn’t even consider the possibility of being used. Again. And again. Why hadn’t I been prepared for a world so cruel?
I hadn’t considered that perhaps the plan all along had been to spare me from a cruel world. From those who didn’t abide by the same moral code.
Proverbs 4:23 says, “Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life”.
But he liked me. And we were dating. So I figured that didn’t apply.
If there was ever a time when that applied, it was then.
One humid summer day, the kind of day where your skin sticks to the car seat, a date took me to a funeral. I was all dressed up in a new yellow top with my hair fixed just right, anxious and eager to possibly meet his parents. When we arrived, he hurried out of the car, telling me he would “be right back”. Stunned, I sat in the hot car, alone. I tried not to think too much. I tried not to feel too hurt. I didn’t want to ruin the rest of our day together. But I couldn’t help but wonder if he was ashamed of me. I felt my cheeks flush in panic, suddenly realizing we were not at all on the same page. A heavy sadness rested on my heart.
I was being used.
It seemed every couple of months someone new would come into my life, just on the tails of someone else having had left. Inevitably feeling hurt and rejected, I began to wonder if there was something wrong with me. All of my friends had settled down. Engaged or married. Some even had a few kids. I became frustrated, as things weren’t going as I had hoped.
The more I worked to ensure I was not physically alone, ironically, the more alone I felt.
A few weeks later another date took me out for dinner. I knew he didn’t have much in the way of money, so I down played my desire to go out. Spending time together had always been more important to me than spending money. One evening we stopped at a fast food restaurant. I sat down and began to eat my burger. But he didn’t order. He didn’t eat. I knew it wasn’t for lack of money that particular night or having had just ate. I knew he wasn’t ‘just watching me to see how cute I was’. He sat there, rather impatiently. I was humiliated. As an Italian girl, part of my upbringing included the tradition of breaking bread with family and friends. Why wouldn’t he eat with me? I felt a wall had gone up. Like some kind of game was being played. But I was not in on it. Deeply embarrassed, I told myself it wasn’t a big deal.
But it was a big deal.
As time passed, I found myself hiding parts of who I was. I needed to avoid any further feelings of rejection. I noticed my dates tended to dwell, ever so subtly, on their exes, lamenting the character qualities they didn’t care for. So, in desperation, I tried to overcompensate, becoming the exact opposite person, even when it sometimes meant dulling down my own (at times sassy) personality. I figured it would be an okay trade if the end result were love.
But it wasn’t a fair trade.
Not even close.
I felt like I was playing a role in some kind of twisted play. But I never got my happy ending. Having buried my faith down deep, I found myself slowly beginning to compromise. More and more the strands of what made me ‘me’ were coming loose. It started out small. Dismissing the fact that my date had one too many drinks or someone didn’t open a car door. But as time went on, the compromises grew, and with them came an uneasiness in my stomach. I tried to bury my unease. But it stubbornly resurfaced as I began to tolerate more and more.
One cloudy afternoon, I sat down at my desk, covered in nursing textbooks. I held a warm cup of coffee in my hand, which always did well to relax me. I grabbed the mouse to my computer and logged into my social media account, noting I had a new email. It was from a girl about my age. I wasn’t at all prepared for what I was about to read. It was an abrupt email, telling me in aggressive language that she had been dating the same guy that I had. My body froze as I read her words. She went on to say that he had also been seeing his ex-girlfriend. I couldn’t believe it. We had just been out the night before. How was this possible? Her email continued, informing me she was a “single mom and very attractive with a lot to offer”. Her insecurity spewed through her words. More, for the first time in my life, I felt trashy. My stomach turned, realizing I had unknowingly been part of a circle not of my own choosing. I immediately bowed out. It was not a competition; and if it was, I no longer wanted the prize.
I had been used.
A few months later, I went on a date with a different guy. I again logged onto my social media account only to discover he was not single. He was engaged.
With each heartache, came a cut, a little deeper than the last. I did my best to cover them with new distractions. But after a while, even that wasn’t working. I found myself lying on the kitchen floor of the old ranch more than once. Tear soaked and broken hearted. Something about that floor brought me comfort. It wasn’t particularly comfortable, with outdated linoleum covered by a thin and worn blue rug. Nothing about that kitchen was special. In fact, it was dreary, with dark brown cabinets and outdated hardware. But to me, it was home. Even as a young girl, I would sit on that floor, watching my mom cook.
