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Yesterday was a day of many tasks. This and that, all around the town. It was hot all day, the rain always threatening but never breaking. My poor husband had a migraine all day, so he was lying in a dark room, trying to keep the pain to a dull roar. Poor guy.

Here’s what I did:

I dropped Isaac off to play at a new friend’s house for a few hours. That was a drive on the motorbike up into the rice fields, which are nearly ready for harvest. The grains hang now, heavy on the stalks. Cows in the field nearby. He went happily, which was a good sign, because he is starting at a Montessori school next week. (Egad! My heart might not take it!)

Leafy and Solo were at our house having their Thai lesson with their teacher at the same time. As I came and went, Solo kept trying to get me to tell him what eleven is in Thai. He knows it, but always forgets. I laughed with his teacher (also my teacher) and drove off for more errands.

I bought a new gas bottle for the stove, since ours ran out when I was baking bread the night before. That means heaving the gas bottle into the chariot and driving down to the gas shop. Easy enough, thanks to the chariot.  

I came home and helped with math and did read alouds with my kids and our Russian friend Vrinda. We’re reading Number the Stars right now, as well as poems by Robert Browning. And the book of Ephesians. It’s maybe my favorite time of the day.  

I printed and shipped a painting. I love our post office and the people who work there. I bought bus tickets for the weekend. I’m heading to Chiang Mai for book group, which is reading my book this month, a fact that is exciting and nerve-wracking, both. We’re reading A Traveler’s Guide to Belonging, and the food for the evening matches the book, so I’m looking forward to eating Indian food. I‘m taking an extra day to finish all the details around my upcoming book launch, and things have been so busy around here lately that I’m happy and excited to take the time.

Today at Shekina Garden, Brendan, Chinua, and I are hosting a little English camp for eighteen Thai kids from a local church, so some of my errands were in preparation for that. I went to a local restaurant to order food for lunch. We settled on three trays of curries and we’ll make our own rice. I left a 500 baht deposit, and when the lady saw that it was the last of the money I had in my change purse, she kindly asked if I needed to buy more things, and if it was an imposition to ask for a deposit. I told her it was fine, and there was much arm-grabbing and laughing on both sides. As I left, I heard my name called and saw that my kids’ art teacher, Fo, was finishing with his move across the street. I went and visited with him and his wife, and we talked about the expense of camping in Europe, and hot nights in the tent. (An aside, camping is still very affordable in America, and especially for a seven person family.) Later, I showed Leafy where the new shop is, so he and Solo can ride their bikes there for class today.

I bought art supplies for English camp. I think we’ll make little books with favorites. My favorite color, my favorite food, and stuff like that. I ran into Brendan on the street, and I went to talk with my friend at a local café. When I got home, my elderly neighbor was walking back and asked what I bought. So much! She said. She didn’t really want to know, it was just a way of saying hello. She’s the best.

I went to the plant shop and bought yellow marigold plants so I can put them outside my gate for the King’s funeral. We’re coming up to the last of our mourning period, and there are yellow and orange marigolds everywhere, in remembrance. We’re also wearing black or white or dull colors. By the end of October, mourning will be over. 

Then I went to the afternoon market and bought papaya, bananas, peanuts, and broad beans for snacks for the English camp. I bought tomatoes, eggplant, and cucumbers for dinner, but we ended up eating rice, greens, and fried eggs, (easiest and best Thai food ever) so the tomatoes will be for Persian food tonight. We ate a little of my lethal kimchi (so spicy, so so so spicy) with the rice and greens, and it was perfect. 

Then cuddling in bed with Solo and Isaac, helping Kai with his math work, goodnight goodnight to everyone. Collapsing in bed. Errands days are fun here.

 

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Support me with as little as a dollar a month on Patreon.  Patrons get extra question and answer posts and other content. Thanks so much to new patrons: Sue Kauffman, Elizabeth Jolley, Tj and Mark, Ro Keyzer, and Erin Smith. Your support keeps this writer going! 

