It’s ok to be ok

(dedicated to Ted Stein, my therapist for 7 years – thank you more than words will ever adequately express)

I broke up with my therapist yesterday.

We’ve broken up before, a few times. And it’s always been hard.

But this time it’s really hard. I now live in a different state in the U.S. than he does. And even tho’ he’s accessible via text or email or Google Hangout, this time is really goodbye. (I’m crying now, writing this blog thru blurred vision and between tissues. Please keep that in mind as you read.)

I know I can text him if I have to. I know he’ll schedule a video conference if we need one, but we’re both hoping that won’t be necessary. Ok, maybe I’m kinda hoping it will be necessary, but I’m also really hoping it’s not – that this is goodbye. I’m still a mess of emotions, even after 7 years. But these are normal emotions. And I’m experiencing them to the fullest – that’s considered progress in therapy. Normal emotions at the proper time. Sadness at saying goodbye. Excitement for my new adventure. Trepidation as I reach out to make new friends. Grief as I miss those who have been – still are – so important in my life but now I live so far away from them. A little fear at leaving my support systems, yet knowing I can still call them anytime.

We’ve been working toward this – that’s always the goal of therapy, right? To take what I’ve learned from someone wiser than me, to take the tools he gave me, the insights into myself that I’m now beginning to understand, and to put them into practice in the real world, not just the sanctuary of his office. To find myself in a place where I am stronger and wiser, and ready.

Am I ready?

We both think so.

I didn’t think it would happen so soon. I thought there might be more of a transition. But how much more transition can there be than moving 5-7 states away? Yes, social media is an amazing thing, and can shrink those miles. But the reality is that the refuge of his office – the respite that it has been in my life for such a long time, sinking down into his couch, hiding behind the pillow I hold on my lap – all of that is now approximately 1570 miles away.

I’m strong. I’m healthy. I’m in a good place. I’m brave. I’m ok, and I’m going to be ok.

He made me say that out loud yesterday. He said what I couldn’t, that it’s ok to be ok, and then made me say the words. I’m ok.

I haven’t felt ok for soooo long. This is a big deal. A big thing to admit to. To reach out and grasp mental health instead of hiding behind mental illness.

It sounds funny, I know, but it’s comfortable, feeling unsure and unsteady, because I’ve felt that way for a very long time. This step out onto the narrow platform of health – this is scary. What if I waver? Worse: what if I fall?

Yesterday’s devotional from Sarah Young’s Jesus Calling – the same day that I broke up with Ted – said:

THIS IS A TIME IN YOUR LIFE WHEN YOU MUST LEARN TO LET GO: of loved ones, of possessions, of control. In order to let go of something that is precious to you, you need to rest in My Presence, where you are complete. Take time to bask in the Light of My Love. As you relax more and more, your grasping hand gradually opens up, releasing your prized possession into My care. You can feel secure, even in the midst of cataclysmic changes, through awareness of My continual Presence. The One who never leaves you is the same One who never changes: I am the same yesterday, today, and forever. As you release more and more things into My care, remember that I never let go of your hand. Herein lies your security, which no one and no circumstance can take from you.

How’s that for a reminder? I am not alone. Ted and I have said goodbye, but I am not alone.
God will never leave me. (Hebrews 13:15)
Jesus is the same yestersay, today and forever. (Hebrews 13:8)
I don’t have to be afraid, because I am not alone. (Joshua 1:9)

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Finishing Unfinished Business

I had an amazingly difficult – and amazingly insightful – appointment with my therapist yesterday. Did some hard work, cried lots of tears. But gained some understanding, too.

Therapists often help their clients work through “unfinished business.” Perhaps it’s a childhood memory or trauma. Maybe it’s unforgiveness or deep emotional hurt. Whatever the case, part of their job is to help the patient figure out what is incomplete, and work it through to completion. For me, “business” is relationships. And that explains my anxiety. It’s a conflict between the move to FL (three weeks from yesterday) and the uncompleted business here.

I’ve been keeping Ted informed of my increasing anxiety over the past couple of weeks, but especially intense anxiety in the past few days.  At yesterday’s appointment, Ted helped me sort it out so that it made some sense.

In every move we’ve ever made, I’ve had to leave behind deep roots. Sometimes, I was able to say goodbye. Sometimes, I was able to finish the tasks on which I was working, or hand off the torch for the groups I led. But moves have always meant the end of some friendships. This was true even when I moved 10 miles up the road – some friends couldn’t make that transition – it was like I’d moved across the ocean – and I didn’t see them for a very long time, if ever again.

I’ve “lost” other friends in other moves – “out of sight, out of mind.” Of course, I’ve also gained new friends too, some of them for a lifetime, some for just that time.

In this case, I’ve really been trying hard to wrap things up. I’ve got a notebook of all the things we need to do to move, and what we need to do to move in. I’m handing off a care group that I facilitate. I’ve found a good home for my cat. I’ve said goodbye to my Bible Study friends so many times, I almost wish I hadn’t been there at all this month.  I’m saying goodbyes – to some friends I’ve known for a few years, and to others I’ve known for 19+ years.  I’ve made coffee dates and lunch dates and get together dates, to be able to visit one last time face-to-face. To some, I’ve said, “See ya later.” To others, there is no “later” so it’s been goodbye. Either way, these are friendships – roots – that are hard to rip out of the ground. It feels like they are ripping out of my heart.

