Not depressed

I haven’t been depressed for a while. But I said it out loud today. “I’m not depressed.”

The move to Virginia certainly brought up feelings like depression – loneliness, fatigue, a little hopelessness. For me, that’s different from depression, which is lots of hopelessness.  But the transition of moving was hard, like a mild depression without all the full-on depression characteristics. I wondered if the feelings would intensify and change to depression. I think I lived with some fear that it would come back due to the move.

But today, in my psychiatrist’s office, I told him that I’m not depressed.

We’re going to reduce one of my meds, which makes me a little nervous, because it’s the med that brought me out of depression in the first place. But it has a weird side-effect – chewing. I chew my teeth together all the time; I’m grinding my teeth all day. In an effort to keep this from becoming a permanent motion, we’re cutting that anti-depressant in half. I’m a little nervous about it, about the depression returning without the full medication to keep it at bay. But I think I’m in a better place emotionally, and so I’m willing to give the reduction a try.

It’s nice to not be depressed. My days are full of light, not grayness.  I can hear when birds chirp – the finches found my feeder, and seeing them flit around gives me a brief joy. I don’t dread each day, which I had been doing after the move here. I have energy, and am seriously considering adding exercise back into my routine. This was never a workable plan when I was depressed: I knew I should exercise, but couldn’t work up the energy to do it. I still probably sleep too much – I nap almost every day because I have nothing better to do. But I’m sleeping well at night, so I’m not worried about it – I’m napping from boredom, not depression.  I’m eating and sleeping well. I look forward to seeing people. Looking forward – that’s not depression.

I still have brief bouts of sadness or anxiety, but can usually recover pretty quickly with prayer. Getting my eyes off myself and back onto the Lord – who He is, how He sees me and loves me – eases those emotions. When I was depressed, I couldn’t lift my eyes from my misery, and sure couldn’t see God in it.  I had to trust He was there, because I didn’t feel Him at all.  I depended on the truths I knew from Scripture about God’s goodness, because I didn’t sense it, didn’t believe it with my emotions. I had great friends reminding me of His presence and companionship, His faithfulness and care. That’s the emptiness of depression – so self-focused that I was unable to see God with me. Those negative emotions have lessened. Now it’s just occasional – normal – feelings.

It’s nice to feel normal.

Living Here Now

I had another realization this week.

As this year has passed, and I’ve struggled to “settle in” to my new home, I’ve been treating it as a temporary assignment. As if we’re only living here for a year or so, and then moving again (which is what happened with living in Florida – we were there only 15 months).  I’ve been reluctant to commit my emotions to living in Virginia, because I’ve been looking to the future as impending change, and I’ve been looking back with deep longing. I was finally feeling settled in Florida when we moved, and so I’ve been missing it a lot. I’ve compared my day-to-day in Virginia to my days in Florida, and every day came up wanting.

Then a morning devotional grabbed my attention with the story of Lot’s wife; I was challenged to not spend too much time looking back. I mean, there’s nothing wrong with looking back at memories and lessons learned. But to spend time longing for days past is time wasted. We don’t live our lives backwards, and I’ve been keeping myself from moving forward by not fully embracing my current living situation. I’m missing out on what God has for me “now” because I’m focused on “back then.”

Some of this is simply the natural progression of moving and adjusting to a new home. As I’ve said before, this process takes time – a year, at least. And we’ve been a year now in Virginia, so it’s time for these things to be working themselves out. But I realized that I’ve been clinging to the past, and that’s different.

I live here now, in Virginia. And in many ways, I am embracing it: I got a job; I’m slowly making friends; I think we’ve found a church home. We’ve explored the area. The boxes are unpacked. We’ve hosted out-of-town guests.

But I haven’t given my emotions to life here. They’ve been focused in the past.

It’s time for my emotions to catch up with my actions, with my life. I’ve prayed about contentment, but with my emotions stuck in the past, it’s hard to be satisfied. So now I’ll pray that I can embrace my life in Virginia with my whole life – emotions included.

I’m going to live in the now. God gives me today. This is the day the Lord has made. I will rejoice and be glad in it. Psalm 118:74 (emphasis mine, personalized).

Homesick

I’m homesick today, and I don’t even know for which home. I’m grieving double.

