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.

A Contributing Factor

This past week has been productive in many ways. Though I have not blogged in what seems like an eternity, I have been staying alert. My pastor is true to his word and is holding me accountable. Just a text to ask how I am doing is enough. I have to be honest with him, so it motivates me to stay on track, knowing I will have to answer to him.  A friend at church also knows I am battling depression. She has been fortunate to walk in my footsteps and overcome depression. She also sent me a text asking me how my day was going just yesterday.

Yesterday, though, I felt sad without reason…at least I could not pinpoint what was causing this. I almost allowed my self to sink, but my friend’s text motivated me to snap out of it, well not snap out of it, but to do what I needed to stand and not fall. I spent some alone time with God, and He pointed out something that I have not addressed in my life for a long time. I love how God works. He can point out my mistakes but never in a condemning way. He is always so gentle with me. Anyway, something I need to address that I have avoided for many years is my resentment towards my sister. She is not a soul to be trusted, and she has certainly proved that to me and many other family members over the years. Because of my distrust in her, I have planted a seed of resentment against her. It has grown tremendously, and I even hoped other family members would shun her. This resentment has been eating away at me for a long time…she has no clue of how I feel.

I asked God how I can forgive someone who purposely sets out to gossip about others and cause trouble. He reminded me of a brother-in-law who hurt me tremendously in the past and how I was able to forgive him, knowing that even 15 years later, he has not changed. I have learned to forgive him, but also to protect my heart, knowing I cannot trust him with having anyone’s best interest in mind but his own.  Yes, he had created a rift in our relationship, but I love him and pray that God covers him.  There is no resentment, hatred, or ill feelings toward him on my part. If I did it before, I can do it again.  I need to forgive my sister and release all her wrongdoing committed against me and my family members to God. I need to have compassion towards her, because I know she is hurting too. She has her own struggles that I cannot understand.

I was brought to a scripture, Matthew 5:23-24:  23 Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee;
24 Leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift.

God pointed out that I have not reconciled with my sister, yet I bring my “gifts” to honor Him. When we choose to not forgive, then we do offend God. I know that this is not the root of my depression, but it is a strong contributing factor. My sister offended me over 20 years ago. Wow, what a long grudge. I told her at the time that she was wrong, but she claimed she was justified. It was her arrogance that provoked me, and her cunningness about the situation.  She purposely deceived me at the time thinking it was for my own good…at least that was her excuse. So, after all these years, I need to let it go. She has not changed, and I don’t know that she ever will. Though I will continue to protect my heart from her, I can forgive her and be free from this.

God, I loose all resentment and anger against my sister. I bind up love, forgiveness, and restoration with my sister that stands in alignment with who You are, and I release all types of feelings and thinking that is not of You. I seal this prayer with the blood of Christ. Amen.

Treated Myself

I’m a little surprised that I am still carrying my joy from yesterday’s accomplishments…maybe it is because I had a good day at work today too.  I went in early, even though I only got a few hours of sleep, and helped some students with their essays before they had to turn them in. They are now off to warm weather or visiting parents for their spring break. The commute home for me is about 45 minutes to an hour, depending on traffic and my last students left at about quarter to six. I knew the tollway would be jammed, so I decided to stop and have my favorite, an Italian beef with hot peppers and onions, french fries, and a large coke to reduce the heat from the peppers. It’s been too long since I had one, and I thought, “I am going to sit and relax and indulge a little. No need to try to rush home.” And I loved it. It was probably the best Italian beef I’ve had in a long time. They don’t make ’em like that around home. Better than Portillo’s, I think.

So, I’m home now and am enjoying my evening coffee, played about a 1/2 hour of Plants vs. Zombies, and I’m in my PJ’s. Ready to fall out.  But I think I’ll grab my book, Moving Beyond Depression, and move forward.

Feeling good. If you haven’t treated yourself in awhile, I strongly recommend it. Do something for yourself! You deserve it. God bless.

Because I didn’t hide

I woke with a sense of peace. Not a worry crossed my mind. I was happy that I didn’t have to work today, well go to work today. The classes I normally teach today are on spring break…yeah. I got some decent sleep, so I turned up the worship music and got to cleaning. My place is in the kitchen…not in a derogatory way, but literally. My small work station is set up in here, and while the family is scattered about watching silly TV shows or playing games, I sit in here, getting my lesson plans organized for tomorrow’s classes or watching my own dumb TV shows or whatever.  My work station, however, was a mess. Mail and papers and things that didn’t belong filled the counter and corners. I was thinking of doing laundry, but what the heck. There will always be laundry to do. I think we’re all ok for a couple of days.

Since I had removed the small television and cable box from my kitchen, I now had some extra space. I had to refuse to give into the urge to ignore my potential today and play solitaire for 1/2 an hour…an hour…NO. “You’ll feel better,” I told myself. Let the music play and get to work. So I reorganized my magazines and folders, my basket of miscellaneous stuff from pens and scissors to hand lotion and face toner to old mail and expired coupons. Papers and other mail were stuffed between candles and a piggy bank and speakers for my computer. Hey! I found my insurance card…not expired. I decluttered the papers and read a few scriptures in between sanitizing the counters and washing dishes. My space…now organized and clutter-free. What a feeling.

When I was done, I ran to the store to pick up a few things and decided to grab some cheap cork board. I have a small blank wall & thought I could do something with it. I then grabbed some construction paper, push pins, other miscellaneous craft stuff. I had no idea what I was going to do with all this, but I figured I could add some color. I love to make crafts, although I am not very good at it. It takes me a long time to make something. At Christmas, I like to make snowmen out of tube socks, kitty litter, felt hats, button eyes, etc. I choose one family each year to make snowmen for because it takes me about 3 hours to make one, and I make one for each member of the family. So, I googled spring crafts to find flower templates, but I really didn’t like what I found, but I saw a neat idea for a flower basket. But as I worked on it I changed my mind to make it an Easter egg basket…it seemed easier than trying to draw flowers and cut them out. As I worked on my project, I remember the peace.  It’s like coloring in a child’s coloring book…if you haven’t done it, try it. It is peaceful and soothing. I forget that I like to do this stuff. Why not do this rather than waste time on games? Even if it takes a long time, I don’t have to finish it today.  Well, my final project came out a little ‘elementary’, but it’s cute. And I know that the next one I make, I will get more creative. I need to do something with the other cork board positioned right above.

20140320_000221

Overall, I am proud of myself today. Not only did I accomplish “home” work, but I also decided to change my lesson plan for my students that I will meet with tomorrow, and I got my class website updated with the several documents they will need over the next two weeks and a new test created.

Although I may have seemed to rant in my last post, I know it did me good to confront depression right away. If I had not, I truly believed it would have been waiting for me when I awoke this morning, hovering over me like a thick fog. And the weight of it would have hindered my ability to move.

I will focus on Isaiah 61:1-3:

61 The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed and qualified me to preach the Gospel of good tidings to the meek, the poor, and afflicted; He has sent me to bind up and heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the [physical and spiritual] captives and the opening of the prisonand of the eyes to those who are bound,

2 To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord [the year of His favor] [a]and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn,

3 To grant [consolation and joy] to those who mourn in Zion—to give them an ornament (a garland or diadem) of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, the garment [expressive] of praise instead of a heavy, burdened, and failing spirit—that they may be called oaks of righteousness [lofty, strong, and magnificent, distinguished for uprightness, justice, and right standing with God], the planting of the Lord, that He may be glorified. (Amplified version)

May I overcome and be a blessing to others.