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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Fighting for Mental Health

I’ve had several down days in these past couple of weeks. I cried in my therapist’s office. I beat myself up about my past parenting. I’ve caught myself using self-deprecating words to myself, speaking negatively to me about me.

My husband has noticed – he’s very tuned in to my moods. In fact, he saw it before I did. But I’ve noticed a lower rating on my daily mood scale. So I’ve known something was going on.

We had a week or more of rainy days, so I was lacking in natural Vitamin D (I take a supplement anyway). I had some serious self-evaluation going on, and had to fight my own negative voices with God’s truth about how He sees me. My left leg is causing consistent shooting pain; it could be lumbar stenosis, which doesn’t really get better except with pain relievers and gentle stretching – when whatever inflammation exists subsides. Walking hurts, so exercise is hard(er) for me.

I realized today the foundational truth of Fresh Hope, the peer-led support group we’re starting at our church. Their mission is: To empower individuals with a mental health challenge, along with their loved ones, to live a full and rich faith-filled life in spite of having a mental health diagnosis.

I can choose to live a life that is rich and faith-filled. I can choose mental health vs. mental illness.

I have a mental health diagnosis – Major Depressive Disorder, Moderate to Severe, Recurrent. But that doesn’t mean I’m always depressed. Right now, my depression is in remission, and I’m relatively healthy (except for my leg pain).

It means, like I told my therapist today, that I realize that sometimes I can coast, and other times I have to fight for my mental wellness. So I’m fighting for it a bit right now. That’s ok.

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

“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.

Thinking about the Past Can Cause Anxiety

I met with my therapist last Thursday. Overall, it was a good appointment. We talked about some tasks I had tackled over the previous week – investigating book clubs, knitting clubs, volunteering at a local Adult Care Center. It felt good to be proactive, and it was nice to share that confidence I felt with her.

We discussed my previous experience in participating and then facilitating peer-led support groups for folks suffering with depression. I told her how I would love to do that again, and we brainstormed some ideas on who to talk to about such a group. I’m excited to be thinking about such an opportunity. It’s been such a long time (3+ years) and I’ve really missed it.

We also talked about my darkest times – including the first time I told Chris I was suicidal.  She asked what I remembered about that moment, and I recalled it vividly – could picture myself at the counter in my pajamas and robe. I had just turned around from making a cup of coffee as he was walking towards me. I told him to come closer and hug me. I began to cry, and told him that I was thinking of hurting myself. Chris pulled back from me, his hands still on my arms, and I watched his eyes fill with tears as he told me he couldn’t bear it if anything happened to me. I felt his arms go back around me as he hugged me and I told him I needed help. He whispered, “We’ll get through this.”

Funny, I don’t really remember what happened next. I know my first trip to the hospital emergency room was soon after that (same day? same week?), when I experienced a sudden weakness in my whole body. But I don’t remember the rest of that day’s detail.

I shared with her, too, about the other time I told my husband that I needed help. I recalled the ensuing trip to emergency, waiting in a small room with a couch and examination bed – just me and my husband and the nurse who came and went, turned on the tv, brought water, checked on me. I remember the social worker coming in and telling us there were no beds available in the psych wards in town, and we told her we couldn’t go 2 1/2 hours away to the nearest hospital. She came back in the room and helped me write “a safety plan.” I told my therapist about my doctor friend, Jim, who came on call as I was getting ready to leave the emergency room, and how he assured me that he would take care of us if we needed to come back.

Anyway, after I shared those two stories with my therapist, we went on to talk about how hard it is to say those three words, “I need help.” And our appointment continued from there.

I haven’t thought about those two scenarios in a long time, and as I walked to my car at the end of our session, I suddenly felt anxious. That deep in the gut hollowness of anxiety.

I know that thoughts of the past can be positive or negative, pleasant or difficult. I was just surprised by my physical response to thinking back. It took the rest of the day to shake off that nervousness in the pit of my stomach. But now I know – memory is a very powerful thing.