Time Does Not Heal All Wounds

People say time heals all wounds. I don’t believe it for a second. Some wounds cut so deep, they leave scars that last forever. Time does not heal these indelible marks but as with most scars, you begin to accept them and they become a part of you.

You cannot remove these scars and by trying to get rid of them, sometimes the scar becomes worse or you make more scars.

Some of my scars

My heart has many scars. Unlike a lot of people, none of my scars are from romantic relationships. Thankfully, I have been spared those so far.

Grandpa Dueck in his casket in 2002

My scars come from a permanent ripping away of the flesh – death.

From my family alone, I’ve lost both of my grandpas (my grandmas died before my parents met), an uncle, an aunt, and a brother.

I have experienced other deaths that have impacted me as well – a principal, a former boss, a former pastor, a fellow student who was in the grade above me, the woman who took my high school grad photos, the man who spoke at my Bible college grad, and many pets.

Some of the smaller scars have healed where by themselves they don’t cause pain anymore.

Bigger scars

The bigger scars such as my Grandpa Dueck, my aunt, and my brother can still cause a lot of pain.

Me with my aunt Erna in 1993.

It’s been a little over 15 years since my Grandpa Dueck died, but I still sometimes miss him – or rather what I’ve missed with him not around. I occasionally wish I could have talked to him about being a conscientious objector or asked him about how he grew up but I never got the chance because I wasn’t interested in it when I was 10.

My aunt died almost 4 years ago and I regret not going to see her one last time before she died when I had the chance. I was selfish and missed out on the opportunity.

My brother’s death is the reason for the biggest and most painful scar on my heart. There is a hole in my heart where he should be. Today is the three year anniversary of his death and it still causes a lot of pain knowing he’s gone and reliving the day we found out he drowned. It still hurts knowing I missed a lot of his life because I didn’t want to go to his baseball and hockey games. It still sometimes hurts hearing other people tell stories about him that I can’t share in because I wasn’t there or didn’t experience that side of him. It’s painful knowing that if I ever get married and have kids, my husband and kids will never know him.

A hole remains

A plaque with my brother’s picture in it.

Will time heal all these wounds?

No.

As I’ve said numerous times before – there will always be a hole in my heart until God makes me whole.

I know that won’t come here on earth. It will only come when I get to see Jesus face to face and He makes me whole.

With that being said, time and distance can lessen the pain and diminish the frequency of the pain. The scar will remain but the pain may not.

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Anxious Week

I failed. Ok, I didn’t actually but it felt like it. My social anxiety played a factor in last week. It felt like a failure because I had been doing so well with my anxiety and last week seemed like a major step back with a bunch of little things adding up.

It probably started the week before, but last week was the week that wore me down.

My Anxious Week

It started with a big decision regarding my future that not only affected me but I could see how it would affect many other people as well. I didn’t want to disappoint either side and I was somewhat paralyzed in my decision for a couple of days. Once I made my decision my anxiety kept me company while I tried to figure out the best way to graciously decline a wonderful opportunity and knew I was disappointing them.

I was also informed on the Friday previously that someone would be entering my apartment Monday morning, which set off anxiety in me as well. I was going to be at work during the time they would be entering my apartment, but thoughts of what they would think of my apartment flittered through my mind. What would they think of me when they saw that I had stuffed animals around my apartment? What would they think of me still having a “child’s” blanket (it’s comfy and broken in)? I went around cleaning my floors and hiding certain things because I was afraid of them judging me even if I never met them.

Monday

Monday, I was asked out and unconsciously my anxiety ratcheted up. Later that day, another guy asked for my phone number. Both which produce a lot of anxiety.

Tuesday

Tuesday, I went shopping and although I’ve gotten better at it, I’ve always been afraid of what people would think of me. I pretend to know what I’m doing so I don’t look like a fool and it diminishes the chance that the sales people will talk to me. I also now have orthotics because I have arthritic bunions and shoe shopping has made my anxiety worse. I now wonder what people are thinking when they see me pull out my orthotics and put them in shoes I’m trying on at the store, along with my normal shopping fears.

