Monday, August 29, 2016

The Reality of Panic Attacks

I lived with depression and anxiety for 25 years before I sought diagnosis and treatment. In that time I learned to be a highly-functioning, normal appearing person in all of the aspects of my life that were in view of others. In my private life I had become increasingly unstable.

Now, 6 years later, I still appear to be a highly-functioning, normal appearing person to the outside world, not because I go out of my way to convey that image but because it was a coping mechanism for so long that it simply comes most naturally. And in my private life I still struggle. A lot.

Experiencing profound internal anxiety while appearing "normal" or calm on the outside has created a weird and uncomfortable dichotomy in my life. I remember one Sunday morning last year on the way to church, I confided in my husband that my apparent calm was a total sham, and that when I said I was feeling very anxious about attending, I wasn't merely saying I was a little nervous. I was experiencing real symptoms of inward panic. Feelings that had come to replace the excitement and elation I'd felt when we'd first begun going to church. He wanted to know why I was so nervous. Hadn't I always enjoyed church and wanted to attend every Bible study and event? What had happened that made me so nervous?

Nothing had happened. Except that my social anxiety was beginning to overwhelm my ability to keep it tucked away, out of sight of others.

I'm writing about this now because this morning I had a panic attack at church so significant that a friend whisked me out of the worship hall and into a room where we could talk away from the crowd. The morning had been hectic, my husband had been cranky and I'd spent the previous night worrying about how I was going to cope my way through another Sunday full of people and loud sound systems and lots of "where have you been?" questions that I am too embarrassed to answer. "I've been afraid to leave my house," is what I would have said.

Despite having an argument in the car where I actually yelled at my husband for something minor, he didn't understand that I was not merely cranky but deeply anxious until a few hours later when I was sobbing and inconsolable. And it's not because he is at fault - it's because I am almost always subconsciously concealing and repressing my anxiety.

During the sermon I sat next to my husband in the pew, hugging my bible and rocking myself, which is embarrassing but at least I could convince myself that people were paying attention to the pastor and not to me. My husband asked, "Are you okay?" I wanted to shout, "NO! I'm not okay!" but in truth, despite my short temper, and despite verbally stating that I was feeling more anxious than usual, to everyone else, even my husband, I was pretty normal-appearing until I couldn't keep it up anymore. I cried until I had heart palpitations and those didn't go away for hours after the tears had stopped. I explained to my friend that I felt like I was dying, even though I knew I was perfectly safe and among friends. People that I had no reason to be embarrassed in front of and yet I was. Intensely so.

Now, this is some real talk, friends. And I'm sharing this because I want you to know that anxiety is a real thing, and  there are probably people in your life struggling with it who may even appear to be coping with it pretty well. Or maybe you're experiencing anxiety and you feel like all the embarassing parts of this illness only happen to you. So this is some pretty personal share-age right here:

I'd put on clean underwear that morning when I got dressed (like usual) and by the time I got home they were absolutely soaked in sweat. I feared the sweat might even have soaked through my dress.  I hadn't even noticed until I went to change into regular farm clothes.

It's exhausting to keep trying to make space in my public life for this illness. "Yes, I have anxiety. I know I'm smiling and laughing at jokes, but inwardly, right now, I'd give anything to just get in the car and go back home. It's not that I don't want to spend time with my friends, it's that this disease steals as much of my joy as it can." That's what I'd like to say. I'd also like to say, "I'm sorry, I'd rather not hug you today," without upsetting anyone, or bring drawn into an unwanted hug. Instead of lying when people ask me if I'm okay, I'd like to say, "No, I'm not okay, but I'm proud of myself for being here, please don't think less of me." "No, I can't go to the fellowship meeting tonight because I'm doing my best impression of a human caterpillar inside a blanket cocoon and the thought of leaving my house is too much for me right now. But please, keep inviting me. Maybe next time I'll be better."

