The Gift of Helping

Julie: “Neither height nor depth…”

In “The Gift of Helping,” we are exploring the spiritual gift of helping and how it applies far beyond the scope of acts of service at church. The gift of helping is a series of scripture meditations orbiting around personal anecdotes about 10 people who helped me in life saving ways in the last 10 years by exercising the unassuming gift of helping.

You’re not supposed to remember anything from your time in psychosis, but I do. Some have tried to cast doubt on these memories: “Surely, you don’t remember what you did; what you said.”

Yes; I do. The parts I’ve forgotten were under heavy sedation, and even then, the dreams are vivid and permanent. I might add– frightening. They were frightening dreams of familiar objects set in an unfamiliar dimension.

One memory that is snap-shotted into the album of my experience at “Garden Pavilion”– a local euphemism for the locked door psych ward– is Julie taking a seat next to me on a vinyl couch in a glass enclosed “rec room.”

She put her arm around me and let my heavy head, half lucid and full of pharmaceuticals, fall into her lap. She stroked my hair in an automatic motherly response to my sleepiness, probably a way she knew how to do as her son was three years old at the time. All of the dopamine and cortisol that had been conspiring to keep me awake finally settled and let me fall asleep in her firm presence of unmoved friendship.

Nearly two weeks later, she was sitting in my hospital room, I took off on a delusional rant of prophetic proportion. Jules stopped me. “Nat, they’re never gunna let you out of here if you keep talking like that.” Something snapped right within me when she said that. The meds were leveling me out chemically. So, now, I just had to kick the conspiracy theorist thinking habits that I had fallen into during four weeks of seeing the world from an entirely right-brained, mushroomy perspective. It was time to re-enter Earth’s atmosphere.

With my release impending, my parents started to panic because it turned out that while manic I spaced on paying my insurance premium. I couldn’t remember the password to my online insurance portal. My parents were days away from the grace period ending, after which time I would have no medical insurance to cover 14 days of hospitalization. With hundreds of thousands of dollars hanging over our heads, my parents asked Julie to get the password out of me. I couldn’t remember it, but she figured I’d be able to type it out if given a keyboard. So she brought me two pieces of grayscale paper taped together– an image of her computer keyboard that she had photocopied. Julie for the win!

Julie was convinced that I would continue living a normal life as soon as I was released from hospital custody…I mean, care.

Within a week of coming home, Julie put her professional reputation on the line and invited me to a work event. Unfortunately, the psychiatrist I saw the day after I left the hospital didn’t feel that bipolar 1 disorder was an accurate diagnosis, so he had cut my lithium dose in half. The tailspin was already starting while I drove with Julie up to San Jose for the wine expo her organization was participating in. I’d be back in the hospital a week later, and so would Julie.

Every visiting hour, lunch and dinner, she was there. “Always order the cake,” she’d say. “The hospital contracts with Layers Cakes and it’s fabulous!” Fabulous is Julie’s word. It was nice to hear her say “fabulous” in that weird, creamy-foamy-blue, plastic place that was slightly gray all over from the smudges of too many daylight-deprived hands pressing against its walls.

In every way, Julie acted herself in the hospital. She used words like “fabulous.” She told me to “act right.” She referred to my hospitalization as “your vacation.” She got buzzed in twice a day for all those days and sashayed to sit with me at the dining tables like the boss that she is. She was real, and she brought me back to reality.

Julie was a crisis-resistant friend. She was not about to be shaken by a little delusion. She wasn’t going to put on some alternate personality to deal with me in my altered condition– which pretty much every one else did. I was all broken up, but she held her integrity.

Anyone who is caught up in chaos needs a crisis-resistant friend. When a girl you know is being turned inside out, she doesn’t need a friend who is barely holding back how grossed out you are by her entrails. She doesn’t need you to show up repressing how scared you are of her. She doesn’t need a friend with a nice, bland, “helper” mask on. She doesn’t need you secretly wondering if you ever really knew her.