Wednesday

Wednesday, I was going to bring a box of books to the mail to send away to a company that buys books and resells them. I also had a kids program that evening that I volunteer with and I was going to send the box of books away before the program but my anxiety pushed it off and I was going to do it after. When I went after, it appeared like the post office was closed and my anxiety told me to just go home without checking, so I did. But I knew in the back of my mind that I still needed to send those books off.

Thursday

Thursday, I finally got up the nerve to carry the box of books into a post office and send them away. I then stopped by the mall and bought a pair of shoes. They were supposed to be on sale but they ended up charging me the regular price. My nerves were too shot to argue when I thought the price was higher than what I thought I should be paying. When I got home, I checked the receipt and sure enough they charged me the regular price. Thankfully it wasn’t that much more.

I was going to also bring a box of books away to be donated to a book sale for the children’s hospital. For that, I needed to drop that box off at a fire hall. I drove past the fire hall twice, once before going to the post office and once after, but I never stopped. I didn’t entirely know where to park and I didn’t want to look like a fool carrying a box of books into a fire hall and have them stare at me. I also didn’t know what I would say and was afraid they might judge me for the books I brought.

By the time I got home, the cumulative experiences with my anxiety over the week played a huge toll on me and I had no energy to do anything else. I ended up reading a little in an anxiety workbook my mental health worker had given me about 5 years ago before going to bed at 9pm.

It was discouraging to realize how much my social anxiety still affects me and that despite improving greatly over the past 5 ½ years since first seeing my mental health worker and her telling me I had social anxiety, that I still have trouble doing seemingly simple tasks that most people seem to do with ease.

My Little Brother (poem)

The following is a poem I wrote several weeks ago when grief for my brother hit me once again.

You were a little over three years younger than me,
And you played the part of the little brother well.
Hitting, yelling, biting, and name calling were normal,
And you enjoyed it, as far as I could tell.
 
I hoped as we got older our relationship would change;
That we would become closer and hang out with each other.
Our relationship was starting to head that direction,
When you were ripped away from me, my dear little brother
 
It has now been almost three years since we got the call
that made our family incomplete forever.
Your strength didn’t save you from the seaweed
And now our bond will forever be severed.
 
The regrets and lack of good memories
threatened to overwhelm me and could not be erased.
Listening to everyone else’s memories of you
It was a soothing balm and a slap in the face.

My memories consisted of your antics
of being the annoying little brother.
The one who knew how to push my buttons
and left me with a desire to smother.
 
If I had known you would be gone at nineteen,
I wouldn’t have skipped out on so many games.
I would have experienced things with you
instead of hearing about them, now giving me shame.
 
I was selfish and didn’t want to watch you play.
Now I wish I had invested in your life.
Maybe I wouldn’t have this empty yearning
and childhood memories of our strife.
 
The only comfort I have is knowing you’re with God
and that I told you I love you before you were ripped away.
It’s getting harder and harder to remember you
and all I want is for your memory to stay.
 
We can order pizza for just the two of us.
We can climb trees again and pretend they are our homes.
We can be like little children again.
Together we can go wherever we want to roam.

Mental health advocacy through experience

Mental health advocacy – what does it mean to you?

For me, it means being willing to share my experiences with my own mental health struggles. To not shy away from people who have a mental illness. To be there for people who have mental health struggles or for loved ones of those people.

Through the last couple of months, I have had a few experiences that have brought this advocacy to the forefront.

Schizophrenia referral

The first one occurred about two months ago. A former co-worker messaged me on Facebook telling me that her sister’s 17-year-old granddaughter was recently diagnosed with schizophrenia and the family was devastated and feeling alone. She then asked if I had any tips on where they could go to get information and how they could help her. I directed her to the Manitoba Schizophrenia Society and tried to let her know that there is hope.

