When You Are in Crisis

You are in crisis.

Your marriage is over. Or you are losing your house. Or someone close has died.

Whatever the cause, the anxiety is killing you.

Suddenly, you understand why people commit suicide. Your life has devolved down to the gnawing fear in the pit of your stomach. You are unable to concentrate. 

At best, your life has become an unending series of painful tasks.

Joy has deserted you.

This is when you need God – and the Church.

What you need now is a plan.

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“Twelve years ago, I learned that my ex-husband had been systematically raiding our bank account,” says Betty, now remarried and in her fifties. “He spent nearly $100,000 on courses to become ‘enlightened’ in a cult. I didn’t notice because I was too busy working night and day to support the family. He was a free-lancer who consistently lost clients – and as I came to understand, a sociopath.”

Betty was left to raise their two children on her own, as her ex paid no child support. She turned to an 80 year old Monsignor, who gave her hard-headed advice. “He told me three things: ‘Get your finances in order. Keep a close eye on your kids. And stay close to the Church.’”

Betty did all these things. Within months, her finances were under control, and her  children recovered.  Four years later, she met and married a good Catholic man – at the ripe old age of 47! Today, her almost-grown children are happy, healthy and successful.

Betty’s story is exceptional. Not everyone has a wise Monsignor to turn to. This was Elena’s situation. “I knew for many years that my husband would probably die before me,” she says. “But when he did, it was still a shock. I spent two years watching TV, not wanting to leave my house.”

Sarah’s ex did everything to demoralize her before he finally left her for another woman. “He told me I was fat. He said that I disgusted him. That he deserved a super-model.” To her utter shock, he took every dime in their bank account, too.

coping2Michelle’s ex-husband grew increasingly aloof from her, and their lovemaking became less and less frequent. Finally, it stopped altogether. Then, her 14 year old daughter stumbled upon his child pornography websites. The damage to both mother and daughter’s psyches has been incalculable.

“I’ve come to believe that internet porn is really something diabolical,” says this slender woman with tired eyes. “It utterly destroyed our marriage, and today he is a shell of the man I fell in love with.”

coping3There is social decay, and families seem incredibly vulnerable. And women bear the brunt of much if not all of this.

These all-too-common tragedies are the stuff of our daily lives, it seems.  And for many women, trauma like this start a downward spiral which compounds the damage as they attempt to cope using food, alcohol, drugs, or sex. Worse, the damage overwhelms their children, who become easy prey for the dark forces in our society.

“Some of these things are a normal part of life – birth, sickness and death. But the plain fact of the matter is that Catholics – like everyone today – are fearful,” says one American priest. “There is social decay, and families seem incredibly vulnerable. And women bear the brunt of much of this.”

How to cope when you are in crisis? The key is to recognize that you are Catholic, and to understand the Church’s wisdom in teaching that we are complex creatures of body, emotions and spirit.

When you are in crisis, each of these aspects of YOU have been attacked — and traumatized. Trauma requires treatment. Therefore, you must put a recovery plan into effect for yourself. Unfortunately, nobody else can do this for you. It’s your life, your health and your children who are at stake. Ready? Let’s roll.

STEP ONE: REALIZE AND RECOGNIZE

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First, you must realize that it is your solemn responsibility to get your life in order.

Then, recognize that you are only human. Your recovery will take time.

How long? Only God knows. This leads us to Step Two:

STEP TWO: SPIRITUAL SUSTENANCE

coping5Your soul has been traumatized. So you need to turn to the Church. Everything you need is there for you: Confession, Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament, Holy Communion. These are all nourishment that your damaged spirit needs now to start healing.

Spiritual care is crucial to your recovery. You must do one good thing for your SPIRIT every single day. In the beginning, this may be something as simple as sitting in church and silently praying over and over: “Help me. Help me.”

This is fine. In fact, it’s a big step. The best way to do this is to be in front of the Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament. In fact, it’s worth traveling for, if it is not done in your parish. For sure you can find it at a traditional parish here:  

http://web2.iadfw.net/carlsch/MaterDei/churches.html

Later, you may be able to progress to reading the Bible, praying the rosary or reading about the saints.  But remember: ONE GOOD THING FOR YOUR SPIRIT every single day.

