Tag Archives: relationships

What Comes After the Storm of Mental Illness Calms

Now, what?”

I asked myself this a few months ago. After years, consisting of very long days, of family struggles with mental and medical conditions, the season began to change. At first, I dared not believe it. So many times, there had been brief glimpses of light as we forged through the darkness. But those moments seemed to fade quickly. Once again, we would be left trying to find our footing and walk forward together: my daughter, my two sons, my husband and myself. To say the relationships between us were strained would be an understatement. When one person in a family struggles, everyone is affected.

The dynamics between us does not resemble the picture I had in my mind before my husband and I started a family. My daughter began treatment for bipolar disorder at 9 years old (she is now age 15). My older son (age 18) has battled anxiety and depressionalong with a host of unexpected health concerns along the way. The youngest son (age 13), whom I call the “comic relief,” manages mild anxiety. None of their conditions define them, but they do affect the climate of our home. It hasn’t always felt like the refuge I hoped my husband and I would create. We have tried to initiate traditions, affirm each other’s strengths and attempt to carve moments of time together. We have sought out therapy, utilized resources and developed a support system. Humor has even found its way in. Yet, we couldn’t always keep the storms at bay.

Truthfully, the winds, at times, seemed so forceful I wasn’t sure I had the strength to resist them. My husband and I could be a strong force together; yet each of us developed our own methods of survival. We also felt as if the storm was invisible to everyone else. Mental illness carries a stigma. There are plenty of opinions regarding how to “fix” your child. “If we would just . . .” Meanwhile, the unpredictable nature of episodes and triggers as well as the financial stress and school concerns mount. And in the midst of it all, you are trying to sustain your marriage, pay bills and pray for endurance, provision and healing.

It occurred to me one day that this long season of storms may have finally transitioned into a season of calm. When you are so used to living in survival mode, you don’t always realize the storm has weakened. Weeks no longer seemed packed with doctors’ appointments, evaluating medications, financial distress, school battles, emotional burnout. It may be the beginning of a season of restoration. On the surface, a calm after the storm sounds welcoming. But, truthfully, the implications are daunting.

How do you begin cleaning up the mess?

Branch by branch, piece by piece. I remember a horrific storm that erupted suddenly about 10 years ago. When it was safe, we made our way outside to access the damage. Thankfully, our belongings remained intact. However, our street and our yard were filled with tree limbs and branches scattered everywhere. In order to move toward restoration, you must begin cleaning up the mess one branch at a time. It may take a while. And I’ve learned (reluctantly) that’s OK

Restoring our relationships with each other will take time. One branch at a time. I often wonder how my kids would relate to one another had our situation been different. I will never know the answer. It would be tempting to dwell on the “what ifs,” but that would require looking back. We are heading forward. The medical concerns have not resolved. The winds may indeed return. We have found space to breathe and rest. We have found our footing once again and set our eyes on God; who is in the business of making things new. I find inspiration in the promise given to the Israelites:

See, I am doing a new thing!
Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
Isaiah 43:19 (NIV)

Originally published at http://mudroomblog.com/cleaning-up-mess/, this post also appeared at https://themighty.com/2016/10/when-things-calm-down-parenting-children-with-mental-illness/

 

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What I Learned About Hospitality From My Back Door

Last year, something exciting happened around here.  After living here for nineteen years, we bought a new back door! It is a beautiful white door with a small window. No scratches or marks of age. New.

As a child, I could have never expected a door to be a source of fulfillment.  But once you reach adulthood, you set your eyes on different “toys.” A new dishwasher? Yippee!

Our home is small and quaint. Originally we bought it as a “starter” home but due to a lot of factors since then, we are still here. And truthfully, we wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. This is the place our stories have unfolded. We have hosted Bible Studies, birthday parties, dinner parties, brought new babies home. These walls have witnessed despair, sorrow, hope, celebration. God has weaved our lives together here.

The distance between the back door and the front door is fairly short.  Yet, as you know, there exists a cultural nuance about house entrances. Typically, the front door is used formally and the back door for more intimate relationships. Things like:

The neighbor coming over to ask to borrow a cup of sugar (yes, we are fortunate to have those interactions in 2016!)

My kids’ friends looking for a playmate

The dogs, coming in refreshed and a bit calmer after some time in the backyard.

The Summer parade of kids going back and forth between the inside for refreshment and the outside for watersports (hopefully not dripping). The glorious breeze and the waft of grass coming in with them.

Because our home is small, there is not a lot of space for storage.  Coats and shoes find their place on hooks and a shoe bench immediately after entering the back door. And it opens right into my kitchen.  Let’s just say there is always something “cooking” in there.

I’d like to say that the “mudroom” was always organized but it wasn’t.

Once I even lost a bike helmet there in plain sight !

https://stephaniejthompson.com/2016/09/30/how-a-purple-fan-reminds-me-that-god-repurposes-us/

In the summer, flip flops, packages of sparklers left over from fourth of July and swimming goggles are stored (loosely!)  in this space.

In the winter, it becomes cluttered with boots.  Not just our boots.  The boots of those who grace us with their presence.  Whose interactions are woven into our life stories. Which brings me to what I have learned from my back door.

You see, I used to be embarrassed for guests to use it.  Even if I tried to cue visitors to use the front entrance, which is so much more elegant and clean, people still chose to use the back door.

Sometimes, my father-in-law would pop over on a Saturday morning to have coffee. There would be a knock on the back door. Yikes! Pancake batter adorned my counters. Dirty breakfast dishes stacked in the sink waiting to be bathed in the dishwasher. I tried to be gracious but inside I was swallowing my pride. He was seeking relationship with his son. I was focused on logistical details.

And then there was the next door neighbor girl, seeking a place of refuge from the insecurity in her own home.  There would be a knock on the back door. I saw the door opening to the array of boots and coats strewn about. She didn’t focus on that. Our back entrance provided affirmation that she had value and was loved unconditionally.

So last year, when we bought a new door, there was a feeling of accomplishment on our part.  Everyone likes to make their home more appealing and welcoming.  We saved and bought a door that added aesthetic value as well as heat efficiency. It was nice to have something new.

But nothing else about the “back door” has changed. Except my perception of it and what it means for us.

I have learned that when people use that door, they feel comfortable. Intimate. Our front door is for people like the UPS carrier, a girl scout selling cookies, trick or treaters, or guests with whom we haven’t developed much of a relationship.

The back door crowd sees us in all our “nakedness”, and still choose to enter our home. And I need to let down my guard and accept it.

For, despite what my door may look like, it represents something beautiful.

What area of your home has become your unexpected place of hospitality?