Ode to Depression

Lately, I’ve heard of so many women who are plagued with anxiety and depression.

I get it. I spent the better part of my adult life, being under the influence of that great, unshakeable, black cloud. I also had a fair share of hit you out of nowhere, heart-racing, palms-sweating anxiety.

Perhaps it is our curse or society’s creation of the noteworthy female- the perfect woman- super woman- who deals with her monthly roller coaster ride of hormones with finesse, who balances the growing and variegated demands of modern life with a perennially cool head, who gives and nurtures, asking nothing in return, who tends to her outward appearance with poise, who accomplishes lots and lots of stuff.

Whatever the cause, when this sadness or panic overtakes us, we feel helpless, possessed by it, even. Some of us hide it. Some of us self-medicate. Some of us try and struggle and fight against it- to seemingly little avail.

This ode is for all the women who understand the battle; all who wish it might be different and don’t give themselves permission to get rid of this demon on their back. And for those of you that don’t deal with either of these things- read this. You need to understand and have sympathy.

To hell with you, depression!

You can sink right back

Into the deep, dark hole that you are.

 

Heavy, my chest rises and falls

Like an incredible weight pressing down

That makes each intake a struggle.

 

I hate you, depression!

You steal days away from me

Like a languishing, wasting disease.

 

Slippery, I grasp to hold on to something,

Anything to climb up from the bottom

Of this dank, slimy pit.

 

Leave me alone, depression!

You hang over the top of me

Like a dark cloud that shrouds the sunlight.

 

Gripping, your tendrils have wrapped themselves

Around my legs and arms

Keeping me prisoner from movement.

 

You don’t own me, depression!

You try to trick me into believing

That I’ll never get through life without you.

 

Menacing, your influence lurks,

Like an invisible evil spirit

Whose black soul sucks the life from me.

 

I take my life back, depression!

Because I can and I will

Because I want to live free

Because there is more to life than this

Because a smile looks better than a frown

Because this is a fight I can win

Because bondage becomes no one

Because I am worth something

Because my strength outdoes yours

 

Because YOU DON’T DEFINE ME.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tempest Quieted

Tranquil. A calm quiet envelops me. I wish I could be here forever, my heartbeat pulsing in my ears, my shoulder muscles totally slack, my breath counted in seconds, in, out, in, out, in, out.

Then, abruptly, a gust whips violently through my mind. In that second, all peace shatters, calm displaced like sand beneath a wave. An unpleasant memory, a constant worry, a fear creeps in, disperses, then prevails.

Noisy thunder clatters, a deafening muted hum resonates in my ears. All pleasant sounds are drowned out by the cacophony of this present concern. My own voice of reason is silenced.

Turmoil. The rain comes, heavy and cutting, its weight overwhelming my heart and stinging my skin. My insides are churning and heaving as if I’d just stepped off a cheap fair ride.

This storm comes without warning, without invitation, even without certain cognition. Wreaking havoc and leaving a trial of destruction, this tempest bears down. I’m undone under its influence. Drenched with “what ifs…” Submerged in its foreboding temptations, battered by its forceful anxiety.

All this and no one ever sees. No one feels a single gust, hears one clap of thunder or feels the driving rain, just me, deep down inside my heart and soul. But on the outside, all is well. That is how this tempest operates.

Then I remember these words: Peace. Be still. Spoken many centuries ago by a Man who experienced the worst possible storm ever.

I speak them to myself, like a mantra, over the splintering fright, over the soul-wrenching anguish.

They are no magical incantation. They do not even bring an immediate end to the storm. Their power simply over takes and assuages. I’m brought back to trust and faith, remembering the goodness and protection that has carried me many times before.

Renewed. The storm subsides. My soul is hushed. For now.

Undaunted

 

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I was dizzy. Someone grabbed my arm and pulled me back from the edge.

“Becky,” they called, “You cannot jump. Who knows what dangers are down there at the bottom? It isn’t safe.”

