Posts Tagged love

The Stigma of Connecting Mental Illness and Violence

I’ve been quiet since Friday.  The Connecticut tragedy incited a PTSD reactive response, and to keep myself safe, I pretty much shut down my online presence.  Everything I read, whether it was pleas for better gun control or essays on the prevalence of mental illness in the psyche of your typical mass murderer, sent me spiraling into a place I find difficult to describe.

Even worse, I’m having a manic episode, or I was having it right up until yesterday.  I don’t like talking about my own mental illness.  I’m ashamed of it.  But I try to have courage and talk about it because I hope that by speaking out, I can educate others and help other people who are mentally ill.

This country needs to be willing to look at mental health issues even when there isn’t a tragedy.  We need to attend to it when the small defeats and victories of friends and neighbors take place around us day in and day out.  And for the love of all things good, we need to be really, really careful when something tragic occurs.  Before we blame mental illness or gun control laws or try to assign blame to anyone or any single condition, we’d better take our time to research all the issues and get the answers right.

I’ve read a lot of articles, or to be honest, skimmed the ones that were too painful, that blamed the shooting on mental illness.  Every time I read something like that, I cringe.  The mentally ill are not more likely to commit acts of violence; in fact, they are much more likely to be the victims of violence.  As painful and scary as it is for me to seek help when I’m feeling ill, it’s tenfold times more painful and scary to get the help I need in a charged atmosphere of blame-storming for a heinous mass murder.

As S.E. Smith wrote:

As always in cases of rampage violence, mental illness has been dragged into the mix, and I’ve been watching the Internet for the last three days with a growing sense of both deja vu and horror. None of the things being said are new — all of them are in fact very bone-achingly familiar — and all of them are extremely unhelpful, dangerous and counterproductive.

The American Psychiatric Association states that the vast majority of people who commit violent crimes do not suffer from mental illness.

Substance abuse is a much bigger risk factor for violent behavior; in people with untreated mental illness (a shockingly large number due to the difficulty involved in accessing services), drug abuse is a confounding factor in acts of violence in many cases, not the underlying mental illness. Socioeconomic status, age, gender and history of violence are also more significant indicators of the risk of violence.

You’re more likely to be hit by lightning than to be injured by someone who suffers from schizophrenia.

And yet if you believe the stories and anecdotes widely published this weekend, you will do what people typically do: you will stay the hell away from mentally ill people.  Each time a tragic event like the one in Connecticut occurs and mental illness is raised as a proximate cause, people pull away even more from the mentally ill.  In other words, the very stigma associated with mental illness intensifies, and those of us who most need love, compassion and support receive even less.mentalillnessstigma

I’m one of the lucky ones.  I get the treatment and the care and the compassion that so many of my ill brethren do not receive.  Most people don’t even know that I’m ill.  You see, I know the warning signs.  In the case of manic episodes, my mind starts racing.  Creative thoughts pile onto creative thoughts, and then it gets faster and faster and I can’t stop working won’t stop working don’t want to stop working and it’s amazing the things I can get done . . . but I feel an overload, an imbalance, a systems shutdown approaching.  But like a jet plane hurtling through the air on cruise control, I cannot switch directions, not even when I know exactly how it’s going to end: nose down in the mountainside.

Crashing hurts, and it makes no sense to an outsider, but with time and medication and therapy, I’ve gotten much better at engineering less destructive crash landings.  The most important thing I do is to radio ahead to the tower, or tell a few friends that I’m losing altitude too fast, and that I am, frankly, feeling ill.  In other words, despite the stigma that attaches to my illness, I reach out for the help I need.

I was on the phone this morning with one of my best friends, and she just sort of sat with me.  She told me that she loved me no matter what, and that she wasn’t going anywhere, and that my illness didn’t make her not want to be my friend.  In fact, a few of my friends called me.  They won’t let me fall through the cracks, and when I crash land, they’re there to pick up the pieces.

That’s what grieves me about so many of the articles I tried so hard not to read this weekend.  For every one that begged for compassion, three more confused mental illness with violent propensities.  And you know what this does?  It rains down shame, ugly, dark sickly-familiar shame on those of us who suffer from mental illness.  As gut-wrenchingly difficult as it is to seek treatment, this sort of fear-mongering makes it that much harder for people like me to seek help.

