I struggled with depression for years and years and years, for most of my life, really. I actually get depressed just thinking about getting depressed again, it sucks that bad. The thing about depression is that you aren’t just in a bad mood. It’s not that you are sad and cry easily, or that you sit around crying for no reason. It’s that you aren’t operating as a human being. Your soul knows that it is supposed to act one way (smile at the beautiful sunshine, because it is giving life to you as it shines on you), but your head is not letting you. It is keeping you hostage. It takes that natural instinct of satisfaction in the sunshine and washes it in bleach, so that it looks like the rest of what you just felt. I think it’s like starting to feel something and then, every single time, you stop mid-feeling. Imagine that our thoughts and feelings are all riding a train, and they all look and seem as different as they are supposed to. At the last stop, before they come out of us as words or actions, something malfunctions, they drive through a force-field that zaps everything into bone-white empty boxes. This is why people don’t actually like being depressed, or why you can’t say, “I don’t mind being depressed.” This is why depression is an actual physiological thing and not something we decide to ‘try out’.
I didn’t know how to find God in the midst of my depression. It does turn out that He was there all along, and that’s something that I really appreciate about Him. I have learned that I can simply trust that He is always there, always interceding for me; it may not seem like it at the time but my own personal experiences have shown that I could always look back and recognize His hand.
God really does like to make sure that He keeps His promises to us. As humans, we have a lot of junk to deal with. Junk inside of ourselves, inside of other people, even the most beautiful and innocent piece of nature has some kind of junk. It’s hard to believe He is there a lot of the time. Everyone always breaks their promises at some point or another, and it’s our natural instinct to assume that God will too. A lot of us are on the lookout for ways to say that God has broken His promises. Some of us, like me, just fall asleep and wait until God comes to rescue us. I thought that I didn’t have to do anything; if I just keep my eyes closed that one day when I opened them everything would look different. But not only different, it would look better.
Because of my depression I was very frustrated, so I dealt with a lot of anger. Just about everything made me angry. I remember feeling so angry that my friend was buying her first house, even though they weren’t going about it in a stupid way. It really was the best option for them. I remember just being bent out of shape, and I was so frustrated that I was angry, because I knew that it didn’t make an ounce of sense to be angry; somewhere inside of me I was trying to be happy for her and to be excited for her but I couldn’t. I could only be angry.
A lot of people would say that I didn’t have to get angry. I thought the same thing myself. I thought that I was choosing to get angry, even though I didn’t want to. I mean, if you get down to it, anger is basically deliberate. HOWEVER, at some point the angry people have to recognize what is happening, and see how much it makes our own lives suck, and the lives of the people around us. Honestly, though, a lot of people just plain like to get angry. It makes them feel good about themselves. They associate it with power and validation and justice, so they think they have a right to be angry. I can honestly say that I did not like it. I hated it. I felt like I was infected by a disease, that I was dying, and no matter how hard I ran, I couldn’t outrun what was right inside of me.
Once the angry people have self-awareness that we have become a slave to one single emotion, and that it is ruining our lives, we need to go about making it right. It’s not okay to just shrug and say, “This is how it is. This is how I am.” That simply isn’t true. We aren’t meant to be angry. Angry isn’t a personality trait. It’s a defense. It is ammunition for a war. We don’t get to start making excuses for it, or for ourselves.
I spent a lot of time gnashing my teeth and harassing God, asking Him, “Why don’t You fight for me?” I was incredibly angry, and this was the real kind of anger, not the kind of frustrated anger. This was angry at God kind of anger, which looks unlike anything else. One day, clear as day, a shot of calm through the tumult inside of me, He asked me, “Why don’t you fight for yourself?” I thought that was really wrong. I am only a small human, and I should not have to fight my battles. God was supposed to vindicate me like all of those really empowering verses say. From then on, every time I would ask Him, why didn’t He fight for me, I felt His same answer coming back to me.
This went on for a really long time.
On top of getting angry that the depression was stealing from me and I was plain getting tired of it, I was anxious. When you hear somebody say they have anxiety it doesn’t mean they don’t like sitting still, or that they are high-energy. It means that they are solely focused on everything going wrong. This is usually the problem of control-freaks. Obviously something is wrong if it isn’t is in our control. Obviously. And since depression takes the control away from us, we begin to feel anxiety; we begin to see that the world is literally swirling down a huge giant toilet. This is what people mean when they say the world is going to hell in a handbasket. It isn’t a handbasket, it is a giant toilet with the loudest flush that ever flushed.
Since the world is being flushed down the toilet the person with anxiety feels like they are simultaneously spinning like mad and drowning. It is not surprising for people with anxiety to puke a lot, and that’s a fact. I don’t actually know that it is a fact, but I am basically certain that it is. At least it was for me. I got a lot of migraines, and my nerves were bad, and so I would puke a lot. My body was apparently trying to purge the disease. Some people smoke or drink because of their anxiety. I puked.
