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My brain on Social Anxiety

help-child-social-anxiety-coping-strategies-fears-afraid-quoteIt’s amazing how the human brain, well at least my human brain works.  Last night was my works auction.  For the last few years I have left the auction in a puddle of emotions.  Some bad, most good, all overwhelming.  So, here’s the thing for any newbies to reading my blog, not that anyone actually reads it – sorry that’s that that stupid brain of mine – I have anxiety.  Over the past four years or so I have become much more willing to talk about that…well in writing at least.  I am also an extreme introvert with some pretty gnarly social anxiety.  Once I get comfortable with people those issues greatly diminish and people forget that with new people, or busy environments I struggle a lot.  I don’t know how to interact in party situations, I literally don’t know how to make small talk, and I can’t get my brain to relax and stop second guessing myself and worrying about what all those people are thinking about me to just settle in,relax, and enjoy.

So, all of this leads to the realities of me in a room full of 90 people (or so I was told), mostly people I don’t know with the exception of my fellow teachers (whom I’m generally comfortable with) and a handful of parents (brain in overdrive to not say something utterly stupid or awkward).  As I wander the silent auction trying to find someone to interact with, without interrupting or intruding on another’s conversations; without trying to cling to my fellow teachers like the social looser I am, I am beyond uncomfortable and can feel the anxiety growing to insane levels. Thankfully it’s time to sit down, I go to my safe zone, a table full of my friends, the teachers I work with.  But I sit between two conversations, unable or unsure how to enter either, and smile at the person across from me, to far for a conversation and to new to my world for me to know what to say anyway.

It’s a great night in which we raise a remarkable amount of money for the school.  After standing awkwardly in the middle of the room, as the bidding for the item that I am contributing to, I am able to settle in and just enjoy the action and the laughter (our auctioneer is a riot).  Then the auction is over, and the families and church members begin to leave…but that means the hardest part of the evening is starting.  See, every year the auction ends with dancing, crazy wild, fun dancing by the teachers and sometimes a few of the crazier, more amazing parents.

For the last two years an amazing friend (if you read this I love you!), and this year a different one (love you too), has dragged me onto the floor and encouraged me to dance with everyone else, led me and tried so hard to help me be comfortable and have fun with my friends.  Shockingly enough (she says with utter sarcasm) I don’t dance, I haven’t got the foggiest idea how to dance with anyone other than my preschool students.  It’s not because I don’t have rhythm…I’m a musician I have rhythm, I just don’t know what to do with my body.  I 100% don’t want to be seen in that moment where I know I look like a big fat girl who has no clue and looks like an utter freak.

Now I know that these amazing ladies don’t care!  I just don’t know how to shut up that part of my brain, to not worry about what others are thinking, to not worry about how I look, to not worry worry worry…I don’t know how to shut off that anxiety part of my brain that says I look stupid, that everyone is laughing at you.  Even as I am being danced with (one of the event crew was dancing with us and seeing discomfort cane over with Ana I fly kind words and twirled me around the dance floor for a moment) and as am I laughing, and truly having fun, there’s still that niggling voice and those tears of unsurness and embarrassment in my eyes.

I have come a long way in the past four years at fighting all those years of shitty words, those mean and nasty comments, the bullying of my youth, but it’s still a process.  And those voices feed the anxiety, they feed the fear.

There is nothing like feeling overwhelmed, scared, loved, and extremely joyful all in the same moment.  There is nothing like trying to process all of that or trying to explain it all to someone else.

Every years a little easier who knows maybe next year I’ll find a way to just have fun.

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At about 6:00 pm tonight, January 14th, 2019, it will have been two years since I found out my father was dead.  I cannot say that I have dealt with his loss with a whole lot of grace.  I have had moments of maturity but mostly I have had moments of a girl missing her daddy.

For 36 years he was there.  He was there to love me in spite of my failures, to help me figure out what to do, or to panic at his sobbing emotional mess of a child depending on the issue and me.  But, he was there…with unending and unconditional love.   My dad and I did not always see eye to eye and I could royally piss him off as only a daughter can piss of her Dad, but he loved me.  At times I exasperated him, but he loved me.  We fought, but he always loved me and except as petulant child, and really at the heart of it even then, I always knew that he loved me and that would never change.

I miss him, and the pain of his absence hits out of nowhere with no contexts sometimes…and sometimes I see it coming, sometimes I can deflect and sometimes I get swallowed whole.