Boy’s mother hospitalized for depression

I volunteer with a kids program my church runs for children who live in low-income housing. A couple of weeks ago, one of the boys in my class mentioned that his mom was in the hospital for what he called “emotional problems” and that she was sad all the time. To me, it sounded like depression and I was glad that he felt comfortable talking about it with me.

Sharing my story

The third and scariest experience happened a couple of weeks ago. A little over a month ago, I was asked if I would share my mental health story to the ladies fellowship group in my parents’ church, the one I grew up in. I shared my story on Tuesday, March 14 in front of people who have “known” me almost my whole life. It terrified me, but not as much as it would have a couple of years ago. It went well and several ladies came up to me afterward and told me a little of their own struggles.

It is all in an effort to stick to my commitment of being a mental health advocate. Who knows? It might even be a stepping stool for other speaking engagements or other advocacy events.

“Would you be willing to share your story in church?”

“Isn’t this what you wanted?”

“Maybe, but why does it have to be me?”

“Someone has to start it and you’re the one who talks about how you wish churches would talk about it.”

“But it’s terrifying!”

“Well, of course. Did you think it would be easy?”

“Well…no. But my social anxiety doesn’t ambush me when I’m just talking about an idea.”

“Which is exactly why you should do it. You wanted to tell your story. You wanted mental health to be talked about in churches. Well, now you have the chance.”

“But I hate speaking in front of people! And speaking about something so vulnerable – in front of so many people who know me – is enough to make me want to shut the world out.”

“You can’t let your anxiety control you. Either you need to practice what you preach, or let go of your grand ideas of being a mental health advocate.”

“I know. I’ll let my anxiety get a stronghold if I don’t face it head on – if I try to hide.”

“Would you share your story?”

Earlier this week, I was asked a terrifying question that made the barely burning embers of my social anxiety ignite into a roaring forest fire.

“Would you be willing to share your story in church sometime?”

Do I want to? Yes…no…maybe. It’s complicated.

Desire for churches to talk

I desire for churches to speak about mental health issues. I want Christians to know that just because they struggle with their mental health it doesn’t mean they are any less Christian. I don’t want the only response people struggling hear is that they need to pray more, read their Bible more, and trust God more.

Mental health has become a passion of mine since before I even got help. It was probably during the stretch where I had my darkest valleys that I became the most passionate about mental health. I didn’t want people to feel the absolute despair that I felt. I didn’t want people to spend their days wondering when their despair was going to override their fear of pain; when they were finally going to have the “courage” to just end it.

Just because someone steps foot in a church building, calls themselves a Christian, and does all the “right” things, does not make them exempt from having issues with their mental health.
For this reason, I desperately want churches to talk about mental health. It is not just an issue for non-Christians. If I have to share my story to get the conversation going, maybe it’s worth dealing with the anxiety and vulnerability.

Fear, social anxiety, and vulnerability

I hate being vulnerable. From a young age, I tried to keep my vulnerability close to my chest. I didn’t want anyone to see it. I may wear my heart on my sleeves and have thin skin, but I would put on a sweater to try to cover it up. So you couldn’t see them.

I would only let you see my “good” emotions. I became known as someone who smiled and laughed a lot because that’s what I allowed people to see. I wouldn’t let them see the deeper parts of me. So sharing how depressed and anxious I was, was never an option. It would never happen.

Skip to today. I now share my emotions and the darker parts of me with a few people and share parts of me via this blog. When it’s with a broader group, outside of those few people, it is in writing. You can’t see the emotions on my face and I can’t see how you’re responding to what I’m writing.

Sharing my story in front of a decently sized group of people, not knowing how they will respond, absolutely terrifies me.

I still don’t like to be vulnerable. I still want to run when tears threaten. Public speaking is still something that makes my anxiety explode.

But maybe, just maybe, I’ll put my mouth where my words are and speak out loud instead of just in writing.

