Mental Illness Happy Hour: Volume 4

4

Just watched A Beautiful Mind. It’s a really solid piece of art for sure. It struck a chord with me. People who know my life and what I’ve been through, know that I can relate to the sentiment crafted by director, Ron Howard; a story of mental health and struggle and hospitalization.

Some parts were difficult to watch; like heartbreakingly, gut-wrenchingly difficult. Scenes that depict being strapped to a bed with leather buckles are hard for me because I’ve lived those scenes. I’ve writhed in agony while hospital attendants mocked me and laughed at my humiliation.

I was made to feel subhuman during almost all of my hospital stays. I, like Russell Crowe’s character, have felt completely trapped and paranoid in hospital situations. I don’t really understand PTSD as well as I do my own disorder, but seeing those scenes triggered a deep seated revulsion.

Those are some gut reactions.

I’m also thinking a lot about Jennifer Connelly’s character, who plays Crowe’s wife. In the movie, she is tasked with loving a man who fabricates whole realities, has make-believe best-friends, can’t always be trusted around their daughter and is schizophrenic. She confesses that she wants to leave her husband during the rigors of him finding help. She cries out several times to God and breaks things in her house; clearly hating the hand that she has been dealt.

I have a lot of insecurities around my own relational ambitions. I have to wonder, at times, if my wife, one day, won’t feel similar to Connelly’s character. That dealing with my madness is an impossible task.

I give my insecurities so much power every day. I tell myself that I’m not good looking enough. That I’m not in shape enough. That I’m not Christian enough. That I’m not stable enough. That I’m too crazy to receive love from a woman. It’s messed me up pretty bad. I’ve sabotaged a lot of relationships because I don’t know how to love myself well.

But I believe there is redemption for me. The middle of A Beautiful Mind is gruelling, but in the end there is redemption. There’s god-damned-Nobel-Peace-Prize-winning-redemption. And more than that, there’s beautiful-loving-wife-right-by-his-side-redemption. That makes me believe that good is out there. I think we can stand anything in this life as long as there is a fair amount of redemption sprinkled in; when we can see a purpose to our struggle. That at some point, we are raised up out of our suffering.

I’ve taken a lot of losses on the score sheet the last 6 years, but I’ve gotten up out of my bed every day. Right now, that seems like a lot.

Mental Illness Happy Hour: Volume 2

 

There were a lot of heavy conversations today. I spent the afternoon with my mom discussing things that would be helpful to her given that she is confined to her house. We talked about setting up a cleaning service. We talked about getting help mowing the lawn. We talked about getting groceries delivered. All of these things being a part of the new normal.

I have felt ashamed many times that I cannot due more for my mom as her son. I want to do the cleaning that needs done. I want to mulch and mow the lawn and weed the grass. I want to get the groceries.

I can’t do all those things and help my mom get to her appointments and be her confidant through all of this and keep my sanity. When my family is not in town, it’s just me. I am the first and last line of defense. There’s a part of me that really wants to help, but there’s a bigger part of me that wants to be seen by my community as “the great helper.”

This part is a matter of pride.

I don’t necessarily want to do what it takes to be a good person, I just want the glory that comes with being seen that way. I want people to think so, so highly of me. It is a toxic situation that I know a lot of people can relate with. I’m working on it, that’s what I’ll say for now.

My mom has been devastated by the neglect that my father has shown her since they got divorced. He doesn’t return her calls, or emails, or texts and that crushes her. She has struggled to understand why the man that married her has abandoned her. She feels that he doesn’t care whether she lives or dies.

She has said that line many times in the last 6 years, but now the “or dies” part seems more real as she stares down death with her chemo treatments and radiation as a result of her diagnosis of stage 4 cancer.

I understand that my mom is hurting. She is hurting more than I’ve ever seen a person hurt, but sometimes I can’t handle the conversations about my dad. I am my parent’s son. I have their blood coursing through my veins and hearing about my dad’s shortcomings drudges up a lot of pain for me.

Those were hard conversations today between my mother and I.

