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What I’m Into March 2015 – The Spring has Sprung Edition

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As per my usual, this post is really about February and March!

What I read:  This month I joined Rachel Held Evans’ street team for her forthcoming book Searching for Sunday.

11074712_10206362809728731_8907623212580891103_nThis is a large group of Rachel enthusiasts who receive an advance copy of her book in order to review, promote, blog about it etc.  I enjoyed Rachel’s other books and love what she does on the blog but because I did not really ‘grow up’ in the church (and definitely not in the south) I wasn’t sure what I would think of it.  Would I like it if I couldn’t relate to it?  Sure enough, I thought it was fabulous.  Her simple yet profound statements about church itself were so encouraging. And I worked at enough church camps to get the chubby bunny references (and then bonded with her husband Dan about how his fear of choking is amplified by this ridiculous game).

I also read a few of the Canada Reads novels including the winner Ru by Kim Thuy.  I haven’t finished all of them yet but my favourite, thus far, is And the Birds Rained Down by Jocelyn Saucier.

What I watched: The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (produced by Tina Fey) on Netflix. I loved it. If you like 30 Rock you will like this and if you don’t like 30 Rock, try it but you may not like it. And that friends, is my ‘descriptive’ review of the only show I watched this month. However, here is one of the most interested things I read about the show by cult survivor and author Elizabeth Esther.

What I celebrated: My oldest son turned 7! For 3 out of the last 4 birthdays we have hosted a big outdoor neighbourhood hockey game in the parking lot behind our house. Every year the weather has cooperated.

One of the best things about kid parties in Vancouver is they are often “toonie” parties (a toonie is a $2.00 coin). Each guest brings a toonie for the birthday kid and they collect up enough to buy one present the birthday child really wants. Some parties even have “a toonie to spend & a toonie to give away.”  It’s brilliant and eliminates all the stuff!

What I did: I officiated five beautiful, small and simple weddings as part of my new contract with Young Hip & Married.  The first one involved a 90 minute hike (which the bride did in her dress and long underwear).  It was just me, the couple, 2 friends and a spunky photographer.

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What I said in front of a mic: I  preached my first sermon of 2015. I don’t do a lot of preaching but I really enjoy the experience of both preparing and preaching.  Our church is going through the Lord’s Prayer during Lent and my week landed on “Forgive us our debts, as we have forgiven our debtors.”   The gospel hinges on forgiveness and I was thankful to spend time reflecting on that.

What dreams came true: Dane is a Rocky Balboa fanatic, and that my friends, is an understatement. He has loved the movies since he was a kid, has a tattoo of Rocky’s gloves, etc. For years he has wanted to go to Philadelpia and “run the steps” and see all the movie sites.  We put it off for years because it never felt like a good year financially (or with little kids at home). But finally we just decided it is never a good year – so he should just go!  It was so amazing to watch his dream come true (via twitter and texts).

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What I finally did: I launched the  creative project, #lostnlifted, that I’ve been working on for over ten years! You can read the story behind it  here or follow along and join the fun on instagram here. Snap pictures of items lost by people and lifted up so that the owner will see them if they walk by again. Kindness in the neighbourhood!

Once again I’m linking up with Leigh for the easiest blog post to write!

What did you get up to this February and March?

What I’m into January 2015 – The Plaid Shirt Edition

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Once again I’m linking up with Leigh for the easiest blog post to write! Side note about Leigh, she is an enneagram expert! If you are interested in learning more or a general personality nerd like myself, you should definitely check out her blog!

December and January shall be covered here because what I was into at the end of December was the flu and thus did not write a post. I know, womp womp, who wasn’t laid up at some point in December? Thanks to the flu I read a few great books and finished all the Good Wife available.

What I’m Reading:

I read a fabulous novel my sister gave me and I recommended to my new book club (luckily my first suggestion was a hit): Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt. It is a beautiful, funny, sad story filled with 80’s references and a tale of different kinds of love. Highly recommended!

I also read, as many of you did, Yes Please! by Amy Poehler. It was what I expected – hilarious. I regret not listening to the audio book like I did with Bossy Pants but when I was offered a copy to borrow I snatched it up.

