Another day passed, another life lost to mental illness

Since coming back from the Edel conference, I have been contemplating returning to the world of blogging for many reasons. I explained briefly in my last post of my love for writing and its powerful healing in my own life. I also spoke briefly of how writing came to be an avenue for healing with my mental illness, a terrible beast of a cross that many write of but few seem to understand its gravity. I felt immense peace the other night after writing my “coming back” post, and I even wrote down a list of topics that I was excited to write about; some serious, some silly, but all of which I knew I would enjoy writing.

And then yesterday happened, and the world lost another beautiful soul to a terrible disease. There’s no need to break the news that Robin Williams died yesterday from suicide. There’s no need to go into the terrible details of his death or even the remarkable details of his extraordinary life. There are others who are far better equipped to write such stories. I even hesitated in writing about it at all; what words could possibly describe the sadness of a life lost to such a bastard of a disease? But Ryan is out of town, and after hours of being unable to sleep, I decided to try and write through all of the emotions of the day. I first read through article after article of those who knew him and the joy he brought to the world. I watched old clips from some of my favorite movies, there are far too many to even post. And I read through tweets from his fellow celebrities who were trying as best they could to articulate their sadness. I read through them all with a numbness, unable to even cry as I thought about the tragedy, that is, until, I saw this picture:

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“Genie, you are free.”

Now there was an uproar, and probably an understandable one. The idea that suicide should be sought after because it frees one of sufferings is a great lie of mental illness: we all are aware that there is nothing good or glamorous about suicide. And we should hesitate to share such images, for there are well-documented cases of people being swept up into a sort of suicide fervor because of its documented attentions. But if I’m being completely honest, I got it. I studied the image again and again and finally, after many hours, wept for Williams’ death. Because I’ve been there; mental illness is a horrible beast of a disease that imprisons its victims. It lies and manipulates the sufferer to believe not just that life has no purpose, but that they have no purpose, as if they were an accident of creation.  And in the depths of the darkness and on the brink of despair the sufferer believes–in spite of every attempt not to–that the only way out of the immense pain is death, and death at their own hand. I HAVE BEEN THERE. It is a terrible, terrible thing to not be able to control one own’s mind, to feel imprisoned in your own body. It is even far more horrible when the isolation sets in and the pain is not only unbearable but also indescribable; you begin to feel, as I’m assuming Robin Williams did, that no one could quite understand the depths of the despair, in spite of their attempts to try.

I have written of my own battle with mental illness before, and my central thesis remains the same as it always has: mental disorders are a medical affliction. I’m not sure exactly what else could possibly be said that hasn’t already been said, but the bottom line is this: when we (as Church and as a society) speak of mental illness as some sort of spiritual depravity or hyper-emotionalized state, we are not only doing a great disservice to the sufferer, but we could also potentially be causing them great harm. After my diagnosis as a young girl, I had many in my life try to overspiritualize my disease as a “cross that God wanted me to bear” that could simply be “prayed away.” Can you imagine how terrifying that was to me? You have no idea how long it took me to climb out of the whole others dug for me, however well-intentioned.** Let me be clear: ANY mention of a spiritual component to mental illness (even when mixed with a strange “medical condition” cocktail) could have devastating consequences for its victims. It is not worth it, so please stop doing it.

Now to be fair, most of the posts I have read these past 24 hours seem understand the gravity of this issue and respectfully write of the disorder for what it is: a medical condition. Some have done this REALLY WELL, but there are some articles that are JUST PLAIN STUPID, and other perhaps well-intentioned writers who chose to write a shock-value piece that is terribly immersed in ignorance.  Whenever I read articles like the latter, or for that matter when anyone in my life speaks of the “spiritual” side of mental illness that can be fixed with a rosary and The Good Book, my first reaction is always the same: What. total. bullshit.  Please do not misunderstand me; there is healing in the word of God, and there is a very terrifying reality of spiritual darkness that is frightening and chaotic: BUT IT IS NOT MENTAL ILLNESS.

