Category Archives: Depression & Anxiety

My life with anxiety, right now

I started to write this post about a week ago. I write quite a few posts that I never publish, and I figured this would be one of them since it is uncomfortably personal.

But lately I’ve felt compelled to share the uncomfortable.  My friend Jessica has started writing frankly about her struggles with a chronic illness called POTS, and although I knew she was sick in a theoretical sense, now I know so much more what it’s like to be her in her sickness. And because I care about her, that really matters to me. Her writing is a gift to me, though I know it’s hard for her to share.

Second, several months ago an old acquaintance connected me with a woman here in Seattle named Kimberlee Conway Ireton, who wrote a book called Cracking Up: A Postpartum Faith Crisis.  Naturally, this topic is up my alley. Kimberlee and I have not had a chance yet to meet in person, but her book showed up in the mail a couple of weeks ago and it couldn’t have come at a better time.

Just as Jessica is honest, Kimberlee writes about how hard her life was after she had twins, and how crippling her anxiety became for her.  She writes about how hard it was to hang onto God and how hanging onto God just didn’t seem to be working.  She writes in detail what her anxiety felt like from both emotional and physical standpoints, her rational and irrational fears, the thoughts that gnawed at her.  If I were her I would have edited out the most uncomfortable parts (and maybe she did), but I gotta hand it to the lady–she gets really real.

If Jessica is laying in bed feeling awful and sharing the details of the cross she’s bearing and Kimberlee decided to write an entire book about the hell she went through, then maybe it’s safe for me to put my pinky toe in the water.

Nah.  Who am I kidding, I might as well just cannon ball-it.

I am struggling with anxiety right now. That right now is really important to state because I usually talk about these things after the fact.  If you were my friend and you probed a bit, I would probably throw you a bone and say something like “You know, I’m okay.  I’m having a rough go of it at the moment.” But I wouldn’t go much further than that.  If I were to, I might start crying and that will make both of us uncomfortable.  And oh my, what would I do if we were ALL uncomfortable? That would make me even more anxious!

On the other hand, when I’m in the middle of an intense bout of anxiety, I talk about it in great detail to Jason.  And some of it goes to my mom, too. This is partly because I am self-obsessed and partly because when it consumes me I am constantly accessing how I’m doing, what I can handle, if I’ll be able to handle it, how my body is feeling, what the next moments or days might look like, etc.  I feel the need to speak it. I suppose I want some coddling, some reassurance from others that I’m okay.  But after a while even I get sick of myself.  Jason definitely gets sick of it.

Thankfully, you are all a fresh audience . . .

My first distinct memory of anxiety was at the age of six.  I remember being very worried I wouldn’t be able to learn how to read and I’d fall behind in school.  I was the hardest working first-grader in my class.  This is first grade, people. I should’ve been playing double-dutch or picking flowers or something.

In the third grade I remember being so afraid I wouldn’t learn the multiplication tables (because I had convinced myself I was terrible at math) that I would have my mom lay with me in bed at night and go over and over each table so I could have them completely memorized. To my credit, when we played those math speed games in class, I was fast.

Then there was the phase where I was terrified I wouldn’t be able to fall asleep at night, which I thought would make me so tired in the morning that I wouldn’t be able to make it through the school day. I think that was fourth or fifth grade.  Ironically, in all my years of schooling (even into college) I have NEVER fallen asleep in class, no matter how tired I was.

I remember the weird phase in grade school where I had to take two showers a day and I counted everything in even numbers.  I remember how superstitious I was because it kept the anxiety at bay.

I remember the stomach-aches I would get as a child that never amounted to any kind of diagnosis.  I remember telling my mom that I was worrying, but I wasn’t sure about what. I felt like something bad could happen, or was about to happen, and somehow worrying about it would prepare me for it.

I remember waking up one Saturday morning my senior year of high school, so paralyzed by anxiety that I didn’t show up for one of my last cross-country races. I had trained all summer and fall to complete a season. I also didn’t run in regionals that year for similar reasons.

I remember sitting at my desk at my first real job after college, staring at my computer screen, completely overwhelmed and afraid.

And then, after Imogen was born there was all that stuff.  It entailed paranoia, some OCD tendencies, lots of insomnia, anger, panic, depression.  Ummm yeah, not gonna go into much more detail about that.

And now, Beatrice is going to turn one next week.  We have made it to the other side, so to speak.  I slept and I took care of her, and lots of people took care of me, and we made it.  More than that, many days I was more than okay.  My anxiety didn’t come even close to overcoming me.

Until now.

Now I feel like I’m crawling back into that abyss, that hole that I was in over two years ago that I never, EVER wanted to venture back into. I vowed to myself I wouldn’t, as if I have some sort of supernatural control over that sort of thing.

No, I’m not at the bottom.  I just feel like every few days I step down another rung on the ladder.  Or I slip down, that would be more accurate. And that is just NOT okay with me.

It started like this: a little storm was off shore, enough out at sea for there to be a little concern. But that storm built and it turned wild and then it was a hurricane, which eventually reached shore.  It crashed into me.  And then, to further ensue chaos, the hurricane decided to step back out off shore to give me a reprieve only to come slamming back in.  It continues to do this with little order.

How am I responding? To milk the metaphor, I’m spinning around trying to figure out if it’s safe to open my shutters, or if I should be boarding them up and hunkering down.  Or maybe I should be out there picking up the debris from the last blast?  Should I run to the store for supplies? Is it safe? Can anyone tell me? Will it ever be safe?

Okay, I’ll just say it plainly.  Some days I wake up with a jolt, my heart racing.  I am not sure if I could ever get out of bed.  I’m scared to.  I can’t handle what’s outside my door, my life, my duties, my children. I can hear it all out there. But I’m really not sure I can do it.  I lay there, frozen.

Some nights I start feeling anxious about the idea of going to sleep an hour or two before bedtime.  I feel consoled by the thought that I’ll take my medications and when they kick in I’ll feel relaxed enough to go to sleep.  Last night that reasoning didn’t work, I don’t know why, and it scared me.

Even with an increase in my medications, I get a few good hours of sleep and the rest of the night I feel like am sleeping with one eye open.  I wake up feeling unrested. In the morning I count on my fingers the hours I may have slept, hoping the total makes me feel better. But really, I don’t even know what happened each night.  It’s one big anxiety-inducing blur.

On three separate occasions, in the evenings before bed, I became overwhelmed to the point of panic.  This makes me sad to think about because 1) this hasn’t happened for over two years and 2) now that it’s happened here in this house, I will live with memories of it happening here.  That was at the other house, I tell myself.  That’s done, I tell myself.  But no, it’s not.  It’s in my bathroom, on the floor. Sometimes I have been alone, but the last time Jason was there with me.  That made it so much better.

A few days ago I was texting with a friend and it came out that I was, as I say, having “a rough go of it.” She knows me well enough to get the gist of what this means.  She offered to bring us a meal and I accepted.

Last night she came over to drop off the meal. It had been an awful, awful day.  And because of that, I really needed the particular brand of grace of a hot meal  delivered to my door. I thanked God for the timing.  But I didn’t really want my friend to see how much I needed it, because that’s hard and my life is already hard right now.

Well, she came and was her gracious, kind self.  Jason, her and I chatted a bit.  I think I seemed relatively normal, though I probably looked like a hot mess.

When we got to the end of our small talk, there was a pause. And I said, “Thank you for bringing this, it couldn’t have come at a better time.” And I started crying.  And I hugged her because I didn’t know what else to do.

She was sweet and she told us that her and husband loved us and that it would be okay. I looked at Jason and I think he was tearing up, but I don’t know for sure. I like to think that he was.

After she left I asked Jason, “Was that awkward? You know, me being real about how things are right now?”

“Yes,” he said.  “But it couldn’t have been any more perfect.”

I love that man.  He’s got this God-given intuition, this knowing about people and relationships, and love, and what it could all look like, what it should look like–if we all weren’t so fucked up.

But, I digress.

I know that other people live with anxiety.  It seems to be everywhere.  Our culture feeds on it and we are scared and nervous, even if scared and nervous aren’t our natural default.

But for those of you who struggle with anxiety, or depression, or OCD or bipolar, or whatever particular brand of crazy you or others have slapped on your medical file, this is for you.  It is an abridged version of my mental tape deck. It’s one step farther than my “thank you for this meal” incident.

These are the questions that go round and round in my head when anxiety grips me.  They are the questions that quiet down when I feel like myself again, like I’ve got my feet solidly back on the ground.  But then they come back, when the next round hits me.

  1. Why do I feel anxious? What am I doing wrong? How do I make it stop?
  2. What if it gets worse? What will tomorrow look like? Will I be able to handle it? I HAVE to be able to handle it because these little people are here and they want things from me and they need things from me.
  3. Maybe my medications aren’t working.  What if my doctor is wrong about my diagnosis and treatment? Can I trust him? Does he really understand me or my symptoms? Maybe I didn’t explain myself well enough the last time I saw him . . .
  4. What if these drugs are what’s making me sick? Maybe I would be fine if I just wasn’t taking them. Or maybe I should be taking different ones. How would I even know?
  5. What if I would’ve been diagnosed sooner after Imogen was born? How would that have changed things? How much simpler could this all have been?
  6. Why didn’t God reveal it to us before it got so bad?
  7. Why was I so afraid to ask for help back then? Why did I think I had to do postpartum life on my own?
  8. Will I ever sleep unassisted again?  I am so afraid I won’t. And what if, even on medications, I’m not able to sleep?
  9. Preface: I had an eating disorder. What if these pills cause me to gain weight (a common side effect of some SSRIs)?  Do I have to be fat to be happy?  And honestly, in my vain little world, is it possible to be both at the same time? Is God displeased with me for thinking these things?
  10. What would I be like if I wasn’t on medication?  Would I be like I was before all this happened? What was I really even like before all this happened? What even is “all this?”
  11. Is this God disciplining me?   Or is this just part of my broken world?  Or is it both?  How does it all intersect?
  12. Why am I so resistant to go to God when I feel anxious? Why do I feel like there’s nothing He can or will do? Why do I feel like I have more power than He does in these situations, even if my power feels so miniscule?
  13. Will I ever be “normal” again, for any considerable length of time?  Or will my anxiety taunt me by coming back just when I think it’s gone for good?
  14. When can I be regularly counted on to help others in their time of need?
  15. Will I ever feel strong enough to ride my bike and run again? I felt alive when I did those things and I miss them.
  16. What is my mental illness doing to my marriage?  What am I doing to my marriage? What if one day Jason just can’t take it any more?
  17. What memories will my children have of me? What is this doing to them?
  18. What if the anxiety I’m feeling now so colors my world that I can’t remember what my kids are like in this season?  
  19. What if this kills me?  What if the wear and tear of anxiety causes my body to give into something much bigger, like cancer or heart disease?
  20. Or, what if taking all these medications is what eventually kills me?
  21. What lesson am I not learning that God feels the need to keep bringing anxiety into my life so that I’ll learn it? 

