March 03, 2017

Anxiety

*Disclaimer: The other day I heard someone say, “I’m not qualified to write anything about anything,” and that is exactly how I feel.  I’m not a professional anything, so the following post is based solely on my experience, and my hope in writing it is that it may help someone.  What worked for me may not work for you, but sometimes it helps to know we are not alone in our struggles.* 

Recently David, Grace, and I were watching an episode of “Madame Secretary.” (Do you know this show? We’re just now getting around to watching it, and I’m not sure why I’m enjoying it so much – maybe it’s the depiction of the family dynamic, or maybe because it imagines a Washington D.C. environment very different from the current reality). In this particular episode, the main character Elizabeth was dealing with some heavy issues, and started having chest pain.  Her staff, fearing a heart attack, rushed her to the hospital.

“Panic attack,” I murmured to myself, watching as the doctor came in to tell Elizabeth and her husband that her heart was just fine and what she experienced was the result of anxiety.  And then I knew what would happen next; a look of confusion then embarrassment came over Elizabeth’s face.

I knew, because I have experienced it myself.

I never considered myself a fearful or anxious person, not until we moved overseas.  And I never really knew what it meant to have a panic attack. I always imagined someone going completely berserk – flailing arms, babbling incoherently, wild hair, etc.  I didn’t know that actually it can feel like you might be dying.

Just over two years ago, I was over-committed and working way too hard to keep too many plates spinning.  The littlest things made me jumpy, and the combination of the big things just about sent me over the edge: windy season, drunks in our neighborhood, driving, and teaching.

It all came to a head on my younger son’s birthday.  As we were preparing to take him and a few of his friends to a local swimming hole, I was in the kitchen packing up a picnic lunch when a feeling of dread came over me.  The room spun, my heart raced, and I got the sense that something awful was about to happen.  My left arm went numb, and I felt like I was watching myself from outside my body. I tried to ignore it, and we loaded up in the car.  But as we were about to pull out of the driveway, I stopped the car and told David, “I can’t do this.  Something doesn’t feel right.”

Not wanting to alarm the kids that were packed and waiting in the car, I urged David to carry on with them, and a friend went with me to the clinic at our kids’ school. I was convinced I was having some kind of crazy heart issue.

After the nurse checked me out and did an EKG, she put her hand on my shoulder and told me gently, “I think you had a panic attack.”

I was shocked.  There had been no thrashing or hyperventilating.  Could I really have been experiencing a panic attack? And why did I feel embarrassed and ashamed? And guilty? What kind of lame missionary was I, having a panic attack after almost fourteen years living overseas?  I felt like a failure.
Our family, circa 2014

Over the next few weeks I consulted with our local expat doctor and educated myself about anxiety.  I limped along as best I could through the next few months of the school year.  I knew things had to change but I wasn’t sure what, or how to move forward.

That summer we went home to the U.S. for a short furlough.  I met with two different counselors, both of whom advised me – right off the bat – to take antidepressants or anti-anxiety medicine, without really offering other tangible suggestions for dealing with the source of the anxiety. I know that these medicines can be very helpful for some people, but for whatever reason, I did not have a peace about pursuing that type of treatment in this particular situation.
  
Towards the end of our furlough, I met with a friend who is a psychologist. After I explained to her what life had been like for me over the past few years, she said, “Well, it’s no wonder you have anxiety. Stop beating yourself up. Your stressors are reasonable.”

Her words brought tears to my eyes.  I HAD been beating myself up, and didn’t even realize it.

She then told me that one of the keys to overcoming anxiety is to try to exert control over your situation, even if it is minute control. She had me list out my stressors and one by one we went through them to see what could be done about each one.

“Windy season – that stresses you because of the trees around your house? So cut the trees down.” she said.
“Cut the trees down? That’s it?” It seemed too simple.
We talked through other ways I could combat anxiety, including exercise.  Studies have shown that exercise is a powerful combatant against depression and anxiety, so I recommitted to making exercise a priority.

She also told me my brain would have to “un-learn” anxiety, which wears down well-worn paths which the brain automatically goes to when stressed.  Having a phrase, prayer, or song to repeat when anxiety rears its ugly head helps with this.  Mine is a simple prayer, combined with a slow breath in, slow breath out: “Father, I belong to You.”  It reminds me of who is ultimately in control.

