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It was 3:00am, ¬†late 2015. I was sitting on the bathroom floor of mine and Nikki’s room in the apartment we shared with Pam in Okemos. I was crying, holding my phone with both hands shaking, scrolling through google. The word in the search bar, highlighted in every found link, was “suicide”. I was trying to decide one way or the other what I wanted to do, trying to find something to push me one way or the other.

I found it.

An article about Amy Bleuel, the founder of Project Semicolon, explaining why she chose to get a tattoo of a semicolon.

In literary terms, she explained, the semicolon is used when the author could have ended the sentence, but chose not to. Instead of a period, a semicolon is used and the sentence continues. A perfect metaphor.

In her story, I found the courage to get up and wake Nikki. I started in the partial hospitalization program through Sparrow the next day and would get help there for the next two and a half weeks.

Today, I found out that Amy Bleuel died at 31, The Mighty confirming her death in an update as suicide.

All noise, all feeling fell away except for a grief impossible to express. It felt as though all the breath in my body had been stolen away, replaced with a sadness so profound I’m not sure I can ever forget. Like so many before her who brought light into the world, she was gone.

She wore a symbol of both her burden and her bravery on her skin, but she made a far bigger mark on the world. Project Semicolon encouraged a conversation about suicide and mental illness that had been so desperately needed. Her story gave way to millions like it and the world felt less lonely, less daunting. You started seeing semicolons everywhere. I painted a stone while I was in partial hospitalization to carry with me, its smooth surface and small weight a comfort when I was afraid.

I’ve never felt such a grief for someone I’ve never met, but I know I’m not alone in it. Thanks to Amy, there are many people today who may not have been here otherwise. I know I am one of those people.

If you need help, please use the resources I’m including here. Reach out to friends and family, even if you feel it is futile. You are worth living for, you are worthy of life and time and love.

The National Suicide Hotline provides an online chat service that is available 24/7 at http://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/. You can also call them at 1-800-273-8255.

Another resource I appreciate greatly is 7cups.com, where you can talk to Listeners, people just like you and I who only want to listen and help people who are having a hard time.

And, of course, projectsemicolon.com, Amy’s own creation, where you can find resources and donate to provide resources to those in crisis.

I love each and every one of you.

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What Dying Means

While playing a word game, a hint was given for a five letter word meaning “ceasing to be”. As I answered, I felt my mouth pull into a frown. The answer was dying. I immediately, wholeheartedly disagreed. 

I am dying. This is a reality that I live with every moment of every day. We all are, though. My knowing that it could be much sooner than expected doesn’t change the end result. But is death really the end of our existence? 

When I die, will I cease to be? 

No. 

I will still be present. I’ll be a song that comes on the radio that reminds someone of me. I’ll be a happy memory, or a sad one. I’ll be a presence in mind or a reminder. I’ll be in my loved ones hearts and their laughter and tears. 

Dying isn’t ceasing to be. It’s just a step from here to there. 

Healthy Choices

Giving up self-loathing for Lent didn’t just mean “stop being mean to myself”. It meant that I had to take some positive steps towards practicing honest self-care and working toward loving myself. This involved a few physical changes I was not prepared for and some life changes that have me feeling exhilarated and terrified in perfect combination.

Some of the changes, like eating better and exercising, have been a long time coming. Shaving my head to a much shorter hairstyle meant I would spend less time being angry at the fact that I can’t maintain my hair properly and more time enjoying life. Spending at least part of my day moving and stretching instead of sitting all day.

The other changes, however, are much larger and scarier in scope.

I have a goal to be published (or at the very least close to being published) in a year. The book will be talking about support and moving the conversation about chronic and mental illness past just acceptance and into truly supporting those that live with these things, may it be ourselves or each other. This goal is going to be difficult, but with enough push and people willing to hold me accountable to my deadlines and my end goal, I know its possible.

I’m taking steps to getting more involved with my church and my faith. This is a space and a group of people in which I feel welcomed and comforted, encouraged and motivated. When I walk through the doors of either our church or the pub we also worship in, I feel stronger. Bringing the faith that helps me feel that way into my home more is going to be a great step towards keeping that flame alive in me all the time.

Finally, the biggest change and the big secret I’ve been hinting at. I’m going back to school to earn my bachelor’s degree in Psychology. I’ve been accepted into Cornerstone University’s online accelerated program and should have my degree in a little under two years. Going back to school has been something I’ve wanted to do for quite a long time and never had the courage to pursue, but when you discover your time on this earth is much more limited than you first thought, it’s amazing how much harder it is to justify not doing something your heart is telling you to do.

So there you have it. From eating better to major life changes, I move forward. I’ve shared it with all of you now, so there’s no backing out. No pause button.

Illness: 0. Katie: 1.

Progress

I did a bad thing and missed another day. This occurred to me at 11:45 last night because yesterday, while uneventful, was a very good day. 

I practiced one of my biggest challenges in self care by going to lunch with a very good friend and mentor from church. The night before had dropped some sudden stress I didn’t need and, in typical fashion for my anxiety, my first instinct was to withdraw. I was proud to not give in and went to lunch. As expected, I came home feeling leagues better than when I left.