New World Whisperer cover and Patreon launch.

Thank you for your kind comments and messages. I have never ever regretted sharing about the deepest and hardest things in this space, because you are all so kind and respond in such gentle ways. You teach me. Thank you. 

I have just a couple of things today. I had hoped to give you a Shaper’s Daughter launch date, but am reluctant to do so before I have my new cover files in my hot little hands. So just know that it is coming very, very soon. We are waiting for covers, and that is it! 

Once I have the date, I will be relaunching all three World Whisperer books with a launch party on Facebook, so stay tuned for that info. 

For now, here is the first redone cover. I’m very happy with it!

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Isn’t Isika beautiful? Covers 2 and 3 are beautiful too. I can’t wait to show them to you!

Anyhow, I’ve been learning a lot about genre cover specifications. All the stuff you need to know to do authory things.

And speaking of authory things: Today is the launch of my Patreon site. In case you haven’t heard of Patreon, it is a new-fashioned way to accomplish an old-fashioned concept, which is patronizing the arts by supporting artists and writers. I have always hesitated to support this blog by using ads because I am a minimalist, and don’t love encouraging people to buy new things if I don’t have to. But I  believe that my writing is valuable, and support can help with hosting costs. You can support me on Patreon for only a dollar a month, and there are rewards for Patrons, including Q and A’s and patron-only posts.  

So there you are! Exciting times. Books ahead, patron only posts, and children growing very, very quickly. 

Much love to you all. Be gentle with yourself today. 

How I live with anxiety: A follow-up to my last post.

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I am okay again. Yesterday was bright and beautiful. I spent three days in the fog, and everything looked terrifying, but I rested, and I climbed out and came back.

I used the words mental illness because they were being tossed around in the wake of last week's tragedy. I find it hard when those words are used without much thought or distinction. But an anxiety disorder is a mental illness, and I'm not afraid to own it. It still is hard to write about my anxiety disorder and what it does to me. My second blog post ever was about the woods of depression and anxiety and how they plague me. That was over twelve years ago, when I was twenty-five years old and hadtwo kids and one on the way. I have learned many things since then. I have explored neurological reasons for anxiety and found some help there. I have learned a lot about myself. I am much, much better. 

But I have these things I call meltdowns, and they are terrible, like a pit that I fall into. Any interaction is terrifying. The Internet is terrifying. People are scary. Life seems horrible. And I can't escape. There is no way to get out of my own head, so the nearly physical presence of my anxiety nearly undoes me. They take days to get over. And as you know, I have people in my life, lots of them, who count on me. 

Because it had been so long since I had a bad meltdown, I thought perhaps they were gone. Shame and disappointment overwhelmed me when I went through another one. I want to be free of them. I want to go through life without fearing that my brain will turn against me without warning. The qualities I admire are strength, joy, consistency, safety and grace. And sometimes I am the opposite. Ugh.

But today I can see that this is cause for rejoicing. Because it had been so long since I fell apart like that— it took me by surprise. And I came out of the pit quickly. I am learning. 

Here are the things I do to keep my mind well and not fall into the pit:

-Take medication
-Take herbs (rhodiola rosea- I highly recommend 350 mg a day, but as always, I am not a professional, talk to a doctor if you are not sure)
-Eat well and make sure I get tons of iron and vitamins
-Go on long walks in jungle and forest
-Keep religious about sleep
-Drink lots of water
-Limit caffeine
-Journal
-Pray and meditate
-Get up very early for time alone to write books
-Write blog posts and gratitude journals and poems. Keep lists and bullet journals to keep from getting overwhelmed.

All of these things help me, and yet none of them can guarantee that I will not fall apart from time to time. There is no guarantee.

