Friday, December 30, 2011

Writer's Block, Suicide, and Grace

I would guess that I haven't journaled in my personal journal, or here in my blog for close to six weeks, which might be a record. There was a point of no return in the amount of stress any one person can tolerate, and I hit the wall, hard.

As I've tried to write, everything seems trite, and doesn't seem to do justice to the reality of everyday life - the good, the bad, and the ugly. I write a sentence, and delete it. I write a paragraph, and delete it. Writing is my way of processing the world and of making sense of experience. I have been a writer pretty much my whole life. I am a visual learner, but a verbal processor. The inability to write has been suffocating in ways. I can't write sermons, or papers. I can't write emails or journal. I can barely read the texts I need to read for upcoming classes, and put one whole class on hold.

When I am able to get my head above the water of writer's block for short periods and pound out a few sentences, or make a theological connection in my reading, I start to feel more like myself. I've discovered that the act of trying is as important as doing, even when it's frustrating.

My family has been through a lot this year, but November trumped everything that has come before. I have had my ability to be compassionate and kind and patient be stretched to the absolutely maximum - and at the same time, have been shown those qualities in spades by my beloved community - church, homeschoolers, friends, colleagues.

I thought that losing our home last summer was bad. I thought that the things came after piled on traumas that were hard - although there were gifts of learning and grace that came with each hard time. But right before Thanksgiving, we almost lost our oldest daughter to a suicide attempt. Now that, my friends is bad. Definitely the worst thing that I can imagine. Hard for us, but undeniably harder for her, to be in that space of despair and pain. To watch my child go through the suffering of depression and the medical intervention necessary for her recovery just about broke my heart. It left us all fragile, and even more appreciative of the gifts that we each have.

Why do I speak of such things? Because I must. Because families lose children and teens to suicide at an alarming rate, and it is frightening to speak of it. If you say it out loud, it must be true - and that's terrifying. I am now that mom - the mom whose daughter tried to take her life, and almost succeeded. I am now the mom who is grieving the loss of who she thought her daughter was, and celebrating her courage in fighting to come back from this. And I speak of it, because I've been through suicide attempts before, by my ex-husband, and it's a lonely time - one that frightens other people, and that society lays a film of shame over. This time, I wasn't alone, and I am not ashamed.

My daughter has nothing to be ashamed of. Nobody does. Depression is insidious, and awful and sometimes deadly. It's hard to treat, and not something your friends want to talk about, and it sucks the life out of you and everyone around you when it's deep. She now knows, and has the notes and cards and emails to prove it, that she is valued and loved and celebrated - things that depression made her forget, or wouldn't let her hear in the moment. She has a wall of affirmation above her bed. It makes me smile.

I have also learned that a life of service may be draining at times, but more importantly, it can also be sustaining. It is those moments when I watch a small ministry group have a profound theological experience, or feel the power of words flowing through me in the pulpit, or sitting and listening to a friend or congregant in need of love, not words...those are the moments of grace that fill me up so that I can work on being my best self in difficult situations.

I am a do-er. And I have not been do-ing much the last month - not that you would notice. But I have been. I've been quietly filling myself back up with meals dropped off, with hugs, with small gifts, with listening ears, with vegging out to Netflix, to reading mind candy fiction, to sleeping late and going to bed early. I've been snuggling with my kids, sitting by the fireplace, keeping the house peaceful and clean. I've been watching my kids grow in explosive and exciting and shocking ways, as they become more and more themselves with each day that passes. I've been locking eyes with my husband, feeling a love that sustains both of us and knowing that we're not alone, ever.

So thank you. Thank you to my classmates who are practicing serious radical hospitality this January in Chicago, in so many ways. Thank you to my friends who send me snail mail and email notes of love and encouragement. Thank you to the Lilac Children's Garden and RAHA communities who have brought us meals and provided child care for days on end. Thank you to the family who has surrounded us with their presence and love. Thank you to May Memorial, for trusting me and teaching me how to become a minister. Thank you to First Unitarian of Rochester, whose pastoral care team sat with us for hours, who drove me home to shower, who brought me food and Christmas ornaments. Thank you to the doctors and nurses and techs and aides and chaplaincy staff at Strong Hospital. There is so much gratitude that I hold, and it's this being in community that allows me the space to care for myself and my family. Thank you to all those friends and parents and teachers who love my daughter and have called her and offered support and coffee and friendship. You help to sustain us all.

Yes, it's hard to be transparent about the hard things in life. But it's harder to go around pretending that these things don't happen in life. To me, to you, to the grocer, to great minds and singers and writers and cab drivers. If we hide the painful things, we cannot begin to heal. I know this - I've known it my whole life. But if someone out there is  just learning it, I hope they know that there is a world of love and support just outside their door.

So, I know that I could just delete this again. That it doesn't express the depth of pain and love and grace in life. But writing is what I've got. My voice is what I've got. All my gifts and imperfections are what I've got. So here I am, back at it. And it feels like healing.


ms. kitty said...

Dear Kelly, I'm so sorry to hear that your daughter---and your whole family---has been in such pain this fall. Thank goodness for the strength and companionship of friends and family along this dreadful road. I'm thinking about you all and hoping the light shines brightly on you all very soon.

Lizard Eater said...

Wow, Kelly. What a helluva year.

I'm so glad your daughter didn't succeed. So glad you have people around to lift you and your family.

May the surprises of 2012 be nothing but joyous.

beanjeepin said...

Crying (again) reading this. For you, for your daughter, for the fear of my own children... but THANKFUL you are being so open with it. Very much so. It's something we might not have considered in time and now are persuing ways for the kids to have closer relationships with adults who are not us they might feel more at ease going to, examining how we respond to them constantly, making sure resources are available that they know about - not any/all of this can actually prevent, but just that the wheels are turning, that it's there.....

And believe me, we are very very glad she didn't succeed. I still need to write my note to her but my kids adore her, and I think she's pretty darned awesome myself. You, too.

Catharine said...

I've been that girl. And Julie's been that loved one who didn't know from day to day whether I'd be back home when she returned from work. So painful. So many feelings of helplessness and fear.

Furthermore, I hear you on the writer's block. My hope is that my morning routine, including my Morning Pages, is going to bear fruit this year on my blog. Look there later today or tomorrow for my 2012 paradigm and goals.

Can't wait to see you. Less that two months!