“Tears are welcome here.”

These are words from my therapist today.

It was my seventh visit with her, but the first one where I cried. I guess it took me some time to be honest with myself and with her.

Again, her words: “It can be difficult to express your feelings in words, but your tears will help me know you are hurting.”

I’ve been hurting for a while. And I’ve written about it on this blog. Feeling lonely. Missing the daily-ness of my kids. Being unsettled here in Virginia. Searching for my purpose in this second half of my life.

I’ve had some down days over the past few weeks. Not depression, mind you. Just down days. Where I feel sad or out of sorts. Nothing that I can’t get through.

But somehow, I’m surprised each time it happens. As if, because my depression is in remission, all my days should be “up.” Of course, when I think of it logically, I know that’s not realistic. But admitting to down days feels like failure somehow.

So I’ve stuffed the tears. I haven’t let them flow.

We talked about it in my therapy session today. And I cried as I admitted that down days scare me a little. I know they don’t mean depression – not unless they’re two solid weeks of it, plus other symptoms. But still, I’m afraid to admit to the sadness. I don’t handle “negative” emotions very well (especially neither sadness nor anger).

My therapist challenged me to sit with the sadness a little bit. To not be afraid of it. I recall my old therapist making me sit in my sadness in his office. It is hard.

We also talked about building a ladder of self-care. What steps will I take on down days, or even worse, if I feel depression trying to visit? Not “for a cup of coffee, but for an overnight stay.” What will I do to keep depression at bay, or to get through those tough days when I feel sad?

First, I’ll try to sit with the sadness a little. To not avoid the tears, but let them flow. To not be afraid of them, but to let them cleanse me.

Then I’ll text my husband and a friend, and let them know I’m having a down day.  I need to warn them in advance, though, about this self-care process.  I don’t want them assuming it’s depression. But I think it’s important for me to tell someone that I’m having a tough day.

Things I want to do on a down day: take a nap; savor a cup of coffee/tea/mocha; listen – loudly! – to my playlists; journal; pray.

Things I can do on a down day: take a walk on the path behind my house – at least around the block; knit; watch a movie from my wish-list; read; dance.

The want list is not very active. And I know activity can help to keep depression at bay. So I’ll need to merge my can list into my want list, which includes a walk or dancing. Get my body moving.

And I’ll practice being with the tears, the sadness. It’s okay to cry.

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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.

Remembering Sadness: A Christmas Party

I was telling my therapist yesterday that I want to go back and read my old journals, written over the past 9 years, covering the times where I’ve been in and out of depression. But after I blogged about my stay in the hospital psych ward, I read about a work Christmas party that happened shortly after my release, and found myself crying. Sometimes, the stories are sad.

Typically on Holiday Party day,  I would work longer into the afternoon, and we would help Leanne in getting ready for the evening. She would have planned every detail of this party for weeks. She’s incredibly creative and clever, and she chooses the menu and theme and creates the fun game time for the annual event. We’d get tables set up and decorated, gather and set out supplies for coffee (the meal is catered), fluff the Christmas tree and check its lights, set up the sound system, move the piano out, and do whatever else we could to help her with preparations. The party is for Board members present and past, and the staff is invited to attend. I liked going, and my husband and I often served beverages before the meal. I had discovered this as my favorite way to meet and thank Board members without making tons of small talk! I don’t think I fulfilled this service in December 2009, and I’m sure that’s a good thing.

Looking back, I had no business being there that evening, not with my mental health fragility and the physical exhaustion I was experiencing as I was recovering from the serotonin toxicity. I wish someone had told me I couldn’t go. But I’d always attended before, and felt like I needed to this year, too. I think I just wanted to prove to myself that I was back to normal, even though that was far from true. My husband agreed to meet me there when he got off work.

I honestly don’t remember many details, but I do remember catching my reflection on the way to the bathroom. What I saw shocked me.

There was a short round woman, hunched over a little, her body being pushed hard toward the floor by gravity, her feet splayed for balance. Her hair was messy, but not cute-messy, and her face was drawn and tight. Her eyes were flat, and her lips turned downward. She looked horrible. And then I realized it was me.

I don’t think we stayed longer – I wanted to get out of there before anyone else saw me. I cried as we drove home – so sad for the woman I used to be. I didn’t think about how I would be her again someday – standing taller with confidence, attractively dressed, smiling with eyes sparkling. I could only be sad that at that moment she was gone, and in her place was this woman who had been beaten down and showed it.

Healing from the serotonin toxicity took way longer than I expected – months of me not feeling back to myself. My psychiatrist kept urging patience, reminding me that I had been through a major traumatic event. Everyone but me seemed to understand that I wasn’t weak, just healing, and it was going to take lots of time and rest for full recovery.

I cried a little as I retold this story yesterday to my therapist. And I realized that even though I really want to re-read all of my journals, it will not be easy. I am inviting myself back into sadness and sad memories, and I will mostly likely cry. She encouraged me to take my time – I don’t have to hurry – and I can stop at any point. She even offered that I could bring the journals to our appointments, if I feel that I don’t want to handle the emotions by myself.

At least I know what to expect. Some tears, definitely. But I’m also eager to read the evidences of God’s faithfulness, about the tools my previous therapist gave me, of verses of Scripture that sustained me. I will read expectantly, with my heart soft and ready to absorb the written emotions again, yet reading the journals with strength, knowing that I have come through difficult times and am the person I am today because of them. And I will cry.

Papa and My Husband

(My grandfather died when I was in middle school. I didn’t meet my husband until I was in college. Yet, I think they would have liked each other.)

Papa, in heather gray, raked the colors fallen from the trees. He loosened his grip as his large weathered hands – wide thumbs and fingers and calloused palms – tossed the pole onto the pile by the lake. Reaching down, his touch was gentle as he brushed my cowlick behind my ears. My husband reaches out to wipe my tears – the same hands – wide thumbs and fingers and calloused palms. I am comforted. Mine hides in his, like in days past, as we stroll back to the house.

 

Writing201 Poetry: skin (topic), prose (poetic form), internal rhyme (literary device)

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.