Serena, My Angel on an Airplane

Following Gods plan

No matter how many times it happens I am always struck with awe by the way Gods plans come together. Last weekend I flew to San Francisco. The reason I bought the tickets was to follow my dream, the reason I was on that flight was to follow Gods plan. Those two things may often appear unrelated but I have learned that they rarely ever are. In the course of departing from my local airport I met an angel. A sweet, adorable, caring young angel that touched my heart and most likely saved a life.

Our conversation started innocently enough, she asked me what my boarding number was.

“Thirty five” I answered.

“Then I will leave space for one between us.” she joked as she stopped a few feet from me.

A simple chat can lead to something big

No one physical came to occupy the space between us, just as no one sat between us on the flight. Yet there was a holy spirit with us as we flew. We chatted on our way across the tarmac and up the rear stairs of the plane. Small talk about our reasons for flying; a meeting at Burning Man for me and going home to visit her family in the bay area for her. The conversation moved on easily to her job at Disney and school away from her parents. The first in her family to attend college, the merits of community college and transfers over attending a four year right out of high school. I compared my sons journey to hers and we agreed their path was a smart one. Soon she asked me about my work and I mentioned mental health and suicide awareness.

As you might figure, I ran my mouth on these topics. I talked about my own struggles with depression and passive suicide. I talked about my son and his attempted suicide. My passion and purpose evident in the nonstop diarrhea of words. NAMI, the Crisis Text Line, peer support, I kept on and on about these things and she sat intent, carefully weighing every word. I could tell she was thinking deeply about not just what I said but about what it meant.

The reason He put me in her path

“I am worried about my friend.” It came out in a whisper and she fought valiantly to keep tears from forming in her eyes.

She went on to tell me her story. Her friends plight. How she felt helpless and worried that she didn’t know how to help her. That she wouldn’t be able to save her. She told me about a phone call in the middle of the night and how without a thought she grabbed her shoes and went to find her friend. How she sat outside, alone and waiting, not knowing what she would find but that she let her friend know, “I will be out here if you want to talk. I am not leaving until you make me.” This lovely girl with a quiet strength, the embodiment of true friendship probably saved her friends life that night.

Plugging my phone number and the number to the crisis text line into her cell, I gave her a card with info on suicide and mental health awareness from the National Alliance on Mental Illness. Letting her know that I too am here for her if she needs to talk and that I would be there for her friend as well.

Kindred spirits

We were both stunned when the flight crew announced it was time to land. An hour flight flew by in a moments. We walked together to the baggage carousel and waited for our luggage. Strangers a few hours ago, now we were travel companions watching out for each other as we gathered our bags and went to look for our rides. I gave her a long hug when we parted and told her she had likely saved her friends life.

My friend arrived to get me and asked “who was that person you were hugging?”

“I met an angel on the airplane” I replied.

If you too know someone like this

If you are concerned about a friend, if you worry that they may be depressed, have thoughts of suicide, are in any way shape or form in danger I urge you to do what she did. Be there for them, even if you are afraid. Go to them, even if you don’t know what to say. Let them know that you care, that you understand, that you will fight with them and for them, even if you feel lost as to how to help. Just by letting them know you care you can save a life.

Below is a list of mental illness warning signs:

  • Feeling sad or withdrawn for more than 2 weeks
  • Severe out-of-control, risk taking behaviors
  • Sudden overwhelming fear for no reason
  • Severe mood swings that can cause problems in relationships
  • Drastic changes in behavior, personality or sleeping habits
  • Extreme difficulty concentrating or staying still
  • Intense worries or fears
  • Trying to harm or kill oneself or making plans to do so
  • Not eating, throwing up or using laxatives to lost weight
  • Repeated use of alcohol or drugs

If you notice any of these in a loved one reach out. These are places you can contact if you think a friend might be depressed, anxious or suicidal.

