"I have not had a severe episode of depression in over 5 years!" This was a statement from my last post on depression. Just a couple weeks after that comment, I thought to myself, 'Yeah, famous last words.'
Almost the moment those words were typed, I was thrown into an abyss. A lot of little stresses and one really big one slammed me all at once. I find it interesting how that happens... as soon as you begin making a positive impact, opposition arises.
After writing my last post, the girls and I all came down with bad colds that we struggled with for over 6 weeks, the days got shorter, the weather got crummy with negative temperatures, Danny's 2 year long job search almost came to an end but he was rejected instead, and (most difficult for me) a close friendship came to an abrupt end because of a disagreement. In fact, I was so stressed over the situation, that I didn't eat for three days straight.
We all have our baggage, and this event brought back a lot of old hurts in my life and weighed me down. I have been rejected by female friends in the past, so I was flooded with emotions from the present as well as those from associated memories. The heartbreak I experienced recently felt similar to when my friend (who was supposed to be the maid of honor in my wedding) told me that she didn't agree with me marrying my husband and couldn't be my friend anymore.
I was lost, hurt, condemned, and confused. A thick fog fell on my life. I felt like I was living life in a dream. Day in and day out, it was as if I was viewing my existence from a distance. Almost as though my own experiences were someone else's and I was watching a movie of their life. I tried SO hard to snap out of it and bring myself back to the present. But, this time, I couldn't climb out of the pit on my own. I felt disconnected from my kids and my husband and I couldn't go on living like this. If nothing else, I owed it to them to do what I could to be the best mother and wife possible. So after almost two months of being in a fog, I took a big step in the right direction and visited my doctor. She agreed that, once again, I was dealing with severe depression and prescribed an anti-depressant for me.
To tell you the truth, I'm a little scared of drugs. I had a friend whose personality was completely altered when he was put on anti-depressants after witnessing a murder. A normally sweet, calm guy, he told me about how he upended all the furniture in his room and broke the TV while screaming obscenities at his family members. I also worked with a woman who was on medication for postpartum depression. One day, she randomly packed up her kid in the car and started driving. She kept driving and driving until she snapped out of the mental fog she was in 2 hours later. When she finally came to, she was frightened and hysterical. She had to call her husband so that he could navigate her back home because she had no idea where she was.
I know of other examples in my personal life (and I bet you can think of some too) where the wrong medication or the wrong dose has caused terrible side-effects in people. I don't want to scare you away from taking medication, but I also don't want anyone to take medication lightly. I think we trust medications too much at times. We trust our doctors and we trust science (as we should), but we must also keep in mind that every human body is unique and the same medication is not going to work the same on everyone.
With all this in mind, and knowing that I am notoriously a "light-weight," I took two measures to make sure the transition to this medication would go smoothly:
So where am I today? MUCH better. However, medication is not the cure all. I still have to strive to incorporate the habits that I shared with you in my previous post. In particular, I really need to start adding exercise in my daily routine. I've lost a lot of weight and regained some energy from lifestyle changes in my diet. But my attitude towards exercise is changing as the result of my last appointment with my doctor. She stressed over and over and over the importance of exercise in my fight against depression. She said "it REALLY does help." I'm working on changing my perspective to look at exercise the way my doctor does - like a medicine. Just as I take a pill everyday, I need to take a run or cardio class, etc. as well. It's my next big step towards physical and mental wellness and one that I am taking seriously.
My husband and I are flirting with the idea of having a third child, but (regardless of what current research says) I refuse to risk taking a medication while pregnant. That being said, I've got a lot of work to do if I want to get off the medicine again and combat the crazy hormones of pregnancy on my own. I told Danny that I cannot even consider another pregnancy until exercise and my other coping strategies become a part of my daily routine. It's difficult to take care of myself and two kids, but with determination and God's help, I believe I will be back off the anti-depressants and feeling better than ever before the end of this year. One thing I do know, I am not quitting! I believe that an abundant life is in store for me and my family and I am striving towards that goal!
Keep up the good fight, my friends, and remember that tomorrow is a brighter day. Your victory is just around the corner!
