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)

Depression’s lies, part 2

The depression lies have been really loud these past few days.

Right now, depression is saying:

  • I’m unimportant.
  • I’m invisible.
  • I’m forgotten.


But Truth Says
:

I am important – so much so that Christ died for me.

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8)

I am not invisible – God sees me. (El Roi – the God who sees)

Thereafter, Hagar used another name to refer to the Lord, who had spoken to her. She said, “You are the God who sees me.”[Hebrew: El-roi] She also said, “Have I truly seen the One who sees me?” So that well was named Beer-lahai-roi (which means “well of the Living One who sees me”). It can still be found between Kadesh and Bered. (Genesis 16:13-14)

I am not forgotten – I am engraved in the palms of His hands.

Yet Jerusalem[Hebrew: Zion] says, “The Lord has deserted us; the Lord has forgotten us.”  “Never! Can a mother forget her nursing child? Can she feel no love for the child she has borne.  But even if that were possible, I would not forget you!  See, I have written your name on the palms of my hands.”  (Isaiah 49:14-16a)

So how to make the truth louder than the lies? Sometimes depression’s voices can drown out the truth. I need to remind myself constantly to see me how God sees me – through Jesus’ sacrifice.

Still working through grief and loneliness. And those things just take time.

Pharmacological Brain Chemistry and Depression Relapse

It started about a week ago, perhaps even two. I can’t really tell from my journal entries.

At first, I wrote the feelings off to grief and loneliness. But the “blue” feeling – the sadness – intensified. Then some hopelessness started. “This is too hard to fight,” I heard myself tell myself. “Just give in to the familiarity of it.”

These are the lies that depression whispers in my ear. And because they feel like my own thoughts, they are really hard to recognize and fight off. In fact, I’ve never seen them for myself – it’s always been someone else who has observed and pointed out my symptoms to me. But this time, I told a friend. And I told my therapist. Not at our appointment – no, that was too hard. But when I laid it all out in an email – my feelings and thoughts – she said I’d better come back in. I did, and I was honest this time. And she’s going to help me in this journey, no matter where it might go.

I already know my triggers for a potential depressive episode – have been watching for them closely, and even though I knew I had several active ones, I thought I had them managed.

Enter new trigger: my husband had to travel, first for personal reasons, then work.  Contiguous trips, so gone for 7 days. Please don’t misunderstand, it’s not his fault that I’m sitting on the precipice of another depressive episode. His absence may have intensified my feelings of aloneness, but they are not the cause. They might have been a trigger, and since I was already trying to juggle the others, I assumed that my walk towards depression’s cliff was affected by his absence.

Way back background:  Several years ago, my previous psych doc, family doc, therapist and I discovered that my brain chemistry is very sensitive. A small change in medication can have a huge impact on my emotional well-being, and the wrong med can be downright dangerous, as evidenced by a hospital stay in the psych ward. All due to a bad reaction to the wrong meds. I call it my pharmacological meltdown.

More recent background:  I saw a new family doc three weeks ago. While at that introductory visit, I told him that I had experienced a few minutes of vertigo the week prior. I’d never had it before, so figured it was worth mentioning. After answering some questions and the basic check-up tests (ears, heart, lungs), he prescribed a nasal med to clear up fluid in my middle ear – said it was probably allergies, and since I’m new to the area and not sure what I’m allergic to, I should take this every day until I get through all the seasons – by then we should know when allergies are at their worst for me. He had my chart, I’d told him all about my meds, including antidepressants. But I’m a brand new patient; he doesn’t know me.

When I filled the prescription, I asked the pharmacist about the medication, especially in regards to what I was already taking. His description of potential side effects seemed almost flippant to me. But I’m new here; he doesn’t know me.

