Sunday, December 4, 2016

When Christmas Hurts

For many of us, Christmastime is a time of great joy. A time of sparkling lights, sweet treats, joining together with family and friends, caroling and gifts. A time for forgetting our worries and coming together to celebrate. I have many friends that wait with baited breath all year for Thanksgiving to be over and the Christmas season to officially begin so that they can sink into the joy of the season.

However, for many others, this time of year simply amplifies the holes that are in their hearts and lives.

When I was a hospice nurse, I realized for the first time in my life just how hard this time of year is for those who are mourning. Christmas traditions and celebrations, especially for those celebrating the first holiday season without a loved one, can feel bittersweet or empty without those that they once celebrated with.

My grandmother passed away on Thanksgiving a few years ago and now that holiday has a melancholy edge to it which I imagine will remain forever. Those who have lost spouses or children this time of year will not only have a melancholy edge to those holidays, but instead a gaping hole that may never feel filled.

As a public health nurse who works with those living in poverty, I now know that those struggling financially live in worry for this entire season. They worry not only about how to put presents under the tree, but also how to heat their homes and put food on their tables. They are often working multiple jobs and have no time to sink into the joy of the season. The strain of this time of year on these families often causes increased fighting, domestic violence and tension in the households.

Those of us that struggle with depression, anxiety or other mental illnesses often feel that the cheer around us seems false when the darkness inside us is blooming. There have been years where I hunkered down inside away from the cheer outside and avoided Christmas parties like the plague. I just simply couldn't rustle up enough Christmas cheer to join in the festivities.

I also struggle with the commercialization of Christmas. It all just seems so fake and greedy at times. I find myself channeling Cindy Lou Who and wondering where Christmas is underneath all of the fakery.

There are many reasons to celebrate Christmas and also many reasons that this season exaggerates the pain that we feel all year round.

I must admit that Christmas is, indeed, my favorite time of year. However, there are many years that I struggle and struggle deeply. For the cheer around us does little to eradicate the darkness within. Some days I just want to turn off the Christmas tunes and the Christmas tree and hunker down into the sadness a bit. And, I honor you if you need to do so, as well.

False cheer is not cheerful at all and it, in fact, always seems to intensify my sadness to pretend. If you are struggling this season, be kind to yourself and know that you are not alone. 

If the darkness seems like too much, please reach out. You can always speak to someone online or by phone here. The world needs you, Love. This too shall pass.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

A Letter To My Muslim Patients From a Nurse

I do not work in a traditional nursing role. I am a public health nurse who goes into low-income areas and serves those in need. Many of my patients are refugees and immigrants but I also serve many who were born in this country. In a single day I may meet with five different families, each with a different language, skin color, culture and faith. I can say without reservation that this job is both the hardest nursing job that I've ever had and the most rewarding.

The most eye-opening part of this job has been getting to know so many different cultures, traditions and faiths. It has been such a great blessing in my life. Getting to know my Muslim patients has most certainly been one of those wonderful blessings.

I know that in post-election America, there is much uncertainty right now. I know that many groups of people, including those of the Muslim faith, are scared. I know. My refugee patients are scared. My immigrant patients are scared. My LGBT patients are scared. So many of us are frightened. And, yet- so much of the hate has been focused directly on you-- my Muslim patients.

You have told me during my patient visits that you are anxious for your children and if they will be harmed, panicked at the possibility of a Muslim registry and what that may mean for you, terrified to wear your hijabs in public and are sometimes simply too full of fear to leave your home at all. I am so terribly sorry for your sorrow and fear. In the past two weeks I have left our visits with a sinking pit of shame in my stomach for what the hate that is pervasive in this post-election country is doing to people that I care so much about.

If you are my patient, I have already told you that I care for you and that will you will always receive the same quality of care as that given to my other patients. I have hugged you and assured you that the election results will not impact our visits when you voiced concern. But, there is so much more that I want you to know.

I know that your faith is not one of violence and that the actions of a few do not represent the whole. According to the Pew Research Center, the population of Muslims around the world in 2010 was 1.6 billion. Yes, I said billion. If the growth of the Muslim population continues at the projected rate, by 2030 they will encompass a full quarter of the world's population. And yet, the violent actions of those in the name of the Islamic religion are few and far between. I know that as a Christian, I am not discriminated against each time that someone of the Christian faith commits a violent crime(which happens frequently) and, yet- you as a Muslim are discriminated against for each and every infraction of those who share your faith. It saddens me deeply that so many can judge you, my beloved patients who have shown me so much love and hospitality, for something that you had no control over and are as horrified by as we are.

