On This, the Last Day of 2011

Gentle Reader,

I write to you today with a heart full of gratitude. You may not know this, but I love you. Anyone who would take the time to read through these ramblings is deserving of my affection. What is a writer without a reader? More importantly, I believe that God has planted a glowing seed of warmth toward each of you within me. You are His precious children, and I consider it a privilege beyond compare to be a part of your life in some small way. Thank you, dear reader.

If I had to sum up what I have learned throughout this difficult year, I would focus on thankfulness. Today I understand better than I ever have before what James meant when he wrote:

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.

- James 1:2-4

The joy is not in the trial. The joy is in looking beyond the trial and into the face of God. It is being able to say, “Thank you, Holy One, for being so consistent in the midst of this inconsistency.” It is holding on to what you know even when you don’t feel it. In the darkest moments of this last year, when all hope appeared to be lost, I was continually nudged by the Holy Spirit to choose. Choose what I know. Feelings, while not sinful, can certainly muddy the waters. Who, indeed, can know the heart? (Jeremiah 17:9)

I am not thankful for clinical depression or CFIDS. What I am thankful for is the opportunity to choose God every day. To choose to believe that He is who He says He is, that He will do what He says He will do (Beth Moore wrote that). I am thankful that I have been forced off my Martha platform and onto the floor with Mary. I don’t have the energy or the desire to put on the show anymore. I can’t keep up. I can’t do life the way I used to. There is no fussing or fluttering; there is no point in that. All I can do is sit at the feet of Jesus and seek greater intimacy with Him.

I am so thankful. Knowing the Lord is all that matters. Completion, fulfillment, is not found in large paychecks or notoriety. It is in being immersed in the presence of God and swimming in the reality of identity as His royal child. I used to give lip-service to this idea. Now, it is all I have. All I want, really. To just be with Him.

There are no fireworks or string quartets associated with this new depth of relationship. It is a quiet strength, a gentle assurance. The Lord is there, always. No matter how it looks or how it feels.

I hope that, in some way, this is what I have communicated to you over the course of 2011. What I really want you to know is the truth of who God is and who you are – who you can be – in Him. The rest, in many ways, is just details. As you step into the freshness of a new year, I pray that you will respond to the ever-calling voice of the One who made you and knows you so well.

Grace and peace along the way.

 

What Depression Means to Me – A Tenacious Hope

Gentle Reader,

I’m housebound today, caught in a swirl of Kleenex and Vicks VapoRub. The invader is making its way from my sinuses to my lungs; I’m certain that this has turned into another bout with bronchitis.

It is beyond difficult to feel hopeful in the midst of illness and depression. If I had my druthers, I’d pull the covers over my head and never leave. That seems like the safest option. Instead of ramming against the brick wall, straining and striving to break through, I could just give up. Give in. Call it quits.

My eyes fall upon the Christmas tree. Twinkling lights and precious ornaments, each with a story to tell. (Except, perhaps, for the Batman figure my husband insists upon hanging each year). Gifts chosen with care and love.

It’s not about the tree or the wrapping paper, I know. Christmas is so much more than that.

The tree transfixes me. It’s light reaches through the dark fog surrounding my heart and I remember.

I rub my ears and wince at the ache. Despite the clog, I hear. Hope. The tiny Baby who grew into the Man.

I don’t know how anyone gets through this life without Emmanuel, God with us.

Grace and peace along the way.

What Depression Means to Me – The Gift that Keeps on Giving

Gentle Reader,

A few weeks ago my therapist presented me with information about Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing. EMDR , through the use of a light bar, finger tapping or auditory stimulation, seeks to replicate the eye movements associated with Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep. During this phase of rest, the eyes move at random and dreams occur as the brain sorts through information in an effort to create meaning. This is the brain’s God-given way of healing and restoring itself. When trauma occurs this process is interrupted. Sleep is no longer comforting, as the information now within the brain is overwhelming and often nightmare-producing.

EMDR is primarily used in therapy when the patient suffers from disorders that have roots in distressing life experiences, such as post-traumatic stress disorder. While the memories are never erased, the goal is to reduce the “re-experiencing” of the distressing experience. The therapist uses the process to stimulate the brain’s natural restorative cycle, which has often been suppressed, in order to help the patient deal with the experience and heal from it.

