Wake The Dawn

 

My post last week was of a rather somber tone. But sometimes somber is necessary. And sometimes God confirms that in bold ways, in-person, in real time. I experienced that today.

Yes, I will elaborate.

This past weekend I visited Edmonton for a wedding, and on Sunday (yesterday) I attended mass with my piano instructor. She was still struggling with the loss of her elderly father to illness several weeks ago, but it was a gloriously beautiful Mass and it moved her a great deal. When I returned home yesterday evening, I read Janet Klasson’s post “For those who will die unprepared…” and found it a confirmation of the tone I took last week. (As a side note, her posts, and Mark Mallett’s, have been of immense help to me in my own spiritual journey. I highly recommend both of them though they are, perhaps, not for the faint of heart…)

This afternoon at my music history lesson, I happened to walk in moments after she had gotten off the phone with her daughter, who had called to inform her that her best friend’s brother died in a tragic accident last night, around the same time that I was reading Janet’s post. He was 19 years old and unbaptized. His 22 year old sister, the best-friend of my piano teacher’s daughter, was baptized this year after a powerful conversion experience that took place during the same week as my hospitalization this past February. My teacher was understandably badly shaken, and I spent the first fifteen minutes of our lesson praying the Divine Mercy chaplet while she called her daughter’s friend, then we prayed together for the young man’s soul and his family, and I offered her what comfort and reassurance I could.

To be honest, I wasn’t floored. These sorts of experiences have happened with such frequency in my life over the past year that while they usually take me off-guard, I find them comforting now rather than unnerving. I’m not a “seer.” I don’t receive visible apparitions from Our Lady like some people do. But I have experienced direct, internal communications in prayer on very rare occasions, and divinely inspired dreams (which occur which equal rarity and which I usually don’t share with anyone, since I often can’t interpret them properly until years later).

This evening, while beginning my daily family rosary, I experienced the soft, maternal touch I’ve come to associate with Our Lady and inwardly heard four words:

I need you here.

There is work to be done in this world. Heaven may be my eternal home, but God still has a purpose to fulfill with my life and if I wish to do his will, I have to be willing to accept whatever length of life he gives me.

I have no guarantees it will be a “long life,” but at the very least, I don’t anticipate I’m going to keel over tonight. Each and every person has a mission to fulfill with their life, whether they know it or not.

Are you aware of the mission God has given you?

When Peter saw him, he said to Jesus, “Lord, what about this man?” Jesus said to him, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? Follow me!” The saying spread abroad among the brethren that this disciple was not to die; yet Jesus did not say to him that he was not to die, but, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you?” ~ John 21:21-23

None of us can know for certain (leastways not without direct divine revelation) how long we have to live. John (the above-mentioned “man”), ended up being the only Apostle not to die a martyr (or by his own hand, if you count Judas). Personally, I think his fate in this life was much more difficult to endure than the fates of the others. He lived to old age, and left us with a number of beautiful letters and the ever-puzzling, endlessly deep Book of Revelation. Don’t assume he “got off easy” because he was the “favourite.” To live a long life after knowing Jesus personally would have been immensely painful. Not only that, he lived through the loss of Mary as well.

No, a long life is not necessarily a “golden ideal.” But neither is a short life, necessarily. There are no “golden ideals” on this earth. This life is not “the point” of our existence. It is temporary. Yet our actions here, in this brief period in history, hold consequence for all eternity.

So it’s worth asking yourself on a regular basis:

How am I using my daily life?

Personally, I wish to use my life to bring hope and joy into the world, in accordance with God’s will for me. I wish to use the time I’ve been given to create as much beauty and love as I can, to help my fellow sojourners in their respective life journeys. For as long as I’m here, I will strive to “wake the dawn.”

Until next time, take care and God bless.

Kasani

How Do You Use Your Time?

 

How are you spending your time?

As a devout Catholic, this is something I ask myself every day.

I may only be 23, but with my life experiences and mental illness, I think it’s safe to say that I am far more aware of my own mortality than most other adults, both young and old. I don’t assume that because I’m young I have a long life ahead of me. I could die in my sleep tonight. I could die on the drive to work tomorrow. I could be diagnosed with a life threatening disease next week and be dead within the month.

Whenever I make reference to that reality to any of the people in my life, they almost always brush it off and discourage that line of thinking as “negative” and “doom and gloom.” I’ve had people who know me less well quip comments such as “don’t be silly, you have your whole life ahead of you.”

Oh really?

Have you received a personal revelation from God that I’m going to have a long life?

Because in case you haven’t noticed, people my age die all the time.

I understand why the people who care about me dislike this subject, because they emphatically don’t want me to die. I also understand why people in general dislike this subject. It’s uncomfortable, isn’t it? Nobody wants to talk about death. Not until it’s staring one in the face. And even then, many people would rather run from it. Turn their back and flee from reality. Hide in the newest distraction — the next experience, gadget, book, hobby, job, educational endeavor, vacation extravaganza… you name it.

Run away. Just keep running. Don’t ever look back.

That seems to be the motto of the society we live in: Never. Acknowledge. Death.

To the point where we cover up murder with fancy names like “euthanasia” and “abortion” and claim they are “humane options” to “difficult problems.”

Here’s a difficult problem for you: You’re going to die someday, regardless of what life choices you make.

How does that make you feel?

This post is a rather dramatic switch from my usual tone, but it’s not intended to be depressing. It’s meant to be thought provoking. Because how you respond to the thought of death says a lot about how you are currently living your day-to-day life.

I actually look forward to death, and not in a suicidal way. Trust me, as someone with type 1 Bipolar Disorder, I do not take suicide lightly. I’ve been suicidal before. I couldn’t be farther from that place now. What I currently feel is homesickness for heaven. I long for a reality that cannot be fulfilled in this life. I long for my Lord and Savior. For complete union with Him in heaven. But my time here on earth isn’t finished yet, and in the meantime, I have to be patient. My greatest “fear,” if you will, is that I will, in-fact, have a long life and die of “old age” when I’m 101.

I do not want to be stuck here that long. I really don’t. And not because my life is bad. I have a very good life. I just know that as long as I’m on this earth, living this life, I will never be fully satisfied, and I yearn for more. I’m impatient.

