Monday, February 25, 2008

What Causes Your Anxiety?

Ever wonder if the Apostles had anxiety disorders? It's possible, and then again, it's possible that they were average human beings with no mental illness whatsover. However, whether or not they did doesn't really matter to me. What does matter to me is that they had documented anxiety God calmed. The boat was sinking and all was lost. Panic and the all too familiar fight or flight instinct kicked in and God calmed the storm. God spoke and it was so. I can't help but feel a tiny bit jealous. Why can't God speak now and make my storm cease? I'm not talking about the snowstorm happening outside (as annoying as it is to have more snow falling on the ground) but the storm that is my life. I know my anxiety doesn't cause it, but it certainly doesn't help each time circumstances seem to get worse. Tim and I went from the calm predictability of life before we got married to something that feels like hurricane. It wasn't marriage that did that, either. It was life in this old world. Tim and I cling to each other in love, trust, and loyalty. It's the world around us that keeps battering us. Betrayed by fellow Christians and even a Lutheran pastor, I feel like the winds of despair are stripping me down to basic elements.

Maybe that's not a bad place to be. What are the basic elements I will be left with? The same basic element the disciples were left with: Jesus. When all is stripped away, there are some things that never can be removed. I am baptized. I was sprinkled with Jesus' blood at the font. My sins were forgiven there and each time I confess my sins and receive absolution and travel to the Lord's Table where I take into my body His body and His blood.

So, did the disciples really have it much different than me? Maybe it seems that way on the surface. Afterall, their circumstances got better through a miracle they witnessed, but who knows what is going on behind the scenes of my life. Regardless, I am still left with the same promises that the disciples were: forgivness of sins, life, and salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. No matter what causes your anxiety, find your peace there.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

A Step in the Right Direction

God has a tendency to make my family eat their words. My mom said a lot of "I never"s and ended up doing most if not all of them throughout her life. If I were learning from my past, I would have never said never to my husband because I know God was there while I was having that conversation. I told Tim that I didn't want to go back and work for a church. They treated each other almost as bad as a secular job. I have my Lutheran Teaching Certificate, but that really didn't matter to me. I didn't want to go back.

Yesterday, I ate my words. After spending a year at the daycare who listened to lies about me and wrote me up for them, who insisted on full disclosure of a medical condition that I truly believe was none of their business, and who insisted on more work than could be done in the day without giving extra time out of the room to complete such tasks, I put in my two weeks notice to go to a. . . wait for it. . . a Lutheran daycare! I was very impressed with the center. The children were allowed to be children. They played and used their imagination just as they should be allowed to do. They were even allowed to get their clothes dirty, which is good because no matter how had you try, children will get dirty at least once a day, if not more. The teachers are caring and Christian, which means I don't have to hide the fact that I am Lutheran any more. The pastor makes regular visits to work with the little children and to teach them the faith. The staff is caring and management is very understanding and sensitive to how they come across. I never thought I would go back to working in a church, but here I go. What is more amazing is. . . I can't wait to start!

Sunday, February 17, 2008

An Enjoyable Saturday

My brother and his family live in Michigan, so I don't get to see them nearly as often as I like. My brother had training to do in Chicago this weekend, so he and the family came down and Tim and I drove down there and had a marvelous time! Delenna and Gideon were a little stir crazy from spending too much time in the hotel room, so we took them to the Kohl's Children's Museum. There was so much to do! Tim and I followed Delenna while Jill kept an eye on Gideon. I had so much fun watching Delenna explore the Clifford exhibit, pretend to be a veterinarian, and watch herself on TV. There were times when I couldn't move fast enough for her as she went through all of the toys, but she was very patient with me as I caught up. Poor Tim was exhausted by the end of the day! While he rested, Delenna came over and cuddled up to him. It was just the cutest thing to see! Maybe there's hope for my husband to become a daddy afterall! It was great to see Gideon, Delenna, John, and Jill. I look forward to seeing them again this summer!

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Anxiety and Faith

When my anxiety is at its worst, and I know it can be categorized as an attack, it feels like the world is ending. My fight or flight instinct kicks in and all I want to do is run away. Away from the situation, the circumstances, even life where I would prefer to live a hermit's life living off the land (but then I'd probably get anxious from being alone!). It's during times like these that my counselor has offered me a variety of different methods to help me get through the moment. Truthfully, the moment is all I can handle. Even if I have an anxiety attack that lasts for hours, thinking about getting through *hours* of it only makes me worse. My goal isn't to get through hours of it, but to get through a moment. In that moment, I can pick from a variety of things to do to help me get through that moment. Not all coping strategies will work all the time. Something that calmed me yesterday may not calm me today.

