.posthidden {display:none} .postshown {display:inline} By His Own Hand. . .

7/25/2022

Someone to watch over me

“What I’m trying to do here is get you to relax, not be so preoccupied with getting so you can respond to God’s giving. People who don’t know God and the way he works fuss over these things, but you know both God and how he works. Steep yourself in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. You’ll find all your everyday human concerns will be met. Don’t be afraid of missing out. You’re my dearest friends! The Father wants to give you the very kingdom itself." Luke 12:29-32 MSG

It's been a whirlwind few weeks.  I've been to a wedding in Key West, I helped a friend get ready to move out of state, my computer died, I played two sets of auditions, I took on a couple more new students, and all of that was in just a span of six days.  Thankfully the other days around those were not quite so hectic, but still, I feel like I haven't completely caught up emotionally or physically from it all quite yet.

It's been a struggle to keep my eyes on Jesus through some of it, especially the computer situation (which I am still dealing with but losing hope that my hard drive can be accessed and my files restored).  As I've become more aware of myself and seeing what a difference physical things can have on your emotional self, nothing mind-blowing but just being hungry, tired, dehydrated, etc., and with my routines and schedule being out of sorts, there's definitely been some testing in dependence on God that I didn't do well with in the moment.  But as always, in reflection, it's easy to see how He has provided in those times, whether an unexpected meal on a crazy day or a listening ear to help release some of the pressure.

The phrase that I've been battling has been "I just want someone to take care of me."  In its simplest form, it's not necessarily a bad desire, and in the face of things that I've gone through in my life, the current situation is far better.  The potential double-edged sword of that argument, though, is that in the same way that one person's problem is another person's ease, and if it's a struggle for you then it's legitimately your struggle, does that then give me the grace to say that past me may not have struggled with this situation but those days are not these days? Or does present me needs to pull himself up by the bootstraps?  The second question is where I lose myself in thought the most, because I feel like I have worked hard and am working hard and maybe am gun-shy from the idea of being in survival mode because survival mode has been the majority of the past two (if not seven) years, and with the work I've done, especially in this past year, I'm happy to be in a much better place but also just so tired. And so it loops back around to I just want someone to take care of me.

And so what I've realized in the past couple days is that, in many ways and through many people, God provides everything we need.  God takes care of me.  And I know that, and I know that I know that, but I still have to keep preaching it to myself.  And it's not in a "years ago" sense, although that is also certainly true.  I don't have to look back more than 24 hours to see His provision for my needs.  And while it's true that I've been working out my salvation, it is God who works powerfully in me, through me, and sometimes in spite of me to continue to sustain me.  And the more I train myself to keep that perspective, the less the burden I carry.  So, I must make the effort to remind myself of the joy in the moment rather than letting it be first discovered upon reflection.

“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” Matthew 11:28-30 MSG

6/13/2022

Some things are meant to be

 So I don't think it's healthy to try and force a weekly writing. But I also know that to reinstate a habit, it takes a concentrated effort and a little bit of being okay with imperfection. So this will likely be more of a stream of consciousness/slightly aimless/wanting to put something down because I know it's good for me to do so.  But as I said like a year ago, we have to practice.

Little Women at Limelight closed last night.  I hate that I'm going to use this metric, but if my brain is correct, it's my seventh theatrical experience post-COVID shutdowns.  (That doesn't feel like enough, but between things getting cancelled and me having worked so many different jobs in the past two years, it's probably correct.  Off hand again, eighth or ninth or maybe tenth if you count me filling in for a couple random one-offs, which is not the same)

In the span of all my theater experiences, probably close to trippie-digies? That's way too hard to try and fathom in this moment. But in the unfair comparison of apples and oranges in regards to favorites? It's a Jazz apple. Meaning, it is uniquely one of my favorites.  I have never really gone into gigs like this with expectations as far as what I get out of it personally. I will always bring the best of me that's available. If I'm able to have a positive influence on the overall production, it's partially my job but mostly my pleasure. If I make professional connections, awesome. If I make personal connections, super awesome. I mean, that's certainly a big reason why I, as this shiny bouncing ball, have staying in theater communities for as long as I have. And we who maybe feel like we are not easily able to make true connections suddenly find ourselves face-to-face with an open-armed love of a person who has no qualms or expectations, just joy and openness, and that is such a happy rarity.

