How I’m saving my own life right now…on living with Depression

I have a mental illness. It is called Depression.

I’ve probably had it my entire life, according to my doctor, but one day 10 years ago my life detonated and lay in shreds all around my feet…and then those pesky brain chemicals just couldn’t keep up anymore.

Before then, I was a pretty decent ringmaster of the crazy circus that made up my emotional life. I could alternatively hide what I was ashamed of about myself and fake control and happiness in front of others.

But then the worst thing that could happen, did. And my old wine skins burst.

And ever since then I’ve been living with “The Big D”.depression1

My Depression:

Maybe my depression is different than anyone else’s, but it has taken me 10 years to get to this place…where I’m ready to publicly acknowledge and write about my life with depression,

But more importantly, how I’m saving my own life right now.

I’ve always felt very ashamed of and embarrassed about having Depression. I’ve suffered from the stigma associated from it, of course. I’ve weathered well-meaning friends and family saying all the things that well-meaning (but not depressed) people tend to say.

(I liken it to taken divorce advice from someone who has never been divorced, parenting advice from someone who isn’t a parent, or weight loss advice from a skinny person.  All the books and courses in the world will not teach you what it FEELS like to be depressed.  And even how I feel with Depression may not be the same as how you feel.)

I take objection to even the definition of Depression.  They call it a “mood disorder”.  I don’t think of it as a mood that I’m in.  To use the term mood denotes something changing with the whims of the day, or something fleeting, or something insignificant.  Like I’m a hormonal teenager.  Like I’m being immature or cowardly or manipulative.

Instead, I’d call it a “thinking disorder”.  Instead of affecting my lungs or kidneys or another body part, it affects my thinking, which then directs my behavior and mood.  Thinking irrational thoughts IS the disease.  Thinking that you’re worthless, hopeless, replaceable, pointless, and better off dead IS IRRATIONAL and is part of the illness…and it is not the truth.  depression

My depression is being so happy on the inside, but not able talk to people at my daughter’s engagement party, so that people imagine I’m upset.

My depression is having to give myself a pep talk before performing mundane household chores.   And not having the will to give myself the pep talk a lot of days.

My depression is spending too much time on Facebook, watching TV or reading as a means of distracting myself so I do not have to think the thoughts in my own head.

My depression is…for some reason I can’t figure out…feeling like the only place to be is on the floor of my bedroom.  On these particularly awful days, I feel a physical weight in my arms and legs and a palpable exhaustion that makes me prefer to sleep than have to battle through it.  On the floor, I cry a lot and I cry hard and I wish that I could find a dark whole and crawl inside of and simply cease to be.  I call these “Attacks of Depression” because that is what it feels like…an actual assault…and I don’t always know what triggers them. And sometimes I do.

My depression is good days and bad days…sometimes lots of each in a row.

How I’m saving my own life…

First, it’s this…deciding to be transparent and authentic about my depression.  Yes, I’m still embarrassed.  Yes, I’m still worried about how others will react or treat me.  But I’m choosing courage over fear and today, at least, courage is winning.

Yesterday, for the first time ever, I texted a friend when I felt an attack coming on because I believed she would pray for me.

Right then.

I was really terrified to text her.   An email would have taken too long to craft and explain.  But a text? Maybe?

“Pray for me, please. Depression is rearing its ugly head and I am feeling paralyzed.”

I was feeling so very vulnerable and afraid.  I really didn’t want to talk at that moment and I was afraid that my phone would ring…

And the dots showed up as she was answering  me.  I could feel my heart quicken…

3-hearts

A wave of relief washed over me because I knew that somebody knew. And although I was alone, I didn’t feel alone in my pain just then.

And then I left my phone and my computer downstairs and I sat on the floor of my room and cried.  Hard.

But then, a thought that I’d never had before came into my mind.  It was, “You’re not worthless, you have a mental illness that makes you think that you are.”