It takes courage to seek help, and it takes courage to admit you’re ill.  Fallacious arguments that connect mental illness to violent propensities make it even harder.  Please have compassion and use discernment when you address issues of mental illness.  After all, you never know who could be affected by the words you use.




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4 Soccer Games, 17 Library Books, 6 Donuts, 4 Slurpees . . .

Three kids, four soccer games, seventeen library books, six donuts, four Slurpees . . . such is the first equation that best describes the math of our Autumn Saturday.

Between soccer games, we all ended up in the kitchen.  With a bottle of water in one hand, I leaned against the countertop, watching as my husband ate a “Muffeletta” sandwich we’d bought yesterday from The Italian Store in Arlington, Virginia.

Our middle child, Travis James Farris, Jr., or “Jim,” sat facing my husband.  “Dad, when I write ‘Junior’ after my name, it makes me proud to have your name.”  Jim’s voice, still high pitched, echoed against the red walls in our kitchen, and I smiled.

Before I could say anything, my husband set his Muffeletta down and wiped his hands on his paper towel.  “Well, son, I’m very proud to share my name with such a great kid. I don’t think I’ve told you today just how awesome you are.”

I glanced at Travis, who was once again grasping his “manwich,” and nodded at the clock.  He sighed; I sighed; and we started to check shin pads, cleats, water bottles and soccer balls.  Fifteen arguments, three Facebook status updates, four missed calls and an entire box of obliterated Munchkin donuts later, I sat in my husband’s big, striped fabric chair in the kitchen, typing up some research notes about angels on my silver Macbook Pro.  My youngest child whizzed around me, and we played our “I love you game.”

I started.  “I love you more than all the leaves in the backyard.”

Ben’e eyes lit up as I spoke.  Before I finished, he danced in front of me.  “I love you more than all the trees in America.”

“Sun, moon, stars.”

He grinned, all dimples showing, and yelled, “Mom I love you more than anything, even God.”

I smiled back at him, and put a hand on his shoulder.  “Not more than God.  You must love Him most.”  I paused mid-negotiation long enough to mix a smile into my sober response.  “How about except God?”

“Oh, okay, except God.”  He hopped around again.  “And I won’t let anyone hurt you.”  My six-year old, 48-pound boy grinned at me while he sipped his Slurpee. “And if anyone tries to hurt you, I will protect you.  If someone comes at you with a knife, I will hit them, or cut their head off!”

“Um . . .”

Ben jumped up and added, “Look at the picture I drew for you, Mom!  It has pink hearts on it, and me, and you.”

I glanced over at the drawing of two blue-colored people holding hands on a scrap of wrinkled white paper.  Admittedly, I was a little relieved to see that there were no weapons mixed in with the pink hearts that circled the blue-colored sketch of mother and son.  I knew, just as my husband knew–just as my entire family knows–what it means to feel loved, and my soul rang out with laughter and with light.



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Friday Photos: Harnessing Anger and Seeking Comfort

For the first of this week’s Friday Photos, I offer a few words on anger. I wrote this after the Penn State sanctions came down and I felt burned by my anger. So I stopped, and waited and thought about it.  Anger solves nothing, unless it is harnessed for good.  And if it is not harnessed in the service of good, it can destroy the better parts in us.

I wrote this second poster up when I was feeling like hell earlier in the week.  It wasn’t much in the grand scheme of things, but something in my world felt like it was crashing down on me and despair hunted me down like a rampaging werewolf.  I called my children to my side and told them that I was sad.  “I need a hug, love,” I murmured to my blue-eyed daughter.  “I’m fine, but I’m sad.”

“Oh,” she replied, a concerned eye on me.  “Here Mom!”  She flung her little self around me and her brothers soon joined the dog pile.  Within a few minutes, the dark clouds abated.  I loved.  And I knew I was loved.  All because of a simple hug.  I guess you could call this a coping mechanism.

What helps you cope with anger?  How about sadness or grief?  Is it easy for you to ask for help when you’re sad?