So I heeded their voices. I strove to fit inside their tidy boundaries for me. Don’t do this. Do this. And for the love of all that is sane and reasonable, do not take risks. People pleasing had always been an art of mine and so I crafted a careful life, safe from all the unknowns. I was afraid of heights anyways.

Somewhere in my late twenties, married, with 2 kids (and one on the way), I began to seek a precipice. For all the years of obedience had left me wondering: “Could there be more than this flat land existence? Is there a place where I can be me, not always bowing to the confines of someone else?” I longed for it, for freedom from the suffocating rules pressing against me. There had to be a way that I could step off of the ledge and not die.

The longing grew stronger, yet inside me there were always voices, warning me, cajoling me not to want it. In the next decade, I started to see the beauty of grace, the treasure of the cross, my salvation full and free, without regard to any rule following on my part. Those things chaffed against the neat list of expectations I had made for myself: the submissive wife, the godly mother, the dutiful daughter. Conversely, I knew the façade of safety was just that. All the flat land existence was eating me up inside. Gloomy clouds of depression suffocated me.

For the first time ever, I slowly taught myself to stop heeding the voices telling me to not seek the cliff. I began shedding those like layers of skin, each one more painful than before. The better I understood the simple message of the gospel, to believe and be free, to live for Jesus because He died for me, to embrace HIS expectations for my life knowing they come without strings attached, the closer I inched to the edge.

When the clouds of gloom were lifted, I saw that my feet were closer than ever to the rim of the canyon and I looked down into the vastness, its beauty captivating. I stopped reading the “how to” books. I stopped making my husband my god, instead putting purposeful and deliberate distance so that I could be me and he could be himself, all the while loving him deeper than ever.

There was one final rock I was about to stumble on; a rock of momentous proportions on which I would not just stumble, but fall entirely: parenting an adult child who chose a path of life I never could have imagined. Only then did I realize that the very thing I hated, all the man made parameters that had constantly kept ME away from the edge, I had built those very things around my kids to a lesser degree. Deconstructing them took time but as I did, the view became clearer and the canyon beckoned me to come.

Unshackled, I ambled to the edge. There was no fear. I was finally ready, confident,  my arms outstretched and breath bated out of sheer thrill of what was to come. I felt dizzy, light, unencumbered and yet, I felt wrapped in a security I could never contrive myself. This was the arms of my Savior that held me, close to His heart, warmly, gently, and safely. I was enveloped in His love and this assured me of a landing without harm.

I could feel the breeze blowing up from below and I began to totter. Before I could acquiesce to any shred of doubt, my feet left the edge. Air that I had never breathed before filled my lungs and I was in a freefall, sure this was not the last time I would fly.

Disarmed

I used to pride myself in saying, “I’m a fighter, not a lover.”

To be a lover meant vulnerability and weakness- two things I didn’t want to classify myself as. To be a lover meant to be all squishy on the inside.

I thought if I displayed my crusty exterior, I’d be prepared for the worst when it inevitably came. With my proverbial sword strapped to my side, I could easily unsheathe it, hacking and hewing with my words or thoughts until I felt vanquished.

But the bad part is, I fought everything, even the good things. I fought grace and forgiveness. I fought joy and freedom. To allow those things to soften me would be to relinquish my self-efficacy. That would not do.

Our pastor used to say: “Behind God’s frowning providence, He hides a smiling face.” This angered me. I conjured a rather cosmic joker image; behind the sugary smile was a benevolent dictator of sorts waiting to pounce with His agenda. I did not understand. I fought this idea with a vengeance. To acquiesce to someone calling the shots, especially bad ones, unsettled me in the worst of ways.

Then my mom died. Then we lost lots of money. Then we lost a house. Then I was diagnosed with a hip disease. Then we lost jobs (plural). Then I had to go to counseling. Then we moved 12 times. Then my son chose a lifestyle of self destruction. Then lots more things happened that I won’t bore you with.