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I will forever cherish the memories of him.  I will cherish styling his hair as a little girl, as he sat with a slightly exasperated and bemused grin.  I will cherish wrestling with him.  I will cherish sitting in the kitchen with him when he cooked, or watching cooking shows with him.  I will cherish watching horror films with him.  I will forever cherish our conversations, how he challenged me to think for myself, to fight for myself, and be the woman I am today.  I will cherish the memories of him going to bat for me when a teacher did wrong.  I will cherish him telling me, and throwing pillows at my head, when I was being a shit.  I will cherish loving hugs and cuddles.  I will cherish games of chess.  I will cherish all the good times the last year of his life brought before the cancer truly took his mind as well as his body.  I will cherish it all.

I will say this as well Cherish your loved ones.  Make memories, make time.  There are aspects of knowing my father was going to die that I will never be okay with, but having that time and making those memories that I will always keep close and be thankful for.

Good People

You ever marvel at humanity and human beings? I think there are more good, caring, and kind humans than the opposite but the opposite gets our focus and our attention.

Today is All Saints Sunday, a day to remember those we’ve lost, the names of the people in the church community who’ve died in the past year are read. My dad’s name was still in the list. I was silently sad remembering him and others we’d lost, but I was ok, until his name was read. I ran from the church as the loud sobs began. I was checked on by a member of the church. Another, a friend, came into the room and saw me, hugged and comforted me.

The next person to encounter me sitting on the floor, now silently, crying didn’t see the sorrow or the tears. She didn’t see my glasses on the floor she just saw me someone who could watch her granddaughter who was begin to struggle within the service. Of course it was at a time in the service where the nursery isn’t manned but hey. I stood up and told her she was welcome to hang with her but I could not take her. She still didn’t see the tears, the cracking voice. I repeated myself, smiled a teary smile at the little one and left.

I went and calmed myself, marveling at the lack of caring and compassion for a fellow human. I wondered what was wrong with the world. I then returned to the church to get my stuff. Was pulled into a comforting hug and kind words by yet another amazing friend and then in true Jenn fashion went to my office at the church to work, organize, basically focus on something else.

After a bit I returned to the church needing to relay info to someone. Our Deacon stopped me on the way to check in with me. As I approached my Priest, wanting to talk to him about a Children’s Ministries thing he saw me coming and said he wanted to talk with me. He wanted to check on me having seen my rush out of the service and knowing why he was concerned.

As I drove home I thought about all of this. I thought about the uncaring person for a bit but really considered the reality. One person was self focused and oblivious, 5 including one who doesn’t really know me, showed compassion and kindness.

My point in all this rambling? Focus on the five not the one. Focus on all the kind caring, compassionate, empathetic people in the world not the one whose wrapped up in something else. They are probably caring as well but in the moment they’ve got other things happening and that is where their focus is…it doesn’t mean they’re ‘bad’.

Vestibular: What’s that?

BAW_lockup_colorIt’s almost vestibular awareness week.  I share these dates, I share the VeDA site this time every year, but I never really explain why or what it is.  To a certain extent I am afraid to do, to have people understand some of what I deal with…what my chronic illness is like because it can seem scary if you don’t understand, if you don’t know how careful and how aware I am of my body and what is happening at all times.

So, what is Vestibular?  Do you know?  Until 8 years ago I didn’t know that word.  By the way it is the balance functions of the inner ear.  Did you know that your inner ear is responsible for balance, had you ever thought about the fact that there is a part of the body that works for this?  I didn’t not really.  I knew that my grandma Helen had a balance disorder and that as a kid I thought she was kinda boring and I hated that she couldn’t do so many things, but I didn’t get it and I certainly never thought about it. I often wish I could go back in time and tell that little girl to be kind, to ask questions, to appreciate all that Grandma did considering that battle she was fighting.  No one really thinks about the idea of balance and the body until it affects them.  This is where my story begins and the reason why I share VEDA every year.  Oh, yes VeDA is the Vestibular Disorders Association.  There are lots of vestibular conditions, most are little known and even less understood, and I have one.

Here is my Story:

My story began in mid June of 2010.  I woke up as normal one day and discovered that my left ear was stuffy and my balance was off.  My only real thought being ‘great another ear infection’.  I guess in some ways my story began before that June day, all my life I’d dealt with ear infections and in my late teens I’d had some dizzy issues that had been attributed to sinus congestion and ear infections.  I dealt with the fullness in my ears and the slight balance issues for a few days before going to the Dr and sure enough I had an infection.  A few days later the dizzies were worse they had escalated to full on tilt-a-whirl moments and I couldn’t hear anything in my left ear.  When I went back the Dr, my concern being the dizzy, they referred me to an ENT they weren’t worried about the dizzy but the hearing loss.

