Out of Church at Christmas

This is something I wrote on an online forum about Christianity and church attendance, and I thought it would be appropriate to share here. Christmas Eve sure looks different to me this year!

Church is just plain difficult for me. I really tried for 22 of my 34 years to make myself like church because it’s what “good people” do; I threw myself into every ministry I could, taught Sunday school for 7 years, sat through hundreds of repetitive, interminably LONG sermons, served in witnessing and missionary work that felt more like a multi level marketing scheme selling Jesus, and yet I’m empty. Everything I did was a performance, a show I thought was for God but ended up being absolutely meaningless.

I’ve been out of regular church attendance 7 months, but the Christmas season feels strangely freeing. For the first time in years I don’t have to be part of a Christmas cantata or do anything else that makes somebody else’s season bright but makes me harried and stressed. My Sunday mornings are now my own to play my piano and talk to God as I need to. I don’t know if I’ll ever go back to that trapped, passive existence in a pew, scared to make noise unless somebody asks for it.

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Encouragement vs. Correction

My make-up voice lesson this morning went really well–and it went beyond just working on my voice. Today, I learned that much of what I have been interpreting as correction/criticism is actually encouragement.

Here’s an example: a teacher says “this is good, but give me even more.”

What they apparently mean: “You can do it! I can see this skill developing and you’re really growing!”

How I have interpreted it all my life: “You did this wrong, stupid. Do it right next time.”

Part of it is how I was brought up–my mom and dad both interpreted encouragement as correction and criticism, too, likely because of childhood emotional abuse. It’s not easy to break through a mindset you’ve never questioned because others around you believed it. And it’s sickening to think that something I believed was logical and correct just…wasn’t, at all.

This makes me feel crappy and stupid for misinterpreting things in school and social situations all these years, and yet I honestly didn’t know any better. I had no idea that any of the education and encouragement I received was given with anything but a spirit of correction and criticism. I just thought that’s what being “educated” felt like–being shamed and guilt-tripped for your stupid mistakes till you did everything exactly like somebody else wanted you to do it. (I’ve had a rare few awesome teachers who apparently spoke enough of my “emotional language” that their teaching translated as encouragement, but most did not have the time or inclination.)

Going forward, now that I have at least part of a translation guide for other people’s encouragement, I can maybe handle some social interactions better and re-process incidents that happened before. Maybe my story can help those who speak different emotional languages finally get on the same wavelength!

When it gets bad

Ever felt like eating is a chore? That’s where I am these days. I quite literally got bored of eating in the middle of dinner a couple nights ago.

The craziest thing was that I was still hungry–I just was tired of the maddening, nauseating sounds of chewing and slurpy drinking, tired of feeling my permanently clenched jaw muscles aching as they worked, and tired of dealing with the sharp edges of overly crunchy food poking at my gums and lips. (We’re talking crunchy like chips/crisps.). It all suddenly felt like it required an enormous effort to continue feeding myself when all it was doing was making me irrationally angry and somehow empty.

So I just quit. I wrapped up my food with the one remaining sh*t I had left to give, and lay in bed vaguely hungry and headachy for four more hours…until my blood sugar level sharply reminded me if I didn’t eat more soon, I was going to pass out.

I wish I could say this has been an isolated incident, but it’s been this way more of my life than not. This latest bout is probably spurred on by dad’s illness, which I feel powerless to help with much and which reminds me too much of what mom went through before she died…but it’s not all external, not all explainable. And how am I supposed to tell anybody else what this is like if I don’t understand it well myself?

It’s odd, I can stand outside myself in certain moments and recognize “this is depression again.” But when I’m having to live through it, slog through each day minute by stupid maddening minute, it’s like living my life in a trash compactor, the walls coming ever closer each day like that scene in Star Wars: A New Hope. My life is getting away from me so fast, and yet I can’t even enjoy anything anymore. Even existing with meals that are more like light, preprocessed snacks, existing without expending nonexistent energy on cooking or bathing or fresh clothes, feels like fighting an interminably long siege. I’m all out of ammo and the enemy has stormed the gate.

