March 8, 2014

#1: Mental Health

When I asked friends what topics to write about for my Lenten challenge, the overwealming response was "You already have mental health/depression/anxiety, right?" It does seem like a topic that is on everyone's mind these days. And it wouldn't be fair to say we don't ever talk about mental health. It seems like every few months there's a new push to open up conversation and raise awareness about the rising mental health issues in America.

We talk about the larger issue, yet somehow it isn't okay to talk about our own issues.  According to the National Institute of Mental Health, approximately 26.2 percent of adult Americans "suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder in a given year. That's 1 in 4 adults. A look at the NIMH's information page on depression alone tells a powerful story. College students and depression. Men and depression. Women. Older adults. High school students. Depression and cancer, diabetes, heart disease, Parkinson's, strokes. Every day, millions of us are overcome with the inabilility to get out of bed, to leave the house, to ask for help. Every day, millions of us recall the days when we had those same struggles, yet something stops us from sharing our stories.

It isn't okay to talk about your depression at work. If you post about it on Facebook, you're whining and annoying. If you blog about it, future employers might find it. But if 1 in 4 Americans suffer from a mental illness, then isn't it something we need to be talking about? And not just with our closest friends. Not just with our therapists, ministers, and counselors. But with each other?

We weren't created to exist alone in the world. We weren't created to suffer through our problems alone. When God made Adam, God said that it was not good for him to be alone. God created animals, and then God created Eve. I like to think it wasn't just for the sake of procreation. I like to think that God knew we needed one another not just for physical companionship, but also for emotional friendship.

If we are going to talk about mental health in this country, then we can't just talk about it in the abstract. We have to talk about our own personal experiences. We have to share the stories about the days we couldn't get out of bed...and also the stories of that day we did manage to get up and walk outside. We should tell those stories so we can heal, and so we can help others begin to heal.

I was diagnosed with moderate to severe depression my senior year of college, and it has been a part of my life ever since. Some days are great. Some days are not. I've accepted this as a part of my life, at least for why should it be a secret when telling my story might help others?

March 6, 2014

40 Things We Should Be Talking About

  1. Mental health I.
    1. depression
    2. anxiety
  2. Mental health II
    1. in academia (Rachel Neer) - There is a culture of acceptance around mental health issues in academia
  3. Mental health III
    1. Why mental illness isn't considered the same way as other long-term illnesses, such as cancer (Hannah Daniels)
  4. Miscarriages/child loss,
  5. Money
    1. Budgeting 
    2. Tithing
    3. Saving
    4. Credit card debt
  6. Our bodies and health
    1. Why and how the human body changes after puberty (the rest of the life cycle)
  7. Modern racism
  8. self abuse
  9. Sad decline of cursive, despite enhancing fine motor skills (HD)
  10. Lack of handwritten letters (HD)
  11. Decline of empathy (HD)
  13. Disabilities physical and mental
  14. End of life care
  15. When to let go (line between preservation of life and preservation of body)
  16. Non-abuse alcohol and drugs
  17. Medication
  18. Jesus as a pacafist
  19. Modern sexism
  20. All means all…no seriously.
  21. Creating our online personality/fa├žade
  22. "How are you?" "I'm fine..."

February 28, 2014

Grief, loss, and finding dry land

I've been thinking a lot about grief and loss lately.

When I was in high school, it occurred to me that I was the only one of my friends who had not experienced a major loss in my life. All my grandparents were living, my parents were happy together, and none of my family or friends had unexpectedly died.

I lived in a state of fearful anticipation. I knew my grandparents, and even my parents wouldn't live forever.  Not knowing what to expect emotionally, I feared their deaths even more. I was afraid of a Big Loss that I knew was coming - an unidentifiable certainty, because I knew I would not live in this state of blissful ignorance forever.

When those Big Losses did begin to show up - the death of my grandma, the death of my father-in-law, the miscarriage - I stopped thinking so much about what loss and grief were like. When comforting my husband, I stopped worrying about future loss and future emotions, and found myself focusing only on the right now. And when the death of our unborn, unseen baby happened, I found I could only worry about the present. There wasn't enough in me to look forward.

I do not know when I became comfortable with the process of grief. Somewhere between losses, I began to realize that grief and loss are natural parts of life. How did I know the "correct" emotion to have? The "correct" reaction to a loss? I didn't. The emotions simply rushed over me like a wave of seawater. And then they left. And then they returned. Some days, the grief was at high tide. It rushed over my mouth and eyes and whole body so I could barely breathe. And other days, it simply brushed my toes, like a  gentle reminder that it was still there.

Why does God allow bad things to happen to us? It's a question we ask ourselves in the midst of tragedy and loss, a question we all struggle to answer. A question at times we feel like screaming at God, demanding to know: WHY ME??