The last thing she told me was probably the hardest to hear: “You cannot leave Indonesia until you have been aggressive to the 9th degree in every situation.” Her words surprised me.  I guess I was half-hoping she’d say, “Your life is too hard; better stay in America till you’re better.” She has been tracking us for several years, and knows our life overseas is not always easy.  I know she wouldn’t want me to “gut it out” if the situation were dire. Her challenge to make it work, where I was in Papua, helped me realize it was doable, even though it might take hard work.

An integral part of working through anxiety has been a group of friends who pray with me and I know I can go to or text when I’m feeling anxious.  Having support from them, and my husband, has been so helpful.

This whole journey through anxiety has taught me much about myself, and it’s made me face some preconceived ideas I had about anxiety.  In the past, I was probably less than compassionate toward those who struggled with it.  I may not have said it out loud, but probably somewhere in the back of my mind, I thought, “Why can’t he/she just GET OVER IT!” and now I understand there is no just getting over anxiety. 

While I haven’t shouted it from the rooftop, I have tried to be open in sharing my struggles with others.  And I can’t believe how often someone comes up to me and says, “Me, too.”  My struggle with anxiety has driven me to the Lord, and I pray this experience will be redeemed and used by Him.  A friend shared the following poem by Jill Briscoe, which expresses this better than I can:
Don’t waste the pain, let it prove thee;
Don’t stop the tears, let them cleanse thee.
Rest, stop the striving, soon you’ll be arriving in His arms.
Don’t waste the pain, let it drive thee deeper into God.
He’s waiting and you should have come sooner!

                                                


September 05, 2016

What It's Like

I remember being massively pregnant for the first time and anticipating what childbirth would be like.  Everyone had advice; everyone had a story to share. I remember asking friends what to expect during labor and delivery, and what life was like with a newborn.  I did my best to prepare, but until I felt that first labor pain, I didn’t know exactly what it would be like.

I feel like this has how it’s been with “launching” my first child.  Anticipation, questions, advice – but until it happened, I really had no idea.

Granted, we’re three weeks into this, but so far, this is what it’s like.

It is not even knowing how I would get on that airplane that would carry me away from him, and then there I was, at 35,000 feet and flying over the Rocky Mountains and away from him.
It is telling the hostess at a restaurant “6, no wait, 5.”
It is leaving the radio on a certain station when that one obnoxious song comes on, one that drove me crazy not so long ago, but now I like it because he does.
It is rescuing a praying mantis from a shopping cart at Target, because it’s what he would do.
It is thinking my emotions are in check, then suddenly busting out the tears at unexpected moments – walking past his empty room, hearing the song “Dear Theodosia”, seeing one of his friends.
It is trying not to obsessively look at my phone for messages from him.
It is feeling sad for my other kids, who are missing him, too, in their own way.
It is second-guessing parenting methods, and wondering did we cover everything? Did we talk through all the important stuff enough?
It is being full of hope for him, yet also worrying over small details, like is he warm enough?
It is catching my breath when I think of the vast ocean that now separates us.
It is wondering how I’ll get through the next eight months without a hug from him.
It is experiencing a resurgence in my prayer life.

But let me say this: the heaviness I feel is mitigated somewhat by the many women in this community who have walked and are walking the same path.  I am so thankful for them during this time and their kind words of hope and encouragement.  I am also so thankful for my faith that allows me to trust in a sovereign God who is not one bit surprised or overwhelmed by a mom separated from her son by an ocean.  He knows.  He sees us both.  And that is a comfort.






What It's Like

I remember being massively pregnant for the first time and anticipating what childbirth would be like.  Everyone had advice; everyone had a story to share. I remember asking friends what to expect during labor and delivery, and what life was like with a newborn.  I did my best to prepare, but until I felt that first labor pain, I didn’t know exactly what it would be like.

I feel like this has how it’s been with “launching” my first child.  Anticipation, questions, advice – but until it happened, I really had no idea.

Granted, we’re three weeks into this, but so far, this is what it’s like.

