learning how to stay upright.

A few years ago I left my job as a parish pastor, quit my life as a single person, and moved far away from the midwest (the motherland).  In one big push everything changed; except for my old thrift store furniture.  I was of course still me.  I got married to the sweetest man around.  I started a great 9 month residency as a chaplain in a huge hospital.  I moved to Seattle; The Emerald City.  A beautiful city with mountains, sea, coffee shops and parks galore, and a pretty constant chill in the air.

I still felt like ME and knew myself to be me, but so many big and little things had changed (from the weather to a husband) that I was thrown off balance.   I didn’t quite know what adjustments to make to find my balance, because I was really happy and excited for these changes.  But still, I was a little disoriented.

The weather was tough on me.  I was cold all the time.  The huge hills of Seattle strangely intimidated me.  We were trying to get pregnant and it wasn’t working.  I wasn’t teaching yoga anywhere and struggled to find/make time to get to a class.  I didn’t know it at the time, but my thyroid was a little out of whack.  I got depressed.

During the second half of my residency I served as a chaplain on the behavioral health unit.  It was a small, nearly unmarked, locked unit with an enormous skylight in the middle and people milling about in normal clothes and slippers.  All the patients were there because they were a threat to themselves or others.

I was initially quite apprehensive.  I was nervous about how unpredictable I expected it to be.   “Mentally Ill” people seemed out of control to me.

And then I met dear people who had been thrown off balance (by grief, memories, chemistry, fear, God, gods, change, lack of change, the bad-decision-waterfall, etc.) and were desperately trying to stand upright again.  Their supports had slipped out from under them and they got scared, sad, and totally disoriented.  In their attempts to find balance, many of them overcompensated and fell hard.  Some tried other ways of supporting themselves to stay up, but only ended up being even more off balance.

Patients only stayed there until they were safely on their feet again.  For most people that would be about a week.  Tragically, many people needed more support, more consistent and stable help, but had to leave because they had no insurance; because they had a chronic mental illness.

I am incredibly grateful for my time on the Behavioral Health unit.  While serving as chaplain I gained so much more than I could have offered.  I learned about this tenuous, fragile, powerful, and beloved gift called MENTAL HEALTH. I learned about recognizing the wonderful and good supports I need in my life that keep me in balance.  I learned about taking a breath and making tiny, little adjustments when I feel out of sorts and off-balance.  I learned the importance of making a schedule and a routine that includes a wide variety of activity; rest, work, fun, quiet, exercise, creativity, fresh air.  And I learned the importance of recreation.  Let me write that again – re-creation.

My favorite time of the day was in the early afternoon – right about when I typically feel very lethargic and easily talk myself out of doing anything, fun or not.  Right about that time in the day was Occupational Therapy.  This was when I remembered how to re-create.  I colored in gigantic coloring books with markers, cheap watercolor paints, and crayons.  I made masterpieces with “craypas”.  I did puzzles. I remembered how to knit and didn’t ever figure out how to crochet.  I played video games.

On my last day there I made a bracelet with sweet multi- colored beads.  It was my version of a rosary.  It is my prayer bracelet to remind myself of the strong beams of support I need to stay upright, and to make time in my day, everyday, for re-creation.  Now my OT time comes in the way of a big Hello Kitty coloring book that Dinah (my 1.5 year old daughter) and I are working our way through.

The next Daily Bread Yoga retreat is this Saturday, Oct. 27th, 9a.m.-noon at St. Matthew’s Lutheran Church in Urbana.  The topic this month is about finding balance; on & off the mat — learning how to stay upright, and making subtle, tiny adjustments to find that sweet spot of balancing.  If you have any questions or concerns, please let me know.  I would love to spend the morning with you.

peace on your head.


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