Friday, June 8, 2018

The illness that may kill

I don't know when I first formulated the thought, "I want to die," but I've had that thought more often than I'd like to admit.

In fact, I had that thought a week ago this past Tuesday, on May 29th.

I felt horrible.  I went about my daily activities, dropped my son off at Bible study, and then drove down to the library down the street and wrote in my journal about how bad I felt and how tempting it was to die.  If someone were to pick up my journal and read that entry, they can be forgiven for believing that I acted on those feelings.

Obviously, I didn't act on it.  I wrote about it, then picked up Matthew and went home. 

I have an illness called depression.  I've had it for many years.  I suspect I may have had it since I was a teenager.  There's many circumstances in my life that I think brought it on; dealing with bullies, dealing with spiritual abuse, dealing with health problems, dealing with autism.  Any one of those would be enough to bring on depression; all of those are enough to overwhelm anyone.  I see a counselor regularly and I told her yesterday that given all I'm dealing with, I'm surprised I'm not more screwed up than I am. :-)  (I also take meds regularly.)

I also suspect that some of my depressive feelings may come from my hormones.  I use a hormone cream and a hormone patch and change them every Tuesday and Saturday.  The Tuesday I felt so horrible, I went home, changed the patch, used the cream, and went to bed.  The next morning, I woke up and felt much better.  I'm due for a meds check soon, and this is a question I plan to ask my GYN, about a link between depression and hormones.

Two of my reasons for living are named Matthew and Frank.  Thinking about them keeps me reasonably sane.  And I have people who would miss me if I were gone. 

I'm thinking about all of this in the wake of two celebrity suicides this week, Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain. 

Kate Spade was a famous designer, known for handbags and other things.  Anthony Bourdain was a chef with a show on CNN who traveled the world.  People loved what they produced.  People wanted to be them.  How ironic that, apparently, Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain didn't even want to be.
Did they have depressive illness, as I and millions of other Americans do?  And if they did, did they somehow feel that they couldn't say, "I am depressed," "I have depression"?  Did they fear that, if they expressed that feeling, they'd just hear, "Why are you depressed?  You're wealthy.  People love you.  You have everything to live for!" 

Logic and rationality don't always work on someone who has depression.  Sometimes the illness is all-consuming.  It is chronic and debilitating for millions of people.  Meds keep it at bay, coping skills keep it at bay.  But sometimes, sometimes, the meds, the coping skills, the need others have for you . . . it just may not be enough. 

Depression is a fatal illness in some cases.  It is an illness that kills.

I don't necessarily subscribe to the belief that "suicide is a sin" and that people who kill themselves automatically go to hell.  I believe God is gracious enough to understand that at times, people do do it in a moment of weakness.  People often do it when they see no way out, when the circumstances and problems just seem insurmountable.  It looks and sounds easy.  Usually, my thoughts of "I want to die" aren't "I want to die."  They are, "I want out.  Life is hard and I'm tired.  I want out."  Realizing this gives me strength to keep on going.  And writing this, I realize that those signals might also be saying, you're trying to do too much.  Take a break and cut yourself a little slack.

For those of you who are Christians, even faith isn't enough at times to keep suicide or suicidal thoughts at bay.  Nearly nine years ago, a member of our youth group killed herself.  My own preacher has shared in a few sermons about his struggle with depression.  A close friend of mine, who is also a Christian, deals with depression and is on medication for it.

(Some time back, a person on a Facebook group I'm part of asserted that faith in Christ would heal depression.  When I pointed out that I was a Christian, and I still struggled with depression and even took meds for it, I was told, "Then you're not a Christian."  For the love of all things holy, please do not do this to people.  Please.  I believe God can heal and sometimes He does do so miraculously.  But most of the time, He chooses to heal through people with medical skill and with drugs that those people know how to use properly.  People of faith already feel shamed enough by having depression in the first place.  They do not need to be shamed by other people of faith.  To the person that told me I wasn't a Christian, I said, I find it interesting that you can judge my relationship with Christ from one post.)

Today, my Facebook feed is flooded with articles on suicide, how to tell if someone might be suicidal, where to get help if you or someone you love is suicidal. 

One thing to keep in mind is that the depression that can lead to suicide is an illness, an illness that can kill, and that like any illness, it needs to be treated.  Maybe by meds, maybe by some changes in circumstances, maybe by learning some good coping skills, maybe by a combination of things. 