National Suicide Prevention Hotline 1-800-273-TALK (8255)

Teen Line (open 6-10pm Pacific, 310-855-HOPE (4673) or text TEEN to 839863 (5:30-9:30pm Pacific)

Crisis Text Line 741741 Text HELP or NAMI (24 hours a day, 7 days a week)

God put her in my life, God put me in hers. Everything happens for a reason. A simple conversation can lead to enormous change.

Thank you Serena for being a light, a great friend and an awesome travel buddy.

I am here should you ever need to call.

Compassion Fatigue; The Struggle is Real

Oh no not again. Not another story of horrible abuse by the police force. Please no more news article on children screaming as they are torn from their mothers. I cant take another headline spreading information on how this once proud nation is being destroyed by its leaders and its citizens. Where is the compassion? What happened to empathy? Republicans are destroying the economy. Democrats are destroying morality. Or vice versa depending on which side you lean toward.

Turn it off. Just turn it off. Maybe if I restrict myself from my social media feeds I will feel better. Perhaps if I just don’t watch TV this will all go away. Maybe if I stay buried in my bed like I did when I was in my deepest depression it will feel better than this. It is scary to think like that but these days it is hard not to.

What is Compassion Fatigue?

It is the cost of caring for people facing emotional pain. Healthcare workers, caregivers for dependent people, partners to war veterans, people who are overly conscientious, empathic, and even those we may not consider to be those things, like lawyers are all more likely to face this. It is also called secondary traumatic stress and bystander effect. fMRI-rt utilized research suggests the idea of compassion without engaging in real-life trauma is not exhausting itself. According to these, when empathy was analyzed with compassion through neuroimaging, empathy showed brain region activations were previously identified to be related to pain whereas compassion showed warped neural activations. We are not imaging it, our brains are being warped by this world and its horrors.

Who is at risk?

While those who are in a profession of care, like therapists, nurses, mental health workers are trained to be aware of this potentially devastating condition what about the rest of the us? What should we be on the look out for? Here’s a check list from to help us figure it out.

  • Feeling burdened by the suffering of others
  • Blaming others for their suffering
  • Isolating yourself
  • Loss of pleasure in life
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Insomnia
  • Physical and mental fatigue
  • Bottling up your emotions
  • Increased nightmares
  • Feelings of hopelessness or powerlessness
  • Frequent complaining about your work or your life
  • Overeating
  • Excessive use of drugs or alcohol
  • Poor self-care
  • Beginning to receive a lot of complaints about your work or attitude
  • Denial

Oh that last one though. Denial is a tricky little sucker. Making us think, ‘oh no not me. I am doing just fine’. The Compassion Fatigue Awareness Project states that “denial is one of the most detrimental symptoms of Compassion Fatigue and Life Stress. It can easily hinder your ability to assess the level of fatigue and stress in your life”.  Their website offers 3 self tests designed to help you recognize whether or not this might be an issue. I took the Life Stress test and scored 271 which equals medium susceptibility to stress-related illness. However that doesn’t take into consideration that I suffer from major depression. I have to be more aware. So what can we do about it?

How do we avoid or overcome this?

The two biggies are personal self care and social self care. Personal self care can be taking a break from work, breathing exercises, exercising, and other recreational activities. Social self care can be maintaining a diverse network of social support from colleagues to pets, limiting the amount of daily news you watch or read about, being grateful for what is good in your life and in the world, try to find some meaning in the suffering you see, and show compassion to yourself by being kind, soothing, and comforting to yourself.

For those like me, those “bleeding hearts” that care so deeply it physically hurts and who appreciate a direct suggestion of what to do to fix it. Here is a list of actions we might take:

  • Enhance your awareness with education
  • Accept where you are on your path at all times
  • Exchange information and feelings with people who can validate you
  • Clarify your personal boundaries—what works for you and what doesn’t
  • Be kind to yourself
  • Express what you need verbally, and
  • Take positive action to change your environment.

