Soldiers for Christ

I’ve been speaking to a friend of mine almost nightly about some deep topics–you know, letting someone into some of those secret caverns people haven’t really gone in awhile. He spent years in the military and after I’d explained some of my feelings to him about my cult experience (and yes, cried, which I haven’t actually done in awhile), he shared some of his military experiences. It was sort of comforting to know that we related so well.

He spoke to me in particular about some intense combat training he received in order to keep him and his team hyped and going, running on adreneline and getting revved up easily. He said it served a purpose in combat situations because they’d be up for days at a time, operating on little to no sleep. What happened when he left the military and resumed civilian life was that he realized he could easily get really amped up over something and it was hard to mellow himself out or not find himself reactionary.

I could certainly relate. On a much smaller, less intense scale, there are similarities to my cult experience and some aspects of military life.

For example, when we joined we went through a few intense weeks where we were emotionally stripped of certain barriers and rights, and we were checked into dorms with a strict set of rules and guidelines to live by each day. Then, each day was regimented as if we lived in barracks (they were dorms) and we had dorm leaders coming in each morning and night making sure we were in bed and out of bed on time (on the dot), dressed in something suitable (our uniforms), in prayer (on the dot), at breakfast, cleaning up (to perfection), and so forth to a specific schedule.

Our training was not combat, but it was all about hype and getting prepped emotionally for a “spiritual battle.” We were soldiers for Christ and we trained like such. When a conference would come up, we’d spend a month prior to the conference fasting and praying intensely, on top of studying, marketing, networking, planning and rehearsing our performances. Our rehearsals were labor intensive, because we were putting on an entire production–a creative representation of Christ–and those productions could last for hours, but typically the conference success or failure landed on us so we were hyper aware of every detail from the sound equipment and microphones to the lighting set up and placement. At any moment, I was on call with the speaker information, his or her whereabouts, their car and hotel information and their personal assistant on the line, if needed.

We’d stay up for days on end before the conference getting ready for “spritual battle” and by the time the actual event rolled around, we’d be operating on very little to no sleep. Coffee and energy drinks became our constant companion, and so did the smiley-happy-hyped up Christian sales persona that we were known to be. We had to pull the smiles out because we believed what we were pushing onto these teens. We believed it intently. We believed we were at war for their souls.

I Have a Job

As you may know, most people need a job to stay alive. I have a job, like everyone else does. Blogging (and writing for that matter) is sometimes the most awkward hobby to have when working at a day job or even meeting people in real life, especially mixed company. It’s not socially acceptable to be openly critical of religion or pastors so it definitely isn’t easy to navigate through the world meeting new people with this whole other side of me. Luckily, I work with some very cool people who know that I blog but never let on they read it. Add to that that I haven’t blogged much (or very transparently) since I’ve started work there about a year and a half ago and you have a somewhat peaceful time. Also, we’re so busy there that there’s no time to play online.

I’ve had jobs where I could play around online and I have to say it’s sad that I can’t. I miss Facebooking and blogging daily and when I come home from work I’m exhausted. It’s mentally draining work and I definitely use my brain. To some degree I think having a mentally challenging job is a good thing. It keeps me challenged and that keeps me motivated. I hate being bored and I think being challenged makes me feel confident and invincible.

All this to say that as I’m sure you’ve noticed, I’ve been busy and blogging less. I haven’t always been able to connect with each one of you like I once could and I think that’s going to keep changing as time goes on, especially if I continue to blog. I’ll miss the days when I could sit around and chat with everyone, getting to know your stories. I think that’s what made my blog meaningful for me–the opportunity I got to know that I’m not alone and somewhere in the world there’s someone who has the same feelings I do. That has been priceless, so for each of you who I was able to connect with, thank for reaching out to me. I can’t tell you how tough it was for me to be receptive of kind people when faced with so many trolls….it was tough, but you all made it easy. And I love you for that.

Life is hard these days

Life really is hard for me at the moment, so let me be raw for a moment and I hope this blog has returned to a somewhat safe place for me to be transparent. It’s tough to open up about some of what I struggle with because, as you may well have experienced, not everyone appreciates a candid person.

