Taking a chance on change

Change can be a scary thing.  Finding comfort in the familiar is an easy default.  Sticking with what you know, perfecting your daily routine – these are all things that provide us a sense of security and are far more appealing than the idea of walking away from everything you know and taking a leap of faith.  Why?  Because chances come with risks.  But guess what?  Living a life in which you are simply content lends its fair share of risk, too, albeit of a different nature.

You see the thing about change is that it’s natural, even when it does not feel that way.  Like the subtle shifts in seasonal scenery or the gentle flip of a wall calendar, change is engrained in us.  Everything in the world around us changes.  The earth keeps moving and it’s important that we do the same.  It’s not going to stop moving and fighting against it will only leave you exhausted and defeated.

When going through a transitional period in your life, here are some important factors to consider:

Don’t let the opinions of others divert you from the path you’re meant to follow.  Everyone will have their own opinion on what is best for you but the truth is, you’re the only one who really, truly knows what is in your heart.  Be open to the wisdom of others, but take outside thoughts with a grain of salt and don’t allow them to control your decision to make a move.

It’s good to have a big heart, but don’t let that set you back from doing what is best for you.  Sure, being selfish is usually frowned upon but there are actually times when it is okay.  It’s easy to get caught in the idea that you need to make others happy or don’t want to hurt the feelings of those you care about but sometimes, just sometimes, the best thing you can do is to look out for yourself.  Those that care about you, in the most sincere of senses, will accept this.

Dig deep to find out what truly matters to you.  This one is tough and can easily be skewed by the world around you.  It’s easy to be tempted by more money or big promises, but in the end, are these the things that will make you finally feel fulfilled?  Will you be able to look back on your life and say “I’m so glad I was able to do this or make that?” If the answer is no, it’s time to reevaluate.  You don’t want to reflect back later in life and think, “I’m so sad I’m missed out on this because I was too busy being focused on that.”

A world of unknowns awaits you if you’re brave enough to take a chance but the reward may be far greater than leading a life in which you’re always wishing for something more, something different.changing-seasons

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Unmasking Depression: Looking Behind the Smiles to See the Truth

For the first time in two years, my mom is back.  She didn’t take a long vacation to bask in the rays of retirement.  She didn’t leave our family to find herself.  Physically, she’s been here all along.  But, she hasn’t really been with us.

Two years ago, we almost lost her.  It was a cold, but sunny Sunday afternoon and I was on my way to watch the Vikings-Packers game with some friends.  I called my mom before the games as I always do but on this particular day, my dad answered and I knew instantly something wasn’t right.  He said he was on the way up to the hospital in Richmond; my mom had been transported to VCU.  The only thing he could tell me was that something went wrong that morning during church with her kidneys.

I lived only a few minutes up the road from the hospital and was the first one to arrive in the ER.  I found myself standing in front of a faded, nearly motionless version of my vibrant mother.  Soon, I was joined by my father and our family minster and together, we learned that my mother had a tumor burst within her kidney and lost an excessive amount of blood.  Shortly after, we were awaiting an update from the doctor who performed her emergency surgery.  Over the next few days, each up seemed to be followed by another down.  She was diagnosed with something called Angiomyolipoma, essentially non-cancerous, blood-filled, fatty tumors within the kidney (the non-cancerous point was a huge blessing, and sigh of relief).  Between multiple blood transfusions, endless dialogues with the urologists and seeing the brightest of personalities not even flicker, that week will be forever marked as one of the toughest in my life.  Little did we know that while the bleed stopped, and eventually the physical pain ceased, she would develop a lingering, hidden pain.

I’m not being biased when I say my mom is one of the sweetest, happiest most genuine people in the world.  A serial smiler, she has never met a stranger.  She was always the first to strike up a conversation with a random person in the store, only to leave with their contact information and the beginning of a new friendship.  Whether with children, the elderly, or a sick friend, my mom was there offering a helping hand and making them smile, no matter the circumstance.  One of her biggest talents is making people laugh; those that saw her in one of her many costumes like Lucy Ball, Dennis Rodman or Dolly Parton surely understand this statement.

For the first few post-trauma months, she was timid, quiet, but after what she went through, anyone would understand.  Only as spring turned to summer and so on, nothing really changed.  We’d see glimpses of her old spunky-self, but then they would disappear as quickly as her smile.  She didn’t want to leave the house and would sleep constantly even though she wasn’t doing activities to exert energy.  She’d feel paranoid, nervous, and anxious; a far cry from the woman who was always up for an impromptu adventure.  It was though a piece of her, the most influential of pieces, was gone.  Not until this summer did we truly understand why.