I found out on the way, however, that a very sweet moment of behind the scenes support happened before I was even awake.

I had offered the lunch to Pam as well, since she also had some anxiety and loves this friend of ours to death. It turns out that my Mom, who was the first to receive my anxious and overwrought phone call when things went south, was so concerned about my missing this chance to work out some stress, called Pam to ask her to help me get there. 

I was moved when Pam shared this with me. The movement of my support network when I’m not looking has produced some of the biggest moments of growth and acts of love in my life.

Short and sweet? I was too busy feeling blessed and motivated to write. For once, a great reason to forget something.

Managing Expectations

I don’t know if everybody’s anxiety works this way, but one of the ways mine gets to me is by forcing me to imagine horrible, far off scenarios. Leaving the house? We’re going to come home to nothing because a fire swept through the building. Getting into the car? We’re going to die in a terrible car wreck.

Friendly meeting to talk about a project with a friend from church? Obviously, she’s going to laugh me out of the coffee house.

A while back, we inadvertently started doing something that helped stave off that anxiety. When talking, we’d bring up what I thought the worst case scenario was. Saying it out loud would allow me to voice how ridiculous that scenario was. We’d then talk back to the best result of the situation I could think of, essentially creating a bracket of expectation within which the likely result would fall between.

It sounds silly, but so is thinking you’re going to die every single time you leave the house, cook, or go to sleep. So…

This has also helped me frame my communications with people. If I can relay to them my best and worst expectations I have in my head, we can work together to come up with a reasonable result. So far, it’s worked really well.

It feels ridiculous, but so is my anxiety. It tells me that I’m going to die all the time. It tells me to be afraid of everything, of everyone, all the time, no matter what. What would be more ridiculous is not taking these seemingly silly steps that help me feel better and letting my anxiety keep me from engaging with people who can help me grow, taking steps to improve myself, and doing the things I want to do. It also puts me in a position where I have to maintain an open and honest dialogue with the people around me about how I’m feeling and what kind of anxiety I’m experiencing. I believe that, with that transparency, it opens up the door for other people to feel safe and accepted with their own struggles.

What do you do to manage your struggles?

Filling My Bucket

I cried as I took communion at my church today. I reflected on why it was that I had such an emotional response and I figured out it was because of an image our pastor showed.

He, for the first time, looked at the Facebook reviews for our church, and copy pasted each review to a website that creates word cloud images based on the text you put into their engine. After all the reviews were put into the engine, this image was the result:wp-1490541374092.jpg

Obviously, you would expect God to be one of the bigger words, but it wasn’t the biggest. Instead, it was love. It highlighted the reason I became a partner at Sycamore Creek Church, after years of feeling outright disgust over the idea of Christianity, of viewing Christians themselves as lying, hateful souls. I couldn’t overlook, and still don’t, the terrible things that are done in the name of God.

This place, though, is filled with people from all walks of life. We have children running from the sanctuary to join our youth program. We have young adults, we have older adults. We have all sorts. We’re all here because of love. That one big word in the middle of “God” and “Welcome”.

I know this post is more steeped in God than usual. That’s probably because I’m typing it while I’m listening, for the second time today, to this message of why churches exist. Why these “convenantal missional communities” exist. Our church’s mission is “to ignite authentic life in Christ and fan it into an all-consuming flame”. It’s something I memorized when I became a partner. It was the sentence that surged through my mind as my body surged through the surface of the lake I was baptized in the day of my 25th birthday.

But the biggest reason we’re all here is because of love. Because we love our community and each other. We love the new faces that walk in, full of doubt and anxiety. We love the familiar faces that warmly smile when we see one another. Our community extends, as it should, beyond the walls. Our community is the somewhat broken city of Lansing. Our roads are terrible, there’s a street just a few blocks away that has a rather infamous reputation for being one of the most dangerous spots in the city. There are smoke shops and liquor stores on just about every single corner. We’re right here, though. We give people free gas, pay for their laundry. We paint local schools and garden in our communal dirt. We beg for time, not for money. We ask for love, not blind faith.

So I fill my bucket here. Sometimes, its here at the church. Sometimes, its in a popular pub in my hometown. Sometimes, it’s in a laundromat or a grill, as it will be over Easter.

No matter where it is, though, I leave feeling better than I walked in.

Living Together

There’d living with a roommate, then there’s how we in the Ampersand Household live together.

With just a roommate, you don’t necessarily know everything about the other person. You know enough to get by, but there’s a clear division.

That’s not how it works in our home. We have something like a covenantal friendship with Pam. We joke frequently that she and Nikki are more married than Nikki and I are. Nikki and I are ridiculously happy and in love and Pam officiated our wedding. Pam knows all my health things and frequently takes the role of caregiver more intimately than any of our friends and even some of my family would. We joke that Nikki and Pam are financially married while Nikki and I are romantically and legally married. 

We don’t envision a point in our lives where we will not have this kind of lifestyle together. We share meals, we share money, we share space. We share thoughts, feelings, hopes, and fears. When one of us has a hard day, the other two step up to support her. When one achieves a victory, we all feel her pride. 