And my tears slowed as I repeated that sentence over and over to myself.  And soon I was able to pray.  I said, “Dear Heavenly Father, please give me another perspective about myself than what I have about myself right now.”

And I starting thinking about my kids.  I thought about how my kids love me.

And how my husband loves me.

And my mom and dad love me.

And my former students love me.

And my friends love me.

And I started feeling that maybe, even though I don’t always feel it inside myself, that I am lovable because some really fine and wonderful human beings love me.

Lastly, I got up off the floor and I made myself some chicken salad and added some avocado and almonds for some healthy fats, and then I went to sit outside in the sunshine.

And as I sat there, eating a healthy lunch that I made for myself, sitting in the sunshine on a warm afternoon, I felt a feeling of pride…

I just saved my own life today.

I cared for myself.  Yes, I asked for help from a friend and from God, but it was my bravery and humility and action on my own behalf that did it.  I do know how to care for myself, and I feel like I can trust myself to be good to my physical body and my mental health.

I have to be real here.  I have a mental illness and that means I will have more sitting-on-the-floor-of-my-bedroom days in the future.  They will be awful and they will feel like an assault.

But I’ve equipped myself with some new weapons with which to fight…

I can text a friend so that I’m not alone in my pain.

I can pray for a new perspective and courage.

I can remember that I have an illness, and I am a grown up and I can take care of myself. Just like if I was sick with pneumonia or anything else, there is a medical protocol.  I need to visit my doctor, take my medicine, take vitamins, eat well, and move my body.

And just like I wouldn’t get mad at myself for having pneumonia or a kidney infection, I don’t need to beat myself up about having Depression.  I can rest when I need to without feeling guilty or ashamed.

I have to remind myself that this illness is an illness of my thinking.  It goads me to dwell on thoughts that are not true or rational.  I’m not always able to control it, and I’m not always aware that my thoughts are irrational.  The mantra, “You are not ____, you have a mental illness that makes you THINK that you are ___” was a helpful one.  I must have read it somewhere on the Internet once, and it came back to me when I needed it.

I can live with The Big Angry D.  And I can save my own life.  I did it and I can do it again, and again, and again.  And I will.

 

 

 

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Why I Can’t Pray

Dear Pastor,

Last week you challenged us as a congregation to pray about how God has gifted us specifically and individually, and to reveal how He might want to use us to grow His kingdom.

I confess that I haven’t really prayed that prayer.  Maybe I’m afraid that He doesn’t really answer those kinds of prayers, or that He won’t…or worst of all…that He already has.

Prayer used to be effortless.

For a long time I was convinced that I was someone special in God’s eyes; a woman after God’s own heart.  Prayer came easy in those days.  I spoke to Jesus about my daily worries and struggles and insecurities.  I was sure that God would not only hear, but that He would send relief quickly and consistently.  I felt that God really cared about my lost keys, or my child’s nightmares, or whatever else was on my mind.

praying-hands

Along with the constant chatter with the Divine came an assurance that I was under God’s special vigilance.  I believed He would never let anything bad happen to me because I was His beloved.  I felt safe and secure, and certain I had the sweet life with God.

I was sincere in my faith.  When I look back on it now, I realize that I was arrogant and judgmental, but I honestly didn’t perceive myself that way.  I was thankful, and felt humbled that God had allowed me to learn about His “truth”.

Then, prayer became impossible.

I found out I was wrong.  God DID let something bad happen to me.  In fact, God allowed the load-bearing walls of my faith be swept away.

For a long time I was angry with God for “letting me go.”

I was mad at all the people…ministers, authors, fellow members of my flock… throughout my life who helped build a unquestioning faith on narrow interpretations of certain passages taken out of context and extrapolated to relegate God to a very limited, explainable construct.

Sometimes I still miss my old, easy faith that had all the answers.

Yet I knew that my relationship with God would never be the same.

I would never again be able to just trust that if I prayed about something, everything would turn out my way.

And that was the rub…          

I now have to accept that God is the Almighty Sovereign One, not my supernatural bodyguard king.