So what are we to do? Well, in terms the Church, I laid out my beliefs pretty plainly here, feel free to reread if you so wish. But as a society, the only light to come from such a horrific death is the conversation which has yet again come to the surface. It is time, or perhaps I should say it is ABOUT TIME, for our world to approach mental health more seriously. One of my heroes and a fellow OCDer Howie Mandell has long advocated for “mental health” physicals. Once a year, free of pay, each of us should be able to see a therapist or licensed counselor to keep ourselves mentally healthy. This just makes sense. Imagine how different our world could be when the shame and stigma of mental illness is finally off the shoulders of its victims as we all bear the affects of the terrible beast together, one community living for the other. Now that would be truly freeing.

**A quick note: I am grateful that those closest to me, namely my parents and close friends, did NOT do this. I might not be here today had they not taken the course of action which they did.

Thoughts after a long absence

There have been so many wonderful and indeed rather crazy happenings around the Miles household these past eight months, so much so that I have completely neglected (intentionally and unintentionally) this blog and keeping those in my life up to date with all the happenings. To recap all the things in one post is frankly rather silly, and some of the things I have no desire to relive at all (sleepless newborns and travelling husbands being the most significant). What I can say was this: it was a time of beautiful reflection on many aspects of my life, including (for our purposes) why I write in the first place.

Many years ago, in the midst of terrifying suffering, I had a wonderful epiphany: I am a damn good writer. I remember the day so vividly. I was sixteen years old and my daily existence was a shell of my former, joyful self. Mental illness encompassed my every movement and each day proved to be more and more exhausting. On this particular day, however, God offered me a brief relief. I was sitting in English class when my teacher began to hand back our tests from the previous week. Before she handed me mine, she asked for the class’ attention and, much to my surprise, began to read my essay aloud. She informed the class that my writing was above and beyond what she had asked, and that I was now the new standard for the entire class. Now, I should have been terrified; who on earth would want such a nerdy acclamation as a sixteen year old? So I attempted to brush off her compliments (especially later when I found out from other friends that she read my essay to each of her classes), but secretly I was thrilled. God had given me a gift: I was a writer. I went home that evening and attempted, as best I could, to journal my thoughts of the chaos of my mind. It wasn’t always easy; there were many times when even writing proved to be too painful, but writing was a kickstart to my healing, and I am forever grateful for it.

Fast forward many years later, when blogging seemed to be the only acceptable form of communication for the young writer, and frankly I thought it was a wonderful thing. In the midst of the craziness of motherhood and having a husband who frequently travels for work, I had long lost my daily journaling habits.  I figured blogging provided a unique opportunity to do something I love while at the same time keeping our loved ones across the country informed on our happenings. There was also the added benefit of having others hold me accountable to my writing, or at least that was the theory. The problem, however, is in the process I found myself trying to blog as others do rather than how I wanted to. Seeking the approval of others was always a particularly painful cross of mine, and blogging only intensified this nastiness in my heart. This of course never seemed to be an issue with journaling, for no one (God-willing) would ever see the private writings of my heart. But blogging was different; soon there were followers and critics and, dare I say, the possibility to even make a little money? All of the sudden I forgot why I started blogging in the first place: peace, healing, and joy. Frankly, it shouldn’t matter how many people visit my page or even if my relatives see every single picture possible of my little guys. I have realized these past few months that God gave me a love for writing, writing about what I want to write about and how I want to write about it. The few posts that I enjoyed the most (where I found the most peace) I have read numerous times over and each time I smile, because I find that I am reading my true self.

God has shown me other things in this process, things that are mine (and my husband’s) alone, but I will end with this: blogging is a terrifying and beautiful thing, for it forces me to not only examine my intention (something we should be doing with or without blogging) but it also forces me into the ever uncomfortable realm of vulnerability, which is why I will continue to blog in the first place.

So I will begin again writing about things I want to write about, and when I want to write about them without carrying with me the burden of feeling that I am doing it all incorrectly. I am so thrilled for this! In doing so, I probably won’t be sharing many of these posts on facebook. Some, perhaps, but not many. I am mainly looking forward to just enjoying writing again, free from all its worries and critics.