That said, I would never, ever allow that impatience to rush me.

“For me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain” Philippians 1:21

As long as I am still breathing, God has a purpose for me to fulfill on this earth. And in my better moments I want nothing more than to fulfill that purpose. That awareness fills me with peace and happiness far more often than I am anxious or unhappy.

A very great deal of the anxiety and depression experienced within our society has nothing to do with “mental illness” and everything to do with “life choices.” And I don’t mean big choices like who your spouse should be, or whether or not to get cancer treatment (though obviously such choices will have a major impact on you). I mean daily decisions moment to moment. Where do your thoughts go when you first open your eyes in the morning? What’s your first choice when you get to the end of the day and want to relax? How do you approach the work you do for a living? What is your attitude? Why?

I don’t care of you’re Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist, Hindu, Atheist… Really, I don’t. I know what I believe, and there’s nothing anyone can say to fundamentally change it. Though I must say, if you don’t have a faith or opinion on a belief system, you may want to do some serious thinking and research…. far better to do it now than put it off until you’re dying. Because you are going to die, whether you like it or not.

Most religions believe in a higher power of some sort that we have to meet when we die. If you’re a Christian, then you believe that “being” is a Good and Loving God in Heaven. But have you considered the fact that Heaven, by its theological definition is not a place, but a person?

Heaven is God. It’s a relationship with supreme Love.

If you haven’t started that relationship now, while you’re on earth… what sort of meeting do you expect with this “God” on the other side?

“Hey there. I know you gave me 23 years to start building a relationship with you, but there were just so many shows on Netflix to binge-watch I couldn’t be bothered to get around to getting to know you…despite the fact that you loved me into existence and died for me. Sorry bro.”

That really isn’t meant to be funny. It’s actually quite sad. Because it wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that in my country, were we to be wiped out tonight in a nuclear war, most of my generation would be making a just such an excuse to their Creator.

So the next time you reach for a game on Facebook, flip open Pinterest, or open the browser on whatever electronic device you prefer, ask yourself this:

What am I doing? Why am I doing it? If this were the last 15 minutes I had to live… how would I rather be spending it? And why do I feel that way?

Until next time, take care and God bless!

Kasani

Judge Not Lest Ye Be Judged

It’s fashionable among conservative Catholics to complain about our culture of Relativism. But have you ever considered the reality that evil destroys itself? Because it does. Lashing out at our “culture” with vitriol only spreads Satan’s kingdom of hatred.  Our goal as Christians should be to spread Christ’s kingdom of peace and love.

Next time you open your mouth to criticize someone, ask yourself this:

What will I achieve by saying this?

Do I truly know what this person is going through?

Do I know what it’s like to live as this human being every single day?

Do I know what sort of personal hell this person is living in at this moment?

And is what I’m going to say about to make things better, or am I simply pouring salt in a wound?

Even well meaning advice is sometimes the wrong answer. Sometimes there is no right answer, except surrender to God’s will and acceptance of his mercy. Sometimes that means falling apart. Sometimes keeping one’s “chin up” is impossible. We are weak, fragile human beings and we break under pressure.

The important thing is that we recognize the “break” is temporary, and we will emerge from the ashes like phoenixes reborn if we trust in God’s grace to rebuild us rather than our own frail willpower.

Sometimes the only right answer is a hug. A touch on the shoulder. Looking directly into another human being’s eyes and telling them “It’s all right. I still love you, even though you’re broken. I will always love you, even though it’s breaking me. For now, we can be broken together.”

Take good care of yourself, and others. And may God bless you. ❤

Kasani

Self-Harm: For Parents

I was recently having a conversation with a concerned parent who was thoroughly puzzled as to why so many of her daughter’s close friends are cutting themselves. She couldn’t fathom what would drive a person down such a path. This isn’t the first time I’ve run into an “adult” (by which I mean people in the age-group of 40 and upwards) who doesn’t understand the phenomenon among young-adults that has come to be known as “self-harm” or “self-injury.”  I’ve already done a three-part series on this subject, which I encourage you to check out if you haven’t already. But those posts were mainly directed at people who are dealing with self-harm personally. It’s different for people who are “on the outside looking in” at a loved one who is struggling with such a problem. So this post is for all of the parents, siblings and friends who don’t understand self-harm, but want to help somehow.

The first thing you need to know is that it’s not your fault.

It’s a horrifying thing for a parent to discover that their child is self-harming. It prompts a million questions and self-torturing emotions — how did I miss this? What did I do wrong? Am I a failure as a parent? What should I do?

I can’t answer those questions for you. What I can tell you is that self-harm is a personal decision that your loved one decided to make because they were/are going through serious psychological/emotional pain. The cold, scientific reason behind self-harm is that it releases endorphins which distract from the internal anguish the self-harmer is experiencing. It creates an “afterglow” of sorts that offers a sense of relief. And this effect is highly addictive. It creates a pattern that is very difficult to break out of. And the more often you’ve done it, the harder it is to get away from. It’s no different than alcoholism or drug addiction — except on one very important point: breaking free of the addiction is not as “easy” (I say that with irony) as resisting the urge to go to the liquor store, or not making a trip to your local drug-dealer. Self-injury comes in many, many forms, and short of cutting off your own arms and legs, there’s really no way to “remove yourself from the source temptation,” as one would be normally advised in Christian circles.

So what is one supposed to do?

Therapy is a good place to start. Another option is getting the person in-question committed (voluntarily or involuntarily) to a psychiatric institution. There are a few things you need to keep in mind, however, if you make that choice:

1. There are psychological consequences to a person spending time in a psych ward. You are likely going to face some backlash later on as the person tries to cope with the serious wound to the self-esteem that spending time in an institution creates. Like it or not, there is a stigma around mental illnesses and psych wards, and the people inside them are just as vulnerable to it as the people outside them.

2. People can still self-harm in psych wards. The staff do their best, and if the patient is there voluntarily and cooperating, it can be a good and safe environment. But if the person is there involuntarily and is angry/depressed, they will still find a way to hurt themselves, regardless of what the staff do. I’ve seen this first-hand.