Next up on the nightstand is a book most of you probably haven’t read and won’t read but, again, my sister knows me: Last Night at the Viper Room, River Phoenix and the Hollywood He Left Behind. As a pre-teen/teenager my room was filled with Bop Magazine posters of River Phoenix and his death in 1993 was a marked moment of my childhood.  This book weaves his (crazy!) life with the events of Hollywood in the 80’s and 90’s. I love all of it!

What I’m Listening to:

I’m not going to lie, Invisibilia did not fill the Serial shaped hole in my heart. I’m ok that Serial is over but the latest podcast from NPR/This American Life is not making me look forward to doing the dishes. I’ll probably listen to Invisibilia but that’s just because we have so many dishes to wash.  I got back into The Moth and am enjoying good old fashion story telling.  Speaking of which, my friend Preston is hosting a Moth-like event called LOOSE ENDS this February. Yours truly will definitely attend, if not participate. You can read all about it here.  If you haven’t listened to the latest This American Life with Lindy West talking about internet trolls, get on it!

What I wrote:

We finished up the series on Living with Someone Else’s Mental Illness. I’m so thankful for all the brave people who contributed to that series – and thanks to all you who read each week.

I did a guest post for fellow Regent alumni, Nathan Olson, about how I made the decision to become a coach and career changes in general. My post on feminism and the church for Momentum was an interesting experience that didn’t produce as much discussion as I hoped (or perhaps the kind of discussion I hoped for).  And lastly I wrote a post about our decision to live with Rachel all those years ago for my friend Cara’s friendship synchro- blog. It was such a joy to write about that fabulous risk.

What I’m working on:

I’ve officially begun doing weddings with Young Hip and Married after accidentally becoming a wedding officiant about twelve years ago. My e-course Juncture is running again this month and will hopefully have its own new snazzy webpage in coming weeks! And I’m booking private clients for coaching here. As always, if you have any questions about working with me just contact me here on via email.

What I’m thankful for:

After some serious rain, Vancouver has settled into nice balmy-almost Spring-like-weather, we like to call Juneuary. This is going nicely with my new FitBit (thanks mom) – a digital pedometer that has been telling me I walk close to 4 miles a day, on a regular day! I’m mildly obsessed with tracking it all.

Photo/Highlight of the month: Watching my two kids spend a week with their newest cousin, Louis. I think he was into it too.

What were YOU into this month?

Cousins!

Cousins!

 

 

 

 

Living with Someone Else’s Mental Illness – Justin’s story

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I Still Live In His Shadow: Living With Someone With Mental Illness

I have so many questions…

Uncertainties.

Did he love me? Was his abuse part of his mental illness? Was it because there, was darkness in him? I’ll never really know the answer to these questions because you see…my father is dead.

April 8, 2003 my father killed himself. In that short span of time that we knew my father was bipolar before he killed himself, I had only just begun to reorient myself and my understanding of his past actions with the new knowledge of his mental illness. And now, 11 years later I’m still more full of questions than answers. Every day I’ll remember the hurt I felt and the times I hated my father, but I’ll also remember those moments when he said “I love you,” and I know he meant it, when he hugged me, and when we laughed together.

To live with someone with mental illness can be a constant question mark. You’re never sure the person you’re going to get. My father had two faces, the father I know loved me, and the father who was always angry with me, was verbally and sometimes physically abusive.

To blame all that on bipolar disorder though is to dehumanize many good people who struggle with bipolar disorder but show no signs of abusiveness or hurtfulness. I think if anything, and realize I say this uncertainly, that my father was on the more manic spectrum of it. He had it very strongly. He also had faced many losses in his life, from a wife and daughter killed in a car crash, to a girlfriend he’d proposed to killing herself, and a struggling marriage with my stepmom.

I don’t know enough about bipolar disorder to really pick up the pieces of these experiences and make any sense of them. I don’t know what was him, and what was his illness. All I know is that these experiences happened, and I still carry the wounds, the pain, the hurt, and the fear that comes from living as a child in such an uncertain family environment.

