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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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.

Flat

In depression, between descending into the dark or coming up into the light, there is flat.

Flat affect. Flat enthusiasm (an oxymoron). Flat attitude. Flat outlook. Flat energy.

For me, it usually happens when the meds aren’t quite right.

A month ago, I had been on the edge of a depressive episode, so the psych doc and I increased one med and I’ve been using my blue light. He said that I’d feel better in 7 to 10 days.

It’s been a month. I don’t feel better. I don’t feel worse, either. I feel flat.

Flat is a lot like depression – indeed, it’s part of it, but I tend to feel it more distinctly – as its own symptom – on the way out of depression. Even though the effects are similar, depression has a downward pull, where flat is flat, not down.

Like I could take it or leave it. All of it. Nothing really matters. I don’t have strong feelings of sadness or anxiety, nor do I feel excitement or joy. I don’t really want to do anything. I eat because I’m supposed to; I’m not usually hungry. I’m able to do the things I need to do, be around the people I need to be with, can even overcome the apathy to run errands or attend the ladies’ Bible study. I don’t really want to, but I will.

In depression, the desire to stay home in my pajamas, is so strong! In flat, I can go out and do. In all truthfulness, I go out and do during depression, too. But it’s way harder; I really have to fight myself. In flat, there’s just the barest speck of desire to go and do, so it’s just a hint easier. I can hardly tell the difference myself.

Last week, I accompanied my husband on a business trip, and got to hang out with my kids while he worked. I wanted to go, but wasn’t overly excited like I’d think I would be normally.  I trusted that I would have fun once I got there. And I had a wonderful visit with my kids – was able to live in and enjoy the moments. Our entire family laughed a lot, especially on a relaxed Friday night. But those feelings didn’t stay with me, nor can I reach back to retrieve them. They simply were. And now they’re not.

This flatness happens on my journey up and down with depression. It’s often a first indicator that something is wrong, that depression is threatening to return and wreak its havoc. That’s flatness with a downward pull.  And it comes back when I’m recovering, emerging from the darkness and into God’s light of hope and expectancy.

Usually a tweak in meds will do the trick, and I can bounce the rest of the way up. So I’ll tell my psych doc on Friday that I’m not where I thought I’d be in my recovery, and see if a small adjustment will fix it.

And I’ll remind myself, yet again, that God is with me through my depression. He has not abandoned me, even when I descend into the dark thoughts of depression.  He’s with me in the flat.  And He rejoices with me when I emerge on the other side. He’s my constant companion – I am never alone.

10 Days and counting…and gratitude

So it’s been 10 days since the doctor’s appointment and I don’t feel any better. The depression is not lighter.

I realize that 7-10 Days is kind of arbitrary. Feeling the effects of a change in meds can take longer. But I had really hoped…

I wasn’t planning to go to my small group today – was going to text the leader and say I wasn’t coming. But then one of my daily devotionals talked about fellowship. And since I had just asked God to make it clear if it was okay that I skip, I felt like He answered me directly – “Go!” So I went.

And I was blessed for going. We spent time in worship – just listening to praise songs and entering prayer and the Presence of the Lord. I always have my journal, and I wrote down some of the words to the worship songs, as well as praise to some names of God. Redeemer. King of kings. Lord. Holy God. Father. Creator. God of All. Protector. Provider.

I’m glad I went. I realized – again – that I’m not the only one struggling with loneliness. And Jesus knows my feelings, and I can feel Him draw near to me to comfort me.

He knows I’m not better after 10 days of the increased meds. But He loves me in the middle of my mess. He is acquainted with sorrow. He’s not surprised by my sadness. He sits with me in my isolation. He tells me that He is with me – I am not alone.

And as my therapist reminded me the other day, I am more than my depression symptoms. I may not feel like it, but I am greater than my depression.

I am working on thanksgiving. Having a grateful heart. It seems to me that gratitude will build contentment, which will fight bitterness. I want a thankful heart. One of gratitude for my daily blessings, large and small. I’m writing them down, to make them concrete. I desire to fight depression with gratitude. Oh Lord God, help me to make it so!

🎶 Give thanks, with a grateful heart.

Give thanks, to the Holy One.

Give thanks, because He’s given Jesus Christ, His Son.

And now, let the weak say “I am strong.”

Let the poor say “I am rich,

because of what the Lord has done, for us.” 🎶

So it’s been 10 days. And it may be 10 more. Or longer. Until the depression lifts. But in the meantime, I will continue to praise and thank God for His blessings. Friends who know me and love me anyway. A husband who supports me always. My kids. My work. My home. Medications. Moments of sunshine. New friends who want to get to know me better. My Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, the Lover of My Soul, the Giver of Grace. May He receive all the glory. Amen.

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.