We lived in FL for 14 months, so I was just finally getting settled in. I knew my way around town, had a church to call home, the start of some very nice friendships, a routine that I enjoyed most days. Liked Bible Study, loved my Moms In Prayer friends, had great neighbors. Loved my house.

Now I’m starting all over and I’m lonely. I’m grieving the loss of friends. Ok, they’re not lost, they’re just not here. And in many ways, I’m grieving the move to FL again, as I grieve this move to VA. That caught me by surprise this morning. Grief can bring back old grief.

I find myself thinking of my older home, my WI home, the place I moved from when we went to FL. I’m missing my old streets and house and friends and neighbors and co-workers and church. It’s as if I just moved from there, as I’m homesick for them all over again. Even though I went through grief when we moved to FL, it’s as fresh today as it was the first time.

Granted, I’ve only been in VA for fifty-one days. Hardly enough time to settle into a routine, let alone have any friends. But I find myself asking God, “Didn’t I just do this?” I am reminding myself that I told God I’d go where He wanted me to go. I have to remind myself, or I’ll get lost in the pity-party. I think He wanted us to come here, for my husband’s job opportunity and for new adventures together as a couple. I know we prayed about it and sensed God’s leading.

But I’m so lonely. God truly is all I have all day long. I’m trying to practice that, live in that, be content in that. God is all I have.

He is supposed to be all I need. We sing those words. We read those words. Do I mean those words? Do I live them? Is He really enough, or do I only mean it when everything else is in order, in my order?

I know that time will help. I will begin to learn my way around this new place in VA, and I pray that it will start to feel comfortable soon. It will be at least a year before I can call it home – I know from all my earlier moves that’s how long it takes. But it’s really hard in the meantime. And the days are quiet and very long.

So I’m learning, at a deeper level, to listen to God in the stillness. To hear Him assure me that He is enough. He is all I need. He will supply all my needs. He understands my tears. He will draw near when I feel broken-hearted. He is the lover of my soul. I will tell myself these truth-promises until my eyes dry and I can rest quietly in His arms.

Where Does It Hurt?

I can feel my emotions in my body. This is true most of the time now, but especially if I’m in a depressive episode.

My shoulders are pulled up toward my ears, as if to hide my neck. I feel pressure and tension in my lower head, on the sides around my ears. So I push my shoulders down and back, and there’s a crunching sound, like my muscles are rolling logs down my bones, and they pop loudly. I turn my head to the side, feel another “pop” and the muscles in my neck stretch down down down along my spine, almost all the way to my waist. I slowly turn my head in the other direction and feel the stretch. There’s brief relief as I try to relax my shoulders, but putting them into a resting position brings them back up and forward.

My jaws ache. My teeth feel loose, and my bottom lip is tight. I’m frowning. I’m not gripping with the back teeth; instead my lower jaw is pulling forward until my bottom teeth hit the inside of my upper teeth, and they stay that way – straining up and tight. I feel them suddenly – I didn’t know I was clenching, and I relax my bite. I open my mouth as if to yawn, trying to relieve the pressure in my ears that has built up from gritting my teeth for who knows how long.  That hurts, too.

There’s pressure. Something is sitting on top of my stomach. Yet it’s inside, too, and my stomach churns and rolls over and feels like it’s being chewed on. And there’s fire burning in the pit of my stomach, with the flames licking upward into my rib cage and making it hard to breathe. I say, “My stomach hurts.” I feel like I want to retch. The back of my mouth tastes terrible, like I’m going to be sick. That steely taste that tells me my insides are coming up to my throat. Yet there’s nothing there. And I clench my jaw to hold nothing in.

My chest hurts. It’s like there’s a hole in the center of my body where I think my heart should be. Which is strange, since if my heart is missing, then how can I feel this pain? And at the same time that there’s a hole, there’s also this incredible pressure, like a boulder resting on my chest. It’s so hard to take a deep breath, and it hurts when I try. I can’t get air all the way in. The insides around the center of my chest are jiggling like Jello; they won’t stay still. The fluttering moves down toward my lungs – my ribs are full of this writhing.

At a massage a few weeks ago, the therapist pushed on my calf muscle and my thoughts were flooded with anger and sadness and grief. Caught me completely by surprise. The therapist felt it, too. “Did something just change? Was that you or me?” I told her about my emotional response to her touch, and she told me that many people carry emotion in their legs. It just had never happened to me before.