And so again, I sat. With a breaking heart. I watched my mom put together a pie. It strangely helped. We had clashed over the years, being wired similarly. But in this particular area, she surprised me. The one area I felt she would be most likely to offend me and say something off putting or judgmental. She didn’t. She had always been the first to react to a crude comment or dirty joke. So I was sure she wouldn’t be of much help. But I was wrong. Not only did she accept me, the advice she offered was golden. I had grown tired of advice from friends, while well meaning, often did more harm than good. I could never be sure their advice wasn’t coming from a place of jealousy or some other ill intent. Or maybe just complete lack of experience. Those were usually the ones to offer the most and worst advice. But my mom. I saw her heart. Her heart of love for me. Truly wanting me to be happy. Truly accepting me, without judgment, even having strayed so far. No, she didn’t lecture me. She just told me what she thought was best. She was gentle. And having her on my side in that way was life giving.
As time passed, I grew tired of the attention. Tired of the game. I became easily annoyed at small things like someone checking me out at a local store. What was the point?  My once naïve heart had been damaged. It was now a heart of experience. And those experiences had shaped me in a way I wasn’t particularly proud of. I was tired of the merry go round of dating, leaving me where I began, only each time a bit more broken.
Where was God now? Didn’t he see how broken I was?
The problem was that I didn’t see how broken I was. Long before any heartache had occurred. In turning away from my faith, I had handicapped myself, essentially removing any chance for me to ever be truly happy.
Psalm 144:15 says, “Happy are those whose God is the Lord”.
I had given up everything for what I thought was my chance to find love.
But I didn’t find it.
I just found a lot more pain.
Joni Eareckson Tada, in her book The God I Love: A Lifetime of Walking with Jesus says, “Maybe the truly handicapped people are the ones who don’t need God as much”.
But I did need him.
More than ever.
I just wasn’t sure I was ready to admit it.
Tada goes on to say, “We rant and rave against God at the evil we have to endure but hardly blink at the evil in our own hearts”.
So much time I had spent frustrated with God. Not understanding how he could allow so much darkness in my life. But this time. This time the darkness in my life hadn’t come from him.
It had come from me.

Monday, June 20, 2016

My Escape

It was a chilly evening, late in fall. The kind of night where you need a jacket to keep warm despite wearing a sweater. The kind of night not cool enough to see your breath, but enough to feel the chill on your nose. The perfect night for boots and hot apple cider. Campfires and s’mores.
I stood in front of the mirror in my room, nervously trying on my pink cashmere sweater. It fit just right against me. I felt confident looking in the mirror, noting all visible effects of the prednisone had dissipated as I had tapered down. Things had been quiet with lupus for some time now. So I decided to bury all evidence of it ever existing. As a 20 something, it was all I could do to hide it. I wasn’t proud of what I had come through. No, it only made me feel more different. Causing me to feel more alone. I only wanted to fit in. And feel accepted. I felt I now carried around the experiences of someone far older, and that made me feel ugly. How could I possibly relate to my piers? I wasn’t going to be entering any sororities, and I certainly wasn’t signing up for any wet t shirt contests. I knew my experiences had left me broken. And so I hid them. As best I could.
The burdens I carried now were for life.
And they wore on me.
Who would understand all that?
Having lost what I considered to be my best friend in my dad, I found my loneliness only grew. All I wanted was love. Real love. I had waited my whole life for it. It felt like it would never come. It secretly hurt me to watch girlfriends settle down with various boyfriends. Year after year passed for the once awkward girl, too skinny and too tall, and with it came the searing question, ‘When will it be my turn?’.
I finished putting on my makeup and quietly tip towed out of the ranch.  At 26, I was well past the age of a curfew. Still, I knew I wasn’t up for any questions.
There was a humming in me that longed to be free from this life of sadness and tragedy.
A need to not take everything so seriously.
I quickly opened the door to my car and got in. I wanted to get out of there as soon as possible. The ranch, the place that had once brought me so much comfort, now only reminded me of my pain. There was a heaviness there that haunted me.
And I was all cried out.
I wasn’t waiting around anymore.
I was making my escape.
As I drove down the unpaved driveway, I could hear the overgrown grass brush up against the sides of my car. Crickets were chirping from the bushes. I exhaled, wondering what the night would bring. Somehow, driving had become my safe place. My freedom from a life I despised. Music blasting, often with coffee in hand, I was able to forget. And escape my own thoughts. Even for a while.
And so, I made my way down the night road in the little red Jetta, punching the gas. The faster and farther away, the better, I felt.
Tonight however was different. Tonight I was meeting someone. Someone I had never met.
We were meeting for drinks.