"Welcome to Duloc, such a perfect town
Here we have some rules, let us lay them down
Don't make waves, stay in line
And we'll get along fine
Duloc is a perfect place
Keep your feet off the grass
Shine your shoes, wipe your...face
Duloc is, Duloc is
Duloc is a perfect place"
Do you remember this scene from Shrek? The little singing dolls welcoming Shrek and donkey to the perfect land of Duloc. Shrek and Donkey's face after hearing the ridiculous song. I remember laughing my, well "...face" off the first time I heard it. I think the funniest jokes are the ones that have a ring of truth to them. And "under all those layers" of humor and laughter, there is a very good moral to the movie - a lesson that the church desperately needs.
In Shrek, Lord Farquaad (the ruler of Duloc) has rounded up all the fairytale creatures and banished them. His reasoning is that the "fairytale trash" is "poisoning his perfect world." He lays down the rules for Duloc, the perfect place... The bottom line is that those who don't look like him, act like him, and validate his opinions are not welcome in his kingdom and are ostracized. We go through the movie and fall in love with Shrek and his misfit friends, all the while laughing at Farquaad's ignorance of his extreme short comings. We easily recognize who the good guys are as we watch Shrek. Unfortunately though, in our own lives, we are more prone to act just like Lord Farquaad.
We look around us and see fairytale creatures who don't fit our personal definition of what is acceptable and we exclude them. Instead of seeing beings created and loved by God, all we see are ogres. Your "ogre" could be anyone. It may be a man struggling with an addiction, a homosexual, a person with an emotional or physical disability, the homeless, a college student who wears dreads and smells of patchouli, a lady with gold teeth, an ex-convict, a co-worker whose favorite 4-letter word starts with 'F,' a woman living with her boyfriend, a cheerleader, someone with a loud or quirky personality, a person who is overweight, a biker with a long beard and tattoos... the list could go on and on. Because of stereotypes and our own cultural lens, we quickly judge people by their appearance and/or lifestyle and defenestrate them.
This is a problem that begins on a personal level and, because the church is comprised of many individuals, it becomes a church wide issue. I think most of us have heard sermons about how the church needs to be a welcoming place - a place where everyone has free access to love and grace. We nod our heads and say "Amen," while failing to see that WE (myself included) are the problem. We tell our fellow Christians that "the church needs to...." (you fill in the blank) but forget that WE ARE THE CHURCH. If we truly want the church to be a warm and welcoming place, then WE have to share God's love on a personal level. God doesn't call us to tolerate and be friendly with people, He calls us to love sacrificially and without judgement. So what's stopping us, church?
I think that Pride is the root of most of our problems, and this issue is no exception.
I want to describe two people to you, both of whom are Christians. (For the record, these two examples do not represent any specific individuals but rather are compiled from many people I've known over the years.)
She is middle aged always wears a dress and heels and looks her best. She's been a part of the church for as long as she can remember. She rarely misses Sunday school or church and participates in a Bible study with other Christian women weekly. She watches Christian networks and rarely anything above a PG rating. Cussing and alcohol is not acceptable and rock-n-roll music is sinful. She considers herself to be a good, moral person and occasionally goes above and beyond to help others. Every year around Christmas, she serves in the soup kitchen and, whenever the opportunity arises, she puts a little extra in the offering plate for special missionary projects. She has a nice, quiet life surrounded by good Christian friends, Christian books, and Christian music.
She is a young, single mother. She tends to wear shirts that are low-cut and jeans that are form-fitting. She lives with her boyfriend who is not her child's father. She wants to move out of his place, but doesn't have anywhere else to go. She attends church whenever she is not working to earn minimum wage. She drinks occasionally and struggles with an addiction to nicotine. Hang around her in a casual setting and you are likely to hear a few swear words slip out. She has several tattoos and enjoys punk and Indy music. She frequently drives to the area of town where she can find the homeless living under the bridge and passes out food. On the Sundays that she can make it to church, she volunteers to work with the children's ministry. She loves children and volunteering so much that she sacrifices earning money she desperately needs by requesting a Sunday off from work so that she can. She is struggling to make it financially, but loves people so much that she can't stop from sharing what she does have.