You have the right to health care, education and all basic human rights and deserve that such things are provided by those whose judgment is unclouded by political judgment or discrimination of any kind.  I will provide that for you and so will the vast majority of other public servants. If you at any time feel that you are provided sub-par health care, education, safety services provided by police officers or fire fighters, etcetera; I hope that you will find the courage to speak out. I hope even more that you will never need to speak out as it is my firm belief that those serving the public should have the hearts of servants of ALL people.

I know that mental health impacts every facet of your life and that living within fear means that your mental health and physical health will be impacted each and every day while we persist in this volatile and discriminatory post-election world. I know that you may need more support through this time and I am determined to give that to you. You do not deserve these burdens placed on your already weary shoulders and I will do my best to stand beside you and help you in any way to shoulder that burden with you. I implore you to ask for help if you need it.

I know that we cannot lump any section of humanity together and imagine that they are all the same. As human beings, we are all originals and are unique. However, my time working with the Muslim population has led me to believe that those of the Islam faith as a whole are extraordinary people. I have never seen such hospitality before as I have seen going into the homes of my Muslim clients.  You may have very little and yet you will offer me the last food in your fridge, the only chair in your home and likely would offer me the very shirt off of your back if you felt that I needed it. I have never felt anything but love in the homes of my Muslim patients that I have been welcomed into. I am a kinder and gentler person because of you.

I believe that my job as your nurse does not end when our visit is completed. As a nurse, it is my job to advocate for my patients, especially those who may not be in a position to advocate for themselves.  I believe that all oppressive structures, such as the talk of a Muslim registry and  of the disallowing of Muslims into our country, should be decimated. I believe that you have every right to the same rights as every other human being in this country. I am not Muslim but I am committed to standing up beside you in every way that I can to ensure your safety.  When I casted my non-Trump vote on election day, I was not only voting for myself and my families, but I was voting for you, my patients, as well. I did not take that vote likely. I have been spending my days calling my elected officials on my lunch breaks to protest Bannon's appointment and any talk of a Muslim registry. I know that this is not enough. I promise to not stop my work until we all have equal rights. I know that as a straight white Christian woman that I can never understand what it like to be discriminated against for who I am but I will keep trying to eradicate the hate.

This letter will not solve your problems by any stretch of the imagination. It will not solve anything at all. I only wish to be a tiny light of love in your life in a time of great divisiveness and hate. I only wish to bring you a small amount of the love and joy that you, by being my patients and thus a part of my life, have brought me. I wish that I could also bring you peace. I promise to do all that I can to make that peace happen for you someday.

I stand beside you, my Muslim friends and patients, with love.

Nurse Mandi

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Design the Good

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Some of you may remember that I recently designed a submission for the Design the Good t-shirt design contest at Cents of Style. I was hoping to earn some money for a local organization that feeds hungry children. My design isn't a finalist(darn it!), but I'm sharing the ones that are because I love them!

I won't make a habit of putting merchandise up on this blog. This blog is mostly a place for raw and real writing that hopefully moves people and helps others to feel less alone. I would also like to start sharing items that fit with my internal desire to project love out into the world and support businesses that make a habit of helping others, like Cents of Style does.

Here are some of the finalists that did get their t-shirts made this year!

I own multiple t-shirts from Cents of Style and they are cozy and true to fit. Here is a picture of me in one of my favorites because, darn it- normal IS boring!

My favorite of the Design the Good finalists I think is the 'We are strong' shirt because I need that reminder most days. Which one is your favorite? Feel free to comment below. 

If you want to pick one of these shirts up you can go here. Be sure to use the coupon code 'DTG1' to make the shirt only 16.95 with free shipping. 

If you buy one, I'd love to see a picture of you wearing it, Loves! 

Be the good in the worlds, Dear Ones. We need the good more than ever. 

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Love Cannot Trump Hate if We Are Silent

I am scared. Yes, even as a white woman living in suburban Iowa, I am scared. I am scared as a sexual assault survivor. I am scared as someone who works with refugees and immigrants. I am scared as someone that loves many in the LGBT community. I am scared as someone with Muslim friends. I am scared as someone who loves many people of color. I am scared for my hispanic friends and co-workers. I am just plain scared.

I am terrified for the rash of violence and hate that has risen up in this country. For the people that now feel free to use painful words, to grab women "by the pussy" without permission, to scrawl graffiti aimed at those in oppressed populations. I'm terrified for my friend that had her hijab pulled off, for my son's classmate that was told to "go back to Africa", for my Hispanic friend whose classmates chanted "build a wall" as she walked in the lunchroom.