The Kate Spades, the Anthony Bourdains, the Tina Sewards of this world deal with this illness.  For Kate and Anthony, they've left behind the legacy of what happens when this illness kills. 

For the rest of the Kates, the Anthonys, and Tinas, let's leave behind a legacy of what can happen when we seek help. 

Just my .04, adjusted for inflation.

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Rawness, passion, and terror

(This is a somewhat rewritten version of a post I originally wrote back in January.  I'm revisiting this subject because today is the 50th anniversary of Bobby Kennedy's shooting.)

This man is your man

This man is our man
From California
To the New York island

From the redwood forests
To the Gulf Stream waters
This man is Robert Kennedy.

You can hear the raw passion in their voices on this audio, recorded on the night of  June 5, 1968.  (The audio is from the Pacifica Radio Archives and is posted on David Von Pein's YouTube channel.  DVP has hundreds of hours of JFK and RFK-era video and audio posted; I recommend him highly.)

They are exuberant and idealistic.

Their man, Robert Kennedy, is ahead in the California primary, a "winner-take-all" state as far as delegates are concerned.  Later, ABC newscaster Frank Reynolds would comment, there's nothing like an election night when everything is going your way.

The audio goes from singing to the chant of, "Sock it to 'em, Bobby!"

Eight minutes and thirty-one seconds into the audio, their hero enters to an ovation of shouting and the rousing cheers of, "We want Kennedy!  We want Kennedy!"

The first person he mentions is Don Drysdale, the Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher who'd pitched his sixth straight shutout that evening; Kennedy hoped they'd have as good fortune in their campaign.

He ran through a list of people he wanted to thank, including his dog, Freckles . . . and right afterwards -- after explaining that it wasn't in order of important -- his wife, Ethel.

At one point, while thanking the people who worked on the campaign, a young woman's voice yells back, "It was worth it!"

Tapping into the frustration people felt over rising violence and the war in Vietnam, he stressed that people wanted a change.  (Forty years later, another candidate would tap into similar frustration within the United States.)  

He finished his speech declaring that yes, Americans could work together; that we were a great country, an unselfish country, a compassionate country.

The speech ends with the triumphant words, "and now it's on to Chicago and let's win there."  Then, with a thumbs-up to the crowd and a flash of the two-fingered peace sign, he turns away from the podium while the crowd chants, "We want Bobby!"

Less than five minutes later, the screaming starts.

It's not the ovation the crowd gave a victorious candidate.  Rather, it's the screams of terror, panic, and confusion.

A second audio recording, of Andrew West from the Mutual Broadcasting System, also captures the moment:  "Senator Kennedy has been shot, is that possible?" "He still has the gun, the gun is pointed at me right at this moment," "Get the gun, Rafer . . . get his thumb, break it if you have to!"

And of the video coverage from the three major networks, perhaps two clips best illustrate the raw confusion:  1.  A bewildered Terry Drinkwater, CBS reporter, trying to figure out what had just happened (around 15:31 on the clip), and 2. the NBC coverage, about 40 seconds into the tape, showing one of Sirhan Sirhan's shooting victims being carried out of the Ambassador Hotel kitchen.  The NBC reporter speaking insists -- incorrectly -- that Stephen Smith, Robert Kennedy's brother-in-law, had also been shot.

In the first 24 minutes of the CBS video, there were no fewer than 28 pleas for a doctor and no fewer than 36 pleas, requests, and orders to "please clear the room", leave the room, or variations thereof.

These were the moments when panic took over, when terror took over and the raw jubilation of only a few minutes ago turned with fierce suddenness to raw fear.

John Kennedy's assassination also showed how quickly events can turn.  He'd received a warm welcome in Dallas, Texas only to be gunned down by an assassin who took six seconds to fire three shots.  (Oswald acted alone.  Deal with it.)  We saw the panic and terror of the crowds only after the film was developed; we heard the confusion as technicians in master control frantically flipped switches and yelled instructions into headsets offstage.

Five years later, broadcast technology developed to the point where we could see the raw panic, terror and confusion the moment it started happening.

This is life, at it rawest, unedited and unscripted, but captured on film and on audio.

And while the men in the anchor chairs -- Walter Cronkite, Frank Reynolds, Howard K. Smith, Frank McGee, and others -- may have been more polished in their delivery, you can catch their controlled, barely suppressed anger over the event; specifically, the failure of the Congress to pass gun control.

