Here Are My Wounds, I Hope They Help Heal Yours

I know so many missionaries. I have friends on all continents except Antarctica. If there were people in need of Jesus there, I’m sure they’d be on that one, too. I remember feeling that fire and that call to go to the farthest reaches and try to share my faith with the world when I was younger. I felt like if I didn’t, then I’d just die. Dramatic? Of course. I was in my early twenties.

I felt like there had to be places in plain sight where people were hurting and needed love. I just knew that I would be the one to minister to widows and orphans abroad. And for a little while, I did my best to do just that. Then I came home and realized that sometimes the remotest parts of the earth were within the people right beside me. And in my own heart. To this day, I sometimes feel that my soul is one of the most desolate places that can possibly exist.

Loneliness is a silent killer, and people who are lonely may not even know that loneliness is the source of whatever it is that they are feeling. Some people are emotionally kind of stupid. I am for sure. More often than not I don’t know how to label whatever emotion I am having at any given moment and I kind of describe it with various types of grunts or gestures. I make off-putting jokes and sarcastic quips because it helps me not to really delve too deeply into what I see going on around me because being aware of things other people are able to ignore makes me feel lonely.

The thing is, I am frequently known for my snarky attitude or the jokes that I make. I’m kooky and quirky. I come off to some as strong, opinionated, bossy, organized, and professional. I seem friendly and fun. I seem lighthearted.

People often laugh at things I observe about the world around me. Why? Because, the world is really messed up, and that can be funny as hell. It’s also really dark and tragic and will just about crush you if you think about it too long.

Unfortunately, I’m wired to analyze, perceive, and resolve. It’s in my nature. I’m also wired to have this really intense empathy for people whose pain I can relate to on some level. Carrying all that around all the time is really exhausting. It wears on you.

I think that because of those characteristics, I have struggled with chronic depression and anxiety my whole life. It’s kind of a perfect storm, and no one likes to even face it internally, much less openly talk about it.

So I’m going to openly talk about it. Feel free to squirm, pity me, claim that my faith is not strong enough, judge me for relying on medication, worry about my sanity, ask me questions, openly mock or deride me, or nod vigorously in solidarity and understand that more people struggle with this than are willing to admit it. In any case, I’m not too worried about it. I know that this post will help someone, and that’s the goal.

I just found out tonight that my favorite comedian/actor died as a result of suspected suicide. Robin Williams has always seemed to be so funny and light-hearted. I always kind of thought that if we knew each other, we’d get along. I always wished he had been my drama teacher or professor. I wanted to know if he was really like Mr. Keating.

Several people I know have expressed shock on social media. Someone even asked if I thought he really committed suicide, since he was always funny. Yes. Yes I very much do. He struggled for years with substance abuse. Often people who seem funny and happy are very sad and/or struggle with depression. Depression is such a weird thing, and I think those people who have keen observational skills and can make them into humor require a dark side. People who are genuinely happy and never struggle with mental illness are often not as aware of all the minutiae that make the world so sad. Those who do are often funny because to laugh is to not cry, and to laugh is to release the pressure that comes with carrying all that weight around all the time.

My story of this summer is that aside from my chronic issues, I have been struggling with the most acute attack of depression that I’ve ever experienced. I had a baby in March, and post-partum depression just about did me in.

This is, of course, after a five year crash course in personal stressors and tragedy as well. I won’t get into all that, but when I took the stress inventory to see if I needed to seek help, I scored a 724. If you score above a 300 you need immediate help. So yeah, you could say I was dealing with some stuff.

Anyway, I had begun to withdraw more and more from my family at the end of the school year. I would go up to the bedroom, turn out the lights and either sleep or hold my newborn son and just detach from my husband, elder son, and the rest of the world. I’d watch television to distract myself. I wasn’t exactly sad. I just didn’t feel much of anything.