A week later I had my first hearing test since I was a child and was told that I had a profound, at the time 80% loss, in my left ear.  At that appointment my new Dr. told me that she thought I had a tumor pressing on my auditory nerve.  Que utter terror!!!, also I wanted to know when the world would stop spinning, they were not concerned.  I was told it would fix itself but would likely be a few weeks.  A week later I had my first Head MRI…lots of fun for claustrophobe and someone who now got dizzy when laying in any position other than on her right side with her head tucked in.  I few days later the doc called and told me the MRI showed nothing but now she wanted to do a Head CT to check some bone.  Scheduled that…guess what…NOTHING!!!  At this point is had been months, I had had all these tests including having my hearing checked again and it only got worse.  I was missing at least one day a week of work due to the dizziness.  I’d even had to be practically carried from my room as it turned into a tea-cup ride one afternoon.

Finally, I had another face to face meeting with the Dr.  The conversations at home had been about Grandma Helen.  See she had Meniere’s Disease, she had a vestibular condition, and what I was experiencing was her life.

In Late August/Early September I finally got the Dr. to take the Dizzy part of all this serious.  Yes, loss of hearing bad, but ya know what loss of balance bad too and it was not getting better, it was getting worse.  In late September I had what I refer to as the ‘spin around and make you puke test’.  No actual physical spinning involved, just lots of tricking your body into feeling like it’s spinning.  At the end of the test I had a diagnosis, I had a Meniere’s.  There is no cure, there are sort of treatments, and at 29 years old I was young for the onset of the condition.  I will add that I was lucky most people wait years for a diagnosis of Meniere’s.  It is generally a diagnosis of elimination in which you spend years doing one test after another to eliminate causes and more common conditions, because of my familial history I had people who were knowledgeable and who pushed to find out if this was it, there is also believed to be a genetic component.

At 29 years old I was positive that my life was over.  My dreams where done.  I was a preschool teacher who couldn’t spin, couldn’t bend over, couldn’t guarantee that the word wasn’t going to become a merry-go-round at any moment.  I tried, I struggled, and I fought for normalcy.  For a little over a year I continued what I was doing before realizing it wasn’t working anymore.  I was terrified, I was miserable, my co-workers were rightly frustrated, I was seriously depressed, and angry at the world.  Putting on a happy face for families and for my amazing kiddos was wearing and that exhaustion just made things worse.

I left a job that I loved and tried to figure out what my new normal was, what my new dream was, what I was going to do with my life now that I fully believed I couldn’t do what I loved.

I spent many years after my diagnosis, and really the onset of symptoms, terrified.  Living in a world where your body can betray you at any moment is scary.  There is a reason so many with Vestibular conditions have PTSD.  Eventually you figure it out though, for me it took about 3 years of despair and giving up before I figured out that I wasn’t willing to give up my dreams and I was going to figure this life with Meniere’s out.

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It has been just over 8 years since the onset of my Meniere’s.   And it has been 5 years since I decided I wasn’t going to give up on what I loved, working with kids.  I returned to teaching 3 years ago and I teach without fear most days.  I know what my triggers are, I know how to deal when things get off balance, and I have less of those whirligig moments.

I still have moments when I reach out for the wall.  I am careful about getting over tired.  I occasionally have those ‘drunk’ moments.  I have lost 90% of the hearing in my left ear.

BUT, I am blest!  I watch the people in my support groups who are still where I was…even years later, I worry about when those bad bad days will return but I try, so very hard to not let them rule my life.  I don’t physically spin about anymore, and I think about how I move but my life is MINE and I get to do what I love!  I fought and continue to fight for my dreams…I pray that I will never lose them.

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Consider helping VeDa by donating here.

LEarn more about VeDA and vestibular conditions at their website vestibular.org

 

Below is the Sermon I preached on Sunday February 11th at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Kirkland, Wa.  This was the first time I’ve ever done this and it was an amazing experience.

My Sermon is based on the following Gospel reading from this mornings lectionary.

Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one[a]on earth could bleach them. And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus. Then Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings,[b] one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” He did not know what to say, for they were terrified. Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, “This is my Son, the Beloved;[c] listen to him!” Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them any more, but only Jesus.

