Browsing Tag



laughter and letting it go

[at my wedding reception during my father-in-law’s toast]

If you’ve been around for any length of time, you probably know that I spent the majority of last week . . . well, pretty angry. And then being shamed and belittled for it. It was a difficult week for me– on top of all of what happened, two of my best friends are going through an extremely difficult time. So, by the time I made it to Thursday night, I was one big ball of emotion and utter exhaustion. I just wanted to go to sleep. I was puttering around before going to bed, and was chatting with a friend on facebook. She’s about to graduate from the college I attended for undergrad, and she told me that they’d decided to hire a man we both know for being… well, not to put too sharp a point on it, but he literally got his degree in Islamaphobia, no joke. So… I tweeted about it. (Seriously, you guys, twitter is like unicorns and puppies and kittens and so much awesomesauce it’s incredible.)


Let’s see… In 16 consecutive mentions, I was practicing “feminist rage” (not sure what that had to do with anything, but ok); I “struggle with reality”; obviously, all my claims are “suspect” unless I report my rapist (which I’ve never specified if I’ve done that or not, it’s really nobody’s damn business); I’m “pontificating” and “spreading misinformation” (his own website bio substantiates what I’d said); I’m “delusional” and I have OCD, and, apparently, the “docs have meds 4 me.”


I read these right before I went to bed. I rolled over onto my back and stared up at the ceiling. I was so utterly exhausted, I didn’t even really have the energy to react. I turned my phone off at Handsome’s suggestion . . . but I was emotionally unsettled. So I prayed.

I am so sick and tired of being angry. I don’t want to be angry at this, there’s no point. I just want to laugh. I just want to be able to ignore this man. Nothing that he says matters– he doesn’t know me, he just makes his living off of hating people. I want to be able to see this for the absolute ridiculousness this is. Please don’t let me take this personally.

I woke up the next morning . . . and, unexpectedly, it was hysterical. Seriously, his tweets were some of the funniest things I’d read on the internet– at least, it felt that way all day Friday. As I type this, I’m sitting here giggling. Every time I’ve thought about it, my lips quirk, I shake my head, and I laugh. It doesn’t hurt that his tweets were so far over the top that they made fun of themselves. I mean, who says that kind of thing outside of a roast or a comedy? It also doesn’t hurt that anything he had to say wasn’t new– I’d heard it all before. It wasn’t the first time I’d been accused of being crazy– but this time, it was out of the mouth of a fool. And I do mean fool in the biblical sense.

It’s funny– and that’s all it is.

I shared what had happened with a few friends, we had a good laugh about it, I tweeted back at him tongue-in-cheek, and then I went grocery shopping. Handsome came home, we ordered pizza and watched Star Trek. Saturday and Sunday were equally as relaxing. We went to a museum here, got Starbucks, went out to the flight line… and through it all I laughed.

I’ve been thinking about these two emotions since then. The anger I felt earlier last week was justified, and I still believe it was appropriate and necessary. What I was reacting to was wrong— but I wasn’t reacting for myself. I was reacting, in anger, for every single person who’d ever been hurt like I had. I wrote what I did in order to help someone who’d been lied to the same way I had to recognize the wrongness about what was happening. My anger was not just an overly emotional reaction that was clouding my better judgment. I’ve calmed down since then– it’s only been a week, but when I think about it now, the only thing I feel is calm.

But just because I’m calm now doesn’t mean that my initial anger was somehow a less appropriate response.

And just because I can laugh and shake my head at the tweets doesn’t invalidate my anger toward David Cuff. One reaction is not “better” than the other. One reaction is not intrinsically more healthy, or more productive, than the other. Both responses, I feel, are the proper response to the situation. In one situation, being angry and bringing it to the attention of my readers was the only right thing to do. In the other situation, his tweets weren’t hurting anyone– they weren’t even hurting me. The only thing he was doing was clearly making an ass of himself. That doesn’t deserve a reaction besides laughter.

I’m learning, oh so very slowly, how to have emotions, and how to deal with them productively. I’m learning to recognize emotions for what they are– until a few weeks ago, I wasn’t even able to put a name to what I now know is anxiety. I can allow myself to be angry, and storm and rage and stomp and wave my arms and yell and clean everything in my house. I can be calm, settled, peaceful, and stand with my husband on the beach and watch a storm front come in over the Chesapeake Bay. I can even be happy. Allowing myself the full spectrum of human emotion is an ongoing process, and probably one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to learn, but I’m doing it.


learning to take care of myself


Today, I turned off all the air-conditioning, opened every single curtain, threw open every single window, and turned on every single light. I flooded my home with the sounds of birdsong and the chaotic melody of my downstairs neighbor’s windchime.