Occasionally when making small talk people would ask what I did for fun. The pressure I felt from that question began to hammer on all hollow parts of my body. I felt the physical pain of this as my anxiety would flare up. The sad truth was that I didn’t do a good job of having fun unless a lot was going on and a lot of people were involved or unless someone else was doing all the talking. I had really reached the point where I was totally unrelatable. I honest to God didn’t relax. I would swear to God but that is taboo. I was always doing something. Even in my downtime I was keeping busy with something else. I would work on a project while watching TV. When I slept my dreams were all bad. I felt like I was producing so much energy that my skin hurt, my hairs were standing on end, my head ached constantly. I am shocked that I did not set off car alarms just by walking by, or that dogs didn’t bark at me because they could hear a high-frequency whine coming off of me, or that I didn’t cause all the light bulbs to blow up and rain down on us all. I realized that I was always rocking my teeth back and forth against each other, that my knee was always bouncing. People would comment on this bouncing knee. “Nervous?” they would ask. I don’t remember what I said in response. Probably something like that I was cold. Which was probably also true. I was always cold. We called it being a freeze-baby.
If it sounds like I am being melodramatic, I suppose in part this is because I am a writer and I have to get you to sympathize with what I am saying. Also, I tended towards the sensational in a rather low key kind of way, if that is allowed. I don’t think I tried to mask my brooding, what I liked to refer to as my ‘depth’, unfortunately for the rest of the world. I was occasionally outlandish and brazen but ultimately I was a sullen individual, not prone to casual conversation, and a lot of people admit that they did not find me to be friendly. Unless we were actually friends. Because I was what the times referred to as ‘emo’ this made me kind of proud. I am really embarrassed about this. I guess looking back I can say that the ‘emo’ phase ended after I entered the military at the ripe old age of 17, and it transformed into recklessness and various forms of lunacy. By the time I got of the military at the ripe old age of 22 I was an actual stone instead of a person, and this was to save everyone and mostly myself from what was going on inside of me.
Thank goodness I began to be tired of it all. I wasn’t an imbecile. I knew that I needed help, but I flat-out forbade myself from seeking it. I was completely against the stigma. Been there done that. Unfortunately, the practitioners I had seen as a ‘troubled’ teenager probably thought I was pathetic, they barely tried to tap into me, they were happy to prescribe my pills and weren’t interested at all to know me. I lied to them a lot. I wasn’t interested in doing the same thing all over again.
It was kind of a miracle that I wound up telling the physician that I didn’t care if I drove my car into a tree.
It kind of just came out.
I know how that sounds, but it wasn’t a melodramatic moment at all. She was asking the questions she was supposed to ask, and I think I just sighed in resignation and said, “Well, ma’am, quality of life really isn’t that great right now, considering I wouldn’t even mind if my car wound up driving into a tree.” I’m sure I smiled apologetically, and she didn’t write down, “Watches too many romance movies.” She told me what we could do about that.
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 okay, physically and mentally. 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 of talking to my friends, or some stranger getting paid to listen to me? 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, and I did. And probably a lot worse.
Very nicely she 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.
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 my therapist 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 thing was 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 practicer 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 yoga. Yoga is the epitome of mindfulness, which is life-changing for someone with anxiety.
Mindfulness is the 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 100 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. I didn’t want any of it to be going on inside of me, but I was completely hijacked inside.
Mindfulness is picturing 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. As this 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. I never sat down by myself and practiced the actual meditative process of mindfulness, 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, just saying.
With room in my mind, Dr. K and I were able to start digging around in there. What is actually going on in here?
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’. You see, I learned that boundaries are not only healthy but necessary for a relationship to work well. Dr. K and I spent a long time working on that, and what it’s supposed to look like, and I suddenly found myself able to be in relationships with other people. I had gone for so long in unhealthy relationships, and then basically refusing to have any relationships or have them to the fullest. 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 ‘enlightment’ bothered you just pretend I said ‘cool’.
Then my number two enlightening (or cool) moment happened, which is the third principle from my time with Dr. K. EMN 1 could not have been so successful without EMN 2, 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, I would go in the closet to cry so that not even my husband would 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 after each one. That probably would have been a really good idea.
EMN 1 came early on in our relationship, and EMN 2 about halfway through. I was really ready for EMN 2. I only remember that 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 bricks 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 some bricks. How my mind would protest.
She probably stopped me when I was in the middle of protesting about that, and she had me stand up.
We were in an office, so it was kind of cramped quarters, 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, of which there were a plethora. 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 have at 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 my head off, 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 Dr. K. 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 anxiety was not to bully myself through it but to accept that I needed an anti-inflammatory. This 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 one guy on the radio program explained how anti-anxiety medicine is like an anti-inflammatory for the brain, and that really resonated with me. I would go from 0-60 in a second flat, become so agitated so quickly that my mind would literally be spinning, and all of this felt compounded because I am an internal kind of person and never threw things or yelled my head off or anything like that. So the anti-inflammatory meds for my mind probably really 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.
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 even 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.
It didn’t stay away forever. Everyone has a bent, and mine is depression and anxiety, but at least I understand that it will not last forever, that it cannot last forever if I am doing my part. 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.