Fighting for Mental Health

I’ve had several down days in these past couple of weeks. I cried in my therapist’s office. I beat myself up about my past parenting. I’ve caught myself using self-deprecating words to myself, speaking negatively to me about me.

My husband has noticed – he’s very tuned in to my moods. In fact, he saw it before I did. But I’ve noticed a lower rating on my daily mood scale. So I’ve known something was going on.

We had a week or more of rainy days, so I was lacking in natural Vitamin D (I take a supplement anyway). I had some serious self-evaluation going on, and had to fight my own negative voices with God’s truth about how He sees me. My left leg is causing consistent shooting pain; it could be lumbar stenosis, which doesn’t really get better except with pain relievers and gentle stretching – when whatever inflammation exists subsides. Walking hurts, so exercise is hard(er) for me.

I realized today the foundational truth of Fresh Hope, the peer-led support group we’re starting at our church. Their mission is: To empower individuals with a mental health challenge, along with their loved ones, to live a full and rich faith-filled life in spite of having a mental health diagnosis.

I can choose to live a life that is rich and faith-filled. I can choose mental health vs. mental illness.

I have a mental health diagnosis – Major Depressive Disorder, Moderate to Severe, Recurrent. But that doesn’t mean I’m always depressed. Right now, my depression is in remission, and I’m relatively healthy (except for my leg pain).

It means, like I told my therapist today, that I realize that sometimes I can coast, and other times I have to fight for my mental wellness. So I’m fighting for it a bit right now. That’s ok.

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Depression Analogies

So many times through this journey with depression, I have thought “once and done.” Like, “There! That depressive episode is over and now I’m all better!” But in my case, that’s just not the way it is. I keep walking with it – it sidles up next to me on my life’s path.

Depression is an unwelcome visitor who keeps arriving on my doorstep. I try not to invite him in, but sometimes he sticks his foot in the door so he can push it back open. He wants to come in and make himself at home. And he’s been here before, so he’s a familiar guest. I want to close the door and bolt the lock!

Depression is a deep cavern with a hidden entrance in the ground. One misstep, and I could fall in. If I land at the bottom, it will be very hard to crawl out. The sides are slippery mud and jutting rocks. The cave is dark. My hands will bleed from pulling myself up towards the exit.

Depression is a wet gray wool blanket, weighing me down and dampening everything. It’s heavy, and I can’t see through its tight weave. And it stinks!

Depression is an ongoing battle. As a soldier in the fight, I must stay alert to the enemy’s tactics, and be quick to action so – at best, I can defeat it, or – at least, I can keep it at bay. “Put on all of God’s armor so that you will be able to stand firm against all strategies of the devil.” Ephesians‬ ‭6:11‬ ‭NLT‬‬ (italics mine)

Guilty Feelings

Feelings are not fact. Often, they can’t be trusted. They change with mood, circumstances, even hours of sunlight. Feelings are important to acknowledge, but they shouldn’t “steer the ship.”

Last Sunday, our Pastor preached on Ephesians 6:1-4. In the course of his sermon, he mentioned that he had asked his grown sons if and what he had done – when they were younger – to exasperate them. Ephesians 6:4 in the NIV reads,” Fathers (or Parents), do not exasperate your children (NLT – “do not provoke your children to anger”); instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.”

I wanted to do the same thing – to ask my adult kids – ages 26 and 22 – if and how I might have been negligent in this way, but I never even got to that point. I was immediately attacked by feelings of guilt.

You see, I experienced my first and worst episodes of depression while my kids were in high school. So as I pondered questioning my kids, I found myself questioning what kind of parent was I, when I was so self-absorbed and consumed with dark thoughts all that time?! I began to search my memory for any happy times, any laughter, anything good that I did those years.

The mind plays tricks, and our feelings can journey right along. I could only think of one or two things – from all of their high school years! – that were positive memories.

Now I know that’s not true. We had many great times with our kids during their teen years. We had lots of laughs, memorable vacations, proud-parent moments. But in those thoughts last week, as I was struggling with my memories, I couldn’t recall but a couple. Depressive thoughts were trying to whisper their way back into my thinking process.

I immediately wrote Romans 8:1, NLT, into my journal: ““So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus.” Those thoughts of condemnation weren’t from God. They were from the enemy, using my depression against me, bringing guilty feelings where there should be none.

I did the best parenting I could do at the time, which is all we’re called to do. With God’s help and His grace, I was a good mom to teenaged kids. We had fun. We had laughs. We had teachable moments. We made memories.

We’re friends now, which I think speaks to healthy relationships that have grown over time, and those started back when the kids were teens.

Depression is a liar. It whispers untruths, unrealistic absolutes, condemning thoughts.

Even though I’m in a healthy place mentally right now, it stills tries to capture my attention, distract me from the truth of what God says about who He is and who I am in Him.

What’d you say?

I have hearing aids.

They’re new – I’ve had them for six weeks now. They’re making a big difference in my quality of life. Like a friend said, “They’re not glamorous, but they are helpful.”

I first had a concern about my hearing probably ten years ago. I went to an audiologist, who said he didn’t see anything wrong. So I assumed that meant I wasn’t paying enough attention to what was going on around me, and I made efforts to be more tuned in.