I didn’t know it then. But as I nervously opened the door to my car, I was also unknowingly opening another door. A door that would open a new chapter in my life.
One I had not yet encountered in my 26 years.
I exhaled trying to calm my nerves as I walked in his direction. I told myself to pretend I knew what I was doing. Pretend I had done this before. One glance in his direction revealed his unease. It amused me to see a grown man look nervous. But he was. And that gave me incredible confidence, calming me almost instantly.
And so the night began. We grabbed some cheap Mexican food and drinks at a popular hole in the wall restaurant a few blocks away. He went on to order shots, telling me he was a UFC fighter. I knew he was trying to get me drunk. I knew he was probably very aggressive.
And for the first time in my life, I didn’t care.
He seemed like a good enough distraction from my pain.
I drank a few shots, and at the end of the night let him kiss me.
I wasn’t about to tell him he was my first kiss. I didn’t think he was special enough for that.
I drove home that night with a mix of emotions running through me. I was in part relieved that I was not the freak I thought I was. To my own surprise, I had been a hit. I knew I had become increasingly attractive over the past year. I just hadn’t expected anyone to notice. Though I secretly hoped someone would. With this new influx of attention also brought an excitement about what the future may bring. For the first time in my life, finding love didn’t feel like such an impossibility. As I neared the old ranch, I also couldn’t deny feeling cheap and a little used.
I knew he wasn’t sensitive. I knew he probably wasn’t even all that smart.
He called me a few days later, wanting to cook dinner for me at his place.
I declined.
I knew he was too aggressive. I knew my naïve heart could never keep up.
I also knew that for once, it felt good to do things my way.
Having spent years in Christian circles I had grown tired of the idea that life apart from God would result in great heartache. My life with God had resulted in what felt like nothing but heartache! I had always found the world of Christian dating to be rule filled, often enforced by those who had either previously done things their own way or had no dating experience at all. More, just about every single Christian girlfriend I had had abandoned the faith in favor of this guy or that. I didn’t care about the questions. Was he a Christian? Was he attending church regularly? What did he believe about purity? No. The thought of those questions made me cringle a little on the inside.
I just wanted to not feel so alone all the time.
And I didn’t think there was anything wrong with that.
I didn’t know why it all had to be such a big deal.
I figured if God had someone for me, he would have brought him to me already.
It terrified me to think he may want me to remain single forever.
I thought about the older missionary I had stayed with in Kenya, a stern woman who had always wanted to marry but “just never found the right one”.
Her words echoed in my mind. More times than I would have liked.
Was that going to be me?
I had watched many friends go on to become engaged and married.
All I knew was that I was all done waiting around.
All done being alone.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Much to Learn

The following weeks flew by in a blur of hollow sadness. The days fell into one another, feeling as if it had been one terribly long day. One terribly long bad dream. Losing him in this way with no real promise of improvement was almost unbearable. While he had admitted himself, we knew that he would not be able to leave on his own terms. Discharge from the psychiatric hospital would be in the hands of his doctors. And that was terrifying. What if they chose to keep him? What if his doctors didn’t like him and begrudgingly kept him locked up? The very idea of him being kept in a locked facility was both shattering and enraging. I knew he was stronger. They didn’t know him like we did. I wanted to yell at his doctors to release him. Having never met them, I secretly hated them for doing this to him, knowing it was illogical given his self-admission.
But it just felt better to be mad at someone.
Visits weren’t showing any magical improvement. I had pictured extensive counseling sessions and one-on-one therapy to be regularly occurring as an inpatient. That was not the case. Instead, his meds were rapidly being adjusted in a safe place where he could be monitored, particularly through bloodwork. It didn’t seem like enough. His personality was still flat. He didn’t laugh like he used to. Adjusting his meds only added to it all in my opinion. Was the psych ward really just glorified adult babysitting? He hadn’t been a threat to himself or anyone else. So what was this all for?
As the days passed, I became discouraged, realizing his care was not what I hoped it to be. I wanted him to be in a therapeutic and healing environment, free of stress and worry, encouraging him toward acceptance and true healing. Maybe I was being unrealistic. Maybe that place didn’t exist. But this just didn’t feel like enough for my dad.
He deserved better.
He had been the one to help countless individuals for my whole life. More than once we took in families to live with us for extended periods of time. More than once he gave of his money ‘until it hurt’. He was well acquainted with sacrificing time for others. Giving to others. Encouraging others. So to see him this way. It just felt wrong. Now was his turn to receive. And this wasn’t even close to enough.