All the troubles lie on his shoulder

[This post is dedicated to the many individuals who we lose to suicide daily. In most recent news, a young man whose work was integral in forming the site Reddit committed suicide. RIP, Aaron Swartz.]

Life is hard. Life isn’t a bed of roses. Blah, blah, blah. You know the mantra.

Just think positive. Just relax. You’ve heard those before, too.

In some ways, sadness may be preventable I suppose, but I don’t think that is always the case. Many people don’t understand persistent sadness. Although they mean well, they can’t empathize.

Life really is hard for me at the moment, so let me be raw for a moment and I hope this blog has returned to a somewhat safe place for me to be transparent. It’s tough to open up about some of what I struggle with because, as you may well have experienced, not everyone appreciates a candid person.

Case in point, I went out to dinner with some friends around the holidays and explained how things were really going (read: not well). They were rather dismissive and just laughed and started talking about something silly instead of recognizing that I was actually in pain. I’m so well-versed in my feelings of sadness and depression that I know they will fade away or diminish, so those moments aren’t as affecting as they once would have been. I used to feel gravely rejected when people treated my pain this way. However, I’ve come to learn that not everyone deals with life in the same way and many people haven’t had to deal with the pain I have, so they simply have no frame of reference for the kind of sadness life hands some people. It doesn’t make them bad people, although it makes me not want to be around them. It’s tough to be yourself sometimes. I’m not the life of the party these days. At all. I’m probably a grump and a stick in the mud and depressing.

As much as people say, the cure for depression is to be around people, that isn’t always the case. Sure, there are days it really helps (especially when those you are around know you’re having a sad day) but other times it aggravates the condition. It’s just the reality of sadness.

That drug commercial “Depression hurts. Cymbalta can help.” makes me sad. They nailed it. Sometimes every day things just feel painful. When other people are laughing, it hurts. When your dog licks your face, you burst into tears. It is what it is and it’s nothing if it’s not pervasive and strong.

Author’s Note: Some days are harder than others, but it does get better. I often experience deep sadness and will have weeks of happiness. My moments of happiness are lasting longer and longer; in part because I’m aware of my pain and face it rather than cover it up. I write this entry in part because my blog is a part of my daily life and also because there are people who need to know that they aren’t alone, nor are they weird. Sometimes depression and sadness (not always the same thing, of course) suck. We take life day by day and it’s okay to be open about our pain without forcing happiness. Face sadness head-on; don’t quit. If you are experiencing suicidal thoughts, please seek immediate help. Call 9-1-1 or in the U.S., call 1-800-273-8255 National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. There’s nothing to be ashamed of.    

A touching excerpt from Cory Doctorow’s words on his friend Aaron Swartz’s suicide:

Because whatever problems Aaron was facing, killing himself didn’t solve them. Whatever problems Aaron was facing, they will go unsolved forever. If he was lonely, he will never again be embraced by his friends. If he was despairing of the fight, he will never again rally his comrades with brilliant strategies and leadership. If he was sorrowing, he will never again be lifted from it.

Depression strikes so many of us. I’ve struggled with it, been so low I couldn’t see the sky, and found my way back again, though I never thought I would. Talking to people, doing Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, seeking out a counsellor or a Samaritan — all of these have a chance of bringing you back from those depths. Where there’s life, there’s hope. Living people can change things, dead people cannot.

What It Feels Like to Be Depressed

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Years ago, I made an appointment with a doctor in Century City. Over the course of three or four years my body had grown disproportionate and my weight gain had spiraled out of control. I was fat and my weight kept rising. It was a scary confirmation that my depression was out of control, a fact that I knew all too well. My ability to eat, though, meant that I was alive. I wasn’t suicidal and I didn’t kill myself. I often felt I should be dead. The pain was unbearable.

The doctor greeted me in his office and we did a routine exam and blood work. He asked me a series of questions and I told him I suffered from horrible fatigue and could never get out of bed. I’d had this as long as I could remember.

***

My new doctor knew I suffered from depression and that I’d been diagnosed a few years prior by another doctor. I was in college at the time I was diagnosed, even though I’d certainly had a tendency most of my life. During my diagnosis, my doctor and I discussed the history my family had with depression and suicide. Just about everyone in my mother’s family had been depressed and one had a successful venture with suicide. I had reason to be worried about myself and I was proud of myself for seeking help.