In December I lost a friend that I have known for sixteen years. He killed himself. He was not a person I’d have ever expected to end his own life. He seemed so together, despite his sometimes very serious personality. It caught me off guard, and I believe that was the beginning of the dark period that ended with this most recent crisis. I knew that if it could happen to him, it could happen to me. I’d thought about it in the past, but I’d never made an attempt or a plan. Now that I’m a wife and mom, it has not ever been a temptation. This changed my feeling of security about that. He mattered to people, and he still had problems that ended in tragedy. I matter to people, and I got scared that I might end in tragedy as well.

I reached a point where I was at maximum capacity for pain and grief, and I just shut down. Sure, I felt joy at my son’s birth, and I could laugh and smile and make jokes; it just required that I completely ignore all deeper feelings and hide myself from everyone who cared about me.

I didn’t see it happening. It crept in slowly. The darkness arrived more like dusk becoming darkness than a light burning out suddenly. I rationalized my behavior by believing that it was just my healing from the c-section, dealing with hormones, and relaxing while I could. I blamed feeling sick or being tired, but what I see now is that I just wanted to escape. If I slept, I’d be away from everything, and it worked until the nightmares started.

By the time summer rolled around, I was sleeping for large parts of the day because I couldn’t get rest at night. I had begun seriously neglecting the house, neglecting my relationships, and neglecting myself. There were days where I’d skip showering or even trying to get dressed because I knew I probably wouldn’t bother to walk out the door anyway. There were days where I wouldn’t speak to anyone and would reject all incoming calls or texts. Of course I’d still keep up appearances by making funny comments on Facebook, but I just quit caring about much of anything at all.

The only break in the numbness came when my elder son would misbehave, and I’d lose my cool with him. I got nervous because I didn’t want to do permanent damage to him with screaming or fighting, so I just started avoiding him and letting my husband handle all discipline while I cared for my younger son.

The breaking point was when I heard the story of the man who was charged with murdering his son by leaving him in a hot car. Any rational mother heard the story and became enraged at the father, felt compassion for the mother, and broke down with sadness for the child. Not me. I thought, “You know what, I don’t know his life. Maybe that kid is just rotten.”

That was when I sought help. I saw a psychiatrist, and I got my meds adjusted. I started noticing the things I’d been too spaced out to notice, and I checked myself in to an in-patient day program at a local psychiatric hospital. I was so so ashamed that I had to do that. I didn’t want to tell anyone. I didn’t want anyone to know. I didn’t even ask for prayer from people during that time. I was embarrassed and felt weak. I felt guilty for being too weak to be a good mom or wife. I felt silly about abandoning my family for a week that would probably be group-therapy-kumbaya-hippy-dippy-bullshit (pardon the language, just being real). I held the negative views of mental healthcare as much as anyone else. I dreaded it, but it really helped me. I processed through some things I had been shoving down for five years now. Some even since middle school. I got a lot out of it. I started to heal, and I’m doing OK now. I’m not magically all better, and I probably never will be. It’s part of who I am. I’m growing to love myself anyway.

It’s insane to me that in our culture, we are far more forgiving of a person with terrible morals or ethics than we are of someone with mental illness. That’s telling of our priorities. We value strength and loathe weakness. Mental illness is perceived as weakness. More than just a weakness, it’s perceived as a problem that is all in the mind of the person suffering and something that’s questionably even legitimate.

The stigma of being that person who has depression has kept me from being open and honest about myself for years now. It’s not just made up. It is very real. There is a darkness inside my mind that holds me hostage and keeps me from just being. It wraps its fingers around my throat and chokes away all of the life-giving oxygen until I go black and can’t keep going anymore. There is a part of me that always wants to just wave and be acknowledged, but I cannot be forthcoming about it because of the people it would alienate or upset. There is a part of me that is terrified that if I am open about my struggles, everyone I love will leave me. Everyone I know will think I’m crazy. And everyone I want to know will run away screaming.

The thing is, the Big-Bad I just described is simply a figment created by the darkness inside of me. I’m not alone in this. I believe many people with that darkness feel exactly the same way. It’s just so covered in shame and silence that none of us are willing to take the risk of discussing it. I wish that people with mental illness issues had a secret “tell” and could identify each other silently. Then we’d know who to trust. It may sound silly, but it is just that scary. I feel my pulse speeding up just thinking about it. I think I’ll probably obsess for a while over developing a secret “crazy person” handshake. Then I’ll fall asleep and have weird dreams that keep me up. And I’ll be OK. Really, I will.