And maybe He has better things to do than make sure little me is “having it my way.”

I know that God allowed those things to happen in my life to move me beyond the simple, easily explained deity that my former church taught about so I could come to believe in the inscrutable Jehovah.

Yet, believing in a Sovereign God makes prayer a little tricky for me

So, do I want to know how God has gifted me specifically and individually, and would I like for Him to reveal how He might want to use me to grow His kingdom?  Oh, yes!  I would very much like to know!

I would love a clear-cut description instead of letting me flounder with all this trial and error stuff that seems to make up my life’s path.

How simple it could be if only The Lord would give me a singular flash of inspiration instead of allowing me to just serve in my general vicinity willy-nilly.

How simple a straightforward little whisper from the Almighty would make my life!

The snag is that learning the answer would be like going back to that old, easy faith that had all the answers.   Back when what I thought was faith was really certainty.

And certainty and faith are opposing ideas.

Faith is the conviction of things UNSEEN.

So, maybe God doesn’t answer those kinds of questions, or won’t, or already has because knowing would be the opposite of His unfathomable will.

What if God actually wants each of us to puzzle it out?  Maybe He wants us to be challenged by our individual gifts and our unique failures.

What if success and failure aren’t reckoned by God the same way I reckon them?

What if the journey IS the point? So we will make an attempt and endeavor to try and have a crack at it and give it a go.

So, pastor, no…even though its a beautiful prayer, I can’t pray that prayer.  I can’t really pray like that anymore.  I don’t need the answers to my questions anymore.  I don’t wish to be insulated so I can be secure, and safe, and happy.  I’m not in search of sure footing.

If you send me, will I hear you?  And will I go?

If you send me, will I hear you? And will I go?

I just want to thank Him for my beautiful life and all the many blessings I have.  I am so grateful for His unfailing grace and generosity. And I want the courage to say, “Here am I, send me.” And pray that when He does, I will recognize His voice and go.

The Remedy for Contentment: Spiritual Imagination

As believers of Jesus, we need not to learn the skill of Spiritual Imagination.  The remedy, instead, is to unlearn the habit of accepting that the limits of our physical, tangible, pragmatic skin is all we have at our disposal.”  Lori Michelle

 

Have you ever played that game, “That’s good; That’s Bad?”

It goes like this.  The first player puts forth a scenario such as “I just got a puppy.” Then the other players respond, “That’s good.” Then the next player says, “My puppy ruined my carpet.” And everyone answers, “That’s bad.” And so on around and around it goes proving that a circumstance can be good or bad depending on how you look at it.

That’s how I feel about what happened back in January. 

I got the best performance review I have ever gotten at my current place of employment.  My boss is really happy with my performance this year, and I feel, after 3 years of working at my school, that I have finally found my niche and proven my particular contribution worthwhile.

It hasn’t been easy, either.  I was close to being fired or walking off the job just one year ago!  I have gone from being stressed and frustrated and overwhelmed to feeling satisfied and justified and (mostly) content.

For most, I just described a “That’s good!” moment.  Admittedly, it does feel good to be seen and appreciated.

But for the last 5 or 6 weeks, I haven’t been very motivated to write or read or continue to work toward my personal goals outside of work.  And that’s bad.

Working as teacher has always been something of a conflict for me.  I hate to admit this because my conflicting feelings have always been a source of guilt, too.

On the one hand, I like teaching and I am good at it, too.  I care deeply for my students, not just how well they do on their academics, but what kind of person they are becoming and how I am contributing to their success in the long run. I believe strongly that if I can build up their confidence in their own abilities, then they will be able to create the future they desire for themselves.   I see teaching as planting seeds that others will water and then eventually the student will reap the harvest.

I have been teaching in some capacity, whether private, public, tutoring, or home schooling for 24 years now, and God has really blessed my efforts all along the way.  I know in my soul that I am doing good work that is worthwhile, and that makes me humble and grateful.

