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.

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Paths

4C608623-8BE6-4C6F-B70A-546A312B36CDPaths. I love paths. Dirt or grass or boardwalks or brick or stone. Looking down the path to the horizon line, watching as it converges on an invisible spot. Makes me wonder what’s at that point? Does the path curve? lead out onto a beach? wind back into the woods? What comes at the end of the path?

And then there’s the journey along the path. I love walks that wander through woods, though recent path walks have led me through swamps and sloughs and beach brush.

Climbing down steps in a National Park, steps built by the Civilian Conservation Corps under the New Deal of the Franklin Roosevelt administration. Those men made some otherwise inaccessible views available to Park guests. I feel such a sense of pride and history when I walk those paths.

Paths where I have to climb over large tree roots. I recall walking on such a path with our camping buddies as we made our way to a secluded bay of Lake Superior. My husband and I had started ahead, but my sense of balance wasn’t completely steady, and the sound of laughter and chatter approached from behind as the kids all made their way to the beach, passing us to reach it first. Stepping between the tree roots – sometimes my shoe just fit – delightful! – and sometimes I stood on roots themselves. Big beautiful trees. That path led to a fantastic day with great friends.

Walking on a boardwalk above the water of a nearby slough – looking for alligators or fish or turtles. Birds overhead, a baby owl. Lovely colorful flowers and spanish moss strands hanging down from the branches. Blisters on my heels so I walked barefoot, the wood so smooth under my feet.

One of my favorite paths – a small stone and pebble walkway to the cabin I stayed in for my get-away. The whole weekend was magical, and the path that led to the front door guided me there.

The path that wound through the woods near the outdoor theater. Up the hill, on white gravel rock, making it easy to see in the dark when coming back down after the show was over. And the other path built there, winding in a sort of circle away from the indoor theater. I lost my sense of direction as it curved around.

Many of these paths I’ve walked take me away from daily noise. I first enjoy the silence, then when I’m listening more closely, I hear the sounds along the path – dripping water, birds chirping, leaves blowing, wings flapping. A plop and I turn quickly to see what I missed. The path is not silent, after all.

I’m not certain where my life path is taking me. Turns out, I don’t need to know. I’m trying not to focus on the horizon spot but to enjoy the walk along the way. To listen. To observe. To delight. To appreciate. Of course, I’m not walking this path alone either. Friends and family accompany me for big parts of it, and Jesus is always by my side. He knows where we’re headed, and so I’ll just enjoy the path and its beauty. If it gets dark or scary, with trees looming in towards me or overgrown underbrush against my legs, I’ll hold His hand more tightly. But mostly, I’ll simply enjoy the path.

Hope

(Blogging University, Writing 101 assignment: One Word Prompt – HOPE)

Hope – a missing key ingredient for me when battling depression.

  • no hope that the pain will ever end / the pain will never end
  • no hope that I will ever feel better / I will never feel better
  • no hope that anyone will understand / no one will understand
  • no hope that anything will change / nothing will change

Notice how the first part of the bullet points use the words “ever” and “any.” Or the rephrase (after the / ) with ” never,” “no one,” and “nothing.” Extreme words. Leaving no wiggle room. Implying that there is no hope for a normal life.

When I first admitted to friends that I was suffering from depression, my best friend sent me a card with this verse in it: “I pray that God, the source of hope, will fill you completely with joy and peace because you trust in him. Then you will overflow with confident hope through the power of the Holy Spirit.” Romans 15:13, NLT. A week or two later, another dear friend sent a note with this same verse written on it.  Shortly after that, I read this verse in a devotional. By now, I was saying “Ok, God, I’m listening. You want to tell me something about hope. What’s that verse again?”

It was a hard message to grasp, because the nature of the depression is hopelessness. And when my therapist first asked me what I wanted out of therapy, I told him that I wanted my joy back; I wasn’t even thinking about hope. But when he asked me if I felt hopeless, the answer was a resounding yes. Hopeless – without hope. Somehow, I didn’t make the connection for a long time that I was without hope. I instead knew I was without joy and life was hopeless. But I couldn’t see that I was experiencing hopelessness. I just knew I had no joy and was without hope of that ever changing.