What scares me even more than the actions of hate, if such a thing is even possible, is those that are choosing to be silent in the wake of these actions. Those who are are decrying and denouncing the right to peaceful protest and asking the media to not cover the outrage. Those who are asking for Facebook to again be full of children's pictures and puppies because they don't want to look discomfort in the eye. Those mocking those who are hurting instead of wrapping them in love. Those who I thought would stand firmly beside me that are so painfully silent.

We must not be silent when violence against any our brothers and sisters is present(yes, this includes Trump supporters. Violence against anyone is wrong). We must not be silent when the anti-LGBT, anti-people of color, anti-Muslim slurs are used. We must stand beside them, especially those like myself that are straight, white Americans that have never experienced such hate against ourselves.

We must not go quietly into this dark night. We must not be silent.

How many of us have asked ourselves or had our children ask us what we would have done if we had lived in the time of Hitler's Germany. This is our time to find our answer. Will we be silent as others are persecuted for who they are or will we stand beside them? Will we allow for those who are different from us to have the same freedoms as us or we will allow them to have their rights stripped away?

We must not be violent. We must not be hateful. We also must not be silent.

This isn't about politics. This is about people. People who are hurting and scared and suffering.

No matter your political affiliation or the vote that was cast, I ask you to find the tiny place inside yourself that knows that we all deserve to be treated with kindness and respect. I ask that you stand firmly when you see hate or injustice. No, it's not always going to be easy-- nothing that matters ever is. A silent ambassador of peace and love is not an ambassador at all. 

I know many of you are scared. You are not alone.  I promise to stand beside you. It is not enough, I know. But, I promise to not be silent. I promise to raise children who will also stand beside you and not be silent. I promise to rise up and be a light in the darkness.

Friday, November 11, 2016

I Choose Love

I was speaking with one of my co-workers today, a woman who was once a refugee from Sudan. I asked if she was scared. 
There was a pregnant pause and then she asked if I was on Facebook. I replied yes and she asked if I've seen all the funny things on Facebook since the election ended.
I was confused. I replied that I've seen hate and anger and sadness, but not funny posts. 
She proceeded to tell me, while laughing heartily, about posts where black people paint themselves white and Barack Obama packs his bags to leave the country after seeing that Trump is elected president. 
This time I was the one with the pregnant pause. I replied that I didn't find those things funny but I was glad that she was able to find joy in this.
Her face hardened and she leaned into me and said, "I have seen what hate can do and I am choosing laughter instead of fear." 
I have officially been schooled by someone with a larger capacity for love than I. I'm choosing love over fear in honor of my refugee friends, coworkers and patients. You inspire me to the ends of the earth. You make this country the amazing place that it is. I love you.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Invisibility is Not a Superpower

I remember the days before motherhood when I believed that invisibility would be the superpower that I would choose if I were given the option to choose any superpower at all.  As an introvert who is often exhausted by large groups of people, the idea of disappearing at will has always appealed to me. In fact, I often joke that having Harry Potter’s invisibility cloak at large parties would be a godsend as my personality tends to send me into a lone corner avoiding conversation at all cost.

Motherhood has been a great joy for me and I am so grateful for my three wonderful children and all that they have taught me. However, my time as a wife and mother has also been a study in invisibility. I have lost myself inside the busyness and the role of motherhood.

My children and my husband love me- I know this to be true. But, so much of my daily actions are unnoticed. I wake early to clean, make breakfast and help the kids get ready for school, go to work for the day and come home to run kids to activities, clean, make dinner, run errands and the myriad of other duties for the day.  It is never-ending and exhausting.  I don’t believe that my husband or children have any idea just how much I do for them and for the household—and I imagine that I have some responsibility for that fact, as well.

 I have gratefully given up so much of myself for my family and wouldn’t change that for anything. I love my children and would do anything to help them to be healthy and happy. However, it would be nice to just be seen—to truly be seen for who I am as a person and not simply for the contributions and sacrifices that I make for this family.

There are times that I will speak (ahem, holler) to my family to help me with something—cleaning, cooking, etc.  Many times no one will answer me. In fact, some days it seemed that most everything that I have said within the walls of my own home fall on deaf ears, whether it be a request for help, an opinion or an ‘I love you’.  I have begun to wonder if I am, indeed, invisible.

In fact, this invisibility seems pervasive and happens outside of the home, as well. As a mother, I think the world tends to marginalize me as simple and void of important opinion. In a college course that I once took, the teacher asked us all to say what the most important thing we had ever done was. I immediately answered that being a loving mother would be the most important job of my life. My reply was greeted with laughter from around the room. The room, full of mostly single men, seemed to find my response hilarious—disbelieving that this would be a job of pride for me.