Now, I ask you, which of these two individuals is more accurately demonstrating Christ's love?
In Luke 18:9-14, Jesus compares a the prayer of a Pharisee and that of a tax collector (considered the scum of the earth by the Jews of Jesus' day). This is the parable of the pharisee and the tax collector:
"He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.
The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: 'God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.'
But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast saying, 'God, be merciful to me, a sinner!'
I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted."
Too often, I behave like individual 1. I get comfortable in my environment, feel good about walking the moral high-ground, and pat myself on the back for doing some good works. As a result, I've been the loud mouthed Pharisee more times than I care to admit. However, as I've grown in my Christian walk and have met more people like individual 2, I have been humbled over and over again. This person, whom I have judged for the way they dress or act is more accurately demonstrating God's love than I am. I have exalted myself with a puffed up, "I am more righteous than they attitude" and, in my pride, have missed out on building valuable relationships and getting to know the people that God loves. In the past, I've thought that I should invite people to become more like me. But as I've grown as a Christian, I realize that I have a lot to learn from the tax collectors.
I think many of us have been too "churched." We've worn our Sunday best for so long that we've lost the authenticity of our faith. What separates the Christian faith from so many others is grace. You don't have to have it all together to have a relationship with God. It doesn't matter what your social class, race, or lifestyle is... God's grace is for everyone! But we have muddled it all up. We expect people to come to church in their best dress and with their best behavior because it's where people who have it all together go to meet. But a church like this, is not Christ's church. I get wrapped up in behavior and appearances when I should be wrapped in the Father's accepting embrace and inviting others to join in.
I am so grateful that Jesus Christ is my Lord and that I am not ruled by a Lord Farquaad. God calls imperfect people to be in relationship with Him and He chooses the most unlikely characters to be a part of His story. 1 Corinthians 1:27-28 says, "God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, and the base things of the world and the despised God has chosen." This is evident over and over again in the Bible. He called Moses (a man slow of speech and slow of tongue) to be his mouthpiece, David (a poor shepherd boy) to be a king, Matthew (a tax collector - considered scum by the Jews in Jesus' day) to be a disciple, and Paul (a pharisee among pharisees who was imprisoning and killing Christians with zeal) to become the greatest witness for Christ and write 2/3 of the New Testament. If these people were invited to be a part of God's story, is anyone excluded from his love and grace? What right have we to chose who is worthy to be a part of our lives and our church when the Bible is so clear that the invitation is open to everyone?
On most Sundays, I look at my church's leaders and feel hopeful. Our pastor preaches in jeans, a group of our elders love their motorcycles and drive them to church, and our worship leader has a tattoo, an earring and a heart for God. These are really small things that get me excited. I love that the church is moving away from an attitude of "wearing your Sunday best" and towards a "come as you are" mentality. But our church leaders can only do so much... As the church body, it is our responsibility to transform our church culture. At some point, we need to stop welcoming people to the kingdom of Duloc - a perfect place reserved for perfect people. And we need to start inviting people to be a part of the kingdom of God - where imperfect people are loved by a perfect king.
It was my junior year in college when I hit the lowest valley of depression. There wasn't a specific event that triggered it. I didn't experience any major tragedies in my life. For me, it was like a shadow that slowly grew and grew until it completely blocked out the light.
I remember one night in particular. I was tired beyond description, but unable to sleep. My breathing become slower and more labored. It felt like my body was reaching the end, the end of the path that my thoughts had tread over and over. My physical being, like my emotional one, was at the point of giving up. I remember thinking to myself that I may go to sleep and not wake up... and that was fine with me.
I recall driving to school in a daze and contemplating running into the guard rail at 65 miles an hour during workday traffic. I never actually reached the point where I would have followed through with a suicide attempt. But I was plagued with thoughts of self harm more often than I care to admit...
You would think that I would have recognized my depression in moments like this, but it never crossed my mind. The painting you see above is a self-portrait I completed during the time when I was most depressed. Looking at it now, it is so obvious what I was dealing with. But at the time, I couldn't see my depression even when it was so clear in my reflection. I thought everyone dealt with such thoughts every now and then. I believed I was normal, just a little more tired than most and thus more susceptible to feeling down.