Excitement Masked by Anxiousness

For most people, winning a free guitar, getting free tickets to a concert, and getting to go up on stage to receive said guitar, would be a dream come true or at least a very exciting moment. For me, it was neither. I was terrified. It was probably one of the worst days of my life, or at least it felt that way at the time.

The Phone Call

On the morning of April 22, 2010, I was lying in my bed waiting for my mom to come open my door to let me know that it was time to get up. It wasn’t unusual. I often stayed in bed, even though I was awake, until my mom came to “wake” me up.

This morning, however, she came early. I was still half asleep, although mostly awake.

“You have a phone call.”

That may or may not have been her exact words, but nevertheless she told me someone was on the phone for me. I didn’t have a cell phone at that time, so they couldn’t phone my cell. I also rarely got phone calls, so I was very confused.

I anxiously made my way up the stairs to answer the phone. You see, I hated talking on the phone. I also had no idea who was on the other end. My heart was pounding and my thoughts were racing. Who could it be? What did they want?

“Hello?” I groggily answered.

“Hello, Angela. I’m Kyle Rudge from Ignite107. Did you just get up?”

“Yeah.”

“You are the winner of a free Newsboys guitar.”

My stomach dropped. Not because I was excited, but because as I said earlier I was terrified.

He went on to ask me if I had tickets to the concert that evening and I said no. He proceeded to give me his number so I could contact him once we got to the MTS Centre and he could give me and my mom tickets to the concert.

I shakily wrote down his number and hung up.

That wasn’t the conversation exactly, but you get the idea. I had completely forgotten I had entered that contest and at that moment, I badly regretted it.

Trying to Survive

After hanging up the phone, and probably during the phone call itself, I felt sick to my stomach. I told my mom what the call was about and then proceeded to try to get ready for school.

At that time, I usually didn’t eat a huge breakfast and because my stomach was in knots, I knew there was no point in trying to eat much. I grabbed a banana and attempted to eat it. I gagged a few times, but was able to get it down. Shortly after, though, I could feel it coming back up and threw up into the kitchen sink. I didn’t try to eat anything else.

I was in grade 12 when this all went down and I only had one class that semester which was first thing in the morning. So I went to class and I told my friend who sat beside me in class about winning a Newsboys guitar. She was excited for me and I pretended to be excited. What I really wanted to do was go home, lock myself in my room, and pretend the world didn’t exist.

I was able to get through class, but I felt sick the whole time.

At home, I could hardly eat lunch because my stomach was still in knots. My mom made soup and I got down maybe half a bowl.

In the afternoon, I got my grad dress hemmed, but my thoughts never strayed much further than my fear for that evening.

The Concert

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When the evening finally came, my mom and I drove to Winnipeg to the concert. The closer we got to the arena, the sicker I felt. Dread had wrapped itself around me.

My mom parked the car; I got out shakily and immediately proceeded to throw up whatever was left in my stomach. It subsided long enough for me to step up to a garbage can and empty my already empty stomach.

Once we got inside the arena, I used my mom’s cell phone to call the radio DJ to get our tickets. He commented on how I sounded; something about how tired I sounded or something like that. I wasn’t tired, I was petrified.

Several minutes later, he found us and gave us our tickets and gave us the rundown on how the evening would go; when to come down, where I should meet him, etc.
We found our seats, all the time wishing I could just be done with it already.

There were two opening bands and after the first one was done, I made my way to the section I was instructed to go to. The radio DJ met me there and we walked down to the side of the stage and introduced me to another radio DJ from a partner station that they did the contest with.

They conversed with me which helped put me a little at ease. I was still terrified, but not nearly as much, knowing these people were friendly.

When the time came, I followed the radio hosts on stage. The one who had phoned me and met me at the arena, gave a little speech and joked about how “excited” I was. I even laughed a little or at least smiled, albeit nervously.

They handed me the guitar and people clapped and cheered.