These are ways that my body holds emotions. Anger. Anxiety. Fear. Grief. Sadness. It hurts! I can feel it, not just in my head, or in my thoughts, but in my body itself. Depression has often been very physical.

On all these occasions, where I can actually physically feel my emotions, the best approach for me has been to breathe. I tell myself:

Focus on taking a breath. Just stop thinking about anything for a second. Put my thoughts on breathing in. Feel the air come in through my nose. See my chest and stomach and shoulders and arms move, feel my head tilt slightly. Don’t think, just watch my body. Hold my breath, just for a few seconds, then loudly exhale. Make all the air leave my lungs. Do it again. Deep breath – feel it, watch it. Hold it – count to four. Don’t think. Just count to four. Now as I breathe out, with my lips making the shape of an “O” and loudly through my mouth, count to six. Make all the air come out. Push it with my diaphragm, with my stomach muscles. Do it again. Breathe in for four – count to four as I take a deep breath through my nose. Hold it – count to four. Breathe out, counting to six. Listen to the sound of the air leaving my lungs, coming out of my mouth.

Breathe in through my nose for a count of four. Hold my breath for four. Making an “O” shape with my mouth, breathe out loudly for a count of six. Repeat as needed until calm enough to think.

There. Better.

(footnote)

Remembering Sadness: A Christmas Party

I was telling my therapist yesterday that I want to go back and read my old journals, written over the past 9 years, covering the times where I’ve been in and out of depression. But after I blogged about my stay in the hospital psych ward, I read about a work Christmas party that happened shortly after my release, and found myself crying. Sometimes, the stories are sad.

Typically on Holiday Party day,  I would work longer into the afternoon, and we would help Leanne in getting ready for the evening. She would have planned every detail of this party for weeks. She’s incredibly creative and clever, and she chooses the menu and theme and creates the fun game time for the annual event. We’d get tables set up and decorated, gather and set out supplies for coffee (the meal is catered), fluff the Christmas tree and check its lights, set up the sound system, move the piano out, and do whatever else we could to help her with preparations. The party is for Board members present and past, and the staff is invited to attend. I liked going, and my husband and I often served beverages before the meal. I had discovered this as my favorite way to meet and thank Board members without making tons of small talk! I don’t think I fulfilled this service in December 2009, and I’m sure that’s a good thing.

Looking back, I had no business being there that evening, not with my mental health fragility and the physical exhaustion I was experiencing as I was recovering from the serotonin toxicity. I wish someone had told me I couldn’t go. But I’d always attended before, and felt like I needed to this year, too. I think I just wanted to prove to myself that I was back to normal, even though that was far from true. My husband agreed to meet me there when he got off work.

I honestly don’t remember many details, but I do remember catching my reflection on the way to the bathroom. What I saw shocked me.

There was a short round woman, hunched over a little, her body being pushed hard toward the floor by gravity, her feet splayed for balance. Her hair was messy, but not cute-messy, and her face was drawn and tight. Her eyes were flat, and her lips turned downward. She looked horrible. And then I realized it was me.

I don’t think we stayed longer – I wanted to get out of there before anyone else saw me. I cried as we drove home – so sad for the woman I used to be. I didn’t think about how I would be her again someday – standing taller with confidence, attractively dressed, smiling with eyes sparkling. I could only be sad that at that moment she was gone, and in her place was this woman who had been beaten down and showed it.

Healing from the serotonin toxicity took way longer than I expected – months of me not feeling back to myself. My psychiatrist kept urging patience, reminding me that I had been through a major traumatic event. Everyone but me seemed to understand that I wasn’t weak, just healing, and it was going to take lots of time and rest for full recovery.

I cried a little as I retold this story yesterday to my therapist. And I realized that even though I really want to re-read all of my journals, it will not be easy. I am inviting myself back into sadness and sad memories, and I will mostly likely cry. She encouraged me to take my time – I don’t have to hurry – and I can stop at any point. She even offered that I could bring the journals to our appointments, if I feel that I don’t want to handle the emotions by myself.

At least I know what to expect. Some tears, definitely. But I’m also eager to read the evidences of God’s faithfulness, about the tools my previous therapist gave me, of verses of Scripture that sustained me. I will read expectantly, with my heart soft and ready to absorb the written emotions again, yet reading the journals with strength, knowing that I have come through difficult times and am the person I am today because of them. And I will cry.