I have my own thoughts as to what the answers are to some of these questions. I entertain them a lot when my anxiety consumes me, but it’s just more crazy-making.  And, I may never know. God may sit me down in eternity and get real with me about all this, or some of it, or He may choose not to.

But bringing my questions out into the light has a purpose now. Maybe someone, somewhere, understands a little bit more about what anxiety is like.  Someone who knows someone who struggles with it. It is hard to understand when you don’t have it.

And even more than that, maybe someone, somewhere says, “Yes, I know.” Anxiety is a sickness of loneliness, I think, and if someone feels a little less alone, then I’ve provided some tiny, tiny break in the storm.

I am a Christian. I believe a lot of things about God, the things that He has revealed to me through His Word and through my own experience of Him. And I have to honestly admit, I’ve experienced a lot of Him in the short ten plus years I’ve been a believer.

But as you can see from some of my unanswered questions, this is a faith struggle.  My anxiety is at odds with my head-faith and even more, deep down, it is at odds with my heart-faith.  And the heart, well, that’s where the crux of everything is.

When my head is sick, when my brain is sick, my heart has a hard time crying out to God, or even wanting to. I want to want to.  At least I think I do . . .?

But, there are a couple good things.

A few days ago, as I lay in bed, not wanting to get out, I read this:

“Christ is the Great Burden-Bearer. You cannot bear His load and He only expects you to carry a little day-share” (God Calling, Jan 4)

I prayed an honest prayer in that moment: Lord, I really don’t want to even carry my little share today.  I don’t even know if I can carry it.

And yet the day went on and it had it’s hard parts, but I am okay.

Second, is the image of this: me, as a little girl, standing with my short, pudgy arms wrapped around my Jesus’ legs, my face buried in his robes.  I’m not sure if I’m hiding my face for shame or comfort or both.  But the image feels good.  It feels real. And I can use all the reality I can get.

This is my anxiety story, right now.

And heck, at least I’m writing again.

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It goes both ways

Some good things, in no particular order.

  1. Though sleep has been difficult the last two weeks, it didn’t slow me down today; I played hide and seek with my kids in the woods.  And trust me, two hours a night is a lot worse than the status quo.
  2. I didn’t yell at my husband when he wandered off in Costco yesterday.  Now I did yell at him when we were trying to order photos, but I still consider this an accomplishment.
  3. My wonderful, dear children.
  4. My in-laws, who I really like and who have been an immense help to me and good company many days as Jason works long hours.
  5. A restful Mother’s Day. Jason served us an amazing meal which he mostly prepared the day before so he wasn’t hermiting in the kitchen all afternoon (this was upon my request).
  6. I’m making jewelry, which I haven’t done since childhood.  I like giving it away and I have really enjoyed Jessica and I’s evening jewelry-making sessions.  My mom, Becky, and Linda have given me lots of old jewelry to work with but of course that doesn’t keep me from building my own collection of material to work with.
  7. I’m taking more photos and enjoying my camera, which was a wonderful gift from my dad a few years ago.
  8. Hanging out with other ladies at Jane’s clothing swap and finding some great things to take home.
  9. Finding a Vietnam-era military locker at Value Village.  Becky says her kids used Bill’s dad’s locker as a toy box when they were young. I like having meaningful things around my home, things with stories attached to them.
  10. Having some other creative projects I’m inspired to do.  In fact, being inspired is something I’ve needed for a long time and it’s coming back to me.
  11. Meeka’s post.
  12. The mornings are sometimes hard, but things usually get better as the day goes on.
  13. My psychiatric NP said I’m doing a lot better and when I actually thought about it, I agreed with her.
  14. I’m celebrating six years of writing on this blog.  For me, doing anything for six years is pretty amazing.
  15. Goodwill Hunting and Silver Lining Playbook.
  16. Reading a book on Bonhoeffer and how it has given me insight into my family’s German Lutheran heritage.  I want to learn more.
  17. The trail gator we just got for Ian.  More family bike rides are in our future.
  18. Ian’s preschool Mother’s Day party and how he showed me his classroom and told me I’m the best mom.
  19. The bags of girls clothes Adelle sent home with me and the box with filled with goodies from my Mom.  It felt like Christmas!
  20. Ecclesiastes.

Some hard things.

