5 a.m. Musings

I woke at 4 a.m., laid in bed for an hour. These were the things going through my head:

  • Jack Johnson’s Banana Pancakes song (just the words I know)
  • Does Starbucks have pumpkin bread or muffins? I have to take the car in this morning for a front end alignment; maybe I’ll stop first and treat myself to a mocha and pumpkin bread.
  • What should I take to S’s on Saturday? Brownies? Something pumpkin? (back to thinking about Starbucks)

Then I decided to focus my thoughts on times during depression when I felt relief:

  • Taking a nap at B’s house – I remember laying down on her couch, a throw pillow under my head, her blue chenille-weave blanket over me. I felt so safe and sleepy.  I must have made her whole family, including her two teenage boys, tiptoe around, because I didn’t wake for over an hour. I remember B doing dishes at the sink as I sat up. Her smile at me – just the best thing a weary friend could see. Do you remember that, B?
  • My husband’s arms wrapped around me. Standing in the kitchen with my back up against the counter, and he pulled me towards him. I tucked my arms next to my sides, so he was completely around me, and I put my head down on his chest, under his chin. I felt safe, supported, enclosed. I knew he was with me through this thing called depression – his hug, and holding me, proved I wasn’t alone. I still like that position of a hug, with me wrapped completely up in his strong arms. I feel so safe there.
  • Walking into Ted‘s office (my therapist) – the stillness of the room; the sensation of taking off the invisible heavy backpack with the weight and cares of the world, and laying it beside my purse; sinking into the cushions, usually clasping a throw pillow to my chest (part comfort, part protection of my vulnerabilities that I will be sharing). He sits across from me. He smiles and I can feel the tension of the world leave my shoulders. For a few times, I sat in the rocking chair with the cream-colored fluffy blanket – the rocking motion is still soothing to me. But I prefer the couch, where I can sink down into the cushions, put my head against the back, and slouch behind my pillow. Soft glow from the lamps. A candy dish on the table. Kleenex within reach. I look up to the windows at the top of the wall – stare out at the clouds and branches. The quiet is almost tangible, like the room is doubly insulated against the terrors and pressures of the outside world, where my depression has me in its grip. But this is a safe place, and I can talk about my fears and sadness here.
  • Later, walking into Elizabeth‘s office (my therapist when I moved to FL) – the beauty of the room, the cheerful patterns.  Though my need wasn’t as strong, she had throw pillows for me to clasp, to hide behind. Her gentle voice. Her soft words of encouragement and prayer.

Now, it’s almost 4:45 a.m., and I start thinking about my previous post on Scripture, particularly Philippians 4:6-7, NIV:

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

I think more on this verse, and how it has helped me, just not when I was in my deepest depression.  In my “lighter” versions of illness, I can quote these verses and feel some relief. But I’ve also come to realize that the second part of this – the promise of God’s peace – isn’t necessarily an immediate response to the first part – the praying and petitioning. The peace comes eventually, but not necessarily immediately. This in itself is comforting to me, since I felt like I was failing somehow, when I didn’t sense God’s peace after begging Him to help me not be anxious, even after thanking Him for depression and all it was teaching me. To realize that I didn’t immediately feel peace, the peace promised in verse 7, I felt like I was failing at trusting God for my relief and His peace. But now, to realize that the peace of God, which is beyond my understanding, will come and take its place in my heart eventually, is great relief.

Now it’s 5 a.m. I think I’ll get up and write this all down.

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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)

The Boat Tour, part 2

I did it. I went on the tour, by myself, knowing nobody. Whew!

Edison Explorer
Edison Explorer

I arrived right on time, got my ticket, and walked out on the deck to join the others. Wait, let me back up – I came very close to turning around, and I had to take deep breaths as I was driving. My anxiety was high, and I kept thinking about coming back home. But I’d already posted part 1!