So it's nice to walk away with professional connections that are also friendly ones, and to walk away with deeper connections that weren't necessarily unexpected but are so welcome and necessary and such a blessing from God. And also to really have God-centered connection is a nice reminder that we can find and share the joy of Christ in all things.

To be honest, I almost didn't take the gig. As an MD and a passionate interpreter, it's hard to walk in to a production where you haven't had time to live with material and performers and yet be saddled with telling a story. While certainly this is not the first time I've done this, it's the longest I've done it (because other instances I can think of have been coverage due to tragedy or other circumstances, ranging from one performance to one weekend of performances. Certainly not a five-week run).  But a bigger issue is the content. I can't tell you how many times I've pulled up tracks on YouTube of "Some Things Are Meant to Be" or "Days of Plenty" as personal ways to cope and express after Camz died. And so to subject myself to that for weeks on end, I didn't know how it was going to go. And honestly, the first rehearsal I attended, it was a nightmare, particularly because the performers were so good, and in having a void of trauma, found it easy to get refilled.  And really even before that, a friend I've known many years was in the cast, which was exciting, and he's a person who has been very important to me in the past couple years as I worked through mental health struggles, whether he knows it or not.

And honestly, it took me a bit of time to decide if it was objectively a good production or if I was biased based on connection, subject material, and finally being out of PTSD-land (because for sure this is the first show post all that insanity). But having had friends with critical perspectives who had no stake in the game inasmuch as seeing the actors/production as a part of my "work" and therefore being biased, the objective opinion agreed with my experience. Which on one hand, I know that I know what I know, but on the other hand it is nice sometimes to have confirmation, especially after two years of questioning everything about my inner thought process.

So all that to say that I'm so happy that it happened but also sad that it is over. And I haven't had post-show depression in so long. But related to that I also recognized something else, at least about the last two weeks.

Busy Ben returned, but not in a bad way. 

It's been approximately 18 days since I've done laundry, based on how much underwear got washed today. I've house/animal-sat for two different families, I've been a part of two different studio recitals, and have had four-show weeks the past two weeks, I've taught like 11 or 12 lessons, I preached on Sunday, had dinners with friends... so it's no wonder that I am exhausted. Full, happy-sad, exhausted, and knowing there's more in front of me, but looking forward to a little bit of respite before I turn 34 in a couple weeks.

This writing was more for me than you, but at the very least hopefully as a reader one might see a return but also a new world for me as I continue to replace the trauma-time with positive things like this. Who knows, maybe I will start running again soon!

But at the moment, I'm gonna enjoy some ketchup chips from a couple of sweet connections that I have made from this show. And remind myself of the healing that comes from music, from singing. And knowing Camz would have loved the production and the people in it.

6/03/2022

A new season

I'm not a huge TV person, but I do know one way that writers can get unstuck is to write some kind of time paradox/freeze/travel between seasons so that they don't have to attempt to fill in all the information of the new situation, but the important parts get discovered as the season goes on.

That's how I feel at the moment.

It would be nearly impossible to try and create an update for where I am versus where I was the last time I made a public post here. There are many writings that will never see the light of day, so to speak, but I'm back in a healthier place mentally, emotionally, and spiritually to where the desire to write is no longer out of necessity or survival, but out of a place of this weird one-way conversation that I have done for most of my life.  The things that have gone on since last September that are necessary will show up when they are relevant.  And so in this brief window between files, and knowing that the hardest part of getting the water flowing is those first few priming pumps, here is what I am currently thinking about.  

Community and isolation.  