After three weeks, he was discharged home. But he wasn’t better yet. The whole thing felt pointless. He wasn’t put back together. While it was reassuring having him home, knowing that professionals had deemed him ‘safe’, I couldn’t help but wonder what we were supposed to do next.
Our relationship had changed from what it once was. Conversations that once flowed were now abrupt and one sided. He simply didn’t’ have much to say. In the past, there were times I would have to fight to get a word in. But now he was quiet. Too quiet. As a result, my eagerness to share with him began to slowly die down. Each time I felt a bit more discouraged. A bit more hurt that he didn’t reciprocate my emotions. My mom told me he couldn’t help it. But at times, I couldn’t help taking it all personally.
And so I retracted. Into myself. Feeling more alone. Wondering who would be my ‘person’? How could God take him from me in that way? After all I had been through. I knew there was a stigma with chronic disease. So few understood my disease, and all that came with it. Even fewer had actually taken the time to research and learn about it. Many times I had been let down by others, not understanding my struggle. Now to add this? There was even more of a stigma with mental illness. I knew fewer, still, would understand this. Many would run and hide. Causing me to go deeper into my depth of darkness.
And so, I circled on my wheel of confusion.
Into the darkest time of my life.
Never had I known so much pain. So much loss.
And I had had enough.
I felt that God’s way was no longer working. I grew tired of waiting around for him. He didn’t comfort me like I thought he would or should. And he certainly wasn’t making anything better.
I had much to learn.
I didn’t know I could trust God and experience great sorrow. I didn’t know I could pray and pray and still remain in darkness. For a very long time. Or maybe I didn’t want to know.
More, I didn’t know I could be truly honest with him about how I felt. How I felt he was being unfair. I was accustomed to neat prayers full of thanksgiving and reverence. But that just wasn’t my life anymore.
Jeremiah 15:18 says, “Why is my pain unending and my wound grievous and incurable? You are to me like a deceptive brook, like a spring that fails.”
I didn’t know it then. But he was trustable. Even in pain. But I couldn’t see past my pain. Past the mess that had become my life. Past the devastating way my expectations for my life had been so vigorously wiped out. All I saw was my pain.
But he was there.
Isaiah 42:3 says, “A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out until in faithfulness he brings forth justice”.
Keller, in Walking with God through Pain and Suffering, points out, “The Hebrew word translated as “bruise” does not mean a minor injury. It denotes a deep contusion that destroys a vital internal organ- in other words, a deathblow”.
That was a word I could relate to. Deathblow.
Sure, I had read the book of Job and heard of others who had suffered many terrible and frightening things.
I just simply couldn’t believe God would allow me to be one of them.
I had much to learn.
Oh, to have considered the beautiful words of Lamentations 3:
“I remember my affliction and my wandering, the bitterness and the gall. I well remember them, and my soul is downcast within me. Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: 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…The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him; it is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord...Let him sit alone in silence, for the Lord as laid it one him…For men are not cast off by the Lord forever. Though he brings grief, he will show compassion, so great is his unfailing love.” (v. 22, 23, 26, 28, 31, 32)
Though he brings grief, he will show compassion.
So great is his unfailing love.
Laura Mixon sings a popular song, “What if the trials of this life are your mercies in disguise”?
What a beautiful perspective. Our trials as his mercies.
But how?
What if everything I had endured were not of God’s abandoning of me but instead were his mercies?
His drawing me in.
His loving me the best way he possibly could beyond what I could see or understand.
To create something beautiful.
Something eternal.
Something beyond what I could ever possibly dream for myself.
He had never promised an easy road.
Though my skewed image of love told me that if my God loved me he would deliver me from all pain and seemingly unending misery.
But he had been painting on the canvas of my life the whole time without me realizing.
I only saw the mess, the scattered paint.
It didn’t make sense.
It was ugly up close.
There was no reason or rhyme to it.
 I couldn’t understand.
Mine didn’t look like the others.
Mine wasn’t pretty and fixed up just right.
Mine was messy and hard.
There were scars.
But the painter knew what he was doing.
And as he continued his work, just like that of a Monet painting, something beautiful was forming.
One glance at a small square of present circumstances may appear messy and nonsensical, but the painter knew the outcome of the story.
The outcome of his masterpiece.
The final look at the whole picture.
I knew I couldn’t see the whole picture.
And in my confusion, not only did I not see the whole picture, I also decidedly lost sight of the painter.
Leading myself down an unnecessary road that would ultimately lead to great disappointment and heartache.