As they were coming down the mountain, he ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead.

Mark 9:2-9 New Revised Standard Version

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There were two things that stood out to me as I read through this mornings gospel.  Firstly, the idea that Peter, James, and John were TERRIFIED by the transfiguration of Jesus and secondly the words from on high saying ‘This is my son, the beloved, LISTEN TO HIM!’

As I read through the scripture this week, did my subsequent research, and pondered it’s meaning there was one thought that kept coming back to me … the idea of stepping out of our comfort zones.

Peter would have been most content to stay there on that mountain top with Jesus and his friends.  To build dwellings for Christ, Moses, and Elijah and stay put.  He would have loved to not have to come down from the mountain and do the DIFFICULT work that was to come next.   As much as he was frightened in that moment I believe he was more afraid of what was to come.  It was more comfortable there, doing what they had been doing, all this time with Jesus.

Comfort zones are great!  We like them, I love them.  We know what to expect and how to behave but nothing changes, nothing grows, nothing gets better.  Instead it often gets stagnant and stale.

Obviously, I will be the first to admit that the comfort zone is nice, but I also realize that I would not be the person I am today if I wasn’t shoved out of it, usually kicking and screaming, more than once in my life.

When I went to Covenant Players, when I take on new challenges, and leadership roles in every environment of my life, every time I’ve had to get up in front of a group of people to speak  – It’s been uncomfortable, but it’s also been this amazing time of growth, stretching me, as a person, as well as my faith.  This need to stretch, and grow is not just for people individually but communities as well, one’s personal growth can also help grow the communities around them and vise-versa.

Thinking back to three years ago, when I decided to go back to teaching, I promptly messaged my old boss to come in a talk with her.  I had planned to go back to what I knew, what was comfortable no stretching, no growth, no discomfort required.  I think about what I would have missed out on had I not listened to God as he pointed me in another direction.  I would not be at the amazing school I am, with a staff that supports and challenges me and each other every day.  I would not have met a little boy who desperately needed someone in his life to love him unconditionally and guide him, or at least would not have been able to steer his family towards our school and the environment he desperately needed; an environment I needed.   It was challenging, it still is, and it was hard, and it was hugely uncomfortable, but it was what was needed and what I was told to do.

Here I come to the second part of the scripture that stands out ‘LISTEN TO HIM’.  ‘This is my son, the beloved. Listen to him’. I get that this is hard.  I am a 2 x 4 to the head kinda person when it comes to hearing, and following what Jesus is telling me to do.  The idea, the instructions, will come and I will have to watch as everything slowly falls apart on my way in the opposite direction before the 2 x 4 hits me smack across the head and I go ‘OH, that’s what I am supposed to do’ or ‘Ok, I’ll listen’.  Usually the latter, as like Jonah I am usually running away.  I’m working hard to listen before the 2 x 4 or giant fish moments.

As I contemplated all this I kept thinking about St. John’s and all the change we’ve been through over the past few years and all the change that is coming.  Over the past few months we’ve had staff changes, we’ve had program changes, and so many other changes all of this takes us out of the comfort zone.  We are being lead into the new and the unknown which can be amazing but terrifying.

I think that we are being pushed out of our comfort zones to grow, and change, and be something new as a community of faith.  As we stretch to meet the changing needs of the community around us we have to do things in a new way, which can be exciting but new is often uncomfortable.

We are heading into a huge time of change as we look for a new rector.  This is a time of uncertainty.  This is a time to ‘Listen to Him’ and to do all that we can to hear what God is telling us.

As we head into Lent, a time of change, I challenge us to keep this scripture in mind.  Lent is a time of heading from comfort into uncertainty for the disciples and for us. I would challenge us all to look to what we are being called to do.  To ‘Listen to Him’ and step out of our comfort zones, where we will be stretched, and we will find growth.

Too many feelings

33572afbc6659890d6628f81a19ab2bc--miss-you-daddy-i-miss-uAs anyone whose spent much time in my Blog know this is a place I come to talk about many things, especially feelings, and try and quiet my mind.  Also, as many know I lost my father in January.  It’s been a rough year…hell it’s been a rough couple of years going back to his being sick and on through his death and the processing of that.

