The Art of Mental Health

I’ve been thinking some about mental health. Our family has been going through a lot of big transitions these last couple weeks as my kids have all started back to school. My oldest son is getting ready to head off to Montana for a year, my oldest daughter is home for a quick visit after her summer in Alaska and then she heads back to Alaska for another year. 

Trying to adjust to a new schedule, new routines, new family dynamics, has been exhausting. My body’s response to lots of stress and change is to kick in the insomnia. So, lately, somewhere around 3am, I wake up and can’t go back to sleep for hours. I think I probably could go back to sleep easier if my thoughts would just stop. Racing thoughts. Anxious thoughts. Little worries that quickly turn into life-threatening tragedies. And I’m laying there just wishing my brain would shut up and go to sleep. 

I have been fighting anxiety and panic attacks since I was nineteen years old. I’ve learned some things over the years. When I’m in a full-blown panic attack I find that reciting my Creed of Beliefs out loud helps things to calm down. Writing down all the things I’m afraid of and then writing on top of those things scriptures where God has promised to take care of these particular worries is also a big thing I can do. But usually my anxiety doesn’t reach those levels. Usually I can keep it under control. 

It was only this week that I connected some dots with my behavior. I suddenly realized that some of my life-long habits are actually ways of controlling anxiety. This week I have been carrying around a book of Sudoku puzzles (very fun math puzzles!). When I’m sitting in a room with all my kids clamoring around me, telling me about their days at school, playing with each other, asking for me to watch them do a trick or look at this picture they colored, I sit there and work on my Sudoku puzzles. Whenever they want my attention I look up and give it to them, but as soon as they’ve moved on, I go back to my puzzle. So, this week, I suddenly realized that when I’m doing Sudoku all my racing thoughts go on pause. It’s like, somehow, doing Sudoku uses enough brain power that it distracts those thoughts, but I can still listen to the conversations around me. 

After this major AH-HAH moment, I started wondering what else I do that has the same effect. Playing the piano definitely does that, though it takes too much brain power to be able to still listen to other people in the room. But playing Bach is kind of like pouring soothing oil on a raw wound. It creates order out of chaos. 

Reading books is also a huge one. I have been a bookworm since I was in Second Grade. But, I can read a book in the room with my family and still hear what’s going on around me, and stop reading and engage and then go back to reading. 

Then there are the times when I can’t do these activities because I’m driving or in a meeting or some other place where those things would be frowned upon. Well, then I usually have some story that I’m creating in my head and I run the story in my mind, kind of like a movie, making it up as I go along. 

I’ve always thought I was a little weird. Why do I do these things? I have to admit, realizing that these habits are actually ways that I manage anxiety is actually a bit of a relief. I feel like instead of being a bit weird and anti-social, I have actually just stumbled on ways of being a bit more mentally healthy. And it didn’t involve any illegal substances or harmful practices. Yay! 

Of course, it would be nice if those racing thoughts would just stop. And I find that I engage less in my Habits when I’m doing well spiritually, physically, mentally. But, I’ve also discovered that I can’t control everything that happens in life. Sometimes I have lots of time and energy to focus on being healthy. But other times life starts throwing a bunch of curve balls and instead of “living victoriously” it’s more like holding on to the roller coaster with an icy grip and just waiting for those big flips and turns to be over before you hit another straight stretch. 

I thank God for his mercy and grace that helps me to soar high, living the Great Life. And I thank God for his mercy and grace that helps me to just hang on and survive when life is hard. And I’m thankful for the coping mechanisms he’s helped me to find without my even realizing it. 

 

 

Thoughts on Race from the Racially Awkward

Today I was at the grocery store. A group of us shoppers were crowded in line, paying for our groceries. I was just finishing paying and I smelled this amazing aroma of fried chicken. I glanced behind me and there was a really large black man standing there waiting to pay. I commented, That chicken smells so good, it makes me want to go get some! He commented back that he wasn’t even going to get to eat it, it was for someone else. I sympathized and went on my way with my groceries. A typical southern grocery store interaction. As I was walking out, I wondered why all interactions with people of a different race can’t be like that. Just two people chatting together in the grocery store line, not seeing color.

The problem is, I know that it goes a lot deeper than “I just don’t see color”. I was reading a book on American history that was focusing on the nonwhites in America. The atrocities that were committed against the Native Americans blows my mind. Sure, we all know that the white people and the Native Americans fought wars with each other, weren’t friendly with each other.. But have you ever read the actual accounts of what happened?  What is most horrifying is reading the historical documents written by the white men who led these atrocities and realizing that they did not see Native Americans as people. They just weren’t human, so it didn’t really matter. Looking at the history of slavery in America: for 200 years the white people kept black people as slaves. Again, there seemed to be a total lack of acknowledgement that black people are humans. Then after slavery was abolished we had the Jim Crow laws for almost another 100 years that were designed to keep black and white people separated as much as possible. Again, not seeing black people as humans. This is the history of our country, and it’s not a distant history. My father’s generation can still remember segregation. 

