What Depression Means to Me: 41 and 28

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Gentle Reader,

When I began therapy nearly six months ago, I was given a version of the Burns Depression Checklist. Dr. Burns created the checklist in 1984 as a way to gauge the severity of a variety of symptoms found in those with clinical depression. When going through the checklist, the patient chooses one of four responses for each symptom: 0, Not at All; 1, Somewhat; 2, Moderately; 3, A lot; and 4, Extremely. Dr. Burns also developed an inventory for those suffering from generalized anxiety disorder and panic disorder using the same scale.

Initially, my numbers were extremely high. It was not unusual to see a score of 90+ when I finished the anxiety checklist each day – the realm of extreme anxiety or panic. I had no idea that I was that nervous and fearful until seeing those numbers in stark black ink. Talk about startling. I had grown accustomed to going through the day on constant red alert.

This extreme anxiety got most of the attention during those first appointments with my counselor. Together we developed personalized coping strategies, among them deep breathing exercises and Scripture cards. I’m embarrassed to admit that I haven’t availed myself of these resources as often as I should, but there has been significant progress. This week my highest score was 25, smack in the middle of moderate anxiety. Now, trust me, I know all about Philippians 4:6-7. I know I’m not supposed to be anxious for anything. When you’ve gone from feeling like you’re going to have a heart attack any second to some mild flutters in your chest, though, you take it for the win that it is.

High numbers on the depression checklist meant that I was also dealing with severe depression. This took me awhile to comprehend; I’d gone into therapy in an effort to manage my anxiety, not because I was depressed. It became quickly apparent that the anxiety was fueled by the depression, though. The symptoms of the one were so in-my-face apparent that they masked the other issues. Week after week I found myself looking at 41, 43, 40. All numbers closest to the highest possible score of 45.

I don’t do anything halfway, after all.

While I rejoice at the steps forward I’ve taken in the anxiety department, I’ve been frustrated at the much slower decline in the depression checklist scores. In September, at my lowest point, I easily scored 45+. Two months later, I’m looking at 28, 30, 29. All in the moderate depression range. Mentally and emotionally, I kick myself. I’ve been in counseling for half a year and on an antidepressant for most of that time. I’ve been given excellent resources. My counselor and psychiatrist actually care about my well-being. Why am I still so sad, so tired, so angry?

What a loser!

I was in the midst of berating myself today when God interrupted me. What He had to say was so revolutionary to me that I found myself holding my breath.

“Take the victory.”

That’s all He said. No burning bush, no lightning from the sky. No booming voice or choir of angels. Just a sure impression on my heart. Take the victory.

Being the human being that I am, I was off on another trail a few seconds later. There was laundry to be done, a dishwasher to be unloaded, a grocery list to be made. But all day I kept thinking, “Man, I really want to do Bible study.” Finally, I plopped down at my kitchen table and opened to the Gospel of Luke (my favorite).

Jesus did a lot of healing during His time on earth. The blind could see, the deaf could hear, the lame could walk and crushed hands were made whole. You never read of the woman who stopped bleeding after 12 years saying, “Yeah, that’s great Jesus….but I still have no money.” You don’t read about the blind being disappointed at what they saw. No. Each person who allowed Jesus to touch their lives, whether in physical or seemingly less noticeable ways, took the victory. They praised God for the mighty thing He had done.

It is indeed a MIGHTY work of God that I no longer want to kill myself. When those dark thoughts creep into my mind, I now have the ability to say, “No, that won’t solve anything.” Jesus’ fingerprints are all over that. Every time I write in my journal, “I just want to stay close to You; that’s the only safe place,” I see evidence of the Divine. Two months ago I was ready to throw it all away. Today, though I have more questions and fewer answers than ever before, I cling to the promise that I am here for a reason.

I was a 41. Now I’m a 28. That’s a victory.

I’ll take it.

My journey to faith. (15)

 For all the posts in the What Depression Means to Me series, go here.

What Only Jesus Can Be

Along the Way @ mlsgregg.com

Gentle Reader,

For years I hated the phrase “quiet time.” I hated how super-spiritual people seemed when they’d talk about getting up early to read the Bible and reflect on what they were learning. I was convinced that they were full to the brim with self-righteous nonsense.

Then the last couple of weeks happened.

Oh, let’s rewind for a minute. I have long been a journaler. As a visual learner, it helps me to see the words of a situation or twisted knot of feelings flow out onto the page. Many times I have been able to avoid saying something incredibly stupid because I’ve already spit it onto the page. I can see how that sentence would affect an already-tense time. I can see how I’m trying to be intentionally hurtful. My friend’s mother calls this “getting the poison out,” and it’s a very necessary part of living.

