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Saturday, May 12, 2018

longing

I always have mixed emotions about Mother's Day weekend.  If you know me well, then "it's complicated" pretty accurately describes it.  Loss of biological mother relationship.  Grateful and Love for a mother who is "stepmother" by blood only and my true mother in every other sense of the word.  Longing for the children that have not yet been born to call me mother.  Complicated set of emotions?  Yup.

The past few days have really rubbed some salt in that last wound.  Please hear me out entirely...I'm not upset by the recent birth & pregnancy announcements.  Babies are a beautiful thing and I feel genuine happiness for my loved ones who get to experience this beautiful phase of life.  But, these emotions are complicated.  Hearing about how it's true for others also exacerbates the wound of longing for what has not yet come to be for me yet.  Whether you're longing for the same things or longing for something else to break and bend in your life, I know this is a feeling many can relate to.

How do you cope with the longing and waiting and not having answers?  In the past, I have leaned on my faith in God.  Not to say that I'm not now, but with each year, it becomes more difficult and more painful.  How do you reconcile a loving God who continues to allow the longing to go unanswered?  I hear stories of others who have seen God's faithfulness in one way or another but for me, nothing.  No response.  No change.  No reconciliation of the longing.  Even a change for what I'm hoping for in my life would be some sort of response from God.  Some kindness and acknowledgement of the pain that continues to permeate my life year after year.  To be completely honest and vulnerable in this space, my faith seems to become more doubt filled with each year that passes.  I wish I had answers for these questions, but I don't.  Do I still believe God loves me?  Yes.  Do I feel it right now?  No.

I'm writing this not only to express some feelings that I truly struggle with, but also with the hope that someone else reads it and thinks "me too".  Know that you're not alone.  Know that Mother's Day is difficult to many.  It's a beautiful day to celebrate a gift that many people are blessed enough to experience on one or both ends.  But it's also so painful to many of us who are remembering, hoping, praying, longing.  Maybe your mother is no longer on this earth.  Or maybe she wasn't the mother you really needed her to be in this life.  Perhaps you're angry at her for not being able to cope with her own demons to be there for you.  Or maybe you're like me and are grieving that no children call you that beautiful word, "mother".  I hope that on this Mother's Day you will know comfort that you are not alone in coping with complicated emotions and unfulfilled longings.  I'm right there with you, working out the longing.

Saturday, April 7, 2018

healing

Healing is a topic I'm pretty familiar with.  As a child and family therapist, I often talk about healing with my clients and how the process can take a lot longer than expected.  One example I use to illustrate this is that healing isn't a straight line, but a line that continues to circle back before it moves forward again, making a series of loops that is constantly moving forward and up.  During a season of healing, there is a lot of forward movement but there is also backward movement.  Right when a client seems to demonstrate that they are making significant work towards their goal, they come in and report that things have started to feel bad again and they are struggling.  I often use this illustration and draw this looped line for them to demonstrate that just because they are on the backward slide of one of the loops and feel like nothing is getting better, they have still moved forward and will soon be on the forward movement side of the loop helping them to feel as though they are making progress again.  Some clients benefit from this illustration, others still struggle, but many are reminded that healing takes time and are able to feel positive about the work they have done.

Yes, this is an illustration that I am familiar with.  Yes, I am comfortable encouraging others in their own healing.  But when comes to my own healing, well that is a different story!  The past 7 months after my surgery have had a lot to do with healing for me.  For a while, it did feel like I was in that forward motion and continued to keep moving forward without any backward movement.  I did everything the doctors told me to.  I followed the rules and pushed myself enough but not too hard.  And then I got the approval to run again and all seemed to be going as planned.

But in January, after a run, my back muscles let me know they weren't quiet there yet.  I spent the afternoon in pain and iced and stretched.  The next day wasn't much better.  After two months of being off taking daily ibuprofen and muscle relaxers, I was back on them just to help myself get through the day.  Even swimming was difficult and I had to take it easy again.  I thought I had done everything correctly and in my head, that meant that healing would continue to move forward in a steady line as it had in the previous months post-surgery.  I had forgotten about those dang loops and the backward movement.  I stopped running.  I took advantage of snow storms to rest from playing volleyball.  I stretched and iced, then stretched and iced some more.  I felt frustrated and alone and worried that I would never be able to run again.  My body is also used to exercising at a certain level and because I wasn't, my body started changing where I gained weight in areas I usually don't gain weight in.  I began to feel uncomfortable in my own skin and I felt as though I couldn't do anything about it.

