A love letter to the mentally ill.

Possibly it's obvious to those of you who have been reading for a while. I've had a tricky time with the anxiety gremlin lately. The cat has been sitting on my chest. I have trouble breathing at the strangest of times. 

And then there has been suicide in the news, and the two have me thinking about shame and stigma and what it feels like to have a mind you can't trust. How hard it is to understand. I have been ashamed of my mind, how it exposes me, how I break down in public places. So I wrote a poem and then I read it, and here it is. 

And I want to take a moment thank my friend Leaf, who has been speaking truth to me lately, and my family and community, who are kind and understanding. Let's be there for each other. 

Tiny ways.

 Photo credit: Kenya Ford

Photo credit: Kenya Ford

Last night I went for a drive and all the edges of the clouds were edged with light. 

“Pull me up there,” I whispered.

Are you tired of escape poetry from me?

Listen, I’ve been running forever. Even when I run in place, right there in my kitchen thinking I should really get away but these children surely need to eat so here is the chopping block, here is the kale. Make it healthy, make it full of love.

Even when it’s just a corner of my soul retreating with my imagination, hand in hand. 

Trees, my soul whispers, leaves. The rustling light of leaves.

And my imagination concocts a new kind of Anne of Green Gables, one who actually gets power from trees, because trees and water buffalo and tiny tailor birds tell me that it is okay to be alive.

I am grateful for the books of my childhood. 

Wise people in the world create beauty out of violence, come out scathed but intact, and I have never experienced true violence, I have nothing to run from, really, except for the parts that feel like they will flake off if I can’t protect them sometimes.

I am better at staying when I run.

Here’s what it is: all the world of people is a code I don’t understand. Getting it wrong feels like stepping off a cliff, my heart in my throat. Twist of the ankle. Even after all this time, nearly forty years, I still don’t understand. I can tell myself and tell myself and tell myself. I write notes and notebooks and learn and memorize and I plunge myself in again and again. I ask questions. I study faces. I learn what is right and wrong and then I say something and it is the wrong thing again and maybe if I was different I would shrug the misteps off, but that is not me and I cry and cry until it feels like my eyes will explode. And then I get up and go into the world again. 

I am so tired. 

Yesterday, feeling my worst, I went to the pharmacy to get some allergy medicine for Kai. It was the kind of day when I felt exposed and afraid of people's eyes, like I didn’t want to be seen at all, I wanted to be invisible. But kids need medicine sometimes, so there I was in the shop. And in front of me were two older Karen men, in town from their village which was probably nearly two hours away. They were short, wearing tribal clothes, tasseled bags at their sides. They looked like they might be brothers, with the same lines in their faces. They stood and discussed all their options, with a leisurely sense of time, and as they did, they reached out to one another again and again, with an arm slung around the back, or gently touching the shoulder, or a hand on the back of the other’s neck. It was purely unconscious, little gestures of affection in the sterile pharmacy, figuring out medication and vitamins, one man translating the pharmacist's Thai words into Karen for the other.

I was so sad, but even then I couldn’t help seeing it. Tiny ways of being there for one another.

My little community has been having some rough days as we try to figure deep things out, and that means more situations where we all feel like we are out of our depth. And in the midst of it, my friends have been kind to me and to each other in generous ways. Leaf, made of light, bringing hope with her words, reaching out, speaking kindness, touching my arm or my elbow or my knee. Ro holding my hand, resting her head on my shoulder. Winnie with her endless kindness, checking in, buying iced coffee, pouring out love. Miri sending me verses and a picture she drew. Brendan with a bowl of food, offering to drop Solo off at his Science club. Josh with jokes and little nudges of humor that say, “You are my friend.” Neil and his rumbles and hums and murmurs of support. Olga with care for my daughter, showing up for hugs and a brief talk on the bench outside my house. All of our Pai community, with smiles on the motorbike, nods, music and help. And Chinua, my own, beloved Chinua, the Superstar Husband whom I have memorized, with arms and voice and lips that all say home. Chinua playing piano, Chinua giving me a hug, Chinua bridging gaps again and again.

I see all these things, these unconscious ways that we reach out to each other, speak love of God with one another. I name them, write them down, and the world feels livable again. Maybe I don't have to disappear.