3. Regardless of where the person is, a measure of trust is required on the part of the family and friends of the self-harmer. The worst possible thing you can do is turn into a “hovering helicopter” that refuses to leave the individual alone. While it’s important to keep up regular, positive interaction with them and make sure they know they are loved, smothering them is going to have the opposite effect you want. It will drive their already damaged self-esteem even lower into the dirt, which can lead to angry outbursts and an increase in self-harming behavior.

You will have to sit down with your family and decide the best course of action, because every family is different. Just know that self-harmers deal with a great amount of shame and disgust over their own condition. Criticizing them, or demanding answers, even in a “nice” way, is not helpful. People who self-harm don’t “do it for kicks.” It is the result of deep psychological pain, and it will take time to heal from it (in more ways than one). Prayer, patience, and emotional support are the best things to surround a self-harmer with. Recovery is guaranteed, just so long as the self-harmer themselves has the personal desire to break free, and the outside support necessary to make that desire a reality.

Until next time, take care and God bless!

Kasani

Embracing the Cross – Part 4: Building a Personal Relationship with God

Once again, this post is very late in coming. And as the fall semester is well underway, I foresee my future posts this year, if there are any, will be few and far between. But worst-case I’ll pick up writing again at the beginning of the New Year. Since there will likely be a gap between this post and the next, I’m going to focus on offering some hands-on, tangible things to try. Essentially, I’m assigning you homework. And I’m assigning me homework. If you’re a student, you’re probably already swimming in homework. But what we’re discussing today is spiritual homework, and if you make the effort to include it in the rest of your busy schedule, you’ll suddenly find yourself far better equipped to deal with the challenges you’re currently facing in your life.

If you’ve read the previous posts in this series (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3), it should be fairly clear to you why I believe that a personal relationship with God is critical to being able to suffer the ravages of mental illness (and any other form of suffering) with peace and joy. Embracing the cross means praying “thy will be done.” To pray that from the heart requires that you trust God, and in order to trust God, you need an intimate relationship with him. The good news is that God actively wants an intimate relationship with you, and if you take even a small step forward in opening your heart to him, he will come to your aid with a shower of graces and love to help you continue down this path. And the deeper you go in your relationship with God, the more peace and joy will abound in your life, even in the midst of suffering, because you’ll trust him and you’ll learn to rely entirely on his strength to get through every challenge you face.

So how does one go about forming a deep, personal relationship with God? I have five suggestions I’m going to share with you that have made an overwhelming difference in my own spiritual life, my relationship with God, and my ability to cope with my mental illness. You may already be doing some, or all, of these things. If that’s the case, fantastic! Keep at it! And if you haven’t tried one or more of these suggestions, consider adding one into your routine.

The only caveat I have before I launch into this is that if you haven’t been doing any (or most) of the following suggestions, I’m not suggesting that you promptly start trying to do all of them at once. That’s a surefire recipe for discouragement. Pick one or two, and start slowly trying to implement it in your life. The key is not amount, but consistency. Ideally you’ll get to the point where you’re including all of these things in your routine in some way,  but it takes time to build up to that. Pray for grace and start with something you know you’ll be able to realistically stick to.

  1. Regular Prayer

This one pretty much goes without saying. You can’t form any sort of relationship with someone unless you talk to them. And if you’re trying to actively form a deep, enduring relationship, you need to talk with the person regularly. Every day. Preferably multiple times a day. If that sounds excessive, ask yourself this: how often do you talk to your significant other? Or, if you still live at home, your family? If you happened to be a roommate with your best friend, how often would the two of you talk? Maybe you aren’t a naturally chatty person, or maybe the people in your life aren’t especially receptive to chatter. But if  you want to get to know God, you need to make a point of turning to him in prayer everyday. First thing in the morning and before you go to bed are good times because they’re (usually) easy to remember. But its good to get in the habit of turning to God repeatedly throughout your day. Even just an inward glance and a thought: “thank you!” “I love you!” “Help me!”

Another thing to consider is, what does your prayer life involve? Are you simply reciting formal prayers such as the Our Father? Rattling off a list of petitions for yourself and your loved ones? It’s certainly important to include such prayers in your day, but for forming a relationship with God you need to spend time in strictly mental prayer as well. By “mental prayer,” I mean having a natural conversation with God, using your own words, pausing at times to give him a chance to respond if he wants to. If this isn’t something you’re accustomed to doing, you might very well wonder how to go about it. St. Josemaria Escriva has this to say about it:

You wrote to me: “To pray is to talk with God. But about what?” About what? About him, and yourself: joys, sorrows, successes and failures, great ambitions, daily worries — even your weaknesses! Acts of thanksgiving and petitions — and love and reparation. In short, to get to know him and to get to know yourself —“to get acquainted!”

~ Point 91 in The Way

If you put your mind to it, everything in your life can be offered to the Lord, can provide an opportunity to talk with your Father in Heaven, who is always keeping new illumination for you, and granting it to you.

~ Point 743 in The Forge

If you’re thinking that this sort of prayer would require more than a minute or two, you’d be right. If you’ve never tried to do this before, 5 minutes is a good place to start for a period of mental prayer. Though, you should increase the time after a little while. Personally, I try to fit in a 15 minute block of mental prayer daily, not counting other other little moments of prayer throughout my day. But some people go for 30 minutes or more.

    2. Spiritual Reading

Protestants tend to be more reliable than Catholics about reading their bibles. Or at least, that’s the stereotype. I think it’s important to try to read at least a little piece of the Bible everyday. For Catholics, the daily Mass readings are a great resource. You get a reading from the Old Testament, a Psalm, and a Gospel reading. I highly recommend The Word Among Us as a source for these readings, since it also comes with a short little meditation about the readings of the day, not to mention a number of other interesting articles for each month.

But there’s more to spiritual reading than just the Bible. It’s important to read from other sources too in order to expand your own ability to understand scripture and gain new insights about things. Writings by the saints are fantastic, but there are other good resources, such as excellent blogs, and many different books on various topics. I highly recommend Mark Mallet’s blog. His posts are incredible. Even 5-10 minutes of reading every day can go a long way, but if you can’t fit in both scripture and other readings into your day, pick one day a week (Sunday is my preference) to fit in some time for spiritual reading other than the Bible.