Makeover Monday: a Playroom for the Boys

When we bought our new home a little over seven months ago now, I was thrilled to find a basement area.  It’s a smaller home, but the basement would be a wonderful extra space that we needed for Leo and his never-ending supply of toy trains *kid is obsessed*. The problem, of course, was that it wasn’t a space Leo (or any of us) actually wanted to go into, primarily because it looked like this: 

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Yep, that’s a whole lotta ugly. It was cold, dark, and frankly just not very “playroom” like. So after some convincing, Ryan said it was ok to get some new carpet and paint. And now we are happy to report it looks like this:

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Before: 

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AFTER: 

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We are so happy with it, especially Leo. It’s the only room with carpet in the whole house, so when he’s not building trains he basically just rolls all over the place. Our only dilemma right now is the foozball table. It’s a nice feature (especially for when the kiddos get older) but it currently causes many a bruises and black eyes for our Leo. We’re working on it :) 

Blessings dear friends! :) 

Does Wearing Make-up Disappoint God?

I was reading one of my favorite Scripture passages yesterday. It’s from the Book of Romans, but it was a translation I had never read before. It states “Be aglow in the Spirit; serve the Lord.” (Romans 12:10). Other translations typically state “be fervent in Spirit,” but this line struck a chord with me. I loved the idea of glowing–radiating–God’s love to others.  Yet in prayer, for some reason this passage came to mind as I was reflecting on Paul’s letter:

“And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”

It occurred to me that there are those moments in our lives where personal care could, in fact, affect our evangelization.  How we treat our bodies–or the time we dedicate to our bodies–could be important in presenting the Gospel to others. This  doesn’t mean always attempting to look perfect, and it certainly doesn’t mean using our bodies as a means to attract others to OURSELVES rather than to God, but it does mean that we should take the time to care for our bodies and present ourselves, as best we can, in healthy and beautiful ways.

This at times also means using means outside of ourselves (you know, shampoo, a hairbrush, a razor) to care for our physical appearances. This really shouldn’t be such a big deal, especially since there are certain daily habits we each should do to care for our bodies, even visually. So you can imagine how disappointed I was when I read this statement, from a Christian, in the comment section of a popular Christian women’s ministry website:

“I have viewed women wearing make-up as an insult to our Creator. He made us. And HE doesn’t make mistakes. Perhaps some women need to accept who they are and not who they think they should be.”

I am going to assume this man had the best of intentions, that he genuinely loves the women in his life and desires their good.  That being said, there is so much about this sentiment that i could talk about, but I’m going to focus on three points.

1. My first and primary concern with the rhetoric we use in the Christian worldview is that it could, in some way, not only draw one away from the Lord, but could potentially be harmful to their person. I kept thinking about the young woman, perhaps with a past filled with shame and hurt, reading such a statement.  Imagine how damaging that could be, how detrimental that could possibly be to her healing.  This statement, like so many others I’ve encountered in the Christian sphere, tend to be so zealous that, perhaps, they forget to utilize the best of modern psychology and approach topics with prudence and charity. We must NEVER forget that our words, though well-intentioned, could have possible psychological consequences that could be more damaging than we realize.

2. I suppose we should also address the obvious double standard concerning men and women. It seems a bit odd that men are allowed to alter their physical appearance (haircuts, face shaving, perhaps even muscle enhancers) without it offending our Creator, and yet women put on eye shadow and it’s an act of the evil one? Weird. Or what about the simple double standard of ANY altering of our physical appearance. Should women not shave their legs? Cut their hair? Pluck their eyebrows? I’m curious which is exactly an acceptable form of physical alteration according to this commentator.

But the thing is, he’s not alone. I’ve had MANY conversations with friends (men and women) who view make-up in the same way.  For years I stumbled trying to articulate that, in fact, women wearing make-up is not indicative of some Divine disobedience. It isn’t even necessarily indicative of insecurity or thinking about “who they should be.” Most women I know who wear make-up have an incredibly healthy view of themselves. So, you may ask, why the make-up? Why not just bare all imperfections or natural appearances for the world to see? This brings me to my third point: the purpose of make-up.