The pressure to be happy or normal, the way most everyone else looks to me, is so great, that I am often crippled by the accompanying anxiety and become useless to do what I had originally intended– obeying the call to minister to the orphans, widows, and remotest parts of the earth.

So, to confront this problem, I want to expose my darkness to the light in order to reach others in similar darkness. I want to say to you– here are my wounds. Here are the harmful thoughts I have. Here is the most painful and isolating thing that exists for me. Here is my secret source of shame. It’s all here. None of it is a secret anymore. I went all One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest and did NOT (spoiler alert!) get smothered by a large Native American man.

This past Sunday, my pastor spoke about how Christians are supposed to expose the enemy. So here I am, taking up the challenge. I am exposing something very, deeply personal in order to say to anyone reading it– you are not alone in this.

I don’t care if you are a person of faith or not. You are not alone. Look beside you. Look behind you. Those people you see are likely carrying around the remotest parts of the earth inside themselves, and they are terrified to tell anyone. Help them expose their darkness to the light. It just may save their lives, and it will definitely save yours.

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Delicious Free-Ta-Tas!

Tonight I made a frittata. 

In case you are unaware, a frittata is an Italian crustless Quiche.  It’s also referred to as an Italian omelette.  It’s a very delicious and protein packed meal, and it’s a good thing to eat after a strenuous workout because when your muscles are recovering, i.e. sore, they need protein to rebuild.  It’s what will help you walk the next day. 

I did my workout this morning, it’s XTrainFit, which is a little less intense version of a muscle confusion workout, similar to P90X.  It’s a little more beginner friendly, and my hubby is beginning a workout routine, whereas I have been on one much longer.  Since he decided to join me, I decided to shelf P90X until we can survive 90 days of this program together.  To ramp it up a little, I’m still running in the evenings to add more cardio.

Anyway, the recipe turned out delicious, and my husband likes to call frittatas “free ta-tas” because he is basically a twelve-year-old boy.  I laughed at it, so I must be one, too. 

Here is the recipe that I made tonight, and it was inspired by all the veggies I had in the fridge that must have been used by tonight, or they would face the trash tomorrow. 

kale frittata carbonara

Kale Frittata Carbonara (I added the Carbonara because it has bacon, and it sounded fancy!)

6 eggs

1/2 c parmesan or romano cheese, shredded

1/2 c mozzarella, shredded (I used one with pepperoni and marinara flavors incorporated)

1/2 c 2% milk (if you’re not watching fat, you can use heavy cream, and it’s delicious!)

1 c onions, diced

1c sweet red peppers, diced

2 c kale, stems and chewies removed

2 cloves of garlic, minced

1 tsp Oregano, dried (or fresh to taste, I just didn’t have any)

1 tbsp butter

10 slices of bacon cooked crispy, crumbled

black pepper to taste

Directions:

Preheat broiler in oven.

In an oven-safe saucepan over medium heat, melt butter and brown garlic with oregano.  Add in the onion and peppers.  Cook until almost soft.  Add in kale.  Cook until kale has softened to your liking.  Set aside from heat, but leave the burner on. Toss in the bacon crumbles.

In a separate bowl, blend eggs, milk, and both cheeses. 

Push veggies to the side in the pan and return to medium heat.  Pour the egg and cheese mixture into the open space.  Let cook for just a moment until the egg begins to just stick to the bottom.  Quickly blend in the veggies and bacon from the side.  Do NOT scramble.  If scrambling begins to happen, remove from heat and turn down burner.

You should have a semi-liquid mixture.  Leave on medium heat burner until the bottom begins to set and top starts to turn barely white and bubbly.

Transfer whole pan to oven under broiler.

WATCH. LIKE. A. HAWK. to prevent burning.  Time will depend on oven and rack placement.  I had my rack set down low, and the broiler on high.  Took about three minutes to brown and set fully.

Once golden brown and no longer runny, remove quickly, slice into four servings, and serve immediately.

