Mental Dis-Ease

Mental Health Story #2 (for Mental Health Awareness Month):

So, a few years after I went through that massive life-changing depression, I had the opportunity to experience another bout of mental dis-ease. (My doctor diagnosed “severe anxiety.”) I think the first experience helped prepare me for the second experience, actually. I went into this one equipped with some tools.

This time the experience wasn’t from inside me – this one was caused by external stress that, I thought, I had no control over and that, I thought, I was powerless to change. I felt trapped and couldn’t see any way to make things better for myself.

Unlike my first experience with mental illnes, this time I did see a professional for help. When I called my health insurance hotline to get help, the woman on the other end of the line asked me a series of questions. One of the last questions she asked me was also one of the hardest questions I’ve ever had to answer in my life: “Have you contemplated suicide in the last week?” I was so ashamed and embarrassed. I told her I had. She asked me if I’d contemplated a method. I told her I had.

She asked me why I hadn’t gone through with it, and I told her I hadn’t gone through with it because “I am a chicken shit, and I thought it might hurt.” She started laughing then – which is the best thing she could have done for me – and told me I’d given her a really healthy answer.

The woman on the other end of the phone found a counselor for me, but when I called the counselor’s office I learned this woman was a psychologist – and I told her office that I didn’t really need a psychologist – my problem wasn’t that serious – I just needed a counselor. The receptionist said she’d have the psychologist call me back. When the psychologist called me back, she assured me that she was, basically, just a counselor with a doctor’s degree and encouraged me to come in and see her. So I did.

My first session with her I just sat there and blubbered. My second session with her I blubbered some more and told her all the things I was expected to change in my current teaching position – things I had no control over – and I didn’t see how I could change “and…and…”

The psychologist asked me, “Do you plan to go back to that positiion?” I told her I didn’t see how I could. And then she asked me a question that completely changed the course of my life: “Then why do you need to fix these things?”

Whoah. It was like a huge weight was lifted from my shoulders in that moment. I saw that these things weren’t my problem anymore. I didn’t need to worry about them!

From that moment on our sessions together became all about creating a new life for myself. She helped me recognize the things in my life that were making me, literally, crazy, and that I needed to throw out; and she helped me recognize the things I needed to bring more into my life – creative things, artsy things, Soul-things. She helped me see there WERE options and I wasn’t trapped.

I ended up being led to apply for a new teaching position – working with students who were dealing with challenges and obstacles in their young lives that most of us have never had to experience. I found a healthy purpose in my professional life again, and a renewed love for teaching.

From this experience, I learned that we’re never trapped, and there’s always an answer – even if we can’t see it right away. As my wonderful friend, Laura Lavigne, says: “There are things we know we know. There are things we know we don’t know. And there are a whole lot of things we don’t know we don’t know – and THAT is where the magic is!”

This experience happened more than a decade ago. I’m retired now. I’m so glad I was able to retire from my career feeling good about teaching, and about myself. I got to give the keynote speech and sing a song at the graduation that year, and celebrate the beauty of education. And all of that happened because I found the courage to make that phone call, and find help for myself. Talking with a professional helped me unlock the mental bars and see the possibilities for my life.

“Willingness to become as a little child and to leave the old for the new, renders thought receptive of the advanced idea. Gladness to leave the false landmarks and joy to see them disappear, – this disposition helps to precipitate the ultimate harmony.”
– Mary Baker Eddy

Lake Padden Forest (Photo by Karen Molenaar Terrell)

“Why Do You Write?”

Why?

Because I’m a writer. That’s what writers do. Artists use brushes; I use a keyboard.

But what’s the point? Do you think you’re going to change anyone’s minds about stuff?

No, I know that’s not likely. And that’s not even my purpose. I don’t have a need for people to believe and feel and think exactly what I believe and feel and think about everything. People can believe whatever they want to believe, as long as their beliefs don’t cause harm to others.

You know why I share my thoughts and feelings in writing? Because I know there are other people out there who share similar feelings and I want them to know I understand what they’re feeling. I want them to know they’re not alone. I want to understand the perspectives of other people, too, and I want to give them the chance to understand mine – whether we agree with each other or not, I think it’s cool when we can understand each other.

Writing is how I connect to others. Writing – and reading what others have written – helps keep us from feeling isolated from one another.

That’s why.

At the Age of 51 I Went Insane

“Sometimes you have to lose your mind to come to your senses.”
– from The Peaceful Warrior by Dan Millman

At the age of 51 I went insane. I did not like it so much. But I learned a lot from it.