A friend once gave me wise advice. She said that we often expect ourselves to focus or remember all the good things about love and God and our belovedness and our faith when we are in the midst of a crash. But those are the hardest times of all to remember. She said she stopped putting pressure on herself to think it through when she is down. Instead she surrounds herself with every comforting thing: books, movies, good food (for me, comedy) and when she is well, and her mind is clear, that is when she fills her mind and heart with things that will carry her through: meditation, exercise, reading good books and scripture, journaling. I do this now, and it helps. I have two people, nearly. One who can handle it all and learn and run with things, and one who just needs to hide away. 

I write about this here because it is hard to find writers (let alone Christian writers, and thankfully there are many more people these day) who are honest about these things, and people tell me it helps them when they find me. I know many, many people struggle with similar burdens, and I have had parents of kids who experience anxiety tell me it helps them too. We all need a little insight into the mind of those who struggle. Some people struggle just to be. 

Over the weekend, I struggled with why. Why does God not say yes to our most well-meant requests? I don't know. It doesn't seem helpful for me to be this way, and a long life with this thorn stretches out ahead of me sometimes… it is daunting. And there are still people who deny the neurological and chemical nature of depression and anxiety. 

There is a beautiful man here in this town. He is a gentle soul without a home, who finds places to busk with his bamboo flute. I often see him in the market or on the street. He is a friend of mine, though we don't say much more than hi and how are you? Sometimes he stands motionless for a long time, flute to his mouth, with no sound coming out. None at all, for minutes and hours. And oh, I understand this. How hard it can be sometimes, even to stand at all, let alone play the flute that you have to your mouth. I love that he tries, and that sometimes he can play. He is a brother to me. This is something I feel often. When I see someone on the street in San Francisco, shouting or crying, I feel that I am one bad week away from that person's reality. Take away sleep or comfort, and that is me. My hold on my mind is fragile and I guard it carefully.

And maybe some of us need to understand the struggle, to write about it and have eyes of understanding. To say, "I know how fragile we all are, how easy it is to fall." Or maybe there is no reason, it just is. I know, in good moments, which are more plentiful these days, that I am loved I am loved I am loved. And that I am never alone. God is with me and this is enough. It will always be enough.

The storm.

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When the storm breaks, it brings relief. It has been building all day, a heavy drapery of air, something you can’t shrug off your shoulders. Heavy in the lungs. 

And then, I drive with Isaac to pick some things up at the garden. We drive the chariot and race the storm, but the sky cracks open as we’re driving and within minutes we are soaked to the skin, water running down our faces, my wool hat sodden and floppy. I give him a plastic bag to put on top of his head and pull my hat down tighter, and we drive slowly, encouraging ourselves. Nearly there, nearly there. And we laugh, because the storm has cut through the pressure like a knife.

I love storms in real life. Back at home Isaac gets into the bucket that we call “the bath” and I take a shower. We get warm and dry. We drink some tea.

I don’t love storms in the world of the mind. I didn’t want to end up in the weeds again, ever again. I didn’t want to end up on the curb; a spot on someone’s shoe. I thought I was healed. I should have known better. This storm doesn’t bring relief. It brings self hatred, a swollen face from crying, a flock of angry impulses banging against my rib cage. I was so sure I was healed, that this wouldn’t happen anymore. 

People who know me say healing is a process, that I am improving, that they see change. But I want healing like a lightning strike, a cleaving from one life to the next. I’m tired of fighting my brain. I had hoped that I was different now. Changed forever. I want a chrysalis, I want new life after the fire. I didn’t want to be in the weeds, ever again. I want more than God is giving me, and I’m angry.

It’s heavy in the lungs.

Back to square one, I think, back to the beginning. I have been watching the news too much. (Sorrow, sorrow. Wild winds. Mental illness, they say, and I feel plastered with someone else’s crimes. I have a mental illness. What am I capable of? What is anyone capable of? Triggers everywhere.) I haven’t been careful of eating, my blood sugar is all over the place. Maybe this set me off, maybe that. I’m too needy, I was following a line of stress, dropped like bread crumbs, not careful enough about trails I shouldn’t go down. I didn’t get enough sleep, waking in the wee hours with constriction in my lungs. 