I had much to learn.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Together Again

Things were growing darker now. In a way I never saw coming. My security had been removed, and in an instant, I was forced to throw away all preconceived notions of those admitted to psychiatric wards, as the person I admired most was now one of them. Terrified, I wondered what it all meant. I knew we had somehow entered into a new depth of darkness, and I wasn’t sure we would ever find a way out. If there was one.

A somber presence had come over the ranch. I watched my mom, weary and worn, retire to bed early. There was an unmistakable sadness that had come over her soft blue eyes. I hated seeing her this way. I wanted to somehow make things better for her. But I kept my distance, afraid that even gentle tugging at her heart would lead to her undoing. I knew she needed to be strong now. We both did.
I tried to quiet my busy mind as I laid my head on my pillow that first night. The house was silent, as if it felt the loss, knowing he wasn’t there, knowing something was not right. I pulled the covers over myself and exhaled. As much as it hurt to have him gone, a small part of me was relieved in knowing he was safe. So many nights I had worried. So many nights I had prayed for God to make him better. Now, there were more to care for him. More to look out for him. I hoped I could trust them, his doctors and nurses. I hoped they were kind to him and not callous. I hoped he would come back to us. All of him.
I knew it was bad. He had admitted himself. I knew how he despised doctors. He avoided going until he absolutely had to. I knew weekly meetings at the VA had been hard for him. I knew his doctors had been wanting to admit him for some time. But he refused. Several times. He had to work. He had to provide for his family. He was driven more than anyone I knew by this responsibility. And so, hearing he had chosen this himself was both revealing and heart breaking.
He needed to be better so he could provide for his family.
That was his motivation for admission.
Throwing himself on the fire, for us.
To get himself better.
Or at least try.
He was still my hero.
The following morning, we made what would be the first of many visits to the psych ward at the VA Hospital. I was surprised in noting how nervous I was on that first day. I tried to calm my racing heart, not knowing what to expect, what kind of shape he would be in. Would he be crying? Would he be angry and shout? Would he be out of it? Would he be able to speak at all? Would he be different from the person I knew? I wasn’t sure what ‘losing it’ actually entailed. He had been the one to comfort me my whole life, so seeing him in such a vulnerable place was unnerving. I didn’t know how to behave, so I nervously decided to let my mom do the talking.
As we walked through the hospital, I saw many men in wheelchairs, missing limbs. There weren’t many smiles as we made our way toward the elevators. The hospital, while known for its good care of the veterans, was rundown and dreary. I tried not to let its dismal appearance affect me. I tried to be hopeful as we made our way toward the grey elevators. In silence and nervous anticipation, we scaled the floors of the hospital, as the psych ward was on top. I braced myself as the elevator doors opened.
We anxiously walked down a short hallway and were immediately greeted by a man with a kind smile seated at a desk. We introduced ourselves, and he graciously opened the locked door for us, telling us my dad had been in the common room. As we made our way past the gate, I noted a gathering of men, lining up to each receive a medicine cup full of pills. I wondered what kind of pills were in those cups. I wondered if they were the same kind of pills I had seen my dad take. I wondered if these men would soon be ‘out of it’ as he had. I hated psych meds. So little was known about the brain. Such seemingly rudimentary treatments for those with diseases of the brain. It felt unfair. Unfair to see him suffer in this way with so few options for relief.
I knew as an outpatient his psychiatrist had even mentioned electroconvulsive therapy, or ECT, as a possible treatment option. ECT is a procedure, done under general anesthesia, in which small electric currents are passed through the brain, intentionally triggering a brief seizure in an effort to change brain chemistry and hopefully reverse symptoms of mental illness. The trouble was that it was extremely risky, leaving many with permanent short term memory loss.
Tranquilizing medications. Or literally shocking the brain.
These were the available options.
How was this possible? It seemed like a cruel joke. More, how was this happening to my happy and easy-going dad? He couldn’t be broken. This was not allowed. We needed him. Didn’t God know that we needed him?
As we entered the common area I was relieved in seeing my dad. He sat with his legs crossed as he always did, sitting in a chair and talking to the man next to him. There were several others in this room filled with books, board games and cards. Two men were playing cards. Another man was seated by himself staring ahead silently. I tried not to make eye contact. My dad greeted us with a hug. We sat with him there for a while. I didn’t know what to say. But I was relieved to see him. I knew things weren’t even close to normal.
But somehow they were better.
Just being together again.


As the months marched on, the heavy sorrow that had become our norm followed. And with it came a terrible fear. Fear that we would never get him back. Fear that this was now our lives. Fear of another terrible loss. It was as if he had been hallowed out. And stolen from us. From the outside he may have looked the same at a quick glance. But he was no longer in there. And the weight of that loss was just too much.
