Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

When life overwhelms August 20, 2021

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Drought-cracked earth near the Turtle Pond, River Bend Nature Center, Faribault, Minnesota. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2021.

THERE ARE DAYS when I feel such frustration. It’s then I remember the words of my mom, clearly frustrated with six misbehaving offspring.

“You kids make me so mad I could just run, run, run,” she declared. That grabbed our attention because Mom, one of the sweetest and most loving individuals I’ve ever known, seldom lost her patience with her three sons and three daughters. And, despite her threat, she never ran.

Oh, what I would give for my mom to make that threat today. But she can’t run. She can’t even walk. She’s confined to a wheelchair, living in a nursing home. Physically, she’s still with us, although we, her grown children, have been separated from her more than with her during this pandemic.

So perhaps I am grieving more than feeling frustrated.

I’m also feeling overwhelmed. Everything that could go wrong in the world seems to be happening. Raging pandemic. Check. Floods. Check. Wildfires. Check. Drought. Check. Hatred and division. Check. Politicizing everything. Check. Selfish behavior. Check. People in Afghanistan fleeing for their lives. Check. Shootings/murder every single day, night and day. Check. Injustices. Check. I expect I’ve missed something.

I cannot recall a time in my 60-something years of life that we were dealing, simultaneously, with so much as a state, a country, a world. And that can leave a person feeling, well, overwhelmed.

How do you deal with all of this? I try to remind myself that we will get through this. Somehow. I find myself connecting to my faith in a deeper and more intense way. I do what I can to uplift and encourage others. I read. Something other than news; books that take me away from reality. A friend also reminded me to hold onto my focus word: hope. There’s a lot to be said for hope.

Another friend offers practical suggestions in a blog post, “Doing What You Can & Your Personal Well-Being,” on Penny Wilson Writes. Please take time to read Penny’s tips by clicking here. Although I’ve never met this Texas blogger, I feel such a connection to, and appreciation for, her. She writes with empathy, compassion and understanding. She genuinely cares. She’s authentic. Honest. Penny, also a gifted poet, has written often about her struggles with depression. That openness, I expect, has helped many. She also shares the work of other bloggers, including me, with untethered passion and joy.

People like Penny give me hope. She uses her writing talents, her experiences and more to encourage, uplift and inspire others. She helps me tamp down the urge to rage and, then, to run, run, run. And for that I feel gratitude.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Focus on mental health: A Minnesotan writes about her depression May 20, 2021

ARE YOU STRUGGLING with everyday tasks? Unable to get out of bed? Feeling hopeless? Overwhelmed?

You are not alone. I think all of us have struggled during this past pandemic year. Maybe not to the extent of the challenges listed, but in other ways. It’s been a lot. I’m thankful that, if anything good comes from this pandemic, it’s an increased awareness of mental health issues.

I am grateful for writers like K.J. (Kristine) Joseph for opening up about her clinical depression in her powerful memoir, Simply Because We Are Human. The Minnesota author reveals her life-long struggles with an incurable disease caused by a chemical imbalance in her brain. And that’s important to note—that depression like hers has a physical cause that can be treated, not cured. Clinical depression is much deeper than the typical I’m-feeling-kind-of-down today.

“If only my pain and illness were visible to the world…then people would understand,” Joseph writes. She’s right. Mental illness needs to be viewed through the same lens as any other illness. Except we know it all too often isn’t. The stigma remains. The lack of understanding remains. The misinformation remains. Too many still think you can will yourself, or snap yourself, out of depression or other mental illness. That doesn’t work.

That’s why books like this are so important in changing perceptions, in educating, and in building empathy and understanding.

For Joseph, her first memory of the darkness which would enter her life occurred at age eight. At age 13, feelings of emptiness, non-stop crying, sadness and, for the first time, suicidal thoughts developed. In her 20s, she would once again contemplate suicide as she stood in her kitchen, knife in hand.

It was the death of a 17-year-old friend in high school that propelled Joseph to open up about her depression. I especially appreciate Joseph’s assessment of Matt’s depression-caused suicide: “Matt took his own life because he was sick, and that was how I saw it.” By writing that, she helps ease blame and guilt which often follow a suicide.

In telling her story, Joseph also writes about ways in which she manages her clinical depression. And that is via medication, hard work and taking care of herself. She is a runner, a life-long interest/activity tracing back to childhood. In high school, she ran on the track team, even competed in the state meet. Running helps manage her depression, putting her in a calm, meditative state.

Therein lie the additional strengths of Joseph’s memoir. She offers hope. She reveals how she navigates her depression, what works for her, including taking medication. She acknowledges the reality of her mental illness. And she is open about her struggles. I applaud Joseph for writing about her clinical depression, for her raw honesty, for sharing her stories. For it is through personal stories that we most connect. And begin to understand.

TO PURCHASE Simply Because We Are Human, click here.