This would be an amazing brunch option, but we ate it for dinner and had coffee with it to drink.  It was the perfect combination.  I imagine a nice red wine would be nice as well, but we did not have one!

12 Points Plus for Weight Watchers if you use the exact measurements I used.  I put it into the recipe builder to get that measurement. 

I encourage you to try this.  It sounds complicated, but let me tell you, if you are like me and either chop and freeze your veggies or chop and store them ahead, it only takes around a half hour.

Oh, and my bacon tip, and trust me, I make the best bacon, is that I make it in the oven.

If you line a pan with foil, then top with parchment, you can lay out the bacon to cover the pan without overlapping.  You then set your timer to 20 minutes and the oven to 400.  I have never once burned the bacon, and it’s always chewy without being too crispy.  Perfection.  May take a little longer if you use thick bacon. 

You can cook a whole amount ahead and crumble, storing in the fridge, as an add on for extra flavor, if you have the points.  Bacon is ALWAYS worth the points to me.  So is real, grass-fed butter. 

Happy cooking!

 

 

 

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Sweet and Sour Quinoa

 

Here is a little recipe that I came up with tonight based on what was in my fridge and what I had points left to eat today (Weight Watchers Points Plus). 

 

I am not affiliated with or paid by WW.  My point values were calculated with the recipe builder and are not verified by WW.

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Here is the recipe.  It was SO good.  Even my three-year-old son loved it!

Here is what you will need: 

3 cups prepared quinoa

1/2 rotisserie chicken, shredded (I used just the breast meat, about 8 oz)

1/2 butternut squash, cooked soft and cubed

1 onion, chopped

1 red pepper chopped

3/4 c pecan halves, chopped (after measured)

1/2 c craisins

 

For the dressing-

juice of one lemon

juice of one lime

2 tbsp honey

1 tbsp dijon mustard

2 tbsp olive oil

1/4 c fresh cilantro, very very finely chopped

mix in a bowl, set to the side.

Instructions-

Saute the onion and pepper in a pan with some olive oil (I spray mine), add in the shredded chicken and cooked squash and turn pan down to low.  Stir in the dressing. 

 

Put the cooked quinoa in a bowl.  Top with the chicken mixture.  Throw in the craisins and pecans and stir. 

 

Zesty, fresh, sour, sweet, and all with a neat nutty texture.  Tip- To reduce bitterness and add flavor to quinoa, make sure you rinse it first and then cook it with half chicken broth and half water. 

Divided into six servings, it’s 11 points plus each.  It’s fewer points if you add components separately, so keep that in mind, trackers! 

 

Toss it in a bowl.

Receive love and adoration, as you deserve.  You are a whole food goddess. 

You’re welcome.

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Here Comes Sketti Boo Boo

I don’t know if you are as trashy as I am, but I love watching Here Comes Honey Boo Boo on TLC.

Sure, there are ten million reasons not to watch it, but my inner armchair anthropologist can’t help but observe the Southern family in its natural habitat.  I’m a Southern girl.  I know families just like this.  Heck, I’m friends with families like this.  I’m not like this myself, but I get it, and I’m not very judgmental about it because I know that so much of it is influenced by where they live and their socio-economic status.

The episode that got to my amateur chef side is the episode where mama June is making the old family recipe of “Sketti.”  Seriously, watch the clip.  If you don’t,  you’ll have no clue why this post is so amazing.

Her basic recipe for “Sketti” is that she makes spaghetti noodles and makes a sauce for them using equal parts Country Crock and ketchup.

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I kid you not.  She calls this an old family recipe.

Strange, but why not?

I decided to try the recipe and see if it is as gross as it seems that it would be.

Yeah, it totally was.

ImageYeah, my microwave has diabetes now

ImageHad a “tomato soup’s white trash cousin” thing going on, according to my husband

Oh, it was bad indeed. I started to toss it, but then I felt guilty.  I’d be throwing away a legitimate food source that this family regularly eats.

Rather than toss it, I asked myself what I could do to make it taste better.  Tomatoes and butter sound like the beginning of a vodka sauce to me!  I even went the extra authentic step of using dried herbs that most lower socio-economic status homes would have on hand.

