I was getting evaluated at the VA because I had been out of the military for about a year by then, and they wanted to do a follow-up to make sure that I was doing OK, holistically, so to speak. By then I couldn’t stop focusing on the fact that something was really wrong with me, and that my husband deserved to be with someone who would be proactive and responsible. I knew in my heart that I couldn’t be a good wife if I was refusing to find a better way.
I like to think that I would have eventually girded my loins and taken the plunge into the bottomless and icy cold black hole of the mental health world on my own. What it really comes down to, though, if I am remembering correctly, is that my cousin was going to school to get her degree in therapy at the same time I couldn’t stop thinking about giving it a try again. I told her that I had been having a nagging in the back of my bleached out mind about going to therapy, but I just couldn’t understand why it was necessary. What was the difference between talking to my friends or paying some random person for the same thing? It made me angry to think about, to tell you the truth. It made me feel taken advantage of and out-of-control. It made me want to say ‘damnit’ all the time, which I did. And a lot worse.
Very nicely, my cousin had said to me, “Well, cousin…” (we all call each other cousin; not in a hill-billy back-country kind of way but in the kind of way you would say ‘mom’ or ‘dad’ or ‘aunt’ or ‘your majesty’ or ‘teacher’. It is who they are, and it really brings people a good laugh when they are around us. It fills them with joy, really, to see us be so reverent about each other). She said, ”Well, cousin, a therapist is a professional. And that means they hear what you have to say, and then they teach you the proper skills to help you work through that, so that you don’t have to deal with it anymore, and so that you can know what to do in the future.”
This was very distracting for me. It was very distracting because now it made sense. Now I had to do it.
Then the VA contacted me and told me about the evaluation, and it was during that visit that I revealed my complacency about life and/or driving to the physician, and then I found myself on my first visit to my new therapist (whom I will henceforth refer to as ‘the doctor’. Give credit where credit is due, you know?).
I was very nervous about this lady not being a Christian, but I had to go to her because she was free through the VA and because God wanted to use her in such an amazing way in my life. She could never know how much He worked through her. And that is just so beautiful to me. God always finds a way to keep His promises, even when it doesn’t seem like He has anything to use. He can use anything He wants. And I love that. My therapist did not profess Jesus Christ as her Lord and Savior, but she for sure equipped me and walked me through a very dark night of the soul and here I am today, living out loud for Christ, and all because of her. She didn’t even get to see me through until the end; she didn’t even get to see the dawn breaking over me, shedding light into my bleached out mind, but it all started with her. Do you remember how the Bible says to plant the seed, to nurture the seeds that others have planted, even if we don’t see the results? This woman wasn’t even a Christian and she was living by that principle.
I am so strong now, so healthy, so confident and secure that I am probably kind of annoying.
I gave the doctor a really hard time the first time I went to see her. The first couple times. The whole time, actually, as I’m looking back on it. You would think that I had a court order to be there, or something.
Most of what we talked about eludes me, but I left my time with her full to the brim and recharged on three basic principles.
The first principle was the practice of mindfulness. This may sound very New Age and Buddhist to the more spiritually sensitive of you. I will confess right here and now that I am an avid doer of yoga, but that you shouldn’t be alarmed because I am in no way a Yogi. I love the exercise of yoga: I do not worship it, or myself, or my ‘practice’, but it is impossible to feel yucky inside out after leaving a yoga session. Yoga is the epitome of mindfulness, which is life-changing for someone with anxiety.
Mindfulness is the intentional process of removing thoughts from your mind. I’m not sure what the actual definition of it is, but that is what I took away from it. Anxiety usually yields about a hundred thoughts in just as many seconds. None of them make sense, and none of them do any good. They are just exhausting, which yields even more anxiety. It is even worse when a single thought revisits on rapid fire. I’ve spent hours, even days, honestly I’ve spent years, obsessing over the same thoughts and ideas. And the really awful thing is that no matter how much I thought about them they didn’t change, or get better, or resolve. My mind was on the fritz.
Mindfulness if kind of like meditation in that you are supposed to picture the actual process of taking out these thoughts and putting them away. Setting them on a leaf that goes floating by, if you will. It is recognizing that the world does not end, and that no one is in jeopardy, if I say ‘no’ to some of my many thoughts. It is recognizing that not all thoughts are legitimate, or even valid, and that they are something that just ‘happen’, instead of something that we ‘produce’. As mindfulness is practiced it becomes easier to be aware of racing thoughts, and to harness them and reign them in. To discard them and shuffle them about.
Each time I saw her, the doctor would walk me through an exercise in mindfulness. When I was home I never actually sat down by myself and went through it, but I developed an awareness about my mental process, and with practice I have gotten very good at keeping my thoughts in check. Anti-anxiety medicine really helps with this. It is crucial, to be honest. I suppose this is where I should make my plug for psychiatric medication. For instance, my thyroid hormone is no good so I have to take a thyroid replacement. The hormones controlling my emotions are also not in the greatest of working order. I honestly don’t know if they ever will be. But anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medicine are an actual supplement for something that our body is supposed to produce a certain way but isn’t. This might be harder for you to understand if you are not a woman, and I don’t say that because I am a feminist but because it’s true. You know those pictures of the mad scientist’s chemistry lab, with bubbling beakers and tubes dripping neon fluids? This is what the inside of a woman’s body looks like. Women go through a constant cycle of hormone changes, if you catch my drift, and I am not reducing women to their biology I am just stating a fact. I am kind of cursed when it comes to hormones, in an all around kind of way, and it sucks tremendously. Just as I am not ashamed for taking my thyroid medication, I am not ashamed for taking my anti-anxiety medicine. I even have to take birth control for extra hormonal support.
With room in my mind, thanks to mindfulness (which was supported by my new prescription of Zoloft), the doctor and I were able to start digging around in there. “What is actually going on in here?” we said to my mind.
This is when the ultimate enlightening moment of my life came about. I hope that the word ‘enlightening’ is not offensive to you since I was just talking about yoga and mindfulness. I don’t mean it in the Eastern way of ‘transcendence’ but in the more historical way of ‘the dawning of reason’. It is the second of the three principles I mentioned earlier; second only because it happened after the introduction of mindfulness and before the third. You see, I learned that boundaries are not only healthy but necessary for a relationship to work well. I didn’t know that boundaries even existed in relationships, for better or for worse. I just thought people were interacting and what you got was what you got. For example, when I was a young teen I worked at a pizza place where the manager would actually yell at me. He knew that it was wrong because he would joke about it at the end of the day as if he was afraid I was going to tell on him. But the fact of the matter was that I didn’t know it was wrong. I would feel like I was going to be sick as i walked to work, but I never put two and two together. It is safe to say that I was naive when it came to boundaries.
The doctor and I spent a long time working on that, and what healthy relationships are supposed to look like, and I suddenly found myself able to be in healthy relationships. I had gone for so long with messes everywhere. That began to change, and I began to see and realize the merit, the actual benefit, of other human beings. Not only that, but that I also could be beneficial to others, and that I mattered too. It was like coming alive, and that is really cool. If the word ‘enlightenment’ bothered you earlier just pretend I said ‘cool’.
The third principle from my time with the doctor could not have been so successful without the second, and vice versa.
I think this is when I really began to stop giving her such a hard time. Like I said, I gave her a hard time. I was really aggressive with this lady, and it wasn’t necessarily because I wanted to be a jerk but because there was an actual physical process inside of me that kept me from interacting openly with another human being. I mean, if I couldn’t fight the urge, I would go in the closet to cry so that my husband wouldn’t know. I knew that this lady would have to drag me out of myself, and by the grace of God she rose to the challenge. By the third session she had thrown out the relaxed posture with her hands folded and she was sitting up straighter; she completely changed her tone of voice from docile to challenging, and she began to fill in the silences, keeping things moving, pushing back at my shoves. It was quite exhilarating, really, and I probably should have taken my running shoes to each appointment so that I could have gone for a jog. That would have been a great idea. I guess that is what they mean when they say that hindsight is twenty twenty.