That can be frustrating on its own. I am a huge fan of classic cartoons. I love watching Bugs Bunny trick Elmer Fudd once more. The occassional anvil, delayed reaction gravity, and the artistic slapstick humor has brought me through many moments where I didn't think I could make it. However, there are some cartoons I won't be able to watch for a while. The reason seems so silly to me, but it's very real. Watching that cartoon time and time again while being anxious has actually caused me to feel anxious during that cartoon. My brain has associated the two. It won't last forever and even today, I watch a tape full of Looney Tunes that for a while stayed on the shelf because I just couldn't shake the anxiety I had associated with that tape.

There are other coping strategies that I know will always work, but they may not last for all of my attack. Since my goal is to get through the moment, however, they are worth using. I love to be cuddled and to cuddle. My husband knows that when my attacks are at their worst, giving me a hug, holding my hand, or even cuddling me while I watch cartoons can go a long way. If he isn't here, I have a couple of birds out of the nine in the flock that will cuddle right up to my face and practically fall asleep. Their calm calms me down. The birds and I have anxiety in common, through theirs is more instinctual because they are a prey animal and have to be ready to run at a moment's notice to get out of danger. I don't want them to feel the way I do, so I must calm myself to not alarm them.

There is one coping strategy I have not mentioned. This strategy is one I will use every time, but it also won't last for hours. It's also usually the one I get criticized the most for not using exclusively. It's supposed to last more than a moment. It's supposed to be the fix. It is THE cure, but it's not the cure this side of the grave unless God performs a miracle in the strictest sense of the word. I can't tell you how many times I have heard, "Yeah, I was all worried and then I prayed about it and felt better. You should do the same. It works." Another one I used to do to myself as well as hear from others was, "Doesn't the Bible speak about worrying being a sin? Avoid sin, flee temptation, and stop worrying!" Oh, if only it were so easy! However, instead of freeing myself from my anxiety, I have only made it worse by the realization that I am sinning and I can't stop! An entire new wave of anxiety can wash over me in that moment with fears of my salvation. Either I am afraid there is something wrong with me and my faith because when I pray, I still have the same anxiety I started with or I am worried that maybe my sin really might be the straw that broke the camel's back and I'll be cast into hell for my anxiety and sin.

Isn't this the exact opposite of what God is supposed to be all about? If I am a child of God, shouldn't these worries and cares be instantly gone the moment I pray? Since it is an active sin against God, shouldn't I just stop because it is sin? While I am on the subject, can I actually still count myself as a child of God if I just can't shake these feelings? What about the fact that reading Scripture doesn't instantly cure my anxiety? Does that actually make me an unbeliever?

I am sure everyone has had these thoughts. If it isn't about anxiety, its about a physical illness, a circumstance in life, or a circumstance in someone else's life. The truth is, God isn't an asprin. You can't take two Gospels and call Him in the morning. It doesn't work like that. In fact, be happy that it doesn't work like that! God is concerned about getting me through the moment, but He's just as much concerned about getting me through life. Even if at the time I feel like I'll never get out of my anxiety attack, I know it will pass. There will be another one in the future, but it will pass, too. God's hand is in it every step of the way.

The problem with the "have enough faith to be cured" belief is that it is all about me. "I prayed and felt better" and "I chose to stop it because it is sin" puts the focus on me, the sinful being. I am sure that the person thinks they are giving glory to God, but that's not what is happening. The person who said this is talking about their action to correct their situation. God is merely the passive vehicle to bring about the "cure". It's like taking an asprin. The medicine does the work, but the person has to take it. That's not the way it is. We are blind, dead, and enemies of God from birth. God gives us the gift of life through the washing and rebirth of baptism. God gives faith without any cooperation on our part. God has already given me the cure of the forgivness of sins, life, and salvation by the faith He has given me in Christ Jesus. When hope is failing and anxieties abound, it's this fact I trust: It's not about me, it's about Christ's atoning sacrifice on the cross for me.

This means, that if I read the Bible, pray, and sing a hymn and I am still having trouble, it's okay for me to go cuddle with one of my birds. My salvation, even during an anxiety attack, is not dependent on me and how long, strong, or hard I work at it. It's dependent on what God has done for me. God does care for me in the moment, too, which is why there are cartoons, birds, and even blogs to help distract and calm me. God also cares for me for eternity. I am baptized into Christ!