In August, my mom was diagnosed with depression; sparked by the trauma she experienced on and during the days, weeks, months and years following that cold November day.  Depression is a silent killer.  It’s not a disease characterized by external features or malformities.  It’s not something that will show up in a culture sample.  It’s internal, and in many cases, those suffering have the innate ability to shelter others from the reality they are living in.  Much like Robin Williams, my mom always had the ability to bring joy and laughter to others, only she lost the ability to latch onto those positive emotions to the benefit of herself.

After three months on medication, my mom is finally back.  Hearing her laughter and trying to keep up with the massive amount of energy she possess are two seemingly simple, but truly incredible, gifts.  I thank the Lord that we did not lose her two years ago, but for the past two years, we didn’t have her wholly.  Now we do and my heart cannot contain all of the gratitude I have.

While this has been a difficult story to share, it’s necessary.  None of us know what is going on behind the scenes, or within the minds, of those we know and love.  Don’t take a smile for granted; there could be much deeper and darker thoughts behind the upward curvature on a person’s face.  Depression is an illness that has no outward characteristics, that holds no prejudice.  As a society, we need to eliminate the stigma attached to depression.  We need to actively support those that may be going through difficult times.  We need to seek help if we’re experiencing internal struggles or turmoil.  There is NOTHING wrong with offering or seeking help; the only wrong we can do is to stand by in silence.

During this month of gratitude, I have so much to be thankful for but everything else pales in comparison to having a permanent ray of light back in this life of mine. I selected the pictures below because each one was taken during her battle with depression, but one would never know by the smile and antics. While the medication has had a noticeable, positive impact on her well-being, it is by no means the end-all be-all.  Depression is an uphill battle; one that can only be managed with proper care and support.  If you know someone suffering from this disease, the best thing you can do is to be empathic and understanding of the struggling they are going through.  Lend a hand, an ear, a cup of sugar or whatever it is that person needs.  Be there for them when they’re struggling to be there for themselves.

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Happiness is a choice

Happiness is a choice.  Not for all, but for those of us who are fortunate enough to be in full control of our emotional well-being, it is a choice that we make the moment we open our eyes each morning.  For the most part, I’ve always considered myself a persistently positive person but as of late, I’m feeling the weight of the world on my shoulders and realize the strength to lift it cannot be found through toying with dumbbells or equipment at the gym.  The power to break through comes from within.  It often requires taking a difficult and critical look at yourself and opening your eyes to the toxins that have the ability to bring you down.

I realize that I am incredibly blessed with abundant love and opportunity, but yet sometimes, I let life’s stressors get in the way of recognizing those blessings.  Strangely enough it was my dermatologist, who typically rambles on and on about nothing of importance, that made me stop and think about the changes I needed to make in life.  Without any prompting, he went into a lecture on how we are the only ones to blame if we’re unhappy.  If someone constantly gets under your skin, you’re the one that keeps interacting with them and giving them the power to do so.  If work is wearing on you, you’re the one preventing yourself from finding new opportunities.  If someone cuts you off on the road, it’s up to you to decide if it’s necessary to blare your horn at them in range or to just keep on driving along with a smile on your face.  He explained that we are the only ones that can control whether the little things, or actions of others, get to us.

That conversation is the only one I’ve had with the wacky doctor that ever made any sense at all, but it was a message than dug far deeper than the skin he specializes in.  In a month where we celebrate the things we’re grateful for, I’m taking a new approach to recognizing and realizing those gifts.

I’m in no way shape or form a morning person (or a night person, really), but I’m forcing myself out of bed an hour early each morning for a period of reflection.  With a cup of coffee in hand, I’ll begin each day reading devotion from Joel Osteen’s Every Day a Friday, along with the associated Bible scripture.  Then, I’ll take a moment to think about something that took place on the previous day for which I’m thankful.  While we can’t let the little things the kooky doctor described get to us, we mustn’t also forget about the positive little things because sometimes, they can have the biggest impact on our happiness.

The holidays are a perfect reminder of the things that propel us forward in life.  If you’ve been feeling down or disconnected, I encourage you to make time to rediscover the things that make you whole.  Feel free to come along with me on this journey and share your experience!