Twenty-six hours later, at 1:44 a.m., Pacific Daylight Time, Robert F. Kennedy died.  About 15 minutes later, his press secretary, Frank Mankiewicz, stepped up to a microphone and made the terse announcement of Kennedy's death.

Perhaps this was the moment that hope in our political system really began to fray, wither, and die. 

Jack Newfield, in his 1969 book Robert Kennedy: A Memoir, ends his book with these words:

Now I realized what makes our generation unique, what defines us apart from those who came before the hopeful winter of 1961, and those who came after the murderous spring of 1968.  We are the first generation that learned from experience, in our innocent twenties, that things were not really getting better, that we shall not overcome.  We felt, by the time we reached thirty, that we had already glimpsed the most compassionate leaders our nation could produce, and they had all been assassinated.  And from this time forward, things would get worse:  our best political leaders were part of memory now, not hope.  

The stone was at the bottom of the hill and we were alone.

Fifty years later, how much has really changed?  Has the raw passion and terror heard and seen that night in the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles morphed into a fatalistic depression about the future?

When Henry Jackson, U.S. Senator from Washington (who later ran for President in 1976), learned of Kennedy's shooting, stated, "The world has gone mad."

The world went mad in the early morning of June 5, 1968, there in the kitchen of the Ambassador Hotel, and fifty years later -- fifty years of violence, of mass shootings, of the murder of school children, fifty years of anger and hate later -- we have yet to regain any semblance of sanity.

Just my .04, adjusted for inflation.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Lather, rinse, repeat.

The pattern is all too common.

School shooting happens.
We react with shock and horror.
We see the news footage.
We send #thoughtsandprayers.
We debate about the shooter's motives, his (and it is always a he) parents, his friends, was he bullied, was he mentally ill?
We hear the reports of 4chan and InfoWars, "false flag," "crisis actors", "hoax".
And always, always, always, there is the debate about gun control.
And nothing changes.
Until the next shooting.

Lather, rinse, repeat.

Max Lucado, pastor and writer, says in this article that "this evil will not last forever".  He means to be comforting and reassuring here, and he is right in that there will be a judgment and that no, evil will not last forever . . . but to be honest, that is not much comfort to the ten families who right now have to decide on a casket or an urn to bury their child in.  Nor is it much comfort to me, because while evil could end in the next 40 seconds, it could also take 40 years or 400 years to end.  In the meantime, I still have to pay the mortgage and put food on the table.

Lather, rinse, repeat.

I also despair of finding reliable sources to determine the truth or fiction about anything anymore.  I have been told that I need to "do my own research" which, on the face, is true, but too often, the words "do your own research" means either, "if you do, you'll agree with me; if you don't agree with me, you didn't do your research," or, "I don't have any proof for what I so confidently assert.  Don't confuse me with the facts."

Lather, rinse, repeat.

CNN states that, on average, there has been one school shooting a week so far in 2018.  That all depends on how you define "school shooting".  (For example, a shooting in Seaside, California happened when a gun was accidentally discharged during a safety demonstration and a student was injured.)  But even one is too many, and there has definitely been more than one this year so far.

Lather, rinse, repeat.

I had a social media meltdown yesterday after hearing of the shooting at Santa Fe High School.  It wasn't my first meltdown and it probably will not be my last.

It's been 19 years since Columbine, 21 years since Pearl, Mississippi, 20 years since Jonesboro, Arkansas . . . and NOTHING has changed.  NOTHING, except people are angrier.

All of our thoughts, prayers, marches, and advocacy has changed NOTHING.

Lather, rinse, repeat.

How many more people -- how many more children, parents, teachers, law enforcement personnel -- how many more people have to die before we DO SOMETHING???

Or will nothing be done, just like a FB friend expressed last night in despair?

We're three weeks away from the 50th anniversary of the death of Bobby Kennedy, who was also murdered with a gun.  His brother was murdered with a rifle.  In the TV coverage of Bobby Kennedy's murder, both Walter Cronkite and Howard K. Smith commented about the gun control bill that was in Congress at that point. 

What has changed in 50 years?

What has changed in 20 years?


Lather, rinse, repeat.

Just my .04, adjusted for inflation.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Mother's Day, twenty years apart

Twenty years ago on Mother's Day, I sat in a church balcony and cried. 