    3. Adoration

If you’re a Catholic, you believe that Jesus is physically present in the Eucharist. You believe that when you go to church and the light is on beside the tabernacle (as it always is, aside from on Good Friday), Jesus is physically present in the room. That’s why we genuflect before taking a seat in our pews. That’s why it’s considered a serious sin when we choose, without serious cause (such as illness, or some inability to travel to a church), to skip Sunday Mass — we’re in essence telling God “I have more important things to do with my time than to come and receive the mind-boggling gift you have offered to me by giving your divine Son to me to nourish my soul.” That’s also why we have adoration services, where we come before the exposed Blessed Sacrament to offer our prayers and worship. Some churches even offer 24-hour adoration, so people can come at any time to pray. But it isn’t necessary for the Blessed Sacrament to be exposed. Jesus is still there in the tabernacle whenever we arrive in the church.

I believe very strongly that visiting Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament is an indispensable part of forming a relationship with him. Yes, we can pray anywhere, anytime — just like we can pick up the phone and call our friends at any time. But there’s a marked difference between calling someone on the phone, and going to visit them personally. There is a level of intimacy that comes when visiting in-person that can’t be achieved in any other way. There two aspects to this: one is the simple fact that you’re in the same place, seeing each other face-to-face. The other is the unarguable demonstration that you care about the other person enough to get in your car and drive to their house to spend time with them. That’s a sacrifice of both time and energy.  Love is proved through sacrifice. And building a deep relationship with someone requires more than just spending the bare minimum of an hour with them once per week (a.k.a. Sunday Mass).

Personally, I’m in the unusual position of being able to go to adoration everyday because I have a key to our church (perks of being part of music ministry). The decision to start doing this has made an incredible difference in my spiritual life and my relationship with Jesus. If you attend a large parish, there are probably official opportunities available to get to adoration outside of Mass at least once per week. But even if there aren’t, there are still ways of getting to visit our Lord if you set your mind to it. My own parish is quite small, since we live in a small town, and so adoration is only offered once per month — not ideal, but far better than nothing! And if you’re clever about it, you can probably find ways to visit more frequently. For instance, you can make a point of arriving an extra half-hour early to Mass to spend the time in prayer. Or, if you have a Catholic hospital nearby, they will have a chapel that is open to the public with the Blessed Sacrament there in the tabernacle. Or you could become involved in a church ministry that gives you regular access to the church via a key… 😉

    4. The Rosary

I recommend this devotion so highly I don’t even know where to begin. The rosary imparts incredible graces. Since my family began the practice of saying the rosary together every evening, I cannot begin to list the miracles, both small and great, that have occurred. It’s transformed our spiritual lives and brought more peace to our home life than we’ve ever had. It’s mind-boggling to me how few Catholics actually make use of this invaluable tool.

Now, if you aren’t in the habit of saying the rosary, I can already hear the objection flooding your mind — “A whole rosary every day? That takes like 15 minutes! I don’t have that kind of time or patience…” To which I respond “How much time did you spent on social media or watching TV today?”

That said, you don’t have to say the entire rosary in one sitting. It can easily be broken up throughout the day. A lot of people (myself included) say their rosaries while driving, waiting in line, or performing mindless tasks like laundry. Admittedly, it’s better if you can just sit down and focus on praying it, but if your schedule doesn’t allow for it, then there are other ways to fit it in.

Committing to say the rosary every day does take self-discipline. It’s not easy. One thing I strongly recommend is having a “rosary buddy.” Find a friend or family member who will be willing to say the rosary with you, and then commit to doing it together every day at the same time. You don’t even have to be in the same place to do it! Shoot each other a text and then both start saying it together. Having another person to keep you accountable makes a world of difference.

    5. Weekly Holy Hour

My last two suggestions have been specifically Catholic devotions, but this one applies to everyone, regardless of your denomination. A weekly holy hour is exactly what it sounds like — a commitment to spend an entire hour, once per week (outside of the usual Sunday Mass or service), with God. This time should include prayer, but it can also include spiritual reading. It can be done at church before the Blessed Sacrament, or at home with your family, or on your own. Really, there’s no “set” way of doing a holy hour. My family does one on either Thursday or Friday as part of our devotion to the Flame of Love movement. We say the Flame of Love rosary (a bit longer than an ordinary rosary), a few extra prayers, and either watch a video from the Flame of Love website (they have tons of fantastic resources on there, so I strongly encourage you to check it out!) or one of us reads aloud from a spiritual book or blog post.

By this point, if you haven’t been doing most of the things I’m suggesting, you probably feel like this is getting more than a little excessive. I don’t blame you. Don’t be discouraged! You aren’t somehow a failure for not already doing these things, or feeling like attempting them is impossible. A couple years back I never would have thought I’d be doing all these things — and believe me, I didn’t start doing all of them at once. It took years. But the difference it’s made in my spiritual life (and my life in general) is beyond words. I honestly can’t imagine living life without these now. They’re what keep me sane and happy, especially when my mental illness is acting up, or my other physical ailments are giving me grief.

Another thing to keep in mind is that you can be a bit clever with all this. There’s nothing wrong with combining these things. For instance, I do my 15 minutes of mental prayer while I’m at adoration each day. And my family makes use of the weekly holy hour to say a rosary and do some spiritual reading. Experiment and see what works best for you! Maybe your weekly holy hour could simply be a weekly visit to the Blessed Sacrament, during which time you pray, get your spiritual reading done, and maybe say a rosary. Bam! Suddenly you’re doing all five of my suggestions, just like that! Of course, you shouldn’t limit your prayer time to once per week. That’s got to be an everyday commitment if you want to grow your relationship with the Lord. But try things out and see what works best for you.

