Bearing Each Other’s Burdens

I was honored, and a little (okay a lot!) nervous to be invited as the featured speaker at Atascadero United Methodist Church as part of their annual Mental Health Awareness Sunday. The key word to me in that sentence is “annual”…..every year for the past few years they have set aside one Sunday in the month of May to shine a light on fact that mental illness is widespread and that we all need to do out part to break down the stigma that continues to persist. In a world where most people are still to frightened by the thought of mental illness to really begin to understand mental illness, this congregation is actively searching for understanding and for ways to turn that understanding into action.

I am not an expert. I am a mother with a story to tell. A story that I tell because I know there is great power in giving names to the things that feel frightening. A story that I hope helps to break down the stigma surrounding childhood and adolescent mental illness. A story that I know touched the hearts and minds of the people at Atascadero UMC this past weekend.

Take a look, and see if perhaps that story touches you as well…Bearing Each Other’s Burdens – Atascadero UMC; May 7, 2017

The Is Us; 2017

One year ago today I hit publish on “a little project” I’d been working on.

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Today I went back and read the post that started what has become an incredible journey. Take a peek and see where we started.

We’re in a much better place in general today than we were when I wrote that post. We have words to name things in a way we did not at this time last year. And we have all found our own voices and own ways of narrating our story for the world. As a family we are changing the dialogue. There are still dark moments, hours & days. But the light spaces in between have stretched. There is still a lot of who we are to be found in that original post, but it’s not where the story ends.

And as for me and that “little project”… 12 months, 76 blog posts, 6 articles published on The Mighty (including one co-authored by my son), 7,000 people in 60 countries reading those words and hopefully finding encouragement to find their own voices.

Here’s to another trip around the sun…

OUR FAMILY. Real. Raw. Broken. Beautiful.

When I started We’re All A Little Broken, I was intentional about not using pictures or names of my family. Even though I am telling our story, I also know that this story could be that of so many other families. So I was intentional about not using our names or pictures.

Now half a year has gone by. I have started contributing for The Mighty and they do use my picture there. The words I write have been shared by people we know in real life with their own wider circles of family and friends, and sometimes they will reference knowing my husband or me. So while I tried to be mostly anonymous, it really isn’t that way any longer.

I’ve been thinking about this for a few weeks. Do I do more good safely in the shadows of my anonymity? Or do I do more good fully stepping into the light and putting a face on my words? Clearly, it is the latter. But even once I had acknowledged that fact, I still was lurking in the shadows.

Recently we had our annual family pictures taken. When the proofs came back, I kept returning to two specific  images. They are both beautiful pictures, but neither one is my favorite. So what was it that kept drawing me back? It was when I realized the answer to that question, that I realized it was also truly time to step out of the shadows.

So here are those pictures…

And what kept drawing me back to these specific images?

In the first one, notice our hands. We are all connected. We are a unit. We are one. Facing the world together.

In the second one, notice our focus. We are fully focused on each other. We are a unit. We are one. Turning to each other, where we can seek solace from the world.

So what kept drawing me back. Plain and simple – these images are truly the us we try to be even as we navigate through the struggles of this life. These images are OUR FAMILY. Real. Raw. Broken. Beautiful. And I can’t fully tell our story without these images.

Photo credit to my AMAZINGLY TALENTED friend Nguyet Thomas of Full Moon Photography!

 

If Not Here, Then Where?

I’ve lost count of the number of hours I have spent in the waiting rooms of doctors, therapists, and specialists in the past 2 years. I would wager that the total number is well into the hundreds. Hour, upon hour, upon hour has ticked away while I sat waiting for my son.

Some of those waiting rooms are crowded, busy, and unpleasant. Some are spacious, peaceful, and comfortable. All of those waiting rooms have other parents, waiting in chairs for a son or daughter to finish whatever therapy lies on the other side of the waiting room door. Often, those waiting parents also have other children with them – these are the siblings for whom sitting in a waiting room is as common as hanging out at a sibling’s sports practice. Almost always, my daughter is sitting with me in those waiting rooms.

Just this week,  my daughter and I were sitting in the waiting room of my son’s psychologist. It long ago became our habit for my daughter to get as much homework done as possible while we are waiting. On this particular day she was tired, and the homework felt overwhelming, and she was coming up with every excuse possible to avoid having to do the work. She and I went back and forth half a dozen times, before I finally told her I didn’t actually care if the work got done, but if it didn’t she was the one who would have to face her teacher the next day. That was enough to get her to finally buckle down and do the work.

As I settled back into my chair and picked up my phone to check my email, I noticed the one other mother in the waiting room surveying me with a look that seemed to ooze disapproval. What was the source of the disapproval? My daughter and I weren’t arguing – it was a conversation fairly typical of mothers and 4th graders everywhere. So I would think that was not the issue. It could have been the fact that I told my almost 10 year old that she needed to take responsibility for her actions, or it could have been that we were even having that conversation in a waiting room. It could have been I was projecting and she didn’t care at all. I’ll likely never know. After I vented my frustration to my husband via text message, I took a deep breath and focused on my phone. My first rule of survival in these waiting rooms long ago became “keep your head down.”

Several minutes later, I heard the boy who was with the woman ask a quick series of questions…”Why is he still in there? What’s taking so long? Why does he have to keep coming here? Is it because of what happened at school? Is he going to be ok?” To which the woman replied, “Shhh. Not here. There are other people around.”

Not here. There are other people around.

Not here – in the waiting room of an office that is shared space between a psychologist and a psychiatrist.

There are other people around – one other mother and one other sibling, who were also waiting for a child on the other side of the closed door.

If not here, then where? And if not in front of these people, then who?

Maybe I shouldn’t be keeping my head down in those waiting rooms. Maybe I should be looking around and really see the other parents who are very much like me in many ways. And maybe I should be inviting conversation, fostering a safe space, and creating community.

If not here, then where? And if not in front of these people, then who? There is no “maybe.”

There is so much power in naming the struggle – every time I type or say some version of “my son has level one ASD, an anxiety disorder, and a panic disorder”, it becomes a little less frightening. I am actively fighting stigma online and in (most parts!) of my “real” life, but by not saying something (anything!) to another parent in a waiting room, I am perpetuating stigma.

I don’t know if I will even come across that other mother again. But she could really be any other mother (father, grandparent, guardian) in any other waiting room. So this is my vow to her…

I vow to not keep my head down in those waiting rooms anymore. I vow to be open to conversation. I vow to create safe space for other parents who are so very much like me. I vow to foster community. I vow to be a stigma fighter all of the time.

That is my vow, and I challenge every person reading this to make it your vow as well. Join me and be a sigma fighter.

Because I never again want to hear, “Shhh. Not here. There are other people around.”

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