Eckhart Tolle tells us: “Life will give you whatever experience is most helpful for the evolution of your consciousness.” He asks, “How do you know this is the experience you need? Because,” he says, “this is the experience you are having at this moment.” I really like how he puts that. My thought is that something is only a challenge to us when there’s a lesson to learn from it. Two people, in other words, might find themselves in identical situations – and one of those people might coast through the situation, and the other might stumble through it – depending on where each individual is in her spiritual progress.

I did a lot of stumbling during The Year of Insanity, and I learned a whole lot of lessons. It was, in essence, my last hurrah – my final experience with the lessons of “callow youth” and ego, before I could move on to the next stage in my development.

During The Year of Insanity it seemed I was confronted with temptation at every turn. I had to come face-to-face with ego, vanity, pride, insecurity, and addiction to praise. It was a really difficult time for me. It felt like I was at the bottom of a deep, dark pit, and I didn’t know how I was going to get out of there. I lost weight, couldn’t sleep, had a constant dialogue going on inside my head about the past and the future, had to keep moving – trying to get away from myself, I guess – and had an actual physical heartache from the sadness I felt. There were times when I just wanted to hide myself away from the world, and not have to deal with this stuff anymore. There were times when I was so full of guilt about the feelings I was having that I just wanted to kill myself, and be done with it. There was a constant battle going on inside me, and it was really wearing.

If somebody had tried to talk to me about mental illness before I’d had this experience, I wouldn’t have had a clue what they were going on about. Mental illness was something that happened to “other” people. Mental illness was not something a madcap Christian Scientist would ever know anything about, right?

Yeesh.

I might have chosen, with good reason, to seek professional help during this time. I might have chosen, again with good reason, to take anti-depressant medications. And after having been through this experience, I can tell you – without any hesitation – that I do not fault anyone, at all, for seeking professional help and using medication if they think it’ll help them get through the kind of thing I went through during that year. And I can also understand why it might be hard for people to cogitate why I didn’t do those things in an effort to help myself.

All I can tell you, really, is that there was some part of me that felt I needed this experience – that I needed to feel the full depth and breadth of it – and there was a part of me that believed if I could survive this, I would come out of it much wiser and stronger than before I went into it. I guess I calculated the costs and rewards and decided the rewards would be worth it. If I could survive.

I give credit to Christian Science, and to my Father-Mother God, for getting me through this time. I absolutely know I wouldn’t have been able to make it without the understanding of God, Good, I’d gained through my study of Christian Science.

I also need to give thanks to three authors whose writings meant a great deal to me while I was working my way through that year. I’ve already quoted one of them – Eckhart Tolle – a contemporary thinker who’s had his own experience with depression, and has generously shared his wisdom and insights about that in several recent best-sellers. The second of the three authors was a liberal Christian minister of the late 1800’s named Henry Drummond. His book, The Greatest Thing in the World, was chock full of wise and wonderful thoughts on love – “the greatest thing in the world.” The third author was a man named Edward A. Kimball, an inspiring and mentally-rousing Christian Science lecturer and teacher during the late 1800’s and early 1900’s.

Regarding my desire to hide myself away from temptation, Henry Drummond had this to say to me: “Above all, do not resent temptation; do not be perplexed because it seems to thicken round you more and more, and ceases neither for effort nor for agony nor prayer. That is your practice. That is the practice which God appoints you, and it is having its work in making you patient, and humble, and generous, and unselfish, and kind, and courteous.” Drummond goes on to say: “Therefore keep in the midst of life. Do not isolate yourself. Be among men and among things, and among troubles, and difficulties, and obstacles… Talent develops itself in solitude – the talent of prayer, of faith, of meditation, of seeing the unseen; character grows in the stream of the world’s life. That chiefly is where men are to learn love.”

Drummond’s admonition to “keep in the midst of life” was really helpful to me. His words helped me look at the challenges I was facing as blessings and needed lessons in my path towards progress, rather than as proof of my weakness, or a reason to feel guilty.

Edward A. Kimball, too, was helpful to me in dealing with the feelings of guilt that seemed to be a symptom of the depression. In his book, Lectures and Articles on Christian Science, Kimball writes, “It won’t do you a particle of good to enter upon a career of self-condemnation. Remorse never got anybody into heaven. A sense of regret and all that sort of thing is not the process. The process is reform; it is change; it is correction…”

Kimball writes, “…a purely human giving up endeavor does not give up, but does involve the scientist in a sense of greater fear. Evil is never disposed of as though it were something. It cannot be given up as though it were something…Try to realize that through Christian Science, you are constantly gaining that which will do everything for you, and that you will succeed according to the gaining process.”