STEP THREE: PHYSICAL NURTURING

coping6Your body has been traumatized. Maybe you can’t sleep or eat properly. Or you have mysterious aches and pains – or worse, real stress-induced illness. It’s time to heal by doing one good thing for your BODY every single day. Remember that exercise needn’t be violent. Experts recommend that you get 30 minutes of moderate exercise, three times a week. As your recovery progresses, don’t slack off:  ALWAYS DO ONE GOOD THING FOR YOUR BODY every single day.

Attend an exercise class

Work out at home

Garden or other outdoor tasks

Swim or hike

Walk or run

Ride a bike

Do breathing and stretching exercises

Take a hot bath

Give yourself a home manicure/pedicure

Get your hair done

Get your nails done

Get a massage or a facial – or both!

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You can’t heal on junk food. Cook – and cook often. Invite friends and neighbors to your table on a regular basis for fresh, healthy food. (Need ideas? See ‘Sunday Dinner with the Romans’ in this issue.)

STEP FOUR: EMOTIONAL SUPPORT

Your emotions have been traumatized. Perhaps you feel numb. Maybe you can’t stop worrying. It’s possible that you have sudden crying spells. Or you have thoughts that you cannot control. Maybe you are even thinking about suicide.

Do not be afraid. Bad feelings are normal when you have been traumatized. It is imperative that you recognize this and do one good thing for your emotional state every single day.

Get yourself a good, Catholic therapist. How? Ask a good, Catholic priest or nun – or friend or relative. You need someone who is skilled at working with trauma – and who is not trained to be ‘value neutral.’ A practicing Catholic therapist will understand and support your moral values and your need for prayer.

Remember, you are carrying a poison around inside of you. Get it out of your system. Be persistent. Talk it out.

Next, you need some talking buddies. That is, more than one person who will listen to you. Why? Because you need to talk this out. So, be sensible and spread the wealth. Don’t overburden any one friend with your pain – respect their need to live their lives, too. Finally, get yourself a fat notebook or two. You are going to use this to journal everything. Here’s some ideas to help you get started:

  • How Could This Happen?
  • Why I Hate My Life Now
  • My Prayer for Today
  • Help Me, Lord
  • What I Want for My Kids
  • What I Must Fix This Week
  • What I Accomplished Today
  • What I Need To Do Tomorrow
  • How I Want to be Living In a Year

Then, begin.

EVERY SINGLE DAY: Talk about your pain. Write down what you are thinking. Your agony. Your prayers. Your hopes. Your plans. Remember, you are carrying a poison around inside of you. Get it out of your system. Over time, your need to talk and to write about this will wane, as you begin to heal.

Grief experts say it takes about a year, at minimum, to recover from a devastating loss. But everyone is different. Your recovery is a completely individual process.

You, however, are not helpless in all of this. Once you understand that you must work to take care of your whole self – body and soul – you will have taken the first, crucial steps out of the dark place where you are now.

Running Around Europe

 

running1At age 30, you have already done quite a bit. Tell us about yourself.

I grew up in a military community — Clarksville, Tennessee near Fort Campbell, Kentucky.  In 2000 I began at the University of Tennessee-Martin, where I was a ‘walk on’ to the Women’s Basketball program.  Immediately after graduating, I began Optometry school at Indiana University, on an Army scholarship, which left me with a three year commitment to the Army.  My military career therefore began with my residency program at Ft. Sam Houston, Texas. In 2009, I moved to South Korea for my first “real” duty station. After a year there – with lots of travel through Asia — I was assigned to a clinic in Germany.

How did you start your love affair with running?

Running has always been part of my physical training for sports, but to be honest I historically saw it as a necessary evil.  I didn’t start running for pleasure until I was in Korea.  This all began because I have a problem saying “no”, when there’s something I can do to help.  The Army base staged races nearly every month, but participation was dwindling.  I was asked to compete in a duathlon, then a sprint triathlon, and then a half marathon.  At one point, my parents were in Korea for a visit, and I asked my dad — a long-time runner — to pace me for my first half marathon.  He reluctantly agreed.  I set a personal record on my first race that still stands.

When did you decide to run marathons?

Running a marathon had been on my bucket list for years: the only problem was that I really hated running.  Korea was a pivotal year for me.  I learned to actually enjoy running, and as an added bonus, it helped keep the weight off.