A friend of mine is going through her own period of loss right now, and in her grief turned to me. I found myself equipped in a way I had not been before. I was able to speak, able to explain, grateful to help, because I recognized the emotions I saw in her.

If we are God's hands in this world, then maybe bad things happen to good people so that when someone close to us experiences those same bad things - death, loss, grief - we can hold out our hands - God's hands - and let them know they will not be alone when the waters rush over them.


I am eternally grateful to those who held my hands over these past few months as those waves beat against me. I am thankful to have you in my life, and that you knew the right words to say and the right way to be present. It is your hands in mine that helped me to find dry land once more.

December 7, 2013

Ice Day Sewing

The weather down here went a little crazy yesterday.  Wednesday it was in the 70s, then Thursday night and Friday morning we got sleet, freezing rain, and general wintery weather.

I should be using this time to work on my finals and get things done before next week.  But…I had fabric that was calling my name, and I just couldn't resist.  There's something about a cold, wintery day that just makes me want to curl up with fabric and make something.

I bought the black and white houndstooth fabric from JoAnn Fabrics when their suiting was 60% off.  I've been lusting after their wool suiting for a while now, but fell in love with this wool blend.  It's still lovely to touch and drapes nicely.  Plus, the pattern is just fun.  My original plan was to use some black linen I found in the remnants bin (which was 75% off!), but there wasn't nearly enough.  Instead, I found some leftover red fabric that I thought looked nice with the houndstooth.  It wasn't too plain, but the pattern didn't clash with the wool.

Using the peplum blouse pattern from Simplicity 1590, I sketched out a bodice on some muslin.  The blouse pattern have buttons down the front with darts, and I wanted a princess seam with buttons on the front, so I had to alter the pattern quite a bit.   Also, after testing the pattern out on some scrap fabric, I decided I didn't like the shoulder seams, so I took those out and made the pattern so that the front side was connected to the back side, and the front center was connected to the back center.  I knew the basic shape fit me fairly well. Let me add that I've never done anything like this before, so I was pretty confident it would fail.  

I turned the front pattern piece into two pieces (Front Side and Front Center) by drawing a line from the center of the shoulder, to the side dart, to the lower dart, then followed the dart down to the bottom of the bodice.  I also removed the side dart on the Front Side, which made the Front Side piece more curved.  This took several tries, but eventually I had a pattern I liked.  

The left pattern piece is the back center (top) and front center(bottom).  The right pattern piece is the back side (top) and the front side (bottom).  

When I had the bodice as I wanted it (my husband told me it was the best looking shirt I'd ever made), I cut it out of the red fabric, and put some of the houndstooth around the neckline.  The skirt was easy - I have a basic circle skirt pattern that I adore.  My fabric was wide enough to cut the skirt in one piece.  I added side pockets and a back slit for buttons, and was pretty pleased.  

Here is the dress so far.  The skirt is basted onto the bodice, and the "belt" is actually my husband's tie.  I realize the skirt is now sewed on straight.  But something seems to be missing.  I am not sure where to go from here.  Any suggestions?

December 1, 2013

Not ready.

I've had a scene from a TV show stuck in my head.  In the sixth season of How I Met Your Mother, Lily steps out of a taxi onto the sidewalk to greet her husband, Marshall.  Marshall is overjoyed with news he just learned, but Lily has some terrible news.  She tells Marshall that his dad had a heart attack, and that he didn't make it.

"My dad's dead?" Marshall asks Lily.  She nods, crying, and he wraps her in his arms.  The two of them rock back and forth like this for a moment.  Then, crying in that way you cry when you don't believe the awful news you just heard, he says:

"I'm not ready for this..."

The camera pans back on the two of them interlocked on the street outside their New York apartment.

I have had this scene stuck in my head for the past few weeks.  That line has repeated itself in my mind over and over again…I'm not ready for this.  I'm not ready for this.

I wasn't ready when I counted the days and realized I would graduate in a month.

I wasn't ready when the pregnancy test was positive and I realized I had to start thinking about life in a whole new scary way.

I wasn't ready when I started bleeding, went to the ER and was told that I was having a miscarriage.

I wasn't ready for the confusion, the uncertainty about what and how to feel after losing something I had never really known.

I wasn't ready when I realized I hadn't turned in my paperwork for Search and Call…that I hadn't found a job after graduation…that I hadn't prepared for life after graduation.

I wasn't ready when I woke up with the worst abdominal pain I'd ever felt.  I wasn't ready when we went again to the hospital and was told I hadn't miscarried, that I had an ectopic pregnancy.

I wasn't ready when they told me they would have to cause a chemical abortion because my pregnancy was, and had never been, viable.

