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.

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Water mindfulness

The hot water heater is in the garage, and the closest faucet is in kitchen, yet it takes 5+ minutes for the water in the sink to get hot enough to wash dishes. It’s faster to get hot water into the master bathroom shower, all the way across the house – the opposite corner from the garage!

The time it takes to get hot water to the sink in the master bathroom is almost as long as to the kitchen. None of this makes any sense to me. Why does it take so long for the water at the closest location to the water heater to be hot? Why does the shower get hot water before the bathroom sink? Plumbing should be pretty straight forward, right? Straight pipes whenever possible, so straight forward. I don’t get it. Hot water in the shower, but not in the sinks.

As I was waiting for hot water to arrive to my sink last night so I could wash off mascara and makeup and the day, I held the fingers of my left hand under the running water. I stood there with my fingers and my thumb, but not my entire hand, seeing and feeling the water pour over them. I thought what a great time to practice mindfulness – simply notice what I feel and describe it. But how do I describe water? Just try.

It’s a smooth, silky, soft, slippery slender stream coming from the faucet to my hand. It’s warm (not yet hot). It cascades over one finger at a time. Before it falls off the last finger, it converges on my pinkie and becomes a narrow single stream again, looking as it does from the faucet to my fingers, before it gently splays into the basin and becomes a shiny surface. It gathers at the drain and disappears.

But does that describe it? And then I thought of Helen Keller and Anne Sullivan, and wondered about the miracle of the language breakthrough, as Helen suddenly understood what Anne was trying to communicate. The trepidation, the excitement, the joy that must have broken over them separately but simultaneously. Helen so eager to know words for everything, Anne delighted yet knowing there was so much more to be taught. Now my focus was off the water and running down the story from a childhood book.

Wait. Bring my thoughts back to the water. Ahh, it’s hot enough to wash my face now. Time for bed.

Lightness

Something happened a couple of days ago: I woke in the morning feeling lighter. Something in me had changed. I didn’t even realize it at first, and when I did, I was awed…and thrilled.

I’m not experiencing anxiety! Like… none! 

Sure, I have butterflies going into a new situation or with a new group of people, but that’s normal.

No, I mean anxiety – the friend that depression brought with it when it invaded my life 7 years ago.

For me, anxiety starts as pain in the pit of my stomach that moves upward to become pressure in my chest. My heart beats faster. The same sour taste at the back of my throat that I have with stomach flu. The shortness of breath, my shoulders pulled together, teeth clenched, swirling catastrophizing thoughts, crushing dread that relentlessly pushes me down.

It’s gone! No heaviness, no dread!

Maybe it’s because what I was dreading is here. I’m moved. I’m dealing with the grief and loneliness – the situation and emotions that I had been afraid of.

I told God that I’m in it now, and it’s ok. No fear or anxiety of it, because I’m here now, I’m living it, and I’m surviving!

I shared all of this with my therapist today; she asked when I last recalled the anxious feelings. It was a few weeks after our cross-country move. We went back to Minnesota for a special event, and I know I had it then. It snowed on the day we were flying back to Florida, and I remember telling my husband that I was ready to go “home.” And that’s my last memory of anxiety. My therapist pointed out that I “left it there.”

In Philippians 4, The Bible says

v. 6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 

v. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

That first verse gets thrown at Christian anxiety sufferers a lot. Just do what verse 6 says, and poof! your fears will be gone. For years, I prayed these verses, tried to practice them, held onto them tightly. And when nothing changed, I’d pray them again, practice them, hold onto them. Still no change.

It wasn’t that I didn’t believe God’s Word. I did, and I still fervently do! But Phil 4:6-7 isn’t a magic phrase that I do one time and all my fears disappear. I had always thought that if I practiced verse 6, then the next verse – the promise of God’s peace – would follow immediately.

I got tired of people quoting Phil 4 to me. I know already! I know I’m not supposed to be anxious. I know that I’m supposed to pray. I know I’m supposed to ask. I know I’m supposed to be thankful and express my gratitude to God. I know! Quit telling me – it isn’t working!

But now I wonder. I wonder if I simply didn’t understand the verses. Or had expectations that were incorrect.

Because I am experiencing ‘the peace of God which transcends all understanding.” But it’s been a long time coming. The second verse is a promise, but for me, the fulfillment of that promise took awhile.

God never breaks His promises. I did pray, and ask, and thank. Over and over again. And eventually, when God was done teaching me what I needed to learn at that time, He fulfilled His promise, and now I have peace.

God’s Peace. No heaviness. Only lightness. Spring in my step, spring in my heart.

I like lightness.

Counting Sheep

( Thanks, Mary B!)

On Monday morning, my alarm went off at 7:20am. I hit the snooze button. Beep, beep, beep – I like that feeling of lazily opening one eye and peeking to see – sure enough, 9 minutes has gone by. Did I fall back asleep? Did I dream? Beep, beep, beep – sure enough, 9 minutes later.  And then instead of snooze, I rolled onto my back and started praying – “Thank you, God, for helping me to fall asleep last night. For reminding me of Your Presence and Comfort. For prompting me with Your Word, with verses I memorized as a child – Your Word hidden in my heart.”

Let me back up a few hours:

Sunday night was tough. I had a crying jag – second one in 2 1/2 months, lasted more than 2 hours.

It started with me thinking of my daughter who had visited us the week before – oh, we had such a great time! But then the thought “I live so far away from her” flitted across my mind and my eyes filled with tears. Then I considered the thought a little longer, and the tears rolled down my cheeks.

And I kept crying! Every time I thought I was done crying, I’d think of someone else I miss. The loneliness was overwhelming (I wrote about this in Just Start With Where You Areand the water works wouldn’t shut off. But I allowed myself – this is me working through grief, and it’s a process, tears included.

Finally, when I felt like I was all cried out – it’s exhausting work – I got ready for bed. Looking in the mirror as I brushed my teeth, I saw swollen eyes and a red nose – not a pretty picture! This just made me want to cry again (haha), so I grabbed a couple of tissues to put by my pillow, just in case. And sure enough, I laid down and the tears wet my pillow.

“That’s enough,” I told myself. “But God, what can I think about instead of loneliness, so I don’t keep crying?” I wanted to focus on gratitude, but my heart felt too heavy and I was too tired to shift my thoughts. Then I began reciting Psalm 23 to myself, focusing on each line individually and meditating on the verse.

v.1 The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want. He is my provider – gives me everything I need. He directs my steps, doesn’t leave me to wander too far off on my own. And He’s my Shepherd – I know His voice; I will follow Him where He leads.

v. 2 He makes me lie down in green pastures; He knows I need rest! 

v. 2 He leads me beside the still waters.  He knows I long for peace, and calm, and gentleness, and He can give me all those things. I started to feel myself relax, breathing slowing, muscles loosening, arms and legs sinking down into the mattress a little more.

v. 3 He restores my soul. Jesus is the only one who can refresh and restore me. I need Him to renew my heart and return me to our relationship. “I’m sorry, Lord, for not remembering that You are always with me. Please forgive my wanderings and restore me to a right relationship with You. Help me to trust You in the midst of my grief, and to know that you have placed me right where You want me.”

v. 3 He leads me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake. “Yes, Father, You are righteous.”

v.4 Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for You are with me. I thanked Him again for being with me through years of walking with depression. For his faithfulness even when I am not.

I don’t remember the rest – I was asleep. Psalm 23 only has six verses, but I only needed four of them to be able to relax and sleep!

I shared this story with a friend via email the next day, and l love her response: “Well, you were in the arms of the Shepherd, so it was like counting sheep?!?!?”