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Advance Excerpt from my Novel, Ripple

My writing partner, Renée Jacobson, tagged me with this snazzy (code word for shriek-inducing crazy) “meme” (code word for writing stunt?) called Lucky 7.  Like most things that get passed around, Lucky 7 has its own set of rules. Here’s what you are supposed to do:

Open your WIP (work in progress) and:

1. Go to page 77.

2. Go to line 7 on that page.

3. Copy the next 7 lines, sentences, or paragraphs as they are written.

4. Tag 7 authors who are also have Works in Progress.

Without further ado, the following excerpt from Ripple, © April 29, 2012 E. L. Farris goes like this . . .

Helen thought back to the day she lost the baby.  Blood covered the bathroom floor and she knew she was hemorrhaging and needed to get help.  She crawled to the bedroom and grabbed the phone and called Richard’s office and no one answered.  She called his cell and it went straight to voicemail.  By this time, tears flooded her vision and mixed with the pool of blood forming beneath her and it took all of her fading strength to dial 911.   She knew she had to crawl downstairs to open the door or else the paramedics would be delayed by precious minutes waiting for the firemen to arrive and take an axe to the front door.  She slid down the stairs and got a finger on the lock and hit it and kept staring at the lock as the 911 operator yelled at her to, “Stay awake, honey,” while she waited for the ambulance to arrive.

Richard had shown up to the hospital a few hours later, all chastened and apologetic and barely sober and Helen never asked him what he’d been using.  She just asked him to leave and he had left.  He went home and took care of all the blood and paid for the carpets to be torn up and replaced and it was all done before Helen returned home three days later.  And they never spoke of it again.  Helen didn’t know why.

The only thing Helen detested more than funeral was blood.  Even so, the janitorial efficiency of Richard’s cleanup got under her skin.  It felt that with each ounce of blood and gore that vanished, so too did her last chance to bear a baby boy.  She never got a chance to say goodbye, or even touch her unborn son.  She didn’t try to explain any of this to Richard.  He had long since stopped listening.  Instead of trying to talk to him, Helen had immersed herself in her work.

She leaned over the counter and grabbed the metal-colored telephone that matched the kitchen appliances.  Fucking decorators.  Her first priority was to make sure Phoebe was accounted for, since there was no telling if Richard was up to taking care of anyone last night.  She needed to ask without it sounding obvious that she didn’t know where her daughter was or if her daughter had made it to school in the morning.  7:45.  Homeroom was at 7:35.  OK, this is like direct examining a hostile witness: ask the questions without them knowing I am asking.  She dialed the front office for McClintock and waited for a secretary to come on the line.

“McClintock Upper School.  How may I help you?”

Helen willed her voice to sound its most polished.  “Good morning Karen.  This is Mrs. Thompson, Phoebe’s mom.  I just got in from the redeye from California and realized that Phoebe may have left her science textbook home.  I wanted to leave a message for her just in case—also to let her know that I’m home and can drop by school with it if she needs me.”

Karen switched into efficient secretary mode.  “Sure thing, Mrs. Thompson.”  Helen heard papers rustling.  “Looking at her schedule, it appears that she is in math right now.  I’ll send a student down to class to let her know that you are home and can bring her book in if she needs it.”

Helen smiled into the phone.  “Thank you so much Karen.”  Helen waited for Karen to say goodbye before she dropped the phone back into its receiver.

Now she needed to figure out what to do and how to deal with Richard.  She needed a clear mind, so she grabbed the teapot and filled it with water.  She poured French Roast coffee beans in the coffee grinder and breathed in the invigorating aroma of fresh-ground coffee.  Then she poured the grounds into the French Press and, sorting through hazy thoughts as she leaned sleepily against the counter, she waited for the teapot to whistle.  It didn’t make sense to get Richard on the line when she was angry and tired.  There really wasn’t anything left to discuss anyway, and he’d be entering the courtroom in his bullshit black robes any minute and wouldn’t want to –or even be able to – take any calls.  He doesn’t want to talk to me anyway.  He’s got someone else; he’s always had someone else, and the sooner I realize he will never change, the sooner I will be able to move on and start a life without him.