This thought helped bring me peace – the insight that trying to fight an addiction by turning it into A Big Obstacle and using human will to force myself to “give it up” wasn’t the way for me to be healed – but that I needed to fill up the holes and emptiness I felt in my life by gaining an understanding of what constitutes true happiness and filling my life up with that. As my friend, Sabra, pointed out to me, we don’t remember the last time we laid down our dollies and moved on to other joys – giving up my toys was not a Major Event or something I had to force upon myself – it was a natural step in my forward way. And it can be that way with every forward step we take – we aren’t so much “giving up” something, as we are gaining something.

Here’s some of what I gained during this time: a new understanding and appreciation of love; a greater sense of gratitude for the power of a moment, and of a good, deep breath; a greater appreciation for choice; renewed gratitude for all the beauty in Nature and mankind; greater humility, empathy and compassion; and a greater commitment to my own spiritual journey. I’d entered The Year of Insanity an untested “youth” – gliding through life’s challenges on a kind of cavalier, simple joy, without really having to put much work or effort into my mental frame of mind. By the time I exited that year I had a much deeper understanding of God, and who I am, as God’s expression.
-Karen Molenaar Terrell, from The Madcap Christian Scientist’s Middle Book

Dear Lord and Father of us all,|
Forgive our foolish ways;
Reclothe us in our rightful mind;
In purer lives Thy service find,
In deeper reverence, praise.

Breathe through the pulses of desire
Thy coolness and Thy balm;
Let sense be dumb, let flesh retire;
Speak through the earthquake, wind and fire,
O still small voice of calm.

Drop Thy still dews of quietness,
Till all our strivings cease;
Take from us now the strain and stress,
And let our ordered lives confess
The beauty of Thy peace.
– John Greenleaf Whittier

Lake Padden Forest (Photo by Karen Molenaar Terrell)

Pro-Choice Mother

I always knew I wanted to be a mom. I wanted the full experience – a big belly, labor, nursing, holding my baby close in my arms – the whole shebang. When I found out I was pregnant it was one of the best moments of my life. For me, that little zygote was a miracle. For me, that little zygote was my baby from the moment of conception. And when I saw his little heart beating, felt that first faint movement inside me, felt him pushing against me with his feet – it was magic! Labor wasn’t easy – but as soon as he was born and I got that rush of oxytocin – I told my husband I was ready to do this again!

I’m telling you this because I want you to underestand where I’m coming from when I tell you I am pro-choice. When it came to my own pregnancies, I never would have considered an abortion. But my prenancies were planned with happy anticipation. My babies were seen to be healthy in my womb. I was healthy as they grew inside me. I had the support of a wonderful husband and we were financially stable.

Not every woman feels the way I felt when I learned I was pregnant. Pregnancy is not “magic” in every situation and for every woman. Some females lose their lives because they’re pregant. Some females lose their lives in labor. Some females are still children themselves – with their whole lives in front of them and in no place – mentally, emotionally, socially, or financially – to become mothers responsible for other children. To some females, the idea of growing another human being inside of them is simply unfathomable and terrifying. Some females are pregnant because they’re the victims of rape and incest. Some females learn their babies are suffering from severe deformities that will cause them to have short pain-filled lives – and they want to spare their babies from that. For some women pregnancy is not the most magical thing they’ll ever experience, it is the most traumatic.

Every woman is unique – with her own needs and wants and fears – and every woman should have the freedom to choose for herself how her body should be used.

In the Still Evening Air

“I’m scared,” she said as she looked at the stars.
“I’m scared of the war and the meanness, and the bigotry
and the hate.
Good seems so far
and it seems too late.”

“But, child, I’ve never left you I’ve always been here,”
came a voice to her thoughts, strong and clear.
“You can’t lose Love – can’t lose what is real.
You’re safe in this moment – just let yourself feel
the Good all around you – precious and dear.”

And she let herself feel the Good with her then –
brought her thoughts close to ever-where, ever-when.
The Good hadn’t left her. Love was still there –
wrapping gentle arms around her in the still evening air.
-Karen Molenaar Terrell

Blue Cosmos (photo by Karen Molenaar Terrell)

A Poem: Wordle Word Rolling Behind My Eyelids

A thank you to all my friends who’ve gotten me into the wordle word craze. What would my life be without you?

Thanks to all of you
I now close my eyes to sleep
and see wordle words
rolling behind my eyelids
instead of counting sheep

I wake in the middle of the night
with wordle words in my head –
“sight, tight, write, fight,
light, might, right” – is “shite”
a wordle word? I ask as I lie in bed.