3. I am not a make-up expert by any means. In fact, most days all I wear is a little bit of eye-liner (to fool people into thinking I actually got some sleep the night before). I do, however, remember (thanks to my momma) the number one rule of wearing make-up: “the secret to wearing make-up is to make it look like you’re not wearing any at all.”

It seems like such a strange concept: “Why bother?” the bystander may ask. Here’s the thing: when used in a healthy way, make-up is meant to draw out the things that we like the most about ourselves. In a way, it truly honors our Creator, by recognizing there are certain physical attributes that are exceptionally beautiful. I, for example, like wearing eye-liner. Why? Because I have crazy beautiful eyes, and wearing eye-liner allows them to stand-out in a way that makes me look less tired and draws people in.

Even the make-up used to cover up certain imperfections (blemishes, scars, etc) doesn’t imply insecurity. Again, why couldn’t it simply be a matter of personal care? And why is this individual so certain that such blemishes are a part of our Creator’s plan in the first place? I would be curious how one with such a view would explain acne to a teenager. “You shouldn’t be so sad, fifteen-year old girl. These pimples are from God, you should just love the skin you’re in.” Um…ok? Isn’t it at all possible that such blemishes were in fact NOT a part of God’s original plan for humans, and possibly a result of our disordered nature in the fall? Just a thought, perhaps stretching, but the point is we shouldn’t be so quick to assume desiring to cover up these blemishes in anyway goes against God’s desire for our physical bodies.

It seems appropriate to address the obvious objection that far too many women do use make-up as an attempt to change who they are.  I am no stranger to such insecurities. In fact, despite being a make-up novice, there was a period in my life when I was wearing lots of make-up every day. It was at a time in my life when I had just experienced a break-up and was preparing to make the transition out of college. I can honestly say that my intention for wearing make-up was to attract others (mainly men) to me because I didn’t think I could be attractive otherwise.  There were even certain points of that year when I would apply make-up many times during the day, worrying that the smallest of blemishes could ruin my chances of happiness. Clearly, this was unhealthy, but luckily for me, I had a wise spiritual director who was able to pinpoint these insecurities and help me through them. In fact, that Lent I gave up wearing make-up, not because make-up is an inherently evil thing, but because how I used it was unhealthy.

In its absence, I not only gained a greater love of myself and self-confidence in who God created me to be, but I also saw how lovely make-up is intended to be when used correctly. I saw good friends putting it on every day simply to care for themselves and make their beautiful features stand out. Throughout this time in my life, one bible passage in particular stood out:

“For where your treasure is, there also your heart will be.”

I realized that I was so obsessed with my outward appearance that I was severely neglecting my spiritual life.  It is not that wearing make-up was wrong, it’s that my priorities were.

And so I come to a close on an article I shouldn’t have had to write in the first place. The idea that something like make-up, which not only encourages daily habits in personal care but could also potentially help our physical appearance in matters of evangelization, be anything like the commenter implies is, frankly, just silly. And it points to the greater point that we tend, even with the best of intentions, to assume insecurities and faults in others that aren’t there to begin with. Perhaps it is a great reminder that we must simply worry about our own journeys and less about what I assume to be God’s judgment on another.

 

Did we forget to mention this?

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Yep, that’s a baby inside of me! :) 

In fact, we’re in our third trimester officially tomorrow. And yes, in case you’re wondering, I’m humongous. i’m almost to the weight I gained with Leo and I still have a good twelve weeks ahead…should be interesting :). But, then again, this whole pregnancy has been kind of interesting.

Part of the reason we haven’t been as forthcoming about this pregnancy online is due to some early complications and, frankly, just pure forgetfulness.  

After about six months of trying to get pregnant, I had a feeling that something was different from my previous pregnancy with Leo. About two weeks after we moved into our new home, I was at the gym when my stomach started to feel funny. As I walked toward the water fountain, I could smell some guy’s powdery drink from about 20 feet away. Let’s just say Leo and I headed straight for the drug store after that, only to discover the happy surprise of another baby :). Ryan was coming back into town the next morning, so I made him a fun poster and had this big reveal planned as he walked into the door.