There are light edged clouds, and there is rice in the bowl. Stones in the jar, in my hand. Imagination and the books of my childhood. My kids and other peoples’ kids swirling around like a stream of silliness and love. Poetry. All is not hopeless. The world is confusing and hard sometimes, and it circles around in new and surprising depths of hurt or pain, but it is edged in light.

Just how much.

IMG_1961.JPG
IMG_1962.JPG
IMG_1964.JPG
IMG_1965.JPG
IMG_1966.JPG
IMG_1967.JPG
IMG_1968.JPG

Today I spent a few minutes going through my archives, wriggling all over from the cuteness. 

Cuteness like in this post:

Or this one.

We are all so old and sensible now. The kids are sensible at least. Except maybe Solomon, who is still as crazy as ever. 

Do you know that feeling when you just want to break out? Break out of the wrapping and the cellophane, the fetters and the sticky raincoats, the customs and the politeness? Maybe I want to break away from gravity and just fly. Clouds heap up in the sky and in the evenings the sun touches their edges. I would like to touch just… there. That bright line between cloud and the dark sky behind it. 

I want Solomon to bloom with all the genius within him.

I want to do what I say I’m going to do.

I want to run faster than anything.

I want Kai to move into the realm of adults with ease and grace. 

I want them to know how much I really really love them.

We are fettered by the laws of gravity and language, of our own neurological abilities, of life with all its bathroom breaks and digestive needs. Food of course, and water. At intervals throughout the day. 

So I settle back down and write fantasy. And read books full of adventure to my kids. And suggest hikes to waterfalls. 

We did go on a hike the other day. We went with our friends Alisa and Emiko, and all our kids as well as a couple more. Sort of a homeschool co-op event. It’s a beautiful two-hour hike into the jungle, and at the end you find Elephant’s Head Waterfall. It is true jungle and the beginning of rainy season, so bugs are everywhere. There were bees (I got stung) and ants, and little flies that clung to your legs, and biting flies, and mosquitoes, and it was still worth it because of the beauty.

The kids climbed to an upper level of the waterfall and I nervously watched them (I’m always a nervous wreck around heights combined with slippery surfaces.) Two boys climbed to an even higher part of the waterfall, and Kenya and her friend Vrinda tried to as well, but they gave it up and splashed around in the pool. When the boys were climbing back down, there were sudden screams from the others.

“Snake! There’s a snake right beside your hand!” 

The boy, Joe, identified it as a green viper, and there was more screaming. The snake was coiled in a crevice in a rock that the kids had been using as a handhold.

They all got far away quickly, but Taran was still stuck up on the higher level, and the only way down was right beside the crevice. I called the kids to come back down, and when Taran looked around to find another way to us, he spotted a long tree that had fallen, high above the waterfall. It stretched from where he was to above where I was, and he gestured at it, asking if he should take that way out. Because he is a ninja, I said yes. It seemed like the lesser of two evils. So then he crawled along the fallen tree, Mowgli style, and I nearly collapsed with relief when we were all back down on a lower level again. 

Goodness. 

Perhaps it is enough flight, enough near-death experience for anyone. But still I find myself wanting a boat or a pilot’s license, or simply to be able to run like a cheetah.

And then sometimes a pile of yarn and a cup of tea are enough for me. Especially after a day in the jungle. 

Now you can support my writing on Patreon. Patrons can give as little as $1 a month, and get extra vlogs and posts. Thanks so much to new Patrons, Rose Anderson, Jessie Benkert, Elisha Pettit and Erin Yeatman! I really really appreciate your support.

The things that help us remain.

 The punniest ones.

The punniest ones.

Well, May has taken me by surprise. I forgot how busy I always am, and how much emotional space is taken up by my life in my family and community. It leaves me breathless. I am sinking in, settling and staying and remaining in it all. 

This morning the world feels full of possibility. It rained all last night, which had me wakeful because of the tin awning next to my window, where I could hear the drops amplified like large beasts dancing around in our eaves. But gray is a color that the sky can be, and sometimes large beasts spend the night trampling around and you flow in and out of sleep, waiting for oblivion.

I have found a spot for quiet moments- a large boulder where I can sit and see the whole valley beneath me, a place away from people. I love my house in town, but I can’t see very far from it; only into the friendly eyes of my neighbors. Sometimes I need a farther view. The other day I drove out to my spot after a long day of talking, and found sweet breezes in the hills as I went. The day had been hot and humid, in between rains, but the breeze on the bike cooled my hot eyes. 

