Thursday, April 25, 2013

Happy Birthday Mom!

Tomorrow is my Mom’s birthday! I am a lucky, blessed woman to have spent another year talking, laughing, problem-solving, cooking and reading with my mom. I am so thankful that we continue making many more small and large memories together. I am grateful for another year of her teaching me to be brave and compassionate; to be a critical thinker. I am thankful that she has taught me to laugh at the things that might otherwise make me cry. I am glad she continues to try to teach me to take it one day at a time and let go of worrying about tomorrow.
If you don’t already know her, let me introduce you to my mom Lois. She was raised on a wheat and cattle farm in Eastern Washington. The day she was married she had a huge bruise on her thigh, given to her by the hoof of an irritated cow. She helped her dad brand cattle the day before the wedding. Her beautiful dress and gorgeous face hid the fact that she was and is tough to the core. She soon was a young mom to three children, raising us in our early years in the heart of the Columbia Basin in central Washington. She was also an artist and crafted her skills over the years until she was not only taking classes but teaching classes. Creativity runs fast through her veins. Lois is imaginative, original and very creative. Her art comes from somewhere deep within her imagination as depicted on many, many canvases. We children benefitted from her creativity. Our summer vacations were full of planned (on her part) art activities allowing and spawning spontaneity and inventiveness (on our part). My children experienced the same as they spent time with her and my dad on Lake Sacheen, making journals, painting recently caught fish to use for print-making, decorating birdhouses and never missing a television set as they, too, became artists.
Lois’s creativity carries over into her entire world. Her dinner parties are remembered not only for her meal but for the beautifully decorated table. Her sense of style and love of color and originality extends to the gifts she gives, the clothes she wears and the friends with whom she spends time. What else do I love about and learn from my mom? She is a huge reader and our taste in books is similar and our discussions are cherished. She can’t find her way out of a hotel or around a city block any better than I can and I love the times we are lost together. She doesn’t think twice about changing her entire living space and I have inherited the itch to move things around before it gets too stagnant. She loves champagne and beautiful hor d'oeuvres, just not oysters on the half shell. Although an excellent cook, she can easily have pie for dinner and leftovers for breakfast.
Mom chooses not to live in black and white. She chooses color and light and uniqueness. I am grateful to have experienced and hopefully inherited not only her creative genes but also her ability to stand up to adversity. She has had many challenges and somehow keeps putting one foot in front of the other even when it seems to be a relentless uphill climb. I take my biggest problems to my mom. She has an uncanny way of seeing the truth, with a lack of pretentiousness and an ability to cut through the fog, go straight to the heart of the issue and figure out a solution. She also knows when there are no solutions and how to continue moving forward, graciously and with acceptance. She knows how to give a great party and laugh at herself. She knows how to make her family feel loved. I wish her another year of time with family and friends. I wish her new and joyful memories. I wish her colors that come together in her studio a wholly original way, shared with her artist friends and a glass of wine. I wish her some really excellent new books to read. I wish her a much healthier year to come. I love you Mom! HaPpY bIrThDaY to you!


Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Walking Together

I signed up for this walk and I guess I have to participate. It is October and raining…hard. It is dark and grey and miserable along the shores of Lake Washington. Across the lake the Seattle skyline is hidden behind dreary, low clouds that threaten continuous rain. My last NAMI-BC2M walk was far across the country on the east coast. On that walk I joined NAMI Walks NYC, beginning at the Seaport in Brooklyn and from there we walked across the Brooklyn Bridge. It was a sunny and beautiful day with great conversation and high spirits. The previous NAMI walk in Seattle was also a beautiful spring day and we proudly carried the Bring Change 2 Mind banner.
Miserable is the best word I can think of to describe this particular day. It is not “misting” as it can often do in Seattle; it is pouring. The wind is blowing and the rain is sideways. It is cold. I wonder how many people will actually turn out for this 5K slog along the wet and windy shoreline of the lake and walk to Carillon Point. In good weather this is a beautiful walk. Today it is bitter and soggy.  
My daughter Linea, my husband Curt and I make our way past the multitudes of umbrellas to join our team under the Marina Park Pavilion. We put down our umbrellas and shake off some of the water collecting on our pant legs and stomp off the water filling our shoes. We meet old and new friends on our team and slowly make our way back into the downpour to listen to the short welcome speech and begin the walk. It continues to be wretched weather but soon we are laughing about how miserable it is and if we should go the entire way or quit at the halfway point. My friend Victoria points out that this is kind of an analogy for living with mental illness. She is so right.
If I were walking alone I would have given up a short distance into the 5 kilometers. It was too wet even for a person who has good rain gear. I would have waited for the rain to let up or walk this route another day. But together we are a team that urges each other forward. We listen to stories and understand more about why people are walking on this day, in this rain. I talk with a friend who I hadn’t seen since the last walk and we share new resources that we had each found over the last year. Another walker updates me on the health of a family member who is the inspiration for her walking in this downpour. I meet the family of a new and dear friend who had recently lost her son to his mental illness. The family walked with his smiling face on their personalized photo buttons. The little niece and nephew of this man slog along with us, all 5 kilometers and through puddles much larger than they could jump across, yet they never complain. The youngest is soon carried by his dad and his dad never complains. There is much laughter and soon we are at the finish line. Together we have made it.
People living with mental illness need a team. The family needs a team as well. Living with mental illness is not often a sunny walk in the park. It can be miserable, cold and feel like it is a never-ending slog. There were many, many times during Linea’s initial diagnosis with bipolar disorder that I felt I couldn’t go another step. The difficult search to find treatment while her illness was working to take over her body was exhausting and overwhelming. I was disheartened, terrified, and uncertain. I felt very alone. We slowly found our team and we shared our story. Together we moved forward with the support, strength and good humor of family, friends, care-givers and medical providers. There is hope and there is recovery in this journey with mental illness. There is strength in numbers and friends are made when people face adversity together. Join us on our NAMI-BC2M walk May 18th beginning at Marina Park in Kirkland. Or join a walk near you. It might be a sunny day but no guarantees. If not we will finish our walk together.