Back to Work

Thanksgiving is upon me, and I am ready to tear down the fall decorations and set up for Christmas. It has been a busy summer because I took on a new job, but it was only for 8 weeks. Then the fall courses started, and I have been continuously behind on grading, procrastinating on reading, etc. I’ve been distracted, I guess. I just haven’t been “feeling it” lately. Not that I have been depressed or down, I just have been wanting more…something; I don’t know what.

God’s been working profoundly in my life over the past few months, and I have been experiencing an uncomfortableness. It is so strange, but I’ll try to explain. As my relationship with Him has been going deeper, He has been instructing me and drawing me nearer to Him. But I felt awkward. It was disturbing in a sense. I felt confusion and somewhat of a physical pain. I almost felt as if I was in a vice, and I felt a mix of depression and discouragement. I thought, “What in the world is going on with me?”

But it passed after a few days…a couple of times I experienced this. I recognize that as God works on me, I do feel uncomfortable. One reason is that He is taking me out of my comfort zone. That is never fun. Another is that He is scraping away old stuff so that He can replace it with Him. It’s been uncomfortable but a wonderful experience.

I still have a lot of bad habits to get rid of, but I am still moving forward. And as I share my days with Him, I see His hand at work, more than ever before. And one thing that God has pointed out recently is that I still need healing. “Whaaaaaa?”

Yes, I have been exposed to dysfunctional relationships all my life. Between my parents, with my parents, with my siblings and cousins, aunts & uncles, with my spouse and my children, between my spouses parents and between the siblings, and on and on it goes. God has revealed to me that I don’t know what it means to be and have a “friend”, and because of this, it is distorting my relationship with Him. He wants to be my friend, but that is a concept I cannot comprehend right now. I know Him as Father, Judge, Savior, King, but not as Friend.

It is true that I keep my distance from everybody I know. I share some things with a few that I wouldn’t share with others, but I never share fully with anyone. That includes my spouse, my mother, and my favorite sister-in-law. I still push away. I guess I don’t see anyone as totally safe, and maybe I am not fully trusting God either.

So here I go again…take me into that uncomfortable place and teach me.

Setting Boundaries

It’s been almost a year since I have been healed from depression, and though my vision has cleared, it has come to my attention that I have not fully stepped out of living in depression. What I mean is that after living in depression for 30 years, I may still be acting out habits of one who is depressed. Weird? Maybe…maybe not. I still have not taken charge of certain areas of my life where depression once held me back. Now I have no excuse. I guess I still carry a fear of failure, and maybe something else. I am not sure. Sometimes it feels like I have a lack of confidence. In some things, I am fully confident, but in others, I still run from them. God has pointed this out to me…that I need to stop living in the patterns of yesterday.

So, I have decided to run a small group study on the book Boundaries at my church. This book by Dr.’s Cloud & Townsend helped me many years ago, and I feel a strong passion to reach out to my community and offer this small group to help others where I have struggled once before. But as I think more on it, I believe I have let my boundaries slip. A lack of healthy boundaries can spiral a person into depression, and a person who is living with depression often cannot set healthy boundaries. So for me, this has been a spiraling effect…I couldn’t set boundaries because I was depressed, and the lack of boundaries in my relationships pushed me into a deeper depression.

Years ago when I took the course, I was able to set boundaries. This was so empowering for me. I was learning to take back my identity and find my voice. But it can be so easy to fall back and lose sight, especially when vision of self and others is clouded by the black shroud of depression. So this small group I think will benefit me just as much as those who have never taken the course before and struggle with the issue of setting boundaries.

I am praying that God will bring the people in and allow this study group to be a blessing to us all.

New Experiences

Ok, I have not been reading the book as I had promised. I need to get back on that because I want to start a small group addressing depression at my church, and I need to recommend a book to study. My goal is to open up an evening once a week as a support group for people suffering from depression. I don’t know how to do that, but I think I walked this road for a purpose. One of my main goals is to get people to refute the negative stigma and free themselves to at least talk about it, bring it to light, and stop hiding which, I believe, hinders healing.

Anyway, after experiencing my healing from depression, I was still a little leery. I wanted to be sure this was real. After all, living it for 30 years, I could not imagine life without it. One experience certainly confirmed my healing for me. I went shopping.

While standing in the dressing room with several tops and pants to try on, I did it with excitement. I scrutinized how each outfit looked on me, and selected the ones I thought were ‘cool’ and discarded the ones that were too tight or fit awkwardly on my body. But even with the clothes that didn’t fit, I dismissed it with an attitude of carelessness. “Oh well,” I thought, and moved on. It took a few minutes, but then I realized that I had not felt so comfortable or confident in myself or my appearance for 30 years. I was amazed at how good I felt. This overwhelming feeling of self-satisfaction was so new to me, I could hardly contain myself. I, a previous introvert, actually struck up conversations with the sales ladies, made jokes, and even show-cased an outfit for one of them to get her opinion.

When I met up with my husband later, I told him what I was experiencing. He was happy, but didn’t know quite how to respond since he doesn’t quite understand the consequences of depression. But he was happy for me. I was so thankful to God that I had this experience, I had to hold back my tears.

There are days I walk out of my house and feel this liberation, freedom. I notice small encounters now and then and recognize my new mindset. Rather than falling apart from small disruptions or discouraging actions, I have this new strength, a new sight. Even months after, I am still getting used to living without depression. I didn’t know life could be like this. Wow.

I sometimes think, “Why, in the last 30 years, couldn’t you have figured this out? If you only took the time to dig and search, you could’ve been healed years ago.” But I quickly dismiss those thoughts. I have walked my path and cannot go back. I certainly have no desire to either. I don’t consider my past a waste or a failure. I have survived a long and horrendous battle. As weakening as depression can be on a mind, to know that depression can be defeated is hope that others can be healed from it too. I look to my future with optimism and hope that I can contribute to the healing of others. I am not being arrogant about this; I just know that hiding depression never helps anyone. And if I can help to eliminate the stigma, more people will reach out and seek help from professionals, from within, and from God.

This blog played a major role in my healing. Thank you to all of you have given me encouraging words to continue, and for not judging my horrible lapses in posting. Keep blogging, Bloggers. This is cool.

Examining Family…

I’ve come to realize that I approach my blogging like I approach exercise…I can never find time to do it. I guess anything that is good for me is work, and I tend to overlook my down time, seeing it as my time to unwind, relax, and engage in mindless activity. I remember finishing up a semester at graduate school where I took two courses in a summer semester, and on the last day of school, I announced in one of my classes that I purposely intended to watch a full week of trash TV. The other students laughed, understanding that our minds had been overworked that summer, and mindless activity was a well-deserved reward.

So I have been off for a while now, from blogging. The end of the semester approached, and I had 60+ essays to grade, along with final exams and journals. From the end of April to the end of May, I was flooded with arguments of animal welfare, equal education, minimum wage increase, etc. And this was the first semester where I actually had to hold back tears as I saw my students off for their summer break, never to teach them again as they move up the collegiate rungs toward graduation with the exception of an occasional wave and pleasant, “How have you been?” as we rush across the stone walkways to our next classes.  Though I have had a harsh personal battle this year, it has been a fruitful and strengthening 6 months.

All has not been lost, though. I did work on chapter 5 immediately after finishing chapter 4, but it has taken me a long time to reflect on “Family Dynamics”.  The goal of chapter 5 is to examine past and present relationships, identify if they are draining or fulfilling, examine the positive and negative things that each family member has taught me about life and about myself.  I didn’t want to do it. I did not want to dig up old wounds, past hurts, which tends to fuel the anger inside me toward my family members, my life, and God. But I did it, and God continued to point out that I needed to forgive.

So I had to work on that for several weeks. I continually confessed, “I forgive _______,” even if I still felt some resentment. There is power in words, so I knew that by speaking it, it would soon enough have an effect. But I also confessed it to others, my mom, and a few friends at church.  Talking about it helped greatly, and I have come to release the situation to God.  I had been carrying a heavy chain around my neck for thirty years, and I didn’t even know it. I knew when my anger took root, but I just did not know the damage it would cause. And because I got used to that weight, I forgot it was there. It became the elephant in the room.

Another mistake I made over the years is believing that once I forgive someone, I am immediately healed.  That is so far from the truth. Sometimes, the offenses committed against us can be forgiven and forgotten almost immediately, but often times we fool ourselves into believing that what works in one situation will work for all. And, unfortunately, we don’t realize until much later that it never worked, it never healed, and we are left struggling with our past…often not able to pinpoint the start of our destruction. Take, for example, a superficial wound. I cut my hand while chopping onions because I was distracted. “Ouch! That hurt.” I acknowledge the cut and care for it. I wash my hand, apply a bandaid, and take care not to upset the wound for a few days. As it scabs over, I can finally remove the bandaid, but it is still sore, and I take care not to hit it against anything that might intensify the pain or break open the scab. Now, if the cut was small and not too deep, the wound will heal without leaving a scar. But if the knife sliced in a bit too far, a scar will remain for life. And if I do not take care to wash the wound and keep the wound clean, infection will develop beneath the scar.

Maybe a better illustration is when I had my first child. I had to go in for an emergency C-section, and when done, the doctor had put staples on my abdomen to close up the wound. I was in the hospital for four days, and upon discharge, the nurse told me to go to the doctor in a week to get the staples removed. After four days, I was in severe pain, and I felt extremely depressed, sad, and tired. I called my doctor, and the nurse said I should have had the staples removed one or two days before. So they had me come in. The doctor explained that my wound got infected, and he prescribed an antibiotic. He said I would feel better within two days.  He was right. That infection began to destroy, not only my body, but my whole state of being. Once it was diagnosed and treated internally, I finally began to experience healing. Now, had the doctor just diagnosed the problem but not treated it, I would not have healed and would have withered away.