  1. The sleep thing.  I laid awake for two hours last night, filled with anxiety. When will this end?  What will it take?
  2. There’s a good chance Bill & Becky will leave in June.  Their renters in Georgia fell through and we don’t have a place for them to live here long-term.  Like I said, I really like them.  Even if I didn’t have the struggles I have at the moment, I would still be sad to see them go.
  3. Struggling with the idea of living elsewhere (in the Seattle area, not out-of-state).  I am intrigued by this and yet the uncertainty, the cost and the stress of moving makes me anxious.  I keep coming back to the fact that I love living where we are and that is a blessing.  And Jason and I are working pretty well together as we talk through this topic (maybe he would disagree on that?).
  4. I think you’re sensing a theme here — anxiety.
  5. A day last week when I felt discouraged and didn’t want to get out of bed.  The dark cloud was hanging, but I just had to sit up and put my feet on the floor.
  6. I’m having trouble eating regularly and being interested in eating in general.  Food is a passion for me so it’s hard, but I did get two enjoyable meals in with Dad & Linda at Ballard Pizza Co. and The Whale Wins.  If you go to Ballard Pizza Co., which you should, get The Big Moses.
  7. My children are watching way too much TV and I’m not really monitoring the content they are absorbing.  Don’t worry, it’s all of the kid persuasion, but still.
  8. The temptation to lean on other things, which is strong. But, God brings me back when I wander.
  9. I felt convicted the other day that I frequently call myself a depressed person.  But, I’m not depressed a lot of the time.  Besides, that is not who I am.
  10. I’m sad BSF is ending.  I really enjoyed my small group and I will miss our stimulating conversations.  This has been one of the most impressionable years of BSF for me.
  11. The fights I pick with Jason.
  12. My efforts to try impress people; I want them to notice me (how does this work, since I’m an introvert?). It’s tiring, and really a person struggling with mental illness doesn’t need the pressure.
  13. Jason’s working and he can’t help but keep his mind on that a lot.  But, at least he has a job.

I feel like ending with my hard things obliges me to say I’m not hanging off a cliff here and I’m not trying to be hard on myself. I just can’t help being an honest person.  I think that’s a good thing.

In fact, I am glad God uses me to say things others can’t or won’t.  I know some can relate in some way.

“Let each person lead the life that the Lord has assigned to him, and to which God has called him” (1 Cor 7:17).

What do you do with the downhill?

In high school cross country, my most favorite race was on our school’s home course.  It was also probably the hardest course in our league of schools.

The first mile was really nice paved path, a bit of up and down, but it overlooked water and beautiful mountains.  The second was a relatively flat trail through woods.

The third mile started right around the time you hit what was (and maybe still is) infamously called “Goat Hill.”  It’s only probably 30 feet long but it’s steep, narrow, and dusty, just a little opening in the trees.  You obviously couldn’t pass anyone and in order to get up it you literally had to grab onto branches to pull yourself up. By the time you got up it and hit a paved road, your quads were screaming.

But oh no, it wasn’t over then.  After you crossed that paved road you were about to hit 800 meters of uphill trail.  Not steep, but not gradual either.   At this point, you already feel like you just want to lay down on the side of the road and die, but there’s more.  And more.  And believe me, those 800 meters feel a lot longer than the first two miles.

If you’re a runner, maybe you just laid your head down on your desk or a tear  trickled down your cheek and you whispered out loud “I’m so sorry . . .”  Or you got this surge inside that made you want to put on your running clothes and hit the pavement.  Or maybe both emotions happened at the same time.  There is sort of this weird paradox or ambivalence I think all runners have about the sport.

If you’re not a runner, then you probably are confused or you just think I’m crazy for running in the first place.  Stick with me, though.

The last time I ran the course at Farragut State Park was fall of 1999, as a senior.  I still distinctly remember those 800 meters.  I put my head down, dug in, and ran. And ran. And ran.  I was passing groups of girls as I went.  Even though it was hard, I felt a little bit superhuman.  I was surprising myself.

After you reach the top, the last couple hundred meters are flat and then downhill grass into the finish line.  It’s the reward, I suppose.  It’s what everyone wants, right?  Well, they want the finish line, but next to that, the grassy downhill feels quite nice.

Even at 17 years of age, I realized the downhill was not what I wanted.  I am no different now. I want Goat Hill.  And more than that I want that hellish 800 meters.  When I run downhill I feel like I’m flailing, like I can’t control myself.  Frankly, I feel kinda like an idiot.

I found this also to be true when I started riding my bike a few years ago.  When I told Jason that I actually like doing hills he told me there are a few categories of cyclists.  There are descenders, sprinters, and you guessed it . . . climbers.  And inside I take some pride in the fact that I can call myself a climber.  When I ride downhill I’m constantly wanting to hit my brakes.  I can’t just let the bike go.

I have found similarities in labor and childbirth, too.  The first time I labored, it was like I was running the hardest and longest race I’ve ever ran.  But I put my head down and I dug in.  And I did it.  And again, I surprised myself.

I got a baby out of the deal, and that’s Ian.  And it’s not like I wasn’t glad it was over.  But I really liked that it was hard.

But what do you do after you cross the finish line and have achieved probably the best race of your life?  Or, even greater than that, you hold that beautiful gift of a child in your arms?  What do you do when everything is all congrats and happy times?  To me, accepting these things is harder than it is to walk through hard stuff, if that makes any sense.

These “easy” times, these times of joy and peace, I resist them far more than those 800 meters. Or, the transition or the four hours of pushing a baby out.  Or the steepest hill I’ve ever climbed on my bike.

I’ve had a lot of the hard stuff in this particular season. I’m not denying that it has been scary, excruciating at times, confusing.  I’ve wanted it to go away, like right now.