Going through this, I was reminded of the healing loops analogy.  I realized I was in a back loop and while I had previously made forward movement, now I was experiencing regression.  And I was not patient.  To help, I decided to be intentional about taking work out classes that would challenge me but also work specifically on my lower back muscles and abdomen.  For lent, I decided that I would take Pure Barre classes 3x a week instead of focusing on returning to running.  I wanted to be intentional about allowing myself to heal and I felt that using the season of lent would help me lean more fully on God for support.  I needed God when I heard a new song that I wanted to run to.  I needed God when I drove by early morning runners on my way to class and I felt jealous that they could run.  I needed God when my muscles burned from all the ballet moves Pure Barre had me do.  I needed God when my clothes didn't fit the way they used to and I couldn't return to my "usual" routine to help change that.  And I needed God to ease my anxiety about whether I would ever run again.  I learned a lot about patience with myself, accepting the limits of my body, and feeling ok with a new routine.  I was reminded of how God can be quiet and firm and present and hidden all at the same time.  I needed that season to help me get back on a forward moving loop.

During this time, I have been acutely aware of how there are people in my life who had also been working through some kind of healing.  I saw broken relationships, death, physical ailments, changes in jobs, and loss of future dreams.  But I also saw community gather around these people and support them through their healing.  For me, I am so grateful for my faith in God and for my community of supports in family and friends.  I don't think I could find a forward loop again without those in my life.  Regardless of your beliefs, find your community and your supports when you are healing.  Be kind to yourself when that wave of pain comes over you again and you're not as far on the healing journey as you had thought.  Be patient when healing doesn't go quite as planned.  And remind yourself that it's only a season.  You will be on a forward loop again before you know it.


Thursday, September 28, 2017

a new kind of training plan

It's been exactly one month since my surgery.  It both seems like it's been that long and feels as though it was just yesterday.  And I can't believe that next week is October.  I have completely missed September this year.  Actually, I feel stripped of September this year.  At least of the one I was supposed to have.  No last trips to the beach.  No taper runs.  No trip to Germany.  No marathon.  No leading trainings at work.  It feels weird to have had a whole month planned and then it just didn't happen.  At least, it feels like it didn't happen.

This week, I finally moved back to my apartment.  I started working from home.  I made myself breakfast, lunch, and dinner...well, most days.  Going out to eat in the middle of the day never gets old!  My medical leave is ending.  And yet, I am still limited in my movements. I'll feel just fine but then move a certain way that I used to in my own house, and I'll feel a twinge and remember.  Monday was my first day working from home as a start to a slow return to full time work.  I worked on the computer for three hours, took an hour break, worked one more hour, and promptly took a nap.  Whew!  I'm still not used to this new baseline where I don't have as much energy as I am used to.

I want to just return to my life and it's slow in coming.  Small pieces are falling into place, but it feels weird to me when only one part returns and not the rest.  I am walking further distances and I am more assured in my steps, but it's not the same as running.  I discovered that everything in my apartment is set just a bit lower than at my parents' house so not bending over takes more thinking that it had been while I was staying with my parents.  I feel ok reaching up on my right side but not reaching down on my right side.  Good changes that point to healing but just when I think I'm "there", I realize I'm not quite.

This past Sunday was the Berlin marathon and I was so sad not to be running.  I know that most people wouldn't feel sad about not running a marathon, but I was.  My parents were so validating as I shared this emotion and reminded me that for me, this experience was a trauma.  Not only for my body, but for me emotionally.  My diagnosis came so quickly and in less than 24 hours, all my athletic, fundraising, and travel plans for August and September were cancelled.  All of my training seemed for nothing.  The thing about long distance racing is that it's not the race that's the hardest thing, it's the training.  The race is fun and celebratory and tough in it's own right.  But the training, that is what takes it out of you.  I participated in all of the difficulties of training and planning but didn't participate in any of the excitement or celebration.  That is sad.

At one of my follow-up appointments, my surgeon reminded me that my body is running it's own marathon right now as it heals.  I'm trying to think of my healing in this way.  I can't just run 26.2 miles the day I sign up.  I have to put in the effort of training for months in order to get there.  So right now, I'm one month in to a new kind of training.  I'm training myself to go easy on my body instead of always pushing.  I'm training myself to call it quits at work and take time to rest.  I'm training myself to listen to my body and rest when I need to.  I'm training myself to be ok with relying on others when I need it (believe it or not, this is very hard for me!).  So instead of building mileage, I'm building a new kind of strength to return back to a level I used to be.