It is not even knowing how I would get on that airplane that would carry me away from him, and then there I was, at 35,000 feet and flying over the Rocky Mountains and away from him.
It is telling the hostess at a restaurant “6, no wait, 5.”
It is leaving the radio on a certain station when that one obnoxious song comes on, one that drove me crazy not so long ago, but now I like it because he does.
It is rescuing a praying mantis from a shopping cart at Target, because it’s what he would do.
It is thinking my emotions are in check, then suddenly busting out the tears at unexpected moments – walking past his empty room, hearing the song “Dear Theodosia”, seeing one of his friends.
It is trying not to obsessively look at my phone for messages from him.
It is feeling sad for my other kids, who are missing him, too, in their own way.
It is second-guessing parenting methods, and wondering did we cover everything? Did we talk through all the important stuff enough?
It is being full of hope for him, yet also worrying over small details, like is he warm enough?
It is catching my breath when I think of the vast ocean that now separates us.
It is wondering how I’ll get through the next eight months without a hug from him.
It is experiencing a resurgence in my prayer life.

But let me say this: the heaviness I feel is mitigated somewhat by the many women in this community who have walked and are walking the same path.  I am so thankful for them during this time and their kind words of hope and encouragement.  I am also so thankful for my faith that allows me to trust in a sovereign God who is not one bit surprised or overwhelmed by a mom separated from her son by an ocean.  He knows.  He sees us both.  And that is a comfort.






June 02, 2016

The Hardest Goodbye

Here's a little bit of advice for you: on the day you say goodbye, the I-don't-know-when-I'll-ever-see-you-again goodbye with your close friend, maybe that's not the day to then watch "Little Women" with your daughter.

That scene when Beth talks to Jo before she dies, when she says "I can be brave, too" gets me every time, but especially on this day when I was already so weepy.  

It is the season of goodbyes.  The end of the school year is a time of transition for many people living here - not just seniors moving on to the next thing, but also others who are leaving for good. And it is a time of transition for those who are staying as they adjust to a new normal.

One of those leaving for good is the Feunekes family (known affectionately to us as the Feuneki), with whom we've become very close to in our four years in Papua.  They were with us through some tough times, like the waterfall incident, and adjusting to Pos 7 life.  We celebrated birthdays and holidays together. 
USA, Netherlands, Canada

The bonds of our friendship were most tightly woven not through the highs and lows, but in the "middle moments" of everyday life: carpooling to school, playing sports, borrowing cups of sugar, calling for a homework assignment, driving kids here and there, lunches with our Indonesian office ladies, doing ministry, kids playing, watching American Idol and Downton Abbey, endless texts ("is your power off?"- "drunks in the road"- "can you stop by the store for me"- "how are you doing?"). Our lives felt so tightly woven that now that the Feuneki are gone, I feel a gaping hole. I feel a sadness in knowing that our lives, which had reached a sweet spot with this family, will never be the same.
Me and my buddy Erica
Even our dogs were best buddies
The life we live here is characterized by goodbyes.  There are goodbyes with our loved ones in America when we leave there to come here.  Those are some of the hardest, but at least with those goodbyes there is the hope we will meet up again in a year or two.  There are goodbyes with loved ones in Indonesia when we leave here for furloughs.  Those are difficult, too.  
Z and B

But some of the hardest are of the "when will I ever see you again?" variety.  And in this category, the hardest is watching your children say these tough goodbyes.  I was groping for some words of wisdom and comfort the other day as we drove home from the airport, having said our final goodbye with the Feuneki.  I caught a glimpse in the rearview mirror of my younger kids' sweet, sad faces.

"It's okay to feel sad," I told them. "It's okay to cry." 

And it is.  We will miss you, Feuneki!

  




May 27, 2016

Ruining our Children?

I think the phrase “all the feelings” is a bit overused these days, but it really does accurately describe my emotional state right now.  I am the mother of a high school graduate, and with this new status come varying degrees of excitement, fear, and sadness. 

For the reception held at school after graduation, we had to prepare a poster of photos honoring our graduate.  I printed out over 200 photos and then spent a few days making the poster.  As much as I dislike making posters, the process of sifting through all these photos of Carter was therapeutic.  I reflected on his babyhood, when he was such a sweet chunk, to his boyhood in Kalimantan when he loved all kinds of critters, to his teenage years that have been full of fun times with friends and discovering new interests, like art and music and writing. 