Jennifer’s Honey Boo Boo Vodka Sketti-stravaganza

equal parts butter and ketchup, melted

oregano to taste

garlic powder to taste

onion powder to taste

vodka (dunno how much)

basil to taste

grated Parmesan

I put the sauce over medium high heat until it boiled.  I let it reduce by about 25% and then added water because it seemed really gross (lesson here, don’t let it reduce).

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I threw in all the ingredients above and let it boil, whisking constantly until it smelled like the spices were incorporated, and then I removed it from the heat, whisking in the grated Parmesan.

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Staying true to my Honey Boo Boo inspiration, I had to test to see if the noodles were ready.  How do we do this, Alana?  We throw it at the kitchen cabinet!

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The finished product, poured over noodles with additional Parmesan cheese to garnish.

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The verdict?  The end product actually tasted sort of decent, like a very low price jar of grocery store sauce.  You definitely wouldn’t know it was made with ketchup.  It was certainly not delicious, but I think I could pass it off as a homemade sauce if I made it in a slow cooker and tweaked the spice amounts. No, I’m not kidding.

Will I make Sketti again?  Nope.  The mental block was too much for my husband, and I am the only one who ate it at dinner.  He popped open a can of Prego.  My Sketti sauce tasted better, but it was just the idea of it.

He’s so uppity.

Would you try Sketti?

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Best. Wrong. Number. Ever. (or, How I met DJ Sketchy Mike)

Tonight at dinner my mother-in-law asked me if I had any pictures of my husband’s cousin’s new baby.  It’s the South, every drop of common blood means kinship for life.

I looked on my phone to see if my archaic iPhone would pull up Facebook quickly enough to be useful, and alas, it was crapping out.  I asked my husband if he had Mandy’s number, and he looked it up for me, and I sent her a text message.

The oddest conversation emerged… behold the image:

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The first time she mentioned “perks” I assumed it was an autocorrect of “pics,” so I tried to make a lame joke about standard perks (hence the insurance comment, yeah, I’m lame).

I began to get puzzled by her responses, and asked her if she was having a stroke (slurred speech and nonsensical talk are no laughing matter!)

I was showing the chain of messages to my husband who was equally confused when the phone rang.

Here is how the conversation went:

Me:  Hello?

Caller: (lazily, smarmily) Heeeey…

Me:  Who is this?

Caller:  It’s Mike.  You got the perks?

Me:  I have no idea what you’re talking about. I think I have the wrong number.

Sketchy Mike: Perks.  Percocet.  I need some.

Me:  I definitely don’t have Percocet (all of this was beginning to sink in at this point)  I definitely have the wrong number.  This number used to belong to my cousin Mandy, and I was trying to get her to send me a picture of her new baby.

Sketchy Mike:  You don’t have any perks?  You know where I can get some?

Me:  Well, since she just had a baby, she may have some, but I doubt she’ll share.  Sorry.

Sketchy Mike:  So, Jennifer, can I ask you a question?  How old are you?

Me:  Um, I don’t think I want to talk to you anymore.

Sketchy Mike:  (laughing) Ah, alright girl.  Good night.

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Artist’s Rendering of Sketchy Mike

I laughed harder than I have in quite some time… until it occurred to me that there was a darker undercurrent even than the wanton drug use…  I asked, “Are you having a stroke?”

His answer, “Not yet, need perks.”

Uhm…  He was not talking about a blockage in a brain artery…  Oh dear…

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Something tells me he was also not referring to painting techniques…

 I did finally get in touch with real Mandy, and she was quite pleased that the first memory I will have of her son will be attached to such a great story.  Can’t wait to meet this kid.

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I wanna squish his cute face!

Another wonderful side-effect of this rather traumatic conversation is that Matt now has a DJ name, in the event he ever becomes a DJ:  DJ Sketchy Mike.  Since he is still in the market for a job, this may be a possibility.

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Matt is still recovering from the club scene in Blade, so I doubt DJ Sketchy Mike will be making any appearances any time soon.