I also distinctly remember the moment I realized that I was depressed. I was in a waiting room, waiting to have my blood sugar levels tested. My depression had grown so strong that it was manifesting in physical symptoms resembling diabetes. I was extremely fatigued all the time and frequently felt like I was going to pass out for no explicable reason... In that waiting room was large poster with a checklist much like this one (it may have even been this poster). I went through the checklist and I answered "some of the time," "most of the time," or "all the time" for every question. After adding up my score, the recommendation was that I seek help immediately. It was that moment that I started to accept the fact that I was severely depressed.
SUPPORTING A LOVED ONE WITH DEPRESSION
It's a little ironic that I was being tested for diabetes when I was actually suffering from depression. Because, in a way, the two are not so dissimilar. Depression is a life-long disease. I think everyone feels blue every now and again when things go wrong. However, the depression that stays with you in good times and bad (the type I battle), is an illness. With diabetes, there are some who can keep their blood sugar levels maintained through diet and exercise, while others have cases so severe that they require regular doses of insulin. Depression is much the same. There are those (such as myself) who can keep depression at bay with lifestyle choices. However, there are also many who can only do so with the help of medication.
I've heard judgements projected at people who "pop a pill to solve their problems." To those who have made such judgements or have lived with them, I return again to the diabetes analogy. Severe depression is as much physiological as psychological. You wouldn't tell someone with diabetes that they don't need medication and to tough it out, would you? Yet this happens all the time with depression, anxiety, bi-polar disorder, OCD, etc. Most of the time, the people who make these judgements aren't unfeeling - they just don't understand.
Depression is something to which you cannot truly relate unless you have experienced it yourself. So for just a minute, I'd like to share with those of you who have never suffered from depression some ways you can support those who do:
COPING WITH DEPRESSION
If you are someone who suffers from depression, this next section is for you. (Just as a reminder, I am speaking purely from personal experience here. If you are suffering from depression, I would highly suggest speaking to a psychologist or your primary care physician. Depression can be a very serious condition and is not something to be trifle with.)
I took anti-depressants for a short while before finding out I was pregnant with my oldest daughter and they helped immensely. Otherwise, I've relied solely on lifestyle choices to ward off depression. I would suggest trying lifestyle changes first and medication second if your aren't getting any relief (But again, if you find that you are severely depressed, then go straight to your doctor!). If your depression is mild and you want to try incorporating some lifestyle changes first, these are a few that have helped me:
MY STORY (CONTINUED)
So what happened to the college student sitting in the doctor's office at the end of her rope? Well, she's still here. It hasn't been an easy journey. I'd like to tell you that I immediately found help after discovering I was severely depressed, but unfortunately I battled it out a lot longer than needed. For a couple years after that, my happiness was based a lot on my circumstances. Things got better after I married Danny and we started our life together. But the depression never completely left me. I thought getting married would be my "happily ever after" and magically change everything. But it didn't cure me.
Less than a year into our marriage, I hit some stressful times at work and was derailed. I didn't have thoughts of self-harm like I did in college, but the depression was making me physically sick again. Only then, did I finally start taking my life back. I took medication for a short while and it allowed me to rest physically and mentally. But when I discovered that I was pregnant, I didn't want to risk taking medication. So I did some research on depression and ways to cope. I began journaling and trying to incorporate as many of the suggestions above into my life as I could, and they have helped immensely! It's been a long journey, but I am very content with where I am today. I am not "cured" of depression, and I don't think I ever will be. We all have our battles to face in this life, and this is mine. I still get blue every once in a while - mostly when I'm stressed. But I can praise God that I have not had a severe episode of depression in over 5 years!
I also rejoice because I am able to truly empathize with those who have the same struggle that I do. That being said, I'd like to offer a final word of encouragement...
If you struggle with depression, know that you are not alone. Don't be ashamed of who you are. Don't believe the lie that you are broken or worthless. You are uniquely and wonderfully made by the creator of the universe, and He loves you. You were designed with a great purpose in mind, so don't give up! Your breakthrough is just around the corner!