I am puzzled when people say that racism is a figment of the black person’s imagination. I see examples of it all the time, just in the comments that people make in my hearing. Besides, our country was founded on racism. It is a blight on our country. I really struggle when people say that we live in a Christian country, founded by Christians, and it is only in the past couple decades that we have wandered from our true roots. I struggle with that, because I read about our true roots being genocide. Stealing land. Enslaving an entire race for several centuries. These are not actions that I would proudly stamp with the label “Christian”. I’m not saying that our country is all bad. Our constitution laid a foundation that could eventually lead to freedom for all. But, it took us a long time to get here. And I’m not convinced that we have truly arrived yet. 

Now, things are different. All races are legally equal. All races are legally protected. We are now supposed to be a united, non-racist country. Except that we are still awkward with each other. There’s a lot of mistrust. There’s a lot of misunderstanding. I know that I myself am Racially Awkward. I see all races as equally human, equally important. But, I’m not comfortable around all races. I tend to feel like I’m walking on eggshells. Afraid that I’m going to inadvertently say something offensive. Afraid that I’m going to come across the wrong way. Afraid that my actions will be misinterpreted. I wish so much to be friends with people of other races and show that I am not racist, and show that “I don’t see color”, and say, look, I am not part of that whole horrible history of white people. But, I don’t know how to do it, and so I am just Awkward. 

I wish that we could just be blunt with each other. My family lives in a primarily black community in the South and my kids are often the only white person in their class. They relate conversations to me and I sometimes cringe. The high schoolers have no problem hurling racial epitaphs at each other and joking about race and poking fun of each other and I think, Is that ok? Is my kid crossing the line? Is he being unfairly picked on because of his color? But, at the same time, I envy them. Because they don’t seem to have any inhibitions. They just say what they’re thinking to each other. The awkwardness isn’t there. 

I’m not sure what the answers are for our country. I think some real educating on the racial history of our country would be good. Let’s not gloss over what happened in order for us to claim this land as our own and create our own country. Let’s be honest about it. As a Christian, I think it would be totally appropriate for those who call our country a Christian Country to enter a time of mourning and fasting and repentance, to stand in for the sins of our ancestors. We need to keep ferreting out laws and regulations that are keeping true equality from happening.  And then time. We need time. We need our kids and our grandkids to be able to live in a world that isn’t tainted by the sins of our past. Where they can establish true equality and true brotherhood. 

In the meantime I will continue to pursue friendships with people who look differently than me and maybe one day, I will stop being awkward. But it’s going to take practice. And that is something I can do. 

EDIT POST: I have been thinking on this some more. I have been friends with people of all races and many different nationalities most of my life. I think my awkwardness developed much later as an adult. Perhaps it’s just because I became more aware of racial tensions where before, I had been oblivious.

Just Keep Cooking

So, the other night I experienced a new Low in cooking. While cooking brats on my grill, I somehow managed to set them all on fire. I mean REALLY on fire. Like, I took them off the grill with my tongs and put them on a plate and there were still flames coming out of them on the plate. This is a first for me. 

 

The experience can now join my Hall of Flame cooking disasters. Like the time I put on a pot of frozen green beans, covered them with water, put them on to boil, and then forgot them long enough that all the water evaporated and the green beans burned to the bottom of the pot. I was pretty impressed with that one. 

 

Or the time my husband bought me a very expensive pot with a steamer insert option. I filled up the steamer bowl with broccoli, turned on the stove, and waited. And waited and waited. I kept cracking the lid to check on the broccoli and it remained unchangingly raw. Then I started hearing weird sounds from the pot. My husband came in the kitchen to talk to me while I was cooking and I mentioned that I couldn’t figure out why on earth this broccoli was taking so long to cook. He lifted the lid, looked inside, then asked, Did you put any water in the pot? …….Ummm. No. I think I forgot that step. 

That little “oops” damaged the bottom of my pot to the point that it was unusable. 

 

I’ve had a couple times when flames have erupted from my stove top due to me accidentally leaving a dishtowel on the burner. 

 

I’ve had multiple times where I have put a pot of food on the stove to cook and come back much later and realized I never turned the burner on. 

 

I’ve baked double batches of muffins only to realize, when I taste them, that I forgot some important ingredient like salt or sugar. 