The graduation wasn’t as emotional as I thought it would be.  I think I’m saving up for the Big Cry that is coming in a few months, when we get on a plane and return to Indonesia, and Carter stays behind in the U.S.A.  I still can’t even really think about that moment without melting into a puddle of tears.

Recently I’ve been reading a book about the first missionaries to Hawaii.  Some of our friends in Hawaii recommended it to me years ago after I told them I had read Michener’s Hawaii, which is loosely based on actual events.  This other book, Grapes of Canaan, is based on the journals of the first missionaries who arrived in 1820, and it has been a fascinating read.  I can easily identify with some of their struggles of living in a new place, of having interpersonal issues, of being worried about their kids.

The book relates how some of the missionaries were concerned about how the culture was impacting their children, particularly their teens, and an older visiting missionary advised them: “No service you might give here is the worth the ruin of your children.” I would agree with this statement.  More than once I have thought, ‘are we messing up our kids for life by living here?’ Thankfully, living in Indonesia has not led to the ruin of our children, though I do think they are impacted forever for having grown up overseas. It will be interesting to see in the years to come just how that plays out in our kids' lives as they leave home and make their way in the world.  






April 30, 2016

Barang Sale

Sometimes, we have too much stuff.  I know this may come as a surprise to you.  You may think that people who have left the comforts and familiarity of their home culture to live in expats in a foreign culture have no problems with materialism.  You would be very wrong.  Missionaries can be some of the worst hoarders ever.  We hang on to stuff like nobody's business.  We are the people who wash out ziploc bags and jam jars for reuse, who keep old Monopoly games with missing pieces, whose children go to a school with a library that still has VHS tapes, if you can believe it.  Because somebody in this community is still using their VCR they brought over in 1992.  

But never fear, to help us with our excess stuff and fight the materialistic monster within, our kids' school puts on a Barang Sale twice a year (Barang=Stuff).  
Ready to sell!  We sold almost all of it, with the plastic totes on the floor being hot items.

There are a few reasons you might want to attend a Barang Sale.  You either have stuff to sell, or you want to buy somebody else's stuff, or you're there purely for the entertainment factor.  And entertaining it is.  People start lining up outside the fence a half-hour before the gates are opened, and the anticipation starts to build.  It always makes me think of Black Friday in America.  Once the gates are opened, it's pure chaos.
The crowds are ready

It took five of us (Grace was helping sell homemade snacks with her class - another bonus to the Barang Sale) to man our table.  At any given moment, 10 different people were crowding our space, elbowing each other to get a look at our stuff.  
First wave of customers

Each time we sell, I go with a firm resolve NOT to buy anything, or be tempted by the ubiquitous box of free books.  But last year we came home with two surfboards, and this year I came home with mint and a few books (I just can't help it).  We divided up some of the proceeds among the kids, so they can have some pocket money this summer to - you guessed it - BUY MORE STUFF!














February 11, 2016

Papaw

I have been blessed to know all my grandparents.  Not just know them, but have wonderful relationships with each.  Three of them have passed away.  Papaw - Mom's dad - is celebrating his 90th birthday this weekend, and all the family will be there.  All but me and my crew.

I'm sure I've said this before on here somewhere, but this is one of the hardest parts of the expat life.  We have to make peace with the fact that the work we've chosen to do, that we feel called to do, will take us far away from the ones we love the most.

When we first told our families where we'd be moving to, part of me was afraid they might take it as a personal affront - I mean, could we get any further away from them and still be on Earth?
  
I would love to be one of those families that lives close to parents, siblings, aunts and uncles, cousins.  I would love to drop the kids off with the grandparents for a weekend, would love for their cousins to be at their birthday parties, would love to have weekly Sunday lunches - the kind I grew up with - together.

 Our family has been so gracious.  Each wedding, birth, funeral, birthday, family reunion or retirement party we miss - they are so gracious.  They understand that we want to be there, but can't be.  But it's still hard to be the only one not there.

Okay, enough of that.  Here's a little tribute to Papaw.  

He has a sense of humor.


He is one of the most patriotic people I know.  He was in the Navy during World War II and patrolled the waters off of Borneo, not far from where we lived.


He is loyal to his family, and has a soft spot for grands and great-grands.



He calls me "baby" even though I'm over 40.

Happy 90th birthday, Papaw!