Life & Fiction: Grieving Through Fiction

I love how this column I wrote a month ago teams so nicely with the poems I posted last week. I was thankful to have a friend staying with me while Jay traveled, because there is heaviness in writing hard things. She was a loving presence that kept me company as I read my words about losing friends to distance.

She listened with respect and intensity, letting me try the words aloud, never commenting on the meaning-obscuring fog in my voice. Then said the last thing I would have guessed.

“That sounds so sad [a word that I later realized I never actually used in the original article]. I’ve never known anything like that.”

I might have laughed (cheeks still tear-damp from reading). I hope I said, “I’m glad for you.” What I remember is being glad for the shift in me, to speak openly and let the tears fall without apology.

Tears really are a gift.  And so are good, good friends.

In grade school, I read the book Bridge to Terabithia, a story that has been called a modern-day-classic by some, which basically means enough people were surprised by a book they discovered themselves that they insisted other people read it as well.

It is a story about loss. It was written by Katherine Paterson, in response to her son’s grief when he lost his best friend at a young age. I cried when I read that book.

I cried like I didn’t know I was allowed to. My mom did the right thing. She redirected my siblings, held them off. She let me cry.

But I couldn’t figure out why I was so sad. I thought this kind of emotional reaction was wrong. The story wasn’t real. The people I mourned with never existed. I didn’t understand this empathetic sadness, and it scared me.

From then on, I spent most of my conscious reading and movie-watching avoiding anything that might invoke a similarly intense response.

I forgot that I’d ever cried at a story. I prided myself at having a firm grasp on reality and separating myself from the sentimentality of those lumpy, leaky women who cried at weddings. Who cried even at movies with weddings in them.

Then, in 2006, fewer than three months after my youngest child was born, my dear-friend grandmother died.

Later that year I read The Thirteenth Tale, and I cried. I didn’t even identify that closely with much in the story, but I cried hard.

I began to consider that tears might not always be about exactly what started us crying.

Penelope Trunk, a career coach and blogger, once said something that I’ve co-opted in the paraphrase: “PMS is your body telling you to cry about the stuff you’ve been ignoring all month.”

This is beautiful and freeing because it starts by assigning value to the tears: the stressors that break us open, showing what’s inside, did not create the emotion in some mysterious alchemy. The reality has always been there.

 

Read the rest at wynmag.com

 

 

Mourning Isn’t Over When the Flowers Wilt

 

Image courtesy of q83 via stock.xchng

This is a recording I made of poems about admiration, love and loss, from a variety of poems and poets: To be of Use by Marge Piercy, A Psalm of Life, by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, A Dirge Without Music by Edna St. Vincent Millay, Perfection Wasted by John Updike, and an excerpt from Four Poems in One by Anne Porter.

I have completed my First-10 speeches for Toastmasters, and am now working on my first “advanced manual,” Interpretive Reading.

I performed this collection of poems at a new Toastmasters group yesterday. The feedback was mixed, kind compliments, and appreciation of how I compiled the cycle, with questions from other people about the point or purpose of poetry and such a “dark” theme: Remembrance, death and loss.

Jay came with me to the meeting, and returned to the questions when we got home.

My first response was to think, Maybe I’m just morbid.

But that didn’t fit my intent or my emotional state. I dug deeper while he tried to help.

“Is it to share at a funeral or memorial service like [name] asked? What’s the application?”

“Mourning doesn’t end when the service does,” I finally said, coming to my understanding as I spoke it.

“I repeat the poems because it is a way of remembering. The people who hear only death and gloom hear what they have ears for, and that’s okay, that’s not up to me, it’s where they’re at. But there is ever-so-much more and better going on than gloom.

“There is grief, because I still grieve. That doesn’t go away for me or anybody. And it’s comforting, somehow, to go back to what you might expect at a service. It still honors them, and comforts me.”

Busy Mind, Busy Life (Reading Notes)

Image courtesy of Timo Balk via stock.xchng

Jay got home Friday after a month away.

I’m starting to feel re-stablized, and ready to pick up whole books again. But this has been an interesting month of idea collecting (along with overwhelm…).

Every now-and-then I think I might start an INFJ blog, but then I do a bit of Googling and see there’s scads out there, and they make me notice more of my ENTP side, so I refrain from publicly claiming a “type” anymore.

For the most part.

But, for all you intuitive types who find yourself stuck between the “real world” of details and the “more equal” world of your thoughts and discoveries I will give you a peek into some of what my month of (blogging) silence has been steeped in.

It always seems like a crazy-huge variety while I’m reading and collecting, but sitting down in the (relative) peace and quiet of a school-isn’t-started-yet morning, I find a few broad headings can umbrella the frequent settings of my thoughts.

Even so, rabbit-trail chasers: you’ve been warned.

Body Thoughts

Writing Thoughts

Thoughts on Story/telling

Thoughts on Being/Belief/Behavior

From Sarah Bessey: We use words like “true” and “real” in reference to womanhood or motherhood or marriage, and I think it’s wrong to do this.