One of you mentioned “octordle” last week
and I felt myself getting ascared –
What next? I asked myself in a panic –
will there be Spanish wordles and French ones?
Oh, merde.
-Karen Molenaar Terrell

(Originally published in Humoristianity.wordpress.com)

The Beauty of Humanity Is Everywhere

I’m in the checkout line at the supermarket. In front of me is one of those shopping carts that looks like a little car and there’s a youngster – maybe a year old – sitting in the back of it. While his older siblings help his mom load things onto the conveyor belt, I play peek-a-book with the toddler. He’s smiling at me – he gets that I’m having fun with him. And is there anything better than getting a smile from a child as you play peek-a-boo?

Now it’s my turn to unload my things onto the belt. I glance to the man behind me as I reach for a People magazine and say, embarrassed, “Pretend you don’t see me reaching for a gossip magazine.”

He laughs and says, “I’m not going to judge. You get whatever you need to get.”

I point to the cover. “It’s Helen Mirren. I love Helen Mirren.”

“Oh,” he says, “me, too!” He adds, “You know who I really miss is Betty White!”

We talk for a bit about what a wonderful character Betty White was – and share some of our favorite Betty White scenes with each other. Then we talk for a bit about our parents – I mention to him that my dad lived to be 101. I tell him that when my mom died at 89, Dad said, “I always knew she’d die young!” And he laughs with me about that. “Old” and “young” are relative terms.

Before I leave, I run into the family with the car-cart again. The little boy is still sitting in the back of it and his siblings are playing with him. I tell his mom that I’d played peek-a-book with him earlier while they’d been at the checkout counter, and I’d gotten a smile from him. She laughs and looks over at her son, and agrees that he’s a lot of fun.

I love people – old, young, on the cover of a magazine, or sitting in the back of a car-cart – the beauty of humanity is everywhere.

Always Here

I wake with a sense of Love
surrounding me –
a palpable presence, lifting
me from my bed –
leading me to a place of peace
and joy.
Always with me. Always here.
Protecting, guiding Be-ing.
-Karen Molenaar Terrell

“The lightnings and thunderbolts of error may burst and flash till the cloud is cleared and the tumult dies away in the distance. Then the raindrops of divinity refresh the earth. As St. Paul says, ‘There remaineth therefore a rest to the people of God’ (of Spirit).”
-Mary Baker Eddy, S and H, p 288

Instructions to a First-Time Mom

Instructions to a First-Time Mom

My mother tells me that when I was born and she held me in her arms for the first time, the weight of the responsibility of raising and caring for me suddenly filled her with great fear. She was so afraid she’d mess it all up somehow.

She looked up at the doctor and shared her fears with him. The doctor smiled at her sweet face and said, “Love her. Just love her.”

This was something my mom knew how to do – and do really well.

My brothers and I may not have had the most conventional up-bringing – but none of us could have asked for a mother with more love in her heart. We grew up witnesses to how she expressed love to others – seeing her voice her protest for those who were being treated unfairly, watching her take in stray animals and make them part of the family, seeing how a room would light up as soon as she entered it and smiled her love on everyone. And the love she expressed wasn’t some feigned thing, either. It came from deep inside her – true and pure. She truly loved mankind and all God’s creatures – and we saw this, and incorporated her example into our own sense of how to live a decent and moral life.

As I think back on my younger years, there’s one moment that stands out for me. I think I must have been in my early twenties, and there was some sadness about a break-up with a boyfriend or something – dashed hopes of some kind – I can’t remember the specifics now – but I was feeling lost and alone – not sure what direction I was supposed to take in my life. I was home visiting Mom and Dad, and had gone out into the backyard to look up at the stars and pray. Mom must have known I was out there, and came and stood beside me. I shared my sadness with her then – I think I shared how I was feeling like a “surplus” person – like there seemed to be no place for me. My mom reached over to one of her rose bushes and gently plucked a rose from it and handed it to me. She looked into my eyes and said, “This is you. I see you unfolding into a most beautiful rose.” And then she went back into the house.

Wow. Those simple words, spoken with perfect love, totally reversed my thoughts about myself and my circumstances. Mom loved me. Mom thought I was unfolding like a beautiful rose. How cool is that?!

Moz knew me the longest of anyone – she knew me before I was born! – and nobody loved me like Moz loved me. I’m so glad I got to have her on earth with me for 60 years before she passed on. I was truly blessed to have her for my mother.

