Saturday, October 5, 2019

It Really IS "Okay"...

"It's OK not to be OK."

I certainly know this is true. It can be hard for the younger generation to really accept this, even if they affirm it verbally. After all, the future still stretches before them, as yet undefined. And this is an era in which empirical scientific knowledge and technological power are continually generating new "life hacks" that overcome limits of all kinds.

We expect solutions. But still, even today, not everything can be fixed.

There is no shame in patching things up as best we can, and going with what we have. It can even be surprisingly creative, when we do what we can to build on the foundation that every human person's life has meaning and purpose, and every human person is loved by God.

I'm "not OK." I don't want to complain, but I have had a few persistent problems, so I'm aware that life can be hard, and I would like to think that through many years I have learned a little about empathy.

As I have explained in some detail on this blog, in other writings, and in what still remains my most recently published book (in 2010), I have struggled with long-standing illnesses most of my life. An avid outdoorsman in my youth, I probably first contracted Lyme disease in my early 20s (which is when I first experienced some of its now well-known early symptoms). Unfortunately, doctors in Northern Virginia in 1988 knew very little about this strange tick-borne illness that had only recently begun to afflict New Englanders but was in fact spreading throughout northeastern USA and elsewhere. It was some two decades before my illness was identified and targeted directly with antibiotics and several years of diverse treatments and therapies. Some measure of success was achieved at great cost, but at a very late stage. Frankly, I'm glad to be alive, but I still have to deal with the wide spectrum of elusive and often debilitating consequences of a Lyme infection that was neglected for so long.

Day by day, we patch things up as best as we can. We go with what we have.

Long before Lyme disease came along, I had to endure significant problems with my mental health. (This too I have written about in great detail on this blog and in my book.) I have battled major depression (in different ways) for 46 years (starting at the age of 10). I have certainly benefited from the ongoing developments in mental health awareness and care. Therapy has helped me tremendously. Sometimes medication has also helped.

Fixes everything!😉
Yes, medication. We don't need to be afraid of psychiatric medications. They won't "fix" people, and they need to be evaluated and monitored regularly. But they can contribute as part of a program of health care and maintenance just like other medicines do for other persistent conditions. Mental illness is real illness: it's important to say to people that if they need medication, that's okay. Medication can help; a good mental health professional will give guidance on this, and work with the particular needs of each person.

When I was younger, there were many times when I thought, "I'm cured! I'm fixed, for good. I'll be 'OK' from now on..." This does sometimes happen even with regard to overcoming longstanding obstacles in life. Who knows? It may still happen for me. But I'm not ashamed or embarrassed by the fact that it hasn't happened yet. In any case, I have been around long enough to know that there will always be problems, and also that life retains its purpose and offers us new ways to give of ourselves, whatever our condition may be.

For me (and many others) mental health is something patched together. We end up holding the brain together with lots of psychological duck tape. It may not be pretty. We can't put too much strain on it. We have to keep "reapplying" more duck tape. But, for today, it's moving along.

In sickness and health - as in every facet of our lives - we need to stay connected with people. We must not be afraid of the people who love us; we need to be open to relationships with people who really care about us. They have limits too, but these limits are an invitation to us to care for them. We need one another.

It really is OK "not to be OK." Ultimately, our relationship with Jesus and His transformation of our suffering in union with His love is the absolute guarantee that everything - even death itself - has a meaning and purpose. I have also written much about these themes (even though it can be overwhelming to consider - it is, after all, a mystery).

But even in this present life, in facing many kinds of obstacles that would have made me utterly panic had I foreseen them in my youth, I'm more confident that it is OK. It's going to be OK. But I have a long way to go in developing this conviction. As a "Young Senior" (😉), I'm still jumpy about the-stuff-that-can-happen-to-people-my-age, as well as what might happen if I avoid all that and then have to face the unique problems of genuine old age (which for me would be at least a generation away).

No one knows what the future holds. We are all in God's hands.

Still, I have been through and continue to deal with some difficult things. From the vantage point of the years of experience I do have, let me assure younger people: a full and beautiful life can bloom and bear fruit through all of it. We are all vulnerable in different ways but also gifted in different ways. We can all love and help one another, and that's where we discover the beauty of life.

It's not easy. Sometimes I find it all very frustrating, but overall I "manage" to go forward, grateful for every day when I can discover how limitations in some areas open up new spaces for human creativity and the constructive exercise of freedom.

I believe and hope that these spaces for freedom continue to open up (even if only in mysterious ways) all the way to the very end of a person's life. Then, through the final, impenetrable enigma of death, we are called to give ourselves freely and definitively to God and (in some fashion) to those who have been entrusted to us in this world.

I don't "feel ready" for that yet, but the day and the hour of the summons to such a gift are not under my control (or even accessible to my practical understanding). I am called to "do" what I "can" in the present moment, which is to live, knowing and loving as I am able, and trusting that what lies beyond my power is in the hands of a Mysterious Goodness who affirms and establishes life, fulfilling and going beyond all my longings.