Just like forgiveness, we acknowledge the hurt, the cut, but we still need to treat it. Some wounds are so deep that they cause infection…distrust, anger, resentment, fear, sorrow, anguish. We can say, “I forgive,” but we still need to experience healing. It took a while for that wound to heal, but the scar on my abdomen is still there. It doesn’t hurt, but it is unattractive. But I see what some  would call an ugly scar as a thing of beauty. I was young and inexperienced when I had my first child. The scar reminds me of my growth as a woman, a mother, and a wife. And had I not treated that infection, I would not be here today. That infection would have slowed my journey, stunting my growth, and possibly destroying my life. Forgiveness is only the first step to healing. The treatment for full healing can be short or long, but painful nevertheless.

So, how do we heal from past hurts, especially when we thought we’d already let it go? There’s no easy answer. For me, I had to talk about it and write about it. I also had to pray about it. I had to give it over to God. I admitted that I could not do it on my own, and I allowed God in that secret part of my life that I kept hidden for so long. He knew it was there, but as gentle as He always is, He never forces me to do anything…He just brings it to my attention. So this time, I did not ignore His voice, and I let Him in to do whatever He needed to do, like an antibiotic, working internally and invisibly.

That healing took place about 4 weeks ago, and I have to say, I have not experienced a depressive episode since. I want to believe that my depression is gone, but I am still going to finish this book. I am sure, no, I know that there are areas of my life and self image that need improvement, but I am confident that I am on the road to healing.

depression

What strength is this

of a thousand men

pulling, yanking, jerking

limbs and torso

An unforeseen thrust

to the gut and the chest

throwing a body to the ground.

What strength is this

of venom and vile

moving, flowing, churning

in body and soul

A wrenching grasp

twisting the insides in chaos.

What strength, what strength

to stop one in his tracks

failure to move, think, live.

To make all come to a stand still

sucking out sight, validity, value

Leaving eternal visions of nothingness.

Can I be stronger?

Taking Stock

Wow. Chapter 4 was a doozy. It was long and required a lot of journaling. I had to break several times from reading and journaling because it required much thought.  It continued from chapter 3 about understanding things that feel draining and fulfilling. But chapter 4 asks that we journal everything we do daily and periodically…addressing why we do them as well. It starts its focus on how many people are too busy and fill their days with things they think they have to do to find purpose. I could not really identify with that because I tend to avoid activities and people. But it did not ignore people who fall into my category. “Depression can occur when your activities are out of balance in the following ways:

  • You have too many activities, and the sum of them outweighs their individual value. When you’ve got too many things going collectively, you’re too busy to enjoy any of them individually.
  • You have many activities but too few worthwhile ones. When the sum of your activities is draining, it interferes with the worthwhile ones.
  • You have too few activities in your life. When your biggest activity is inactivity, you rob yourself of the stimulation and engagement of purpose and people” (51).

I definitely fall into the 3rd.

After taking stock of all activities, including inactivity, we then must journal as to why we do them. This is a difficult reality, but it is necessary to progress forward. I will not go into all the activities and purposes I wrote in my journal…but by taking stock in an honest way, I have learned something about myself. Once done taking stock, the author asks us to identify patterns and perceptions. Although the patterns may be negative, it “does not diminish you as a person. On the contrary, this understanding will allow you to assume more control over this pattern and change it” (53). These are encouraging words. And by identifying our own perceptions (usually stemming from childhood), we can also understand that our perceptions might just be a bit distorted…I think I could find that my perceptions are unrealistic or just plain wrong. It should be a path to truth.

What I have discovered (or finally admitted on paper):

My Patterns: anything I anticipate as draining, I will avoid; thus, I am very seclusive. I prefer solitude and inactivity, and that is most of the time.

My Perception: I continuously perceive problems–I try to be as optimistic as possible, so I avoid going to the doctor, working on relationships, & dealing with problems to keep my optimism. I guess it is a false optimism…maybe I am a pessimist–yuk. 

Finally, after journaling all this, we are to make a list, “5 Things I Know About My Life”. If they are mostly negative, then we are to ask if they are true, who told us these things, when did we start believing them. I have made my list and though three out of five are negative, I think I am being honest with myself. The negatives are something I will definitely have to work on.  My new knowledge: 1. I am living in fear; 2. I am untrusting; 3. anything that has to do with relationships (time to build them, work at home for the family, disciplining kids, delegating work, etc.), I run away; 4. work outside the home is uplifting and I find purpose in it; and 5. I find value and purpose in going to church.

One of my biggest struggles, though, is spending time alone with God. It is not because I fear that He will be condescending or brutal, but maybe I have a distorted view on relationships altogether, and it has been hindering my ability to move forward with God, with others, and with myself.  I don’t have all the answers yet, but the next chapter will be dealing with family dynamics. I think I will find some more answers as I continue.

This was by far the hardest journal I have had to write so far, but it was well worth it. The key is to be as honest and thorough as possible. I did my best. If I missed any activities, patterns, or perceptions, I am sure I will return to this journal to do a bit of addition, so I think I’ll skip a page to allow myself to do that.