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.

 

 

 

Advertisements

She Wasn’t Supposed to Be There

She wasn’t even supposed to be there.

It was against the law.

If the authorities found out, she’d surely be punished.

But she had to come.

She’d heard HE was coming and no rule, no threat of condemnation, no fear would keep her from him.

hem

She said to herself, “If only I could touch His garment, I will get well.”

I’m not sure why she thought this.  She had been suffering with a bleeding hemorrhage for 12 years. She had visited doctors, spent all of her money on remedies, had the priest pray for her.  And yet it only got worse.

And according to the Law, she was unclean.  She had to live outside the city and was not allowed to touch anything sacred.

She wasn’t supposed to be there.

Even though there was no evidence to support her faith in this Jesus, she believed that He alone had the power to heal her.

She had quite an imagination.

But you cannot create what you cannot imagine.

So this woman imagined a future for herself that was different, better, full of hope and healing.

And she went for it.

And it worked.  The scriptures tell us that her faith made her well.

Divorce, not a bleeding hemorrhage, made me feel unclean.  I came to feel like  an outcast.  But the danger is the probability of projecting these feelings into the future.  We can’t imagine a life for ourselves that is happy, full of life and health.

And since we can’t imagine it, we can’t create it.

Unless we do.

Our faith can heal us, too.   We can imagine ourselves as healthy and whole…and then we can start making steps toward it.

Don’t let fear, condemnation, guilt or shame threaten to keep you on the outskirts of life.

Begin to imagine what it will be like…what will it feel like when you touch His garment and you are made whole?

(Matthew 9:20; Mark 5:25; Luke 8:43)

A Deep Well (Journal entry dated July 14, 2007)

journal writing

Today was a pretty good day.  I slept in, took it easy for a while, then went to Walgreens and got some prescriptions and some other stuff.  Later I went to dinner with everybody.  It was more enjoyable that usual.  We laughed at dinner, then came home and played a game and laughed some more.

Then I woke up at 5:30am.  I realized that I have this deep well of pain from Rick’s rejection that I’ve been burying – a well of pain that is so dark, and deep…a place I can’t live in.  I’ve been pretending I’m okay because I haven’t dared open that well and allow that place to be revealed.

Anyway, I had a good cry and asked God to shine a light into that deep place and heal me from within.  I accepted that it is going to take a long time.  That place within me is the empty place where many of my lives have lived.

A lonely child who longed to be understood and validated and listened to.

A teenage girl who longed for attention and acceptance and love.

The young adult who looked for a guarantee of intimacy and security in marriage – and who received neither.

I’m the girl who just wasn’t enough, the teen who wasn’t enough, the wife who wasn’t enough.

I tried to please and appease to become enough, but could never be enough.

I’m so thankful to God and His grace, for I know He makes me enough for Him.

But will I ever, ever, ever be truly loved, accepted, and understood by another person?  Will I ever be cared for and protected and filled up instead of broken and taken advantage of and empty?

Will I die an unloved child?

[P.S. I just want to say that this is the cry of a hurting, lonely, rejected wife and NOT some kind of judgment on my parents.  My parents do and always have loved me dearly, treated me well, and protected me from harm to the best of their ability.  I love them both very much.]

Does the caterpiller FEEL the changes in the cocoon? (Journal entry dated June 3, 2007)

I really feel myself changing.  I remember the night that you told me that I was in the “cocoon of becoming.”  How you wrapped me a in a chord and told my spirit that I was wrapped in your love and protection.  Yes, Rick’s love and protection was being taken from me, but I had yours.

Anyway, I wonder if the caterpillar FEELS the changes? actiasluna-5815399-h

I guess I always assumed that the caterpillar wraps itself in chords of silk and simply sleeps.  Then one day it wakes up a new creature.  But what if the caterpillar goes through a lot of effort, and work, and stress to get the cocoon just so?  What if it endures pain and discomfort while its changing?

We all know that babies cry as their teeth grow in.  Teenagers complain of aches and cramps and clumsiness during their spurts of growth.  It seems periods of transformation are accompanied by confusion and tears and even sometimes much pain.  Sometimes things even die before they are made new again (IE Lazarus).

I can feel myself changing.  I feel like I am a better me than ever.  I actually like who I am becoming.  I feel capable and functional and able to become who I want and able to allow God to work on my strongholds.

I love you, Lord, and I thank you for this time of change, even though it is hard and very painful.

Journal Entry dated Saturday, May 12

“Officially one month until we move in to our new house!  I can’t wait!  Even Savanna* said she was counting down the days!butterfly black

I’ve been sad the last couple of days.  Rick said he wanted to reconcile.  It was on a day when he was feeling particularly guilty.  I doubt he really wanted to get back together, just undo the pain.

I said to him, “Remember those love letters you wrote to Leah*?  Can you write a love letter like that to me?” and he paused before answering, so I finished by saying, “I deserve to be married to a man who can write me love letters.”