I also want those of you who are my fellow Christians, that I love Jesus, I read the bible regularly, I want to serve my savior and do his good will. I pray for myself and others and ask others to pray for me, and I believe that in God's time I will be healed of this mental disease. I say this because I want others to know that my anxiety is not a lack of spirituality, or faith, or belief. It's a disease that I experience even alongside the miraculously peaceful moments that God makes possible. So, when you comfort others, keep in mind that they're not at fault, nor are they faithless. They're just sick. And that's okay, because Jesus is the greatest healer.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Women of Faith Part 2: How to Survive and Have Fun

I was only out of town for less than two days,  but recovering from my trip to Women of Faith took almost a week. I admit I had trepidations about this event despite my excitement because my anxiety and fibromyalgia make traveling interesting and, honestly, kind of scary. While I knew the trip, the company and the experience of the conference itself would be full of fun, the practical aspects of long car rides, shared hotel rooms and HUGE crowds made me very anxious before-hand. Here's what I would have done differently:

- Don't overwork yourself the day before you leave. On Thursday I suddenly decided that my entire house needed to be cleaned and that my husband would starve or feel unloved if I didn't make him more meals than I knew he would eat while I was gone. I really thought I was doing the right thing by getting as many loads of dishes and laundry done ahead of time until I was standing in the church parking lot trying not to have a panic attack about all the things that could go wrong in my absence and my pastor basically told me to lighten up and that while my husband would miss my presence for the two days I was gone, he likely wouldn't miss me in the "depends-on-me" for everything sense, because the truth is, my husband does not depend on me for everything. I don't operate under that misapprehension on any other given day - somehow knowing I was leaving made me go a little mental. This is a full disclosure, just-being-honest sort of statement. I could have spent the day before my trip learning more about the speakers, or doing my nails, or any number of other things that would have brought me calm instead of stress.

- Don't worry about food unless you have planned ahead to cook and have facilities to do so. I say this because I and the group of women I attended this event with live in a small town and the event was being held in a big town. We were all eager to go to restaraunts that we otherwise don't get to go to and I had a good time treating myself to fancier meals than I would ever allow myself back home. I had brought some cup-o-noodle soups with me thinking that the hotel's coffee maker could make hot water for my soup but there was not a moment during the trip where I was hungry and could have saved some space in my bag. Breakfast at our hotel, and most hotels nowadays, was free, so I pocketed some bananas after I'd had as big of a breakfast as I wanted.

- Don't bother to bring a bible. "WHUUUT??" You might be asking. The arena is dark, the talks were short and did not really allow the time for 10,000 people to bust out their heavy bibles and find certain scriptures, and it just makes your bag that much heavier. The arena had rules about not recording video, but believe it or not the speakers encouraged use of phones for all number of things including selfies and app use. If you have a smart phone and have not tried Olive Tree or YouVersion for bible access on your phone, you really should give it a shot. I find I do the majority of my scripture reading on my phone at moments that don't really allow easy access to my physical bible, like in dark settings or just before bed when.

Stuff I wish I had done or brought:

- Do bring a flat pillow for sitting on. I do not understand sports fans. Being in a very crowded place with uncomfortable seats seems like as close to hell as those who know the Lord are going to get. The seats are much more uncomfortable than you're expecting. If you have any physical limitations whatsoever, you cannot possibly afford to leave your pillow home, and make sure to bring whatever else you may need to stay comfy like a cane and possibly even ear plugs. This event was just on my comfort threshold for volume, which is to say it was pretty quiet as far as large events go, but if you are sensitive it might be smart.

- Do take anti-chafing measures. I wore a skirt and climbed eleventy billion awkward stadium stairs that are like 2 inches high and 2 feet apart, just weird enough to make the already difficult experience of traversing stairs even more awkward. My thighs are still rashy and it's been 5 days! Wear pants, use anti-chafing ointment, whatever you do! I am thinner now than I have been in years and, as such, thought my chafing days were behind me. I believe that under certain circumstances most thighs will chafe, regardless of size. Even if you're not a chafer, just plan on maximizing your comfort when it comes to spots that will rub.

-Do bring an empty container for water and pack a lunch in an ice chest in your car. Concessions were insane at the event. There was only one kiosk serving coffee and the line wrapped around the entire venue. All drinks, including bottles of water, were $5 each and the lines were always long. The arena did not allow full containers to be brought inside but they did allow empty bottles which could be filled at drinking fountains. I do wish I had done this as I spent the event very thirsty. There are three good-sized breaks on the full day of the Women of Faith event which is enough time to go to your car and picnic. Veteran attendees brought radios, folding tables and chairs, and full spreads of food. In the future I'll probably plan to stop and grab a nice Panera sandwich and keep it in an ice chest. Bringing pre-prepared home-made food would have been way too stressful and our vehicle was full up.

-Do prepare for God to make himself known to you. This event was better than I expected it to be and all the wisdom is trickling its way through me even 5 days later. God was magnified, we all felt his presence, and I think most of the women there left feeling something positive and healing had been done inside them by the Lord. Corporate worship is powerful. Even if you think lots of music and singing and crowds are not your thing, just trust that God will zap you with some awesome love because he so so did!

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Women of Faith conference 2015 Part 1

I removed myself from Facebook a month or so ago, and though I am loving life without it, it was a difficult decision. If Facebook is an artery for information, it was my abdominal aorta and it was about to give me an aneurysm. Because you can have aneurysms of the abdominal aorta and die very promptly. And Facebook was probably killing me - slowly, not quickly like an aneurysm. This is terrible even for internet hyperbole.  Wait, what? Anyway. I just got back from my first Christian women's event and I wanted to share about it but without my convenient abdominal aorta of information I thought I'd post about it her.

Women of Faith is a conference that has been going on for 20 years featuring primarily female Christian speakers and is aimed at an audience of Christian women. I cannot believe I got to attend the very last one with the core "porch pals", or speakers. It was really amazing, not least because it was the first major event I have ever attended with the women from my church and it meant I got to spend a lot of time just hanging out with them having a ton of fun. The speakers were the kind of women that are the absolute models of what we wish our Christian elders and mentors could be. If all such older Christian women were as fearless, candid and empowered to share their wisdom with women of my generation I'm certain we'd be much more centered in our experiences a women, wives, moms, Christians, humans and people with laughter-induced urinary incontinence.

The Women of Faith permutation of the conference is coming to an end, but one of the speakers and one of my top 8 favorites (guess how many there were?) will continue on under a new banner, as far as I can tell, with nearly the same mission. As of this writing there are a few dates left in this final season of Women of Faith with a slightly different combination of speakers, and the upcoming Belong Tour will kick off and continue all next year.

I don't think I've ever seen Jesus revealed so clearly and loved so openly and thoroughly. I'm still not used to people speaking with such confidence about who God is. Singing, crying, praising and encouraging in his name in a big old group of 10,000 women was IN. SANE. LY. POWERFUL. I don't think it really even hit me until just now, and the event ended 6 hours ago.

There was very little doctrine being discussed, the focus was almost entirely on the touchy-feely emotional side of knowing the Lord and living through life on this difficult Earth. It sounds like it could even be a little dangerous - I'm so used to vetting the sources of information I receive regarding the Gospel because I've been taught to be vigilant to avoid subscribing to faulty doctrine or accepting false teachings without knowing it. And yet? How can you go WRONG when you're talking about how much Jesus LOVES. EACH. ONE. OF. US. No one need know if they are a Calvinist or an Old-Earth Creationist to hear about how deeply God loves us. In a way, knowing the doctrinal and denominational idiosyncrasies of each of the speakers would have been cumbersome and potentially problematic. One of the speakers, Jen Hatmaker, said it best: "If you don't know and really understand God's love for you then you can zero everything else about your Christian life out completely - church, service, everything - zero." Meaning...if you don't understand the very core of the reason God gave us the bible and his Son then nothing else you do "for the kingdom" is important.

One of the most compelling parts of this experience for me was looking out on a huge gathering of humans who are all female. I've never seen so many women in one place, certainly not without men mixed in. It was like looking at half of God's Kingdom, in microcosm. And every one of those ladies? They feel guilt, shame, complete bewilderment, failure, anguish, disappointment in themselves and every single other thing I've been struggling with. And God sees and knows each and every one of them, every single detail of their entire life stories, has suffered with them in the midst of all of their sufferings and will never throw any of them away! And the same is true for me! To know that God has seen the entire movie of my life including the worst things I've ever said or done, the most embarrassing moments, every single time I was petty, and loves me anyway. And not with any sense of grudgingness either - he is, to quote Jen Hatmaker again, "in a good mood about me." He will never sever our connection - he will never "drop my leash" (I'm certain Marilyn Meberg has included that story in one of her written works so, rather than spoil the example by explaining it I'll just suggest you check her out because WOW she knocked my socks off with her Jesus love and wisdom!)

Some practical observations about having that many women in one space: the arena's men's restroom signs had all been taped over except for one to accommodate the small number of male employees and volunteers at the event - the rest became temporary women's bathrooms. Everyone was polite, no one shoved or behaved in a way that was threatening or inappropriate in the ways that are otherwise day-to-day experiences for us. So much so that I hardly notice them except by their conspicuous absence this weekend. Very few people were even outwardly grumpy despite the crowded conditions. The restrooms were clean, the security staff were shockingly polite rather than the kind of intentional intimidation I have come to expect at a metal detector where you are assumed to be a potential risk rather than a person to be protected. Women brought babies, nursed them, put them to sleep in baby backpacks despite the concert atmosphere (Building 429 performed an actual concert in between the amazing musical performances by the various speakers who were also musicians and the praise team for the event which were all superb).