There’s a saying, a french proverb, “to understand all is to forgive all.” yet I’m not sure if it’s as easy as all that. Many times we’re not given all the pieces with which to understand enough to forgive, and often understanding makes it harder to forgive. I’ve forgiven my father hundreds of times, sometimes feeling more understanding than others, and sometimes just knowing it was what I needed to feel at peace that day, to let go and step outside of the shadow of so much broken past.

Yet sometimes that shadow is so hard to get away from. I want to remember my dad, I want to still love him, to have memories, and it’s hard to remember the good things without slipping into some of the bad as well. To remember my father, to admit how deeply his existence molded my own is to admit that there is very little room between the good and bad, and the mold is so deeply intertwined of both of them that if I was to try to pry apart I’d end up losing him altogether.

And I won’t do that.

For some they have to, for some even a family member needs to be completely let go of…for some love of the enemy is to just simply forget they ever existed, and not desire their eternal torture. For me forgiveness and love of my father means knowing the darkness and the light…letting it sit there, with all its questions and uncertainties, and just be. He was my father and I will always love him, even the jagged edges which cut me.

Most of all, when looking back on that suicide, I see the hope for healing. I’d seen my father descend deeper and deeper into sadness. He was less angry and more just deeply depressed, like all he’d loved was slipping through his fingers, even me. Even as I sat there with him, not knowing what words to say, I knew he felt he’d lost me too. And I hope whatever came the other side of death is healing all that pain.

I don’t pretend to understand it all, and I never will. It just is. Living with someone with mental illness doesn’t come with a manual. It is a daily uncertainty, and more questions than answers. But there is hope too, even if it’s a dim hope. Many people find a sense of peace, and healing, even this side of death, and I think that the medical field is making great strides in helping people cope.

For me I’ll probably never get those answers or resolution many others find. I have far too many pieces of a past that was cut off far too soon to do so. I can’t talk to dad now, or hear his voice, and mostly what I have is a jumbled mess of feelings…but to be honest, I’d rather have that than to have never known him at all. His shadow will always be over my life, a presence always there, in good and bad ways, and I am glad to have known him.

579886_716572302406_1763017609_nJustin is a writer who lives in Washington State, and is studying to be a librarian. He blogs at theperegrinatio.wordpress.com in his free time.

This concludes the series Living with Someone Else’s Mental Illness. Thanks so much for reading and witnessing the brave writers share their stories!

Living with Someone Else’s Mental Illness – Aaron’s story

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It’s more than grumpy.

It’s the panic attacks we have lived through. It’s the darkness of the depression. It’s the cutting. It’s the days I have missed work to be home with her because I was scared to leave her alone. It’s the irrational arguments. It’s the stress and anxiety. It’s more than just grumpy.

My wife is diagnosed with general Anxiety disorder, PTSD, agoraphobia, OCD, and depression.

It is hard sharing a house with these illnesses. It’s hard sharing my wife with these illnesses. But that is the reality of living with my wife who has a mental illness. I have to share her with her disease.  It’s hard sharing my wife with such an invisible illness.

I forget that her anger is not always at me, and sometimes is just there and irrational. I forget that she lives in a more heightened state of anxiety than I do. I forget that she has trauma to work through. I don’t mean to forget, but I do.

I love my wife. Even with the hard stuff, I am determined to be a better husband. See, I have to share her with her mental illness, and she has to share me with mine. We are both living with someone with a mental illness.

Sometimes our moods clash and we fight. Sometimes my apathy feeds her self-worth issues. Sometimes I don’t know what to do when she is having a panic attack. Sometimes my mood swings drive her up the wall. It’s all part of navigating living with mental illness.

There are always good times. My wife is an amazing mom, and I love seeing her play, teach and love on our boys. There are dance parties, Lego building, and coloring. It’s not always this hard, oppressive thing to live with my wife and her mental illness.

Understanding mental illness has meant that I know there is no quick fix to make my wife “better”.  There is treatment, therapy, medication, and healthy lifestyles that contribute to her health and fight the hard stuff. It’s a long term thing though, and that means that we live through the hard stuff knowing that it isn’t forever, no matter how much it feels that way.