One last important thing to keep in mind:

The point with all of this is not to spend hours and hours in prayer and make immense sacrifices. The point is to build a relationship. And you’re building that relationship with someone who loves you more tenderly than you can comprehend, not with some exacting deity who frowns on your every weakness and failure. Even the smallest effort and sacrifice pleases God. In your effort to start doing more for him, you’re going to fall down. You’re going to have days when things don’t go according to plan, and you aren’t able to fulfill your resolutions. Sometimes it won’t be your fault. Sometimes it will. But the important thing is not that you fell — that’s entirely to be expected. The important thing is that you get up and keep trying. I quote Christ’s response in the Prayer of Sorrow that I included in my post about suicide:

Come, Child, look up. Isn’t it mainly your vanity that is wounded? If you loved me you would grieve but you would trust. Do you think that there is a limit to God’s love? Do you think that for a moment I stopped loving you? But you still rely on yourself. You must rely on me. Ask my pardon and get up quickly. You see, it’s not falling that is worse, but staying on the ground.

Pray for graces. And trust.

Until next time, take care and God bless!

Kasani

 

 

 

 

Embracing the Cross – Part 3: Trust

Has it really been two months since my last post? Time sure flies. I just got back from a 10 day trip to Kansas to visit a close friend and attend a writers’ workshop. I’d intended to get a post written up before I left, but clearly that didn’t happen. And now, in the aftermath of a very exciting, blessed trip during which I didn’t get nearly as much sleep as I should have, I am experiencing what is likely the start of a mixed or depressive episode. Which doesn’t surprise me in the slightest.

An excellent time to write a post on suffering, yes?

What a perfect opportunity to sit back and analyze whether my belief that it’s possible to suffer depression joyfully is at all accurate.

I may be repeating myself, but having a proper definition of the word “joy” is required for this belief to make any sense at all. And pondering that definition led me to a question:

Is it acceptable to conflate “joy” and “peace”?

One could argue that it’s possible to be at “peace” without being joyful. If you take “peace” to simply mean “freedom from disturbance” or “tranquility,” and nothing more, then apathy can fill the shoes of peace just as easily as joy could. DepressionAn apathetic person feels no disturbance or anxiety. They don’t care enough about anything to be anything but tranquil. But I don’t think anyone in a rational state of mind would conclude that apathetic peace is in any way comparable to joyful peace. It certainly isn’t preferable. Anyone who has ever reached the point of depression where they’ve lost all ability to care about anything in life, knows that the absence of cares does not equal peace. Of course, if you’ve been suffering through a firestorm of self-hatred and you suddenly drop to a level where you don’t even care enough to hate yourself anymore, it can certainly feel peaceful in comparison. Cool water can feel hot to someone dying of hypothermia. But no ordinary person would choose a cold bath over a warm one to ward off a chill. And even the severely depressed person will reach a point where the numbness of apathy becomes a smothering prison that they would do anything to break free from.

True peace is inherently joyful. I’m not quite sure whether you’re peaceful because you’re joyful or you’re joyful because you’re peaceful. But both are simultaneously present and neither would be possible in the absence of the other. True peace requires joy. True joy requires peace. And I don’t mean external peace. A look at the lives of any of the saints demonstrates that it’s possible to be a very peace-filled person in the most turbulent of external situations.

So when I say it’s possible to be joyful in the midst of depression, I believe what I’m really saying is that it’s possible to be at peace. Because to me, peace is just a calm, gentle form of joy. And I can reaffirm with great confidence that yes, it is possible to be at peace while depressed. I’m not saying it’s easy to reach that head space. I’m certainly not saying I automatically feel that way when my bipolar symptoms rear their head. I’m tempted to say “I have to work at it” in order to reach that place. But really, that isn’t true at all. To be honest, whenever I “work” at being a peaceful person, I usually wind up even more anxious and mentally disturbed than when I started. You can’t will yourself into peacefulness. It works about as well as willing yourself into happiness. If you achieve anything it all, it’s temporary, and the experience is a tense one.

So how does one achieve peace? It’s actually startlingly simple. The plain, uncomplicated truth is that you will never have peace if you make it a goal in and of itself. Why? Because true peace is simply a side effect. It’s the result of something else. And that something else is trust.

This year has been a year of trust for me. At the end of last year I read an article about picking a word to focus on in the new year. I sat down and prayed about it. And the first word that came to mind was trust. At the time I thought it was weird, because it struck me as something more applicable to my mother, who struggles with anxiety. But this has been a year of realizations for me about the importance of trust in one’s spiritual life — and a real eye-opener as to how mistrustful I really am. When it comes right down to it, the fastest way to become a joyful person is to trust in God. I mean really trust in God. If you aren’t joyful, you don’t trust God. It’s as simple as that. Last year, I thought I trusted God. But now I can see I was deluding myself. Because I’ve gotten a few tastes of what trust actually feels like this year and the peace and the joy that springs from it is like nothing I’ve never experienced before.

If you want to suffer joyfully, you must be at peace. If you want to be at peace, you have to trust in God. If you want to develop true, childlike trust in God…you have to get to know him. You have to develop a relationship with him.

In the next post we’ll take a look at the process of doing precisely that, and we’ll discuss some tangible steps to take.

Until then, take care and God bless!

Kasani

 

 

Embracing the Cross – Part 2: Suffering With Joy

“O afflicted one, storm-battered and unconsoled, I lay your pavements in carnelians, your foundations in sapphires; I will make your battlements of rubies, your gates of jewels, and all your walls of precious stones.” ~ Isaiah 54:11-12

As per usual this post is rather late in coming. Mentally formulating blog posts tends to take me a while. But I think I’ve finally figured out how to tackle this next one, so here goes!

The question I proposed to answer at the end of my last post was “what happens when you say ‘thy will be done’ to God, and truly mean it?” To put it simply, you become a very peace-filled person. You become joyful. But how? And why? After all, God’s will inevitably contains suffering of some sort. But the joy comes when you understand that the amount of good God brings out of your suffering far outweighs the suffering itself. I can attest to that from personal experience. But even so, I still struggle with that prayer when anxiety looms in my mind about one thing or another. I know that God will take care of everything in the best way possible, but the niggling little thought still sometimes surfaces… what if I don’t like the results of his plan?