She needs you to show up undeterred by the mess. She needs you to keep a laser-like focus on who she really is. She needs you to be crisis-resistant!– for you to continue to be yourself no matter what, and for you to allow her to be herself no matter what. You have to know for her that she’ll come back sooner rather than later.

This is the only way to truly reach anyone that is any kind of “lost.” Crisis-resistance. Boldly show up in truth and confidence until the person in the dark regains consciousness in the light.

Thank you Julie, for exercising the gift of helping by refusing to back down or bend in the face of my personal disaster.

For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:38-39

Julie and Me Blog 2

The Gift of Helping

Brittany: “A friend who sticks closer…”

In “The Gift of Helping,” we are exploring the spiritual gift of helping and how it applies far beyond the scope of acts of service at church. The gift of helping is a series of scripture meditations orbiting around personal anecdotes about 10 people who helped me in life saving ways in the last 10 years by exercising the unassuming gift of helping.

“Boundaries” is every therapist’s favorite word. In the emotional landscape of today’s West, every person is to have a clearly thought through and established list of every behavior they will accept, every attitude they will not, and a plan for how they will present themselves in every still frame of their lives as fully enforcing their own little set of Ten Commandments.

I have never heard of anyone successfully, or consistently, re-enforcing their $150/per word boundary statements in the context of their actual relationships. Why, is a simple explanation. Relationships require flexibility. Flexibility is a thing that a boundary is not.

Relationships with difficult people– you know, like ones whose world have just been shattered by psychosis, whose friends seem to fear them, and whose churches do not want them– relationships with difficult people require Elastigirl, supermom of The Incredibles, capable of actually turning her body into a parachute while she falls with you.

Brittany was a year behind me in high school. She was home waiting to start grad school after college. I can’t remember how we reconnected, but I was just out of the hospital and spending all my time in bed.

All I wanted was to be able to do normal things. Things like take a shower, eat a meal, wear clean clothes, and do more than move from my bed at 1:00pm to the couch until moving back to bed at 10:00pm.

Brittany, whose vibe as long as I’ve known her is full of sweetness, pep, and an ability to turn an idea into an action, offered to meet me at Carmel Beach to go for walks on Mondays and Wednesdays.

And she meant it. Mondays and Wednesdays. Like all of the Mondays and all of the Wednesdays.

We walked and talked the length of Carmel Beach for hours over weeks. Every Monday and every Wednesday, Brittany would text me to confirm that we were meeting. Sometimes I wouldn’t text back. My alarm would have gone off half a dozen times, but many days it just wasn’t happening for me. Sometimes, Brittany would text that she was at the beach waiting for me, and I’d tell her then that I wasn’t up to it.

Were Brittany a “boundaries” kind of friend, our walks would have happened maybe twice or three times. Thankfully, Brittany is a “persistent” kind of friend. She was a “selfless” kind of friend. A friend that bounced back from my offenses. A friend who put up with my prickliness, listened to me bad mouth a God whom she loved, and never stopped engaging with me.

Brittany also shared with me what was going on in her life. I was not a project, I was her friend. After hearing about her secret crush, I later got to attend their wedding. She wasn’t evangelizing me in my lostness, she was sticking with me, for real.

“A man of many companions comes to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother,” Proverbs18:24.

In the months fresh from my mania, psychosis, diagnosis, and prognosis, I definitely did not have many companions. I did have one companion though, and she stuck close despite every reason to feel disrespected by me.

Companionship is a function of the spiritual gift of helping that builds up God’s church. Companionship sticks. It takes walks. It calls. It reschedules. It tries again. It rolls with the punches. It shows up, and is ready to be real.

You cannot underestimate the way in which you can rebirth life into a person by tenaciously spending time with them.

Brittany, thank you for extending to me the gift of “helps” through your companionship.

Britt and Me