The hard stuff will come and go, and it has gotten easier over time, both with us learning how to navigate her mental illness and because of the ongoing treatment and therapy she is involved in.

No matter how hard it is in the moment, it gets easier.  I don’t want to paint a bleak picture of living with someone with mental illness, but the reality for me is that it is hard. Not impossible or too much, just hard.

I need the support of family and friends, just as Sarah does, as we live through this illness.If you know someone who is living with a mental illness or living with someone with a mental illness, please be there for them.

It’s a tricky, rough road to walk, and the love and support you can give is important. Don’t cut them off. Instead, be there as Christ would be. I love my wife and I wouldn’t trade her for anyone in the world. Even with her mental illness, she is one of the best people I have ever known. Her mental illness can’t change that, no matter how hard it can be to live with.

13135602724_81a94d47fc_zAaron is a husband, father, believer, writer, nerd, coffee chugger. Just a typical Jesus obsessed, question everything, bipolar, poet-punk. You can find his blog here and he’s on twitter @culturalsavage

A new post will come out every Monday. Never miss one by signing up here:

Living with Someone Else’s Mental Illness – Caris’ Story

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I Have to Try

 

It’s the dreams that remind me how much I’ve been affected. The frequent dreams where I am yelling, but it’s hoarse. Where I’m trying to explain, but no sound comes out.

I rage and yell and cry, but I stammer and the worlds barely squeak out, and it’s so frustrating. It’s like the dreams I have where I put my contacts in but still can’t see. I can talk but I have no voice.

I wake up shaken, feeling as though I’ve been through battle, but of course I haven’t. Nothing has changed. I’m still affected by my past, my present, and she has no idea.

The daily habits I grew up with, the events that make my memories aren’t even blips on her radar because they didn’t matter to her like they mattered to me.

She is the center of her own universe and I orbited her, pulled in by a force I couldn’t seem to resist.

Coming to realize that I grew up in the shadow of someone else’s mental illness made me realize that my normal isn’t everyone’s normal, that my normal wasn’t normal or healthy or safe.

My dreams – even nightmares – remind me that the panic and fear I grew up with are still in me, and maybe they won’t ever be rooted out.

They are a reminder of how hard it is to claim my voice, of how hard it is to fight the fear and the darkness.

But if having a parent with an undiagnosed mental illness has taught me anything, it’s that I know I have to try.

A new post will come out every Monday. Never miss one by signing up here:

CarisProfilezoomCaris Adel is a recent transplant to the Tidewater region of Virginia. She homeschools her 5 kids, and is on a constant search to disrupt her status quo. She writes at www.carisadel.com and tweets @carisadel

My 816 square feet

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I’ve been meaning to write about our little “house” for a while now and when the opportunity to write a (de)tales post for my friend Cara’s blog came up I took it.

Here’s a teaser:


My cool architect brother-in-law would call our home a ‘two flat’ – we call it a really small upstairs. When we first moved in, people would often ask how we could live in such a small space. “Wow, good for you,” they would say.  Or a friend would allude to “what’s next?” because this could never be a long term housing solution for four people.  It played on my insecurity of raising a family in a small (and poorly laid out), rented, half-a-house. I knew it would be a while before we could afford anything bigger to rent, let alone buy, especially because the average price of a barely livable home in Vancouver is nearing 1 million dollars.

To read the rest and check out Cara’s great blog click here.

Living with Someone Else’s Mental Illness – Esther’s Story

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When Jane invited me to write for this series I shot back a long list of things that I couldn’t possibly write about. Whole sections of my childhood are marked out in red pen. I thought I might post anonymously, but then I found it hard to disguise my voice. I thought about writing theoretically, in broad and general terms, but that didn’t seem to do justice to Jane’s vulnerable post last week.

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In the end, I decided to tell the truth, as best I can, about my mother.

Many people know that my mother was a writer. She was a public figure. She was funny on TV. She had amazing gifts. Her vulnerable and courageous writing still touches people’s hearts today, even ten years after her death.

Not as many people know my mother’s struggles. She was a person for whom the boundaries of reality and fantasy were permeable. She lived with fear, and her fears were often things no other adult could understand to be true. I later came to call them by the name delusions.