But the time is coming – and approaching quickly – when it won’t matter if I’ve said my goodbyes or finished up my commitments – it will be done, whether I’m ready or not. I will not be here anymore. And that makes me very very sad.

And it turns out, it makes me angry too. Not angry at anyone in particular, just angry at the situation. Once again, I pull up roots. So the anger builds – inwardly – as I grapple with the decreasing time. And here’s where anxiety rears its ugly head. I don’t know what to do with the anger – I didn’t even recognize it as anger! Ted said it’s not surprising to him at all that my anxiety increases as the time to relocate approaches – there is less and less time for me to finish business here, and remember, for me that’s relationships.

I’ll be so far away from my kids. I keep thinking I’m moving, then I’m not (that has been going on for over a year). I’ve said goodbye to some people for the last time – 3 times! Makes the uprooting process unpredictable, hard to organize and control. And I want to control it. I need to control it. Because I have no control of any of it.

*TRIGGER WARNING* I expressed my anxiety by trying to control my emotions, but since I couldn’t control those either, I took to snapping a rubber band. It hurts – it really stings. But I control the sting. I control how far back I pull the band, I control where it snaps. There is an immediate release of tension, a deep exhale, followed by the opportunity to self-soothe. To touch the welt, to feel how warm it is, to rub it and comfort it. This is not behavior that I am particularly proud of – hurting myself can seem more than a little ridiculous to those who don’t understand. But snapping the rubber band allowed me to release the pain and anger that was bottled up inside, and exert some control over it.

That’s not the way God wants me to manage my pain. (Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies. – 1 Corinthians 6:19-20) God wants me to bring my pain to Him, to lay it at the foot of the Cross, to express my need for God’s comfort, to ask Him to hold me, and to remind myself that no matter what, He is in control. (Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. – Philippians 4:6-7)  A couple of days ago, a very dear friend whispered in my ear, He’s got you. He’s strong, and He’s holding you.” I needed that reminder. Thanks, Phyllis.

And I needed Ted yesterday. I needed him to help me figure out what was causing the anxiety and why I was angry. As he always does, he pointed me back to Christ. He thanked God for giving him insight into what I was saying so that he could help me sort it all out. He reminded me of tools to use to self-soothe that have nothing to do with rubber bands. He let God use him to bring me comfort (All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. 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 1:3-4, NLT).

Thank you, Lord, for Ted, for friendships, and for new adventures. Thank You that You go with me, that You are an everlasting friend who will never leave me. In Jesus’ precious name, Amen.

 

Which mental illness comes first?

One of the coolest things about blogging is that there are plenty of people writing about depression, or anxiety, or being a Christ follower, or maybe all of the three at the same time. But we each say it with our own story, in our own voice, and in that way we encourage each other.

I was reading a fellow blogger’s post about feeling alone and the vicious cycle of depression and anxiety -you can find her at https://frostedsmiles.wordpress.com. She said,

“Personally, I feel as though my depression and anxiety issues are the main components of my vicious circle; my depression is underlying and feeds into my anxieties, and feeling anxious makes me feel low and depressed, and so on.”

It got me to thinking about my first appointment with my first psychiatrist.  It was over 7 years ago. My therapist determined that I had gone from Adjustment Disorder to Major Depressive Disorder, and it was time to see a doctor and try some medication. Therapy alone wasn’t cutting it. I arrived at my therapist’s office, the doc took appointments there – it was dark outside and late fall, so maybe 6:00pm. A migraine was just starting – I didn’t know it was going to be a bad one. The doctor came out and escorted me back to his office. My first thought was, “Hey, I think this furniture used to be in my therapist’s office.” He pointed to the couch for me to sit, and he sat in the matching chair – perpendicular to me. He took off his glasses and cleaned them. He asked me some general questions – why are you here to see me? tell me a little bit about your meetings with the therapist, etc. As he was listening, my headache started intensifying. And then I found it hard to hear him – like he was talking with his mouth full of cotton balls. When I looked up at him (I was mostly looking at my lap) he looked like he was beyond a waterfall. My mind drifted, and I had to really focus to hear him through the water or even understand the questions through the cotton. He asked me if I felt ashamed. I had no idea what he meant. Then he started in on the psychological definition of shame, pulled out a book to reference, and showed me…something. I didn’t hear what he said next; I was trying to figure out if I was ashamed or just super sad or very anxious and why won’t my head stop pounding?!

And then he asked, “So are you depressed or anxious?” I wanted to hit him! Now, I’m not a violent person in any way – I’m still learning to express my anger – but my head hurt so much! I thought but didn’t say (oh, how I wish I had) – “Well, isn’t that what you’re supposed to tell me? You’re the doctor!” Instead, I calmly mumbled, “How do I know?” He then asked the same thing but in a very different way, and it broke through the cotton balls and waterfall.

“If the depression was gone – if you weren’t feeling really sad, would you still feel anxious? Or if the anxiety was gone, would you still feel super sad?” That was easy to answer. “The second one.”

“Ok,” he said, “then you have depression.” And he wrote out a script and I took it and left the office.

As I walked down the hallway to leave, still looking through the waterfall of my migraine, my therapist was standing at the front desk – I think he had stayed late to see how it went for me with the doc. I smiled weakly through my headache and told him I was really glad he was there. It was good to see the face of someone who knew what I was feeling, and I didn’t have to say anything.