When I came home, I went to dinner with my best friends, Stephen and Michaelah. We talked and we laughed and watched SNL clips after we got back home. But then the conversation got heavy when we started talking about my mom. Sometimes I don’t want to make conversations heavy, but there always seems to be heavy things happening to me so, I guess it just kinda comes out. I talked about how I didn’t want to have to go through the things I was dealing with. I talked about how, if I could choose, I would wish for just about any other situation.

I am selfish.

I want the easy way, the way that affords me the most comfort and relaxation and joy. I think most people, given the choice, would choose the easy way too most of the time. I don’t want these things to be happening to my mom. I don’t want to live in a world filled with cancer and brokenness and pain and suffering.

But here I am. And here we all are.

Stephen told me to stop viewing myself as a victim in this whole situation, which was a hard pill to swallow. I am a victim, but I understand what he is getting at. I have to choose hard things to help my mom because I love her even when I want to just relax. I have to fight for her even when we argue about my dad because we are both tremendously hurt by the divorce.

I have to. There is no other choice in my mind.

Even though I want the easy way so bad, that’s not what I have in front of me. Instead I have a road that twists and turns and might be dangerous just around the bend.

Every single day so far, in my entire life, I have gotten out of bed. I am going to continue this trend even when I want to curl up and die. I say all this because we are all going through a lot and sometimes we need to know someone else has been there. Keep Pressing On!

Mental Illness Happy Hour: Volume 1

I feel alright for the first time in a couple months. There is an ease to my mind currently and the big things that bother me all the time, don’t feel so big right in this moment.

My mom is going through brain cancer treatments. It is hard to watch her on her bad days and in her growing weakness and uneasiness, because I don’t want her to hurt or feel depressed because of the loss of independence.

My aunt and uncle and my sister came to town last week and helped take my mom to her appointments and cook food for her and tend to the dogs and the house. It was a huge help for my mom and it was a huge help for me.

During the last week, I have had time to spend by myself and not feel guilty about doing so. I went to guitar shops and played open mics, it has been really nice.

I had a dream a few nights ago where I felt, what I believe to be, the presence of God. I felt close to God and like his spirit was wrapped around me. In the dream, I saw the kingdom of God – which was every kind of person together – and I got a sense of what each person’s significance is in the kingdom.

If you are like me, you want to be famous. You want to be known for that thing that you are good at. You want to be well received by everyone you meet. I think I want fame more than I realize sometimes.

Well, in the dream, I got this sense of being famous, but I also got the sense that everyone in God’s Kingdom shared that fame with me. It wasn’t so much like I was idolized for who I am or what I can do, but that I was well known by everyone around me and ultimately, well known by God.

I want to be important. I want to feel that my life has a great significance and matters a lot. In the dream, where I felt God close to me, I felt important and felt respected for who I was and I also felt a deep respect for everyone around me in the dream.

This all seems great, right?

But I always get worried when I start to “feel” the presence of God and my mood shifts dramatically. I struggle with mental illness and my disorder comes with periods of dangerous euphoria. I fear that period might be coming once again like it has so many times in the past 7 years.

I write all this to say, I really wish that feeling a sudden uptick in my mood wasn’t cause for alarm or concern. I will have to “ride the wave” and hopefully it will level out before it gets out of hand.

I also write this in case anyone reading deals with similar fears and unpredictable emotions. I can’t say much other than you are not alone and to lean on people that you trust and who build you up. Keep pressing on!

My mother and I went down to the river

It was the warmest day in early fall. Faint, wispy clouds above, water running slowly over fragments of glacial rock beneath.

There I am standing, ankle high in the water, and I’m thinking about just how perfect this feels. Some folks gather at the rocky banks. My mother joins me in the water along with my friend, Stephen.

We wade out into the center of the Little Miami River and I trudge through the water trying to find a deep pocket to stand. Stephen and I hold my mother’s hands. I ask her if she is ready to be washed clean of her sins.

I say that as she is submerged beneath the water, it is a symbol of being buried in the grave with Christ, and that as she comes to the surface, she will be a new creation, a symbol of the resurrection of Jesus. She says she is ready to be made new. She never learned to swim and is glad the water is not too deep.

We lower her body down into the water and the slow current courses over her. We raise her up and she exhales and smiles. Then, my friend and my mother grab my hands. They tell me that what I am about to do is a response to how much God loves me. My mother tells a story of me proclaiming my love for God when I was a boy. They dip me into the water and raise me up. There is cheering for my mother and I from the banks.