I watched my mom during this time. She grew more quiet. Deeply concerned. But I rarely saw her cry. She had always been the emotional one of the family. She would tear up at commercials and was the first to be offended by a rude comment. As kids, my sister and I inadvertently made her cry on more than one occasion. I was certain she would be the first to crumble. The first to come unglued.
But she didn’t.
I knew she was broken. How could she not be? But she didn’t let it paralyze her. And that’s when I began to learn about strength. Quiet strength. Unrecognized strength. The kind of strength that doesn’t get a lot of attention or even recognition. But I saw. And it was incredible.
A few weeks passed, and summer gave way to fall. It was late one chilly evening. The air was clear and crisp, displaying the soft grey moon in all its splendor. I had been studying in my room for an exam the following day. The television was blaring loud in the ranch that evening which had been getting on my nerves. I knew about an hour earlier my mom had gone to bed. So I began to walk down the hall, in hopes of turning off the television or at least turning it down. As I approached my dad from behind, seated in the recliner, I was not at all ready for what I was about to see. As I made my way around the side of him, I stopped, in fearful dread. One glance revealed him half holding a bowl of cereal. It had spilled. All down his chest and into his lap. The cereal was soggy, creating a foamy mess. I knew he had been there for a while. My heart sunk. His eyes were now shut and mouth wide open, while his chin was severely pressed into his chest. Couldn’t he feel the mess? Couldn’t he feel the wet cereal all over him? I wanted to shake him. Or at least clean him up. But I couldn’t. Something in me froze. Seeing him this way scared me to my core. Seeing the man who had been my hero come apart this way. It was messy. And it was ugly. I desperately wanted to help. But I just stood there, paralyzed by my fear and sadness, frozen.
I decidedly tip towed back to my room as quickly as I came. A grieving sadness came over me, and I buried my face in my pillow, letting out a wale. I knew he was not just ‘sleeping’. I knew he was out of it. I knew it was the meds. I hated seeing what it did to him. What they took from him. And all of us.
He had been taking Xanax to manage breakthrough anxiety. He was started at a small dose of 0.5 milligrams. The trouble was, he was quick to develop tolerance. And this drug was a part of a drug class called benzodiazepines, known to create tolerance with regular usage. And so, to obtain the same desired effect, his dosage was increased. And increased again.
I didn’t know it at the time, but that evening he had taken 12 milligrams. Well exceeding any recommended dosages. Anything to quiet the noise. Anything to get his mind to slow down. Anything to feel normal again. Or maybe just not feel at all for a while.
He was in a stupor.
The following week I got a call while at school from my mom. It was about my dad.

He had admitted himself to the psych ward at the VA Hospital.

Thursday, June 9, 2016


Things were changing at the old raised ranch. It started out small, or so I thought. Some nervous anxiety here. Some feelings of sadness there. I didn’t know what to make of it at first. He had always been strong for us. Unbreakable. I knew his life had been hard. Long before me. I knew things hadn’t been easy for him. Divorced parents by age five. Bouncing from home to home, left by his own mother. His father went on to kill himself years down the line. Things had been ugly for him from the start. So, I figured he was entitled to a breakdown every now and then. But I also knew he hid. He hid his weaknesses. He didn’t want us to worry. Every cold he downplayed. Until he could no longer. Every on-the-job injury as a carpenter. Every bleeding hand. Every bruised leg. Even a few lost fingers. He downplayed it all. And so, I began to worry he was downplaying it all again.
Only this time it was different.
This time it was serious.
The past few years had not been easy. On any of us. We experienced more than one great loss during that time. My sister had left home to move in her with boyfriend, at age 16, leaving a gaping hole in our hearts. It was as if she had died, watching the two of them leave in the pickup truck that terrible day. I will never forget the cries that my parents let out that day. It was then that I knew I had lost my sister. And we weren’t going to get her back for some time. I remember frantically trying on clothes as she drove away in an effort to think of anything else. I knew I was crazy for doing so, but I needed to somehow blunt the emotions that ran through me.
There was loss of a grandfather. Followed by loss of a grandmother. And of course, my disease, a loss all its own. I knew how it weighed on him. I knew how he had pleaded and begged God to take it from me. Many times I knew he had cried out. I knew he struggled with ‘why’ for his little girl. I knew he had even asked God to take my lupus and give it to him instead.
For that, he will always be my hero.