An American girlfriend in Germany convinced me I could really “do” a marathon.  So I set my sights on the Brussels marathon, just a couple of hours’ drive away. Now, I love Belgian chocolates, waffles, fries, and their amazing beer, so my reasoning was that running for a few hours was an easy trade off.  (You burn roughly 100 calories a mile, so 2600 calories for splurge food sounded good to me!)

What has been your favorite race in Europe? 

The US military sponsors the “Run to Remember” in Stuttgart, Germany. Special Forces organizes the race to honor all of our fallen brothers and sisters in arms since the start of the Iraq/Afghanistan wars.  At the start of the race, the runners are called to attention, and the roll call of the fallen is read.  After that emotional start, we race through the forest, a truly challenging course which gives me perspective. It’s about not quitting and embracing the discomfort of a race, when there are others who have given the ultimate sacrifice.

My favorite experience was actually running the “Run to Remember” half marathon in the morning, then traveling 3 hours to run the Romantic Castle half marathon in the evening.  It was really a grueling day.  But the second was a much more forgiving course, and the people were very friendly. Plus, the view was fantastic — Neuschwanstein Schloss, the real “Walt Disney Castle” in the distance.

And your worst running experience in Europe?

My worst experience running in Europe was also the funniest experience.  I am not sure why Europeans like to dress in costume to run, but they really do.  A group of friends decided to run the Champagne Valley half marathon in medieval Rheims, France – the capital of the Champagne district.

I was warned there would be people in costumes, but that it nevertheless was a “serious” race.  At the starting line, we were amazed to see a complete hospital bed, including an “IV fluid pole” right behind us, with 8 or 10 “doctors” and one really small “patient.”

As we began to run, I was confused by the people carrying water bottles during a race. The reason for this dawned on me about four miles into the race, when we finally reached our first water station.  I realized that, when you run through fields, there aren’t really wide roads, or places to set up water stations.  In consequence, we would only have hydration stations when we were in the French villages.  (An important lesson learned: check the course map for hydration stations, and plan accordingly.)

Once I recovered from the realization that I was not going to have water regularly, my goal for the race shifted significantly. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that in the last half of the race, champagne was served in the “hydration stations.”  In short, it was not a record-setting day, but it was an important lesson learned.

Doctor Julie’s Advice for New Runners

  • Get good shoes. They really are worth it.  Talk with your doctor, physical therapist, or go to a specialty running store. 
  • Get cute workout clothes.  It’s not always about how good you run, but how good you look doing it!  You are more likely to get out there, if you have cute clothes to wear.
  • Just get going.  Walk, jog, run.  Some days are easy to run and others are a real challenge.  Not every day is going to be great.  Enjoy the good ones, but learn from your struggles.

What are European runners like?

Runners come in all shapes and sizes, physically, mentally, and socially. As for me, I am not out to “win” any race I enter.  The Europeans in my time category tend to be pretty jovial folks out for a nice little run.  Everyone has been very friendly.  Conversations can be a bit challenging, however, as typically English is not the primary language, and my communication skills are slight in other languages, but a smile sure goes a long way!

running2RUNNING THROUGH CHAMPAGNE: Dr. Julie ran a marathon through the famous vineyards of the Champagne region of France in summer 2012.

“Running is also a place for me to pray.  Sitting home and praying is a struggle for me.  Being outside and alone on a long run provides an excellent alternative.  I think the solitude of running is my favorite part.”

What does running do for you?

Running is completely addictive, once you get over the hump. However, starting a running program is in no way easy.  It takes dedication, but it can teach some very valuable life lessons.  Running allows time for me to be quiet, to put aside all the stressors of the week and just relax.  (The first few minutes are not quiet, as I am still huffing and puffing until my body realizes it is OK.)

What’s your next challenge?

I just completed the Berlin Marathon, and my new goal is to set a personal record in the half marathon.  I have not picked a race yet, but I am looking for a flat course in the Spring of 2013; my goal time of 1:45.

“Running a marathon had been on my bucket list for years; the only problem was that I really hated running. “

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BERLIN, GERMANY: Dr. Julie keeps the pace with other runners, as the sun pours through the famous Brandenburg Gate in the German capital.

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BAVARIAN DREAM: “During this race, the view was fantastic — Neuschwanstein Schloss, the real Walt Disney Castle — in the distance.”

running5TOWER BRIDGE GLOWS: Dr. Julie enjoys a night on the town in London.