Saturday, February 9, 2008

More Thoughts on Identity

For some reason, the topic of people being identified by their mental disorders has me thinking rather deeply. I have never before experienced people seeing me as my disorder. There was a time where I saw myself as my disorder, but that was a natural concequence of learning how to deal with my diagnosis. It was huge in my mind because it was a big, scary, uncharted territory for me and I didn't know what it would mean for me as a person to have this disorder. It plagued me. I felt like it followed me around. However, I am aware that others didn't see me any different. Those that saw me before and after I got treatment saw a difference in my behavior but not my personality. GAD is not who I am but a condition I have. My friends still went hung out with me. We did all the same things together that we did before. I was still the goofy nut before I got treatment. The only difference was that I felt free to do things I feared before and I worried less about what might be and concentrated more on what I could make things out to be.

I learned to see my disorder as a gift. Here was this window into what it meant to rely on God for salvation, forgiveness, true unconditional love, and everything else that goes into supporting this body and life. My anxiety had brought me down the paths of "what if"s to the point that I knew I would never be good enough to save myself, even if that was a mere "choice" to follow Christ. I wasn't even good enough for that! It was all Christ. Christ forgave my sins at my baptism. Christ forgives my sins through my pastor. If it wasn't for Him who made the world, I wouldn't have a job, birds in my life, a devout husband, the water I am drinking, or the clothes on my back. It is by God's gift I make it every day. My anxiety is my blessing and my curse, but I guess that's where I don't understand seeing people through their disorder. It's my blessing and curse to deal with and no one elses. It may affect other people, but they don't have to deal with the symptoms, that's my burden to bear.

In this world of diversity, we must show children images of a person in a wheelchair playing basketball. We show ethnic diversity of different cultural holidays and what it means to those people. There is a strong emphasis on showing that these people, though they are different than others, are "normal" and no different than anyone else. As a result of this focus, people have become more aware (and sometimes hyperaware) of physical differences. Kudos to whoever thought up that idea, because now people are identified by those differences and not by who they are. Thus, setting up anyone with a difference, including mental disorders, to be treated according to the condition they have and not who they are. This isn't to say that people should avoid learning about other cultures, but it must be taught in the correct light. People should be identified by each other as Christ identifies them: forgiven. The person in the wheelchair is baptized by name. No matter the ethnicity of those in the church, the pastor absolves them of their sins in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.

So, why should a non Christian not treat someone according to their disorder? Science. The law. Science doesn't define humanity by the lack of disorder. The law doesn't state that you lose your rights if you become disabled.

Unfortunately, this doesn't make people become more educated about mental disorders. It doesn't keep people from being prejudiced. However, it does make it wrong.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Just Being Cute

My little fiddies will never cease to amaze me. When Cinnamon was brought into our flock, she didn't want to be handled by people or taken care of by any other bird. She actually chose me to be her mommy and wanted to be preened and cuddled by me first. She still was a little green monster to Tim for a while, though. Then, she started to warm up to everyone. Becuase of the other little green monster in our flock, the cockatiels are very fearful of her. However, Peaches, the sun conure, befriended Maple the quaker, and has decided she likes quakers. Now, Peaches and Cinnamon spend lots of time together. They preen each other and generally cuddle with each other. I don't think I have seen Cinnamon so happy. Now, I just wish she would stop plucking so much. We're working on that, too. Cinnamon does make the kissing noise. She tries to say good, bird, and quaker, which usually comes out "quake". Maple, on the other hand, has started quite a vocabulary. However, he is still more aggressive than Cinnamon, which is why Peaches spends more time with Cinnamon than Maple right now. And we thought playground politics were bad!

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Trouble in Missouri

There are some laws about keeping pet animals that I completely understand. Then, there are those people out there who for whatever reason just don't get it. There is a bill in the works in Missouri that would ban all pet birds. From the tiny budgie, commonly called a parakeet, to the largest macaw, all birds would be illegal to own, sell, or breed. Of course, in response to the questioning of this bill by the AFA and other organizations, the legislator who introduced the bill said that there would be an exception to pet birds.

First of all, I do not understand what some people have against aviculture. Like religion, no one is forced to become a bird owner. In fact, responsible sellers and breeders highly discourage anyone from owning a bird unless they are ready for the huge responsibility of owning a bird. It's not a task for people who's heart isn't in it. Taking on any pet, but especially a bird, is bringing another member of the family into the house. This isn't a whim for a couple of years, either. There are some birds who will outlive their owners and must be put into a will. I know my little ones will be around for the next fifteen to thirty years. My children will probably be changing the bottom of their cages for chores! But I certainly wouldn't force someone to come up to my apartment if they weren't comfortable with the fact that I share my life with nine parrots.