Once we got off stage, the radio host told me that he was going to get the guitar signed by the Newsboys and would hold onto it until the end of the concert so I didn’t have to carry it to my seat.
So it wasn’t over yet.

After the concert, I met him again and he gave me the guitar and my mom being my mom, had to take pictures of him, me, and the guitar.

Once we finally got the guitar to our car, I could finally relax. My mom couldn’t because she had to deal with traffic. I simply turned on the radio to game 5 of the NHL playoffs in which my favourite team, the Ottawa Senators, were playing the Pittsburgh Penguins. I was able to turn in just in time to hear it go to overtime and as it went to three overtime periods, I was able to get home to watch my team score the winning goal. I could finally relax and focus on something that I enjoyed.

Looking Back

If you had asked me why I was so petrified that day, I wouldn’t have been able to tell you. I still can’t tell you exactly what made me so anxious, but I have a better idea.

About 19 months after that day, I had my first appointment with a mental health worker. After talking with her and answering her questions, she told me that I had a mild case of social anxiety.

As I researched social anxiety after that appointment, it was like a lightning bolt striking me. I saw myself in almost every symptom and occasion where people experienced social anxiety.
I started looking back at moments in my life, realizing that social anxiety has plagued me most of my life.

The day I won that Newsboys guitar was one of them – probably when my symptoms were the worst.

I was probably excited about that day but I didn’t feel it at the time.

My mental health worker explained it the best. At lot of people would get excited and have a little bit of anxiety with it, but the excitement would overshadow the anxiety. However, when I would get a little bit excited, my anxiety would explode and mask the excitement.

My social anxiety is not gone. I still have my moments. But they are not as severe and it doesn’t control me as often.

So if I were to go back and experience that day now, it would probably look a lot different. I would probably be able to enjoy it more and might have actually felt my excitement.

My Story Part 5 – Learning to Live in Recovery

My dog, who passed away last year, swimming in our pond at sunset

My dog, who passed away last year, swimming in our pond at sunset.

I only saw my mental health worker for about seven months but it was huge in helping me learn to cope. Putting the tools and information I had learned into use, I started being able to do things I would have been way too anxious to do before. I would feel less and less nauseous when I was anxious.

When I do feel anxious, I can ask myself what exactly I’m anxious about, taking away some of the anxiety’s power. One specific occasion I remember doing this was when I was going to go to Mexico with a group from Bible college on what they called Mission Exposure. A day or two before we were going to leave, I was feeling anxious. I had never been on a plane before. I only had a basic understanding of the language. I was going to a place I’d never been, meeting people I didn’t know. Everything was going to be so new and yet, when I actually asked myself what I was feeling anxious about, the thing that I discovered that was causing my worst anxiety was the fear that I was going to be separated from my group. Once I realized that, some of the air fell out of the anxiety because I knew I could trust my group, especially the leader not to leave me behind or to come looking for me if I got separated.

Me and my second youngest brother when he graduated high school.

Me and my second youngest brother when he graduated high school.

I’m not saying I have completely gotten rid of my depression and anxiety because I haven’t. If I’m not careful, I can easily fall into a depression like when my brother passed away a couple of years ago. I felt very alone and had many regrets. It frightens me to think of how different that time would have been before I had gotten help.

My anxiety is still rooted in me. I still dread making and answering phone calls. My stomach still feels nauseous when I start something new or have to meet new people. I procrastinate or avoid doing things that make me anxious.

However, I’m learning to live in recovery. I have learned and am still learning to just do things instead of stewing about what could go wrong and how people will judge me. I’m learning how to express my emotions in healthy ways and not bottling them up all the time.

I’m learning to decipher when I need to push myself forward and when I need to pull back and let myself rest. When I’m overwhelmed, I’m learning to question if it’s just my anxiety or if I need a break.

I still have my downs, but they’re not nearly as low and they don’t last as long. I now know there are people out there who will help. There are also people out there who have gone through similar things to me and that I’m not alone.

Life is never as bleak as my depression and anxiety led me to believe.