Sometime during all that, something changed. Not all at once or in totality but it happened yet I could never pinpoint the date or time.

 I saw God’s smiling face, behind the frowning providence.

I tasted the goodness. I witnessed the mercy. I felt the love. I heard the assuring words. I was washed with the peace. I was girded up with a strength not my own. I soaked in the grace that flowed like a fountain, free and unconditional. I was awed by the miracles. I was overcome by the provision. I was forgiven.

You might think I laid down my arms and became a lover. Not exactly. (Although I tap into that side of me much more frequently these days.) I still have a strong spirit and a tongue that can be venomous; a hard head and a willful way, but now I (mostly) fight for the good – for joy and peace, for strength and beauty, for making each day count. I fight to accept the frowns of God, knowing His kindness and love are far greater.

Does this make me weak? No, I don’t think so. Vulnerable? Yes, in a sense. Yet it is the very softening that enlarges my faith, causing me lean into the arms of a benevolent Father and say: “Whatever my lot, you have taught me to say, it is well, it is well, with my soul.”

I Don’t Want No Stinking Band Aid ®

I’ll never forget the Sunday. Passing through the church lobby, a book on a small table caught my eye. The title: “Why Christians Can’t Trust Psychology”. I turned away disgusted. (In all fairness, I haven’t read the book. It might be helpful or truthful.) I was ready to go see a therapist myself after months of dealing with the reality that someone I loved was a substance abuser. It was an exorable grief, coursing through my veins on a daily basis.

This opened a can of stinking rotten worms in my head. Reminded me of a time when I too, thought I could give a hurting someone a bible verse band aid and make it “all better”.

A flood of incidences came to me, like the time I mentioned yoga as one of my fave forms of exercise in a bible study and getting “lovingly rebuked” that this was a no-no. (She said), “Do you know what Namaste’ means? You have to be careful because this is tied to eastern mysticism.” Made me want to downward dog right there!

Or the time that I mentioned a personal problem that one of my kids was having, suggesting that I might take them to see a psychiatrist. You should have seen the narrowed eyes on this sister! “You need to be wary of those worldly philosophies,” she admonished in a lowered tone. Translation: treat this as a spiritual problem and go seek some counseling at church.

Don’t get me started on the stuff people have told me about my struggle with depression. Let’s just say that posting 25 3×5 cards with Bible verses all over my house was not doing the trick.

Before you go all Bible thumping on me, you gotta understand something: I love the Bible. I think it is the very breathed out words of the living God, without error or unable to be added to or subtracted from. It is my most cherished book and the Psalms speak volumes about the plight of human emotion.

BUT, I also strongly hold to the fact that LOTS of other things can help us when we are in the doldrums: like the calming poses of yoga, the trained words and methods of a psychologist or therapist, recovery groups, self-hypnosis (yes, I’ve used this one with great success), rhythmic breathing patterns, friends with open minds and hearts, journal writing, heck, even a great cup of coffee or a relaxing glass of wine.

I will never again just offer the bible verse band aid. It’s no solution to the wound, only a temporary cover-up. Underneath the gash remains, festering, like the continual grief I was weighed down by that Sunday.

Instead, I will offer a listening ear then perhaps a truthful word, soft with empathy and flavored with the salve of hope of Jesus Christ. I will offer arms to hold or hug, eyes to see solutions beyond the obvious, and feet to walk along the path they are walking on until a brighter way comes into view.

earthquake thoughts

As I stood waiting, for what seemed an extraordinarily long time, at Starbucks this week, I listened. I was privy to several personal exchanges between not only friends, but total strangers as well.

Everyone had a story to tell.

Each one was unique, yet the common theme was obvious: we had all experienced the trauma of the earth giving way beneath us. (Admittedly, I grew up in LA, so I’ve lived through worse earthquakes.)