 

I exploded potatoes in my oven once. 

 

One time I baked a casserole in the oven in a glass casserole dish. When it was done I took it out of the oven, placed it on the stove top, and let it sit for a couple minutes to cool. Unfortunately, I hadn’t realized that one of the stove burners was on. The glass dish heated up and then exploded all over the kitchen. I think we ended up going out to eat that night. 

 

Most of my cooking problems are related to the fact that I am very absent-minded and also constantly being distracted by a houseful of children. 

 

Here’s the thing. I haven’t stopped cooking. I don’t have any intentions to stop cooking. Every day, I get up and make sure the family is fed three times a day. Little mistakes and really BIG mistakes have not stopped me from trying once again. 

 

Now, if I could somehow get that same tenacity for other areas in my life. Areas like rocky relationships, health goals, self-discipline goals.

 

 I’ve been feeling a bit discouraged the last couple days, just feeling like I have failed to accomplish my goals so many times, maybe I should just give up. But really, I just need to adopt the “cooking mistakes” approach. You mess up, you apologize to whoever is affected by the mistake, you clean up the mess, you keep cooking. 

 

NEEDS vs WANTS

Yesterday a friend texted me and told me she had no food in her house. I kind of groaned. I had just been looking at my bank account and was feeling stressed at the thought of stretching the amount of money I had to meet our family’s needs. My first thought was, I do not have enough money to go buy her groceries. I’m going to be stretched as it is to buy food for my own family. I texted her back the name of a food kitchen in our neighborhood that would be having a free marketplace in a couple days. She made plans to drop by my house in a little while and so I got up, grabbed a bag and went and looked in my pantry. I started filling up the bag and then went and got a second bag and filled it up too. By the time I was done, I had put up enough food for several days for her family and really had not put any stress on our family by doing so. I hadn’t realized that I had that much food laying around my house. 

Before the text, my mindset had been, We have NO FOOD in the house! I NEED to go grocery shopping! In reality, even after giving away two bags of groceries, I still had enough food in the house that if some world catastrophe struck and we were trapped, I could still feed our family for a couple weeks. Of course, I wouldn’t have any fresh fruit and vegetables or milk, and I’d run out of meat pretty quick, but we could eat homemade cornbread and bread, and beans and other nutritious food that would serve us just fine in an emergency. (And no, I’m not a prepper.)

This summer I moved out of my bedroom. I filled up a canvas bag of clothes and a couple personal items and I didn’t go back into my room all summer. I lived all summer with one bag. I wanted my room back, but did I NEED any of the stuff in my room to live? Nope. 

This past weekend my husband and I spent a weekend at a cabin without the kids. I took groceries and cooked our meals while we were there. The cabin was stocked with everything you were supposed to need to cook. They had really limited options though. The entire weekend I cooked using one wobbly knife, one spatula, and one big spoon. I missed my utensil drawer back home that has a million knives and million spoons. But, I didn’t NEED all those utensils. They just make life a bit easier. 

Today, I have been looking around my house. I realized that though I have a large cupboard filled with pots and pans and cooking sheets and baking pans and serving bowls, I don’t use all of them. In fact, on a regular basis, I only use about half of my pots and pans. I have a storage place on top of my cabinets that is full of interesting serving platters and jars and fancy dishes. I don’t think I’ve touched them in two years. 

I have a hallway that has a large bookcase full of all my homeschooling books and materials that I used during my twelve year stint of homeschooling. I have been unsure of what to do with all these materials. I have tried giving them away, but no one is interested. I hate selling things, with a passion, so getting on ebay to sell my stuff is not a viable option. While I would like to keep all my interesting books that the kids love to read and look at, I have no need to keep boring, half-used workbooks. And there are a lot of the books that really aren’t that interesting. In short, I have an entire hallway filled with things I don’t NEED and I don’t even really WANT. 

In fact, I have a feeling that a good fifty percent of the belongings in my house are things that we don’t NEED and don’t even WANT. 

I am finding that belongings and things are actually a pretty heavy burden. You have to clean them and organize them. They make your living space feel more crowded. They complicate your life more. Busily managing your stuff takes time away from other more important things. But, it’s an addiction. We are a consumer-driven society. We are always on the lookout for things to buy. More things to own. Commercials feed this. We see something shiny and bright and new on the screen and we think, wow, I NEED one of those. And we use the word NEED a lot. I NEED some new clothes. I NEED some new shoes. I NEED new furniture. I NEED that new gadget. I NEED a new book. (That one is my go-to statement.)

Maybe it would help us if we stopped using the word NEED and replaced it with WANT. It would be more honest. Cause really, our NEEDS are very basic. We need food and water, shelter, clothing, loving relationships. Our WANTS are a lot more complicated. 

