Tuesday, August 12, 2014

#RobinWilliams and how we talk about the bear...

#RobinWilliams is trending tonight. It will probably be the last time.

It isn’t necessary to recount his genius. Surely any resident of a country with televisions or movie theaters has, in the last 35 years, laughed at Mork or Mrs. Doubtfire, or been moved in other ways by Patch Adams, Sean Maguire, John Keating or Adrian Cronauer.

“Shocked” is a word being used often on social media. Really? I’m shocked that people are shocked. Mr. Williams always seemed very manic and his bouts with depression had been reported in the past.

And I am shocked that in 2014, with all the resources available, people know so little about mental illness or depression or suicide. Shocked that people still say things like, “That is so selfish,” or “Why didn’t he think of his family?”

I respectfully submit that if you asked either of these questions tonight about Robin Williams, you don’t understand depression or mental illness.

This is not an attempt to analyze Mr. Williams or to be morose, but a plea for more understanding of a large and common problem.

Some of the most wonderful, caring, talented people I know suffer bouts of depression. It is frustrating for them. It is challenging for their loved ones.  

It isn’t a Hollywood thing or a selfish thing or a weakness thing. It’s a human thing that takes 40,000 lives in the US every year.

My eighth grade Geography teacher had the same response every time a student complained about a test question or the pop quiz we were about to take...
“Some days you get the bear, some days the bear gets you”

Each of us has a bear. Your bear might not be named Depression, but you have one.

Ask yourself this – do you feel awkward when a coworker says h/she is going to Weight Watchers or having gastric bypass? How about if a friend discusses AA meetings? Or discloses a gambling problem? No, we support these folks – and rightfully so. Television is filled with them. Hoorah for their victory.

Now think about the last time someone in your office talked about going to a therapist or psychiatrist?  The last time a friend opened dinner conversation by announcing a diagnosis of mental illness in the family? Awkward, right?

We are a society immersed in discussion about obesity, cancer, diabetes, physical disease after physical disease. We act like we just can’t help ourselves, like these conditions are thrust on us.

When James Gandolfini died, did anyone accuse him of being selfish and not considering his family or his vast talent before he ate himself into a heart attack at 51? No, we called it “natural causes.”

But mental illness? It makes us uncomfortable. It’s a weakness or the people are, well, crazy. If you were applying for a job, would you feel free to disclose an illness requiring psychological help? I’m guessing most of us wouldn’t. 

And Robin Williams? His suicide causes us to use phrases such as, “how selfish” and “what a waste” and “why didn’t he get help?”

He did get help. Unfortunately, on this day, the bear was bigger and meaner.

Yes, suicide is a choice. But it isn’t a choice like pie or cake. Or even a choice like exercise or be a slug.

It is a choice made in the bottom of a pit with more pressure weighing down and more darkness than a person can tolerate for one more second. I’m guessing Mr. Williams was not cavalier and uncaring, but so ripped apart that nothing besides giving up seemed possible.

That doesn’t make it right – just real.

I know people tonight who can honestly say they have never given one second of thought to a decision like that. Good for them.

I know people tonight who can honestly say, “There, but for the grace of God, go I.” Really good for them.  

Suicide isn’t a good choice. It is irreversible and painful in a hundred ways.  It doesn’t make sense.

Neither does eating an average of 152 pounds of sugar per American per year.
Think about how different those two dialogues are.

Imagine if there were ways we could help beat back the bear. Imagine if we began talking about mental illness and depression as freely as we discuss overeating and smoking and substance abuse and cancer. Imagine how many people might feel like they are not alone. Imagine if we stop looking at suicide as a selfish act by weak, crazy people who don’t care, thereby alienating anyone who has ever had a suicidal thought.

I am not naïve or foolish. Mental illness is a large and powerful bear, and sometimes it wins.

But our social dialogue doesn’t help. Imagine if we started to change that.

RIP, Robin Williams.


Beth Painter is, among many other things, a writer and motivational speaker. You can follow her on Facebook on the “Think Big focus small” page.

Beth is available to speak to your group about how to make your dreams and desires come to life! 

Monday, August 4, 2014

Oceans, toppled boogie boards, and not driving...

Monday, August 4, 11:30 AM

I should be on Route 19 somewhere in West Virginia right now.

