How I Came to Faith: Tough Days

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Gentle Reader,

The late afternoon sun poured through the kitchen window, setting the bright orange and harvest gold appliances ablaze. I could see the dust hanging in the air. Seemed like I could never get things clean enough.

Chris sank to the curling, pock-marked linoleum, his face caving in to grief.

My husband, my dear, funny, strong husband wanted to kill himself.

The world stopped spinning. I heard nothing but the beating of my heart. The pounding filled my ears, my soul. How was I supposed to respond?

Being the “put your head down and plow through” sort of person that I am, I called my parents. Mincing no words, I demanded that they come over. We had to take Chris to the hospital. Hanging up, I turned to face him again. He was crying. Holding his head. I was too afraid to touch him. I called his men’s group leader. Called our best friends. Anything to fill the time until my parents arrived.

My mom came in and asked me what happened. I can’t remember what I said. My dad helped Chris stand up and pack a bag in case he was admitted. Chris didn’t need convincing. He climbed into the car. I wedged myself between him and my brother. Nobody said anything.

Why is it that hospital waiting rooms are so uncomfortable? The five of us sat in a row, pleather (or whatever that material is) sticking to our sweaty skin. I filled out forms as best I could. Chris calmed down some. Several tissues were balled in his hand. An occasional tear dripped off the end of his nose. We listened to a young boy scream, three of his bloody fingers wrapped in an old towel. Someone vomited. The automatic doors swished open and swished shut with each admittance.

Chris reached for my hand. He gripped it with an force I didn’t expect. I looked into his eyes and saw the desperate fear. I excused myself.

The bathroom became my own private sanctuary. It didn’t matter if anyone else heard my words. “God,” I began, wavering somewhere between rage and sick fear, “if You are real, then You had better show Yourself.” (I don’t recommend this kind of demand, but, thankfully, the Lord knows all of our weaknesses and shows great mercy).

There was no burning bush. No booming voice. I faced the same questions, grappled with the same fears. What if Chris was admitted? How would we pay for it? Would I have to come and see him every day? (I hate hospitals.) Would he lose his job? Would i have to start working more hours? What did it mean to live with someone who was depressed?

By the time I walked back into the waiting room, Chris was called back. The nurses quickly took his vitals and asked him a few questions. We were ushered into a consultation room to await the psychiatric nurse. My heart kept crying out to God. I loved this man. I had pledged to spend my life with him. Did the “for worse” part have to come so soon?

The psychiatric nurse came in and did an evaluation. After determining that Chris was clinically depressed, she asked him if he genuinely felt that he was a danger to himself or to anyone else. If he did, then she would admit him, but she didn’t think that he needed that. Chris thought he would be okay. I assured her that he wouldn’t be alone. Under orders to see our doctor as early as possible the next morning, we reconnected with my family. My mom told us that we’d be sleeping at their house. Under any other circumstances, I might have bridled at being ordered about.

Looking back, I see my desperation as the real turning point. I could not fix my husband. I could not solve this problem. I had known more than a few people who dealt with depression. I’d even had one friend kill himself at the tender age of 18. This was bigger than me. This was beyond me.

Perhaps we begin to see God when we actively look for Him. The questions didn’t go away – but answers came. Mysterious checks arrived in the mail, one from the cell phone company, one from the power company. Just the right amount to cover the hospital bill and the initial counseling sessions. Chris had little difficulty adjusting to the antidepressants and only missed a couple days of work. I watched him cling to the hope that God was good and that He had a plan. This fueled my own thirst.

I knew what the Psalmist meant when he had described himself as a parched deer. My soul ached for God. This was the step of faith (for both of us), the decision to move from head knowledge to heart devotion. That one, honest, “Please, Jesus!” That one small movement forward. I, the stereotypical prodigal, found myself embraced by the Father who had long been watching for my return home. He ran toward me when I had not the strength or the sense to be the one doing the running.

God will not meet our expectations. He will blow past them. He will take every stubborn demand for evidence or proof and reveal Himself in a way that we cannot, or perhaps should not, deny. We wonder why our lives are marked by pain if God is so good. How many of us are too stubborn, too prideful, to bend the knee to God without the very pain that He allows?

My own head has been far too thick and my heart too hard.

My journey to faith. (15)

For all posts in the How I Came to Faith series, go here.

What Depression Means to Me: Surprise

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Gentle Reader,

I’ve been doing so well lately. This year of therapy has taught me to slow down and assess my thoughts to see if they correspond with reality (many times, they don’t) and I’ve been able to gain such freedom in that. I no longer feel maniacally pushed to participate in the never-ending, without-winner race of people-pleasing. It’s beginning to make sense that I cannot complete every single task that needs to be done, either at home or at work, within the confines of a normal day. In short, there is a sense of balance and peace in my life that had been sorely lacking for quite some time.

That’s why these last few days have been so hard. Looking back on the progress I’ve made, it comes as a shock to have a wave of depression splash all over me. There’s nothing I can link it to. No one traumatic or even upsetting event has happened in the last few weeks. No disquieting memories have charged in to torment me.

I’m just clinically depressed. I have fluctuations in my brain chemistry that make me feel sad sometimes.

I could let that control me. I could stay in bed. I could allow myself to get hysterical.

No.