Glass broke. Furniture splintered. TVs toppled.

The ear splitting sound was overwhelming. The unpleasant bouncing and jolting actually caused me to become motion sick. Each person searched for their loved ones in a frantic dash, urgent text or middle of the night phone call.

Most of us some how were safe- at least bodily. Yet our minds and emotions were far from “safe”.

We were numb, stressed, hysterical, frazzled, shocked, jolted, overwhelmed, distraught, grieved.

I’d say, the vast majority are still coming out of a “post afternoon nap” type haze.My recurring ambivalent thoughts are like: “I want to run away from this chaos” then, “I want to stay home, close to my family”. The world feels a bit scary. I keep imagining phantom aftershocks that I know are not really happening.

Then, last evening after my first venture out to the local banged up Target, I rounded my street corner to five police cars, an ambulance and a fire truck. Two doors down a young man took his life. I stood at the window and stared, not in a nosy gawking kind of way, but in an incredulous “why did he do this” kind of way.… I did not know the family. But as I watched the coroner enter the house, I was reminded of the power of human emotion.

What a paramount, driving force our fears or sadness can have over our bodies. Our heart and mind truly are command central for what motivates us or holds us captive in this life.

I am humbled as I look across the street at their house, wondering what they must be going through today- pain unutterable, vacuous loss, unanswerable confusion.

I remember the earth revolting under me six days ago, my broken dishes and table, my raw and shattered nerves. Those are nothing compared to the searing loss of a child.

My stuff can be replaced this week. This week, they will lay their son to rest.

 

unraveling…

unraveling….

Like a loosely woven skein of yarn, some days I come undone.

It can be nothing in particular sometime. I just wake up feeling as if little devilish imps are tugging yards out of me. (Do they come in the night to torment me all day?)

Or some days, it is the rebellious taunt made by my son that he is moving out at 12:01 the day of his 18th birthday- a fresh twist of the proverbial rebel’s knife and my emotions well up, uncontrollably.

Even other days, it is the thought that I have NO IDEA WHAT THE FUTRUE HOLDS FOR OUR FAMILY. Will we move again for the 11th time in 20 years? (Long story for another post, I promise). The gypsy lifestyle runs so CONTRA to my personal bents. Yet, it would seem to be God’s comical way of keeping me supple, humble, detached from the material “stuff” of life and even people if you will.

I sometimes think, “OK, God, am I REALLY that hard headed, that you need to keep driving the SAME lessons home to me?”

~ Here’s a “need to know” about me: I used to cry almost daily. I have also struggled majorly with depression in the past (yes, another post about this one too). But, as I have been worked like taffy in a “puller”, God has seen fit to stabilize my emotional roller coaster a bit. For that, I am truly humbled and thankful every day.~

Despite this, the unraveling is SO unpleasant. And it’s not like I sit by idly watching it happen! I fight it. I pray. I dig in mentally and remember the words of God that He does not give me more than I am able to bear or that He never leaves me or forsakes me. I cast my cares on Him and wait. And some days honestly, I feel nothing. Is this all a big joke? Doesn’t He (or anyone for that matter) see what’s happening to me?

Maybe it is God Himself wrenching out pieces of me – a purposeful discomfort, a test of my control freakish nature- to make me into someone different, better??

I am conflicted. For if my beautiful yarn were being woven into a lovely shawl or intricate blanket, I would feel satisfied, happy even. But I DO NOT see the string’s end! All I feel is the tug. I don’t comprehend the purpose!

This is the essence of my faith-  “Faith is being sure of what we hope for. It is being certain of what we do not see.” Hebrews 11:1

However it is being yanked from me, I conclude that all I can do is trust the elusive picture I cannot see. If I balk and try to tuck it’s length back in, I will fail. You know you can never wind the yarn back the way it was. If I let it go, even allow the extraction to happen, I have to rest in God’s providential work, however painful the process.