About two years ago, I began addressing these journal entries, “Dear Lord.” Since I’m very much afflicted with spiritual ADHD and can’t pray silently in my head for the life of me, it made sense to me to turn these words into a conversation with God. Yes, He already knows what’s going on, but He’s gracious enough to want to hear my side of the story. I love that. Eventually I added some Bible reading in there and would jot down a bit of what I thought God wanted me to know. Still, this journaling or “quiet-timing” was very uneven. I’d have a few good months, then I’d quit. I’d feel guilty and start again. Back and forth it went.

Now, back to these last couple of weeks.

Nothing has happened in these recent days that is out of the ordinary. Work, church, some family and social time. A little writing. Yet I have been feeling quite lonely, and, if I’m honest, it’s been coming for some time. Little by little. It doesn’t matter if I’m in a crowd of friends. The feeling persists.

One day this feeling was so overwhelming to me that, when I sat down to write in my journal, all I could think to do was draw a picture of a crying sheep. (You must imagine the work of  a not-particularly artistically gifted first-grader as you go here with me). I put that sheep in a sitting position, tears streaming from it’s eyes. Underneath I wrote, “Come get me, Your little lost sheep.”

It’s like that was what God had been waiting for all along.

Ancient shepherding practices involved the breaking of a wayward sheep’s legs. This was done not to simply harm the animal, but so that the shepherd could pay it extra-special attention. The sheep would be slung around the shepherd’s neck as it healed, giving the shepherd ample time to change the habits of the sheep. He would speak to the sheep, make sure it was protected and care for it tenderly. When the sheep was ready to walk on its own again, it would often remain very close to the shepherd, convinced of his safety and love.

That’s the kind of shepherd Jesus is. I have come to believe that He has specifically ordained this feeling of loneliness to drive me to Him. My heart has always been “two sizes too small,” but it is now daily being filled with intense and Divine love as I quietly lay my head against the Shepherd’s shoulders. I asked Him awhile ago to smash through my pride. I never imagined He would do that by breaking my heart – and reshaping it.

The truth is, I have looked to other people to be what only Jesus can be, and He won’t have any kind of idolatry, no matter how unknowing, in the life of one of His little sheep. This loneliness, I am beginning to believe, has been borne out of the frustration that people are disappointing. I mean no offense in that. I haven’t stopped loving anyone. It’s just that I walk around each day with this huge, gaping hole, and I’ve been asking mere human beings to fill what only God can fill. That is 100% of the time always going to lead to disappointment and heartache.

This is revelatory for me. I need relationships with other people, yes, but I NEED to be satisfied in Christ first. To allow Him to lavish upon me the kind of adoring affection He longs to give to His little sheep. To give Him my first and best love.

Does that make you uncomfortable? It did me for years. I don’t like the “mushy stuff.” Ah, but that’s a big part of what God is about! As I learned this week in the Breaking Free study, God wants the heart just as much as He wants the head. He wants the emotion just as much as He wants the devotional commitment. Our relationship with Him is to be based in so much more than just thankfulness and respect.

I love Jesus. I mean, I LOVE Jesus. He is just the coolest. He can’t ever fail. I think He’d be the funniest guy at a party. I’d love to see Him swing some kids around. I long to sit at His feet and learn. He’s begun a good work in me, and He’s not going to quit until it’s finished, for His glory and my good. I am learning that there is nobody more delightful to be around. “Quite time” is no longer a duty, but a joy. I get to spend time with the Love of my life!

That’s what He gives to me as I lay on His shoulders. Divine discipline is never borne out of meanness. God knows that I need to know about His unfailing, unconditional and unflinching love. He is not surprised by my weakness. He doesn’t mind when I ask Him for all the things I ask Him for – love, wisdom, patience, etc. Again as I learned in Breaking Free, He delights to give us the things that are in His will.

This more-comfortable-in-the-intellectual-world woman might not ever be what the world or even some in my life considers to be very demonstrative in affection, but I know that my heart is growing. I think that there might even be a day when I don’t care if someone sees me shed a tear or two. God is changing my “want to,” and that is all that matters.

He sings over me – and you. He brushes the hair out of my eyes – and yours. He lights the way. He gives the commands. He is Love.

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In Every Way

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Gentle Reader,

Hebrews 4:15 says that:

We do not have a High Priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet He did not sin. (NKJV)

Let’s talk about that today. Let’s put all the cards on the table and get real.