As a child I was intensely close to my mother. I knew how to spot her moods coming. I comforted her. I used what skills I had to keep our family in safe situations, to cover for her when I could, and to prevent the knowledge or intervention of CPS.

As a teenager I broke free. I was fully independent at age 16 and didn’t speak to my mother for years. It was a deep struggle for me, to make sense of it all. It took years of personal work, including professional help, to throw off my mother’s version of the world and see instead with my own eyes, which are not clouded (or gifted) in the same way as hers.

I have walked through anger and confusion. I expected mental illness in myself, and when it didn’t come, I felt relief but also a confusing sense of wrongdoing on my own part, even betrayal. I have not expected others to understand these things. I have kept my secrets well, and felt lonely in them.

I don’t believe there are easy answers, in the question of privacy and someone else’s mental illness. Confidentiality is no joke in the realm of mental competency. These assertions can lose people jobs, right to self-determination, mutual respect. They can bring on criticism, public shaming and disdain that could trigger dangerous episodes of depression, rage, and violence.

But what I most want to share is none of that. It is not the story of loneliness or even confusion. I think loneliness and confusion are nearly universal in the human journey, don’t you? What I want to share is the gifts I have received, being the child of a guardian with mental illness.

These are complicated gifts, but also precious ones. They are tolerance, patience, and compassion. They are the ability to see deep, through the brokenness of the day to day into the beauty of the heart within. They are a nuanced understanding of able-ness, the wisdom that an intelligence that doesn’t fit inside the box of “normalcy” is an intelligence that brings alternate, challenging and possibly much needed perspective.

My mother’s readers were touched and blessed by the very same vulnerability that made it hard for her to sustain relationships, intermittently impossible for her to put a meal on the table or keep a job.

Today my own readers are touched and blessed by the very same depth and compassion I learned from her, being her child, her dependent, her human companion.

My mother came with lots of jagged edges. She wasn’t always a safe place for me. In fact, often she wasn’t. I grieved what mental illness took from her (and by extension, from me) long before she died.

But it never took her humanity. And humanity is a bottomless and never ending gift.

These days I hear often that I look like my mother. Except, actually, not so much after I cut my hair. Still, I hear that I write like my mother. I am radical like my mother. I love words and dirt and animals like my mother.

I am like her, and yet I never could or had to go the places that she went. Now I carry her in my body, like all daughters carry their mothers: sometimes an encouragement and sometimes a devastating weight.

This was the woman that was my mother: human, flawed, extraordinary, vulnerable and loved.

A new post will come out every Monday. Never miss one by signing up here:

 

estheremerywriterEsther Emery used to be a freelance theatre director in Southern California. But that was a long time ago. These days she is pretty much a runaway, living off grid in a yurt and tending to three acres of near wilderness in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. She writes about faith and rebellion and trying to live a totally free life on her blog. Connect on Twitter @EstherEmery.

Living with Someone Else’s Mental Illness – My Own Story

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This is the first instalment of the series. You can read the introductory post here.

I struggle writing about someone else’s mental illness because it’s just that, someone else’s.

Mental illness, unlike the more visible ailments (for good or bad) feels more personal and private. After all, it’s his life, not mine. But that’s just the thing. It isn’t just his life, it’s our life.

But I’m still not interested in sharing his experience (even though when we have a good story to tell, he always lets me tell it).

My husband Dane doesn’t just “get all OCD” about this or that, he actually has Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.  He doesn’t just “worry a lot and get sad sometimes,” he battles with anxiety and depression every single day. Yet, most people would never guess it because in some ways he’s got this mental illness thing figured out. Dane’s medicated, supported, loved, fairly open about it. Not to mention he has an excellent sense of humor.

But in other ways, it’s not that easy for him, or me. I worry about his depression getting worse (as we know it can do) and how hard that would be for him (and our family). I worry about the inevitable day he will have to change his medication. I worry about whether or not our boys will inherit Dane’s mental health like they inherited our fair skin and love of macaroni and cheese. But most days I try to focus on who is right in front of me.

