Tag Archives: Christmas

And the Wisdom to Know the Difference

Compassionate Love: Displaying compassion for those who struggle with mental illness  (c)2014 Nancy Virden

photo-26167281-10-23-14-christmas-icons-5-faces-09Renee* has lived eighty-nine years. She and her husband came to America in the 1950s, young and full of dreams. She was a statuesque blonde fiercely in love and hoping to raise a family with her strong, dark-haired carpenter. He loved her too, and together they built a life.

The carpenter lived to meet two grandchildren. He passed away seven years ago. Renee speaks of him fondly, and shows off pictures from his younger days. For a few brief seconds she seems lighter, then as she finishes telling her tales her eyes return to listlessness.

She lives in a nursing home, unable to walk well enough to be alone. Her remaining family is far away except for a sister who visits once per week and brings her candy. Renee is diligent with physical therapy because she does not want to fall, but other than that and meals in the dining hall, she watches television in her room.

I want to fix things for Renee, do something to make her happy. Only I cannot. Wisdom tells me my role is not savior, but friend.  I visit her, and she is glad when I come by. For maybe an hour per week she is happier, and that is all I can do.

At Christmas time we may be confronted with issues in the world or people in our families we would like to change. Grumpy (or drunk) Uncle John. Silent (or abusive) Aunt Jane. Mom who never seems to understand, or Dad who cannot say I love you. If we could will it, celebrations at our house would look and sound like those lovely holiday movies.

Or maybe we had a wonderful family that is no longer the same due to death or distance. Perhaps misunderstanding has drawn a line between people we care about. With all our heart we want to fix it, and restore things as they were, as they should be.

The first three phrases of the Serenity Prayer are best known. “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

My gifts, money, and time are devoted to spreading the message that every life is valuable, and hope is available. I cannot make anyone believe me. It is not in my power to demolish emotional pain for other people.

After attempting suicide in 2011,  it was nearly impossible to comprehend that my life held value. Therapists invested time and energy to help me see truth while I argued, demanded more of them than was fair, and distrusted their intentions. They used their arsenal of skills, but neither could make me accept what they offered. They could not change me. “That’s your job,” I was told. “Do you want to stay depressed?”

And so it is with the world, our holiday get-togethers, and Renee. Life can be hard and lonely. We are surrounded by people experiencing similar pain. In the end it is up to each person to decide how to react.

We have the power to change only ourselves. 

And then it’s acceptance and serenity all over again.

*****

NOTE: I am not a doctor or mental health professional. I speak only from personal experiences with and observations of mental illness. In no way is this website intended to substitute for professional mental health care.

If you are struggling emotionally today or feeling suicidal, or concerned about someone who is, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-TALK (8255). Hope and help is yours.

* not her real name

**picture from qualitystockphotos.com

 

 

The Serenity to Accept the Things I Cannot Change

Compassionate Love: Displaying compassion for those who struggle with mental illness  (c)2014 Nancy Virden

photo-24768993-attractive-woman-blowing-at-her-hot-coffeeA family I know has a seven year-old boy with Down’s Syndrome. Tommy* is the youngest of three. His teenage brother and sister are normal in every respect except for sharing life with Tommy.

He is in need of constant care, is not potty-trained, and unlike most teenagers his siblings take turns keeping their little brother clean. This is not what most of us would choose in adolescence.

Acceptance. That’s challenging sometimes.

This same family has experienced divorce. The father sees his children every weekend and some holidays.

He had to fill his new apartment with furniture and plan things for his young visitors to do. They were uncomfortable with the change, and quiet. Only Tommy seemed relaxed. About a year later, they chatter and tease each other. All four have found their place.

Are they glad for the divorce? Not likely. Acceptance is sometimes the only option.