Then, on the other hand, I am not passionate about teaching.  I do not love it…in fact it’s a lot of hard work.  It is not and has never been my life’s dream.  I never pictured my life as being one of a career educator.

I chose teaching as my profession because it seemed pragmatic at the time.  My lifelong dream has been to be a writer, really, but majoring in English or journalism just didn’t seem practical.  I had young children when I decided to finish my degree, and because I loved them so much and wanted to be with them as much as humanly possible, I decided that teaching in the same school as my kids would be the ticket.  Teaching was my default position, not my ambition.

Teaching is something I have always done for others, not for myself.  Teaching, for me, is a sacrifice of love, not an outpouring of God’s pleasure.

That’s why I feel guilty.  I feel like if I’m good at something, and it’s worthwhile and makes a contribution to the world, then I should want to do it.  It SHOULD be my passion.

Maybe that’s why when I got the good review, I felt like I no longer needed to prove that I was a worthy teacher, and that I should just be content.  I should stop the silly notion of becoming a writer.  I should stop dreaming of someday writing that book that propels me into the writing and speaking career I have always wanted.

I like how Abraham Maslow said it:

“Perhaps adjustment and stabilization, while good because it cuts your pain, is also bad because development toward a higher ideal ceases.”

But then I found this definition of contentment on Wikipedia (of all places).

“Contentment is the acknowledgement and satisfaction of reaching capacity.”

And I realize, that darn it all, teaching isn’t the course through which I will reach my capacity.  Teaching isn’t filling my full potential.

But to be honest, the idea of learning how and doing what needs to be done to become an author who can support herself on her writing is overwhelming!  I read the books. I follow the blogs.  I take classes.  I join clubs and contests and seek out mentors.  And I also try to write sometimes, too!

Along with working full time and family and church, carving out time to develop my career as a writer is difficult and time consuming and unrewarding in almost every tangible way.  In this noisy, noisy world, how will my insignificant little voice be heard?

I waver between being content and grateful for my job and for teaching AND having this great hope that if I just keep working at it, if I just keep writing, if I just keep putting my work out there…someday, somehow I will realize that dream and fill myself to capacity.

And I remember what Jesus can do with vessels of water…or with fishes and loaves…or with dead bodies.  How he doesn’t see them as they are, but as they will be.  I’m calling it Spiritual Imagination. 

What can I do, with Jesus, if I just had His imagination for myself and stopped settling for the tangible, practical, logical solution?  What if I stopped settling for what I am now, and walk forward into what I can become?

Abraham Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs

Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

As believers of Jesus, we need not to learn the skill of Spiritual Imagination.  The remedy, instead, is to unlearn the habit of accepting that the limits of our physical, tangible, pragmatic skin is all we have at our disposal.

If you’ll excuse me, I’ve some unlearning to do.

abraham maslow quote

Some Hopefully Helpful Advice For Your Weird Marriage

I really liked this post I found written by John Pavlovitz on his blog.  I hope you’ll check this out and enjoy…and take his advice.  If you want to fix your marriage, don’t look to blogs or books or DVD’s…look to the person sitting across the table from you or sleeping in your bed.

This is one piece of advice I wish I’d had while I was young and in my first marriage.  Don’t know if it would have changed the outcome, but it sure might have helped.

Some Hopefully Helpful Advice For Your Weird Marriage.

 

Top 5 Blog Posts from 2014…And What I’ve Learned from Them…and My BIG DREAMS for 2015

These are the posts that got the most views in 2014.

Echoing My Pre-Release Bugs 

An Open Letter to My Ex-Husband on Thanksgiving 

Grappling with Christian Community 

You Will Survive Being Left 

They Gave Me a Box – From The Junia Project 

Here is what I learned from them:

First, I like my writing.  Its not perfect, but neither am I.  I write from my heart and about what is on my mind. However, 2 of my best posts were actually articles I re-blogged from another site!  I am thankful to have a blog to have an forum for expressing myself, but I need to get my writing seen by many more readers in the coming year if I plan to change the world!