It’s the kind of support that many are stunned by, but also covet. It isn’t easy and sometimes, the fights that occur are bitter and harsh. We feel the sting of angry words very deeply and we strive for honest, open, and forgiving connection. We confess and forgive easily. We work hard to deserve the respect and appreciation we give one another. 

There’s living together, then there’s living like we do. 

Nikki & Pam & Katie

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Don’t Panic

My to-do list features the item “don’t panic” no less than twice for the next two weeks as I head into some major life changes. Some, like tackling writing a book and making personal changes for my well-being, I’ve discussed on here. Some I’m waiting until things feel more real to share on here. All of them, however, have me reeling between being so incredibly excited I could burst and so incredibly nervous I could faint.

I don’t need help fainting, you guys. I do it really well and pretty often as it is.

For the first time in years, I’ve had what felt like a legitimate reason to tell someone “no, I’m sorry, I’m going to be busy” when they extended an offer for social plans. They were left in such a state of disbelief at the nature of my refusal that they asked Nikki if everything was okay and why I was going to be too busy to join a DnD group next month.

It’s okay if you laughed at that. Pam, Nikki, and I did.

Monday, I meet with one of the writers of an amazing book titled The Year of Small Things to go over my own book. Tuesday, I meet with another member of my church to talk about some of the choices I’m making for my future and trying desperately to quell the anxiety surrounding them.

At the moment, I feel like I’ve rushed for the opportunity to sit around and wait. It’s not a feeling I do well with because waiting means I have time to start doubting myself. The Impostor has time to make stronger and stronger arguments against whatever it is I’m waiting for until I either give up or I can move forward again.

This time, though, I just can’t quit. I’m very excited to share all the news with you in the next couple of weeks. Until then, you’ll just have to sit and anxiously wait right along with me.

 

The Ampersands and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

Everybody has “one of those days”. It quickly becomes apparent, after a few less than lucky moments, that the day stretching out ahead of you has a few potholes (literally, since we live in Michigan) that you can’t really miss.

Today is that day for the Ampersand household. Low on gas and only a few bucks to throw in the tank, a leaky tire, a scuff on the back end of the car, running late, stuff not cooperating, dropping things, joint pain, things that cost money to fix piling up on us when we have no money to fix them with.

It’s the kind of day everyone wishes they could just skip through, but nobody can avoid them.

I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Crazy, right? If somebody handed me a button that could make it so that I never had a bad day again, I’d laugh at them. Even if it were possible, we need these bad days. If you don’t have bad days, you don’t recognize a good day when it happens. Because for every bad day, there’s a really good day.

The days where everything is in rhythm to the beat you’re throwing down. No worries, you’re hitting your mark with every step, good moods all around you. Maybe you even get some good luck and some good things fall in your direction and you catch them with ease.

You wouldn’t appreciate those days if you didn’t also have the days so bad, they were almost funny.

Today has looked like something out of a romantic comedy, with the terrible day montage set to Joan Jett’s “Bad Reputation”.

Or maybe “What a Wonderful World”, for extra comedic value.

I’ll take the bad day, the silly soundtrack and all. It just means I’ve got a good day coming up. Or better yet, I’ve got a bad day that I can turn into a good day.

A challenge awaits me today. I’m going to make sure this bad day has a good me.

Zelda and Chronic Illness

As Pam and I were playing Breath of the Wild, the latest Zelda game to be released, I jokingly referred to something I was doing as a “modest test of strength”, comparing my actions to one of the common shrine tests scattered throughout the game. We laughed about it, but realized a bit later that it wasn’t that far off the mark when discussing what actions caused me to use up my spoons faster or things that were harder for me to do than they would be for healthy people.

In the game, you face certain combat trials that are either “A Minor Test of Strength”, “A Modest Test of Strength”, or “A Major Test of Strength”. Obviously, the minor tests are the easiest, modest are a little harder, and major tests are the most difficult and take the most effort. I soon began thinking about things I do each day and how much effort they take or how tired I feel afterwards. It was suddenly very easy for me to categorize each thing as a minor, modest, or major test of strength.

We had a fairly active day yesterday that I kicked off with a hot shower. Showers, for me, are a major test of strength. They take a lot of effort and I ¬†usually feel exhausted after I take one. I can’t shower without someone within earshot paying attention because I’m at a much higher risk of passing out due to the temperature change and the length of time I’m standing on the slippery shower floor.

After showering, I wanted to help Nikki and Pam clean, but found that, despite each task being a “minor test”, “modest” at best, I didn’t have enough spoons to do very much. So I had to pick and choose what actions I could perform and which I needed to ask for help with. I couldn’t pick things up off the ground without feeling dizzy and faint, but I could sweep and tidy up counters and table tops without much issue.

It might have started out as a joke, but it ended up being a really great way for me to think about how I was using my spoons and, as a result, taking better care of myself and better communicating where I was to my support network.

There are a lot of things on the horizon that I’m pretty excited about. I’ll keep you updated as they progress!