The Serenity Prayer, a longer poem trimmed back famously to three lines, begins with a request for peace of mind. “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change…”

During this season of holidays, perhaps there is much we cannot control. (1) Other people’s behaviors (2) Who is in our families (3) How holidays are celebrated in our neighborhoods (4) Weather (5) Traffic (6) Shopping lines (7) Power outages. (8) World events. Maybe some of us cannot change our work schedules, vacation time, health, or ability to travel.

Acceptance interrupts aggravation, putting an end to that ugly stress churning in our stomachs and giving us headaches. Acceptance recognizes hurt, sadness, and disappointment as realities and then moves on. Acceptance is not an “I don’t care,” it is “I care but will not spend effort worrying about what I cannot change.”

Acceptance relaxes our muscles, quiets our fears, allows for joy, and celebrates hope. The battle in our minds is where we win or lose serenity.

*****

NOTE: I am not a doctor or mental health professional. I speak only from personal experiences with and observations of mental illness. In no way is this website intended to substitute for professional mental health care.

If you are struggling emotionally today or feeling suicidal, or concerned about someone who is, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-TALK (8255). Hope and help is yours.

**picture from qualitystockphotos.com

*not his real name

 

 

 

 

Where is Joy These Days?

Compassionate Love Blog: Displaying compassion for those who struggle with mental illness      

Excerpt from Always the Fight: A Living Testimony of What Only God Can Do      

Nancy Virden 2013 (Tate Publishing)

All of Jonathan’s fifth year he dreamed about being six. He envisioned that age to be a magical time of equality with grownups, independence, and better toys. Repeatedly I heard comments like, “When I’m six…” and I can’t wait to be six!” The morning finally arrived, and I entered his room to awaken him.

“Happy Birthday, Jonathan,” I sang out.

Immediately came the sleepy reply, “Next year I’ll be seven!”

Truth is, we may not appreciate much in this life until it is gone. Some adults want to live in the past and bemoan their loss of youth. Parents complain when summer comes around because school is out, and then long for those children when they leave for college. An employee may miss his crotchety ex-boss after a new one makes life even more miserable. Whether a spouse, a pet, or an old bicycle, it does not matter. A special effort is required, a commitment to appreciation for someone to enjoy what he or she has been given in the present.

One example used to be my annual sabbatical to the Christmas tree. Each Christmas season, one night after anyone else who may be in the household is fast asleep, I would gather a blanket and pillow to set up camp by our tree. My favorite instrumental music played in the background as I began talking to God. I told him about my year and praised him for being with me through it all, then listened.

He whispered of his love for me; I felt centered and secure. As I thanked him, silently the miracle would happen. Gazing at the tree endowed with twinkling lights, through my tears I saw prisms. Each tiny lamp became a shooting star. Hundreds of rainbow-colored luminescent spires shot to the ceiling and I remembered this is the God who formed light out of nothing. He is the grand Creator of this entire splendor and yet held me in his hands. He was to be trusted. I had everything for which to be thankful.

This commitment to appreciation at Christmas time could stand to be renewed. Can I stop and smell the roses? Sure, in the summer! Suspending the busyness of the holidays just requires fixing my eyes on the Light as I view Christmas trees through grateful tears.

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NOTE: I am not a doctor or mental health professional. I speak only from personal experiences and observations of mental illness. In no way is this website intended to substitute for professional mental health care.

If you are struggling emotionally today or feeling suicidal, or concerned about someone who is, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-TALK (8255). Hope and help can be yours.

Nancy Virden (c)2013

Tolerance Gone Rogue During the Holidays

Compassionate Love: Displaying compassion for those who struggle with mental illness   Nancy Virden (c)2013

“Christmas is not even celebrated by Christians the same day of the year around the world”, Alex mused as he sipped his coffee. “So why do people around here get so fanatic about it? As if they own December!”

“This is America”, came the reply. “If people don’t like when we celebrate Christmas, they can live somewhere else.” Alex’ co-worker, Mike, was adamant.