When dealing with depression, I am learning that it is important to continue on living. To someone in the deepest recesses of the pit of despair, that sounds impossible – but it isn’t. Living doesn’t mean ignoring the hurt. It doesn’t mean that taking a nap isn’t allowed. What it does mean is that you make the conscious decision to do something, anything, that pulls you out of the gloom and into the light. This is much, much simpler than you might think. Here is what living has looked like for me since last Friday:

1. Got out of bed at a decent time.

I know how tempting it is to sleep the day away, especially if you have other medical issues. While rest is an important component of dealing with depression, it can become yet another thing that drags you down. Sleep in if you need to, but don’t let it get out of hand. You won’t feel any better.

2. Made the bed every day.

I’m serious. I feel worse when I don’t stay on top of the daily tasks of housekeeping. I realize that clean has a different meaning for each of us, but a chaotic house = a chaotic mind, heart and soul. You can’t focus and you feel overwhelmed. This doesn’t work for me. I’m too messy on the inside; I don’t need a mess on the outside.

3. Took a shower every day.

I’m not kidding. If all you do in a day is make your bed and take a shower, then you’ve accomplished something. You’ll know it and so will anyone who lives with you. It is HUGE to be able to say, “I did _______ and _______.”

4. Had my husband paint my nails.

What is more masculine than a man knowing when and how to take care of his wife? I respect Chris for being willing to step out of his comfort zone in order to help and encourage me. It’s great to look down and see a nice pop of bright pink adorning my toenails!

5. Took a walk.

For me, this meant taking my time with the grocery shopping. I tried to stretch and tighten tired muscles. I admit: I need to do this every day. Exercise is an area in which I am continually unbalanced.

6. Soaked in God’s presence.

Prayed. Asked Him to remind me of His love. Perused the Psalms and found verses that spoke to my heart. Delved into a good, meaty Bible study.

7. Spent time with friends.

I went to a birthday party for an 8-year-old. I’m glad I did.

8. Played cards with my family.

My brother turns 25 today, and we gathered for a celebratory dinner and round of Shanghi. I don’t like card games, and I especially don’t like that one. Still, I was blessed to be with those I love and to see my brother enjoy himself.

Am I feeling like I’ve conquered the mountain today? Not by a long shot. I keep looking up and wondering when I’m going to be at the top. Someday. Until then, I have to keep choosing. I have to put myself out there and remember that there is more than the black cloud inside my head. There is love. There is joy. There is hope.

There is life.

My journey to faith. (15)

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

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 Depression Means to Me: Pills

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Gentle Reader,

What I Take Each Morning:

1 Cymbalta – 60 mg

2 Omega 3s – 1000 mg each

2 Calcium/Magnesium/Zinc – 1415 mg each

1 B12 – 5000 mg

1 C – 1000 mg

1 D3 – 5000 IUs

1 Lortadnine (Claritin) – 10 mg

1 Oscella (Drospirenone and ethinyl estradiol) – 3 mg

1 DHEA (Dehydroepiandrosterone) – 25 mg

1 Probiotic – too many mgs of too many things to count

What I Take When My Head Hurts Due to Adjusting to Changes in Medications:

2 Naproxen Sodium (Aleve) – 220 mg each

What I Take When I Can’t Sleep:

3 Valerian Root – 500 mg each

Most women need Omega 3s and Calcium/Magnesium/Zinc. Those who deal with low energy and insufficient immune systems need B12 and C. Probiotics are also a good idea, especially if, like me, you can’t eat yogurt and get those good bacteria into your body. Those who live in the Northern Hemisphere and are not exposed to proper amounts of direct sunlight need D3. Women who suffer from irregular cycles and probable infertility (as I do) are commonly put on birth control medications in an effort to bring the reproductive system into balance. Those needing extra help often add DHEA into the mix. So, in all this, there is nothing particularly unique in my medication routine.

Then there’s the Cymbalta.

One little green-and-blue pill, one little 60 mg capsule, makes all the difference to some people. These are the sort who are prone to sneer at those crawling through the valley of depression and anxiety. They might even be so bold as to question the faith – or even the salvation – of the suffering. “Pray more.” “There must be a sin you haven’t confessed.” “God will heal you if you ask.” “You don’t need medications.” “Taking a pill means you don’t trust God.” “Just have joy.” (That one makes the least amount of sense to me).

I vacillate between anger and pity toward these people. It makes me angry that they feel a drive to talk about things they probably know nothing of. I feel pity when I realize how deeply insecure they must be to have such a great need to put people into neat little boxes. Above all, I wonder at the lack of compassion. Must we all agree on every method of treating illness? Can’t we just reach out to hold someone’s hand and refrain from comment?

If that Cymbalta were, say, an insulin injection or a blood pressure pill, none save the most fanatic would even bat an eyelash.

That makes no sense.

Clinical depression is more than sadness. It effects the whole body. (My husband and I like to laugh at those commercials that ask, “Where does depression hurt?” We usually respond with, “My left butt-cheek.”) When the brain is out of whack, it’s important to do what is necessary to right it. Is prayer important? Oh, my, yes. I don’t know how I would survive this season of life without being able to cry out to God. My prayers are often short and to the point these days; I no longer feel a need to be eloquent or lengthy. Is Scripture study important? Of course. I need to know about people like David and Elijah who sank to the depths but came out of it by the mighty hand of God.

Do I believe that the Lord can heal me? Yes. Do I believe that that healing will be complete in this lifetime? Not necessarily. That’s His will, not mine. I can’t know the depth of His mysteries. What I do know is that I must take every avenue toward health that is available to me. So, yes, that means a little green-and-blue pill. That means therapy. That means occasionally breaking a glass. That means prayer, tears, reading and sleep.

It’s just a pill, folks. It’s just a pill.

My journey to faith. (15)

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