I am praying that the God of all hope and joy send a special blessing your way today and that you will know that you are loved.
Waiting is so hard.
Danny has been looking for a job for almost a year and a half now and it has been quite a faith building journey. He is currently employed, but it is in a temporary position as a post-doc. We knew it was just a step towards a permanent position, but the transition has lasted longer than we had anticipated.
Everyday for almost a year, I've kept my phone close at hand waiting for good news. And everyday, Danny keeps working hard believing and trusting that The Lord will provide us not just AN opportunity, but THE opportunity that will be the best for our family and will bring Him glory.
Every night when we tuck Caitlin in, we sing her favorite songs - "God is so Good," "He Answers Prayer," and "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star." We thank God for all that he has blessed us with, especially our family, and thank Him that He loves us and has great plans in store for us. Then we pray and ask that he would "open the right door" and provide the right job for our family.
This has been our routine for a long time. I would be lying if I didn't say that we both have rough days. I get impatient and long to be settled. Danny gets rejection letters from positions that he was excited about. We pray for God to close the doors that we shouldn't walk through, but it's still tough to hear them slam.
However, over this past year, I have learned how to be "content in all things" (Philippians 4:11-12). I have my moments when I feel downcast, but I can relate to King David when he says, "Why are you cast down, O my soul? And why should you moan and be disquieted within me? Hope in God and wait expectantly for Him, for I shall yet praise Him, my Help and my God" (Psalm 42:5).
So we keep on praising Him. We believe that he wants to bless us and is working behind the scenes to line up the perfect opportunity. But we also work to keep what is truly important the focus of our lives. For, if not vigilant, we'll always be looking ahead to the next big thing and miss all the joy and wonder of the moment.
May The Lord bless you with many joyful and wondrous moments today!
A few months ago, I noticed Caitlin's eyes were doing something strange. She would look forward and, while her right eye remained straight, her left eye would drift inward. At first I thought she had picked a new ability to move one eye but not the other. As the day continued, however, I realized that wasn't the case. Thanks to a google search, we determined that it was very likely that she had accomodative esotropia (lazy eye). We decided to set up a doctor's appointment as soon as possible.
God was gracious to open the door for us to get her to an ophthalmologist at Children's Hospital the very next day. We were so grateful for this as the next available appointment was three weeks later. Having to wait so long to have her seen by a doctor while knowing something is wrong would have been excruciating.
We had the appointment and our theory was confirmed. Caitlin did have accomodative esotropia, but we caught it early enough that the doctor felt glasses alone might correct the problem. We may not even need to do eye patching. We just had to keep our very active three year old in glasses full-time. That was good news, but we were still worried...
What if she refused to wear her glasses? What if she needed corrective eye surgery one day? What if we hadn't discovered this and she had gone blind in her left eye? Worries, worries, and more worries.
As all these thoughts are running through my mind I ask the doctor a question. Caitlin had just had her eyes dilated and the effects wouldn't wear off for another 24 hours. I asked if having her eyes dilated was going to bother Caitlin the next day. Her answer forever altered my perception on worry.
She said, "We can either choose to worry, or choose to have fun. Kids will always choose to have fun."
I thought that maybe this is what it means to have faith like a child. Trusting God whole-heartedly and taking him at his word when He says He loves us. Believing that He will take care of us (Matthew 6:25-27). Choosing, not to worry, but to enjoy life.
Most of the time, I act way too grown-up. I can relate to Picasso's when he says,
“It took me four years to paint like Raphael, but a lifetime to paint like a child.”
Some have called me an "old soul" and my family has joked that I was "born an adult." When I was a teenager, I took pride in this - glad that I was mature for my age. But as an adult, I realize that I think too hard and worry too much.
Now I endeavor to be like a child. My kids teach me what true joy looks like, and I want to be more like them. Like Picasso, I feel it may take me a lifetime to get there. But I want to grow younger everyday.
Here you will find my thoughts on life and religion. I pray this will be a space where you will not only be encouraged, but would become an active participant as well.