But now I’m getting what I wanted. I’m having more good days, and I don’t know what to do with them.  With the plenty, the energy, the clarity in my head, the predictability of the days, the motivation, the feeling like myself.  How do you live life with God in that?

I still have some hard days and I cry out to the Lord (mostly).  I need Him.  But on the good days, it just feels like I’m flailing on the easy downhill that is this world, tempted to be satisfied and pleased with what temporary things are constantly offered to me–money, stuff, distractions, reputation, image.  There is this weight of guilt just hovering about it all, and I can’t shake it off.  I can’t just let go.  But there’s got to be a way of running the downhill a different way.

And so oddly, I feel like I’m grieving the loss of feeling bad.  I want a little more of it because it’s painful, it’s familiar.  I know how to talk to God in the mess, and I sense deep down He hears me.  Maybe I feel like I deserve it or I’m earning His love in some way.  I haven’t quite figured it out, but what do I expect when I follow a religion, a Person, that is somehow simple and complex all at once?

The last few days the lyrics to a song I’ve been listening to by Tenth Avenue North have been stuck in my head.  In fact, they were part of the inspiration for writing about this particular subject.

Don’t stop the madness
Don’t stop the chaos
Don’t stop the pain surrounding me
Don’t be afraid, Lord, to break my heart
Just bring me down to my knees

Don’t stop the uphill, Lord.  Yet, yeah, I could use a break, that would be nice.  I don’t know what I want, dangit, and I certainly don’t know what I need.  Only you know that, Lord.

I know life feeling bad can’t go on forever.  There aren’t races out there that are completely uphill, at least I don’t think there are.  People wouldn’t run them (except maybe me and a few other crazies).  And my husband and kids and family and friends can’t handle my uphill forever, and they shouldn’t have to.

The Gospel talks a lot about suffering, but it does talk about indescribable joy.  There are times when the Lord is speaking of the receiving of it in eternity, but there are others when He means joy in our days on this earth.  It’s not like we receive our inheritance then; in many ways, we are receiving it now and moving forward in it.

The Bible talks about the dead coming back to life, and the lame being healed.  Jesus did not expect Lazarus or the beggar or Jairus and his daughter to go looking for some other fatal illness that would make life scary and miserable and end in paralyzation or death.  Suffering would inevitably come again for each one of them, but He gave them indescribable joy in those moments of healing and in the times that followed for each one of them.

I picked up Brother Lawrence’s little book to help me see if I could resolve this a little more for myself.  He has been a dependable help before.  But as I read his words, all they did was irritate me.  Practicing the presence of God just seemed to come so easily to him, even from the beginning.  Being a glutton for punishment, I need some struggle!  I suppose I should just keep reading, life gets miserable for everyone at some point.

But do you see, I’m still missing the point here?  And so God leads me back around to try to learn this life lesson again.

Right now there are days when I’ve got to run the downhill because it’s part of my life’s course.  There will probably be more of these days ahead.  God will decide.  So how do I practice His presence, live my life unto the Lord in the daily running about of getting things done?  Or parenting, marriage, friendship?  How do I not live in a worldly fashion, in a superficial way?  How do I talk more to God than just think about Him?

And heaven forbid, how do I do the things that I really love doing and not feel like in some way I’m doing them disobediently, apart from Him, or avoiding Him? I told you, I’ve said it, I’m a glutton for punishment!

But, these are the things I tell myself: If I forget about God or my heart doesn’t want Him, I have grace.  I still have HimHe holds all things together, regardless of their state.  He’s in the uphill and the downhill, He’s in the plateaus, He meets us at the finish line.  Although that “us” is corporate to followers of Jesus Christ, it also means me, because damn it, I’m His.  When will this sink in?  I hope it’s before I see His face.

On the good days, help me cling to these truths, Lord.  Do not let my fingers loosen their grip.

Maybe someone reading this can relate.  Maybe you’re a climber, too.  Or maybe, you thrive on the downhill and your fist raises up to heaven when the uphill comes; that’s when you loosen your grip.

Either way, we keep going and we try to figure it out.  And then we realize that trying to figuring out how to get up the hill or how to get down it is actually working against us.  And then God helps us do what we’re called to do–let go.

This season’s bucket list

Lately I’ve been thinking of things I want to accomplish. Maybe it’s me having this fanciful idea that I am more in control of my life than I actually am (not uncommon for me) or maybe it’s just me feeling better and looking forward to the future.

Actually, it’s probably both.  I do have this sort of Jekyll/Hyde thing going on in my personality (ask my husband).  And life is rarely black and white anyway.

This list is not really for when I’m better, but more things I want to accomplish on my journey. I don’t have a lot of expectations or a time frame. Well wait, that’s probably not true.  Somewhere in the far corners of my mind I almost always have expectations and deadlines for myself, but that is what therapy is for.