Both are important and necessary (even Jesus pulled away from the crowds to get alone time with the Father), and, like most things in life, cause us to struggle in finding the balance, in part because of our own personal bent towards one or the other.  But I think it goes deeper than just the concept of introvert or extrovert; it's a slippery slope of staking one's identity in either of those places, where one might submerge themselves into a community in order to avoid the inner turmoil, or where one avoids the crowd so that they will never have to deal with someone calling out their issues.  Community can provide accountability, and introspection can provide clarity.  But they can also be a gateway to detaching oneself from the struggles of life. Both who we talk to and how we talk to ourselves have great power, whether for building up or for tearing down.

And so I say all of that because I've had to have this season of isolation in order to work through some things.  Working from home, being on a computer most of the day, was never a part of my plan, but it's been a necessary, healing environment, and just one more notch on the timeline where I can point and say, "not my will, but God's will."

And so now, while I'm at this crossroads again, it's crazy to see the last public post here because I know the person who was inside there and desperately trying to get out of the darkness, and I know that he's gotten out of that darkness by the grace of God, the love and connection of community, and the awareness of self from much reflection.  Not that things are perfect or that I am perfect, but I can say that the practicing has paid off.

So, a tentpole for the next stretch of this journey of life.



9/04/2021

What we practice

Practice is a word that has come up a lot for me in the past few weeks.  Now, it's certainly not a new thing, being a musician and all, but the contexts of practice have so much greater application than we might imagine.  I feel like the pendulum swing in this (from strictly a personal perspective- expectations on other people is a whole different can of worms) is either that we don't do the hard work of practice and expect to slide by OR we give ourselves no room for error and expect perfection immediately.  Both fail to recognize that we need to practice.

So, perhaps the questions we ask ourselves are-

"How come I have to keep doing this?" or "Why can't I do this yet?"

Both lead to frustration.  And in reflecting on this question in several areas of my life, I have observed the pendulum swing dangerously close to the edges.

How come I have to keep reinventing the wheel with my life/schedule/job? 

Why can't I trust people who have proven themselves to be trusted?  

How come I have to prove myself?

Why can't I stop the circus mirrors?  

And as I ask these questions, they certainly are all related.  Life isn't just separate drawers in the chest, after all- it IS the chest.

But there's been a positive shift through the summer, and especially in the past few weeks.  Because I have been practicing.  Really since May, once I got a new therapist who was able to give me some specific things to practice daily.  I've been practicing not listening to the dark voices that feed lies about my worth, my relationships, my connection to God and to others.  I've been practicing trust, affirming what I know in my head to the deep places of my heart and recognizing that the world is not out to get me.  I've been practicing talking to myself with the same grace and patience that I would talk to a dear friend (or at least attempt to).  I've been practicing the awareness of my identity in Christ, not in the things I do or have done.  Am I perfect?  Nope.  Do I mess up or get distracted?  Yep.  But the shift in my life has been significant, enough that several of the people who know me best have mentioned it.

And yes, it might sound like a yogi leading a meditation.  And hey, guess what?  That's actually Biblical language (Judaism and Christianity are Eastern religions, after all).  Another day I'll take up the term "meditation," but for "practice" look at Philippians 4:4-13:

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice.  Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.  Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you. I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity.  Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.  I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.

I was half-joking with a friend that this has been the best week of 2021.  It's not that it was a horrible week, it truly has been a great week, but certainly not because of the circumstances.  Between the busy schedule that I brought onto myself and having to fight hard to face some uncomfortable things about myself, I got to cap the week off by having two teeth removed. Yay!

But here's the thing.  As I sat in that chair, face numb, waiting between teeth pulls, I leaned back and said to myself, "This is actually a nice little vacation from the grind.  No phone, no agenda.  I know I'll have to get back to work once I get this over with, but for right now, this moment, I can just breathe and relax."  Now, obviously it's helpful that your face is numbed so that you aren't feeling the true pain of the experience, but hey! God is good in that we have developed medicines that can be delivered in order to make those procedures essentially pain-free (and also good in providing friends that you can trust to put a pair of pliers into your mouth).