Unfortunately, the next morning I had terrible stomach cramps and even worse bleeding. I felt dizzy all day, and could barely stand I was in so much pain. Poor Ryan had to come home from a two week international trip to a weepy woman curled up on the floor. After a day of waiting it out, we went into the doctors.  He immediately gave me Progesterone injections which within a matter of minutes stopped the complications. After five attempts to draw blood (and many many tears on my part), the next visit we were told to there was a very high chance of a miscarriage within a matter of days (an “impending miscarriage”) due to low numbers.  We were given documents on grief support and how to baptize miscarried babies. We were devastated.

And then something wonderful happened. We prayed. a LOT. We called in friends and family, whom we had kept in the dark until that point, and asked them to pray too. We continued believing there was an actual human being in my stomach and that little person had this great purpose for his/her life.  We told Leo he would be a big brother and our friends about our due date. We lived in a state of complete hope.

Days went by, and each blood test looked better and better.  We continued with the Progesterone injections *four times a week!* but other than that, this has been an incredibly easy pregnancy. No morning sickness like I had with Leo, very little heartburn, and absolutely no swelling.

*If you recall, my feet with Leo looked like this:

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(I promise those are not the feet of a hobbit)

I am convinced the entire experience was used by the Lord to 1. remind me of the remarkable power of prayer and 2. insist that i live in a present state of HOPE.  As it turns out, we are graced with a new baby boy to arrive mid-January, whom we have decided to name Samuel Augustine. (his initials will be SAM, HA!) The name came in a moment of prayer as well, as I was reflecting on the fact that it was Hannah’s prayers that led to the arrival of her beautiful boy, much like our prayers helped sustain the life of our sweet Sam as well. 

It’s been an incredible journey but we would love some more prayers. Everything looks healthy, but low progesterone could lead to pre-term labor, which we are desperately not wanting. And just prayers for our family in general, as we embark on this new season of our lives. We are excited and hopeful :)

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Many blessings!!

PS: Oh, and just for fun, because he’s so great :)

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Makeover Monday: Some updates

 I realized I have been terrible about posting pictures of some of the updates we made this summer on our home. We’ve made updates on several rooms in the house, but I figured I would just post one at a time to create some suspense :). Here we go!

The Guest Bedroom

In our last home, the guest bedrooms were the last remodeling projects of the house. Even though they turned out really nice, I always felt bad that our guests didn’t get to enjoy them for that long (we were out of our home only 4 months after the guest bedroom was finished). So with this house, I decided to tackle the Guest Bedroom first and make it into a cozy, comfortable place for our guests to stay. *hint hint: come and visit us!*

BEFORE

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Who doesn’t love pink striped wallpaper, pink curtains and green shag carpet? But, as charming? as it was, we decided to start from scratch and make it our own. 

AFTER

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We were so blessed to have beautiful hardwood underneath the carpet. And on top of all of that, the wallpaper just ripped right now, no scoring or scraping required. 

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We painted the walls Revere Pewter from Benjamin Moore, with an accent wall Aganthus Green (also Benjamin Moore, please don’t ask me what Aganthus is). 

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Let’s take one more look at that beautiful before:

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AFTER:

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Many blessings! :) 

Summer Fun Part V

A Day Out with Thomas

So it happened…my son has become obsessed with trains. And cars. And construction equipment. And pretty much anything that has wheels. 

So it was a no-brainer when Ryan and I found out that an actual train replica of Thomas the Train was coming to the Colorado Railroad Museum. We bought our tickets and were off for what I can only describe as a convention of little boys 4 and under.

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It’s Thomas! 

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Leo couldn’t believe this luck, it was magical :).

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I have to admit, trains have never been my thing, but this museum was really neat. It had a HUGE model train city both inside and outside. 

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It was just wonderful :) The weather was perfect, and Leo only had one tiny episode (to be fair, it was right when we got there and he saw Thomas. We had to wait in line before we got to ride him and Leo was NOT pleased with the waiting). 

Our little guy is more obsessed with trains than ever before, and i love it. It’s so much fun watching him shout “choo choooo!” around the house chasing his little trains. Love little boys :)