But, I digress.  Here is my list:

  1. Go blonder.  It really does a help a girl.
  2. Train and do an olympic duathlon.  I imagine myself crossing the finish line and having an emotional breakdown (the good kind) because LOOK AT ME I’VE COME SO FAR!!! (and I will mean in the figurative sense, not the literal one).
  3. Paint that blue wall in my kitchen that I don’t like. Well, I’m not totally committed to this.  I just know I’ve been staring at it for four years and I don’t like the color, but I don’t know what color to paint it.  I think one day a burst of energy will collide with a burst of creativity and my husband will come home to crabby children who’ve been neglected all afternoon because “TAH DAH!!!” the wall is now a different color and Mommy was the culprit.
  4. Start a collection of children’s books (and not for my children).  Actually, I’m already starting to do this with my own childhood books.  Some of them are on my shelf, some exist only on a Pinterest board for now.  What copies I do have I will guard with my life because my youngest is currently an obsessive compulsive page-ripper.
  5. Mat, frame, and hang our marriage vows in our bedroom.  Oh, how flowery and hopeful we were when we wrote those words!  But at least I can look over at them when we’re fighting in bed and they’ll remind me to shut up and dang it,  just say I’m sorry and MEAN IT.
  6. Have a “redo” on my marriage.  Ugh, that sounds so doomsday, but I don’t know how else to put it.  There was enough drama before we got to the altar, but since then we’ve had two miscarriages, four pregnancies, two children, and gone back to school and changed career courses.  We’ve had lots of fights and not as much laughter as we’d like.  Oh yes, and I’ve turned crazy for a while (well, more crazy, that is).  It’s time to slow down the drama and get to know each other and just heal and have fun.
  7. Can I say go to Kauai?  I just want to go there, PPD or not.
  8. Play the piano.  I’m not playing right now and God’s gently reminding me my soul needs it, but it’s scary to step into that creative realm with what little knowledge I have.
  9. Stop racking up medical bills.  I’m going to love the day when that line item on our excel spreadsheet has a black number in it instead of a red.  It’s not just about the money; it just seems that at the end of the month that number (whether black or red) correlates emotionally to the state of my health. It says something about progress.
  10. Make a PPD scrapbook.  This sounds so weird.  I wish I wasn’t using the word “scrapbook” but I’m not sure what else to call it.  I was reading this article, and it got me thinking it would be cool to document in tidbits the things that happen (good or bad) during this process and include some pictures, words of encouragement, etc.   I am an avid journaler so I guess I’m already putting this season into words for myself and for God, but to me this documentation would be more public.  It would be for my kids when they are older and for my 40 or 50 or 60 year-old self to read.  Or, maybe my daughter or daughter-in-law will find it useful someday.  Or maybe I’m just being redundant because I’m already doing that on this blog, I don’t know.

After this season, I have thoughts of also becoming a mushroom forager, learning how to play the banjo and cello at least relatively well, singing publicly, making jewelry, living on a farm, collecting doll houses, taking good pictures, and writing a book people would want to read. And I’d like Jason to walk me through Europe. Some of these just exist as dreams (because I’m afraid maybe I can’t accomplish them), others are more real to me.

I would also like to buy a house that I can spend years filling with antiques, books, photos, gifts from friends, family heirlooms and things I find on the side of the road or in little shops or in attics somewhere.  Actually, sometimes I imagine this house is my childhood home, but I’m not sure how that would ever become a reality.

But, these things are for later or for heaven or for never.  Some of them require me to be brave, others require money, time, energy or maturity.  For the sake of my sanity, I will just stick to my current bucket list.

Or maybe I won’t stick to it, only God knows.  No expectations, remember?

“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven” (Ecclesiastes 3:1).

This beautiful mess

What do I say about the last few weeks, months? It’s been November since I’ve said anything publicly about our family’s situation, though some of you close by have picked up details along the way.

What I can say in the simplest way is that we’re in the midst of a beautiful mess.  This is my dear friend Keisha‘s statement about life (thank you in advance for letting me borrow it, Keisha, I know you understand).  I can’t think of a better way of putting it. As I ramble on with my thoughts maybe you can make sense of it, too.

So back in November, I was on an upswing. Yes, I did wish I was all better, but I was getting better and that can feel so amazing, even before you get to being actually well.  My mom even said to me at one point “Yes, you are definitely doing better because you’ve started to boss me around again.”

December came and we had a lovely Christmas, with all kinds of fun and festivities, candles and music, Pinterest inspiration and delicious sweets, hosting and going to parties.  I wanted to post about these things, but I didn’t because I was worried that other moms reading my blog would think “Wow, she has PPD and she’s doing this?! And making 250 Christmas cookies with her husband? And writing her own liturgy for her family for Advent Sundays?!  What kind of mother does that make me?”

Well, at the time I felt really happy.  I was feeling a deep sense of satisfaction about things in life that I had really forgotten existed.  I felt invigorated (returning back from what you thought was hell can do that to a person).  And I like being crafty and I like Christmas, so sue me.

But in January things changed.  And now I’m the mom who drops her child off at preschool every Monday and Thursday wearing the same sweatpants, winter hat, and my glasses (to distract from my face if I’m not wearing makeup or have been crying). And now I’ve just let out all my self-protective methods of coping.

And did I mention that my mother-in-law has to drive us all to preschool drop-off because I’m on the kind of happy medication that makes it difficult for me to safely maneuver a large moving vehicle with precious children in it?

Yeah, you don’t see any of that on Pinterest.  But then again, maybe you should.

To clarify, there were numerous factors as to why January became such a hard, hard month.  These included changes in medication, tanking sleep, and just the toll this has taken on Jason and I’s relationship.  Jason is trying to help me function while growing a small business and transitioning his career, and finishing up his accounting classes to eventually take the CPA.