I share all this to give recognition that God has done a great work in me, really since the pandemic started but especially in the past few months as I have worked things out through practicing this momentary recognition of reality and the way in which God has His hand in every part of it.  I've been learning a lot of important lessons.  

Practicing dependence instead of worry.

Practicing thankfulness instead of complaining.

Practicing reasonableness instead of reacting.

And I would say, yes, I have had the peace of God this week.  Not in every moment.  But more than I have in a long time.  And if we want to expand out the calendar, this has been the best month, and it started with me getting Covid... so, truly, this is a great reminder to me and hopefully an encouragement to you who read this-

Circumstances do not lead to joy.  

The Philippians passage above starts with "Rejoice!"  At the front of it all, it has to do with the bent of our heart toward being content or not, regardless of what has happened and what is happening. And at the end of the passage, I love how the Message puts those last verses together- 

"Whatever I have, wherever I am, I can make it through anything in the One who makes me who I am." 

It helps give the context in which Philippians 4:13 is always taken out of. "I CAN DO ALL THINGS LIKE RUN THIS MARATHON BECAUSE IN JESUS NAME HE GIVES ME STRENGTH!" Yeah, on some level, sure, but it's not a magic phrase that means that whatever we set our mind to, God will accomplish for us or through us.  It means that we can face any circumstances and remain content in Christ.

Whatever.  Wherever.  Our circumstances don't control our reactions.  We, in our free-will, have the opportunity in every moment to make choices.  Sometimes it means we have to learn how to adapt to our good bad brains in order to make the best choice.  And it also helps us see why self-control is a fruit of the Spirit.  But ultimately, we don't get better at it without practice.

So, practice.  The things that you aren't good at? Practice.  You want to be more patient with your kids?  Practice.  You want to be better at being on time?  Practice.  You tired of beating yourself up? Practice. And give yourself the room to make mistakes, to learn, to grow, not giving up when it gets hard, and not over-expecting that change happens instantly.  It takes time.  And remember that for those who believe, God works in us as we work out our salvation.

And also, I'm saying this to myself, too.

Practice.

8/27/2021

Gotta start somewhere

 I desperately need to write to get myself back into processing mode, but I also know that if I continue to wait for having "enough time" then this won't happen until after Halloween.  Or maybe the new year.

So, I'm going to give a tl;dr for a post that only exists in my head.

PTSD.  Quite the journey.  I've learned a lot, I've made a lot of progress, I still have a long way to go.

Employment.  I am currently working from home, teaching English to Chinese students (until the Chinese Ministry of Education totally shuts it all down) and doing video CC transcription/editing (more editing than transcription).  I'm really enjoying it, and it's much less stress than Amazon was (which I enjoyed outside of the 12 hour shifts and also being on night shift).

Church.  We signed a lease for our own space at the beginning of summer.  And eventually we will have it ready to move in. . . but really, the possibilities it will open up are incredible.

Theater.  I overcommitted a bit, not knowing what the fall was going to look like. . . but all three shows that I started rehearsal processes this past week are starting strong.  I just wonder if I will ever not be in feast or famine mode.  And part of that comes from being in a place where I can say "no" to things that I don't want to do because I'm no longer gig-dependent.

And so the tl;dr of the tl;dr is that things are going well.  I'm busy, no surprise, but busy in a new way.  The emotional word I have come to is "overwhelmed" but I know that that's not completely right because there's a negative sense to that which is not accurate to my current feelings on the past few weeks.  And this is why I need to take the time to write.  I'm hoping that maybe at some point this weekend, I will be able to write and get at least one ring closer to actually naming the feeling I'm experiencing.

However, the fact that I'm doing this random post is an indication that I likely will not get to it.

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I heard this earlier this week and this is what I will end this with.  Lamentations 3:37-40  (MSG)-

Who do you think “spoke and it happened”?  It’s the Master who gives such orders.  Doesn’t the High God speak everything, good things and hard things alike, into being?  And why would anyone gifted with life complain when punished for sin?  Let’s take a good look at the way we’re living and reorder our lives under God.