“This IS America.” Alex continued, “We’ve built a nation on freedom of religion, yet somehow Christians seem to have an agenda of their own. Maybe I don’t want a nativity on the City Hall lawn.”

“The nativity is what Christmas is all about. If we take it down, what else is there? Santa Claus?”

Alex paused. It was difficult enough to be a Muslim convert in America, he wasn’t sure he relished opening up the topic with Mike. His stand on Christmas made perfect sense to him, why couldn’t Christians understand?  He decided to try and make his point.

“November and December is a holiday season for many Americans beside Christians. There is Hanukkah for Jewish worshipers, of course.  Bahai, Shinto, Sikh, Buddhist, and even secular special days are celebrated this time of year. Kwanzaa’s focus is on African-American unity and strong families. Even we Muslims have our New Year and Ashura, a Holy Day for us”.

A long pause followed.

“You’re Muslim?” Mike asked incredulously.

“Yes, I’m Muslim. And as such, I don’t want my government exalting one religion above another. It’s been disastrous in the Middle East, and  in other countries citizens are persecuted because of it.”

“Ok, but this is Christmas time”, Mike insisted.

“December 25 is Christmas here in the West. No one is suggesting we cancel your celebration. From what I know of your Jesus”, Alex said cautiously, “he wasn’t about certain days or celebrations. He was about love. I would be more interested in a Christian’s words if he or she actually lived how Jesus said to live.”

Mike was silent as he walked away remembering his morning stop at the convenience store. “I have spent more energy pushing ‘Merry Christmas’ on store clerks than I have saying anything encouraging to them the rest of the year”, he admitted to himself. “And I almost drove a wedge between Alex and me.”

Toleration gone rogue is when it becomes ‘you must agree with me.’ Then each person can have their own measuring device by which to name what is tolerance. 

How does this relate to supporting people who are hurting? Acceptance and toleration are basically the same thing. A mentally ill person struggles, and experiences what a mentally healthy person does not.  Compassionate love says, “I don’t understand, but I see you are struggling, and your pain is more important to me than making my point.”

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NOTE: I am not a trained or licensed mental health professional. I am not a doctor. I speak only from my experiences with and observations of mental illness. In no way is this website intended to substitute for professional mental health care.

If you are struggling emotionally today or feeling suicidal, or concerned about someone who is, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-TALK (8255). Hope and help can be yours.

*picture from facebook

Jingle Bells. Embracing the Real Season

Compassionate Love: Displaying compassion for those who struggle with mental illness   Nancy Virden (c)2013

She stared aimlessly into snowflakes falling all around. Her children were laughing and chasing each other among potential Christmas trees. A snowball hit her side.

“Hey!” she said in mock anger.

“Mom, how about this one?”  Inwardly sighing, she turned to see what tree her family had chosen to adorn the season. She felt empty. Christmas would never be the same. The year had brought with it multiple deaths of persons she loved. Her grief was overwhelming the celebration.

She smiled. “Yeah, that one looks great!”

Dashing through the snow, on a one horse open sleigh…

***

This would be his first Christmas without family. Earlier in the year his wife had left him, and his children lived far away, unable to make the trip. He regretted his decisions of the past and somehow hoped for a Christmas miracle –  restoration of his marriage.  Still, he knew he would most likely be alone on Christ’s birthday, and as the church choir led the congregation in singing carols, he tried not to weep.

After the service, an acquaintance approaches. “Hi brother! How are you doin’?”

“Good, good. How about you?”

O’er the fields we go, laughing all the way…

***

Her business had been her life. She’d built it with her own hands, and for a while it had brought her a sense of pride. Lately though, she’d been losing money. Her choice to close had seemed rather sudden to those on the outside, however she’d lost her spirit for the work much earlier. This Christmas several people would be unemployed including her, due to her final decision.

She paints a happy face over her clouded one and heads out the door to meet a potential buyer.