I found myself thinking, "So, this is what it's like when the world prepares for our arrival and makes room for us." Now, the lack of men is not necessarily the cause of this unusual experience - for one the Holy Spirit put a twinkle on everything and we all felt it, and also it's not men that are the problem, nor is laying claim to male restrooms the answer to our societal ills - but just...having a space where I was anticipated and given space to be female without any requirements on my part besides the cost of admission was a brand new feeling for me. I know not every woman feels this pressure in the same way - I have always felt the burden of sexism in an insidious internal way that I still don't fully understand - obviously somewhere inside I feel like being female requires some extra debt I am expected to pay in order to exist. I may consciously refuse to pay it, because intellectually I know that belief to be false, but that does not change that feeling inside that it's still a debt expected or even owed.

Not only did I not owe a debt of femaleness at this event, but I am renewed in my awareness that any debt I may have had, imagined or otherwise, is completely erased in Jesus whose 8 pints of blood paid for the sins of every single person, past or future, who will accept that receipt of redemption.

If you ever have the opportunity to go to an event like this do it! In my next post I'll share some practical tips on how to survive the arduous side of leaving home to attend a crowded multi-day event with uncomfortable seats.

Friday, July 31, 2015

Maybe this is why dinosaurs went extinct before we arrived on the scene.

A long time ago God planned all of us. He made the world to be hospitable to us, and he made us to be able to survive and thrive in the world. You can tell, if you look at us now, that we were made for a world unbroken by sin. We don't have fur to keep us warm, most of our organs are in a squishy, unprotected part of our bodies where any old velociraptor or ostrich can claw them out.

I recently witnessed a runt piglet struggle for life for a week, despite being born premature and contracting an illness in his first few days of life. I cuddled up with in him bed wrapped in a towel nest so I could keep an eye on him and feed him milk or water with a dropper. He looked a lot like a little human baby that should still be in the womb. I have no explination for why he lived as long as he did. He really really should not have. He hyperventilated for 14 hours the first day I noticed he was sick. This tiny, helpless thing should not have had the strength to work that hard to breathe for so long...and yet he soldiered forward for days and days. We named him Colonel Hubert. Hubie for short.

My time with him made me think a lot about people babies, and people in general, and God's miracles.

Hubert looked a bit like this when he was born. Instead of fingers, he had little padded hooves - piglet hooves have a little soft keratin on the tip to prevent them from tearing their embryotic sacs in utero, and he had pointy pig ears. This creature doesn't look like something that is going to make it in this world, does it? Like, how is that going to become a PERSON? And how is that person going to survive? How is life so tenacious that a helpless little piglet that looks like a little person fetus survive for a day under adverse conditions, let alone a week, and cling to life every second?

Outside of a miracle, I don't know. Because outside of a miracle it's not possible. I certainly can't account for how I used to be a little baby-in-utero like this picture and now I'm an adult and have lived from that moment to this without just blinking out of existence or dying or forgetting to want to stay alive.

I was thinking yesterday about how inadequate I am to take on the things I want to accomplish in this life. And God put the image just like this baby in my mind. We were not created to withstand even a sliver of the adversity that we will face in a life lived on Earth, and yet, by God, we do. I know for a fact that I am not cut out for a single piece of this life, and yet I've lived 30 years of it.

So, when I get to worrying about inadequacy, fear of experiencing adversity and suffering...I'll just remember that God looks at all of us and sees in us these beautiful little ugly babies that flop around on Earth like baby Walrus' on beaches - tenacious when it comes to being and staying alive but only because he upholds us with his right hand. I can feel him lifting me up. <3

Monday, July 20, 2015

Bringing you up to date.

I don't have any things to review or anything particular to bring to your attention, but I thought I'd bring you up to speed on how things have gone in the last two years.

- I've lost 15 lbs on the Daniel Plan, a "diet" plan by Pastor Rick Warren with a biblical emphasis. I have not adhered to it super rigidly but it turns out it is a very excellent, relatively sustainable lifestyle that has also helped my husband lose weight and improve his blood sugar after being diagnosed as pre-diabetic.

