Depression is like…

A snake. Hiding in the grass, ready to strike when I’m not alert. Or even if I’m watching for it, it bites me. And I’m surprised. Why am I surprised?

A dark cloud. Bringing shadows to my everyday. Everything looks gray. Sounds are muffled. My focus is inward and downcast, and I can’t see the sun.

An old frenemy. Familiar in its symptoms, luring me into a false sense of security. I’ve been here before. It’s so subtle that I don’t even feel it creep into my life. It somehow feels comfortable.

A heavy blanket. Pulling me downward. I feel like I’m hunched over, under the weight, the heaviness, of loneliness and hopelessness. I want to crawl under the blanket and not come out.

An anchor. Gripping the depths of the deep and pulling me under. I can’t get enough air in my lungs. I might drown.

A liar. Telling me I’m all alone. I’m worthless. I will always feel this way. These are not truths, but they feel real.

A deep well.  I try to climb up but the walls are slippery and I can’t get a good grip. Medicine and therapy and time will help me reach a ledge, but the climb out is slow.

Every transition in my life brings the possibility of another depressive episode. I was alert, I thought, but it still caught me by surprise.  I’m mad at myself about that. I thought I was on guard.

When will I learn that depression lurks in my life, waiting to sneak in and take over? How many times must I go through this before I can beat it?

That’s the thing. I don’t think I’ll ever beat it. I’ll always have it, waiting on the fringes of my life to jump in and make a mess of me. So I need to learn to roll with it, get help when I need it, and live fully when I’m in remission.

And I need to remember to pray. God knows what I’m going through. He’s with me in the depths. He loves me even in my mess. He could choose to heal me today, or He can use this in my life to help others.

Father God, help me to be content with Your plan for depression in my life. Help me to be a light to others. To speak out. To fight with Your strength. To seek help. To bring You my pain and sadness, and let You heal me as You choose.

 

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Homesick

I’m homesick today, and I don’t even know for which home. I’m grieving double.

We lived in FL for 14 months, so I was just finally getting settled in. I knew my way around town, had a church to call home, the start of some very nice friendships, a routine that I enjoyed most days. Liked Bible Study, loved my Moms In Prayer friends, had great neighbors. Loved my house.

Now I’m starting all over and I’m lonely. I’m grieving the loss of friends. Ok, they’re not lost, they’re just not here. And in many ways, I’m grieving the move to FL again, as I grieve this move to VA. That caught me by surprise this morning. Grief can bring back old grief.

I find myself thinking of my older home, my WI home, the place I moved from when we went to FL. I’m missing my old streets and house and friends and neighbors and co-workers and church. It’s as if I just moved from there, as I’m homesick for them all over again. Even though I went through grief when we moved to FL, it’s as fresh today as it was the first time.

Granted, I’ve only been in VA for fifty-one days. Hardly enough time to settle into a routine, let alone have any friends. But I find myself asking God, “Didn’t I just do this?” I am reminding myself that I told God I’d go where He wanted me to go. I have to remind myself, or I’ll get lost in the pity-party. I think He wanted us to come here, for my husband’s job opportunity and for new adventures together as a couple. I know we prayed about it and sensed God’s leading.

But I’m so lonely. God truly is all I have all day long. I’m trying to practice that, live in that, be content in that. God is all I have.

He is supposed to be all I need. We sing those words. We read those words. Do I mean those words? Do I live them? Is He really enough, or do I only mean it when everything else is in order, in my order?

I know that time will help. I will begin to learn my way around this new place in VA, and I pray that it will start to feel comfortable soon. It will be at least a year before I can call it home – I know from all my earlier moves that’s how long it takes. But it’s really hard in the meantime. And the days are quiet and very long.

So I’m learning, at a deeper level, to listen to God in the stillness. To hear Him assure me that He is enough. He is all I need. He will supply all my needs. He understands my tears. He will draw near when I feel broken-hearted. He is the lover of my soul. I will tell myself these truth-promises until my eyes dry and I can rest quietly in His arms.

You might be a sandbag!

During one of my previous depressions, my psych doc described depression as a rushing river, and my supports as the sandbags – those things that keep the depression from overflowing the banks and washing me away completely. Together, we listed my sandbags (in no particular order): him, my therapist, my husband, God, several closest friends, my ladies prayer and Bible study groups, my tremendous co-workers, my parents and my sister, my medicines, rest and down-time. Pretty amazing pile of sandbags! As I look back over more recent depressive episodes, there are other friends who have joined the sandbag pile, even fellow bloggers whom I’ve never met, but support me in my struggles and and encourage me in writing about them. (It might not be the most complimentary term to describe you as sandbags, but it paints a picture I can easily visualize.)

This time around, my local sandbag list is much shorter: God, my therapist, my psych doc, my husband, my meds, my rest and down-time. I have a couple of folks here who know I struggle with depression, even that I’m dealing with it right now. We’re still new to each other, so I’m not sure what or even if I’ll share. This shorter list has made this depression harder to manage, I think.