Yet here is this Bible verse that addresses both hope and joy. And peace (which I would eventually need when anxiety joined the depression party). So what does the verse say?

God is the source of all hope. It comes from Him. And because I trust Him, he wants to fill me completely – to the brim – with joy and peace. And when that happens, through the Holy Spirit, I will have confident hope – so much hope that it spills over – it overflows.

Wow. A powerful promise to a hopelessly depressed woman.

And God kept that promise. Over time, as He restored my joy and peace, the hopelessness left. I began to be confident that the future wasn’t so bleak. I began to feel lighter, more hopeful. Eventually the day came that I could share my hope of healing with others who found themselves depressed, hopeless. It overflowed from me.

Now, if I find myself thinking about me or my life using those extreme words, I look more closely to see if I’m also feeling hopeless. That’s a huge indicator that depression is trying to enter my life and rob my joy again.  And while depression may try, I can remain hopeful. God is the source of all hope, I trust Him, and He loves me.

 

Things I’ve Learned from my Depression Journey

Can anything good come from depression? I think yes.
I’ve learned:

      1. Empathy for those who are suffering from mental illness. I have the ability to relate and offer comfort, because I myself battle against depression. And while each person’s mental illness is unique, there are some consistencies that generalize across diagnoses.
      2. The experience of the Behavioral Health Unit. From my short stay in 2009, I have a better understanding of the chaos and turmoil in a psych ward.
      3. That there is tremendous pain in the world – I’ve had the “blinders” or “rose-colored glasses” removed.
      4. That I have never been walking alone – Christ has been with me through it all. He has supported, encouraged and sometimes carried me, even when I couldn’t see it. “God has said, ‘Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.’ ” Hebrews 13:5b, NIV. And just because I couldn’t see His Presence doesn’t mean He wasn’t there. He does not depend on what I feel, or even think, to be true. He is God. He Is.
      5. Emotional intimacy with my husband – we’ve always been good communicators, but there is still room to improve.  Through depression, I was given chances to share my thoughts, feelings and fears with him. Previously, I would hold those things to myself because I didn’t want to “burden” him. But marriage requires sharing the tough stuff along with the good times. And he is a great husband, an amazing man, my best friend.
      6. How God loves me completely, even in my mess. I have a better understanding of His unconditional love, which the Bible tells us is beyond our understanding! “And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” ‭‭Ephesians‬ ‭3:17b-19‬, NIV‬‬
      7. The importance of having a good Christian therapist – I’ve had two! They’ve each listened and understood, helped me think things through and make sense of my thoughts, and pointed me back to Christ and my husband for support.
      8. The value of a slower pace – no need to be over-the-top-involved in everything.
      9. An appreciation for naps! And gliders and rocking chairs and swings.
      10. A gratitude for the smaller and simpler things in life.
      11. The need for rest, space, quiet, even silence.
      12. The benefit of solitude and focus and breath.
      13. To not hide my emotions from my children, but to share/teach/show my kids that it’s normal to have troubles and it’s important to ask for help. I hope I’ve shown them God’s faithfulness to us through the hard times.
      14. To be more observant, to talk less and try to listen more.
      15. To pray about everything. “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” Philippians‬ ‭4:6‬ ‭NIV‬‬
      16. The willingness to admit my weaknesses to my friends and family so they can pray for me. When I’m able to be honest and vulnerable, I allow others to help me.
      17. To serve from a place of brokenness. I had the opportunity to facilitate in a Depression Support Care Group for a year, after asking for 6+ years that God would use this depression in my life to help others. And now I blog, in the hopes that my story offers encouragement to other Christians with depression. “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 Cor 1:3-4, NIV
      18. Of my absolute need to rely on Christ for everything. I’m growing more dependent on Him. “That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” 2 Cor 12:10, NIV