Equilibrium. How I want it. 

A scented candle. Chopin’s Nocturnes. My clumsy handwritten notes to myself. A hug from Isaac. 

Coffee in the morning. Bricks outside my window. A flash of green. Vegetable broth. Sourdough starter. 

Does He want me to be this way? Does He want me to be here, in the weeds? If He does, and I am his servant, monk and mystic, utterly devoted, how can I beat at Him with my tiny fists? Can I make a world here? Did He make me this way? Why?

Knitting. A round stone. A perfect word at the right moment. The tiny freckles on my daughter’s face. 

I’m sick. I’m sorry, I can’t make it today.

A feather. A tree that is a friend. A good pen. 

Is He in the weeds? Can I find Him here? It doesn’t seem like a great place to hang out, to be perfectly honest. I can think of better. 

Don’t leave me here.

A glass of water. A poem. Frankincense. A little dog who loves me. Kai offering to lend me his favorite book. Journals and all their possibilities. Maybe some sun, maybe a rainbow. Maybe a day that will be soft on my face. Peppermint soap. A morning of writing. 

Gathering again. Back in a place I didn’t want to be. I will wait for healing. I can wait a little longer.

The things we say.

My heart is hurting with the plight of the Rohingya people right now. If you would like to learn more and donate to their cause, click here.

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The rain washes the world at night. We lie under thin sheets and listen to it on the tin roof outside our window. 

“It’s really raining,” I say. The kind of thing you say without thinking, without meaning anything at all. Drawing attention to something that is happening, something that often happens, in a murmur. And then going on.

“Mom?” the kids ask, twenty times a day. Telling me little things like these… things that mean that we are here together, and they are checking on me, checking to see that I am still here. I realized, when I was away, that though my Leafy boy is often dreaming, he checks on me often. And when I wasn’t here, some pillar of security was gone. He missed me the loudest, sending me gifs and messages, and once, a video of himself telling me he missed me. 

All the kids do it.

Mom?

“Can I have a Wednesday market snack?” 

“I played the high D on my trumpet!

“Mom? Isn’t it interesting that some people live by their extended family all their lives?” My Mom radar tells me there is something different beneath the surface of this question, couched by laughter. I miss them. I would like to try that other kind of life, the question says.

Kenya and I have our own way of checking in with each other. A mother and daughter way. 

“Oh!” one of us says. “It’s you! I have a mother!” Or “Oh look, I have this person who is my daughter!” Hugs and kisses. We are a physically affectionate family, I realize, and I can always hug Kenya. She doesn’t wriggle away. I get hugs from Kai now too. Solo is squirrelly. Leafy I have to catch. With Isaac, we're led by his whims. He is either running away or all over me. 

I forgot how crazy my life here is. Normally it’s good crazy. I am teaching four or five different kids, riding the motorbike to the market, fielding emails and riding a unicycle. I have somewhere to be at 2:00 or 4:00. I am meeting a friend or the landlords drop in. I am launching a book. The wall fans are broken again. The lightbulb is out. Parts of the house are so dusty that Kai cannot go near them because of his allergies. The school drawers are a mess. I need to pick up my sewing machine. The garden is calling. The roses need to be trimmed. Are the kids on task? I should really bake some bread. 

And sometimes, it is a wild ride. It all depends on whether I am up for the challenge. 

I pin photos of artists in their studios. I follow people on Instagram who have space and time and paint. And I endeavor to love my life with every cell.

“Mom? Do you know where my superhero mask is?” 

“Do you think dorm living at UBC would be good?” 

“Can I make bread today?”

“I made you dessert, with bread and bananas and icing. Here you go. You have to share with Dad because a guest just turned up.”

The rain washes the world clean. I turn to Chinua in the evening and sigh. Remember not to complain about any of it. Remember that it is the best kind of love, the best kind of problem. A home that gets beyond me. A life that is very full. 

“It’s really raining out there,” I say.

He smiles. “It is.”