I have been faced with disappointment before and I think that I have a pretty good set of coping skills to deal with it.  But this was a big one.  And moving on has been tough.  But I'll get there.  One training day at a time.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

accepting anger

Yesterday, I finally got angry.  Today, I yelled in therapy.  Tomorrow, I was supposed to be leaving for Germany and I'm angry that I'm not going.  I was looking forward to that trip since January and have been talking about child sponsorships since about that time.  Up until yesterday, I have been fine.  I have been calm.  I have just accepted that I'm not going, I can't run, and I have to find new ways of coping with my feelings until I can exercise again.  And now I'm angry and I'm not sure what to do.  I do know that I'm not sorry for being angry.  And I'm not ignoring it.  So good for me for listening to my therapist self (and my actual therapist for that matter).

The thing about being angry is that many people are afraid of this emotion.  I completely get this.  When I get angry, I yell, I cry, I say things I don't mean...or things I do mean but they come out in a way I wished they didn't.  But if I didn't accept that I was angry, I would never move forward to a better place and feel better.  Or address difficulties in a relationship that need to be addressed in order for the relationship to continue to exist.  I have seen clients and families over and over ignore their anger or say "don't be angry".  I have heard parents request anger management groups for their child but for the wrong reason.  Almost as if the group will then remove their child's anger so they don't have to face it, which is totally incorrect.  Anger management is learning how to express anger and cope with it, not ignore it or stop feeling angry.  No matter how much I encourage families to face their anger, if they continue to ignore and not accept their anger, nothing will get better.  Anger in itself is not a bad thing.  It's what we do, or don't do, with our anger that creates anxiety, conflict, and depression.

One of my best therapeutic breakthroughs was actually a situation where I knew my decision for a client's care would piss them off.  But I had to make that decision for their own well being.  This is a client who always ignored their feelings and no matter what their body language indicated what they might be feeling, would respond by saying, "no" or "I'm fine" or "I'm just crying because I'm tired" (uh, it's not my first rodeo but I'll give it to you).  So in this case, I called them on their anger and told them to just be angry with me.  The session ended by my client storming out and telling me to "Go f*** yourself" to which I responded "I will!" (not my best therapeutic moment, I'll admit, but I'm human too).  Our next session, this client returned and apologized to me for their behavior and I in turn apologized for my response.  We were able to process their feelings of anger, validate them, and still maintain a good therapeutic relationship.  This client learned that not only could they allow themselves to be angry, but that coping with anger had the potential to strengthen relationships instead of destroy them.

As I said, I'm not sure what to do with this anger or who to really be angry at.  But like my client, I'm learning to allow myself to be angry to get to the other side.  I guess I've been angry at God, although that relates more to unanswered prayers than specifically having back surgery.  But it relates.  Running is what I do to cope with the fact that those prayers have not been answered.  And now, I can't do that so I'm just angry.

So I'm accepting that I'm angry.  I'm not ready to move on from it either.  It's not that kind of anger where it's stewing and I'm holding onto it.  And I know that I will get over this and someday I will be running again and will think, "wow, I learned so much about myself during my medical leave!", but that day is not today.  And that's ok.

Friday, September 8, 2017

Renewing my mind

"While you wait with Me, I work on renewing your mind."

This was the first line of my daily devotional today.  And it struck a chord for me.  The past two weeks have been a lot about waiting for me.  Waiting to hear a diagnosis.  Waiting for my name to be called for an appointment.  Waiting for surgery.  Waiting to be released from the hospital.  Waiting for the pain to subside.  Waiting for healing.  Waiting for visitors.  Waiting to find answers for the next few weeks.  Waiting, waiting, waiting.

If you say a word frequently enough, it starts to sound weird.  Not only does the word sound weird to me, but the actual act of waiting is weird to me.  I can't remember the last time I had so much TIME to literally just wait.  Time to slow my life down.  Time to focus.  But also time for anxiety to start to take it's iron grip on my mind.  And waiting can exacerbate this anxiety.  Thoughts that include, "is that pain normal?", "what is that ache about?", "what is that puffiness?", and "what are they doing at work?", "will I be able to jump back in after all this time off?", "what if they replace me?", "what if I lose private practice clients?", or "will I be able to run again?", "will I still be able to go to Germany in two weeks and if I can go, SHOULD I go?".

I recognize that many of these thoughts are irrational or at least, exaggerations of a more rational thought process.  So when I read that first line of my devotion today, I felt that God was reminding me of what this time and waiting was for.  That it is a gift.  This time can be spent with God and I can give God my mind.  So much of my life the past 8 months has been all about work and work alone.  I am realizing that I really don't know how to disconnect myself from my job.  I preach this all the time to my clinicians and yet, I really suck at it!  I have had so many dreams lately that are full of anxiety.  Instead of taking advantage of this much needed and vital rest, my mind has been working overtime when my body has needed to slow down.  For some reason, I can't get them both on the same page.