The third principle was introduced when she stopped us in the middle of our conversation. I was probably saying something about how angry it made me feel when people say that happiness is a choice. I used to want to throw things at people when they said that: wouldn’t I actually be happy if I could be? I wanted to say ‘damnit’ at them and throw things heavy enough and hard enough to do some damange. My mind would just protest that, you know?
The doctor probably stopped me when I was in the middle of going on about the injustice of it all, and she had me stand up.
We were in an office, so it was kind of cramped, and I was feeling kind of embarrassed about having to stand up, but it would have been even more embarrassing to refuse so I did what she said.
She gave me her empty trash bin and filled it up with some enormous books from her bookshelf. She told me that the trash bin full of psych material was like my depression. She made me hold the bin out as far from my body as I could and walk across the room. Of course I wanted to be good at it but I wasn’t, because the point wasn’t about being good at it, it was about how hard it was to carry a burden like that. She told me then to hold the bin in a way that was comfortable for me, and to walk across the room like that, and so I did.
The depression is there either way, she told me. It’s not about getting rid of the depression, because it will be there as long as it will be there. It’s about how we manage it. It’s about how we ‘hold’ it. The depression wasn’t myself, it was a burden in my life, it was something that I had to carry for the time being, which is why I took it so personally, because I couldn’t get rid of it, but I could manage it well if I only knew how.
I’m really glad that I didn’t start laughing hysterically, or even crying for that matter, because that would have really ruined the moment for me. The point is that I suddenly felt so incredibly liberated that I wanted to celebrate.
I left that day a new person.
The depression did not leave me right after my time with the doctor. It was as she said: it was just something in my life. I continued taking my medicine, and I coupled it with therapy off and on. I learned how to manage my thoughts and feelings while my body was being mended. I would not have been able to bridge the gap emotionally if the gaps had not been bridged physiologically, I know that for certain.
I learned that the best way to get rid of the anxiety was not to bully myself through it but to accept that I needed an anti-inflammatory. That is the cool way of describing anti-anxiety medicine. I heard it on one of the many radio programs that I listen to, and thankfully Christian radio today tries to get the word out that it’s okay to take psychiatric medicine; that we don’t have to feel guilty for it, like we’re not letting the Holy Spirit do His job if we are on them or something. The guy on the program explained how anti-anxiety medicine is like an anti-inflammatory for the brain, and that really resonated with me. I would go from zero to sixty in an instant, completely unable to talk myself down, and all of this felt compounded because I internalized everything and never threw things or yelled. So the anti-inflammatory meds for my mind probably lengthened my life by a few years. They say that stress shaves off some of our time, and stress is one word for what I was going through.
As an added bonus the medication helped me prioritize. Since, like anyone with a good case of anxiety, I was a control freak, I had to learn how to let God be in charge. I really wanted to let God be in charge, but this is probably what took me the longest to achieve, and I am still achieving it today. It has been one heck of a process, letting go little bits here, little bits there, always finding new ones, always discovering that I have taken back a previously surrendered area. At this time in my life, and for some time now, I can honestly say that I do not worry much because I have complete confidence in the Maker of the Heavens and the Earth, and you can take that straight to the bank.
The greatest freedom a person can know is the sweetest surrender.
In time I began to feel the sneaking suspicion that I wasn’t depressed anymore. It was creeping up on me sometimes, the thought that I was free of it. But I was too afraid to think about it outright, and too afraid to say it out loud. I had been depressed most of my life, it seemed straight-up impossible to not be anymore. I didn’t want to draw attention to it in case I got depressed again right away and had to be like, “Nevermind.”
Sure enough, though, it was really gone, and I began to talk about it.
I am so thankful to God for that, and I pray His blessings on all those amazing doctors and specialists out there who change people’s lives by helping them see what life really looks like. Of course it didn’t stay away forever. I already said everyone has a bent, and mine is depression and/or anxiety, but at least I understand that it will not last forever, that it cannot last forever because one day I will be living in a perfect body, restored to my Creator in Heaven, and none of all of this will matter anymore.