The week after my first appointment with my new regular doctor, I had my second appointment with my new psychiatrist. Because of my sensitivities to medication, I have a psych doc manage them, not a G.P.  I mentioned to him that I had been put on this nasal spray; he said there shouldn’t be any concerns, it shouldn’t affect my meds. But I’m a new patient; he doesn’t know me.

And then, last week, I had this sudden descent toward darkness. Why? I’ve been doing well for the three months since we moved; what would make the fourth month any different?

Well, lots of things could cause this mood change. So many upheavals:  the emotional roller coaster of the past year and a half, the change and loss and grief of moving across the country – leaving behind my kids, my good friends and my emotional support team. But what if there was something more?

I wondered if this nasal med could be affecting my mood. I emailed my  previous psych doc, and his first response was that there shouldn’t be a problem. But then he emailed again – the hospital pharmacist had done some more digging, and found studies that showed a very small percentage of folks on this med had an increase in depressive symptoms. Could that be true for me? Maybe, says the doc.

So I immediately stopped the nasal spray. I have no idea how long it will take to know if that solves the problem. Or perhaps I’m already on the slippery slope toward the dark chasm of another depressive episode. I have no idea.

But I do know these things. Take them as advice if they apply to you:

  1. I told a friend what I was thinking and feeling. She helped me see that I needed help.
  2. I was (eventually) honest with my therapist.
  3. Though I find it very hard to ask for help, I sent an email to praying friends and asked them to pray for me.
  4. I must be my own health care advocate, especially when it come to my mental health. I told all those medical personnel that I have very strong reactions to brain meds, but maybe I need to say it louder.
  5. I was watching for my triggers – those things that can lead into depression for me. I knew I was vulnerable, given all the recent changes in my life, so I was attentive.
  6. Maybe most importantly, I remember that I’ve been here before. God has seen me through many depressive episodes, many hiccups and bumps in the road, many setbacks, many times I was afraid depression was returning and I was relapsing. He was faithful through it all. He is faithful – it’s part of who He is – and He will help me now.


Missed anniversary

I completely missed a significant anniversary. And that’s a good thing!

Earlier this week, the car dealership where we bought our last vehicle “called” (recorded message) to wish us happy anniversary on the one year ownership of our vehicle. Ok…thanks. I had totally forgotten about it. Which means I had forgotten about the circumstances that brought the need for the vehicle in the first place. A day that I thought I would never forget.

We got a new vehicle a year ago because ours had been totaled in a car accident a few weeks prior (Friday June 13th, but that story is for another post). As I spent the summer healing, I became “obsessed” with the need to know how fast the guy was going when he hit us.  I searched everything – read all the articles, called local police and State Patrol and state DMV offices to request reports; for whatever reason, I felt like if I knew that, I would be able to put the accident away.

I never got that information – though it was promised to me, it turns out that it was never even available.  I was angry, and wondered how I would move forward without this (tiny) fact. My husband, friends, therapist – all asked me why it was so important to me. Quite frankly, I have no idea. But since I was never going to know, I needed to accept it and move on. I had no idea how to do that.

I began praying, and asking God to help me accept the accident and put it behind me. This wasn’t an issue of forgiveness – I forgave the guy on the night of the accident. No, this was just a weird obsession. So I prayed and prayed. And I obsessed and fretted. And I prayed some more. I had lots to pray about (2014 was a very stressful year – another future post!), and lots that I needed to simply accept.

And then one morning, I didn’t need to know. It’s as if God flipped a switch, and I didn’t care about it. I felt a real sense of peace – I knew I would never know, and it didn’t matter.

Looking back, I wonder if I was going through stages of grief. You know:

  • denial  – there was no denial – we needed a new car!
  • anger – at the system that wouldn’t tell me what I needed to know
  • bargaining – sure! if I could have this fact, then I’d stop thinking about the accident
  • depression – I was in remission, but teetered on the edge of it again
  • acceptance – help me, God!

And He did. He brought the acceptance, the peace – His peace – to my heart and mind.

And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:7

(Lightness)

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)