Here are the seven writers I hereby tag:

Astrea Baldwin

Deb Bryan

Stephanie Saye

She’s a Maineiac

Kasey Mathews

Trying God’s Patience

Sheila Burke

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No Tears Fall

Words rush and flit about like butterflies that would not be caught.  Slow down you think too fast.  Something hurts but I am the one running now.  It’s a dream.  I line up at the starting line and a man sneers at anyone who takes 5 hours to run a marathon.  Inadequate.  No!  I run, and Ben runs in front of me, too fast.  Slow down son.  He won’t.  Dimples and grins and laughing, so wild and free and fleet . . . he runs.

We run to a bridge 8 inches wide; a balance beam for gymnasts, but I am not.  I peer into a gorge and the water rushes beneath me.  My chest feels cold and numb from fear.  I get down on my hands and knees and I crawl, barely in control of my fear oh please Ben come back to me.  “Someone help me!”  I cry.  And someone does.  He is strong and fast.  His chest is wide; his hair, jet-black.  He runs 3-hour marathons and he leaps over my supine figure and runs abreast of Ben.  Ben is in good hands.  I made the call.  He is safe now.

But I am not.  I am not safe.  The muddy water tosses and churns beneath me now and the sun has gone down and it is dark and cold and I am alone and still no tears will fall.  Two years into psychotherapy and no tears will fall.  No one raced ahead to catch Little El before she slipped off her family’s rickety beam bridge and she fell, so many years ago, into the depths. 

Every morning, and every night I glare at the mirror, at these cheeks too red and too thick and I repeat, “I am of great value.”  These words stick in my throat and I try to believe it when I say it.  And when I believe it, even for a fleeting moment, I want to cry and I don’t know why.

Now I am my own surgeon, my own master and my own healer.  It’s like handing the keys to the Ferrari to a 16-year boy and expecting him to drive 55.  The child, my child, heads at breakneck speed straight for the massive oak tree and the parent I am to my own child shrugs and walks away and whispers, “You’ll be okay darling,” with the tune from “Cat’s in the Cradle” playing in the background.

Mom’s paintings weren’t Rembrandts but they were a part of me for too long, wrapped inside my identity like a confusing coil or a trawling net, sucking up everything in its path.  Closure.  It’s over.  Is it over?  They’re gone now.  My parents.  Her paintings.  Their hands and words and all of the slashes . . . I took a bat to them and smashed them all up and my hands and my back hurt when I was done.  And still, there are no tears.

When your mom dies I hope you can grieve for her.  It is so damn hard to grieve for someone who lives and while living haunts and hurts you.  There is no real way to bid farewell.  Just time. They say tears fall not in heaven but this holding pattern is no heaven.  The minutes and hours and days and years will pass and the wounds will coalesce but first, dear God, first please let me cry.

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Petals Running Across the Street

Petals at Rest

The March wind blew and Ben squealed with delight. “Look, Jim, the petals are running!”  Ben’s voice carried at 120 decibels and I gripped Ben’s hand and while the breeze rustled my older son’s wavy, dark blond hair, my throat ached and I worried that my youngest child would scream about the petals for the rest of the morning.  So I held his little hand and watched the petals running and part of my brain laughed with Ben; and yet, I lectured him in a stentorian tone that he needed to “behave in class.”

“Dolly!”  Ben spotted the neighbors tan, nondescript new not-puppy and raced across the street after her.  My neighbor is my age but she manages to look like a grown up every time I see her and today was no different.  It’s hard to explain but when I am near her I realize I never really grew up.  I don’t know why.  She always knows what to say and when to say it and yet I stood beside her and another mom and wanted to cry, “Watch the petals run,” but Ben yelled it for me.  She nodded, cheekbones set in a kind but serious way and she took the leash for Dolly from her daughter and never lost a beat in the conversation she was having with another mom.

“BUS!!!!”  Screamed a sixth grade girl at the top of her lungs.  She does this every damn morning, and it makes sense when the bus arrives early and the safety patrol needs to sprint two blocks to catch the bus but on mornings like this when we’re all standing two feet away it makes no sense so I tightened my jaw and hugged first my daughter, and then my eldest son, and then I came to Ben.  He was turned the wrong way and hopped up and down and the wind kicked up again and he watched the petals running . . .