The thing is, God wants us to be happy, and he knows what will make us truly happy in the long run far better than we do. Sometimes reaching the place where we will be truly happy involves going through some rough, uncomfortable places. Or some downright miserable places. And since we usually can’t see the destination that God has in mind for us, we’re left clinging to our faith in the dark, struggling to believe what God tells us through the prophet Jeremiah:

For I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. ~ Jeremiah 29:11

This may sound rather grim, as if accepting God’s will means just gritting our teeth and bearing what comes. But it doesn’t have to be that way. In fact, it shouldn’t be that way. God’s will should bring joy to our lives, even when it contains suffering. The saints understood this better than anyone. Saints like Therese of Lisieux actively wished for suffering because they found joy in suffering for God. If we aren’t joyful in our sufferings it’s because we haven’t truly surrendered to the will of God and embraced it with our whole heart. The question then becomes, how are we supposed to do that?

First of all, we have to trust God. And unless we have a deep, personal relationship with him, that isn’t likely to happen. You can’t truly trust a person you don’t have a relationship with. And forming a deep relationship means spending a significant amount of time with the person in question. So if we want a relationship with God, we need to spend time with him in prayer and reading. Perhaps we can make “how to deepen your relationship with God” one of the topics of the following posts. I think it’s something well worth looking into. Also, we need to pray for the grace to trust him. We need to cry out to him with the words of the father of the epileptic boy in the Gospel of Mark: I believe; help my unbelief! (Mark 9:24).

Secondly, we need to have a clear understanding of the nature of the joy we’re talking about. The joy you experience while suffering is not usually a giddy, delightful feeling that makes you feel warm and fuzzy and tingly and excited. Especially not when you’re depressed. It’s more intellectual than physical. It brings calmness and peace, and also a sense of immense satisfaction. When you’re incapacitated by mental illness, or some other form of suffering, you tend to feel useless. But when you’ve embraced God’s will and accepted the suffering in order to offer it up to him for a good purpose, suddenly that sense of uselessness vanishes. You realize that God is accomplishing something important with what you’re going through, and even if you never personally see what that ‘something’ is, you are satisfied. Because it’s not going to waste.

To close off this post, I’d like to leave you with a quote from one of St. Josemaria Escriva’s homilies called “Towards Holiness.” He describes suffering in these terms: xiPDbphW

This is the way Jesus fashions the souls of those he loves, while at the same time never failing to give them inner calm and joy … and he impresses on them a living conviction that they will only find comfort when they make up their minds to do without it. – Friends of God, pg 465

When we decide to embrace our suffering, it suddenly becomes a far less traumatizing thing, and we can find peace and joy in the midst of it. The difficult part is getting to the point where we trust God enough to say “thy will be done” and mean it. We’ll discuss that further in Part 3 of this series.

Until then, take care and God bless!

Kasani

 

 

 

 

Embracing the Cross – Part 1: “Thy will be done.”

“If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” ~ Luke 9:23

Today was a beautiful Easter. I woke to sunshine streaming through my bedroom window — something all the more lovely since it was snowing the past two days. The above picture really doesn’t fit the mood of today in the slightest, but since I intend it to be the cover photo for this series as a whole, I decided to roll with it anyway. I actually meant to write and post this on Good Friday, buuuuuut life had other ideas. Really, I probably should have started this back at the beginning of Lent, but I suppose it’s better late than never, yes?

Today’s post will be more succinct than usual since I intend to focus my attention on one thing in particular: four simple words that shook the earth to its foundations, broke all the bonds of hell and brought salvation to every man, woman and child who was ever born, and will ever be born, should they choose to accept this mind boggling gift. Pretty darn impressive for four little words. And if you’re a Christian, you probably say them everyday (or at least every Sunday at church) without really giving them much thought.

Can you guess what they are? They come between “thy kingdom come” and “on earth as it is in heaven” in the prayer Jesus gave to us. How often have they rolled off our lips with hardly a split second’s thought or consideration? (For that matter, how often does the entire prayer roll off our lips that way? But that’s for a whole other post…). As you’ve probably already surmised, the four words are as follows:

Thy will be done.

They express the same sentiment as Mary’s four words in response to the Annunciation: “let it be done” (Luke 1:38).

This is a very powerful prayer. It’s also a very difficult prayer to say from the heart without tacking “if” or “but” on the end of it. Can you say those four words and mean them — really mean them — without any nagging hesitation or uncertainty? To be honest, I can’t. But I’m praying for the grace to reach that point soon. As soon as possible, in fact. Because while that prayer can be terrifying, it is also the most liberating prayer you can give voice to. “Thy will be done,” said from the heart, is the path to perfect peace — the peace of Christ that the world cannot give.

I chose to begin with this topic because it’s something I’ll be coming back to repeatedly throughout this series. It is the prerequisite to being able to embrace your cross. And embracing your cross is the prerequisite to suffering peacefully, even joyfully. Is it possible to suffer depression joyfully? That’s a question that’s plagued me ever since I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder a little over five years ago. If you’d asked me that question three years ago I would have scoffed and said “of course not!” Had you asked me last year, I’d have responded with an uneasy “I don’t know.” Today my answer would be “yes, I think.” The I think comes from the simple fact that I haven’t been tested by severe depression since I’ve begun developing this new mindset. Could I suffer through that joyfully? I really don’t know. But is it possible to suffer mild-to-moderate depression joyfully? Speaking from recent experience, yes.

Logically speaking, depression and joy should be mutually exclusive. Certainly, I believed they were for most of the past five years. But one of the most important marks of a Christian is their joy. One of the most important marks of a saint is their joy. Real, pure, joy. If we are living our faith as Christians in a deep way, our lives should be saturated with supernatural joy.

Where does that leave those of us afflicted with emotional disorders? Are we just plain out of luck? That’s bothered me for years. Is it possible to experience joy in the midst of mental illness? It’s one of the main things this series will explore. Because the answer, I think, is yes. And it starts with “thy will be done.”