All in all, a very entertaining moment, and it has taught me to never underestimate the ability of sketchy males to turn anything, including dire physical health issues, into a double entendre.

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Making my own lavender/tea tree laundry detergent

I watched a really interesting documentary last night.  It is called Chemerical and it streams live on Netflix.

The whole purpose of the movie was to point out how many volatile organic chemicals (VOCs) are in our homes due to the chemicals that we  use to clean (bleach, ammonia, sulfates, pthalates, etc).

There were several recipes for things that can replace the nasty chemicals in our homes, and I decided to start with the one that I am about to run out of, laundry detergent.

Here is the recipe that I used:

Jennifer’s Lavender Tea Tree Oil Laundry Detergent

1 gallon plus 10 cups of water

1 bar of Dr. Bronner’s Tea Tree soap, grated

2 cups Borax

2 cups Arm and  Hammer Washing Soda (NOT baking soda)

20 drops of lavender essential oil

It’s really easy.  You put the 10 cups of water into a sauce pan, dissolve the grated soap by stirring over medium high heat.  Then you add the borax and soda and mix until it is dissolved.  Set off heat.

I used a three gallon bucket from Home Depot.  Into that, you add a gallon of hot water, then pour in the soap mixture and stir.  Fill to the top with water and stir again. Add about 20 drops lavender oil.

Skim the suds off the top.  Let cool.  Once cool, it will be a thin gel, and you can use it a quarter cup at a time in the washing machine, even high efficiency because it’s a low suds formula.

And that’s it.  It smells WONDERFUL.  My whole apartment smells like lavender.  I feel like I’m doing something good for the earth and for my family.  Happy Earth Day!

 

***Edit***

The next morning, I freaked out because it had basically solidified into this weird gelatinous mess, but when I stirred it, it became a thick liquid again.  No worries, I just didn’t want anyone to think they’d messed up!

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Blue Like Jazz: Reviewed

“I have always distrusted memoir. I tend to write my memoirs through my fiction. It’s easier to get to the truth by not claiming that you are speaking it. Some things can be said in fiction that can never be said in memoir.”
Armistead Maupin

Matt and I went to see Blue Like Jazz today.

I must say that as far as movies adapted from memoirs go, this one was excellent.

I suspect that some people will be unsatisfied with this movie because it is not “true” to the stories told in the book, but it is important to note that it is a fictionalized account of true events.  It seems to me that for the purpose of film adaptation, Donald Miller had to condense multiple friends into a few well-rounded characters.  It also seems that for the purpose of making the transition from scene to scene smooth and interesting, he had to play around with the timeline of things and the placement of certain conversations in different circumstances.

I wanted to put that out there, so that no one would be confused as he or she watched it.  One cannot watch it and expect a literal reenactment of the book, as the book was not written in complete narrative form.

As far as the production quality goes, I found the movie to be well done.  There were some interesting nods to the book.  A scene where the reflection of a bridge in car windows called to mind the image on the cover of the book.  The cinematography was well done, and the party scenes were as close to an actual party scene as I have ever seen in a movie about faith.  Most “Christian” movies get this as wrong as a “Hell House” does.

The actors all seemed real, and the fact that I didn’t know who any of them were gave them some credibility as the actual  people I had envisioned in my mind.

Blue Like Jazz the book came to me at a time in my life about eight years ago when I desperately needed to feel less alone.  I needed to know that there were other freaks like me who had questions and needed validation that I was not floating out in space all by myself.  There are elements of the book that I have revisited and changed my mind or approach about since that time.  The interesting part is that it seems that Miller may have done the same thing.

The main example of this is the confessional booth.  I will not post any spoilers, but I must say that shifting the focus from “they” to “I” seems to be a reflection of an additional ten years of maturity and wisdom on the part of the writer.  It also rang true with me.

All in all, I enjoyed this movie.  I left the theater with my husband and we commenced an excellent discussion about where we both were when we read it and where we are now.  Incidentally, we were in similar places spiritually and situationally to the protagonist and Penny.

This book and the movie will always have a special place in my heart, and I highly recommend seeing it.  I think it will leave you with more questions than answers, and that is probably the point.

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