We use these words like they are freeing or universal or helpful, but they are forging new chains for a new law.  There is no such thing as “real” woman or a “real” man. If you are a man, you are a real man. If you are a woman, you are a real woman.

In an Unspoken Voice is based on the idea that trauma is neither a disease nor a disorder, but rather an injury caused by fright, helplessness and loss that can be healed by engaging our innate capacity to self-regulate high states of arousal and intense emotions.

Such an encouraging, hope-offering thought.

Thoughts on Book-Reading

I’ve signed up for Net Galley‘s reading & reviewing program, so I’m excited to make Reading Notes a more consistent feature here at Untangling Tales. My favorite non-fiction titles are about mental and physical health, and how they intersect with every-day life. The fact that these books are being written, and that they’re available to me = lots of warm-fuzzies.

T vs. F: Logic and Emotion in Decision Making (Wyn Magazine)

One of the main dichotomies I run across is the war between Feeling and Thinking (shorted in many discussions to F & T).

The difficulty with these labels is that they can encourage a binary way of looking at the world, and people who are highly aware of their preferred way of deciding can become proud or ashamed of their preference, based on the message they get from the world around them.

With T and F we see two very different ways of doing things, and they are frequently set in a hierarchy rather than seen as two tools in a toolbox, neither of greater value, both necessary in different contexts.

A woman I know came from an entire family (both parents and sibling) who lived in the F-preference. The people they knew and met from the T-preference were perceived as harsh, unyielding, and definitely unloving.

In contrast, all my life I have been surrounded by T-preference people who are very driven, immutable, and organized, in both their behavior and their thoughts. This became my standard or assumption for maturity. Thinking was the way “real grown-ups” made decisions.

Showing emotions (especially “violent” emotions, like anger or loud tears) was evidence of a lack of control, which inevitably held echoes of those childish, impotent outbursts we used to call tantrums.

I understood the value of Thinking and did everything I could to ignore or repress Feeling, seeing it as only a distraction that strong people can get over.

Read more at wynmag.com

It’s Not Me, It’s You: Find a Therapist That Fits (Wyn Magazine)

In the darker corners of my depression, having to look for Counselor Number Three gave me additional evidence that I was a failure.

From my current perspective, stronger and more healthy, I can look back and understand I met two more people, professionals, but limited as all humans are, who were not the best match for my personality and needs.

In the summer of 2010, our house had been on the market for two months with a realtor who disrespected me, but we were in a six-month contract and that was that. Because of newly diagnosed allergies, my children and I were restricted in our choice of foods, and I had to learn how to feed us all while they were a constant dripping-tap of complaining at the change.

There was more to the overwhelm I felt than those details, but those were the challenges I could see.

A friend frequently had an interesting tidbit or observation she’d gleaned from her time with her counselor, and many times she urged me to find a professional listener of my own. She felt I should nail down what was troubling me, because really, existentially, it couldn’t be a self-centered realtor, whiny kids, and giving up my favorite foods.

Apparently I wasn’t shallow enough for that.

Thank God for encouraging Friends!

Read the rest at wynmag.com

Life & Fiction: Pick a Genre

Life & Fiction is my monthly column at Wyn Magazine where I apply my experience with Story, reading, and the writing life to the broader goal of mindful, healthy living.

When you go to counseling for the first time, it’s useful—for you and the therapist—to know why.

If you have something specific that drove you to counseling, it can help direct the beginning of your time together. The focus may change, but it’s a starting place.

I think of it as giving yourself a genre to work from.

In literature, or at least, in submitting a book for publication, you need to get more specific than “Dystopian-Paranormal-Fantasy-Romance with SciFi elements and a Chick Lit feel.” I can already imagine the type of novel that would fit that description, and I think it would be crazy-fun to write, but a bookstore, and therefore a publisher, will have to ask, “Where it would be shelved?”

In the same way, recognizing your issue down to a very finite level will probably give you a great deal of personal relief and even satisfaction, but being too specific will also limit the type of help you may receive.

Read more at wynmag.com

What Mental Health Help is For (Wyn Magazine)

I said before that my story is long. What I find fascinating throughout its process are the ways my mind is opened to new understandings. One of these examples was through the process of canning.

I used to do a lot of canning; mostly meat, beans, soups, and stews. With all my food sensitivities, there was no longer anything like fast food in my life, and this was my attempt to build a buffer.

Invariably I would start a project bigger than I could complete in one day, shuffle the crowded fridge to keep things food-safe overnight, and finish canning the next day.

Unfortunately, about a third of the jars would crack during the canning process. When I pulled them out of the hot water, the glass bottoms would fall away with all my hard work and all my patience.

I called the local canning guru, changed my technique according to what she suggested, and tried “one last time.”

As I removed the heavy lid of the pressure canner from the second batch, my middle daughter bounced through the kitchen and asked if any broke this time. I told her I’d learned what made them break and now could carefully avoid it.

“What made them break?” she asked.

“Temperature stress,” I began, and then translated it down to six-year-old level. “When the inside temperature is too different from the outside, the weaker glass isn’t strong enough to handle the difference; it breaks.”