When I walked out back, there were maybe 13 people there, in groupings. One couple was clearly staying to themselves. Everyone was older than me, but that was what I expected. The first group I saw, straight out the door, was two couples. I approached, and they all turned towards me (I was so glad there was a table between us, so if they hadn’t noticed me, it wouldn’t have been embarrassing!) I said “Hi, I’m Peggy.” The first guy who had seen me said “Hi” and told me his name (I repeated it, “Hi, _____” so I would remember. (Notice the line is blank.) His wife was Diane – I know ’cause I asked her again later. The other couples’ names both started with the same letter – J, I think. I know I repeated each one. But all I remember is ______. (Depression often brings me trouble with my memory.)

I sat next to Diane as we left port, but once we were allowed to move around, I grabbed my iPhone to take pictures, and ended up sitting on the middle bench of the boat, kinda by myself. But I was ok with that. I listened to the two guides – one told some history of the Edison family, the other talked about the ecology of the Caloosahatchee River. Pretty interesting, took lots of pictures (not great, sorry). Don’t remember much that was said (memory!), but am still glad I went.

Edison Winter Estate when viewed from River
Edison Winter Estate when viewed from River

 

Bird Rookery on Caloosahatchee

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Decided not to go to lunch with the group – too much to take on today. Ran an errand and came home to the couch corner, where I played on my iPad and watched repeat TV shows until my husband came home. Took a long nap. We went for a swamp walk (on the boardwalk, to see how all the rain has changed the topography since March), then home. And here I sit.

So, some good things: I pushed myself out of my isolation comfort zone. I took pictures. I said hello. I blogged about it – before and after.

And I prayed – oh, how I prayed! All the way to the dock (30 minutes) I prayed and reminded God (😉) that He was with me, and would comfort me, and enable me, and support me, and basically get me through. And of course He did!

The Boat Trip, part 1

I’m going. I’m leaving my comfortable, secure, left corner couch cushion and going on a boat tour today – I leave in 10 minutes. Boat begins boarding at 10:15am.

I don’t want to go – you know that. But this is an event offered through our  community activities, and when it was first publicized last month, I was so excited – I signed up and paid. We’re going along the Edison River, and we will hear about the ecology and the history of the area. Sounds great, right? So right now, I’m wanting to want to go (does that even make sense?).

I don’t know any of the other 10 or so signed up. Unless Kathy is the same Kathy I’ve met around the neighborhood a few times. She’s nice – a potential friend, maybe.

But I digress. I am going alone. I’m going to have to smile and make chit-chat, and then really concentrate to hear and understand our tour guide. My concentration is pretty sparse right now – very hard to stay focused.

I’m psyching myself up:  planning to take some pictures – that should be fun. Maybe God has someone on this adventure who I’m supposed to meet. It looks like a lovely day – the rain is to the north right now, so maybe it will all be good.

And I’ll come home, take a nap, and curl up on the couch to finish this entry with The Boat Trip, part 2.

Wish me luck! Or better yet – pray for me!

I’ve Got the Joy, Joy, Joy, Joy, Down in My Heart. Where?! 

And I really mean that last part – where?

On one of my first visits to counseling, my therapist asked me what I wanted. What I want out of therapy? What I want in my life? My answer – “I want my joy back.”

Depression is a thief. It took lots of things away from me – sleep, right thinking, relationships, health, desire, peace, …and joy.

Speaking of peace (see Lightness), peace and joy are not the same thing, not to me anyway. Peace implies quiet, stillness, contentment.

And while I’m at it, happiness and joy are not the same thing either. Happiness has to do with external circumstances. Joy comes from within. So why don’t I feel joyful?

I have some joy now and then, but not all the time. I want my full joy restored. Like it was 8 years ago, before I had depression. And I’m trying to figure out how that happens.

I was encouraged by my psych doc, my therapist, my friends, to reach for it. In stretching towards mental health – away from depression, I was told I would also receive peace and joy. I understand peace, but I’m not finding the joy.

I was chatting with my mom about this last week. She is a very wise woman, a lady whom I hugely admire, respect, and love. Besides, she’s my mom! As I’ve grown older, we’ve had amazing discussions about issues of faith.  “As iron sharpens iron,” she’ll tell me, since we both benefit from our deep conversations.

