I’ve been really appreciating Caris Adel’s honesty about mental health, church, and racism, and All The Things I feel truckloads of nervousness bringing up. I see bravery in her writing. So I was relieved and encouraged that ‘bravery’ is a practice she’s trying to learn one shaky step at a time, just like me. She’s making a ‘zine about it to help others walk brave with her. Check it out here, and read on to learn about her journey into admitting that she’s not okay.
What happened to motivate you to approach your life differently? Was there a specific moment where you decided you needed to approach your life differently, more bravely?
Well, for a long time, I was overwhelmed, and couldn’t think about my own healing. We were in a weird church situation, I was overwhelmed by kids and our small house. We moved to Virginia last fall and somehow that drastic change, along with changing church traditions gave me the space, the freedom, to process.
More immediately, though, I was reading a book about marriage, and one sentence stopped me. It said, “When you’re fighting, a marriage issue can trigger PTSD.”
My sister is a social worker, and had told me she thought I had PTSD from my childhood. At the time, I laughed at her. I mean, PTSD is for people who have been in wars.
But seeing that sentence in the book made something click. I realized what triggers me from marital fights. It makes me go back to living with my mom, who has undiagnosed Borderline Personality Disorder.
All that history was affecting my marriage and my kids.
I had to work up the courage to call a therapist.
A few friends online kept telling me I could go, that I could do it. I needed people to be brave for me to make it happen.
I’m seeing that one of my biggest hurdles is admitting I’m not okay. Has that been hard for you to admit too?
It was hard at first, but the more I say it, the easier it gets. A couple people at church that are in therapy have helped me not be ashamed to say it.
The harder part is feeling like I’m broken. My brain is wired differently because of my past, and there’s something seriously wrong with me. That’s hard to say.
I’m an independent person. It’s hard for me to not be able to fix this on my own.
That’s part of why I’m creating a ‘zine; it’s my way of documenting how I’m doing it so I can help other people.
Why do you think it’s so hard to admit we’re not okay?
I think it’s almost like keeping up with the Joneses. We want people around us to believe we’re okay.
We want to think we appear okay to everyone else. And if you’re obviously broken in some way, people don’t know how to handle you.
Also: if I get attacked for a difference of opinion in Christian circles, why would I be open about this?
In church, we don’t know how to be safe with people. I don’t do church in the same way I used to. I don’t expect it to be a second family. I don’t expect Christians to be able to handle me, because it’s really painful when they don’t.
What role does grief play in healing?
I’m not sure.
Grief counselors would tell you that you have to walk through the process of it. I think about history in that way—like structural injustice and racism. It’s impossible to change anything unless you know how it got that way.
I think that can apply to walking brave.
And if I want to be brave, I can’t be courageous without being honest about what’s in the way. Or grieving what’s gone.
I grieve a lot that people didn’t try to step in and be a mom to me.
I think that’s why church stuff triggers me. The wounding and loneliness hurts me because of my aloneness growing up.
Of course, I know churches didn’t try to hurt me intentionally. Because of my past, though, being hurt in church devastated me.
What aspects of Christianity, faith, or the Bible, are proving helpful to you as you try to walk brave each day?
I’m in the middle of questioning everything I learned about faith. So much of it was fear-based. I’m almost at the point of wanting to not go to church, and just be alone for a while.
The only thing I hang onto is Jesus. If he’s right, he was for the marginalized, the oppressed, and the lonely. That’s what I want. I have to believe there’s somebody out there pulling for me.
I also read An Altar In the World by Barbara Brown Taylor. That was an important read for me. It meant a lot to have a pastor-type person affirm that God is everywhere—in the world, in nature, and not just in a church building. So I’m finding a lot of God in books, music, movies and stories.
Also, we go to an Episcopal church, and take communion every Sunday. They treat the Eucharist so highly, so seriously.
I really like that. I need stuff to have meaning.
I went to an Episcopal service a few months ago and almost started crying when the priest put the bread into my mouth for me. I thought, “This is what I need.”
Yes. It’s so central to our faith. Even if I can’t put words to what it means, knowing that something is happening there that is mystical and sacramental helps me. Knowing that they treat it with honor helps give it meaning. It’s not just bread and wine. Somehow, God is in it.
Why did you feel motivated to start a ‘zine about daily bravery? What are you hoping it will do for others, or for you?
For me, part of doing it is to keep me motivated, and provide me with accountability. Even if no one buys it, I need to do this. I need to put those good words in my mind.
Also, I want to find people to do this with me, because it’s always easier to change with other people.
I also hope it will help people to know that going to therapy is a good idea. I want to reduce shame about mental issues, growing up with people who have mental issues.
I’m hoping for others that they’ll be able to see—at least in theory—how easy it is to choose courage. It is one little decision at a time. I hope it gives people tools to do it in their daily life.
It’s choosing to take care of yourself, to think about your questions, and to process your world.
In the big picture, being brave feels scary. But the baby steps are doable.
Caris Adel is a recent transplant to the Tidewater region of Virginia. She homeschools her 5 kids, and is on a constant search to disrupt her status quo. She writes at www.carisadel.com and tweets at https://twitter.com/CarisAdel
Make sure to check out Caris’ zine, Walking Brave, here.
Photo credit: Lulu Lovering