I wanted to be a mother, and I was having problems conceiving.  Earlier that month, I'd taken Clomid in an attempt to help me have a baby.  (One of the side effects was night sweats.)

About three weeks later, I took a pregnancy test and it came up positive.

This Mother's Day, I came to church and found a bouquet of flowers displayed in honor of members' mothers who'd died in the last year.  One of the names mentioned was, "Thelma Sergent, mother of Tina Seward." 

A church member came up to me and said that the first Mother's Day without your mother was always the hardest.  I appreciated her kindness. 

It's interesting how many emotions Mother's Day stirs up.  In the days leading up to Mother's Day, I've seen several reminders about how not everyone remembers their mother fondly.  About how many women want to be mothers but aren't.  About those mothers who have lost children. 

And then, there is the greeting card, gift, and flower industry, ready to shower you with guilt about what you should be doing for your mother on Mother's Day!  I believe Mother's Day is second only to Valentine's Day in terms of flowers delivered, and this article says that in terms of money spent, Mother's Day is third after Christmas and Valentine's Day.

This Mother's Day, I told my husband that all I wanted was chocolate and the day off.  I bought my own chocolate and while I did make lunch for everyone (grilled cheese), I've spent the day relaxing. And my sister and I remembered our own mother.

Twenty years of Mother's Days have run the gamut from crying over what I didn't have to feeling the loss of what I don't have now.  It's part of the circle of life. 

Just my .04, adjusted for inflation.

Monday, April 2, 2018

So, is your toaster listening?

Last night, I got asked if I had a history of schizophrenia or if I'd been hearing voices where I shouldn't be.

After I finished chuckling, I responded with, no, no history there. 

I wrote this blog entry some time back about hearing what I thought was a radio station through my CPAP.  It's just barely loud enough for me to make out something.  I don't know if this is an audio version of a TV test pattern; what I hear is a voice saying/singing "W-A-Y-B, W-C-K-G, W-O-I-C, W-O-I-hear, W-O-I-smell, W-O-I-taste, W-O-I-touch," and then back to, "W-A-Y-B . . ." 

The person who asked me about hearing voices explained that they were in the mental health field and often had to ask that question.  They then said, it's hard to tell people that your toaster isn't listening to you without them getting offended.

I understood. 

It then occurred to me that in this day and age of Alexa and Google Home, there could actually come a day when your toaster could very well BE listening to you!  I can just see it now:  "Alexa, make my toast."  "Unthaw my bread."  "Unthaw my waffle."  (Alexa's response after that last job is done:  "Hey!  Leggo my Eggo!")

(Note:  I don't intend to make fun of people who do have schizophrenia or other mental illness.  Mental illness is no laughing matter.  I deal with depression and OCD, and neither of them are funny.  I do, however, use humor to deal with both conditions.)

So, it's back to doing a little bit of research on how, if at all, a CPAP can pick up voices or radio waves. 

In the meantime, I'll keep an eye--er, ear out for any signs that my toaster is listening.

And if the day the comes when I need to replace the toaster and it says, "I'm sorry, Tina, I can't let you do that," I will know my goose is cooked--er, toasted.

Just my .04, adjusted for inflation.

Friday, March 23, 2018

Worth more than our mistakes . . .

I recently heard a story that ties in with a devotional book that I'm reading right now.

Several years ago, a family experienced the death of their husband/father.  Afterwards, while going through the man's belonging, the family found, not just one, but several copies of Francine Rivers' novel Redeeming Love.

The family laughed at first.  Redeeming Love?  Seriously?  That's something a woman would read.  Why in the world would our father/husband have even one copy of Redeeming Love, let alone several?

They stopped laughing when they heard what Paul Harvey would call "the rest of the story".

Many years ago, this husband's wife had an affair.  Several people encouraged the husband to leave her.  After all, isn't adultery grounds for divorce?  

He didn't leave.  Instead, he and his wife reconciled, and they spent many years together before his death. 

During this period of time, the husband discovered Francine Rivers' Redeeming Love.

Redeeming Love is a retelling of the Biblical story of Hosea.  In the Bible, Hosea is a prophet, living around 750 B.C., who is told by God to go and marry an adulterous woman.  So he goes and marries a woman named Gomer.  Some scholars believe that she was a prostitute. 

Why did God tell Hosea to marry a prostitute?  To illustrate the relationship that Israel had with God--that of an adulterous wife who'd left the husband who loved her . . . and to illustrate the God who still loved Israel and who desired a relationship with her, even though she had wandered away from him and was serving other gods.

Instead of Israel in 750 B.C., Redeeming Love is set in 1850's California, and tells the story of Angel, a prostitute, and Michael Hosea, the man told by God to marry her.  The book follows their relationship; Angel, cold and hardened from her time as a prostitute; and Michael, determined to love her no matter what. 

Francine Rivers wrote this book after her conversion to Christianity, calling it her "statement of faith".  She'd been a romance writer before she became a Christian.  After her conversion, she turned her talents towards Christian fiction.  (Side note:  I have read Redeeming Love and another book of hers, The Atonement Child.  I recommend them both highly.)

Why did this husband/father have multiple copies of a romance novel, albeit a Christian romance novel?

His reasoning:   He wanted his wife to know that she was worth more than the mistakes she had made.

Isn't that the message of the Gospel, illustrated by the book of Hosea?  That we are worth more than our mistakes?  That we are worth more than our sin?  That God, in the person of Jesus--just like Hosea the prophet, just like Michael Hosea in Redeeming Love--believes that we are worth more than the mistakes we make, than the sins we have committed? 

This is the same God that cries out, in Hosea 11:8, How can I give you up?  How can I hand you over? to an Israel that has turned away from Him. 

The husband in the story I heard about couldn't turn away his wife.  In the end, his love won her over.  He saw beyond her unfaithfulness, just as God sees beyond our sin.  He saw her worth and value as God's child, just as God sees our worth and value as His children.

Because it is not our mistakes that determine our ultimate value.

That is the message of God, of Hosea, of Redeeming Love, and of this husband to this wife.

Just my .04, adjusted for inflation.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

False accusations

In fourth grade, we had a system where we had student lunch monitors in each class who would keep an eye on students and report their misbehavior.

Our teacher had given us a number of slips of colored paper that we kept at our desks.  For each "demerit" we got for lunch misbehavior, we were supposed to give our teacher a slip of paper. 

One day, after I had brushed come cookie crumbs off my part of the table, we came back to class and one of the lunch monitors reported that I had earned a demerit for "shooting crumbs". 

I knew I hadn't, and some of the kids knew I hadn't either.  Someone told me to "write a complaint", which we were allowed to do. 

Instead, after finishing my work, I took the prettiest sheet of paper I had--a bright pink one--from the slips we'd been given and took it to my teacher.  I said, "Here."

She held the sheet of paper in her hand and asked me about what had happened at the lunch table.  I said, "I was only brushing them off."

At the end of our conversation, she gave me back that sheet of pink paper. 

I can't remember who the lunch monitors in our class were now, but I do know that at least one of the lunch monitors had used that false accusation to bully me.  I'd been bullied since first grade, and it would go on until 12th grade.

Nearly twenty years later, I sat in a counselor's office and cried because I said, "She believed me."

What if she hadn't?  What if she had thought that I was the person who was lying? 

I thought about that incident in the wake of this article, where a group of students used social media to spread a rumor that another student had threatened to "shoot up" their high school. 

That group framed the accused student.  They accused the student of doing something that they hadn't done--just like the lunch monitor did to me in 4th grade. 

This is just another way to bully students.  And it's very frightening, because often it comes down to "they said, they said" and you have to make a decision on who to believe.  I've often thought that the anti-bullying hotlines, where you can pick up a phone and dial a number to report bullying; or boxes where you can put in anonymous tips, could also be used to frame students who hadn't done anything wrong.

And even if the person is cleared . . . there's always the taint of suspicion.  Especially when you lob a false accusation of sexual misconduct against someone.  I know that the majority of accusations of sexual abuse are true  . . . and there are some that are false. 

In another situation, if the lunch monitors had been a group of "the cool kids", and if I had been a kid from the "wrong side of the tracks", so to speak; or if the teacher had liked the lunch monitors and hadn't liked me . . . she very easily could have not believed me.  She could have believed a false accusation.

In this day and age of social media, all you have to do is type a person's name, say, they did such-and-such, hit the "send" button . . . and presto, you have turned someone's name into mud. 

Some things have not changed since I was in fourth grade.

Just my .04, adjusted for inflation.