He is the skilled weaver and can make the gnarled, knotted, yards of string into something beautiful in His time.

unraveling for a purpose…

The Great Dichotomy

I’ve been plagued this week. Burdened. Weighed down- with this thought:

Why do we, who already have the victor’s crown sitting atop our heads get defeated, bogged down and live as if we are losing the race???

This is the great {seeming} dichotomy of the Christian life- something our previous pastor liked to refer to as “the already and the not yet”.

We already have victory over sin in Christ because at the cross, He paid the FULL AND COMPLETE redemption of our souls. He did not cry out from the cross, “I am done here.” He cried out, “It is finished.” This meant it was done, consummate, having fully satisfied God’s demands, wholly assuaging His wrath against sin.

In Christ, we have that same fullness and encompassing finished work given to us. We are wearing the victor’s wreath though instead of the crown of thorns. Ours is the sweet rest and relief of a triumph- and here’s the amazing part- that WE DID NOT HAVE TO EARN OR WORK FOR.  Imagine getting to the end of a 26.2 miler without a drop of sweat, twinge of sore muscles, or one ounce of fatigue. Impossible with man. Not just possible but our REALITY with Christ’s cross work! How amazing is that?

Yet, the “not yet” of our humanity is that we grovel in the dust of defeat, wallowing around in the entanglement of sin or trying circumstances. For many sweet Christians I know (and myself included), we have spent many seasons of time on the ground, in the dirt with the paralysis of a side stitch or Charlie horse. Perhaps it is depression, debilitating physical pain, anxiety attacks, prodigal children, a rocky marriage, or financial despair. It could even be an outright denial of God’s truths that we once had clung to unswervingly.

We find ourselves temporarily unable to go on, press forward or run through the discomfort. We have allowed Satan to convince us that we have already lost this race. Suddenly, we look around and see the other runners passing us, our goal time or hopes vanish. We succumb to the subjugation of sin and self- unable or not willing to remember the victory.

But remember it WE MUST! For when those seasons of life fall upon us (and they will in some form or another), this is our only HOPE, our SOLACE, our POWER to carry on.

In the book, The Pilgrim’s Progress, Christian on his journey of faith carried a burden. It was a heavy load- pressing hard against his back, making walking almost impossible, causing strain and toil that felt to him unbearable. When he came to the cross and looked upon it, he considered the magnitude of what had been done there. In that beautiful yet agonizing moment, his burden came off and rolled into a nearby cave. He never saw nor felt it again.

So you see, my dear readers, this is really no dichotomy at all. We ARE victors in Christ. It is finished. Let’s start reveling in it! Savor the prize! Delight in the Savior! Rest in VICTORY!

Come Grovel With Me

I’ve had a bit of a “week” shall we say. So while this may sound like a bit of a rant… well frankly, it is.

 People disappoint me. I disappoint myself.

 I fail. Others fail me.

Sometimes, I want to blurt out the F word- but I don’t.

For awhile now, I get the idea that Christians expect other Christians to just suck it up, pray to Jesus and move on. While I don’t advocate sitting around whining, pining, griping, grumbling, complaining, ranting, etc., I do believe in being real- honest with those around us- transparent, and most of all leveling with God. If we were, I think there would be a lot less guilt-based issues within the realm of Christianity.

What if, next Sunday at church when someone says: “Hi. How are you?” to me, I tell them just how my week has REALLY gone (in a churchy nutshell kind of fashion). What if I gave them a little glimpse into the major disappointments I had to deal with over my teen’s decisions or tell them how I’ve been struggling with discontentment. They would likely look at me aghast. Many people are afraid to hear the rawness of emotion or the blatancy of honest struggles. Instead they probably want to get this answer: “Fine”.