I don’t really want to die yet though, which is good–I’ve been suicidal before and I know not to let it get that bad again. This time, it’s just like “I don’t want any of this life anymore. I don’t want to have to fight like this just to appear normal. No one normal has to claw up the side of a mountain every day just to be passable. I am sick of it and I want to be myself again.” I’m tired of the ache all over, the ache inside.

I hope to get help soon, but I’m still snowed in from all this garbage weather we’ve had and can’t get out to go to any appointments. (Side note: I HATE snow and ice!). Hopefully soon we’ll have enough melt off out here in the woods that I can go outside without falling and hurting myself again. Then I can think about calling for an appointment, maybe finding a primary care physician who won’t treat me poorly because I’m fat. Maybe it’s time to try meds since behavioral therapy hasn’t really headed this off.

I want to get better. I really do. I just wish it didn’t take a monumental effort on my part to just look like I’m barely trying. I wish my greatest efforts weren’t judged by those who are trying to help me as “not enough.” That’s been the most discouraging thing of all.

What Caregivers Need

Dad is home, praise the Lord, and he is more functional than I could have imagined after seeing him fall so horribly. He’s still shaky when getting around, but he can talk and think pretty clearly. Still some follow ups to do, but overall things are better than they could have been.

That said, for me life is now a little more challenging. I have in many ways always been an emotional caregiver for my parents, even from childhood–it’s not healthy, but it was what happened–but now I am additionally taking on some physical care responsibilities. Dad thankfully doesn’t need as much as Mom did in her last year of life, but I greatly fear the day he loses all function, because I know I will be overwhelmed just like I was with Mom. (The grief of watching a loved one suffer completely overrode my ability to function as a competent adult, and I spent most of the last months of 2016 and the early months of 2017 shut up in my bedroom trying to escape from that ten-ton weight on my heart.)

During this time, I’ve received a lot of on-the-ground support and a lot of sweet counsel and prayers; as Dad and Mom’s only child, I’ve relied on others greatly and been grateful that they are there. However, I’ve also received “advice” (using the word loosely) that has done nothing but make me feel guilty. Some have insinuated that if I was a decent daughter and human being, I could care for Dad myself without needing to pay a home health worker. Some have subtly suggested I’ve been asking for prayer/help too much and I should just get on with my business like a “real adult,” whatever that is. Still others have interrogated me about the fall itself, and why I wasn’t standing there ready to escort Dad from the stage so that he would not have fallen in the first place. And some, well meaning though they are, have critiqued my inability to have Dad a bedroom prepared on the main floor so far, due to a massive clutter situation left over from when we were caregiving for Mom.

All of these questions and comments come at a time when I am emotionally and mentally exhausted from the shock and trauma of seeing my daddy fall, his mortality and fragility on display for everyone to see–I’m still processing the fright that I would lose half my world in a moment. All these questions and comments do is impart negativity into a brain and heart that is already aching with guilt and shame.

This is not what caregivers need. What caregivers need is compassionate help that does not come bundled with judgmental, disdainful comments. What caregivers need is understanding that we are human and need escapes and help as well, since our previously restful homes usually become the battlefield of our loved one’s health crisis. What caregivers need is someone to listen, to work alongside us and to help us shoulder the weight of this frightening event. Now more than ever, we need others to understand that asking for help is not a sin, and complete self-sufficiency is a myth. ❤️

Prayer Request for Dad

If you pray, please pray for my dad. He had a mild stroke last night and fell down four stone steps, landing face first. He is alert and talking, but still pretty dizzy and disoriented at times, plus having some speech problems on occasion. His knee and face took quite a wallop as well. Hoping he’ll be released tomorrow if there are no complications, but we are still waiting on results from several scans. Thank you ❤️