1/31/2021

The post that I can't publish

Imagine the worst moment of your life, whatever that might be, however long it might have (or be) lasting.  Imagine now being forced to relive various aspects of it seemingly at random for months without end.

That is my corona/2020 experience.

And so on the edge of 6 years since Cam died, this is what has defined my life for the most part of recent history.

Constant cleaning.

Isolation.

Abandonment.

Flashbacks/nightmares.


One of the problems is that PTSD has created a circus mirror that is particularly bendy the more I am by myself.  And so when I notice it start to bend I try and make sure I don't have too much alone time.  But sometimes things come up for people and so even with well intent I end up alone.  And also unbending the mirror is exhausting.  On top of the inevitable march of time towards anniversaries, it's just too much right now.


Camz would not be happy with how I have been dealing with things the past couple weeks. . . she would be realistic about it and give me some benefit of the doubt but also she would sit me down and tell me when and where I'm being a crazy person.  But I don't have her here to do that for me.  Or to lay my head on her lap and just not worry about words or talking but just focus on being.  Or to listen to her problems and celebrations so that I'm not just wrapped up in my own head.  Or to get away and just be together and enjoy the experiences of life.


Six years.  It's an eternity and it's yesterday.  Whether I want to or not I am in that hospital bed next to her, listening to her breathing slow more and more until the final rattle.  I'm a couple days before she got to see everybody and give her assignments, wailing and hating that I'm wailing in front of her while she's contemplating death and her comforting me instead.  I'm several months out, making phone calls and texts to people who have apparently gotten to a point where my grief is too great for them to bear anymore, but instead of telling me that, they just. . . disappear.



I'm tired.


12/19/2020

The first signpost

Two things before I dive in: first, this will likely be lengthy and honestly might be too much for me to try and sort through in one chunk; second, I am an expert only in my experience, and so what I am saying with regards to certain topics might be not completely correct/not fully understood (and there will be statements that I'll put in italics that I don't have sources for and that may or may not actually be clinically true, but they have been relevant and/or helpful).

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I started therapy through BetterHelp on October 29th, 2020.  I'm starting here because my brain really wants to just make a timeline but I think for ease of understanding I need to go through things as I have been discovering them, and the timeline fits in where it will.

I started therapy because I observed my relationships crumbling, because I was waking up with the thought of "I can't do this anymore" in all its various iterations, and that thought stuck with me the entire morning, day, and night, because I felt isolated but also realized that I was isolating myself.

And so in early December, I started to learn about PTSD, and that unlocked a new world of understanding for me.

PTSD has four parts to it: re-experience (of trauma), arousal (of fear and/or anxiety), avoidance, and withdrawal (both escape tactics).  Often we think of it with regards to war experiences, and those triggers of loud noises or large crowds or tight spaces or whatever might trigger a person back to the feeling of something that happened in war.  But PTSD can stem from any traumatic event, where physical or psychological harm occurred, and not every traumatic event causes PTSD.  (And as an extra nugget to remember, there's a Complex PTSD that adds in a dissociative aspect where there is disturbance of self-organization that leads to affective dysregulation, disturbance in relationships, and negative self-concept) 

Arousal looks like a flight or fight response, and a few of the possible feelings include feeling keyed up/on edge, having trouble sleeping, becoming suddenly angry or irritable, and rouble concentrating.  Anger is sadness that had nowhere to go for a very long time.  Reexperience can be caused by a trigger (a visual, a sound, a smell even), a memory, a nightmare, a flashback.  Avoidance may start as avoiding situations, conversations, anything closely related to the trauma, but eventually is turns into avoiding all people and things that make you anxious, and is considered PTSD when the avoidance coping becomes a lifestyle.  Numbing is a disconnection from people and activities that used to be enjoyable.  It also comes with increased sensitivity to feeling negative emotions like guilt, fear, anger, or shame.  These can cycle into overworking, isolation, pushing people away, high risk behaviors, substance overuse.  Numbing tells you that you can't get hurt by something that you aren't connected to or feeling about to begin with. 