The new doctor diagnosed me with anxiety, which surprised me. I’d always concluded that depression was the cause of all my problems but he’d handed me another issue–something that complicated my feelings about myself and my pain even more. I knew I suffered high-levels of anxiety but I’d never thought much about it. I stressed often and greatly. I often felt unloved, like I was detestable to people. Was this anxiety or depression or low self-esteem? It was hard to figure out; they all merged together.

Earlier, when I was religious, I’d learned to call myself a sinner often and my normal tendency to be introspective, which I now realized was probably something related to anxiety or depression, was tuned up to high-gear while I scanned my mind for sinful thoughts or patterns. I was compounded with guilt daily, because my ability to be introspective and critical was great. But I was guilty over things I couldn’t change about myself and now that I write this, I was guilty about things I wouldn’t change.

***

I’ve learned to cope with depression and anxiety. Not perfectly, but I’m too hard on myself or so my mom says. I have a new doctor who is regulating my weight and he says I’m too hard on myself, too.

My mother and I have conversations several times weekly. She assures me I’m normal and strong and in a way it’s like she’s telling herself this. At eighteen, she attempted suicide. When she calls me and tells me she’s concerned about me, I know there’s more than just motherly concern. She can feel the change in me. The dive into darkness. The feelings of being overwhelmed with loneliness.

The past two weeks been dark and lonely. Regardless of who surrounds me, how busy I am, or how active I am, I feel it. I feel the plunge and I can’t escape. Depression, some people argue, is something you CAN prevent. You can control your feelings and make your way out of it, they say. It’s a choice and you’re lazy or weak if you can’t fix yourself, they tell me.

They’re wrong.

 ***

Years ago my friend Jordan was frustrated with me. I often cried on the phone with him. I was deeply depressed some days and I was hoping he could help. He knew my pain all too well; his mother suffered from the same thing and according to him, had never accepted help for it.

“Lisa, you need to get help for this. No one, not even your mom, is going to be able to force you to live or try to get better. You have to pull yourself together and get help.”

I didn’t think I needed medication at the time and Jordan was trying to convince me otherwise. I followed his advice and I accepted the medication from my doctor. I decided to try to get help for myself so my dark days would seem a little brighter. For years it helped. Although it took months to see improvement, I started getting out of the emotional state I was in. Until about a month ago, I often thought, “This is what it feels like to be NORMAL.”

About a month ago, I took birth control pills and the suicidal thoughts started again. It’s normal for some patients to feel this way, the package said. So I stopped the pills. My emotions regulated. I was almost normal again.

But some things happened in my personal life that shook me up. I’m a crier and for two hours I lay in bed crying. I was having a breakdown and didn’t know how to make it through. The “normal” answers of how to fix it came to mind, including death. For hours I contemplated what to do and thought pills would be the most effective way to end it. What kind, though? How many? Couldn’t I just check myself in somewhere? Do I call my mom? No, it’s almost midnight.

Then I thought about a very minor thing: I had a work deadline tomorrow. I can’t breakdown. I had to pick myself up and figure out how to feel better. It was simple, but that’s what kept me hanging on that time. With depression you can’t just force yourself to feel better but sometimes, it seems with age the more dark times you go through the more you realize that just by the nature of depression the lows will go away for awhile and until they return you will get several days or weeks of relief. And you’ll do it all over again but you’ll be a little stronger next time. And eventually, maybe, you’ll realize that those who are depressed are often some of the most brilliant artists or the most caring individuals and you’ll see something wonderful in the parts of you you once were ashamed of.

This is what it feels like to be depressed.

For more on depression, read A Woman Of Compressed Power: The Redeeming Side Of Depression, a follow-up piece I wrote in 2013.

Why Single Women Should Break “The Rules” From Dating Experts

Recently a friend of mine and I started talking about her feelings for her best friend. She likes him, but she feels incredibly shy telling him how she feels. She feels like he should be the one to pursue her and ask her out.

Yet, he doesn’t know that she has feelings for him.

She’s afraid of rejection, and understandably so. Any time you put yourself out there, you risk rejection. What women don’t always understand is that some men fear rejection too.