As an eagle stirreth up her nest, fluttereth over her young, spreadeth abroad her wings, taketh them, beareth them on her wings…”
– Deuteronomy 32: 11

A mother’s affection cannot be weaned from her child, because the mother-love includes purity and constancy, both of which are immortal. Therefore maternal affection lives on under whatever difficulties.
– from Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures by Mary Baker Eddy

Here’s Moz pregnant with me…

Mom pregnant with me.

The Ties That Bind

Mother’s Day Story #2. (Originally published in 2005.)

THE TIES THAT BIND

“Divine Love always has met and always will meet every human need.” – Mary Baker Eddy

In 1953 my dad was on a mountaineering expedition on K2, the second highest mountain in the world, and considered by many climbers the hardest in the world to climb. A member of his climbing team fell, ropes got tangled, and five men found themselves careening down a steep and icy slope, out of control, with no hope of being able to stop themselves.

Fortunately for them, Pete Schoening was a member of their team. Pete kept the five falling men from certain doom with a belay that has come to be known as “The Belay” in the annals of mountain-climbing history. Because of Pete’s courage, quick-thinking, and strength, my dad and his comrades survived that fall and made it back to civilization where they took up their lives and proceeded to reproduce.

I’ve often thought of the children born to these men at least nine months after this expedition as the “Children of the Belay” and, although I’ve never met all the other spawn of these adventurers, I feel a certain connection to them.

One of the Children of the Belay is Pete’s daughter, Kim. Besides the fact that our dads were both on the expedition to K-2, Kim and I have many things in common. We both were raised in the mountains of the Pacific Northwest by our dads, raised in Christian Science by our moms, and married men from the east coast. When Kim married she moved to upstate New York with her husband, Rich. When my husband’s parents retired they moved to a place about forty miles away from Kim and Rich, and so our trips to the east coast have often included visits with them.

Another thing Scott and I had in common with Rich and Kim was the desire to have children.

You know how when something good happens to you, you want it to happen to your friends, too? When Scott and I became parents for the first time with the birth of our eldest son, it felt like a miracle. I so wanted my friends, Kim and Rich, to experience that miracle, too. So every morning when I woke up I would talk with God about Kim and Rich, and how it seemed such a pure and right and natural thing for them to have a child. I knew they would be great parents.

Two months after my son was born a former Sunday School student of mine asked to speak with me after church. Coincidentally, my former pupil was named Kim. Although no one would have been able to guess by looking at her, Kim was seven months pregnant. With tears in her eyes she told me that she loved the baby she was carrying, but she’d come to feel that the baby didn’t belong to her. She asked me to pray with her to know that the baby would be brought to his rightful home.

So – picture this if you will – every morning I woke up and talked with God about Kim Schoening and her husband and what great parents they’d be, and in the next breath I was praying for Sunday School Kim’s baby to be brought to his right home.

I’m embarrassed to admit that it took a week for me to see the obvious.

Sunday School Kim went through an hour of labor and after two pushes (no, I’m not kidding) gave birth to a beautiful baby boy. She told me it was as if she’d never been touched by the pregnancy or the birth. Because the baby was born early, Kim agreed to nurse him for a few weeks. But even as she nursed him, she knew he didn’t belong to her. When it came time to put him in the arms of Kim Schoening she was able to do so with nothing but joy.

Kim Schoening’s family gave a baby shower for the new baby. When I visited them later I asked Rich to show me the gifts they’d received at the shower. Rich held up a little shirt in awe and said, “We got this.” Then he carefully laid it down and picked up a little sweater, “And this,” he said, handing me the sweater. He continued, reverently showing me each pint-sized t-shirt and each pair of booties and overalls. There was something very touching about seeing this grown, bearded man tenderly handling each of his son’s gifts.

It’s been almost thirteen years now since the adoption. Today Sunday School Kim is happily married with two healthy young sons of her own. Kim Schoening and Rich were blest with the birth of a second son two years after they adopted their eldest. And Scott and I were blest with our second son not long after they had theirs.

Pete Schoening passed away last year. I miss his energy, and his positive approach to life. And I will always be grateful to him for keeping my dad alive on K2. I once pointed out to Pete that if he hadn’t saved my dad’s life on K2 he wouldn’t have been blest with his grandson. The idea made him smile. Pete’s wife says, “These are the ties that bind.” I like that thought – that we’re all bound together with love. And how awesome that the good Kim’s father did for my father came back to him thirty-eight years later in the form of a grandson. You just never know how the good you do today will affect your future, do you?

-Karen Molenaar Terrell, from Blessings: Adventures of a Madcap Christian Scientist

(Among the people in this photo of the “Children of the Belay” are Scott and me and our sons, and Rich and Kim and their sons.)

The Children of the Belay