You see, unlike the title of this blog series, I don’t actually live with someone else’s mental illness, I live with someone who is mentally ill.

This diagnosis is intrinsically part of the man I married. In sickness and in health, for better or for worse — these marital quips never feel as real they do in the midst of a panic attack. I’m married all of him and he’s all I’ve got. And the fact that his mental illness is all of him is the trickiest part for me.

Where does the mental illness begin and end? How can I tell if his behaviour is ‘him’ or if it’s his mental illness. If Dane had a perfectly typical or “normal” chemical make up in his brain, would he still sleep way more than me and would he still have trouble getting up everyday? Perhaps. Would he still incessantly worry about the safety of our kids? Possibly. Would he have trouble trying new food or eating in dark spaces? Maybe.

So am I allowed to be stark raving mad after the fifth attempt to get him up? Should I resent the fact we can’t just eat at any restaurant? I don’t know.  I can’t tell where it begins and ends because it is completely enmeshed in who he is.

And this is bang-your-head against the wall frustrating some days. Am I justified in my frustration? Should I blame Dane or blame his mental illness?

I don’t know, but what I have to keep asking myself is does it really matter?

I didn’t marry the mental illness, I married Dane. I don’t love OCD or depression but I love Dane. I may get frustrated or discouraged by the way he acts, but it is all part of who he is. It doesn’t matter which part of his brain is causing this behavior because I love all of him. Yes, it can be maddening at times but I would rather have the mentally ill Dane than anyone else. Talk about perspective!

There is no one else I would rather be with and I will gladly take OCD alongside generosity, faithfulness and a rather prolonged obsession with all things Sylvester Stallone. 

There are even parts of his mental illness that make my life better.  Let’s be honest, sometimes I wish his OCD caused him to clean the house more. Why can’t he obsess over dust bunnies or soap scum? But one of the things Dane’s brain causes us (read: me) to do is slow down.  And by slow down I mean do about half of what I would normally try to cram into a weekend.

And for this, I’m (mostly) grateful. I watch families go from soccer practice to a birthday party to some festival downtown and back home to host friends for dinner on a single Saturday and it exhausts me to watch.

I know that will never be my life, yet it might have been if it weren’t for Dane.  This pace of life means we can’t be doing something every night of the week. We can’t go to every interesting lecture or every church event. It’s means sometimes our son skips soccer practice or we miss someone’s birthday.

It means we have to be home with each other, trying to eat dinner slowly, reading books, playing lego and cleaning up the dust bunnies.

But when we do have friends over, who makes them feel incredibly special and cared for? Who offers them a beer before they even get their coat off? Who has inside jokes with people that make them feel known and loved? Who dubbed 2012, “The year of Jane’s vocational wholeness” because he was on a mission to see me love my work? Who? The guy I love (with the mental illness).

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A new post will come out every Monday. Never miss one by signing up here:

Living With Someone Else’s Mental Illness – GUEST BLOG SERIES

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A few months ago, just after the death of Robin Williams, I read this intriguing tweet by Luke Harms:

Hey friends. Let’s start a conversation about the intersection of faith and mental illness. It’s obviously needed. How about ?

I then read the hundreds of follow up here is one of my favourites) of people sharing their experiences of mental health and faith. Some people were incredibly hurt by the church and many felt silenced by the stigma of mental illness.  A few offered hope in the help and love they received. As I continued to read I did what I often do, I thought about my own story.

My story is that I live with someone else’s mental illness.

It’s mainly an untold story because it feels like it’s not mine to tell. But those of us who live with someone else’s mental illness have our own stories of the experience that need to be told.

It’s easy to minimize our experience  because, after all, we’re not the one with the diagnosis! We’re not the one on medication! We’re not the one who regularly battles getting out of bed etc.  And for these things we’re grateful.

However, without minimizing the others’ struggles, we still live with our own story of how the mental illness affects us.  We’ve been affected by it, we’ve struggled in our own way and we often keep it to ourselves. As hard as it is, I think it’s time we share some of our own stories.

By sharing our stories we offer support and hope for those who finds themselves in a similar way. We also help to de-stigmatize mental health by courageously sharing our experience of living with, loving and supporting those who are struggling.