I WANT to dress at the same level as my peers so I don’t stand out. I WANT things that make my life more convenient and easy. I WANT to be entertained 24hrs a day. I WANT something new to boost my mood and cheer me up. 

I don’t know if there is anything inherently wrong with wanting things. But when those things start to take over your life and actually make your quality of life worse, it’s probably a good idea to regroup. Make yourself differentiate. Do I NEED this or do I just WANT this? Is adding another object to my life going to make my life better or just more complicated? Do I really want to have to clean up this much stuff every day? 

I have decided that the answer to those questions is NO. I don’t need this stuff, and in fact, I don’t want to clean up all this stuff. I don’t want to have to keep taking care of all this stuff. So, I am initiating The Great Heneise House Clean Out. 

Here’s to making life more simple and getting all those WANTS back under control. 

A Love Poem of Sorts

It is our 20th Wedding Anniversary this week. I thought that perhaps I would search the internet high and wide and find a poem that would immortalize our love. A poem that I could point at and say, Yes, that is what we have. I am not a poet. I read through these poems. These amazing works of art. My soul jumped at the beauty that was portrayed. Love displayed as passion, as longing, as yearning. As a lifelong quest. I am not a poet. I can’t create these airy pieces of lace, strung together with words. And I searched and searched. But I couldn’t find a poem for us. I am not a poet. But I long to gift you with an arrangement of words that would express our love for each other. 

 

Our love is not the kind that is celebrated by poets.

 

Our love was Slow. Solid. Practical. 

 

In a world of French Cuisine, we are meat and potatoes. 

 

Our marriage was never about You and Me. It was always about You, Me, and the children we made. Always children present. 

 

And yet, somehow we have managed to lift our gazes high enough, to look over the tops of our children’s heads, and still see each other. 

 

Our love was never about extravagance and ease. It has been a constant pushing, striving, scraping, saving. Somehow miraculously taking the small amount we have and turning it into enough. And more than enough. 

 

Our love has never contained long romantic getaways, stealing away to be alone. No, our love has been about installing a lock on our bedroom door. Whispering to each other in the middle of the night when all the children are asleep. Exchanging flirtatious glances across the dining room table. Snuggling on the couch together as small toddlers crawl all over us. Kissing and hearing a chorus of “EWW YUCK!” from the nearby children. 

 

The most dramatic moments of our marriage have come in the form of conversations. Where I reveal to you a secret part of who I am and you reveal to me hidden parts of who you are. And the conversation slowly dies out and we stare at each other. Amazed that it is possible to know another human so deeply. 

 

And always, the most romantic part of our week is to go to church on Sunday morning. Sit close together. Hands clasped. Stand together, lift our hands in worship. Heads bowed together in prayer. Our shoulders brushing together. Exchanging knowing looks when something significant is said that touches the problems we happen to be facing that very moment. 

 

Ours is not a love of fireworks and showy bonfires. Ours is the slow, steady burning of coals that light the kitchen fires and cook the meals and provide a constant, steady source of warmth. 

 

Ours is not the story of two puzzle pieces that perfectly fit together. Rather we are two rough-edged, world-scarred people who chose each other. We chose to wrap our two mismatched pieces of iron, jagged and sharp, and twist them together into one piece. Two separate, infinitely different pieces of metal, twined together by divine hands into one strong piece that cannot be broken…Therefore what God has joined together, let no man separate…

 

I don’t have the money or the creativity to show my love in large flashy banners. Instead I show you my love in small ways. I try to leave enough hot water for your shower. I serve you a plate of food at supper instead of making you serve yourself. I speak highly of you to our children, even on days when I am irritated with you. I don’t give you any grief for staying up late to watch Fast and Furious #37. I keep your Louis L’amour books in one, easy-to-find spot on our bookshelves. I not only wash your clothes and fold them, but I also put them away. I have developed the habit of not talking about money or bills or other stressful topics right before you go to bed. 

 

Nothing big. Just daily little considerations to let you know you are important to me. I’m thinking about you. I want you to be happy. 

 

You do the same for me. 

 

Our love is not the love of flowery poems. Our love is Plain. Simple. Steady. 

 

And yet, something tells me. Something says, generations from now, our children’s children’s children, will still speak of us. They will say, That is the kind of marriage I want to have. That is the family legacy we want to pass down. 

 

Maybe one day, my love, we will be legends. 

 

But, the far distant future doesn’t concern me. Right now, I will simply enjoy the pleasure of sharing your bed every night. Cooking your meals. Parenting our children together

Here’s to simple, unadorned love. 

Here’s to us.