Starbucks and memes

This world can be cruel and hard and unrelenting. The media, society, family and friends may all contribute to our fatigue. However this world can also be gentle and caring and beautiful. The media, society and our family and friends may also help us to see that. Wherever you might be on the scale of compassion fatigue just remember its only temporary. This too shall pass. It’s okay to bury your head under the covers for a minute as long as you know that its only for a minute and when its time to find the strength you have a tribe that will peel back the comforter and bring you Starbucks and memes and if you feel like you don’t you can call on me. I am always available for Starbucks and memes.

Patriots, Pride, Prejudice: How did we get here?

Patriots and POW’s

When I was a kid I knew nothing of politics but a whole lot about being free. I had no knowledge of whether my family leaned left or right.  We obviously had pride, I was unaware of the prejudice. I knew that we were patriotic. We had a flag pole in the front yard that always held both an American flag and a POW flag.  My step-dad fought in Vietnam. First Calvary and damn proud.  I knew about Agent Orange, about those “gone but not forgotten” MIA’s and how the vets were treated when they returned from that conflict. I heard about “anchor babies” and “illegals”. My sister dated “those people”, the brown and black skinned gangsters who lived in the much lower than our lower middle class neighborhood.

My step-dad’s a strange dichotomy, a patriot disgruntled with his country.  Like most of the boys shipped off to that war he came home a different man: angry, confused, bitter and broken. A soldier who loved his military brothers and hated the leaders who put them there.  He could be brought to tears by the national anthem but railed against the government; an American who felt forgotten, shunned and discarded . I have seen him spit and cuss at cops, warning us to never let them in the house.Yet he proudly posts “Blue Lives Matter” memes. How someone could be torn and committed at the same time made little sense to me.

Where did they go?

Now I understand.  Now I am completely torn and committed at the same time.  The country I was raised to adore has some how become something I mostly abhor. My step-dad, the only dad I’ve had for 30 years, “unfriended” me and blocked me on Facebook as have several others who cant or wont get past their own opinions on the current state of the nation.  They aren’t up for civil debates and don’t care to understand. Instead they hurl insults like “bleeding heart” as if all of our hearts aren’t made up of blood.  They stay in their closed circles and re-post the same opinions with no interest in learning about the facts. While I don’t block or unfriend people, I can understand why they do. It’s easier to stay asleep, head buried in the sand.

However, I can and do attempt to understand their positions. Just as I am not Muslim yet I can empathize with their plight, misunderstood and just wanting a chance at the American Dream.  I can understand the desperate need to be free to pursue life and liberty without fear of death even though I am not a person of color.  I am not a veteran. However I can relate to a love of the flag and anthem for a country that is not everything it once claimed to be. Everything I once thought it was.  My question is why cant they?

Why can’t they?

“They” being the seeming majority of white people my parents age. (70+)  The veterans who were shunned, wrongfully accused of being baby killers and spit on.  Those who for so long they were and continue to be ignored by the VA and the government they gave so much for.  “They” are also many white people my older sisters ages. (50+) Angry about the new America and what it means for them. I am extremely confused by “they” that are younger than my 40+ years. These angry young white men and women with so much more opportunity than those below them and double the hatred of those who are truly underprivileged. I have so many questions for these folks yet they seem unwilling to answer.  So I will list them here and hope that someone can shed some light for me.

Questions for my countrymen….

  1.  If “All Lives Matter” then why cant you agree that Black Lives Matter and leave it at that?
  2. Why is kneeling for the National Anthem more important to you than listening to these individuals as they explain what they have witnessed and experienced in this nation of the “free” men?
  3. How do you explain women earning less than men for the same job to your daughters?
  4. What is so absolutely terrifying about gay marriage, trans rights, anything LGBTQ?
  5. Do you know what would really happen to us, to our economy, if all the “illegals” actually left?
  6. Have you ever even met a Muslim? *Follow up question: How would you know?
  7. Are you at all embarrassed by Trump’s lies and laziness?
  8. Does it not hurt you that children are being ripped from their parents, many of whom may never be reunited?
  9. How can you not see the NAZI in the White House? (Especially those of you who are children of WWII vets)
  10. Why is another woman’s abortion any of your business?
  11. What happened to the Land of the Free, Home of the Brave, when did we become Land of Prisons for Profits and Home of the Morally Corrupt?
  12. Why do you hate brown skinned people yet eat in their restaurants and let them work in your homes and watch your kids?
  13. Are guns really more important than school children?
  14. When and how did you turn into this?
  15. When will it stop?