Then five years ago, I realized that I’d been saying, “Huh?” a lot, so I saw an audiologist again. This time, the tests showed hearing loss in each ear. The right ear registered sounds on the line marking “normal” hearing, and the left ear was slightly below the line.

That audiologist told me I was a candidate for hearing aids, but I probably wouldn’t notice a huge difference. I’d get a “bigger bang for my buck” if I waited until the loss was more significant.

So he taught me some coping strategies:

  • Don’t shout from room to room.
  • Face the person you’re speaking to, so you can see their lips moving.
  • In a restaurant, sit in a booth, with your back to the crowd, so the only sound coming to you is your dining partner’s voice.

These techniques helped immensely, particularly the second one. I found I could “hear” what was being said when I could see the other person’s lips move. One of my former co-workers even went so far as to back her chair up from behind the filing cabinet, so I could see her clearly when we talked across the room. She was so thoughtful!

But as time went on, I began to notice that I couldn’t hear people when they whispered, and I started wearing a headset at outdoor theater productions.

Fast-forward to March, and I was sitting next to my best friend at a live indoor theater performance where my daughter was working. We’re four rows from the stage, and I had my hand cupped behind my ear to try and catch the dialogue. At intermission, my friend told me that the actors were projecting well, and she wasn’t having any difficulty understanding them. I knew it was time.

So I saw an audiologist, who sent me to an ENT, to make sure there was nothing on the nerves blocking the sound waves. He walked in the room, took one look at me and declared I was too young for hearing loss. “Oh, I think you’ll be surprised,” was my response.

And he was. I had significant loss in each ear, with the left still being worse than the right. He sent me back to an audiologist, who fitted me for the hearing aids.

The technology of hearing aids has come a long way since my grandpa’s old devices. The aids communicate with each other and adjust as I enter a room, so if sound is coming from the left, the right one will adjust accordingly. Or I can control the volume and direction of the sounds I’m hearing with a tap on the app on my iPhone. My phone actually projects the caller directly into my hearing aids, so I hear very clearly on a phone call. There’s even a music setting, and customizable programming for what I hear (like an equalizer on the stereo). I’m sure I’ll use those more as my hearing loss increases.

The aids themselves are very small. The hearing piece is down in my ear canal – no big ol’ fake-flesh-colored gadget. The wires are translucent, so you don’t obviously see them as they trail up my ear to the battery piece. Yes, that still goes over my ear, but it came in lots of colors, so we picked a shade of silver to match my gray hair! Again, pretty unobtrusive.

They’re expensive little buggers, though, and each aid uses one battery approximately every 9 days. I’ve been told that the savings on batteries alone will pay for a Costco membership. Insurance didn’t cover any of the aids’ cost – that’s apparently typical, which I think is a shame. How is an older person on a fixed income supposed to hear?

I’m grateful to have these little tools. I can hear my kitty purring. I can hear the birds in the trees, and their chatter at the feeder. I love being able to hear on the phone, and when a friend is praying. I can even hear my husband calling me from another room!

It’s like my world has opened up again. And I can hear the joy in it.

It’s been awhile…

I didn’t really intend to take the summer off from writing. But it seems like that’s exactly what I did. My last post was June 13th, which is a season ago! Sorry for being incommunicado – let me catch you up.

Summer was good. My mood has been up – it seems that the cocktail of antidepressants I take is working to keep my depression in submission. Yay! I meet monthly with a therapist – I believe medication is more effective with regular talk therapy, and statistics support this fact.

The highlight of the summer was a two-week vacation – I’ve never taken two weeks before. It’s a wonderful feeling to get to the end of the first week, realize vacation is usually ending… but this time, it’s not! There’s a whole other week left!

A museum/home on Lake Maggiorie

The first few days were just my husband and me, connecting with a colleague of his is Lugano, Switzerland. We stayed in a five-star hotel (wow!) and enjoyed a boat excursion around Lake Maggiorie and a furnicular ride to the top of the mountain. We sat in bistros and watched people, and drank delicious champagne and ate great food! That part – all by itself – was a fabulous vacation.

Then we traveled to Germany, where we connected with another of my husband’s colleagues, and at this point, our kids joined us. So we had a family vacation, complete with a monestary-stay and an enormous hike around a mountain. A second vacation – full of family, food, and new friends.

Beautiful German architecture in Gelnhausen

But then, just when the fun should have been ending, we spent a week in France with two long-time-friend-families. We rented a beautiful home in Normandy – saw the beaches and museums, ate delicious food and shopped and relaxed and laughed. Another memorable vacation!

Relaxing in France with friends and food

When we came home, I went back to work part-time. I’ve also been doing volunteer work all summer at an adult care center – I’ve really enjoyed getting to know the residents and staff.

I got hearing aids – that’s a topic for another blog post.

And now it looks like a dream of mine is coming true – the start of a peer-led depression support group at our church. We’re just in the infancy of getting the process rolling, but I’m thrilled. This has been a heartbeat of mine for several years, and it’s exciting to see it start to come together – all in God’s perfect timing. He is bringing the facilitator team together – it’s awesome to see Him working!

I’m still missing my kids, as they are each living many miles away. But I treasure the memories and pictures we made in France. Until I see them again, it’s just me, my hubby, and the cats. Life is good! And it feels really good to say that!

The kitten, Henry (front), is almost as big as Annie!