When I grow up

Is anybody else struggling with who they wanna be when they grow up?

My kids are adults now. They live independently. Successfully. Without me. Which is as it’s supposed to be. If I did my job right, and I think I did, they are well equipped to live as responsible decent human beings. I continue to pray that they love God and follow Him as they did in their youth.

But I’m left with wondering what I should do next. Now that I’ve raised my kids, it’s time to find what’s on the agenda for me.

Most women my age – early in empty nesting – have gone back to work. Some have gone back to school. Many, including myself, are volunteering.

I’m excited about a new ministry that I am starting – a chapter of Fresh Hope at our church, which is a peer-led support group for folks who struggle with mental illness, and their loved ones. This is a ministry that I’m really excited about, and have dreamed of for years. It’s finally happening! Our training as facilitators is almost complete, and we’ll start meeting as a group at the beginning of January.

I’m quitting my job – again – right before Christmas – and will dedicate myself to this new ministry. But I wonder what I’ll do with my extra time, and am looking into becoming a peer support specialist. The training I’ve found doesn’t quite fit into my otherwise-free schedule, so I’ll explore continuing education as an option.

I’m also thinking about writing a book, which is something I think many bloggers consider. But I have a friend who has recommended a program that helped him publish his book, so it’s worth more review.

I considered all of these concerns in a previous blog post, so I’m not surprised that they are still issues I’m resolving. I probably need to discuss all of this with my therapist, since it seems to be a recurring theme!

But I think I’ve made her mad, or at least, I’ve introduced conflict into our relationship. That’s not a bad thing – just an issue to be addressed. I need to be honest with her as I consider my life and depression and all that it entails. She pointed out at our last appointment that I’m going to have my depression “in my face” if I write a book about it. That, along with the mental health support group, puts my depression front and center, and she cautioned me about balancing that with health so as not to be waylaid by it. Good point.

But I need some help navigating my next steps. I need clarification. I need her to say back to me what I’m saying, since I can’t seem to hear myself. What is it I want to do? What steps do I take to make “it” happen? What other commitments can I make that are healthy and feed my long-term goals? I need her to help me figure this out.

And if you have any insights, I’m listening! Please include your thoughts in the comments below!

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Depression Analogies

So many times through this journey with depression, I have thought “once and done.” Like, “There! That depressive episode is over and now I’m all better!” But in my case, that’s just not the way it is. I keep walking with it – it sidles up next to me on my life’s path.

Depression is an unwelcome visitor who keeps arriving on my doorstep. I try not to invite him in, but sometimes he sticks his foot in the door so he can push it back open. He wants to come in and make himself at home. And he’s been here before, so he’s a familiar guest. I want to close the door and bolt the lock!

Depression is a deep cavern with a hidden entrance in the ground. One misstep, and I could fall in. If I land at the bottom, it will be very hard to crawl out. The sides are slippery mud and jutting rocks. The cave is dark. My hands will bleed from pulling myself up towards the exit.

Depression is a wet gray wool blanket, weighing me down and dampening everything. It’s heavy, and I can’t see through its tight weave. And it stinks!

Depression is an ongoing battle. As a soldier in the fight, I must stay alert to the enemy’s tactics, and be quick to action so – at best, I can defeat it, or – at least, I can keep it at bay. “Put on all of God’s armor so that you will be able to stand firm against all strategies of the devil.” Ephesians‬ ‭6:11‬ ‭NLT‬‬ (italics mine)

“Start with where you are.”

A good friend gave me this piece of advice, and I’ve taken it to heart, especially in writing. I find that it keeps me honest, vulnerable, and hopefully relatable.

I remember when she said it. I had just arrived at church, getting ready to facilitate our depression support group. I told her that I had had a few rough days, and thought I might be descending into depression again. I couldn’t figure out how I was supposed to lead this group if I was depressed. She encouraged me to be honest with the group, to just share what I was experiencing. I followed her advice, and felt myself supported and encouraged, even as the “leader” of the group. Expressing my struggle was an example of vulnerability to the group, and they in turn opened up and shared with each other.

When learning about writing, authors are encouraged to write about what they already know. For one thing, it’s easier to write about something I have gone through. Secondly, no one can argue my own experience – it’s mine, and it’s true.

