It’s Easy

The thing about depression is – it’s easy.

No, depression itself is not easy – it’s actually a very hard journey. But descending into depression is a cinch. Easy-peasy.

All it takes is several days of feeling alone, using first-person depression language or beating myself up, poor diet and/or sleep, ongoing physical pain. A few negative components, and depression is within reach.

Of course, wellness should be reaching toward the positive, toward mental health, not illness. But sometimes, mental illness feels closer to my grasp.

This should make me fearful, or at least cautious. The problem is, it all feels so familiar. So it’s not scary; it’s almost comforting.

Which makes me scared. And that’s healthy.

I’m realizing that I’m often so close to the edge of the cliff – to the precipice of depression’s chasm.

That means I need to fight really hard for mental health. For mental wellness.

I need to initiate my ladder – the steps my therapist told me to put into place to help me when I find myself in this darker place. Step one – sit with the tears. Well, I don’t have any of those right now. Just a familiar sadness.

Step two – Tell my husband and best friend. My husband will be home shortly, after having been out-of-town for a few days – I hate to admit that this probably contributed to my current emotions. I’m okay with him being gone until about day five – then it gets hard for me. So that piece will improve soon!

Ok, time to be really honest here. Let’s back up a few minutes. Drinking wine does not help depression. I suspect that if I hadn’t had a couple of glasses of wine – which is a depressant! – I wouldn’t be feeling so negative right now.

I’ll write more about my ladder of self-care another time. The steps really don’t matter for this particular post. What matters is to illustrate that depression can be only a few choices away.

So I need to make wise choices. Initiate my ladder of self-care. Get good sleep. Eat a healthy snack, healthy meals. (Too bad I had to throw away that salad mix due to the recall – that was my healthy meal!) Get regular exercise. Be careful with alcohol.

Ultimately, I must remind myself of God’s truth about me, because that’s what really matters. He loves me no matter what. I am a new creation, because of Jesus’ grace. Depression is not who I am; I am a precious daughter of the king of the universe, the king of all creation.

Reminding myself of these truths are keys to fighting the familiarity of depression. Keys to fighting the lies of the enemy. Keys to my mental health.

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I am not my depression

This is the subtitle to my blog.

It’s also a concept I’m grappling with right now.

Years ago, toward the beginning of my therapy, when I was healing from the blackest, deepest place of my depression, my therapist taught me to consider depression as separate from me, like it is its own entity. Like something else in the room.

Not “my depression.” Not “I’m depressed.”

Instead, more like “me struggling with depression.” “I’m battling depression.”

This seems like just semantics, but words are very powerful – especially the words I use with myself and to myself.

The first set of phrases makes me the owner of the depression, or certainly the victim of it. The second group places depression apart from me, not on nor within me. I’m not a victim – I’m a warrior.

The second set of phrases is more empowering. Stronger. More hopeful.

I’ve noticed that in the past several weeks, I’ve gone back to referring to depression in the first person – those first phrases. And I’m not sure why.

It could be a subconscious reaction to the biographies I’ve read recently – folks who wrote about their personal battles with “the black dog” of depression. Some people call those biographies written by “depressives.” That wording is really self-defeating!

It could be the ongoing (4 weeks and counting) of back and leg pain that is plaguing me. The diagnosis is lumbar stenosis – a narrowing of the openings where the nerves of the spinal column come through the spine itself, causing pressure on those nerves and then the nerves responding with inflammation. So far, neither stretching nor ibuprofen nor massage nor chiropractic are helping. (Next steps: yoga and stronger meds.)

It could be because I’ve been thinking about my journey through depression a lot lately: in writing, in therapy, in my Fresh Hope workbook. It’s been on my mind.

Whatever the cause, today is the first day I really caught myself speaking of depression in first person – “my depression.” I need to change that. I need to change the words, change my thinking, put distance between me and the illness.

“…but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think…” Romans 12:2b, NLT

Getting older…

…is not for the faint of heart!

I turn 54 years old in just a couple of hours, and this week has been full of reminders of aging.

I went for an audiology test on Monday, because I couldn’t hear at my daughter’s show a couple of weeks ago. We were sitting four rows from the stage, and I had to cup my ear and lean forward to hear the actors. Earlier this week, I sat directly across the room from my friend, and had to sit on the edge of the couch and try to read her lips as she was speaking; I still missed at least 1/4 of what she said. And at Connection Group, when another friend bowed her head, I just “agreed in the Spirit,” since I couldn’t hear a word that was prayed!

The audiologist told me that there might be some physical reasons for my hearing loss, and recommended I see an ENT before continuing with her. Yet still, the graph she documented showed a distinct hearing loss from my last test, about four years ago. And there must be a genetic component, as I think both my dad and grandpa started wearing hearing aids about this time in their lives. Oh, goodie!

In the meantime, my husband just hands me the volume controls each night as we watch Netflix.

Additionally, my back has been hurting for months. It begins as a severe pain every morning when I first get out of bed. Then a month ago, it moved lower in my spine and started causing the sciatic nerve to flare up. Four weeks of increasing chiropractic and massage care hasn’t helped, and today I told my doctor that I couldn’t take the pain anymore. She thinks I should see an orthopedist, to check for a herniated disc. I walk hunched over and leaning to my right side as pain shoots down my left leg and I grasp for the counter so I don’t fall. Should I lean on a cane?