- I have begun and retired from breeding Mini Juliana pigs. I purchased a breeding trio in 2014 and have had several litters of piglets since then, however all but one has been frought with difficulty. We have kept our original three pigs as pets and also a few of the offspring from some of the litters. As of this writing I have 6 female piglets looking for their forever homes. I absolutely adore pigs, they are fantastic barnyard pets, but they are certainly not for everyone. As far as breeding goes, I felt that my experience breeding goats will equip me for breeding piglets and it turns out that was a bit of an idealistic view. Though I studied up before embarking on this pigventure, I really had no idea how different baby pigs are from many other baby mammals. Much more is required of them early on than many other baby animals, and any sort of abberation in their birth or environment can have dire consequences. Several months ago we had our boar neutered, but too late to prevent several unwanted pregnancies in our females. Baby pigs are to die for adorable, but I am relieved that we will no longer have piglets born here.

- I took on a job at a daycare, an opportunity that took me by surprise, and that gave me a lot of satisfaction over the year+ that I worked in that position. I'm back to being a farmwife now, and I enjoy it because it means a better quality of life for us and our animals, but I do really miss working with kids.

- We have decided to become a foster family. We have not begun the process officially yet as we have had to make some improvements to our home first, but those projects are nearly complete and we are seeking God's will as regards the timing. I have wanted a family for a long time now, the desire has only grown stronger. While I would love to blast ahead and accomplish everything all at once, doing things God's way is really the only way to find the happiness we're all seeking.

- We quit drinking. My husband and I have both been sober since 2013. Turns out I am an alcoholic! Quitting drinking was one of the best things that ever happened to me. While I didn't really qualify as the sort of alcoholic most people think of when they say "oh, that person definitely has a problem", I definitely did have a problem. One day, God informed me that I would stop drinking. I laughed out loud in my kitchen the morning that he told me - in fact I still had booze in my fridge. And yet...I have not taken a drink since. I certainly had no intention to quit at the time, nor did I understand I was really an alcoholic, so the credit goes 100% to God who made sobriety possible. For the first 6 months it was pretty easy. Then, almost all of the sudden, I was crushed under the weight of cravings and crisis circumstances that nearly drove me to drink again. The product of that experience is that I now know and trust God so much more than I did on that morning in my kitchen when I hardly knew what I had gotten myself into (or what Jesus had gotten me into) when I accepted the Lord and embarked on a new life as a Christian, but as difficult as it's been, it's been the happiest, healthiest time of my life and I would do it all over again if it meant experiencing God in the way he has revealed himself to me over the last two years.

Listen, if you think you might have a drinking problem - put every effort into quitting. You will thank yourself. Even if you don't believe, pray to the God who made the universe and he will rescue you. Even if you think it's bunk, try an AA meeting or 6. You have nothing to lose by trying it. Pick up some AA literature, do the 12 steps. Get serious about sobriety. You'll be shocked at how subversive our cultural attitude toward alcohol is once you see it from the rear view mirror of addiction. Get help. You're worth it, the one who made you says you're to die for. :)

Blog Resurrection

Since my last post in 2013 a lot has changed in my life but the internet is still mostly bereft of normal girls doing normal stuff, and safe places to talk about normal things. So I'm back, and looking forward to normalling more with you. :)

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Homesteading with Jesus

Obligatory thingie about how I'm sorry I haven't posted in two months goes here: ___________________. K.

Stuff that has happened:

 As you can see, I cutted ma hurr. This is called a side cut. I have NEVER EVER EVER in my life cut my hair before now, as you may know. I dust for split ends and have cut bangs twice in my life and maintained them, but never have I hacked off length or shaved anything until this day. And. I. LOVE IT. It's perfect for summer and I'm stoked I had the huevos to do it because I've always wanted a weird haircut. It may not be apparent from the photos above but it's still long, just with one side shaved. In the second photo (and the one below) I've got it pinned back.
My momma goat had her babies on 4/20 - here the are at about 6 weeks old before going off to their new forever homes. Two girls and one boy, all healthy. Their momma is making record amounts of milk for me and farm life continues to be a joy.

We got another dog. His name is Shadowfax. This picture sums him up better than words ever could.

I got a beehive. It's doing really great.

 And finally, most unexpectedly/awesomely, I have converted to Christianity. Writing that still sounds so strange because nothing could have been farther from my mind than Jesus for the majority of my life. I was not raised religious, have had some bad experiences with unkind Christian family members etc. Everything that people typically cite as reasons Christianity turns them off was true of me - I was a practicing pagan with experience in other modes of spirituality, I have worked as a psychic a few times in my life and I now have a weird haircut and an abiding love of eyeliner. Turns out, none of that is a barrier to Jesus.

I'm getting baptised tomorrow, along with my husband who is having his "believers baptism" tomorrow as well. We are super duper happy and blessed!