FYI: If you or someone you care about is struggling with mental health, please seek help. You are not alone. Here are some resources:

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. Call 800-273-8255 (free, confidential and available 24/7).

National Alliance on Mental Illness

May marks Mental Health Awareness Month. I pledge to continue my efforts to raise awareness and to reduce the stigma of mental illness. Please read previous reviews I’ve written on books about mental illnesses by clicking here, then here, next, here, and, finally, here.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Opening up about mental health January 3, 2019

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Slowly we are beginning to remove the stigma that masks mental illness. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2018.

 

FOR WEEKS, WE’D PRAYED for Lila*. I had no idea why she needed prayers. But it didn’t matter, pray we would as a church family for this friend who’d moved to another state.

A few weeks later, Lila’s husband returned, alone to Minnesota, to lead a local fundraiser. That morning he stepped up to the microphone after worship services and told us about Lila. She was hospitalized, undergoing treatment for severe depression and anxiety. I could almost hear the silent gasp. That took courage, I thought to myself.

I told Henry* the same when I later hugged him, expressed my concern and offered encouragement. He admitted to struggling with his decision to go public. But we agreed that the stigma surrounding mental health is beginning to lift, that talking about mental health issues is important and necessary. For Henry, a retired educator, his openness about Lila proved a freeing, teachable moment.

We all have much to learn on the topic, including me. Kicking depression is not a matter of simply willing yourself to feel better, to just get over whatever someone thinks you need to get over. It’s much deeper than that. Overcoming anxiety is not as simple as jumping into the deep end of a swimming pool and expecting someone to stay afloat.

I admire Henry’s decision to speak up. Likewise, I appreciate that my pastor publicly acknowledges his struggles with depression. That’s a first for me, to hear a pastor talk from the pulpit about personal mental health challenges. He’s young, of a generation seemingly more open to discussing mental health issues. The more we talk about mental illness, the better for those suffering and for loved ones and others trying to help.

Still, talk only goes so far. Waits can be long to see a mental health professional here in greater Minnesota. If you were having a heart attack, you wouldn’t be told to wait six weeks. If you had cancer, you wouldn’t be told to wait for treatment. A mental health crisis is no less important.

I am grateful to two bloggers I follow—Bob Collins at Minnesota Public Radio (NewsCut) and Penny Wilson (Penny Wilson Writes)—who write often on the topic of mental health. (Click here for a particularly enlightening post by Penny.) They are breaking through the stigma, opening the discussion, pointing out the challenges.

Twice in recent years I’ve stood in a snaking line at a Faribault funeral home to comfort the families of young men who committed suicide. I struggled to find the right words. I expect their loved ones struggle with the what ifs, survivor’s guilt, regrets, but, most of all, an unfathomable pain. Some grieving families are choosing now to go public in obituaries about their loved one’s struggles with depression or other mental health issues. That takes a lot of courage. We often read about a deceased person’s long and courageous battle with cancer. Battles with mental illness are no less courageous. I’m thankful to see this shift in thinking, to see people like Henry step up to a microphone and speak about mental illness.

THOUGHTS?

* Not their real names.

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Why I recycle holiday trimmings and cards December 19, 2012

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ONCE THE GIFTS are opened—after we’ve played the steal-the-presents game—gift wrap and trimmings are scooped up in a furious rush to rid the room of rubbish.

And if I’m not quick enough, I miss the opportunity to salvage ribbons and bows, tissue paper and gift bags.

I cannot bear to see these items trashed. My extended family knows this about me and they laugh as I hurry to gather in the goods at our annual holiday get together.

I used festive holiday trim and a card from Christmases past to decorate this gift.

I used festive holiday trim and a card from Christmases past to decorate this gift.

But I was raised right, by a Depression era mother who saved everything. As the eldest daughter in a family of six children, I assumed some of her saver traits, including the recycling of holiday trimmings.

I do not, however, rescue wrapping paper as Mom did so many years ago while a farm wife guarding every penny. She would fold each piece of gift wrap with great care, attempting to remove strips of Scotch tape without ripping the paper. And then she would pack the pretty paper away with the previously used bows to reuse the following Christmas.

Examples of Christmas cards in my stash that could be recycled into gift tags.

Examples of Christmas cards in my stash that could be recycled into gift tags.

Like my mom, I also learned to recycle holiday greeting cards into gift tags. Why not? With a few snips of the scissors, I have a lovely tag to adorn a present.

I like to think, as I’m clipping cards and gathering the pretties ripped from presents, that I am honoring my mother, honoring an entire generation of Americans who saved and scrimped and got by as best they could with what they had.

We could all learn from them.

Long before recycling and going green became trendy buzz words, they already understood the importance of reusing/repurposing.

A recycled ribbon and card grace this package.

A recycled ribbon and card grace this package.

HOW ABOUT YOU? Do you recycle anything from the holidays?

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling