Posts Tagged ‘Hope’

The interwebs are abuzz with the news of Robin Williams’ untimely death.  An apparent suicide.  Everyone is shocked and heartbroken.  Not me.  I heard the news and was not in the least bit surprised.  Instead, it almost felt like I had been expecting this. This is because of two bits of information I had gleaned from an interview Robin Williams had given.

  1. Robin Williams was bipolar
  2. Robin Williams was an addict because he self-medicated for the above disorder.

So when I heard the news today I was not surprised.

Actually it felt like I had dodged a bullet.  I felt relief.

Before you accuse me of being callous, I should tell you my story.

There was a time that I was expecting to hear the news that my mother was dead.  Every day I was expecting that call. You see, my mother is bipolar too.

It hit with menopause.  She kept getting worse.  More and more depressed, but with these weird phases where she would do things like purchasing a ton of blouses and shirts.  She thought she needed so many of them, and yet had a closet stuffed full of ones she had never worn.

The depression was crushing.  My mother, who had been so capable and strong, became unable to do the simplest things.

My parents moved to a new home, and a new community, and she could hardly unpack the house.

One Sunday my dad got up to go to church, not a surprise, since he was a pastor for so many years. He got in the shower, but got this strange sensation that he shouldn’t go to church.  He says God told him to go back to bed and not go to church.  This was a big deal for my dad.  He’s not a “skip church” kind of guy. However, the feeling was strong, so my dad got out of the shower, put his pajamas back on, and went back to bed.

Not long after, my mother woke up to find my dad still in bed.  She asked him what he was doing, and he said that he was skipping church.  She started getting agitated, more and more restless as the minutes ticked by.  Finally she started to cry.  My dad sat up in bed and asked my mom what was going on.  She tried to brush it off for a while, but finally broke. She had a plan, and my father’s presence was thwarting it.

Yes.  That kind of plan.

After dad had left for church, she was going to get up, put a load of laundry in the washer, come up and write us all letters on the computer, put the wash into the dryer, and start another load, tidy up down stairs, take a shower, make the bed, then take all her pills with drain cleaner.

That day was the first time my mother was hospitalized for her depression, which was then diagnosed as bipolar disorder.  I remember scraping the money together to fly over to help.  I spend the days unpacking my parents house, hanging pictures on the wall, doing busy work to fill the hours until I could see her. My lovely, amazing, broken mother. I remember holding her when she would cry, and knowing there was no way I could make it better. It broke my heart to see her this way, and see my father not be able to fix the woman he loved so much.

After they got her leveled out, years later, after many medications, and two rounds of electroshock therapy, my mother and I talked about that time. She told me about the utter lack of hope she had.  She said that she could have hope for us, hope that my dad would move on, and find someone else, hope that we would all be fine without her, but that she had absolutely none for herself. She said “If I had never been there, I wouldn’t believe it now.  I can’t explain it.  There was just no hope to be found.”

Thankfully, for my mother, as menopause disappeared, so did her symptoms.  She has been level for years, mostly without medication.

But I watch.  We all do.  When I say “There but for the grace of God…” you know I mean it.  If it hadn’t been for that voice in the shower….

And deep down, in the darkest corners of my mind, I fear that phone call. That one that says your mother lost her hope, and now you’ve lost her.

I feel for Robin Williams’ family.  I really do.  My heart goes out to them. They got that call.

I hope that good can come from this, that more people are made aware of the suffering of bipolar disorder and depression.  I hope that more understanding, research, and medication can come from this.

Most of all, I hope that this is a bullet my family and I can continue to dodge.  Depression can shatter a family; can destroy life.  I hope, not mine.

By the grace of God, I hope.


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One of my favorite things to talk about, the amazing Reading for Life is going through some big changes.  The creator, director and all around uber-boss, Alesha Seroczynski, is moving on.  In  fact she is taking the next logical step, combining past experience and her work at RFL, she is becoming the Dean of a university initiative to provide inmates at a correctional institution with a college degree.  We’re so excited for her.

We decided that it was important to give her the perfect gift to honor her for all her work, and encourage her for the future.  For a while we came up blank, and then I had a brainwave.  Reading for Life was spawned as a pilot research project using Harry Potter books.  In fact, Alesha dreamed up the idea while thinking about Harry Potter.  One of her favorite books in the series was The Goblet of Fire.  Reading for Life uses good books, mentors, and virtue theory to help at risk kids (namely first time juvenile offenders and incarcerated youth) make better life decisions.  One of the virtues we teach is Hope: An invested belief in a future possibility.  We reckoned that Alesha embodies hope to everyone she comes across.  She believed that with just a little help youth who were falling through the cracks could have a new chance at life.  Currently more than 95% of our participants have had no further contact with the law.  That is amazing.  She gave them a chance at a better life. Her hope has transformed them.  Now she is moving on to men incarcerated in prison.  Yet again she has the opportunity to give people the gift of hope.

So, as a thank you for her 10 years of pouring hope into the lives of others we presented her with this:


Harry's Hope

Harry’s Hope

I am quite proud of this. Not only is it the perfect gift for Alesha, but it gave me the opportunity to learn a new skill.  Seriously fun, book folding.  This is in the middle of a  copy of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.  It is a book that was rescued from a library, and was past it’s prime, but now look at it.  It can sit on her desk, remind her of what she was and what she is to so many people. A fitting gift.  The good news is, she loves it.  I might just need to make one for myself.

It’s not that hard, just a bit time consuming. You have to create a pattern (or purchase one as I did.  I don’t have access to photo shop to make my own….but that would be cool) then measure out the fold lines on your book, and then begin the folding.  It took about 7 hours in total, but the final product was worth it.

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There is this thing about humans. Despite the fact that some of us love spontaneity, and flying by the seat of our pants, we all have some rituals in our lives.  My housemate has one.  She always puts on the Nightly News with Brian Williams while she cooks dinner. Much though I hate getting stuck in ruts, I have a few rituals myself. Sometimes they really drive me nuts.


Quote Jar

Quote Jar

Last year, on the occasion of my 40th birthday, my friends gave me a tremendous gift.  They knew how much I love collecting new things and ideas.  Really, a day without something new is not really a good day for me. They knew I would be leaving come August, and so put their collective selves together and created a quote jar. I was so overwhelmed.  A big jar of new ideas, clever thoughts, words expressed better than I ever could.  Sweet Action!  In a rare case of restraint I chose not to open it. Instead I though I would save it for when I went to grad school.  Washington D. C. is a fair ways away from Michiana, and I figured I would save it for when I missed my friends greatly, and needed to remember how much they loved me.

Then I moved, and nothing happened the way it should.  Housing took an awfully long time to find.  Amazing former Vox friends JavaJanie and her husband Steve took me in, based on just a minimal acquaintance, and became some of the best friends I have ever had.  They and their amazing teens blessed me with family when I had none. Then, cousins by marriage extended their guest room to me, and gave me a place of independence and  grace until I found a place to live. 5 months after arriving I finally had a place of my own.

During this interim my quote jar was packed away, with everything else I owned, in a storage locker in Waldorf.  During a time I really could have used it, the voice of my friends was locked away.  It was an happy moment when I unpacked this jar, and put it on my shelf.

It has become my new daily ritual, once I wake up, to dig out a quote, ponder it, then affix it to my wall. It is a way of starting out my day thinking, and remembering that I am loved.  Plus it brings another burst of color to my bedroom.  A burst that is just mine, as when the door is open, no one knows the quotes are there.

Daily Ritual

Daily Ritual

The quotes are from everywhere. Plato. Anne Lamotte, Donald Miller, Jane Austen, Dogma, U2, Dolly Parton, Harry Potter, Emily Dickenson. They are diverse and funny, thought provoking and witty.  I love them.  They are mine.  It is the landscape of my heart, this wall.  It is bits and pieces of joy and memory and love. Even when they are subversive. I am secretly hoping I will put my hand in the jar and come out with a “I am Jack’s complete lack of surprise.” (Geek points for the reference).

During lent I have started a new ritual.  One that I am simultaneously finding difficult, and restful. I am going to mass at the Catholic Basilica at the end of my road. Today I went to Mass at 4:30 pm.  I actually dressed up for it. Wore my tie skirt. As I was walking up the steps I heard “Will you look at that? It’s neckties!” ” Isn’t that clever?” “I think it is lovely.” An exchange between to women leaving the Vesper service.  Nice to hear people talking behind your back and have it be positive.  Ensured I went into Mass with a bit of confidence.  Truth be told, I find mass very disconcerting because I am not yet comfortable with the rituals and sayings and actions.  I have found that confidence is the one thing I have yet to discover in my journey to find a church in D.C.  Mostly I feel awkward and out of place, no matter where I go. As if I have little to recommend myself. At least at Mass I come by it honestly. I literally do not know what I am doing.  Yet here it is, becoming part of my daily ritual in Lent.  Taking the time to, despite my discomfort, participate in worship.

Today, when I woke up, I opened my quote jar. I pulled out a quote that Gwen submitted.  Many of you do not know Gwen, and I am sorry for you.  She is one of the most down-to-earth, rational people I know.  Most people will talk about what needs to be done, only to find that Gwen has gotten on and done it. She’s that person.  Capable, wise, knowledgeable, and the living embodiment of git-er-done. She never misses a beat.  Gwen is not a talker like me.  She would have written this blog post in probably about 4 sentences.  They would have been good sentences. She would have thought hard about them.  They would have packed a punch. It would probably have taken Gwen as long to write her four sentences as it takes me to write this whole post.  It’s because she is a ponderer.  I process things externally, meaning I talk to help myself see where I need to go.  Gwen mulls it over, and when she speaks it is a good thing.  I miss Gwen.  If you knew her, you would miss her too. The day we packed up the rental truck to head to D.C. I swore I would not cry.  I held it together until Gwen came by and hugged me. She and I cried together. I wish I had made it a ritual to talk to Gwen more often.  I have a feeling she could really have spoken some things to me that could have made me a better person. She did it today, even without being next to me.

Gwen, in all her wisdom

Gwen, in all her wisdom

I used to love change.  Change used to be the thing that I thrived upon.  If things were too much the same I used to struggle.  I missed the upheaval, the new, the adventure that change was.  Then I got scared I would fail.  I got scared I had nothing to fall back on.  Fear took the love of change from me. Correction. I let fear take the love of change from me. These last few months have reinforced this.  That I am not up to the challenge of change. That I again have nothing to fall on.  That I cannot do the adventure.

Gwen, in all her wisdom, has reminded me that I should not believe the lies of fear.  Change is a synonym for hope. When I was in Reading for Life I would teach my participants the virtue Hope.  I would define it as “Active belief in a future possibility that I choose to invest myself in.” It is not enough to believe I have the possibility of doing good on this paper, I actively work to make it so.  I believe that I could be a great teacher, and invest myself in becoming that. I believe I would enjoy travelling to Australia and therefore save money every month towards a trip.  Perhaps this is something that I need to add to my daily rituals.  Choose Hope today and let it change me.

Thanks Gwen!

How do you see hope? How does it change you?


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