I’m learning that while my local team is smaller, my previous sandbags are still available! A simple text or email can connect me to them. When I first thought I was heading into depression again, I sent an email to friends and family who I knew would pray for me, and each of them responded. I felt alone, but supported. Several of them told me to call if I needed anything or wanted to talk.

It’s not really an option for me to call anyone – it’s too hard to do. Depression is isolating, and zaps my energy and willpower. The lies of depression tell me that no one who lives far away can help me. So when I don’t call, please don’t take it personally. I might want to talk, but it’s almost impossible to initiate such a call. There are a few “sandbags” who are the exception, but generally, even though the offers are genuine, the reality is that I’m not going to call. I’m not saying that in order to solicit calls – it’s hard to talk, too. It’s not the healthiest choice, but I often just want to be left alone in my gray-clouds world.

Even when I don’t seem responsive, I know my support team prays for me, sending an occasional card or email or blog comment to remind me that I’m not alone. And I am grateful that God has placed you in my life, and that you pursue me – you check in with me – and in doing so, you show me His love in the middle of my depression. And I try to respond to the emails – it’s easier than talking, because I don’t feel like I have to hold back my tears or sobbing. It’s safer for me.

All through the first years of my depression, and especially when it got really bad and I ended up in the hospital, I would ask God to use this in my life to help others. And He did. I discovered that I have the freedom to talk about it, to admit my struggles in this fight against an invisible illness. I discovered my voice in the battle against the stigma of mental illness. I was talking about it, people were responding with “I didn’t know you had depression!” or sharing their own personal battles. And my sandbags increased! Even better, God used my experience to allow me to be a sandbag to others:

God is our merciful Father and the source of all comfort. He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us…2 Corinthians 1:3b-4, NLT

I decided to blog in an effort to be a sandbag for others. To remind us – that means me, too – that we are not alone. We certainly have Christ with us, and we have each other – our sandbags.

In the midst

This entry was inspired by words from my massage therapist today (thanks, Stephanie). I told her about my struggle in the middle of depression, and that I blogged about it yesterday. She told me that she liked that – writing in the midst of it, instead of just recalling it later.

So with that in mind, I’m going to try and write about my depression journey as it is happening. My experience is unique to me – no two folks struggling with this illness manifest it in quite the same way. So these are my experiences, and I wouldn’t presume that they apply to others, although depression does have some common characteristics but with different expressions.

The past few days have been punctuated with sudden tears – I’m crying out of the blue. And then I’m sobbing. Cried in therapy on Monday, and in psych doc’s yesterday. Deep sobs, as well as tears rolling down my checks – not bothering to wipe them away unless they interfere with my vision. That’s why it’s easier to sob at home – no reason to hold back. Finding it very hard to express the sadness out loud – saying the words makes me cry. Writing is a bit easier – I can pause writing to sob if I need to, and you the reader will never know.

The doc asked me yesterday if I feel hopeless. I said yes, but then qualified it to say that I feel more resigned/stuck/helpless than hopeless. Like “Here I go again, and there’s nothing I can do to stop it. I’m already in the depression.”

I’m grateful to friends who remind me that God is with me in this, because I feel so isolated and alone. Even though I know people care and they tell me so, depression makes it easy to dismiss those sentiments as, “Yeah, thanks. But I don’t see God anywhere.” Of course, truth says otherwise – I can’t trust what my feelings tell me, because depression lies.

I had a hard time going to bed last night – why bother, since it’s just going to bring another sad day. But I woke up early – eager for my massage. So that’s good, because depression doesn’t motivate me to do anything, and it steals the things I used to like to do. So being eager to get a massage is a positive – looking forward to something instead of dreading it. There must have been a little dread, though, since I got really anxious before I left the house, had to take a pill to calm my nerves and flip-flop stomach.

I have no desire to talk to anyone, and chit-chat is a chore. It’s easier if I can get the other person talking, so I can listen but not have to contribute much.

I can put on a smile, even laugh – I can have moments where I’m not in total darkness. But those moments are short-lived. And they make me tired.

I feel lazy, which makes me feel guilty. But I’m not lazy, I’m tired. Through and through. I feel like no one understands, but that’s not true. I’m glad people understand, but at the same time, I really don’t care if they do.  That makes me judge myself as ungrateful, which also makes me feel guilty.

I’m often way down the trail of negative or sad thoughts before I realize it. I try to stop it by bringing myself back to now. But then I judge myself again for letting my spiraling thoughts get the best of me, not taking every thought captive to Christ. (2 Corinthians 10:5)

I’m a very harsh self-critic. I’m trying to replace those thoughts with how God sees me – His love and compassion and patience and grief for my grief. It takes lots of discipline – some moments I do it well. Other moments, I’m sobbing again.

Now trying to decide between food and nap. My stomach is growling but my eyes feel heavy. Decision making – even something as simple as this – which should I do first? – is very hard with depression. I’m probably better off if someone just gently tells me what to do, so I don’t have to decide. Except I want the right to decide. Not that I would – I have no will, am being bounced around by my circumstances, am not expressing my choice. Because that’s too hard to do.

I think I’ll go take a nap.

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)