Second of all, what are the options for these birds if they do become illegal? Is killing all pet birds, breeders, and young babies something the government really wants to take on? Whether it's releasing them into the wild or euthanizing them, it will mean death for these sweet creatures who do not know how to forage in the wild on their own and cannot survive with their wild counterparts in the wild any longer. This type of legislation is wrong and should never be allowed to become a law. There is no reason why pet birds cannot coexist with people in their homes as pets. This is why I am glad for organizations like the AFA.

Ash Wednesday

A young boy is sent upstairs to go clean his room. He tries to argue, to bargain, to reason, and to whine in order to get out of cleaning. Nothing works. He is sent to his room and told not to come out until it's clean. All is quiet in the house for fifteen minutes as the child reluctantly obeys his mother. Wide eyed and a little pale, the child comes into the living room and says to his mother, "Mom, is it true that we are made out of dust and that we will become dust after we die?" The mother replied, "Yes it is, honey." The child looked even more afraid and said, "Then, I don't know if someone is coming or going, but there's someone under my bed!"

Welcome to the season of Lent, everyone.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

A Time to Be Honest

For some reason, anxiety sufferers seem to think that they need to suffer alone. I know. I was there. "If anyone knew what I was thinking, what I was afraid of, they would think I am crazy," I thought to myself. Thus, I learned to hide it well, or so I thought. I tried to keep it from my family and friends and kept myself rather ostricized when I felt an attack coming on. Sometimes it would cause me to avoid situations where I would be nervous all together. Sometimes it meant backing out at the last minute with a fake illness, something I forgot to do, or a legit reason that could possibly wait, but I was making a bigger deal out of it than need be. With that came feelings of self-loathing. I really began to hate the person I was becoming because I wouldn't take risks like other people. I felt like I couldn't and at the same time I was upset at myself for not being able to. Even fun sleepovers when I was younger usually meant not a lot of sleep, not because we were up all night having fun, but because I stayed awake worrying long after everyone else was peacefully asleep. Truthfully, I was embarrassed by who I was. This caused me to pull in further. When normal situations arose that I couldn't handle, the anger got deeper within me.

Lucky for me, this all happened before I was medicated. When my breaking point happened, and I finally decided that I needed to reach out for help to deal with this debilitating anxiety, I remember thinking to myself, "Whether they commit me or not, anything is better than the way I feel." For the first time, I talked to my doctor about my fears. I didn't just talk about the situational ones like the fact that I have a phobia to needles and blood, I told her symptoms, anxiety attacks that plagued me even in the seemingly calm situations. It was honest and it was freeing. Another person heard my pain, my grief, my struggle, and they didn't lock me away and throw away the key.

I was in college when this happened, and I didn't really have a church home or a father confessor to confide in and confess my sins. However, it was during that time that I learned the most about God's love and grace, because I finally talked to my mother. Truthfully, she knew long before I told her, but she wasn't completely sure what to do about it. I had taken that burden off of her by taking the first step and getting myself help. Now, she was able to assure me of God's love no matter what was happening in life. Each fear was met with love, reassurance, and understanding. She would reassure me that I am still baptized and the blessings and faith of that baptism are not made invalid by anxiety, worry, or death. In those waters of baptism, I was given faith. I didn't have to reach out for it or make a decision for it, which could be doubted by the fears I had within me, it was given to me without me doing a thing.

Soon, I was under the care of a pastor. I confessed my sins in private confession, including my anxiety, and the pastor heard my fears, my worries, my doubts about God, and absolved me in the stead and by the command of the Lord Jesus Christ. There were no doubts that perhaps the pastor wouldn't forgive me in corperate confession if he actually knew the sin I was confessing. I was absolved. What a freeing feeling! I was right with God, not because of what I had done, but because of what Christ had done on the cross for me. It was all a gift of God!

There are times that I must hide my disorder because people just don't understand it. There are times I can't tell because it would cause more harm than good. But, when it comes to spiritual welfare and relationships, it's time to be honest.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Sometimes it's just frustrating. . .

In my personal life, I have no problem talking about my anxiety disorder. It's been a great learning source for me as I have learned about faith and how it isn't about anything I have done but instead it is all about what God has done. I just wish it had been that easy in my professional life. Unfortunately, people seem to paint any mental disorder with the "insane" brush. Anyone seen as having a mental disorder of any kind is feared. People begin to question qualifications, abilities, and talents. Suddenly, every mistake made has more to do with the disorder. People see the disorder, not the person. Someone who might just be stressed out from the job is suddenly faced with the accusation that it's not the stress of the job, it's them. It's their disorder that's causing this and in reality, the situation is normal.