I’ve encouraged her to ask him out, or at least tell him how she feels. I believe women should pursue what they want and if what they want is a relationship or sex with someone, they should break “the rules” and go after it.You’ll never know until you try.

SEXIST DATING ADVICE

Telling a woman to go after a man is contrary to what most dating “experts” and relationship coaches say. A few years ago, I read the book He’s Just Not that Into You. It’s incredibly sexist and not very helpful. It’s also very condescending to women. [Although it may be a  helpful read to the women out there who always end up in toxic and abusive relationships, or to the women who “date” married men for decades hoping he’ll leave his wife.]

The sexist message of women should just sit back and let a guy do all the pursuing is everywhere though, including on Huffington Post’s site. Dating and Relationship coach Jag Carrao says women make five mistakes in dating and the first one is this:

Dating Mistake #1:  Approaching Him First.  Among all the invaluable lessons in The Rules, authors Ellen Fein and Sherrie Schneider emphasize this point as the most important. It may go against conventional dating advice, which encourages women to flirt and even strike up a conversation.  While there are always exceptions, the women I coach who are struggling with boyfriends who won’t commit or husbands who ignore them almost invariably made the first contact.  A man may date and even marry a woman who approached him first, but there will likely be consequences later on…when he approaches the girl he really wants.  This goes for online dating as well.

So if I understand Jag clearly, she thinks if a woman approaches a man first, there will be consequences later including her husband may leave her?! This is incredibly stupid advice and although I haven’t read The Rules, I now have a bone to pick with their authors. Telling women not to pursue men, not to flirt, or approach him first is childish.

I think most relationship and dating advice is incredibly old fashioned and archaic. It assumes men and women are tightly bound to traditional gender roles and we’re simply not.

I’m not a relationship coach, but I do think I’m better suited to give you advice than Jag Carrao. In fact, I think anyone is better suited to give you dating advice. She says in her article:

If you talked him first or even asked him out, you can try to restore some of the feminine mystique and you forfeited as the initiator by being a bit more elusive – a little less available, a little more mysterious.

What the…?! You can try to restore some of the feminine mystique you forfeited?

I’m sorry, but approaching a man first doesn’t mean you forfeit anything, ladies.

Encouraging women to hold back from talking to men encourages women to stick to a traditional gender role–to be docile and let things happen to her. It also encourages women to play games. In turn, men either think women are crazy and/or play games back.

Here are my Five Dating Rules Women Should Follow [And Feel Free to Break]:

  1. Relationships should be built on honesty, not games. If you have to play a game to get him or her, you may have to play games to keep him or her on a string. If you’re honest and up front with who you are and what you want, you’re more likely to get what you want out of the relationship.
  2. You should be yourself in a relationship, not what someone says you should be. If you’re the “needy/clingy” girl, you’re often criticized for being overly romantic. You’re faulted for being who you are and you’re told by dating “experts” that you’ll never get what you want unless you change. This is horse sh*t. There are men who are romantic and who like spending quality time with a girl. Perhaps there is a limited dating pool of men who like this, but statistics say you’ll meet that guy. You should be yourself and be comfortable with being yourself. You’ll be more satisfied with your relationship if you’re allowed to be who you are and you’re accepted for it. [This isn’t to say that if you have serious co-dependency issues you shouldn’t work on those. We can all use a little self-growth.]
  3. It’s okay for women to break the rules. Men like women who have confidence and these days some men like to be pursued. It shows confidence for a woman to go out of her way to talk to a man and honestly, it helps dudes out. Some men get rejected often and after awhile some shy guys give up on going out of their way to talk to women. Which  leads me to my next point:
  4. Shy guys are “keepers”. Forget the “bad boys” and the “assholes”. The keepers are the shy guys, the smart guys, the nerdy guys. These are the guys who are grateful for women who go out of their way to talk to them and ask them out. They’re respectful, interested in equality and like you for who you are.
  5. Break all the other rules. Those sexist messages that say you shouldn’t talk to a man, shouldn’t seek out a guy, shouldn’t ask a man out? Break them all. You’ll be happier for it in the long run and you’ll likely land a man who’s really into you for who you are–inside and out.