It was the kind of sacrificial love you don’t often hear about. Uncommon and so precious.
In our family, he had always been the strong one. He was unwavering and even light hearted when things were tough. When money was tight, I would sometimes see my mom worry and fret. But he didn’t. It was as if nothing could shake him.
He was also the source of jokes and laughter. Anything to make us giggle and smile. But things were different now. The laughter that once filled the ranch had gone away. Long talks on the deck were a thing of the past. And home no longer felt ‘easy’. The laughter we once all knew had been replaced with a sobering silence. A silence that haunted our hearts and minds. It was a heavy silence. And I knew something was terribly wrong.
A few visits to his primary care physician, and he was referred to psychiatry at the VA Hospital, given the need for further evaluation and his prior Navy service. He was started on some low dose Xanax. We didn’t know it then, but this was like starting a sprinkler to put out a forest fire. Things ran deeper than we knew. And there would be no quick fixes. He went on to try a good number of SSRIs, or antidepressants. Still no relief. Paradoxically, some actually worsened his anxiety. Frustrated and running out of options, he began weekly visits at the VA Hospital to speak with a psychiatrist. He encountered many residents while there, not one able to help him. Nothing brought relief. Many meds were tried. Lithium. Lamictal. Seroquel. Depakote. Risperdal. Trazadone. Effexor. Buspar. Wellbutrin. Abilify. And more. Still no relief. His anxiety was increasing still. There was trouble sleeping. Shaking hands. Panic attacks that raged. He was eventually diagnosed with bipolar disorder (type 2). It frustrated me to hear this. I knew of others with the same diagnosis whose behavior was off the walls. Their behavior was irrational and often violent. That was not him. More, he had been happy and content for my entire life. How was this possible? I believed he likely had post-traumatic stress disorder, given all he had endured. My mom and I fought his doctors regarding his diagnosis. This was not a picture we believed was accurate, nor was it one we were willing to accept. Nonetheless, they proceeded forward with treatment. We eventually conceded, learning there were two types of bipolar disorder. He was regarded as a “highly functioning” type. Additionally, his paradoxical reaction to antidepressants actually helped prove his diagnosis, as patients with bipolar are often worsened by traditional antidepressants.
I was thankful my days were occupied with nursing school. It was a good distraction from the heaviness of home. Growing up, the old raised ranch had always been a place of safety for me, bringing great comfort and many happy times. More recently, it had begun to feel as if someone were tugging on the thread of our once happy family, slowing pulling, only to watch our undoing.
Nights were harder. His medications were not easy. On him or us. He was greatly sedated a good majority of the time. More, his demeanor had changed. He no longer smiled. A great sadness had taken over his eyes. Others didn’t notice at first. He was still functioning after all. He went to work each day, though he really shouldn’t have, given his active use of power tools. He could pretend for others. But not for us. My mom and I saw. Past his downplaying. We knew he was gone. It hurt talking to him. His reactions were no longer the same. He was no longer excited for me when I was excited. It was as if he were expressionless and emotionless. I hated his meds. I knew they were contributing to some of these changes. More, losing my dad in that way, broke me. I wouldn’t show it to him. Or to my mom. But it pierced my heart in a very sharp way. I felt like I was losing my best friend.
Where was God now? To allow this to happen to my dad, who had served him faithfully all those years. Didn’t he see his pain? Didn’t he see our pain? Didn’t he care?
One morning I remember coming out of my room. I saw my dad, facing the television in the recliner chair, with a tissue in his hand. My mom was standing over him. I heard loud inhaling and exhaling of air, and it startled me. A moment later I realized it had been coming from my dad. He was crying. More, he was sobbing. He looked at my mom, waving his tissue, stating he “didn’t even know why” he was crying. Startled, I rushed back to my room. My heart was racing. That was it. I knew I needed to be strong now. Strong for my mom.
He was broken.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Alpha Beta Nurse

It was summertime now. I sat on my parent’s back porch one morning, taking in the warm breeze that whistled ever so slightly through the trees. Birds were chirping, and the sound of distant lawn mowers buzzed in the background. As I sipped my coffee, I couldn’t help but sense a restlessness within me. A restlessness that I couldn’t shake. It had been a week. A week since I received the unwelcome news that I was in fact not going to medical school. I felt I was now floating in space, not really knowing where I fit. All the stress and self-imposed pressure had dissipated, and all I saw was emptiness. It alarmed me, as I had longed for a time like this, free of the stress. But now that it was here I was left with a growing sense of uneasiness. And so, I half-heartedly submitted my application for nursing school, feeling it was the only reasonable option.