Ponder those words. Do some soul searching. Do they frighten you? Ask yourself why. Why should we be afraid of the will of a God whose very nature is love? He made us specifically so He could love us. He entered the world we corrupted through sin and suffered more than anyone ever has for each individual person alive. For you. Because He wants you. He knows what will make you happy — He made you after all. He knows you better than you know yourself. And He wants you to be happy. His will leads to joy. Why should we fear it? Your heart cries out “Because His will can lead to suffering!” Yes. It can. And more than that, it does. But there is no way to escape suffering in this world. Wouldn’t you much rather be able to face what comes with joy?

Beg for the grace to be able to say that prayer and truly mean it. It’s the key to your freedom. In the next post we’ll take a look at its potential results.

Until then, take care and God bless!

Kasani

 

 

 

 

Withdrawal – Part 2: We Don’t Get to Pick our Crosses

He will keep you firm to the end, irreproachable on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful. ~ Corinthians 1:8

So back at the beginning of May I posted about my decision to start weening off of my medications. I’m happy to say I’ve been completely off of my antidepressant bupropion (better known as Wellbutrin) since August 15th. All that’s left is to start slowing coming off my mood stabilizer lamotrigine (better known as Lamictal). I’d intended to write several posts throughout the summer commenting on my progress coming off the antidepressant, but things didn’t go quite the way I’d planned them out. In fact, they still aren’t.

My plan for the summer was that I would come off of my antidepressant, experience some possibly moderate to severe depressive symptoms throughout the process and get through them with God’s grace, and then be back to normal by the time the semester started in September.

This lovely plan of mine should (rightly) provoke incredulous laughter from my fellow bipolar sufferers. Really? You planned out exactly what sort of episodes you would have, and for how long, and expected the universe to cooperate with that?

Yep.

Well, it never hurts to think positively, right? Although, I was actually thinking rather negatively since I expected the summer to be hellish. In fact, it wasn’t. Coming off of bupropion was far, far easier than I expected. The worst I experienced was a week or two here and there of mild-to-moderate depression. Nothing more. (I tapered quite slowly, mind you, especially towards the end.) It was almost a let down after how hard I’d worked to brace myself for the worst.

But of course, when my plans don’t work out, it’s usually a complete and total bomb on every side. This is no exception. The rest of my plan was to hit the semester running and make my way through it relatively symptom free as I came off my mood stabilizer (which both I and my mother assumed would be easy peasy compared to the antidepressant).

Haaaah. Hahaha. Ha.

Yeah, no, that’s not quite the way it’s working out.

It seems that lamotrigine is a much harder drug for me to come off of than bupropion was (for whatever reason). Granted, I almost always have some symptoms in the fall. Season changes are a trigger for me. But I’d assumed from everything I’d heard that I could come off of this drug without any trouble over the course of a couple weeks. In fact, my psychiatrist had said back in April  that I could stop it cold-turkey without any problems (and that at the same time I could stop my antidepressant cold turkey. Needless to say, I didn’t listen to her). So I decided to drop from 250mg right down to 200mg.

Well. That  didn’t go over well. Much to my surprise, I almost  couldn’t get out of bed the next morning. So I decided to bump back up to 225mg. Ever since that drop I’ve been experiencing mixed episode symptoms to a greater or lesser degree. They were quite dramatic in the week following the drop, and then eased off since then and have been fluctuating between hardly there or unpleasantly intense, depending on how much sleep I get. I’m fairly certain much of what I’m experiencing now is due to the season change and my body adjusting to my new sleep schedule. But the symptoms I experienced in the week after my initial drop were far more severe than any of the withdrawal effects I experienced from the antidepressant. Maybe its a coincidence and I would have experienced those symptoms if I hadn’t changed my meds. Its possible, but I’m certainly not going to count on that. I’ll be tapering this drug much slower than my last one, and have resigned myself to a rougher semester than I’ve had for a while.

I’m not going to lie. My initial response to God about this unplanned development was a whiny one. Why couldn’t I have just gotten all of the really difficult symptoms out of the way in the summer? I could have afforded to be incapacitated then! I’d been prepared for that. I’d been all ready and eager to shoulder that cross. I hadn’t signed on for this cross. The cross of wading through my university courses while battling symptoms. That hadn’t been part of my plan!

The response I received was quite simple: crosses aren’t something we get to choose. Jesus didn’t go to his father with a plan all worked out about which cross he was ready  to carry. He took what his father gave him— and it certainly wasn’t a cross he wanted. He asked to have it  taken away if possible, but he also bowed to his father’s will. And his father gave him all of the grace necessary to bear it. He sent an angel to him to strengthen him in his Agony,  sent Simon of Cyrene to help him carry the cross, and sent both his mother and Veronica to encourage him on the road.

He does no less for us, and he also expects no less. He may not let us choose our cross, but he will always, without fail, give us the grace necessary to bear it, so long as we go to him for our strength and don’t try to do it all by ourselves.

This whole experience has also served as a gentle reminder that I need to stop making life plans and assuming  they will work the way I expect, even if I think I’ve made them with him in mind. Really, you’d think I’d have figured that out by now.

As a parting thought, here’s a lovely something I stumbled across on Pinterest:10549a282c900ed507a9aa63b877cb22

Crosses serve a purpose, even if we can’t see it in the moment.

Take care and God bless!

Kasani

(Click here for Part 3)

 

 

 

Don’t Feed the Monster

 

 

 

It’s been a couple months since I managed to get a post typed up. Mostly life has just been busy, but I’ve also been stuck on what to write about. Coming off my medications has been going much better than I expected — though not entirely without its ups and downs, as I am in a mild depressive episode now. But this down spell brought to mind something that’s bothered me about the online mental illness community  for a few years,  and lying in bed last night I decided it was time to finally  brought it up.

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The problem is a lack of personal responsibility.

Don’t get me wrong. The fact that people expect the mentally ill to be able to pull themselves up by their bootstraps, “snap out of it” and move on, can be a serious problem. It can lead to self-harm and suicide as people are driven to despair by their inability to meet up to unjust expectations. Because it’s in our heads rather than being a physical wound on our body, people often assume we have more control over our disorders than we actually do, and they blame us for things we simply can’t control. It isn’t fair, and the pain and outrage it sparks are legitimate.

But there’s another side to the situation that causes just as much damage, and the onus is on the mentally ill. As someone with a mental illness myself, I feel I have the right to speak out about this. Bear with me while I elaborate.