And so,  living inside of this invisibility for the fifteen years that I have been a mother has made me realize that invisibility-- the idea of which has fascinated me for years-- is not the superpower that I imagined it to be. It is painful and lonely. There are days when I wonder if anyone would notice if I was missing from the world or if only the pile of unwashed dishes and the empty cupboards would be noticed.

I no longer know who I am without a litany of daily tasks before me. I am lost somewhere underneath the never-ending to-do list, the invisibility of a strong-willed and opinionated woman lost underneath an anonymous life of repetitive motions, unseen by the words at-large.

I am in here, underneath this cloak of namelessness. I am crying out to be seen. I renounce the “superpower” of invisibility and instead choose the power of voice. I am ready to be heard.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Under the Mask

I sat in a brewery last night with my husband. We don't get out much without the kids and I was trying to sink into the moment and enjoy myself. I was sipping on yummy beer and listening to a man play piano and sing. I should have been happy. And, yet-- I felt melancholy.

The piano man was delightful, really. He was singing popular songs but changing the lyrics so that they were often funny and upbeat. The brewery was full of lively, tipsy people singing along and laughing. The mood in the brewery was upbeat and full of life. I didn't feel full of life, I felt sad and wanted to be still and quiet.

One thing that I usually like about small, neighborhood type bars is that people relax, have a few drinks and often have conversations about serious things. As an introvert and empath, I loathe small talk and long to dive deep under the surface and talk about the dark things that swim where they can't be seen. Yet, last night the mood was different and I felt an expectation to put on my face of false cheer, the face that I am often required to wear when I wonder outsides the confines of the walls of my home. It is exhausting to constantly be someone else.

There was one moment of the night were I sat at the corner of the bar and had a talk with someone about how suicide had impacted our lives and what we wanted to do to help prevent it from impacting others. That, oddly, was the time of the night that felt most real and true to me. All of the small talk and giggling over silly songs felt false. I just wanted to talk on a real and true level with someone instead of skirting over our pain without acknowledging it. It made me feel even more sad to realize how alone I felt in this feeling with people around me in celebration and that I only felt "at home" when talking about such serious things.

I often feel overwhelming sadness. I always have. As a young child, I would cry whenever a classmate was sad or hurt. I became very familiar with my parents or teachers telling me to "stop being so sensitive" or to "stop crying". I learned to wear a mask that would belie the pain that was constant under the surface.

When I was a teenager girl, in the months following my rape and in the midst of multiple suicide attempts, I dropped the mask. I was too swallowed by the blackness to care what people thought of me. I became awash in my emotions, blasting out sadness and anger at anyone in my path. Years of pain were coming to the surface and was far too tired to hide it.

Even though I was drowning in the black beast of depression and would nearly succeed in taking my own life, there was a freedom in no longer hiding the pain. I wore all black, as if in mourning of the girl that I used to be and took to chain-smoking and drinking cheap vodka straight from the bottle out of a paper bag and had a death-stare that warned all around me to not come near. It finally felt as though my outsides matched my insides.

In the months after my final suicide attempt, I was in a day treatment program at a local hospital. Yes, in the psych ward. What shocked me most there was that this place was not full of society's rejects. It was full of straight A students, a star football player, a quiet young girl that was a genius and was on track to go to college at a very early age...they were like me. The ward was full of kids whose bodies and minds were full of extraordinary pain but felt burned to appear perfect always on the outside. We were the best actors and actresses of all, but our veneer had finally cracked open. Our darkness was exposed to the world. We were terrified and thrilled for the world to see what we really were underneath.

Over the past twenty years I admit that I've begun to hide under the happy veneer again, especially after having children. I wanted to be the kind of mother that my kids would be proud of and, at times, have tried nearly desperately to fit in with the other moms, which meant wearing a mask of sunshine and happiness. Of course, its not always a mask and I have found happiness in my life. However, I have and always will have a shadow side. I am a highly sensitive person that feels the pain of others acutely. It is a blessing and a sickness. It hurts profoundly and yet it also makes me a better mother, nurse, writer and friend. It makes me who I am.

So for Halloween this year I will watch those around me parade around in costumes to hide who they are and pretend to be someone else for one night. I will do something different. I will take off the heavy mask of false cheer that I carry around all year long. This Halloween, I will go out into the world as someone new-- as myself, happy and yet always a bit melancholy. It's who I am, underneath the false mask of perpetual happiness. And, it feels damn good to strip it off for a day.