I am going to write this post, and then I  am going to turn on the classic Southern rock station on my Pandora and clean my house. I will dance to “Brown Eyed Girl” and belt right along with Lynyrd Skynyrd in “Sweet Home Alabama.” Later, I will finally finish reading Clash of Kings, and then I will figure out a way to assassinate a general from around a corner in Assassin’s Creed III. My husband will get home, I’ll make Cardamom French Toast, and then we’ll cuddle under fuzzy blankets and watch Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.

Sounds amazing, doesn’t it?

I am so fantastically, wildly, beyond-my-wildest-dreams lucky. I married an amazing man who kissed me awake this morning and told me to “have fun today.”

And I get to.

I had to work this morning, did a few errands, wrote a few letters I wasn’t looking forward to… but I can spend my afternoon cleaning (which will be exactly what I need, my house is a mess and it’s driving me crazy), and then goofing off reading fantasy novels and playing video games. Who gets to do this? Not even me, this time last year.

Being able to do this, being able to relax and truly, meaningfully, have fun, is a recently acquired skill. In the environment I grew up in, there is a pervasive attitude toward this idea. Namely, many of the women– young and old– that I knew growing up would tell me that, today, I’m being selfish.


Because of why I’m doing it.

It’s a concept called “self care.”

Yesterday was rough for me. Wait, no, it’s been rough for me since April 12, when I originally responded to David Cuff’s comment on NLQ. I spent all night Saturday night curled up on my bathroom floor, dealing with anxiety and panic attacks and trying not to throw up anything I’d managed to eat. I couldn’t go to church the next morning (which would have garnered me reprimands from the well-meaning, telling me that when I’m the most vulnerable is exactly the time I should have been in church), and I spent the rest of the day questioning myself, doubting myself. Was my reaction completely disproportional? Was I being a crazy person? My husband, and all of you, reassured me, that, no, my reaction was necessary– but it was draining.

Yesterday was rough for many of you, too– I only have to read your stories to know the effect that interacting with David had on many of you. Which is why I’m writing this, instead of just going to go do it.

If you’re anything like me, you come from a background where you’re constantly told to put the needs of others before your own. You’re told that anything less than constant self-sacrifice is selfish. You might be like Chrissy, a reader at Love, Joy, Feminism, who asked Libby Anne if “doing what she wanted” equaled being “self-centered.”

You might be used to being told that concepts like “self care” come from the “pseudo-science” of psychology, that “self care” is just psycho-babble for selfishness. You might have grown used to coupling “being a good Christian” with what is, in reality, burning yourself out. You might have been trained to dismiss the notion that “healthy people take care of themselves.” I’ve watched many of my childhood friends and women I grew up respecting have nervous breakdowns because of this. You might have been trained to be constantly looking for “areas of service.” You might have been trained, not even intentionally, to volunteer for everything.

If you’re like me, you were taught that having boundaries and respecting your own needs was wrong.

It’s taken me a very, very long time to learn that “taking care of myself” isn’t selfishness- it’s just plain necessary. If I don’t take care of myself, I’m going to go crazy. I’m going to push myself past the point of usefulness. I must take the time– and give myself permission— to heal. To relax. To decompress, to just breathe.

And this doesn’t have to look like anything I’ve been told is “good.” I grew up being told that the only thing I needed to do was read my Bible, pray, and praise God– and that would be all the “self-care” I needed. This idea does have a kernel of truth– I did spend Saturday night praying while I was curled up on my bathroom floor having a bout of anxiety so intense my entire body was twitching uncontrollably. I prayed, but I didn’t pray that God would take the anxiety, the feeling of dread and doom, away. I just… prayed. I can’t even tell you about what. I talked to God. I do read my Bible, and I’m sitting here praising God for the sunshine that’s finally broken through what seemed like an endless winter.

But that isn’t enough.

Which, to the people I knew growing up, is sacrilege. Blasphemy. Don’t I know that God is always enough? they might say, and I’d say yes– he’s enough for a lot of things. Spiritually, at least. But, I’m also an emotional and physical creature. And my body is telling me that I need to dance, and sing, and read a book, and yes, play video games and cook– and not write on my blog for a day or two– however long I need to come back rejuvenated and refreshed. That is what “taking care of myself” looks like.

What does it look like for you?


the dangers of biblical counseling, part four


[trigger warning for PTSD, panic attacks, abuse]
[This is part of a series on my experiences with biblical counseling. Here are parts one, two, and three]

My second year in grad school, I took a poetry writing course. It was a workshop-based course, so our professor took us through a “practice” workshop session using one of his colleague’s poems. It was a beautiful, powerful, compelling work.