Months ago I decided this day would be spent traveling to Topsail Beach, NC. Some of my favorite people in the world are vacationing there. Sharing a few days with them would have been a great gift.

Being at the beach revives me. Humbles me. Inspires me. Relaxes me. Recharges my batteries. I enjoy walks in the early morning and at sunset. I bask in the sun on my skin, the sound and smell of the water, the sand between my toes. What is better than coming in from an afternoon at the water, taking a shower, then spreading out on the bed while the ceiling fan drops cool air?

I should be en route right now. Life had other plans, as it has for some time now.

Even when I haven’t seen the ocean for years, images of it, emotions surrounding it are easily brought to mind.  Sometimes I think of small waves breaking around my ankles as I stroll the beach. Or splashing with the kids. Or finding the perfect shell.

Other times – today – life feels like the ocean at its fiercest. Loud, choppy, difficult to navigate. I think about a time I was boogie boarding at Hilton Head Island. I respect the power of water. I stay alert to where I am, where the current is going, what is around me. I had just settled on a nice wave and was heading toward shore when another wave suddenly popped up, crossed mine and tossed me and the board.

Sometimes life feels like that, doesn’t it?

I was gauging the waves. Didn’t go out too far. Was aware of my limits. Even still, I was suddenly submerged, unsure of which way “up” was, then finally reaching the surface, grasping for my board and seeing the hat I was wearing going in the opposite direction.

I feel like that today. Nothing has “snuck up” on me. But what I thought for sure would have changed, hasn’t. The effects on that lack of resolution seem to be compounding. My board has been struck by a cross wave. I am confused about which way is “up” and things I treasure seem to be floating in many directions away from me. Resolution has been promised and promised and promised, but nothing has changed. The ocean I envision today could swallow me in an instant.

Accounts of people who have nearly drowned, but been rescued after losing consciousness, indicate that drowning gives the same sensation as a runner’s high. At some point, the body is so oxygen-deprived and full of endorphins that it shifts into a euphoric state.  The desire to fight slips away into what feels like blankets of peace.

I have, thankfully, never been close enough to drowning to confirm or deny those accounts.
But, maybe you are like me…maybe life’s waves are sometimes so overwhelming and you feel like you can’t breathe and “up” seems to be out of sight and precious parts of life are being carried away on the current and peace – in whatever form – would be welcome.

Are you like me? Do you ever feel that way? Maybe today?

Then a song comes to mind. Those who know me well say, “Of course there is a song!”

I will call upon Your name and keep my eyes above the waves
When oceans rise
My soul will rest in Your embrace, for I am Yours and You are mine*

Sometimes I hear a song I love and say UGH.
UGH because calling out and keeping my eyes up require energy I don’t feel is available.
UGH because I am SO WEARY of oceans rising.
UGH because resting in anyone’s embrace, even the Creator’s, requires surrender.

Do you ever feel that way? Maybe it’s just me…

I turn off the song. That will work, right? Wrong. The bridge won’t go away. Over and over and over until I sing it out loud without even realizing.

Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders
Let me walk upon the water wherever you would call me
Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander
And my faith will be made stronger in the presence of my Savior*

If your ocean is sunny and little waves lap at your toes and kids are giggling around you, sing your heart out and be grateful.

Maybe your ocean is like mine today and singing those words makes water pop out of your eyes.

I should be en route to the beach. But I’m not. Maybe you feel the same way.

I don’t have a trite answer for either of us.
I know God is good. I know He has a plan. I know I’d like to see the sun right now. I also know it is still shining.

We will talk again soon.
Until then, I would love to hear your thoughts…

Beth Painter is, among many other things, a writer and motivational speaker. You can follow her on Facebook on the “Think Big focus small” page.

Beth is available to speak to your group about how to make your dreams and desires come to life!

* https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ga3DmPRPAQQ

Friday, August 1, 2014

A day on the Ohio River and higher thoughts than mine...

We took the boat on the Ohio River for our most recent outing. No big deal, right? Can’t be much different than the Allegheny or Monongahela, which are the usual paths.

For those unfamiliar with Western Pennsylvania, the Allegheny and Monongahela Rivers meet in Pittsburgh to form the Ohio River. The confluence of these three rivers - The Point- is both an important site for barge traffic and a lovely attraction for water lovers.