Second, I feel a little unsettled that I wanted to have a Revolution in 2014, and I’m still working at my Revolution.  Its going to take longer than I had hoped.

Third, my blog was viewed 1,300 times in 2014.  I’m going to increase that by a whole heck of a lot in 2015.  My goal is to have 5,000 email subscribers.  I now have 68, so that’s only 4,932 to go!

In order to get that number of subscribers, I’m going to have to make a LOT of changes.   Stay tuned for a brand new look, for starters. I’m going to become a lot more bold and courageous in my writing. I’m going to further my reach by guest blogging on some bigger blogs and learning all I can from the bigger blogging professionals to do so.

My goals for 2015 are:

1. Get 5,000 email subscribers

2. Increase my social media presence on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+.  This will require me to get a Twitter account, to start!

3. Guest post on at least 3 A-list blogs, and hopefully many more.  Or guest post on 1 A-list blog 3 times.  I’m not picky.

4. Sign a book deal, which means first securing a literary agent.  I have contacted one who said that I have a story and the writing talent, all I need is a platform.  So a-platforming I will go!!

5. With the book deal, get an advance that will allow me to quit my job and fulfill my dream of becoming a writer who can live off of her writing.

Yep, a pretty BIG dream for only one year…but I’m planning on Leading a Revolution that Will Change the World…or at least Entertain Friends at Parties…Without Landing in the Loony Bin.  You’d be surprised how few choices one has from the loony bin.

How Four Hideous Christmas Trees Saved Christmas

On December 11, 2007, my lawyer called and told me that my divorce was final.

2007 had been a horrible year.  The most devastating of my life.  Back in April, a singular ATM transaction led me to investigate the man I had been married to for 20 years.  The father of my three beautiful children.  The man who was on the short-list to be the next elder of our church.

No, he wasn’t perfect, but he was good.  No, our marriage wasn’t perfect, in fact we had been going through a rough patch the year of our 20th anniversary, but you didn’t throw away a 20-year commitment because times were tough.

But he had different ideas.  In his mind, heart, and intention, he had already left our family and had moved on to a new life…only I didn’t know about it until April, 2007.

Everything changed that year.  I had been primarily a stay-at-home mom for 17 of our 20 years, but now I had to work 3 part-time jobs to keep the lights on.  Food came from the various food pantries in town.  I sold any valuable item I could find in my house: furniture, jewelry, and collectables.  I even started charging my own children for using the cable and internet!

So as Christmas, 2007 approached, I knew that, along with everything else that had changed that year, the way we would celebrate Christmas would have to change, too.  I felt lower than a slug.  I knew I couldn’t buy my kids expensive presents.  Christmas dinner wouldn’t be the varied spread they were accustomed to. I couldn’t even afford the gas to drive down to North Carolina so we could celebrate with their grandparents!

It was hard for me and my kids to even feel like celebrating Christmas at all!  I was hurt.  I was lonely.  We had all been rejected, abandoned, and forsaken.  It hurt to know that my now ex-husband would soon be remarrying while I would likely end 2008 just as I was ending 2007 – alone.  And a bleary-eyed sadness had implanted itself in my children that I had no power to chase away.  The kids didn’t feel like setting up our Christmas tree with all of our old ornaments…too many memories.  “Let’s just not,” one of them said.

I decided not to wallow…my kids and I needed to MAKE some Christmas cheer!!

I scoured the sales circulars and found that Border’s Books had a 75% off sale of Christmas decorations.  There I found a miniature Christmas tree in every color (I guess all of the green ones had been taken?).  So I bought a pink one, a purple one, a blue one, and a silver one…one for each room in our home!

mini christmas tree

When I brought them home, my daughter, Savanna, cried, “Mom, those are the most hideous trees I’ve ever seen!”