“Ben.  Ben.  Look at me, Ben!”  I leaned over and cupped his face between my adult-size small hands Tulip Tree in Bloomand his eyes followed the petals while my eyes followed the sun glinting off the massive tulip tree between my house and our neighbor’s colonial “Five, four and a door.”  The tulip tree’s leaves were blooming today, not yellow, but the lightest shade of green I’d ever seen and it looked and felt so damn gorgeous against the clear blue morning sky . . . I tore my eyes away and focused on my son.  “Ben!  Look at me, Ben.”  One eye shifted to me and the other eye followed the petals.  “I need you to pay attention hun.  And give me a hug.”  I gripped his shoulders and propelled him from the back of the line toward the bus and I waved at him but he didn’t wave back because he didn’t see me.  He only saw the running petals.

My neighbors spoke to one another in quiet, grown-up tones and one of them mentioned the brisk wind and all I wanted to do was watch the petals running.  I shoved my hands into the pocket of my old jeans that fit just right and the wind gusted and the petals careened in a circle dance in the middle of the street.  Then about Running Petals25 petals rolled end over end from the other side of the street toward my house and it could have been a team of cheerleaders performing cartwheels until the petals glided to a resting position beside the white, concrete curb.

I smiled.  The wind blew again but I did not feel cold.  Ten more soft pink-white petals danced up and down like horses prancing with delicate, shod feet in a dressage competition.  I don’t know how you make a horse dance like that but I know now that soft, pretty petals from a massive cherry tree will dance and run across the street all morning if the wind blows just right.

And about a mile away, a 5-year old named Ben is sitting in class, grinning with mad élan, as he imagines petals running across a dark grey, almost black asphalt street.

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One More Word? Yes, He is My Son

This afternoon, I walked away from the lunch table at my son’s school and a woman’s voice followed me.  “Is that your son?” I held the back of my hand up.  Was it rude of me?  I didn’t care.  Not one more word.  I had heard enough.  She had already tried to talk to me and I had ignored her, this Spanish “lunch lady” with the wide cheekbones and the light in her brown eyes.  I had already heard about it.  Ben, 5, had crawled under the table and kissed a girl in his class and yet another freaking note had come home from school that day.  But when I asked my child why he kissed this girl, he asked me a question.  “Mom, why did you give me a pink thermos?  All the kids made fun of me.”  I had stared at him, astonished, and felt relieved as he added, “And Rachel defended me.  She told them to stop making fun of me.”  After I took it all in, I smiled.  “So you kissed her?”

The notes and phone calls keep coming like junk mail or telemarketers who call at dinnertime.  Yesterday he got sent to the Vice Principal’s Office after he used his finger to shoot another kid.  The school has a no-tolerance policy for fake-finger guns.  And my son distracted all his classmates.  His table tattled on him because if he got them in trouble, they wouldn’t earn enough points to receive lollipops.  And he called a boy on his bus a “diaper head” on the way home from school.  He had a very, very bad day.  So my husband made him spread mulch as punishment, and I insisted that my dimpled mess of a son apologize to each and every soul he hurt first thing in the morning.  And I planned to show up unannounced for lunch.

And I did.  I entered the school and immediately I spotted a little guy with baggy jean shorts, skinny legs, massive calves and a rust-colored long-sleeved t-shirt.  He wore a vacant, frightened stare on his face.  I tried to breathe but his fear and pain were palpable and it hurt me to see this little boy because he is mine.

Then he saw me.  And hope entered his eyes.  He tried to smile and then looked behind him for his teacher.  He took his odd little hop, skip and dance-step and followed me with his eyes as I circled behind him to check into the office.  He did not scream “Mama” out loud but his entire body leaned toward me, into me, as if we were the opposing poles of a magnet.  I winked at my man-child and barked at his teacher, “Where will you be next?”  She told me that they had lunch in fourteen minutes.

A minute later, I caught up to Ben.  Standing in the elementary school hallway by the bathrooms, he appeared lost and so little, and so did his tiny classmates.  I felt their confusion and uncertainty and fear and I wanted to put their inchoate voices out of my mind.  A little boy spoke.  “Ben’s Mom?”

I nodded genially.  “Yes.”

“Ben is bad.”  Then another little boy exclaimed, “Ben is bad!”

A female creature heard that I was Ben’s mom and she said, “You’re Ben’s Mom?”  I tried to say I was and she cried, “Ben is bad!”