Jesus was tempted to gossip. He was tempted to overeat. He was tempted to lose His temper. He was tempted to say mean things. He was tempted to physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually abuse others. He was tempted to sleep around. He was tempted to look at pornography (it did exist back then). He was tempted to get drunk. He was tempted to use whatever drugs were available at the time. He was tempted to be disrespectful. He was tempted to be prideful. He was tempted to punch the high priest who handed Him over to death in the face. He was tempted to walk into the palaces in Rome and throw Caesar out. He was tempted to lie. Steal. Cheat. Kidnap.  Rape. Kill. Objectify other people in order to satisfy His own needs and desires.

If we can’t be honest about the things that we struggle with and believe that Jesus was tempted in that area, then we will never understand the awesome nature of what Jesus did for us. We will never learn to implement His example of total dependence on the Father. Some of you might object, thinking that we can never be victorious over sin the way that Jesus was. He was God, you say. Yes, He was. But He was also human – just like you and me.

I find this both intensely comforting and intensely confrontational today. Never before had I considered the possibility of Jesus having been sick during His time on earth. It seems offensive to think that the Savior ever vomited, that He ever had a fever, that He ever suffered terrible migraines, that His skin broke out in rashes. It’s safer, somehow, to think that He never dealt with any of that.

He did. He had to. He wasn’t immune to the effects of living in a world under a curse. While people don’t always wind up ill because of personal sin, it’s a truth to bank on that everyone gets sick because of corporate sin. Because the world doesn’t work the way it’s supposed to. So Jesus got the flu. He had sinus infections, bronchitis, boils and sores. Maybe He even struggled with a chronic illness.

While there is no way to know exactly what sort of physical issues Jesus might have dealt with, it is safe to say that, in this, He was also tempted. Ongoing illness and pain opens the black doors of despair and doubt. There is always a question of why God has not brought healing along when He has done it for others. Those who suffer daily with physical failure cycle through the same sorts of questions and sins. In this, He was tempted.

Jesus knows what it is to beg God for mercy when the pain just won’t go away or when the nausea won’t subside – but He also set the example in saying, “Your will, not mine.” He never once gave in to the crippling emotional and mental strongholds that so closely associate themselves with illness.

I have no idea why I have never thought of this before, but today Jesus takes on a whole new dimension for me. He was sick. He knows what it is to stare at the ceiling through glassy eyes. He knows what it is to toss and turn. The fact that He never once despaired makes Him even more of a hero to me.

You might find thinking about Jesus being ill disrespectful. Again, I say that, if we cannot face up fully to our own incomplete humanness, we will never even begin to understand who He is. He is the Savior of the man in jail for raping a woman – He was tempted to do the same thing. He is the Savior of the mother who thinks of killing her kids – He was tempted to harm children. He is the Savior of the ill who fear they will never be better – He was on that sickbed.

Jesus is real. He didn’t live here on this earth wearing some sort of ridiculous mask like we all do (although I am sure that He was tempted in that as well).

If we are to live like Christ, if we are to follow Him intimately, then we must learn to do more than obey commands and give Sunday school answers. At the first sign of struggle, we must throw ourselves on the mercy of the Lord. This is exactly what Jesus did. This is exactly how He overcame the temptation that smacked Him in the face, every day, in every way. We’ve got to say, “God, I want to cheat on my husband.” “God, I want to run that coworker over with my car.” “God, I want to talk about her so that everyone is on my side.”

Whatever it is, Jesus knows it. He was tempted by it and He took it onto Himself on the cross. Our High Priest understands intimately and in ways that we cannot even begin to understand ourselves. Turning to Him in repentance or weakness isn’t our punishment – it is our right and privilege, secured by His finished work!

There is victory for us, my friend. More importantly – there is freedom. The Spirit of Him who raised Christ from the dead lives within those of us who believe (Romans 8:11), and is available to any who would call on Him in faith. Let me repeat that: the Spirit of Him who raised Christ from the dead lives in us. You really think that you can’t get free from that terrible burden when you have access to a power that RAISED A MAN FROM THE DEAD?

We’ve got to stop being so stupidly stubborn, stop pretending that we are anything other than total messes in need of rich, extravagant grace. We can’t fix ourselves. Other people can’t fix us – we’ve got to stop expecting them to. Moreover, we need to believe that there is no depth that any of us has gone that God’s arm is not deeper still. There is no thing under the sun that surprises Him.

I want to emulate the example of my High Priest who took every step in the shadow of the Almighty. I want to hold so tight to my Daddy’s hand that His finger’s turn blue. I don’t care if that’s “acceptable” in our culture, in or outside of church. I want that kind of security and freedom. He knows my junk and He knows how to set me free.

He knows how to set you free, too.

My journey to faith. (15)