The spot I love is in the midst of a litchi orchard, and since the litchis are ripe right now, there were bikes that belonged to the farmers who own the orchard. They were harvesting and also, I noticed, pruning the trees, probably preparing for next year’s harvest. Litchi season is so short. So the trees were barer and shorter than when I had last seen them, and large branches were piled at their bases. 

I wondered what the farmers would think of me sitting there, but I went and sat. I hoped they would know I wasn’t trying to steal litchis. I read a few lines from Anne of Green Gables, but was too keyed up to go very far, so I lay back on my rock and watched the light change and the trees move in the wind. 

There is truly no way to order your life to escape hard things. Sometimes you have to settle into them. But what is the reward? What is the thing that helps us remain? I guess there are many. Cloudy mornings like today. Poems. Quirky kids. 

Quirky kids: all of our teenagers (my own and others in their group of friends) are currently obsessed with puns, which is killing me. I try to discourage them by telling them I’m not impressed, but they see behind my words to the amusement and love beneath. They know I think they are amazing, so they keep pulling out their shiny puns, offering them to me grinning, and no matter how mean I am in response, they know I secretly love it. 

Yesterday Leafy was missing when we went to do read alouds, and we called for him until it was apparent that he wasn’t in the house, or around the house anywhere. It was very unlike him to be gone during a part of school that he loves, so eventually I got worried enough (kidnapping! I would kidnap Leafy, he’s a prize!) that I called his friend Taran. 

“Is Leafy with you?”

“No, but my mom saw him out running.”

“Out running. Hmm. Good to know.”

He came back shortly, dripping with sweat. Apparently he’s in a fitness contest. He lifts weights that he made out of milk jugs with water in them and pvc pipe. And he had finished most of his school and gone out for a run. 

And I had five extra boys over for a while yesterday. One of them kept walking around wearing our Power Rangers costume. I’m so glad to be in a life where I get to see people wearing Power Rangers costumes out of the corner of my eye while I’m baking bread in the kitchen. 

So yes. Quirky kids. Also, color and bread dough in your hands. Rising like a mad thing.

Deep conversations during Bible circle. Deeply smart women making incredible discoveries about the words of God. Salad. Music. Possible future travels.

And behind it all, layered behind all the layers, sheets and swathes and reams of God’s love for you. He loves you and loves you and loves you. You walk around in a spotlight of love. He thinks you are adorable. He loves your laugh and your quirky ways. So that’s a thing that helps us remain.

I watched the sky from my rock and then a farmer spotted me as he turned his motorbike around, ready to head home. He smiled and called out, gesturing for me to come, and then he piled as many litchis into my hands as I could hold. I went back to my rock and sat with my lap full of litchis, and it felt like a lapful of light. 

 

***

Now you can support my writing on Patreon. Patrons can give as little as $1 a month, and get extra vlogs and posts. I'm so thankful for my patrons! I've got some fun patron-only extras going up today. :) 

A beautiful gift.

Getting back to school at the beginning of our school season has taken my breath away, to say it in a somewhat dreamy way. I feel like I run from morning till night and sometimes we are doing spelling words or discussion questions at 9:30, right before bed. It is worth it, and I know that I just have a few years ahead of me that are very full, and I won’t wish them away.

They are full of the beauty of bad puns,

Cups of coffee under the white flowering tree,

Teens who sing me happy birthday (my own and others that I love)

Good discussion,

Endless discussion,

Discussion first thing in the morning when I’m still making smoothies,

Trips to the market,

Pencils and pens,

Being read to by a nine-year-old,

Love,

And fairy dust.

And sometimes I am very tired from it all. Even good gifts can make you tired. And sometimes good gifts take your breath away in even dreamier ways.

I just had a birthday and my beautiful, tall, kindhearted daughter gave me this as a present:

IMG_1748.JPG

I wish someone could have taken a picture of my face, because I couldn’t speak for several moments. I couldn’t figure out what I was looking at for a minute, because it was a print of Isika, a character that I made up in my own head, and how did that happen? But as it turns out, Kenya drew it, had it printed, and gave it to me, rendering me speechless. 

It bodes well for a magical year. I’m praying it is so.