A darkness descended and my vision blurred.  I imagined my hand slamming through the glass window and blood dripped.  I closed my eyes and I counted to ten and I tried to think but I spoke without thinking.  I was running on reflex and running from anger and deep-seated rage at what happened to Little El.  She was “bad.”  She was very very bad.  Not my son.  “No, Ben is not bad.”

“Yes he is,” argued another little girl.  “He always gets in trouble.”

The glass is shattering and Little El screams.  Shhh.  It is okay sweetie.  I am holding you.  “Perhaps he does bad things sometimes, but he is punished, was—“

Another boy chimed in before I could finish explaining that actions have consequences in our home.  “Ben is always bad.  Are you Ben’s Mom?”  I shake my head in frustration and try to answer but shards of glass are stabbing me.

His teacher walks toward me and starts to correct one of the boys.  Before she can start in on me, I mumble, “Did he do anything wrong today?”

“No, not at all.  In fact, he apologized to the entire class this morning, first thing.”  His teacher is a veteran, and she does not put up with much, so when another kid interrupts and starts to tell Ben’s Mom that Ben is bad, she shakes her head at him, but my voice carries.  “Right, so at least 5 kids have already told me that Ben is bad.”  The teacher shakes her head and scoffs.  “We don’t use that word.  We say he is weak.”

“My SON IS NOT WEAK.”  I am not yelling but my body is torn.  It’s like my heart is bursting out of my chest.  Ben often tells me that he loves me so much his heart is bursting with love.  I feel that now for him.  My son raises his hand, and speaks with outrage, “Jason says my Mom is mean.”  I glare at Jason and then I recall that he is 5 and I try, very hard, to smile and I do, sort of smile.  It’s funny.  I smile so often, so easily, most days but now my heart hurts too much.  But I smile anyway.

His teacher finds me in the lunchroom and she grabs my hands and she promises me that she didn’t mean he was weak and I believe her, I think.  I tell her how hard we are trying, but all I want to do is buy Ben his pretzel.  And I want the glass to stop breaking.  And I buy our pretzels and we eat and I hug my man-child and he sits on my lap and the time passes.

That’s when it happens.  She asks me if Ben is my son, and I can’t take anymore, but one thing I am not is rude.  I stop.  I turn.  And I look her in the eyes and I respond, proud but grim, “Yes, yes he is my son.”

She smiles.  Her eyes are full of light.  “I love your son.  He is a lovely boy.”  My chest stops aching.  The glass stops breaking.  And she keeps talking to me, “He has such a sweet soul and the girls will love him.  A sweet boy—your boy.”  I hold his lunch box and for the first time in an hour, I feel warm.  “Thank you.  That means so much to me.  Thank you.  Thank you.  Yes, he is my son.”  I leave the lunchroom and I tell my son again how much I love him and I go home and wait for him to return to me.

© March 23, 2012 E. L. Farris

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How to Talk to a Friend in Need

A dear friend contacted me this morning with a question.  A problem really.  He read my blog on rendering assistance to strangers or friends who are suicidal on social media and he got confused and made a mess of things with someone he loves dearly.  And he needed me to explain how to fix it.  In short, his wife got upset during an argument and she confessed that when they fought, it made her want to hurt herself.

            A word about my friend.  Let’s call him Gary.  I’ve known him since my undergraduate days and he is a good guy.  He is a scientist and if you are familiar with the Myers-Briggs test, he possesses the classic scientist’s personality: INTJ.  Which is to say that Gary reminds me of Spock.  He is logical.  And he is a good man.  Smart, funny and loyal.  But Gary is not sensitive and he is not subtle.

            Gary heard his wife, “Joan” utter the words, “I want to hurt myself” and he immediately thought of what I wrote about suicidal threats.  He assumed she was suicidal.  So he asked her, “Does that mean I need to call the police?”  Needless to say (and I am chuckling now because Gary and Joan hugged it out tonight), this wasn’t the best response.

What do you say to someone like Joan in this sort of situation?  Most of all, you listen to what Joan has to say.  Sit down beside her.  Ask if she needs a hug.  Remain calm and try not to overreact.  Joan may just need to vent.  She trusts you enough to tell you she is in pain.  Whatever you do, do not abuse this trust by blaming her for feeling depressed.  Give her the gift of time and be patient with her.  Be honest with her but remember that she cannot process too much right now, so keep it simple.