Far From Normal?

How do you help someone be normal?

Part of my job involves speaking to high school & college students about lived experience with mental health issues.  This is a responsibility I take seriously.  I am humbled by it and grateful for the opportunity to help be a part of these young lives even briefly.  I was asked ‘How do you help someone be normal?’ during one of the question and answer portions of the presentations. In the context of mental health perhaps the intended word was “healthy” or “stable” or “well balanced” or even more to the point “homogeneous” but the term normal struck a nerve with me.

Am I even close?

I have never felt normal, never known what that looks like. The idea of normal was something I saw on TV or at friends homes. My friends at school seemed normal and I pretended to be just like them. I am not what most think of as normal, I never will be. It took me years to understand this, even more to accept it.  Now I am finally at a place where I am at peace with it.

I am what is called a double winner.  Dual diagnosed.  I have Major Depression and I am an Alcoholic. That is normal for me.  My sister’s Bi-Polar is normal.  Asperger’s is normal for my son.  In my mind as a teenager and possibly in that teenagers question normal means fitting in.  It means being like the majority, especially in high school or college.

What does “normal” really mean?

I have the Merriam Webster dictionary app conveniently located at the end of my fingertips. I looked it up.  The first listed definition has something to do with math, perpendicular lines and tangents.  I have never been one for math although I do love a good tangent. (oh, look something shiny and distracting.)

The second definition is “according with constitution, not deviating from the rule”. I have learned that I am just like other Alcoholics in the way I think, feel and react to situations.  My experiences with Major Depression does not deviate from the rule. I am unmotivated to do anything in my daily life, I cry and sleep a lot and do not take joy in activities that are typically enjoyable like spending time with friends or showering.

The third definition is the one that brought it home. The third one says “occurring naturally” which is in direct contradiction to definition 4 which is the only one that mentions “mental illness”.

Normal is natural.

Whether they were brought on by nature or nurture my reactions to the events of my childhood my issues with depression and addiction occurred naturally.  They occurred as a defense mechanism, they were not forced, they were not coerced. This was the natural evolution of my spirit faced with the horrors I endured.  My sisters Bi-Polar occurred naturally as a result of chemicals in her brain and most likely events from our childhood as well. My sons Asperger’s occurred naturally, part of his genetic make up, his DNA and his life path.

I think it is telling that this definition precedes the one that mentions mental illness. The definitions that follow go into chemistry and other examples that I would guess most of us would never even think to use in relation to “normal”. I think maybe they stuck that mental illness one in there as a distraction or to appease those masses who like to think they are normal.

Normal is whatever you want it to be.

I have a dear friend who works with me in mental health.  She is an amazing speaker. The work she does to help the homeless and those suffering from mental illness is nothing short of Mother Teresa type angelic-ness.  When she presents she likes to say “there are only two types of people”. (Then she waits for a dramatic pause, which if you are ever lucky enough to see her unbelievable eye lashes is quite dramatic. Oops. There’s that tangent.) During the pause the inference is that the two types of people are “normal and not normal”. At least that is what many lean toward, yet she follows her pause with “Diagnosed and Un-Diagnosed”.

If you haven’t yet been as lucky as we were to figure out what your “normal” is that doesn’t mean you aren’t normal.  It means keep looking.  Find your tribe, find your people. Figure out what occurs naturally for you, what is your constitution, your rule. Embrace it. Don’t seek to be normal, seek to be you and normal will follow.