It also triggered me.

We read it communally, but silently, in class. By the time I reached the second page, my heart was pounding so hard I could feel it hammering against my rib cage. There was a loud rushing in my ears– and blackness was circling and tightening my vision. I felt sick, and faint, and I couldn’t even excuse myself. I felt like I stumbled out of the classroom, and I barely made it to the bathroom before I vomited. I curled up around the toilet, laid my head on the tile, and tried to will myself to stop shaking. I couldn’t. I was sweating all over, and the cool tile felt both miserably ice-cold and yet soothing.

Eventually, I crawled back to class, collected my things, and slowly made my way out to my car. When I finally reached the semi-privacy of my car, I broke down. I sobbed  for almost half an hour before I could pull myself together enough to drive home. I don’t know how I made it back to my apartment without getting into an accident, but somehow I managed. I walked inside and collapsed on my living room floor and laid there for hours.

At some point, my roommate got home and found me there, cradling a pillow. She asked me what was wrong, and I explained what I’d been through. When I got to the end, I started trying to belittle it. I was being melodramatic. I had just gotten myself all whooped up. I just needed to practice more self-control. My roommate stopped me. “Sam . . . I think you had a panic attack.”

A what?

I googled “panic attack,” and found the Mayo Clinic’s entry on it– and my roommate was right. I’d experienced many of the symptoms they list. I didn’t know what to make of this, as my mental framework of all mental problems being sin problems didn’t have a whole lot of room for them.

I kept having them, though, and they kept getting worse. And the triggers could be anything– there was nothing I could do to avoid them. And they were crippling. I would have hours or full days where I couldn’t do anything. One happened in class, while I was teaching, and it was all I could do to make it through the last ten minutes.

Finally, I had to go to my boss because it was severely affecting my work. She was so compassionate– she understood what I was going through. I don’t know if she had experienced it herself or had been close to someone who did, but she didn’t dismiss me. She did ask if I was seeing anyone for them, and when I said no, she offered her psychologist’s name.

I recoiled.

Go see… a psychologist? I remember staring at her, stunned. Part of me couldn’t believe she’d just recommended a secular psychologist, even though, superficially, I understood that this was a perfectly normal, kind and sympathetic response. I shook my head. “Thank you, but if I do go and see someone, I’d prefer to see a biblical counselor.”

She opened up a little bit further, giving me glimpse of her history, attempting to encourage me. At one point, she briefly mentioned that there were plenty of options for a healthy recovery, including medication. I shook my head again and interrupted her. “I’m . . . not really comfortable with taking medication. I think I can get a handle on this on my own.” I think my response surprised her as slightly out of place– her comment had been an aside, really.

I left her office, happy that I had her support and understanding, but not any closer to a solution. I knew that seeing a psychologist wasn’t the answer– the problem I was having wasn’t one they could fix, and what was medication going to do? All it could do was turn me into a passive zombie.


Several weeks later, I wasn’t any closer to an answer. I had dedicated time to meditation and prayer, looking for guidance and illumination. I’d found Bible verses and pinned them around my cubicle, reciting them under my breath as I hid in the under-construction stairwell.

One morning I woke up and looked around my room. I thought about getting up– I needed to- but I couldn’t. Not yet. Pulling back my blankets felt impossibly huge. As I lay there, I remember wishing that I never had to move again.  That morning, a thought trickled in.

I was depressed.

I had been avoiding admitting it. It had been lingering in the back of my mind, unacknowledged. I took a deep breath, and said it out loud.

“I’m depressed.”

The admission felt loud in the still quiet of my room. But, suddenly, it was like a load dropped off my chest and made it easier to breathe. The raw honesty soaked in, slowly. I went about my day, battling with myself. I wanted to dismiss what I had said out loud that morning, but I also couldn’t let it go. There was something about the rightness of what I’d said, the trueness of it, that helped me deal with what had been happening.

It was a lesson that I’ve kept on learning since then. That words have power. That they can lock– and unlock doors. They can wound, damage, cut– and they can heal. There are some words that I grew up thinking of as friendly– but now frighten or trigger me. And there are words I was taught to fear, but now are familiar.

Words like depression.

I’d been told that the word depression was a lie. No one is actually depressed– they’re just sinners, and liars. They have deceived themselves, and they’ve bought into the convenience of pretending that they can ignore their “soul-sickness” with a diagnosis.

For me, acknowledging the truth of a word set me free. I could be depressed, and while that wasn’t a healthy thing, and I couldn’t stay there forever . . . knowing what was happening and having a word for it was the first step.