Because of the load he carries, sometimes I ask if he wants to partake in any of the wide of array of medications I’ve acquired in my own personal pharmacy.  He turns me down because he knows I’m kinda crazy right now.

I don’t mean to be jokey and sarcastic about this and to make too much light of it.  When it hurts, it hurts a lot.  When it’s scary, it’s really scary, and my personality is one that naturally wants to stick to fear anyway.

It’s also hard to know what to do with myself and I get the impression it’s hard for other people to know what to do with me, too.  There are a special breed of people out there who know just how to listen, what to say and not to say, how to speak or act the love of God into a person’s life who is struggling with mental illness.  I am thankful I know some of these people and they have shown me the love of Christ in hard times.

But, I can’t say that I’m even one of those gifted people and I don’t blame others who aren’t either.  It’s just a hard, uncomfortable, invisible, intangible thing that’s messy.

But back to my original metaphor.  It is messy, but it is beautiful, even on the hardest days. And here are some reasons why:

  • I’ve listened to The Welcome Wagon’s version of “I know That My Redeemer Lives” many times.  I just keep listening to that album over and over.
  • I run (which is such a wonderful thing in my life), even if it is with tears streaming down my face.
  • Even though there have been many times I’ve been so mad at Jason for one reason or another (founded or unfounded), he goes and writes me a love letter on Valentine’s Day.  He tells me that he misses the true me, but that he loves the me that I am now just as much.
  • I think about eternity every day.
  • In the middle of a panic attack, laying on the floor, at least I can look up and see my husband’s face and feel his hand holding mine. I am not left alone (mental note: must repeat that to myself a MILLION times and continue counseling for this very reason).
  • The other day, even though I was feeling down, I found myself sitting at a sunny Golden Gardens in the grass with Ian in my lap, watching the sailboats come in and out and talking about whatever came into his mind.
  • The invigorating and practical conversations I’ve had with my BSF small group and all the ways that what we’re learning about Abraham and Isaac and God’s promises to His children applies to my struggles with such timeliness.
  • The expertise and insight my psychiatric nurse practitioner has given me that has guided me through confusing and unknown territory.  God has used her to talk sense to me and she allows me to share what I believe about God and what He’s doing in my life.
  • Some friends and pastors praying over me and anointing me with oil. It felt like a very natural thing to do (why is that surprising to me?).  And I did not feel shame in sharing or being spiritually cared for in this way.
  • How Ian saw my tears this morning and he came up and started singing me a song he made up about how God is good.
  • Our prayers to God to bring us help for our family when we felt totally at a loss as to what to do next.  And how my mother-in-law was the answer to that prayer by stopping her life in Georgia, taking medical leave from her job indefinitely and coming up here to help our family get through this time.  How is that not God’s beautiful provision in a royal mess?

There are many more, but there’s one last one that I want to share.  It’s just so my personality to have just one more thing to say.

I had seen the millions of heart balloons hanging all over Fred Meyer for weeks and I decided I wanted to get one for Ian for Valentine’s Day (remember, I am superficial about this holiday).  He had a Valentine’s Party that day in preschool and I was going to pick him up and bring the balloon to give it to him when he came out the door.  I wasn’t sure if he would think it was lame or absolutely love it, but I knew there would be no in-between reaction.

Well, he LOVED it.  He thought it was the best thing in the world.  There’s a little courtyard outside preschool where the kids run around, and he bolted out there to pull it around in the air, so proud and excited.

But then, within five minutes, the unthinkable happened.  That shiny red helium-filled heart detached from the string and gently floated away.  It wasn’t like Ian was yanking on it.  In fact, he just stood there as it happened and watched.

And then the tears came, and I think some shame, and he walked over and burrowed his face in my chest.  It was going away, it was gone.  At the very least, I hope someone, somewhere saw it floating in the sky and it put a smile on their face.

Well, we went right back to Fred Meyer and the nice, older ladies thought Ian and his story were precious and were happy to give him another balloon.  This time he picked out a blue heart.

But now here’s where the mess gets really, really beautiful.  We got home and were walking towards the front door and out of nowhere Ian said to me, “Mom, when Jesus comes back for us I want to bring my balloon with me. It can just be me, Jesus, and my balloon and we’ll hang out.”

That, people, is the beauty that God is bringing us all to, in the Kingdom He is making, even now as we deal with hard things.

Ian held onto that blue balloon all day.  He held it as he sat on the couch and watched TV.  He defended it every time someone insisted it was really purple.  He felt extremely threatened with the mention of it being taken away as a suggested consequence.  He loves that balloon so much I think it has become a permanent fixture in our home since he’s attached it to the handrail of our stairs in such a way that we can’t get it untangled.  And we don’t dare cut it with scissors.

Why am I telling you all these details? Because it’s a story I want to remember.  And to say that life has hope even when it’s really, really shitty.  Jesus is coming back, but He’s also here.  God makes a beautiful mess out of it all.  And to Him it’s not really even a mess, but He must understand when we use that terminology to help make sense out of what’s going on in our lives.

This is my story today.  And though I question it at times, many times even in the course of a day, it is beautiful.