Thankfully, God isn’t afraid of us being raw with Him. In fact, HE IS THE FIRST ONE WE SHOULD RUN TO WITH OUR EMOTIONS/BURDENS ANYWAYS. He is not afraid of my anger. He will not back down when I question Him. He is not crushed (like I am with my kids) when I rebel against His word. He is never miffed when I have a season in which my heart wanes and grows rather affection-less.

Ever read the Psalms? David again and again expresses frustration from seeming lack of help.  He laments over an emotional and spiritual chasm. He even shakes a proverbial fist at feeling disregarded or abandoned by God. He feels forgotten about, afflicted, crushed.

Even so, he always brings it back to praising the worth of God.  He recollects all the very wonderful things that God has done- all the miracles large and small. He remembers the never ending kindness, love, forgiveness, compassion, grace, mercy. David never riles against the LORD and then just leaves it there.

Neither should we. When the hard moments or season of moments overwhelm us we must restore our soul with recounting the goodness of the Savior, basking in the loveliness of His forgiveness, the mercy of His grace and His sometimes strange providential workings. He wants us to adore Him. He wants our faithful affection. He wants repentance.

If only we could approach each other with the same honesty and candidness within the church. Why must we hide behind a guise of: “It’s all hunky dory all the time at MY spirit filled house?”

I believe: it’s ok to grovel from time to time and what better encouragement than to be able to sit there on the ground with someone who shares your faith, someone who loves you, despite the dust on your clothes. A friend that will extend the hands of compassion and grace, just like Christ does, is worth a hundred who “just can’t relate” or doesn’t want to get too messy.

Swallowing Poison

It’s like a poison- just not a deadly one- well, at least not most of the time. It crosses all kinds of boundary lines- social, economic, cultural, racial. It has been responsible for countless divorces, suicides and many ruined lives. It can go down, deep down into the inner core of the soul and barb its way in, never to be removed. Sometimes it goes in, then comes out quickly, passing through like the change of a season, hardly noticed. Most often it steadily bears down on the human heart and mind leaving scars in its path.

I am talking about depression.

A couple weeks back, I read this story and was heart broken. It is not often you hear of a highly successful woman jumping 8 stories to her death- with her precious baby in her arms. It nauseated me to think of but when I read the circumstances surrounding her decision, I immediately thought of postpartum depression. (This was before I even read the article that further examined the possible reasons she chose this.) It just seemed to fit. How very sad that she saw no other way out.

I have experienced depression firsthand to an intense degree. I have felt the poison go down deep into my soul, tainting all emotion and thoughts. Far from understanding all the psychological issues that bring someone to this terrible place, one thing is certain- it is hard to get rid of. It begins like a bad (cancerous) cell, undetected at first. Then it grows and turns other cells bad and gathers more momentum inside the heart and mind. One day you wake up and realize that something is not right- you are not quite yourself and yet, you can’t tell why.

Often it can grow to the point that one’s life seems somewhat unrecognizable. Thoughts and feelings have morphed, like a black cloud that looms surreptitiously. Sometimes the manifestation is physical- your body can begin breaking down or perhaps you just start to feel like you are going cuckoo. For real.

Help must be found. If you ingested poison, would you not go to the hospital and have your stomach pumped? So, why do we hesitate to get help when this poison is inside of us?

Depression is a serious problem that has plagued not only myself, but many, many people I know and love. If you are reading and you’ve never felt this way or don’t really “get” depression, take note and don’t ever forget to love someone who might be going through it. Thankfully, I found hope and help (and clung to God’s grace). I didn’t jump out of a window with my baby. I didn’t leave my husband. It took an admission of my own failure and inability to “fix” myself to begin the healing process. It hurt my pride- but that was what I needed. It was a painstaking process of sifting through the “junk” that got me to where I was emotionally and spiritually. God was gracious to me. He loved me through the dark days and so did a lot of friends and my husband.

How I wish that someone would have recognized the signs in the New York City woman that left her husband without a wife and her son without a mother. If only someone would have reached out to her in her pain. Maybe things would have turned out different.