And I froze.

Wow.

That was a good explanation for my some of my depression.

My inside was nothing like my environment, and I had cracked.

Read the rest at wynmag.com

How to Cope with Retriggering Your Breakdown (Wyn Magazine)

Co-written by me and Kristen Kansiewicz, a Licensed Mental Health Counselor on staff at East Coast International Church outside Boston, this article addressed something all our Wounded Healers at Wyn Magazine experienced as they wrote their stories of falling apart for our inaugural issue in June.

If you are one of the millions of women who have experienced an emotional breakdown at some point in your life, you may find that from time to time you re-experience that low point.

Often in the process of healing and recovery, you work through stressors and emotions and eventually feel whole again. There is a relief and gratitude and maybe even the assumption That’s finally over, now I can get on with my life.

Months or perhaps years later, you may find yourself talking with a friend or writing about your experience of breakdown and that moment of reflection causes all those feeling to return as if the problem never ended.

Read the rest at wynmag.com

Specializing

Logic is not motivating.

–Dave Ramsey

Image courtesy of Antonio Jiménez Alonso via stock.xchng

I found so much comfort in that phrase when I read it at the end of 2010. I was in my first months of depression and trying very hard to figure out my balance between logic (that I’d always relied on and trusted most) and the value of emotion.

My trust was a pendulum, an either-or. The two mechanisms were opposed to one another, and I wasn’t sure how they were supposed to integrate…until I read that line.

For the first time I started to connect the division-of-labor process in my marriage to other processes.

In my marriage I have the tremendous blessing of being ignorant. And so does my husband.

We each have things that we’re naturally good at– or at least better at than the other person.

For example, Jay, in his conscientious, detail-oriented personality, is in charge of managing the money. With that same conscientiousness and significantly greater physical strength, he’s primary care on the dailiness of the animals (also: shoveling out the barn after winter was all. him.)

In contrast, I’m in charge of the food. Eating “real” is important to us as our way to eat healthy. We don’t do a lot of “organic” but most of our food is from scratch-scratch. And that’s what I manage. I was forced into it, first by my stint in Weight Watchers where learning and inventing new recipes turned out to be training wheels for later, when I recognized and adapted to food sensitivities.

I never had to learn to efficiently kill and clean a rabbit, Jay never had to learn how to butcher or cook one.

And this works very well for two perfectionist personalities, because we can put our limited time and energy into getting better at fewer things.

As in our marriage, I am learning that it is inefficient and very frustrating (and perhaps chauvinist) when we expect one “better” party to be able to do it all, no matter what it is. Instead, I let the bickering siblings specialize in different, but ultimately useful, areas.

Logic isn’t (usually) motivating, but emotion most-definitely is. Emotion is powerful, but (usually) needs trajectory.

Anger, delight, surprise, joy, fear, all these are fuel cells adding a jolt (or rocket boosters) to a course of action (ideally) mapped out by that highly valued logic.

The third spectrum of the Myers-Briggs personality theory sets Thinking on one end and Feeling on the other, and some people treat that as if you can think without feeling, or feel without thinking. Neither of these extremes are a healthy way to approach life.

We each have a bit of “type patriotism,” an attraction or affinity to the pole we sit closest to, that makes us quicker to pull that tool out and assume it’s applicable, but we will be our most effective when we consider more than one tool for the job in front of us.

Image courtesy of Enrico Nunziati via stock.xchng

This choosing takes practice and discipline, but I believe it is part of growing up; part of maturity is being able to hesitate long enough to confirm you’ve got the right tool for the job.

Specialization has always made me uneasy, because it creates a dependency.

When you can’t count on someone being there to fill in your gaps, every weakness is a liability.

I used to modulate excitement at any victory by quoting a line from Lord of the Rings. Gandalf was curbing the excitement over the victory at Helm’s Deep, reminding them they had won only a battle, not the war.

“And this with help we cannot rely on again.”

(Or something like that. My book’s out of reach just now.)

The point is that I was always in flux. Insecurity. Grateful, yes, for every success, but still as anxious about tomorrow as I was yesterday.

Until God gave me the image of manna: the way he fed the Children of Israel in the wilderness. It was a miracle, but a guaranteed miracle.

I have a good head.

I have a strong heart.

They have different jobs, but they are designed to work together.

And just like I can trust my husband, and completely remove some life-essentials from my learning-pile, I can trust that the logic/emotion dichotomy doesn’t need to be one.

When they own their niche(s), there’s less squabbling and more effective living.

Strength is Overrated (Wyn Magazine)

This is the story of my ending up in a very unexpected and deep depression.

It is a long story, and still not complete, even its indulgent length, but it is a start. And it says a lot about expectations and assumptions.

 

The short, bitter version is that I thought I could do it all, and I was wrong.

The longer, more compassionate version is that I never saw it as inappropriate to “do it all.” It didn’t seem like too much, at first.

Read the whole story at wynmag.com

Then you’ll understand why a camel is the featured image {wink}