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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A Hard Truth about Scripture and Depression

In my previous post, I included some practical things that were said to and done for me in the midst of a depressive episode that helped me. Here’s more: A friend let me come over and take a nap on her couch so I wouldn’t be alone. Another called me daily to check in. One took me shopping at Walgreens for Christmas stocking stuffers. One gave me a ride to work when I was unable to drive because of medication. Another brought dinner for the family. Good friends even saw me when I was in the psych unit – not an easy place to visit. One sent – and continues to send – encouraging cards and notes.

These folks were Jesus to me – “Jesus with skin on.” And that was the point of the post – practical things you can say to or do for someone in the midst of depression that they might find comforting or helpful.

You’ll notice, if you’ve read many of my posts, that I didn’t include helpful Scripture. Part of that, to be honest, is that quoting the Bible to a person who is in the depths of depression is not necessarily helpful. At least, it wasn’t for me. This is a hard truth – just throwing God’s Word at me wasn’t helpful when it was spoken without “stepping into” my suffering.

Now don’t get me wrong. Many friends shared God’s Word with me, and I found the verses encouraging and comforting – to be reminded that God is always with me, that He desires hope for my life, that He hears every cry from heaven – every prayer – called out to Him. But I only felt this way because these friends first made an effort to understand my suffering.

For me, reading God’s Word in the midst of a depressive episode, at the depths of despair, wasn’t practical. For one thing, I couldn’t read, couldn’t actually focus my eyes to make out the words on the page. For another, I felt so guilty about my depression and the accompanying negative thoughts, that often Scripture felt condemning, not comforting. The comfort came in being reminded that Jesus was with me, not in particular verses from the Bible.

Some verses left me feeling completely inadequate, and unable to call on Jesus for His saving strength. I had to be reminded to do these things – hearing Bible verses didn’t inspire me to do so. And others doing this for me – standing in the gap, so to speak – was invaluable. I couldn’t do it, so others did it for me.  They prayed for me when I couldn’t even form the words to a prayer.

In my better moments, I was able to write God’s Word into my journal, to write out prayers to God for strength and healing. My journal is full of these. I also used a little book, God’s Promises for Every Day, by W Publishing Group. It’s full of verses for particular struggles – verses to read when suffering from depression or anxiety, or when wondering where God is. It’s got verses about peace, God’s love, doubt, eternal life, God’s faithfulness, confusion, Jesus as your friend or Savior or Lord. And the Holy Spirit brought memorized verses to my mind to help me. since reading the Bible was so difficult to do.

I guess what I’m saying is that simply quoting Scripture to a person struggling with depression is not necessarily helpful. Telling me to practice Philippians 4:6-7 doesn’t just make the anxiety go away – I was already trying to live those verses, but wasn’t feeling peaceful. Quoting I Peter 5:7 doesn’t necessarily relieve the burden – it’s hard to cast anxiety on Jesus when I’m drowning in depression and its companion, anxiety. It’s hard to cast anything. That required energy I didn’t have.

Please don’t misunderstand. God’s Word never returns empty – it will accomplish what God intends (Isaiah 55:11). But shared outside of the context of the suffering I was experiencing felt cruel. It left me feeling less than, unlovable, abandoned, misunderstood.

It was better to be told the verses that folks were praying for me. It was more helpful to be gently reminded of the truths of Scripture than having them shoved at me.

So please, in reaching out to a friend in depression, don’t simply quote a Bible verse and expect that to help. You need to show them that verse, living out Jesus’ love to them. Don’t hurt them with God’s Word – apply it as a salve in the context of their suffering.

This time around…

I think the last time I was in depression was almost two years ago.  That’s what it looks like from my blog posts and medication history (the last time we had to do a major med change).

Not bad. A full year of change and transition, including moving across the country, but it’s only just now depression. Up until now, it’s been loneliness and adjustment. The difference is that depression, as a diagnosis, requires a certain number of particular symptoms. Things like anhedonia, changes in sleeping or eating patterns (too much or too little), isolating, excessive feelings of guilt or hopelessness, irritability,

I met with my psych doc yesterday, and was in a much better state than at our previous appointment, where I broke down. But I’m glad that happened last month, and I told him yesterday how relieved I am to have a diagnosis. To know it’s depression again. He complimented me. Said I was a smart woman, and very self-aware. But depression from the inside is hard to identify, including for someone like me who has been through it before, even so many times.

He asked if the new med was helping. I told him I wasn’t sure. But I’ve moved from crying spells to apathy and he told me that was improvement. He upped the dosage on the new med. This new med is actually one I was taking two years ago, but it had stopped working so I came off of it. We’ll see if the break from it is enough for it to be effective once again.