So I use this approach here in my blog. I start with where I am. I try to write about what I’m feeling, or what I’ve felt or experienced in the past. It’s my past – who can argue against what happened or what I felt? Or it’s my current situation. Not anybody else’s. It’s real for me.

My desire with this blog is two-fold. To help Christians who fight depression know they are not alone. While our specific experiences may be different, there’s definitely commonality among fellow sufferers.

My second hope is that I provide understanding to a reader who might not know what depression is, or what it feels like. Maybe that reader has a friend or family member who struggles with depression. Maybe someone in the church wants to reach out to the hurting, but isn’t sure what to say. I hope that what I write will ease that difficulty.

So I write from where I am, or where I’ve been. I hope I offer education, reduce stigma, and open doors for communication and understanding to those who suffer with this disease.

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.” – 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 (italics mine)

I am not my depression

This is the subtitle to my blog.

It’s also a concept I’m grappling with right now.

Years ago, toward the beginning of my therapy, when I was healing from the blackest, deepest place of my depression, my therapist taught me to consider depression as separate from me, like it is its own entity. Like something else in the room.

Not “my depression.” Not “I’m depressed.”

Instead, more like “me struggling with depression.” “I’m battling depression.”

This seems like just semantics, but words are very powerful – especially the words I use with myself and to myself.

The first set of phrases makes me the owner of the depression, or certainly the victim of it. The second group places depression apart from me, not on nor within me. I’m not a victim – I’m a warrior.

The second set of phrases is more empowering. Stronger. More hopeful.

I’ve noticed that in the past several weeks, I’ve gone back to referring to depression in the first person – those first phrases. And I’m not sure why.

It could be a subconscious reaction to the biographies I’ve read recently – folks who wrote about their personal battles with “the black dog” of depression. Some people call those biographies written by “depressives.” That wording is really self-defeating!

It could be the ongoing (4 weeks and counting) of back and leg pain that is plaguing me. The diagnosis is lumbar stenosis – a narrowing of the openings where the nerves of the spinal column come through the spine itself, causing pressure on those nerves and then the nerves responding with inflammation. So far, neither stretching nor ibuprofen nor massage nor chiropractic are helping. (Next steps: yoga and stronger meds.)

It could be because I’ve been thinking about my journey through depression a lot lately: in writing, in therapy, in my Fresh Hope workbook. It’s been on my mind.

Whatever the cause, today is the first day I really caught myself speaking of depression in first person – “my depression.” I need to change that. I need to change the words, change my thinking, put distance between me and the illness.

“…but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think…” Romans 12:2b, NLT

Prayer to God as Provider of Blessings

From my daily devotional by Ann Spangler (Praying the Names of God Week Five, Day One), personalized:

Yahweh Yireh, the Lord who provides for me, thank you for all your blessings–for forgiveness and faith, purpose and hope, food and shelter, family and friends, strength and wisdom, rest and work, laughter and light. Your blessings never come to an end because you are a God of infinite grace. Amen.

For forgiveness and faith – and forgiveness for when I lost faith during depression…

For purpose and hope – as I search for my purpose here – that it draws me closer to You; and thank You for restoring my hope from hopelessness…

For food and shelter – for food on my table, for this wonderful home in Virginia: may I not take them for granted but count them as blessings each day…

For family and friends – especially since they live far away: great friends and all of my family – watch over them and be with them in their joys and trials…

For strength and wisdom – I am oh so weak yet You are strong, and You promise wisdom if we ask – help me to lean on Your strength, and seek Your wisdom and not my own as I live each day here…

For rest and work – for rest: thank You for good sleep and for vacations; and for my work: may I be a light for You in my job…

For laughter and light – thank You for the laughter I share with my husband as we journey this part of our lives together, for bringing laughter and light into my life after the silence and darkness of depression…

Thank You for rescuing me from depression. Thank You for doctors and medicine and friends and family who helped me when I couldn’t see a way out. Thank You for life after depression. Thank you for the opportunity to tell of Your faithfulness to me during my journey through it. Thank You for Your blessings that never cease, Your infinite grace, Your eternal love. In Jesus’ precious and holy name. Amen.