This might be a way people think they are trying to help or it might be the discrimination that people with physical disabilities have been fighting for years in the court system. Currently, I am facing such discrimination at my job. Instead of seeing me for me, they have discovered my anxiety disorder and now they need a doctor's note to say that I am sane enough to work. First of all, I believe the choice to talk to my doctor is mine. If I don't ask for protection under the EEOC, I should be treated like any other employee. If I ask for protection, then the only time my disorder should come up is in the event I need an accomodation. Unfortunately, this is not the case. My boss is treating me much differently, now. In casual conversation, she can't seem to get beyond the fact that I don't need advice on every aspect of my life because of my "special circumstances". I am good at what I do. Requesting time off for doctor's appointments are met with the "knowing eye" of *which* doctor I am going to see. I understand that I am working with ignorance and if these people took time to look passed my disorder, they would see me. But, I guess their minds are made up. My name becomes "Generalized Anxiety Disorder" with Tina merely off to the side.

I thank my God that He doesn't see me that way, but sees me through our Lord Jesus Christ. So if God doesn't define me by my disorder, why should anyone else?

Sunday, February 3, 2008

The Quaker Parakeet

Did you know that these cute little birds are banned in some states? They are considered a menace to crops and a "dangerous species" on unfounded fears that have never come true in the thirty years that this has been a feared creature. In their native habitat of South America, these birds do indeed eat crops and make trouble for the people who are trying to make a living through farming. However, here in the United States, all these little parrots are guilty of is coexisting with the wildlife in urban areas of the country where flocks have been established. It was once rumored that this parrots would push out the native species in our country by taking up prime nesting sites, however, these adaptable little critters are the only species of parrot that can make their own nest. Although their choice of placing those nests on power transformers isn't the best for the power companies, these smart birds put their nests where they and their young can stay the warmest even in the coldest conditions.
However, this does not seem to stop lawmakers from not only allowing companies to exterminate these birds through tearing down their nests and gassing the young birds in their nests. There are organizations out there willing and ready to finish raising the young ones and finding suitable homes for them. The same organizations are working to create nest boxes at similar height and warmth as the transformer nests the birds currently reside in to help the birds move from a potential dangerous nesting site. However, not only are those laws in place for the feral quaker parakeets, but in some states, even owning one of this birds is illegal and the bird could be taken from the owner and euthanized. Responsible bird owners know that the release of a parrot kept in a home for any length of time would be death to the parrot because they do not know how to forage for themselves or discern which foods are good and which are poisonous. What should keep the lawmakers from allowing this very smart parrot from enriching the lives of those people whom they call flock? I guess I'll never understand.

For more information on the Quaker Parakeet, the Quaker Parakeet Society has wonderful information, ways to volunteer, and even a publication devoted soley to quakers.

To learn more about feral quakers, the Brooklyn Parrots website has lots of good information and documentation on quakers in the wild.

If you want to learn more about legislation about quaker parakeets and other birds of the parrot family, the American Federation of Aviculture is a great start.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Late Night Musings

There have been times in my life where I have felt like nothing is going right. I have struggled with feeling as if God had abandoned me because what I thought was supposed to happen just wasn't happening. When things didn't go my way, it would be easy to get mad at God and wonder why He didn't see it my way. I know, how infinitely stubborn of me. But, I know that I am not the only one. It's been that way since the Fall in the Garden of Eden. There are times, after going through one of these events in my life, that I can see God's hand in it. There are times that I can't. That doesn't make God any less involved than He was when I could see what the reasons were for things not happening the way that I wanted them to. Remembering that I am a baptized child of God and no matter what my road looks like, that will never change. The promises, the forgiveness of sins, and the gifts given to me in my baptism don't go away when things don't go my way, or even when they do go my way. No matter what my road looks like, He is there with me, giving me the good gifts of the forgivness of sins, life, and salvation through the Word and Sacraments. As I look to going to church tomorrow, I can go knowing that my God loves me and will give me all the things I need to support this body and life, even if it's not the path I think I should be on.

Close to Home Hero

I always looked up to my big brother. He gave me something to strive for. He played saxophone, and I had to learn too, just because I wanted to do what he does. He went into the marching band and I did too, though that wasn't really what I enjoyed, I was just proud to be beside my big brother. Now, well, I am just plain proud of him. There are heroes in this world you may never know about. And my brother, yep, he's one of them! Check him out here.