I told him that I met with the new therapist. He said she’s very experienced and very good. We’ll see. I also told him that I contacted my old therapist. He thought it was great that I was reaching out for help.

In chatting with my sister, I told her that my new therapist has a group – I’d forgotten about that. I may look into group therapy – might be just what I need. I was in a group before, and found it very helpful. The people were welcoming, and I didn’t have to explain myself because everybody already “got it.” Maybe I’ll ask about the therapist’s groups when I see her next time, which is three weeks away (long time).

I just finished a devotional on my You Version Bible app, all about depression. It was really good. Depression: A Devotional for the Wounded Spirit by heartsupport.com.  I think I might repeat it – lots of great Scripture to remind me that I am loved by God, even in my current state.

Lamentations 3:19-24, NIV:

I remember my affliction and my wandering, the bitterness and the gall.
I well remember them, and my soul is downcast within me.
Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope:

    Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
    for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning;
    great is your faithfulness. I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion;
    therefore I will wait for him.”

The Lord is with me. I’m taking steps. I’ll get through this.

 

Anxiety: Depression’s Companion

For me, depression always brings anxiety. It kicked in this afternoon. Usually, I’m hit with anxiety in the beginning of a depressive episode – it’s often a red flag for me that something is wrong. But this time, the depression came first, and anxiety just joined the party today.

It’s a growing hollowness in the pit of my stomach. There’s a steely taste in my mouth. I feel like I can’t catch my breath.

There’s no exact reason for the anxious thoughts and feelings. I can’t trace it to a singular source. Instead, it’s general. Everything I think about causes the anxiety to intensify. Work, free time, writing this blog – each of them, and certainly all of them together, cause my breathing to become more shallow and the hollowness to grow.

Deep breathing exercises sometimes help, though they didn’t today. Instead, my mind races from thought to thought and taking a deep breath requires great effort and concentration. That alone should refocus my mind, but it didn’t work this afternoon.

Prayer often helps. And quoting Scripture, like 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.

Lord God, my prayer and petition is that You will remove these anxious feelings from me. I thank You that You hear my prayers. I want my heart and mind to be surrounded by Your everlasting peace. In Jesus’ precious name, Amen.

So far, that didn’t help either. So I’ll cling to that verse as a promise. I’ll breathe it out when I exhale. I’ll repeat it until it pushes the anxiety away.

And I’ll tell my psych doctor.

Theme Word for 2017

Do you choose a word for the year?

I follow several bloggers who do this, and my folks do it, too – chose a theme word for themselves. A twist on New Year’s Resolutions, the word or phrase is something that they’ve chosen to represent what they’re looking forward to with God in the next 12 months. They pray about it, toss ideas back and forth, and eventually come to a one word or short phrase to sum it all up – their theme for the year. Examples: Return. Quiet. Finish strong. Happiness. Balance. Go bold. Rest. Pause.

I’ve been thinking – but only halfheartedly – about a word, and sort of praying about it when it crosses my mind. So I’ve not put real effort into this, but it seems that God is trying to get my attention anyway – He keeps giving me “contentment;”  the word fills my mind and Spirit. As if God is whispering to me, “Be content, my child. Stop yearning. Stop planning. Simply be with Me, and find yourself settled.”

Being content in my current circumstances – living in VA, working in my job, days of solitude, as empty-nesters, in the position of participant instead of leader, in parenting adult children, in long days of just me and the kitty until my husband comes home.

None of these things define me. They are simply where I find myself right now. God defines me, and He’s telling me to rest in Him. That I am His beloved, His daughter, His joy. I’ve entered a new season of my life, and He wants me to do that with Him leading the way. I’m to trust Him and what He says, and He’ll take care of all the details for what’s to come.

I do this by spending quality time with Him. Opening the Bible to see what it tells me about who God is and how He sees me. Praying His Word and my requests – bringing my honest self to our time together, and letting Him fill my heart with His love. Replacing my fears and insecurities with the truth about who I am in Christ.

Contentment will bring gratitude. Thankfulness for so many blessings of my life: my wonderful husband, my delightful adult kids, my home, my job and the opportunity to serve others, a church to worship with fellow believers, a Bible study to meet women who love the Lord. Living in a country where we can gather without fear for our lives as we worship and study and pray. For family. For friendships old and new and still to come.

Contentment will bring peace. Settling into my new hometown. Adjusting to my new roles. Not longing for the past or trying to figure out the future, but living in the present. Learning new things, new places, new people.  Being open to who and what God has for me each day, one day at a time. Paul said it in Philippians:

I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength. Philippians 4:11-13, NIV

I can be content because God promises to give me the strength to do so.  If I have any success in my word for the year, it will be because He helped me do it – to Him be the glory.