After stewing over my own story and avoiding the deep down nudging to write about it,  I took a deep breath, asked my husband if it was ok with him for me to share my experience of his mental illness. Even though it’s my experience, I knew I needed to ask him. He agreed and I began to find other people who have journeyed down a similar road.

Thus this series was born: Living with Someone Else’s Mental Illness.

For the next several Mondays, my blog will be a place for people living with someone else’s mental illness to share their stories. Some posts will be anonymous, others will share current or past realities. We won’t be speaking for those with whom we live (or lived) but we will be sharing our own experiences.

I hope you will join us here each week and support the writers who are bravely telling this part of their life. Trust me, we need it.

Don’t miss a post by adding your email below.


The Dinner “Hour”

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My family could very easily sit down, consume our dinner, and clear the table within eight minutes. The kids inhale food (or protest the menu), conversation is quick, and then we move on to the next thing. Like many families with small children, dinner time can be both hilarious and frustrating. But we are committed to this crazy table time, and right now, albeit may be fleeting, things are going surprisingly well.  Therefore I’ve decided to branch out from my regular genre and write about this rare moment. We have not mastered dinner time (and never will) but here are a few things that keep us sane.

Eight ideas to help make the dinner hour with small kids more enjoyable (and last longer than eight minutes).

1. We meal plan. My lovely friend Julianne got me going on this. She found a few friends who eat similarly and set up a simple google doc and calendar. Every six weeks I am responsible to post 3 complete dinner recipes and corresponding grocery lists. The other five weeks I have the benefit of other people’s ideas. It’s been a life saver because even with the internet, cookbooks, and mac and cheese, somedays I still need inspiration! Meal planning helps me stay less stressed from the very beginning.

2. That being said, we often repeat the winning meals.  There are a few things my kids LOVE and I am not ashamed to re-purpose them in a variety of forms.  For example, we often have “Mexican Monday” and I make this beans and rice dish and serve it ten different ways. We have it in bowls with toppings, in tacos, baked in tortillas, alongside quesadillas, etc.

3. We always begin by lighting a candle and saying one thing we are thankful for. Insert cheesy music if you must but for us, we are reminded of Christ’s presence when we light the candle and it gives us a moment to actually “start” the meal. Following our eight minutes plus, we take turns blowing it out and saying one thing we would like to change in the world. It is a quiet way to pray and remind our kids that, in the midst of it all, we have hope for the world. I first shared this tradition last Advent.

4. Everyone helps. Both my kids help with dinner prep in someway. As long as I give them (and their Pokemon cards) fair warning, they’re usually hungry enough to help expedite preparations. Warning: having a 3 year old set the table can end up like this.

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Watch out Emily Post

 

5. We decide when and what we are eating and our kids decide how much they want to eat.  I read this nugget in a waiting room once and have stuck to it ever since. I will confess, for the most part, my kids are not picky eaters.  But there are enough struggles in the world, making my kids finish every last bite is not one I am going to fight. I do, however, give them reasonable portions know they may ask for seconds.

6. Each person asks one interesting question during dinner. This is the latest addition to operation-extend-dinner-past-8-minutes. Everyone has to ask one question that we could all potentially answer. For example, last night’s question was “If you could only eat one kind of fruit for the rest of your life what would it be?” With a completely serious look, Ben, who is 6 ½ leans in and says, “Um, can there be a dip?”  As in, if he picks apples can he have peanut butter for dipping?  We’ve also learned that Ben wants to win a free trip to LA and Sam wants to be a zebra for the day.

7. We stay at the table slightly longer than anyone really wants to. This isn’t an attempt at torture (although it feels like it sometimes). I have found that if my kids don’t like their dinner, (for reasons like it’s not on the green plate or they just want pretzels), they have trouble sitting at the table. But if we can keep them entertained (see number 6) for a bit longer they often just keep eating without even realizing it.

8. If I ever get around the making dessert (not often), I do it on a day when I’m not that confident my kids will like the food because: bribery.

What works to keep you sane during dinner with kids? Leave a comment!

(Feature photo credit C. Flanders)