Numbing tells you that you can't get hurt by something that you aren't connected to or feeling about to begin with. 

That sentence was the first clear bell in this journey for me.  I wrote back in August a post that I deleted soon after posting.  I won't post it all here but two excerpts are revealing:

"I have reached capacity in rejection. . . now there's a yo-yo that is distractingly hard to keep up with, and the next step is to move to the side, put both the negative and positive experience into the same box that is labeled "there things don't matter" so that they won't affect you strongly.

But really the problem basically is that I'd rather live with my problems than deal with another rejection.  Because seriously, who I am and what I deal with in a given moment is not more important than what I can do for someone in both short and long term, and I am not in a place to open up without a grand fear of continued rejection because who knows what happens next."

The really interesting part is back at the end of August I said something about the PTSD of shutdown being like bone marrow transplant land, but I didn't know how close to the nail I was hitting because we use mental health terms so flippantly in our culture.

So going back to diagnosing what happens with PTSD, the chronic avoidance deprives you of opportunities to process the event, to relearn that triggers may not be as dangerous as they were during the trauma, and eventually leads to depression and poor quality of life as you begin to cut things/people out of your life.  There are several different "personalities" in how these things happen- for me this is what stuck out:
Displacer: Takes expression emotion and displaces the feeling in other people or areas of their life. (stresses out at work, chronically agitated, upset at minor events.) 
Minimizer: Person who is aware of their emotions, but when felt, works to dull the emotions and avoid them at all cost.
Somaticizer: Converts emotion into physical symptoms as a way to express and channel emotion.

And trauma impacts the places where we feel most vulnerable- again, this is what stuck out for me:
Esteem-I deserve to have bad things happen to me; if I don’t protect myself I am a weak person
Intimacy- I am unlovable because of my past; if I let other get close to me, I'll get hurt again. 

Future oriented thinking and recovery feel vulnerable as it pushes us to the unknowns of our lives.
Fear of the future, life after trauma, causes guilt ("I made a mistake, I feel bad")/shame ("I am a mistake, I am bad")/self-sabotage (you subconsciously make sure you don’t get it; you push people away to hurt yourself; or accept only the love you feel you deserve) to be triggered when we are most afraid of repeating the past, and leads you to believe you’re undeserving of love.

Undeserving of love.



Now.  That's a lot of information, and I feel like I'm only scratching the surface, but all I can say is that all of those things above have resonated in ways I can't being to describe with regards to the past few months.  So this is the tl;dr- all of it boils down to this fear of abandonment.
PTSD from being isolated and alone because of what having a bone marrow transplant means.
PTSD from losing close friendships in the first few months/couple years after Cam died.
PTSD from losing Cam.  It's weird to think of that as abandonment because it's not like there was a choice.  But the emotional response is still feeling abandoned.


I've done things the past few months that I can't explain, and others that I don't even remember.  "Your feelings are valid" does not necessarily mean "your reaction is an appropriate response to what just happened."  But having a name of what's been going on in my brain has been very helpful in trying to stop doing it.  


There's still some missing parts of the structure, as much as I want to have it figured out and be in a new normal.  Treatment is a marathon, not a sprint.  And there's so much more that I want to say but my brain is turning in to mush at the moment.

But this is a signpost for me, and maybe for someone else who is struggling.  Whether it's PTSD or depression or anxiety or whatever, you don't have to live with it.  And the American Christian world is good about shoving off mental illness as just a sin problem.  There is some truth, but it's not a complete picture.  And the flip side of therapy is that anything that does not align with what's in the Bible is worth throwing away.  And that's what I really want to get in to, but it will have to be a different day.  Maybe tomorrow afternoon.  But the past few weeks I've been working really hard and have been having better days and better relationships than I was the several months leading up to making these discoveries.

So if you take anything away from reading this- don't feel like you have to live with your problems and your pain.