Seeking Shelter in a Storm

Photo by Sarah Dibbern

Photo by Sarah Dibbern

Life is difficult. This is what I often tell my children. That life isn’t all about things coming easily but that it often can be about rising to challenges, overcoming obstacles and mustering courage until things get better. What I forget to tell them is that we aren’t meant to suck it up and power through life’s challenges all on our own. That we should be cultivating friendships that provide more than just a gang to go to the movies or lunch with, but relationships that become a framework of stability made up of people whose ears listen, whose arms embrace and whose hearts desire only the best for us.

The news of Robin Williams’ suicide shines a light into the shadows of depression. It’s not that his passing is any more tragic than any other loss of human life, created in God’s image and deserving of love. But the shock of it, the reality that no amount of money, fame or success can insulate a person from the prowling lion of despair, demands a shift in thinking. How do we defend against hopelessness?

I once heard it said that depression can be like missing layers of protection necessary to guard the windows of your heart, mind and soul. So when the winds of calamity blow in, carrying heartache from around the globe via network news, or spin up like spontaneous tornados in our own personal lives, it’s impossible to draw the blinds, slam the sash or secure the shutters. It all just pours in unfiltered, overwhelming our coping mechanisms and churning up emotion void of perspective. I can only imagine that a similar unfiltered awareness of the world is also part of what makes an artist able to portray great depths of reality or an addict more prone to seeking shelter in the numbness of self-medication.

And when the storms come, to the depressive and non-depressive alike, why do we feel the need to hunker down alone? Do we really believe nobody else understands? Or cares? Are we embarrassed by our suffering or our seeming inability to improve our own condition? It’s probably this and more; cultural heritage, family history, fear of difficult or unwanted advice. Silent suffering is why we never seem to know when friends are getting divorced until the papers are filed or when someone has lost their job until the house goes into foreclosure. Lips remain sealed and those who are supposed to be our friends languish alone in a crowd.

I am blessed to have fairly well functioning “window coverings”, and yet I’m not immune to episodic bouts of gloom. Sometimes it’s hormonal or seasonal and I know from experience it will pass. But other times, a life event, like a storm brewing on the horizon with angry black clouds, can threaten the integrity of my otherwise good mental health. And when that happens, I am tempted not to tell. If it’s a recurring struggle, I don’t want to rehash an overplayed complaint. If it’s an embarrassing situation, I’m tempted to resist any exposure at all. And if my story would be a buzz-kill at a dinner party, I may simply lift my glass among the revelers, smile, remain silent and sip until I feel less…

But, No! I will not let the lying lips of despondency convince me to close off from those who love me. I will not avoid opportunities to talk about what’s bothering me. I will not refuse to at least consider well-intentioned advice or encouragement. I will affix blessings on my doorpost and I will not be deprived of the power of prayers offered up by the God-fearing people in my life.

Photo by Sarah Dibbern

Photo by Sarah Dibbern

I will be honest. I will admit when I’m afraid or sad or in pain. And I will remind my children, my husband, and my friends that I love them and that although we are to have courage, we do not stand alone.

 

 

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Combat Loneliness by Practicing Compromise

Photo by Sarah Dibbern

Photo by Sarah Dibbern

I get plenty of time to myself. But I’m not sure that’s a good thing. In our amazing era of customized entertainment options, it may have become too easy for family homes to devolve into a warren of disconnected recluses. Society laments increased loneliness and depression and often lays blame on technology and busy schedules for this growing sense of disconnectedness. But I blame selfishness and the ease with which we need not compromise.

Let me explain. For nearly two years, the lower level of our home was under construction. The hubs and I had this grand idea to completely renovate the space into an entertainment hangout for our kids.

During construction, most of which the hubs did himself, the kids and I lived our waking hours on the main level with–(gasp)–only one television. This meant all viewing decisions were made by polite compromise, heated debate or parental tyranny. I chose not to watch the evening news or Entertainment Tonight while making dinner, lest the youngsters think mom is drawn to politics, natural disaster and celebrity breakups. (Which I kinda am, but pretend not to be.)

But what our boys love more than watching television is playing video games. And this mind-numbing, thumb-frenzied activity was happening right under my upturned nose. I couldn’t wait for our basement to be finished so I could banish Super Mario from my main level kingdom.

And then it happened. The paint dried. The carpet was laid. And TWO televisions were installed in two rooms of our renovated lower level. The original plan called for only one TV in a movie room. But a friend suggested we add a second TV in an outer room so that guests could choose to play video games or watch different movies at the same time. Sounded reasonable. And better yet, the main level TV would be mine. ALL MINE!

Here’s the downside, so pay attention. I can now watch whatever I want whenever I want. I don’t ever have to sit through episodes of Arrow or watch Lego Batman’s endless attempts to save the world. No one needs to compromise anymore. We live in completely self-interested entertainment freedom.

So, for the sake of family togetherness, I force myself to switch off the main floor television, go downstairs, and spend screen time with my kids. I even flex my thumbs at driving a videogame version of my favorite sports car.

You see, left to our natural tendencies, we drift toward personal desires, toward that which resonates best with our own temperaments, beliefs and comfort levels. And I’m not just talkin’ TV shows here. The more opportunities we have to separate ourselves into completely like-minded groups, or be alone with our personalized diversions, the less opportunity there is to practice compromise or develop an appreciation for the longings of others. These perceived freedoms weaken relationships and lead to loneliness.

Our new basement is amazing. But I refuse to let its luxuries break down our family connectivity. In what areas of life should you consider compromise and resist self-interested isolation?

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