If he really wanted to get back together, he be pursuing me.  He’d be calling me, wanting to date me, wanting to be with me.  But none of that is happening.

There is another part of me that wants to extend grace to him.  I want to say that he really did try his best to make our marriage work – he just left the door open to Satan – a door that I didn’t even know was open.  Why did he stay with me 20 years if he didn’t want our marriage to work?

Eight years ago, we went to marriage counseling.  I reread our workbook from that counseling time.  The counselor assigned us to read the book Love Busters.  According to that book the love busters are: annoying behaviors, selfish demands, angry outbursts, disrespectful judgements, and dishonesty.  I reread what I wrote in the workbook about Rick and what he wrote about me then.

Here is my assessment of the things we wrote 8 years ago:

I have always felt judged and criticized for the smallest things!  He wrote about me that I have angry outbursts 4-5 times per YEAR, but that I am usually able to calmly communicate what is wrong. [I wrote that He has angry outburst toward me 4-5 times per WEEK] He also wrote that I don’t have any problem with disrespectful judgements, selfish demands, or dishonesty.  The only annoying behavior he wrote down about me was that I didn’t pick up after myself and that I allowed the laundry room to look terrible!!

Okay, so either he lied and I DO have issues in these other areas but refused to tell me in marriage counseling OR I actually DON’T have these issues.  And here is the clincher as far as I’m concerned.  On the Angry Outbursts Inventory the question was, “What are the most important reasons that you direct angry outbursts toward your spouse?” and Rick wrote THINGS ARE NOT EXACTLY THE WAY I WANT THEM.  This is his excuse to criticize and judge and withdraw emotionally and sulk??!!

I mean, did he actually divorce me because I’m not a good enough house keeper?  For crying out loud!

And J* (my therapist) taught me a new word for this: emotional and verbal ABUSE!  He’s so arrogant he thinks he’s ENTITLED to everything being exactly the way he wants them to be all of the time!  And if they aren’t, he’s ENTITLED to do whatever he wants – lecture, sulk, yell, throw things, ignore, snap, be sarcastic, be emotionally distant – HAVE AN AFFAIR!

He’s a butt and I’m glad to be freed from this life.  20 years was long enough to be under his control.

 

 

Ask the Sunflower

ImageHave you ever observed a sunflower?  Sunflowers have the unique ability to follow the sun.  In the morning the sunflower lifts its face to the east to greet the morning sun.  As the sun moved across the sky, the sunflower follows.  In the evening, the sunflower goes to sleep with is head tilted westward.

Why does it do this?  The sunflower’s needs are quite simple.  All it needs is minerals from the soil, water, and the sun’s heat.   The plant uses heat from the sun and converts it to chemical energy for food. The sun provides the sunflower’s nourishment.  The sun meets the sunflower’s needs, so it fixes it face toward the source of its nourishment.

Animals behave in a similar way.  Before I married my husband, Oliver was my dog.  He would happily play with the kids, but when I came in the room, he came to sit on my lap.  I was his Alpha Mom.  Then I married Winsome.

Winsome came with a beautiful new thing called “wet food.”  After a lifetime of dry food from a bag, this gooey stuff from a can was apparently Oliver’s manna from heaven.  Now, wherever Winsome is, Oliver is there also.  Why would my dog change his loyalty?  Because Winsome is his source of nourishment.

Humans are like plants and animals as well.  Our needs are simple.  Love.  Support.  Acceptance.  We will turn our faces toward whatever promises to meet our needs.  When we find the source of that fulfillment, that is what will claim our loyalty and our devotion.

Here is where it gets complicated. We live in a world of juicy, healthy, red and gold Honey Crisp apples that receive their nourishment directly from the sun itself.  We also live in a world of apple pie which has the appearance of health and goodness but is basically filled with processed, empty calories.  Apples provide true nourishment, yet apple pie is much more tempting, more readily available, and comes in many forms.

Many more people eat apple pie than apples.  Only a minority recognize the deceptiveness of apple pie and maintain a diet of life-giving apples instead.  Then there are those who want to eat the apple pie and their apples, too.  How can we apple-eaters convince the pie-eaters to give up the emptiness of processed food and get their nourishment from the true source, instead?

Maybe we should ask the sunflower.  The sunflower doesn’t argue the benefits of sunshine, or conduct sunshine outreach programs, or judge other flowers for not turning their “faces” the way she does.  She just fixes her gaze toward her source of nourishment, and we notice.

My two-cents?  Let us fix our eyes on Jesus…our sun-shine…our true nourishment.  If we Christians really have the answers for this broken, messed-up, crazy world, then we should act like it.  We should embody the grace we have received.  We should shower the world with the love we profess.  We should forgive, accept, and support instead of judge, and blame, and accuse.  We should offer the world the true nourishment we have found.

If the world saw Christians truly acting as Christians, truly living as Christians, truly loving as Christians, then we wouldn’t need any program or outreach or effort to convince them.  They’d be clamoring for a taste of the true health and nourishment we have found.