After she tells you what is wrong, thank her for talking with you.  That may sound odd, but it took a lot for her to reveal her vulnerabilities to you, and she won’t feel as guilty or scared if she isn’t worried about how you will react.  A simple “thank you” will help ground her and let her know that you do not resent her or think that she is weak.

Tell her you love her and you are concerned about her.  If you can, sit with her for a while.  I know you must be busy (we all are busy) but time is one of the greatest gifts you can give someone you love.  Ask her if she is okay.  If she asks you if she is going to be okay, promise her that you will always be there for her, and if you believe she will be okay, tell her.  Never lie, but I for one appreciate reassuring words.

Finally, remember that you must take care of yourself as well.  Give as much as you can to Joan, but realize when you are over matched.  If she avers that she is feeling suicidal, ask her to call her therapist or her psychologist.  If Joan is suicidal, please do not leave her alone.  None of us are an island right?  There is a time when you must act as a bridge.  If you cannot help Joan, please do not hesitate to help her call a professional, a suicide hotline or offer to drive her to the hospital.  You are doing God’s work.  Know this.

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The Night Before Valentines with a Man who Reads Poems to Me

My man may not buy me chocolate tomorrow, but he sure gets the big things right. He came home tonight and astutely realized that I was wearing the same sweats I slept in. He: hugged me tightly; kissed my greasy hair; told me I was beautiful; asked me what was wrong; listened when I told him my day had started with Wang Chung and slid downhill from there; told me I had a sweet smile when I managed to smirk; and then, very kindly, said, “Have you had a shower yet? It will make you feel better.” Tender loving care feels good . . . oh, and yep, I got that shower.

Later on this evening, after we tucked the kids in for dinner, my husband read 17th century Metaphysical poetry to me.  John Donne is my husband’s favorite poet, and when we dated, he used to read me these poems that made me swoon.  We liked John Donne so much that we read poems he wrote to one another at our wedding 15 years ago.  And we both love his poetry even now.  By the end of these readings tonight, I felt a million times better after my rotten, rocky Monday.

Finally, he agreed to help translate the raciest, sexiest of Donne’s poems for the readers of my blog.  All of the modern translations are in his voice.  So, dear reader, without further ado, here is my husband Travis Farris providing a 21st Century interpretation of the first two stanzas from ELEGY XIX. TO HIS MISTRESS GOING TO BED.

“Come, madam, come, all rest my powers defy,”

He cannot sleep.

“Until I labor, I in labor lie.”

Until he gets laid, he will be distraught.

“The foe oft-times having the foe in sight,”

He is hot and bothered by seeing her

“Is tired with standing though he never fight.”

I wonder if this has gone on more than four hours (he has been erect and gotten no relief)

“Off with that girdle, like heaven’s zone glistering,”

Take off your bra!

“But a far fairer world encompassing.”

Her breasts are more heavenly than heavenly bodies

“Unpin that spangled breastplate which you wear,”

Please take your clothes off!

“That th’ eyes of busy fools may be stopped there.”

He’s not satisfied with just her taking off her shirt.

“Unlace yourself, for that harmonious chime”

She is starting to moan in anticipation

“Tells me from you that now it is bed time.”

She is ready for sex.

“Off with that happy busk, which I envy,”

Off with the clothes already!

“That still can be, and still can stand so nigh.”

Both of them are turned on.

“Your gown, going off, such beauteous state reveals,”

He appreciates her feminine form.

“as when from flowry meads th’ hill’s shadow steals.”

Her naked body lightens up the whole room.

“Off with that wiry coronet and show”

Take off the underwear

“The hairy diadem which on you doth grow:”

And reveal pubic hair

“Now off with those shoes, and then safely tread”

Finish unclothing.

“In this love’s hallowed temple, this soft bed.”

And come on into bed (he pats bed).

*** Happy Valentines dear reader, from my husband and I to you.***

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Fear of Abandonment and Letting Go

I winnowed my inbox down to 38 messages and while I clicked and deleted messages, I thought about a friend, a close friend, who is going to click and delete her Facebook account soon, and I smiled at the tight feeling I got in my chest.  That tight feeling is an old one, and it represents the physical fear that grips Little El.  What is the little me so afraid of?  Being abandoned, I think.  Yes, I know it’s crazy.  My dear friend will remain my dear friend even after she leaves the playground and social assimilation zone that Facebook has become for me.  She is not abandoning me.  It just feels that way to the sad little girl who never really got to cuddle up to her mom or dad.