Further down in my devotion, it read: "The more you focus on Me and My Word, the more you can break free from painful, irrational thoughts.  The usually have their roots in distressing experiences that wounded you, so the distortions are deeply etched in your brain."

How true this is!  Many of these thoughts are based on untruths that I have believed about myself or have allowed others to place upon me from past experiences.  I even caught a thought today that I know was rooted in untruths from a past abusive relationship that ended 7 years ago.  Talk about being deeply etched!  And I'm sure that others are etched more deeply and longer ago than that.  Instead of this time becoming a time of rest, healing, and renewal, my mind has continued to break me down.  

As usual, God always seems to give me music to go with what I'm going through.  At the end of July, Nichole Nordeman (my favorite!) came out with her first full length new album since 2006.  I am in love of course!  One song that stuck out to me from the beginning is called "Hush, Hush".  When I first heard it, this song really related to things I struggling with at work.  But now, it is so relevant to every thing I'm experiencing with my body, healing, anxiety, and wondering where God is in all of it. I know He's here and God is more clear to me when I read a devotion like today's and it relates to what I'm feeling.  But sometimes, I feel so alone and that's when all those thoughts begin to spiral out of control and all my energy goes toward decreasing anxiety instead of healing my body and finding ways to enjoy the rest.  So I continue to cling to this song as my anthem during this time of healing, for however long it may last.  And I pray that during this time, my mind will be renewed by the One who loves me more than I know.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

learning how to rest

Wow.  I just read my last blog from a little over a year ago.  I was preparing to run my 2nd Hood to Coast race with Team World Vision.  My passion and excitement for the race in 2016 is the same as my passion and excitement for 2017.  The difference is, I didn't run this year.  I was planning on running the race right up until 12 hours before I was supposed to board a plane for Oregon.  Right now, I should be recovering from my 3rd Hood to Coast race and then gearing up to run my 2nd marathon with World Vision.  Instead, I'm recovering from back surgery.  Instead of sore leg muscles, I have sore back muscles that are trying to heal back together after they were cut into and then sewn back together.  Instead of aches in my legs from running over mountains, I have aches in my right leg from where my nerve was affected by the herniated disc in my back.  Instead of an energized heart from experiencing a weekend of time with people who have a similar vision to provide clean water for the people of South Sudan, my heart is trying to make sense of this new journey and is recovering from the change of plans.  This is not the kind of recovery I envisioned for myself this week and I'm still adjusting the sudden change in plans.

The physicians assistant who met with me and my parents following my surgery on Monday described it as "controlled trauma".  As a trauma therapist, this makes sense to me.  Sometimes, in order to have more full healing and recovery, we have to expose ourselves to trauma in a controlled way.  In therapy, I do this by gradual exposure with my client to their past traumatic experience.  My goal is to get as close to the affected area of their heart so they are able to open up about toughest part of their experience.  As their therapist, I can help my client write it down and we can dissect the injured pieces of their heart and soul.  The purpose of dissecting trauma in therapy in this way is so that my client can more clearly see pieces that continue to be harmful in their lives.  It is my job to help them face these harmful pieces and come along on the journey to restore their hearts to become stronger and whole again.  They may always have a scar, but my hope in trauma therapy is always to give my clients a better chance to love wholly, live their lives more fully, and be less immediately affected by their trauma, even though that will always be a piece of them.

The definition of trauma is the occurrence of an event that results in emotional or physical distress and I would venture to add that trauma occurs when when the experience is unexpected or doesn't make sense or our life (or someone else's life) is threatened in some way.  I have seen kids traumatized by all sorts of events.  Trauma is subjective.  And usually, the reason the experience is traumatic, is because we were unprepared for it.

I was unprepared for this.  And like several of my trauma clients, I have similar cognitive distortions that I have heard them experience.  I should have seen it coming.  It's my fault for not saying something earlier.  I could have prevented this.  If only I had done (fill in the blank here with something different than what I ended up doing), things would be different and I could still be living my life as I had planned to for the end of summer 2017.

But the fact remains.  I suddenly and unexpectedly needed surgery.  I suddenly and unexpectedly needed to change my plans for travel, for running, for work, for social events.  While my actual life was never in danger, for the first time in my life, my physical well being was threatened and in that light, the way that I live my life was in danger of being altered forever.  And this all happened so suddenly.  One day, I was making travel plans with my friend and teammate Becca for our journey to Oregon and the next day, I was crying and telling her that not only I couldn't run, but that I couldn't even GO.  I was grounded.  Or as my surgeon said, I was red-shirted.  And I'm unprepared with how to cope with physical limitations.  I have never even broken a small bone or been sick for more than a few days...this is new.