Bells on bobtail ring, making spirits bright…

***

“My son’s an addict. It’s been rough for a few years now.”  False bravado.

“Will you see him at Christmas?”  Sympathy.

“I doubt it. We do have some conversations, though.”   Hesitant Openness.

“I’m sorry for your pain.”   Empathy.

“It’s hard. It’s been difficult to watch my son throw his life away. Breaks my heart, really.”   Vulnerability

“No doubt.”  Validation.

“Ok, gotta go. I’ll see you later. Merry Christmas!”   Running Scared.

Oh what fun it is to sing the sleighing song tonight…

***

Dark stories are a reality of Christmas.  It’s here to stay… sadness, that is. Recovering alcoholics have to face the parties or stay home alone. Gay sons and daughters have to risk  or accept rejection. Patients in hospitals or those mending at home will have a more solitary holiday than usual.  Someone somewhere is learning they may not see 2014.

Enough drudgery! Let’s get on with the Christmas spirit!

The original purpose behind Christmas was to extend compassionate love on the entire world at great personal cost. Let’s support rather than avoid the hurting ones this year.

 ******NOTE: I am not a trained or licensed mental health professional. I am not a doctor. I speak only from my experiences with and observations of mental illness. In no way is this website intended to substitute for professional mental health care.

If you are struggling emotionally today or feeling suicidal, or concerned about someone who is, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-TALK (8255). Hope and help can be yours.

pic by LUSI on rgbstock.com

*Words in green are the lyrics to “Jingle Bells” written by James Lord Pierpont (1822–1893) and published under the title “One Horse Open Sleigh” in the autumn of 1857.

Loss. Holidays. A Story of Celebration

Compassionate Love: Displaying compassion for those who struggle with mental illness       (c)2012 Nancy Virden

making a snow angelThey say when one is staring down his or her own death, the past flashes by like a fast-forwarded movie. Loss also can bring silent movies back to the darkened theater of the mind.

Her home was empty.  She sat with ever-present memories to keep herself company, and to wish for happy ones. Try as she could, pleasant remembrances were elusive, and minute after minute she saw the faces of those who were no longer here.

Pains ran through her body accompanying sobs from she knew not where. Pressing in around her, and especially near her shoulders, was an anguished heaviness she could not describe. In her middle stirred fear.

How will she go on to tomorrow without them? Yet she had endured so many such days already. There was nothing like Christmas to bring the hurt to the surface, and to get the old film reels turning. Some loved-ones had passed away. Others had walked out of her life, deserting her to recollections that were growing harder to retrieve.  A few people had been gone for decades.

How will she go on without them?

Outside, children played in the snow. She watched one bright-eyed boy in particular as he flopped himself down with ease onto his back and started gliding his arms and legs wide then back to his body. An angel. She was certain he was an angelic child, sweet to raise.  He had lucky parents.

Sigh. She thought, I wish I had a little boy like that.

Her mind roamed to her family tree. Grandparents, great-grandparents, and all the great-greats took her back to the 1500s where her genealogy research had ended. Then it hit her. All of these people she wondered about, each of the ones for whom she longed, every one had something in common.

They were gone. Gone! Their lives were part of her past, and if she could say, “I have a past,” it meant she was here now.

It may seem trite to others, nevertheless was an epiphany for this woman. People who had been here had their chance at life. Some had made decisions that blessed her, and others caused her harm. What now?

She had decisions to make, the most foundational of which was who did she want to be? Did she want to remain the lonely, depressed, woman who sat alone during the holiday season? If she wanted to be a different kind of person, one who celebrated her own chance at life, what step could she take today toward becoming that person?

Activity outside her window had not stopped.  Donning her coat and best snowman-building gloves, she walked outside to meet her next door neighbors.

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NOTE: I am not a trained or licensed mental health professional. I am not a doctor. I speak only from my experiences with and observations of mental illness.  In no way is this website intended to substitute for professional mental health care.