I'm not ready to graduate in 13 days.  I'm not ready to find a new job.  I'm not ready to face the reality of the recent loss in my life.

But are we ever ready?  Are we ever ready for those scary-sudden-life-changing events that jump into our lives unannounced?  Are we ever ready for those just-as-scary-life-changing events that have been on our calendar for months, slowly creeping forward until that date arrives?

But we're never alone in our not-ready-ness.  Like Marshall, I know that I am not alone.  I know that I have Colin to wrap his arms around me.  That I have friends who will go shopping with me and take me to lunch and love me.  I know that in the times when I am not ready - which, let's face it, is most times these days - that my friends will be there.  That they will hold my hand tight so I cannot let go.  And they will fill that space between me and acceptance.  They will stand there and hold me until I can take the steps forward toward acceptance.

I know these things.  I trust in these things.  I have faith in these things.  They have helped me through this, and continue to do so.

When someone is in pain or struggling, we pray that Jesus holds their hand or hugs them tight.  But what has been comforting to me in this time of pain, of struggling, of uncertainty, has been the constant physical embrace of my friends, family, and loved ones.  I do believe that Jesus is with me through all these difficult times.  And I believe that Jesus is with my friends when they hug me or touch my arm in silent support.  But I also know that the physical touch of a person who loves you can be the most comforting thing of all.

I'm not ready for this…for all of this.  But when my friends hug me and hold me, I know that someday, hopefully soon, I will be.  

September 24, 2013

A Life of Books...My top ten most influential books

I've been thinking a lot about books lately.  Maybe it's because I can see the end of this degree approaching, and can imagine myself reading for pleasure (what an idea!). Maybe it's because I've found myself wanting to reread some old favorites frm my childhood, just for some nice, mindless entertainment.

Last week, a friend was talking about an assignment she gave to her students: Make a list of the 10 books that have most influenced your life. I started wondering what those books would be for me.  As a young bookworm, I read stacks of books, but which ones influenced or even changed me? In college, I took countless Literature classes, but which books from those classes stayed with me after the class had ended?

So, here is my list.  I'm including fiction only (all books except for one play), because nonfiction books (and the Bible, which I place in its own category) influenced me in different ways.

10. The Arkadians by Lloyd Alexander

      I discovered this book at the local library after exhausting the suggestions of the children's library.  Lloyd Alexander is probably better know for his Black Cauldron series, but it was through this book that I was introduced to his works. The Arkadians tells the story of a group of rejected, strange wanderer who end up traveling together. The specific details of the book have been lost to me, but I remember falling in love with the journey story, and the strange yet lovable characters.

9. So Far from the Bamboo Grove by Yoko Kawashima Warkins

    I don't remember how I got this book, but I remember reading it over and over again as a child. My copy is worn, the cover bent and the spine broken.  It must have been one of my first encounters with historical fiction (beyond the American Girl books), and was certainly the first time I'd heard about the Japanese experience in Korea following WWII. It seemed to be a very raw and real story, with no hesitation on the author's part to water it down. It tells the story of a young Japanese girl living in Korea with her family, and her journey toward Japan with her sister and mother. I was fascinated with her story and the life she led, which was so incredibly different from my own.

8. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis

    I read this series in late elementary school. I had no comprehension of the underlying metaphors and analogies, but fell in love with this strange and beautiful world. I loved the idea that a secret world could be hidden in so ordinary a place as a wardrobe, and longed to visit that place myself.  I remember decorating my room like Narnia, then being completely devastated by the conclusion of the series. I haven't read it since, but I intend don't remind me what happens!

7. How Green was my Valley by Richard Llewellyn

    This book was part of my sophomore AP English curriculum, and was easily my favorite book read during the school year. It tells the story of Huw Morgan and his large Welsh family, and details their lives amidst the struggles of poverty in a coal mining town. It amazed me the joy that could be found even as coal blackened lungs, home, and valley. Life can be beautiful, even when things are most difficult.

6. The American Girl historical books by various

    I'm including these books because, even they aren't as literarily amazing as many of the books above and below, they were a huge part of my life from age 6-12. I loved Felicity, Molly, Kirsten, Samantha, and Addy. The books were written so I could see myself in their shoes - as a pioneer girl from Sweden, or an orphan with a strict grandmother in the 1910s. Having those stories so early on only made my love of history grow and grow.

5. The Children of Green Knowe by L.M. Boston

    Looking back, I realize that this series was probably my first real experience of reading Magical Realism. Green Knowe is a centuries-old manor in England full of history and ghosts...but not in a scary, ghostly way. The main character, Tolly, moves to Green Knowe to live with his great-grandmother, who introduces him to Toby, Linnet, and Alexander, three children who died at Green Knowe of the plague centuries atom but whose spirits live on. There is no true time travel in this series, but time seems to be very fluid and moveable as Tolly learns and experiences the history of the old house.