I’ve thought a lot about the process of losing a loved one this year.  I’m not sure, hell I know, that I haven’t done this well and certainly haven’t done this gracefully.  I miss my father so much, and as the holidays approach (and pass as this has been the growing feeling since Halloween), as the anniversary of his death comes near I feel like I am failing at my life.  I am so on edge emotionally, I feel like I am going to break to pieces on a daily basis.  I have to hold myself together…people tell me it’s ok, it’s ok to feel it, to be kind to myself, to be gentle with myself, but I don’t know how.  I don’t know how to do all that has to be done and allow myself to fall apart at the sometime.  I have to hold on, I have to push through…put I’m not doing that well.  The smile is breaking, the façade is crumbling, the mask is gone and all that’s left is me and my sorrow and my pain.  Holding back the tears with the broken strands that are left…and more and more are breaking through.

I’m failing at faking it…I’m failing at a lot of things right now.   So if you have to deal with my in the real world give me a little bit of grace cause I really am trying…trying so very hard.

A little over a month ago I asked the Priest-in-Charge at my church if I could talk to the congregation about the importance of children in our church and the need for people to work with them.  His response was that he wanted me to give a sermon…I figured he’d finally lost his mind.  Some weeks later I got an email from our associate priest about a Sermon class she was offering.  I signed up.  What follows is the sermon I wound up writing.  My goal was a sermon about the importance of children but what was impressed upon my heart as I wrote was the importance of God’s love for ALL humankind and how we adults need to see that love with the purity, innocence, and awe of childhood.


Christ children4

Mark 10:13-16

13 People were bringing little children to him in order that he might touch them; and the disciples spoke sternly to them. 14 But when Jesus saw this, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. 15 Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.” 16 And he took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them.

Have you ever told a small child that God or Jesus loves them?  Have you watched their face as they take in these words?  Their reaction, is truly enchanting.  One might think that this would be true of telling them that anyone loves them but it’s not the same when they are told that their families love them or that their teachers, or friends love them.  There’s almost this sense of ‘well no duh’ from most of them at these revelations.  But when you tell them that GOD LOVES them the joy and amazement is almost palpable.

At the school where I teach we have chapel every Wednesday morning where we talk about our school’s virtues and about God and Jesus.   My co-teacher and I continue these themes throughout our days learning.  We read stories about God’s love, talk about our school virtues which are the fruits of the spirit, and sing songs like Jesus loves me.  At the end of our circle time we go around the room telling each child individually that Jesus LOVES them.  As well as their mommies and daddies, brothers and sisters, teachers and friends, that God loves EVERYONE.  The first few times we do this the look of amazement on their faces is touching.  That amazement turns to an effervescent Joy as the year progresses…but it is always there.   No matter how many times we tell them that Jesus or God LOVES them there is an expression and feeling of awe, wonder, amazement, and utter joy in their faces and countenance.

In the book of Mark, Mark writes of Jesus saying “Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. 15 Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.”  I was thinking about this sense of Awe that the children seem to have when told that God and Jesus loves them as I read this scripture the other day.

The church seems to use this scripture a lot for advocating the presence of children in church.  Having them in the service, having education ministries for them, having faith based activities for them so that they can ‘come’ and so on.  Children are important!  Let me say that again CHILDREN ARE IMPORTANT!  Having ministries for them and ways for them to be present and part of the church is important.  Ways for them to learn about, and come to know and love God and Christ are vitally important to them and us as adults but I wonder if that was truly what Jesus was saying.

Again, I think of the innocence and the awe at which my students take the information that they are loved by God.  That they are LOVED by Jesus.  They don’t try and quantify it, they don’t try and negotiate it … they don’t say God will love me if I such and such happens … or if I do blah  … they just accept it with the innocence that comes with Childhood.  With the raw faith and acceptance that comes with being a child.  In the scripture Jesus says “Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it”.

I remember in my youth having a conversation with someone who was convinced that this meant that you could only enter the kingdom if you came to God as a child, that you could only be a true Christian, you could only go to Heaven if you came to believe when you were a child. Taking the words exactly as written, word for word but not as I think they were intended.   I remember thinking that that made no sense whatsoever and certainly did not jive with the loving God that I had always been taught about.

Part of the joy of being adults is having greater an understanding of things but sometimes, that deeper understanding, that desire to know more, and question things makes it harder to just accept.  We need to take in the knowledge and love of God as a child would.  Not try and argue it, not try and quantify or qualify it, just accept it.  Feel it as a child would.  Know it and see the awe in it.  Accept that we are beloved by God no matter who we are, no matter where we are in our life or our walk with Him, and no matter our faults and flaws.

Jesus loves you.  Take that in… God loves you …don’t think about it feel the childlike joy of knowing that you are truly and utterly loved.