I was admitted the following day.
My quick acceptance brought with it feelings of relief and mild assurance that perhaps this was the right path for me. Maybe this had been the path all along. Though I couldn’t be sure. I wasn’t sure of much anymore.
The following months brought waves of busy change. Nursing school had begun, and classes filled my days. It was an interesting group of women (and one man), from all walks of life. Some were older with families of their own, and some were single like myself. We were the first group to go through this particular program at Southern Connecticut, and they made sure we knew it. We were somehow important because of this. Perhaps we were unknowingly their test subjects, needing to achieve so the program could get off the ground.
My new school proved nursing to feel not dissimilar to a sorority. It was this new club that I was now a part of that I didn’t know I joined. Members of this particular club exhibited great pride in being a part. Its members took their jobs very seriously. The professors spoke of its members as brave and smart individuals. There were nuances and oddities too. There was great attention paid to nursing history and nursing research. Two courses I could have done without. Two courses I couldn’t help but feel were an enormous waste of time. Perhaps five minutes dedicated to nursing history at the introduction of another course would have been more appropriate. It frustrated me as time went on, wanting to be competitive with our physician colleagues. How were we to be taken seriously when so much time was spent on what appeared to be ‘fluff’? But this was a profession built on tradition, and I knew there would be no changing it. And so, I moved forward with the rest. I knew there was much to learn.
My days alternated between classes and clinicals. Clinical sites, where we were trained in the field to care for patients, ranged anywhere from nursing homes to various hospital settings (med-surg, trauma, pediatrics, ect.). I vacillated from feelings of excitement regarding possibilities for my future to feelings of utter boredom and dread. I pictured myself working on a busy hospital unit out of school, assisting in all kinds of exciting procedures.
I was beginning to get the hang of things. The first few weeks I was careful, like the rest, to complete all of my reading assignments, fearful I would get behind. I had heard nursing school was very challenging, and a one-year program would be sure to cram all that much more in. In time I found however, all that was required was good note taking. Given my prior degree, memorization came quickly and with great ease. Classes were enjoyable for me. I was surprised in seeing others struggle through. But I did my best to keep quiet, thankful for my developed skills.
One cool fall day, we began clinical on a medical-surgical unit at a nearby hospital. Med-surg floors were my least favorite of the hospital units. There were always many wound dressing changes to be done and too many meds to be passed. I didn’t care for the smell, and the floor nurses weren’t particularly warm toward us that day. I saw a fellow student exit a patient’s room down the hall. I began to walk in his direction. Several students had attempted to place a Foley catheter in a woman without success. I entered the room, feeling bad for the woman, and offered to try. I took the catheter hose in my hand assuredly, not wanting to overthink things, and placed it on my first try. I was elated. While I had always wanted to work in the medical field, I didn’t actually know until that very moment if I would be any good at it. I looked up and saw three classmates watching, and for the first time in a while, I was proud of myself. As menial as it was, I knew it was a start.
A few moments later, I entered the supply room to obtain some gauze and supplies for a dressing change for a woman down the hall. My clinical professor followed. She was a woman with thick brown hair and a plain face. She was younger than the other professors, so I half expected her to be more fun. I would quickly learn that would not be the case. As I gathered supplies, she approached me, staring at my hands. She told me, “Wearing nail polish on the units was strictly prohibited.” I was taken back by her words and her pettiness. I had done so well that morning with several newly learned skills. But she was choosing to focus all of her attention on my nails? I glanced down, flushed in the face, immediately noting that her nails were painted! I couldn’t resist, and went on to say, “But your nails are painted too.” She sharply rebutted, “At least mine aren’t chipped!”. It was then that I knew. Just as I had suspected. I was a part of a sorority of sorts. Anger welled inside of me. This woman was supposed to be my leader. My mentor. How could she be secretly treating me this way? I looked at her angrily, and she went on to say that she had “put in her time”, and that I was “going to need to do the same”. I was shocked in hearing her. Was I being hazed? Was this some sort of twisted initiation into the profession? My other professors didn’t behave this way.
I exhaled, venting to a girlfriend down the hall. She reminded me that the nursing was profession full of women. All types of women. I knew there would be ‘mean’ girls. I just never thought one of them would be my professor.
Nonetheless, I decided to let things go. I figured there was a good chance someone had mistreated her in her past. Her resentment had been almost palpable.
And I had bigger things to worry about.
Things were happening at home. Concerning things. I didn’t know what to make of it then. But changes were happening at the old raised ranch.
And I was about to change too.