Make us new, Lord. We are thankful for this baptism day and hold it as a reminder that while our clothes will become soiled again, you can wash us clean and that you delight in redeeming us. Your desire to bring us back to you never fades. Your resolve is unending. I pray Lord, that not one would be lost, for even if one is lost, then our sum in none. I pray that we would be a complete body when we are returned to our former glory. I pray that we would forgive one and other like you forgive us. Lord, this season has been difficult for my mother and I. I pray that we would not give up loving each other well. I confess that I think I know what’s best, even now. There are things in this life that seem so unnecessarily painful. I want them to go away. Make them go away, Lord. Please. From a man full of doubt. A man whose faith is as strong as a dead leaf in autumn. Tossed and turned by a slight wind. One day I hope to be like that river, Lord. That made up its mind when it will bend. Amen.

3 years ago

My writing is not as good as it was three years ago. Maybe I was happier then. Maybe I was closer to God then. Maybe my mom didn’t have cancer then. Maybe I wasn’t all crazy and mental hospital-y then.

My writing is not as graceful as it was three years ago. It’s ugly. And fragmented. It stops and starts and ideas never really resolve.

My writing is not as moving as it was three years ago. I think I’m regressing or something. Plateauing sounds kinda nice compared to what I’m doing – slowly dying.

My writing is not nearly as good as it was three years ago. But I keep writing anyway.

Better Story

At this moment, at 1:54 am on a Saturday, I wish God was telling a different story. I wish he would have called me into his office before he gave this life the green light; I would have shut the whole series down before the pilot episode.

I’m tired. Just tired. Of the pain and pulling and tugging and tearing and weeping and wishing and caving and crying.

Struggle. I’m tired of struggle.

Perhaps wanting things to be easier sounds like a cop-out. Maybe it sounds like I don’t want to work hard. That I think good things should just be handed to me. Well, it is a little of that, truth be told, but it’s also that I just want more moments of peace and clarity and contentment and they don’t seem to come.

I know it’s not just me. I see every person wrapped in self doubt and insecurity. People that have dreams and can’t make them happen. People who are abused. Rejected. Run-down.

There is a thought that flashes through my mind when I hop on this train. It usually hits me about now … what if this is hell? What if this is eternal separation from God?

God feels like something we all want, but can’t reach. We want things to be better, but we know this is as good as it gets. I call out to God, but the phone is disconnected or I forgot to pay my bill or something.

Don’t get me wrong, we, the human race, we are resilient. We laugh when all we have is taken from us. We sing through the loss of life. We create. We adapt. We love.

But the struggle is still there.

Every night, I ask God for a new tomorrow. For an event that will change my life in a radical way. A peace that transcends all understanding. A paradigm shift.

But so far, it hasn’t happened.

Then, I think of stories of a New Heaven coming down and resting here on earth. I think of God wiping away every tear and abolishing death from every grave. I think of an end to every sadness. An end to hate. An end to struggle.

I want you to make sense of my struggle, because it has cost me my joy almost every day and my life almost every night.

I am upset with you, God, that you knew how bad this life would hurt me and you pushed me in without my consent anyway.

You expect so many things from me everyday. I’m just letting you know, that now, I expect some things from you.

-TS

Neither – Tyler Strittmatter

I deal with a mental illness of extremes. An illness of war and peace. I wrote this poem about the sinner and saint living in me. I am in a period now where I don’t really know what faith means anymore. I feel it is neither bad nor good. Wrong nor right. I still love this poem even where I am at now. I am proud of what I write and I always will be.

Tyler Strittmatter: Neither Jesus nor the Devil from Christine Shrum on Vimeo.

All your Life

What happens when you write a song,
Is all your life comes flooding back,
All the life you forgot,
All the life you’d like to gather up,
All your life that fell on the floor,
All your life.

What happens when you sing that song,
Is all your life comes out your mouth,
And whoever is around,
Will know you better,
Even if it’s just you.

Everything isn’t Everything

my uncle said
you can’t have
everything
on account of
everything
being really, quite big
and
all of us being really, quite
small

I never wanted
everything,
truth be told,
but I would like to scrape together
something important,
and then give it
away