Having chosen a launch point directly across from where the Beaver River joins the Ohio, approximately 25 miles from the Point, we packed a great lunch and set off. The weather was lovely, the river looked calm, and there was little traffic. It seemed like a great day for the novice boater - me - to get some driving and docking experience.

We headed toward the city, knowing the pool would end in ten miles at the Sewickley lock, but eager for sights we had not seen from the water. Immediately, I was surprised by the width and depth of the Ohio River. I have driven along and across the Ohio, so it seemed silly to be startled by what is, after all, two rivers combined. But looking at the river and being on the river are very different experiences.

While the weather conditions were ideal, the water was choppy…no, CHOPPY!  I quickly learned two lessons: the bumpiness of going upstream is directly proportional to the breadth and depth and being at the helm makes turbulence more evident.

The journey was fine. We had no trouble, just a bit of discomfort at times, but were happy to reach the lock and turn around. Heading the other way, the river was the same, but seemed much calmer. The scenery was the same, but the driver had much more opportunity to enjoy it.

So a leisurely boat ride becomes a story of life.
At least my life…maybe yours too?

I have been thinking about rounding that bend on the Allegheny when the Ohio comes into view…about how much fun it is to have a passenger for whom this view is new.

I have been thinking about how the perspective changes when traveling a distance on this bigger, swifter river, rather than passing briefly through it on the way to the Monongahela.

I have been thinking about how life expands in the same way – sometimes unexpectedly. A gentle ride becomes deeper, faster, potentially choppier in a flash.
The boat tosses…and sometimes I toss with it.
Maybe that has never happened to you?

I have been thinking about the incredible difference between upstream and downstream.

There are necessary journeys in this life, pools of water we must travel. Sometimes, it seems the path is absolutely upstream with no way around that.
It’s certainly true that if your boat launch is in Cincinnati and you want to go to Pittsburgh, upstream is the only way.
I have been thinking about my proclivity to make journeys upstream when they don’t need to be.
Maybe you don’t do that?

I have been about the nature and character of God, and about my faith. Do I believe that all things work together for good[1]? Do I believe suffering produces patience which produces character which produces hope that never fails[2]? Do I believe it is even possible to count all my troubles as joy[3]?
Do I?
Do you?

It has taken many years and many heartaches and much surrender to learn this: Everything I want, everything good is downstream. By design.

I don’t believe God is a cruel captain who forces us to travel upstream. I believe He is more of a white water guide. The way is not smooth. There are lots of rocks. Big ones. Dangerous ones. And whirlpools and fast currents.  The vessel is a two-person kayak. Me and God. It works best if he leads and I listen for direction. Our path is downstream.

You might argue and say I don’t know your journey. You’re right. But I know mine.

You might say you have made many journeys fighting the current. I know. I have too.

You might not like it when I say it was my choice, and probably yours as well.
You might scream, “How HOW HOW was it my choice??”

Hear these words from Isaiah 55:
The Lord says, “My thoughts are not like your thoughts. Your ways are not like my ways.
 Just as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts.
Rain and snow fall from the sky and don’t return without watering the ground.
They cause the plants to sprout and grow, making seeds for the farmer and bread for the people.
The same thing is true of the words I speak. They will not return to me empty.
They make the things happen that I want to happen, and they succeed in doing what I send them to do.

Is there anything about those words that sounds “upstream”?

Everything I want, everything good is downstream. Everything.

But God will let me go upstream. He will let me turn the boat around and paddle in futility. He allow me to furiously paddle in one direction until I am spinning in place.

His ways are downstream. Not always smooth. But always downstream.

His thoughts point downstream. Not without storms and tears. But always downstream.

I can choose for my ways and thoughts to be aligned with His or to be upstream. My choice.

I have been making a new habit of thinking about what I am thinking about and asking myself, “Upstream or downstream?”
It might sound odd, but let it roll round in your head for a bit. 
Picture a river with rapids. Then examine your thoughts. Upstream or downstream?
And know this – everything you want is downstream.

We will talk more about this soon.
In the meantime, I would be honored to hear your thoughts.


[1] Romans 8:28
[2] Romans 5:3-5
[3] James 1:2

Beth Painter is, among many other things, a writer and motivational speaker. You can follow her on Facebook on the “Think Big focus small” page.

Beth is available to speak to your group about how to make your dreams and desires come to life!