This all made sense to me. I nodded my head, signed the forms, asked a few questions. What I didn’t realize until later was that my counselor was telling me that she saw evidence of real trauma in my life. As I sat down to complete the timeline that all EMDR clients must craft, I was overwhelmed by all of the painful events listed there in black and white. So overwhelmed, in fact, that I had to lay the project aside. I never went back to it; I just gave her the little I had finished.

Today my counselor went over the treatment plan with me. She wanted to make sure that I understood all the components of EMDR as well as a non-clinician can. My blood froze for a moment when she read the official diagnosis:

“Post-traumatic stress disorder (delayed and chronic) exhibited in symptoms of depression and anxiety…”

She must have seen the startled look on my face, because she very quickly reiterated to me that there were some truly terrible things on that timeline of mine. Still I struggled to accept it. Post-traumatic stress disorder? Isn’t that something that military people get?

The National Institute of Mental Health lists the following as symptoms of PTSD:

1. Re-experiencing symptoms:

  • Flashbacks—reliving the trauma over and over, including physical symptoms like a racing heart or sweating
  • Bad dreams
  • Frightening thoughts.

Re-experiencing symptoms may cause problems in a person’s everyday routine. They can start from the person’s own thoughts and feelings. Words, objects, or situations that are reminders of the event can also trigger re-experiencing.

2. Avoidance symptoms:

  • Staying away from places, events, or objects that are reminders of the experience
  • Feeling emotionally numb
  • Feeling strong guilt, depression, or worry
  • Losing interest in activities that were enjoyable in the past
  • Having trouble remembering the dangerous event.

Things that remind a person of the traumatic event can trigger avoidance symptoms. These symptoms may cause a person to change his or her personal routine. For example, after a bad car accident, a person who usually drives may avoid driving or riding in a car.

3. Hyperarousal symptoms:

  • Being easily startled
  • Feeling tense or “on edge”
  • Having difficulty sleeping, and/or having angry outbursts.

Hyperarousal symptoms are usually constant, instead of being triggered by things that remind one of the traumatic event. They can make the person feel stressed and angry. These symptoms may make it hard to do daily tasks, such as sleeping, eating, or concentrating.

(http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/post-traumatic-stress-disorder-ptsd/what-are-the-symptoms-of-ptsd.shtml)

Somehow this is more difficult to own than depression and anxiety, but, looking over the list of symptoms, there’s no denying it. Just yesterday I saw a car that belongs to someone who really hurt me in the past. In mere seconds I felt as though I had been punched in the stomach (my breath was gone), tears pooled in my eyes and my heart began to pound – exactly what I felt during our last intense confrontation. I wasn’t just remembering how bad it felt – I was back in that moment.

The set of symptoms that I experience most frequently are in the second group. I will go out of my way to avoid anything that looks similar to what has gone before; it’s only been the last few months that I can drive past the church my husband and I used to attend without wanting to scream, and even then my palms are sweaty and I’d rather be anywhere else. When I can’t do a simple task like wrap a Christmas present, I am back in kindergarten, ashamed to sit at my desk and grapple with cutting out a picture of Santa Claus while everyone else goes to storytime. So, I put gifts in bags. There are a million and one ways to engage in avoidance.

EMDR will bring me face-to-face with my trauma. I won’t be able to avoid it anymore. I’ll have to do the work of understanding and healing. I’m scared to death. Yes, I want to come out of this dark valley, but I sure don’t want to turn around and do battle with the monster that’s been following me. He’s big and nasty.

He is quite possibly of my own making. My own fears. My own inability to process and forgive.

John the Beloved Disciple wrote about big, nasty monsters in his first letter to unnamed church. He told that little flock how to discern between spirits that came from God and spirits that did not. In that context he added this bit of encouragement:

“You are of God, little children, and have overcome them, because He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.”

- 1 John 4:4

My God is bigger than the monster. He’s better than this gift that keeps on giving. I have to hold to that.

Grace and peace along the way.