Mental illness is a monster. It lives inside of you, and when it rears its head it makes life a living hell. Nobody else can see it, and that just makes it harder, especially when we come up against people (often well-meaning people) who try to convince us it isn’t as bad as we think and we just need to try harder, think positive, do X Y Z, and we’ll be okay. We know that most of the time their suggestions simply won’t work and this leads to resentment, both at their ignorance and at our own helplessness. In fact, our helplessness is  such a sensitive topic that just reading about other mentally ill people coming up against stigma and criticism can spark outrage, resentment and a feeling of persecution.

All of this often leads to a strong temptation to embrace the monster.

We embrace the feelings of helplessness, negativity and resentment, and using the (only sometimes) legitimate excuse that “we can’t help ourselves,” we choose to wallow in it. This is not to say that we are to blame the emotions we feel in and of themselves. A person with a mood disorder has little-to-no control over what they feel and to what intensity — trust me, I know. But we do have control over what we do with those emotions. We do have control over what we use them for. The symptoms we experience are a disorder, not a decision. But the actions we take as a result of those symptoms are a decision, not a disorder.

We can’t help it if we feel an overwhelming sense of despair choking the life out of us. We might not even be able to help it that we can’t get out of bed in the morning. But we can help it when we choose to listen to dark, depressing music that makes us feel worse even though it strokes our self-pity. We can help it when we choose to surf Pinterest for the darkest, most disturbing quotes and pictures we can find that we identify with deep down, and pin them to show off our pain. We can help it when we indulge in reading things that we identify with, but that only feed our pain, despair, and fill our minds with thoughts of self-harm and suicide. These are our choices. Our disorders do not take away our personal responsibility for them.

Another thing we are personally responsible for is when we vent all of our pain and hopelessness online for other people to see in our writing or art. Don’t get me wrong, sometimes sharing one’s pain is therapeutic both for the writer/artist and the reader/viewer. But there are many cases when such sharing is simply toxic. It becomes toxic when there is no faintest trace of hope anywhere in what is being created. It glorifies misery.

But I am miserable! I have no hope!

That may very well be true, but what are you achieving by sharing that so bluntly with the world? I am not suggesting that we should never share the full depth of our pain with people. Sometimes we have to. But who are you going to share it with? With somebody else who is a hair’s breadth away from committing suicide? With a young person who is struggling to find ways to cope with their pain and had never even considered the idea of self-harm until they read about what you do to cope? When we vent our frustrations online we have no way of knowing who will see it. I fully support being brutally honest and sharing just how bad you feel with somebody. But pick that somebody carefully. Not everybody can handle it.

This is not to say that I don’t think people should share their experiences in the public sphere. I support sharing the experiences of pain when done constructively, because it can be healing for other people to know that they are not alone in their suffering. But the key word in that is “constructively.” The idea is to let people know they are not alone — not to crush their hopes and encourage them to kill themselves.

Those of us experienced with the suffering that comes from mental illness have a responsibility towards the inexperienced, the new sufferers, those still innocent of just how bad things can get. We shouldn’t sugarcoat the suffering — that would be lying. But there is a big difference between conveying your experiences in a way that you intend to be helpful or simply spewing your inner darkness into the world uncensored and heedless of the damage it may do to others. I feel somewhat passionately about this because my own struggles with self-harm and suicidal ideation began with reading other people venting about the same problems. Would I have had those problems if I hadn’t been exposed to them in such a harmful way? It’s hard to say. But at the very least, the hopeless negativity of others did nothing to help me in my battle.

In the same breath, I’m the one who chose to read those things,  view those pictures, and listen to that sort of music. I bear responsibility for that. As do we all, when we make the choice to indulge in such things. It’s easy to fall into, but ultimately, it only feeds our monsters.
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To make a long story short: we might be stuck with our monsters, but we don’t have to feed them. Venting our negativity can sometimes be nothing but an excuse to wallow in it. Keep that in mind. Of course, sometimes venting is necessary to keep from exploding (or imploding, take your pick), in which case, choose your audience with care. Sometimes the safest audience is your journal or private sketchbook. Other times, it’s your best friend, parent, therapist, psychiatrist, or fellow mentally ill person who you know for sure isn’t on the brink of doing something awful to themselves at that point in time. And when you’re in a bad headspace, avoid indulging in things that may feel good in the moment but ultimately make it worse. Choosing to wallow in the darkness and feed your monster is no different than getting behind the wheel of a vehicle when you’re drunk.

Just don’t do it. It’s both as simple, and as difficult, as that.

I’ll be praying for you. Take care and God bless.

Kasani

 

Get Well II by Icon For Hire

Do you want me to write you another sad song
Would you like that?
Do you want me tell you we’ll never belong
Would you like that?
Cuz the truth is we’re no different than the others
Wearing our sob stories like colors
The truth is we like it, we like it here
We’re better off than we let on I fear
Does it make you sick, the way that we live?
We say we’re over it but we
Can’t undo the scars
All up and down our hearts
Can’t forget how it felt when it all fell apart
And we talk a big game like we wanna get well
In our prison made of pain
Only fooling ourselves
I want to scream my sick soul alive
I want to look you dead in the eyes
Did you think you were the only one? The only one? The only one?
We’re all holding on trying to make sense of
The insanity that we once loved
We’ve cut up our lives trying put down the knife
Trying to pick up the fight
Does it make you sick, the way that we live?
We say we’re over it but we
Can’t undo the scars
All up and down our hearts
Can’t forget how it felt when it all fell apart
And we talk a big game like we wanna get well
In our prison made of pain
Only fooling ourselves
Cuz the truth is we’re no different than the others
The truth is we like it, we like it here
We’re better off than we let on I fear
Can’t undo the scars
All up and down our hearts
Can’t forget how it felt when it all fell apart
And we talk a big game like we wanna get well
In our prison made of pain
Only fooling ourselves
Can’t undo the scars
All up and down our hearts
Can’t forget how it felt when it all fell apart
And we talk a big game like we wanna get well
In our prison made of pain
Only fooling ourselves