I was a little stuck in writing this post, so I was sharing some thoughts with her, and she had some ideas, too, to help me to think this through.

She reminded me that joy is a fruit of the Spirit, which means that the Holy Spirit gives it. If I am living in the Spirit, then I have joy. But I must be fully yielded to the Holy Spirit, like Jesus was yielded to God, to be able to experience it fully. Yielded means I have to put aside my own agenda and timing, and let the Holy Spirit be my Guide. He gets to drive, I’m in a passenger seat. I’m not even riding shotgun or navigator. I’m buckled up securely in the back!

For a Perfect example: Jesus was fully yielded to His Father. The book of John in the Bible is replete with Jesus explaining that He is here doing the work of the Father. It meant that He had to die on the Cross. This was His Father’s will. Because Jesus was fully God, He knew that. But because Jesus was also fully human, He didn’t want to. Remember Gethsemane, when He asked God to “remove this cup?” But after that came His yielding: “Yet not my will, but Yours be done.” (Luke 22:42, see also Matthew 26 and Mark 14). Jesus yielded to God the Father, and by doing so, saved all who believe in Him as their Savior to an eternal life, forever and ever, with God in heaven.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance [patience], kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. (‭Galatians‬ ‭5‬:‭22-23 NIV).

So, here’s what I’m thinking. I’m a Christ follower, being shaped into the image of Jesus. And Jesus was yielded. So therefore, I must yield. Lay aside myself, and allow the Holy Spirit to work in my life, to develop the fruit of the Spirit in me. I was given the fruit of the Spirit when I first asked Jesus to be my Savior. Now, as I continue on this earthly journey of faith, the Holy Spirit is fine-tuning me, molding and shaping me into the image of Christ.

I have the fruit of the Spirit; I have joy. Since I’m not experiencing joy, if I don’t feel the full joy in my heart that I know I’ve had before, perhaps this means that I’m not fully yielded. I’m not completely surrendered in this area of my life, to let God do what He needs to do by the work of the Holy Spirit to shape me to look more like Jesus.

I asked my therapist (who is also a Christ follower) if she had any ideas why I am not reaching out for/toward joy?  What is my hesitation? She suggested that perhaps it’s fear – fear that things won’t all come together the way I hope. The way I picture it will be. Maybe I’m protecting myself so I won’t be disappointed.

What if what I think life will be like when I’m all done grieving my move, when I’m finally feeling like this is home…what if it doesn’t turn out the way I picture it? What if I don’t develop close friendships like those I left? What if I don’t serve in leadership at a women’s Bible study? What if I don’t have a group where I get to share my story? What if…what if…God has something else planned? Something different? 

The question then returns to my willingness to yield. Can I – am I willing – to stay buckled in the backseat while the Holy Spirit drives? And not as a back-seat-driver, but as a child of God, traveling wherever He takes me, excited for the journey and the destination.

I highly suspect that if I’m willing to stay yielded, surrendered, I will experience the full joy I’ve been longing for. I also think it’s going to take time. Because grief takes time, and I’m trying to walk with Jesus through it, not rush it. Even though what I want is for all of this “settling in” to be done so I can get on with it! But I’m in slow motion, because God is using this time of healing to get me ready for whatever He has for me next on the journey.

What will full joy look like? I imagine joy as something that wells up inside me, effervescent-like, bubbling like a child does when squealing in sheer delight. It might be a confidence that things will be alright, a twinkle in my eye that is contagious and positive.

What does full joy sound like?  I don’t think joy has to be noisy. I hear the sound of water as it drops down an incline – a gentle waterfall, or as it laps up onto the edge of the beach – a gentle tide coming in. I guess joy sounds gentle.

I hope it will lift me up, and others who observe it in me. After all, it’s a gift from the Holy Spirit. I want it to be obvious and appealing to others. And when someone asks me, I can tell them that it’s what Jesus promised: “I have told you these things so that you will be filled with My joy. Yes, your joy will overflow! (John 15:11, NLT)