I smile sweetly at this tight feeling in my chest and I don’t push it away with frustration or irritation.  It’s worth listening to the tender melodies and haunting refrains that play over and over again inside my heart when I make and then fear losing close friends.  What does it all mean and how do I reassure Little El without holding on tightly, too tightly?  I’m learning the answers through my children; more precisely, by taking a step forward and then back when my own children grip me too tightly.

I have three children and they arrived like little Irish triplets, one after another in a very short space of time.  The middle child, Jim, came with chubby cheeks and these orb-like blue eyes that light up when he smiles and grow dull and grayish, almost vacant-looking, when he feels sad.   Even as an infant, sweet baby James was more sensitive than his big sister and he summoned a side of me that felt foreign at first: a tender, gentle, unconditionally loving side.   Before he came into my life, I had no idea how to mother my kids.  I loved my daughter dearly, but I didn’t really know how to show her.  But Jim.  It was different with him.  He would gaze into my grey-blue eyes and smile-cry, or cry-smile and I would feel it all inside me, and I knew exactly how to turn the smile-cry or cry-smile into a smile.  And that has never changed.

The rub here is that as our children grow, they need for us to teach them how to let go of the arms that hold and comfort them long enough to muster out to the cold, hard real world, and with Jim, this process flattens both of us sometimes.  When I dropped baby Jim off at preschool, he cried and cried and his tears hit my heart like angry, hot darts.  But I had to walk away.  I had to.  I would whisper in his ear, “I will return, I promise, I will, and I love and adore you sweet Jim.”  And then when I picked him up from his classroom, he would glare at me for leaving him, but eventually he would let go of his resentment and messily climb into my arms, with a gratuitous grabbing of my long blond “Breck” hair.

Jim is 7 years old now, and he still holds a painfully tender place in my heart.  He is the easiest of my three children in all ways except for one: abandonment.  It is a truism I think that all children (especially male children) must find the strength to leave their mothers and Jim remains a work in progress on this front.  I help teach a Socratic seminar to Jim and a few of his first grade mates and a strange thing happens whenever I sit at this round table with 5 little boys and girls.  Jim shuts down.

Jim is a talkative, bright boy but he cannot function intellectually at school when I am near him, because his emotional need for me simply overflows his nervous system.  He’s terrified that I am going to like the other children better.  He is distraught that I will be leaving in 30 minutes.  And yet he sort of wants me to leave, so that he can go on being the autonomous and brilliant little boy he is when I am not there serving as his mental crutch.  Everything anyone says in that small little copy room enters his brain as a twisted message, heavily symbolic, of the mother sitting beside him who would love, does love . . . him . . . and it overloads his circuitry.

I have tried to talk with Jim, and explain that while I teach, I am there for all five little boys and girls, but will always and forever be there for him.  He hears me but his heart screams otherwise.  His heart beats and in each upbeat something inchoate cries out, “Don’t leave me,” but in each downbeat sounds the response, “Let me fly.”  I cannot push him too hard or too fast.  He must find the strength to leave me, knowing that he can, with the setting of his internal sun, always return to me.  For now, I can serve as his sun and moon and stars but eventually, he must find his own solar system deep inside, and use it, and not I, to navigate.

Until then, I wait with him.  Until then, he gathers tools and knowledge.  Until then, I hold on loosely but not too loosely.

And from Jim I am learning how to hold on loosely to my friends and to the people I would love.  My mother did not launch me gently into the egg-shaped orbit of my own life.  Yet I made it to where I am now.  Even if I didn’t realize it (even if I failed miserably at it) I am and always was strong enough to rotate gently, not too tightly, around the friends who people my existence.   My friend is not leaving me when she deactivates her Facebook account.  It has nothing to do with me.  And whatever happens, with her or with anyone else who I encounter, fearing their loss before they are gone warps the present by using the past to strangle the here and now.  And so I hold on not too tightly, not too loosely and I let go, not of her, but of whatever fear grips me.

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