I was undaunted.  I spread out all of our old Christmas ornaments and craft supplies on the dining room table.  With renewed inspiration, I started breaking apart and regluing.  Soon, one of my children joined me, and then another, and then the last one joined in, too. Suddenly, I felt a few twinkles of joy.

Eventually, we had recreated enough new tiny ornaments to decorate each of our new multi-colored trees.  We set about to decorate them, and soon decided on a theme for each one.  The one in the dining room got all of the little Baby Jesus’ while the one in the sunroom would get all of the flowers and bows.

Finally, it was decided that it would be okay, after all, if we set up the big, old artificial tree in the living room and decorated it with all of the ornaments that the children had made throughout their lives (I couldn’t bear to deconstruct them!).

On Christmas morning I wrote in my journal, “I’d say today was bittersweet.  Slow, relaxed, and somewhat enjoyable.  I cooked dinner and we opened our gifts.  The kids seemed happy; well, at least, not sad.”

It wasn’t exactly a Hallmark Christmas movie, but four hideous Christmas trees taught us that maybe, just maybe, expensive presents and a Better Homes and Gardens dinner spread wasn’t what celebrating Christmas was all about after all.

Image courtesy of Free Images

An Open Letter to My Ex-Husband on Thanksgiving

Dear Ex-Husband,

Last Sunday the minister taught a lesson to prepare us for Thanksgiving.  It was about the ten lepers who had been healed by Jesus found in Luke 17: 11 ff.  Ten men cried out to Jesus for healing, but only one came back to show gratitude for the miracle that had been done for them.

The minister emphasized the importance of stepping forward in faith, but to also look back with thankfulness.

I admit that most of the time when I look back on our 20-year marriage, it isn’t gratitude that is filling my mind and heart.

Most of the time…even though it has been nearly eight years…and even though I am now happier in my life than I ever was in our life together…I have to admit, I still look back with bitterness, and regret, and hurt.

"Broken Heart" taken by Alex Bruda courtesy of freeimages.com

“Broken Heart” taken by Alex Bruda courtesy of freeimages.com

I still don’t like you…sometimes I kind of hate you.  Even though I have forgiven much of what you did to me, to our children, to us…I haven’t forgiven everything.  Maybe I never will.

But I still want to take this opportunity to look back and thank you.

First, and foremost, I thank you for our 3 bright, beautiful, and amazing kids.  They have been the joy of my life.  They have taught me more about love and faith and perseverance than I could have ever known.  I never wanted anything in my life more than I wanted to be a mom, a good mom.  I can’t imagine my life without them and I am so incredibly thankful for them.

Secondly, thank you for trying to be a good dad to our children.  You tried to teach them your values and your faith.  You attended every soccer game, every performance, every important event in their lives.  You laughed with them and played with them; you disciplined them and loved them.  Thank you for giving them a childhood with a caring father.

Lastly, thank you for allowing me to be the stay-at-home mom I wanted to be.  When I found it nearly impossible to balance career and homemaking and motherhood, you gave me the chance to be primarily at home.  When our son didn’t learn to read like the other kids, you allowed me to bring him home to school him until he caught up!  How did we know that experiment would turn into our lifestyle?  You gave me the gift of TIME.  Time to be present, time to teach, time to spend with our kids every single day.

One time, maybe just to hurt me, you told me that I had taken everything from you that you had ever wanted.  Remembering that still hurts me.

But you gave me everything I wanted…I wanted a family and I wanted time with my kids…and that is what you provided for me.

It is still so difficult to fathom how you could leave our beautiful family…our remarkable children…how you could just reject and forsake and abandon us like you did.  How you could be the cause of the bleary-eyed sadness that clouded your baby girl’s eyes and hardened her heart.  How dare you do that to the very kids you loved so much!

Maybe I will never be able to understand how you could do what you did, but thanking you might be one more step in forgiving you.

As I step forward into my new goals and dreams and opportunities, I am remembering to look back in gratitude.  And somehow thankfulness softens the edges of my regret and bitterness.  And that is a bit of a miracle in itself.