“I am convinced that if I had been healthier, I would not have been able to write this book.  I might have been able to write a different book, but I could not have written this one.” -Sarah Young, commenting on the writing of her devotional Jesus Today

On postpartum depression

I’m here on this blog again and ready to do some sharing.  And from seeing my title, you can guess where I’m going with this.

To give a brief update, about a month ago things took a sad turn for me.  Literally sad.  I had been dealing with what I considered adrenal fatigue for the last year and a half, but in the last months I was starting to wonder if it was not postpartum depression.  My dear neighbor read this blog post and suggested that maybe PPD was the problem.  I wasn’t sure at that time; my mood has generally not been great for a while now, but I was functional and I figured when I slept better I would feel better.

And then all of the sudden I felt absolutely miserable.  For a few weeks I vacillated between tearful bouts of feeling overwhelmed, to yelling rages to really elevated anxiety. Then what came a few weeks later was sadness–really sad.  It felt like my brain was sick. And I knew I had ventured into territory that confirmed it was PPD.

Maybe that was the problem all along, I don’t know.  Now that I’ve had some really good days, days where I am able to take deep satisfaction in the daily things of life, I realize that I haven’t felt that way in a very long time.  It feels good now, but it certainly is a contrast.

I am thankful that it became so obvious.  I didn’t like the way I felt or the way life was going or what it was doing to our family, but at least there was clarity as to what the problem was.  Through the last year I have always wondered what is really wrong with me.  So many times it just felt like I was shooting in the dark.  That is torturous in its own way for someone who struggles with wanting to be in control.

It’s been a month since I sat tearfully in my midwife’s office and told her my story.  I have received such great care there, I am really thankful for that, too.  For those of you who have dealt with this sort of thing, you know it still takes time to feel better.  And that has been my journey.

I am thankful for Jason who has listened even when listening means dealing with an angry, fearful person. I’m thankful for the times he’s come home because I’m overwhelmed.  Really, he’s done a million different helpful, compassionate things to make this situation more bearable.

I’m thankful for the friends who have prayed and asked me how I’m doing.  Those who have brought food to us or given hugs or even just acted normal around me so I can feel like life is normal, too.

I’m thankful for family who have come to visit and helped me with the kids and given me time to myself.  The time alone has been really beneficial, especially now that I have some more brain space to do some thinking.  And in that thinking the Lord has given me a couple of observations that I’d like to share.

First, I was finally able to find a metaphor to help me make sense of this experience. It’s like for the last two years I’ve been walking around with a big net cast over me.  Some days I walk around and it gets all tangled to the point I can barely move; those are hard days. Other days it is freer and I may forget its there for brief periods.  But then it catches on something or restricts me or I’m just that’s it there.  And I can’t get it off on my own.

Thankfully, even though I’m still recovering, I am not feeling this way anymore.  But as I said, this word picture was an “ah ha” for me.

The second revelation I had happened while I was running.  I haven’t been exercising regularly for a long time, but last week I felt particularly good and started running again.  Dad & Linda had the kids for me so I headed for the Burke.  I think it was the first time I had ventured there by foot in over a year.

I crossed Leary at the traffic stop, as I have done so many, many times before.  Even though it has been a long time, the movement of my body, the places my feet step, the things I look at, they all come back again as habit, like riding a bike.

As I got to the other end of the cross walk and turned toward the trail I had this thought:

“Right now I just want to pretend I’m the person I was two years ago, before all this happened.”

And for a moment that sounded like a good idea.  And then as I thought about it more, it sounded like a really dumb idea.

I don’t want to be the person I was two years ago.  If I still was, I wouldn’t have her:

Or wrinkles.  I don’t like them, but I like the wisdom I have received in the acquisition of them.

Or two years of living life with Jason and seeing his new career take shape or seeing how God is working on him in this struggle.  How he has held me and let me cry, with no way to explain what was wrong.  Those moments have been like salve in areas where our relationship is wounded.

Or the honest conversation I had with my neighbor and the wetness in her eyes when I told her that I wanted to have more kids but if it was going to be like this again, I couldn’t imagine it.

Or the look on my doctor’s face the time I sat in her office and shed tears as I told her that I was having a hard time with fear since my last miscarriage.  The look on her face was one of compassion and empathy.

Or the conversation I had with a close friend on the phone and how her story has been so different from mine and yet there are parts of it that tell me that she understands the loss I feel about certain things.  She has given me many wise words to ponder.

Or the email I received from my father-in-law who said he was praying hard for me and that Jesus was holding me in His arms.

Or the long conversation I had with my mom, sitting in the back of the van in the dark, sharing some things with her about my situation that I had not before.  She listened and mothered me and put things in perspective.  And of course, as any good mom would do, she called me the next day to see how I was holding up (she does this frequently).

Or how I’ve seen God take care of my children in a time when in a lot of ways I haven’t been completely present to them.  Somehow I’ve been able to teach and discipline and listen and give to them; not perfectly, but well.  How they have passed through this time is a miracle.

And what about all the times I have had to call upon the Lord because I am so tired and weary?  Or the times I’ve been forgiven for my anger, my complaints, my quest for control? These are precious jewels to me.

If I sat and thought about it longer, I would come up with many more stories. It’s true that in my darkest days, I didn’t feel that God was doing anything good with this.

But as you can see, I am seeing His goodness more and more.  And maybe at some point, what I went through will of help to another weary mom–I can hope for that.