Here, a week later, I'm still reeling.  The surgery is over and it went well.  God was with me the entire day during my surgery and I felt Him in so many ways throughout the day.  I am so blessed with a community of supports who are able to step in and look out for me when life turns unexpectedly.  But now, in the rest, it's starting to hit me.  Will I completely recover from this surgery?  Will I run again?  What do I do with all this time where my only job is to REST?  I have never rested well.  I am always on the move and I thrive under pressure.  But here I am, suddenly and unexpectedly in a place where the only thing I need to do is rest.  Rest from work.  Rest from running.  Rest from fundraising and raising awareness.  Rest from making social plans.  Rest from traveling.  Rest from taking care of others.  Rest from pretty much ALL physical activity (except walking which I am encouraged to do so that's a relief!).  And it feels so strange.  I don't know how to allow myself to just heal and rest.

In this season, I will be learning how to rest.  My body needs it to recover from the controlled trauma of surgery.  I need it as my emotions go back and forth while I realize the limits of my physical body.  I am so quick to give other people in my life permission to rest but I am so tough on myself.  I am learning how to go easy on myself.  I am learning how to call it quits and stop pushing myself.  I am learning how to rely on my God in a different way than I ever had before.  I am learning how to rely on the people in my life and not be apologetic in asking for help.  This is humbling and in all honesty, I have felt defeated.

A year from now, I hope to be able to write that I have completed fundraising for clean water for the 4th year in a row and that I have completed RUNNING my 3rd Hood to Coast race with World Vision.  I hope this next year of physical healing will bring me to a new level of strength.  I pray that this physical trauma teaches me to go easy on myself and balance my life more fully than I have been.  But for now, I just want to learn how to really and truly rest.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Why I run...

Today is August 20th, 2016.  One week from today, I will be waking up in a 15 passenger van with 5 other people and one van driver in the middle of the woods Oregon.  I will not have slept very well (if at all), I will probably not have eaten very well (unless you count goldfish and granola bars as a well balanced meal), and I will be prepping for a 5 mile run after having already run 14 miles in the last 24 hours.  Sounds like a perfect vacation, right?  I'm excited!  But this is what I do to provide clean water for children and their families in South Sudan.

South Sudan is one of the youngest countries in the world, only officially becoming it's own country in 2011.  Since then, South Sudan continues to be a country ravaged by civil wars, poverty, and disease.  Many refugees that have been in the news recently are from South Sudan, in an attempt to start a life over somewhere without war, child soldiers, and lack of resources.  If you google South Sudan and read current news updates, it's easy to see that this is a struggling country in need with topics like regime changes, political unrest, child soldiers, and other heartbreaking headlines.

While these headlines can be overwhelming, there is one way that I know I can help.  I can commit to a goal of raising $10,000 to help improve the lives of a people in need.  I can ask others to support this cause.  And I can run.

World Vision is an organization that has committed to helping South Sudan (and other nations with similar needs) find sustainable clean water.  While this may not seem like an immediate solution to the above mentioned problems, clean water does so much for impoverished communities!  Decreases disease.  Provides work.  Allows children to attend school instead of spending their day walking miles to find water...any kind of water.  Improves agriculture.  Decreases starvation with better crops.  Improves health and strength.  Builds community.  And the list goes on.

I have never been a person who has felt called by God to be a missionary who lives in another country. But God has created in me a heart that breaks for others in need.  It's why I feel God called me to the mission of being a child and family therapist.  I have care and concern for the people God places in my path.  When I hear about how a simple resource like water, a resource I have continual access to, can help a community halfway across the world, my heart cries out to do something.  And God says, "Run!"  And there is nothing better for me than to know that I have stepped out in faith on God's calling on my heart.

I have had times of doubt during this adventure, both this year and last year.  A wise friend said to me during one of those times, "All you have to do is be faithful. God will do the rest."  So I am being faithful.  I am running.  I am getting the word out.  I am asking co-workers to join this cause.  I am stretching my introverted personality to speak to people about donating money.  God is using me where I didn't think it was possible.  And God is doing the rest.

At the time I am writing this, I have only $992 left to fundraise before the race ends next Saturday, August 27th.  Whether I meet this goal by next week or not, I know that God has been faithful in providing $9,000 to help the people of South Sudan have lifelong and sustainable clean water.  That is improving the lives of 180 people!  And that is amazing!

Thank you for all the ways you have supported me in this adventure for the second year in a row.  I can't wait to share this with my Hood to Coast teammates, my co-worker Becca who I was able to convince to join me on this adventure, and with you!

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