I watch YouTube videos on how to apply makeup tricks to aging skin. But I can’t seem to cover both my dark eye circles and my wrinkles.

I think I need new cheater glasses – my old ones don’t seem to be strong enough, and I can’t read a thing without them. Mostly, I wear them on the top of my head, since I refuse to wear them around my neck. At least I can usually find them, until I’ve laid them down who knows where – I can’t remember where I put them! I keep an extra pair in my purse, on my nightstand, and by my iPad. Still, I find myself looking all over for them when I need to read the instructions for cooking the take-and-bake bread.

I take 6 medications/vitamins in the morning, and 3 more at night. I’ve got my own little pharmacy by my toothbrush.

At least my body is in shape –  after all, round is a shape. right?!

I got my first gray hair when I was 19 years old, but now my whole head is gray.  Good thing it looks like highlights in the short haircut I wear. Just think current Jamie Lee Curtis.

Seriously, aging is not for cowards!

“Tears are welcome here.”

These are words from my therapist today.

It was my seventh visit with her, but the first one where I cried. I guess it took me some time to be honest with myself and with her.

Again, her words: “It can be difficult to express your feelings in words, but your tears will help me know you are hurting.”

I’ve been hurting for a while. And I’ve written about it on this blog. Feeling lonely. Missing the daily-ness of my kids. Being unsettled here in Virginia. Searching for my purpose in this second half of my life.

I’ve had some down days over the past few weeks. Not depression, mind you. Just down days. Where I feel sad or out of sorts. Nothing that I can’t get through.

But somehow, I’m surprised each time it happens. As if, because my depression is in remission, all my days should be “up.” Of course, when I think of it logically, I know that’s not realistic. But admitting to down days feels like failure somehow.

So I’ve stuffed the tears. I haven’t let them flow.

We talked about it in my therapy session today. And I cried as I admitted that down days scare me a little. I know they don’t mean depression – not unless they’re two solid weeks of it, plus other symptoms. But still, I’m afraid to admit to the sadness. I don’t handle “negative” emotions very well (especially neither sadness nor anger).

My therapist challenged me to sit with the sadness a little bit. To not be afraid of it. I recall my old therapist making me sit in my sadness in his office. It is hard.

We also talked about building a ladder of self-care. What steps will I take on down days, or even worse, if I feel depression trying to visit? Not “for a cup of coffee, but for an overnight stay.” What will I do to keep depression at bay, or to get through those tough days when I feel sad?

First, I’ll try to sit with the sadness a little. To not avoid the tears, but let them flow. To not be afraid of them, but to let them cleanse me.

Then I’ll text my husband and a friend, and let them know I’m having a down day.  I need to warn them in advance, though, about this self-care process.  I don’t want them assuming it’s depression. But I think it’s important for me to tell someone that I’m having a tough day.

Things I want to do on a down day: take a nap; savor a cup of coffee/tea/mocha; listen – loudly! – to my playlists; journal; pray.

Things I can do on a down day: take a walk on the path behind my house – at least around the block; knit; watch a movie from my wish-list; read; dance.

The want list is not very active. And I know activity can help to keep depression at bay. So I’ll need to merge my can list into my want list, which includes a walk or dancing. Get my body moving.

And I’ll practice being with the tears, the sadness. It’s okay to cry.

Adrift

Adrift.

This is the word I’ve used recently to describe how I feel.

In the past couple of weeks, I’ve had several down days. Days of loneliness, days of insecurity, days of grayness.

Feeling untethered, unanchored. Bobbing up and down in choppy seas.

Not sure of my purpose. Not sure of my “why.” Not sure of what tasks to undertake next. Not sure of who I am or who I will be. Or even who I want to be.

Uncertain of relationships and commitments and activities.

Wondering what it might be to live in wholeness, instead of simply existing between depressive episodes. I’m going through a workbook to address that issue – living in fullness and wellness in spite of a mental health diagnosis (Fresh Hope). And I wonder what that feels like. I think I define myself as “a depressed person, currently in remission.” What would it be to call myself “healthy, with possible – occasional – bouts of depression?” Transition the focus to the positive. I’m hoping this workbook will help me in that mental shift.

In the meantime, I finish up my job. I’m excited about my trip to hang out with my daughter and best friend, and connect with other dear friends and a cousin, too. I anticipate future volunteer opportunities, yoga classes, starting a mental health support group. I’m praying about that last one in particular, that God would line up all those details.

And that I would no longer be assembling my boat in the middle of the ocean, adrift and bobbing up and down in the waves.

But then I remember:

“So God has given both his promise and his oath. These two things are unchangeable because it is impossible for God to lie. Therefore, we who have fled to him for refuge can have great confidence as we hold to the hope that lies before us. This hope is a strong and trustworthy anchor for our souls...” Hebrews‬ ‭6:18-19‬ ‭NLT‬‬ (http://bible.com/116/heb.6.18-19.nlt)

I cry out to God for refuge, and then I am anchored in His love for me – His promise of eternity with Him, because of the sacrifice of His Son, Jesus. He has a hold on me. I will trust Him for my future. I need to continue to assure myself that He won’t let me float away. He’s got a gracious grip on me and my future, and I am secure in His grasp.

For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.” Jeremiah 29:11 NLT (biblegateway.com, Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation.)

I have hope. He is an anchor for the soul. A safe harbor. A refuge. God’s got me, and I am fine.