4. The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner

    When I read The Sound and the Fury in high school, our teacher gave us a key to understanding the strange book that seemed to break every writing rule I'd ever learned. By the time I read the book a second time in a college class on Faulkner, I understood what I hadn't then - that a key couldn't help you understand the truly incredible genius of the book. Like the book above, time is in flux in many of these chapters, the ones told from the point of view of a mentally disabled man who has no concept of time. But when time is not an object, different things are connected, and the world is understood in a different way.

3. Six Characters in Search of an Author by Luigi Pirandello

     When I saw this play on a visit to the University of Evansville my senior year of high school, my mind was blown. As a writer, I'd always felt that my characters had legs and minds of their own, and that I often didn't have control over their actions.  And here, in a stunning and genius play put on brilliantly by the UE Theater department, was that idea put to stage.  Six characters walking around a stage discussing their need for someone to tell their story. It was also my first foray into absurdist plays, which would be a later obsession of mine.

2. Time and Again by Jack Finney

    This book began my obsession with time travel.  Jack Finney tells the story of a government-led project in which people are immersed in an historical lifestyle (i.e. 1880s New York City).  When their minds forget that they are in the 20th century, they slip into the past.  I read this book as summer reading for my sophomore AP English class, and fell in love with the style.  There are no gadgets, no machines, no is time travel that happens because you believe in it.  Plus, it takes place in New York City in the 1880s, one of my favorite time periods.

1. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by J.K. Rowling

    Yes, Harry Potter is #1.  I'll never be able to deny the fact that, of all the fiction books I've read, Harry Potter has had the biggest influence on my life.  Like Narnia, I was transported from the "real" world into an amazing, magical world.  By stepping through the brick wall behind the Leaky Cauldron, or through the barrier between platforms 9 and 10 in King's Cross Station, one could leave their boring life behind and become a part of the wizarding world.  From fifth grade through college, I read these books religiously, loving the fact that they took me somewhere different that existed in the world I already new.  Harry Potter helped support my love of writing - I wrote fanfiction stories about the characters that inhabited the world, and read the incredible fanfiction written by others.  I delved into the story and discussed the deeper aspects of it while eagerly anticipating the release of the next book.  I read the first book as a fifth grader, and the final book as a junior in college.  These books encompassed my adolescent years, and affect my life more than any other (fiction) book I've read.

What are your top 10 most influential books? 

August 5, 2013

Never underestimate the power of a twirly skirt

I used to laugh when I heard someone say "Modest is hottest!"  It seems so hokey in this modern age of cleavage, ridiculously short shorts, and bare midriffs.  When I was in high school and middle school, I so desperately wanted to fit in that I tried to wear what everyone was wearing...only to have my mom pitch any shirt that didn't cover my midriff.

I was mad at her then, but I think I appreciate it now.  Nowadays, I'm more comfortable in a twirly, knee-length skirt and a t-shirt with a cami underneath than in shorts and a tank top.  I hardly ever wear shorts, or short skirts.  It just isn't me.

In college, I bemoaned the fact that I couldn't find skirts that I liked, or dresses that matched the images in my head.  I wanted skirts that twirled, not skirts I had to tug at every time I sat down or stood up.  I wanted skirts that gave me room to move in, that let me sit cross-legged on the ground without worrying about the people sitting across from me.  I wanted a dress that flattered my figure not because it was tight-fitting, but because it was made for someone with my size.  But none of these things were sold in stores, at least not on my budget.  And besides, they just weren't "in."

But my friends who sewed costumes for Quidditch Club and Medieval Society began to show me that sewing wasn't just for cloaks and Tudor-era corsets.  I could sew my own skirts that were longer and twirly.  I could make my own dresses that matched the dresses in my mind.  I didn't have to compromise my own style simply because the fashion world deemed it "not in."

Now, when I hear the words "modest is hottest," I smile to myself.  There is something wonderful about a well-fitted dress that covers everything, but shows off a woman's figure.  It can be "hot" to wear a dress with a knee-length skirt and a high neckline.  Because being "hot" is less about how you look, and more about how you feel.  If you are comfortable and confident in what you wear, then everyone around you can see it.

The way you dress is important.  Some people may scoff at this, but I truly believe it.  When you wake up in the morning, put on your favorite outfit, and step out into the world, you're more likely to step out with a smile on your face.  You're more likely to stand tall and face the world confidently.  Being comfortable and confident in what you wear will lead you to be comfortable and confident in what you do.