Friday, October 21, 2016

The Fraudulent I-Have-It-All-Together Pedestal

My thoughts are a jumbled mess inside my head and it's been a few weeks since I've managed to untangle any of them. I've tried, believe me I've tried. I have countless drafts, run-on sentences, messy outpourings from my heart, broken attempts at processing and composing something that feels worth sharing. The writing life, I'm discovering, isn't for the insecure or faint of heart. One always finds oneself questioning - what is the point? Am I saying anything of worth? What do I have to offer than hasn't been said before? Will my words touch any souls? It is easy to talk oneself out of sharing, to practice avoidance. And now that I have let the whole wide internet know of my depression, I am tempted to run and hide and never speak of it again. But what good would that do?

This journey is terrifying for so many reasons. There are moments when I feel surges of hope and elation, anticipating a lighter, brighter perspective on life. I long for a life less consumed by anxiety and fear and heaviness. Maybe this isn't, in fact, how the rest of the world experiences life when they begin each new day. Maybe this isn't how God intended for me to feel. 

And then there are other now more-common moments when my throat wells with panic. I can barely type the words for fear that even forming this sentence on paper will automatically bring it to fruition: What if this is all there is? What if these medications make no difference and these symptoms I've been experiencing are simply the realities of life on this earth? What if I don't actually have a chemical imbalance? What if I'm just weak and can't handle my life? With each day that passes on this new medication without obvious relief, I begin to worry that this is it - my forever and always. I try to hold out hope that there are still other options but these are the kinds of thoughts that plague me. Obviously, anxiety is still a very-present struggle.

The last few months, as I've waded straight into the thick of my darkest inward places, I've been wrestling a hard battle and it's difficult to determine who is winning on any given day. Back in my "better-functioning" days (though I'm sure my counselor would challenge that statement and wonder whether I was actually functioning well at all), I used to have tabs on most things in my life. I cleaned my bathrooms and vacuumed my floors on a weekly basis. I was ultra productive and as busy as all heck. I could juggle dozens of balls at the same time and only on rare occasions would I lose track of even one. I managed to support my husband while he attended grad school AND worked full time, all the while raising three children, managing our house, working part time and co-coordinating the MOPS program at my church for three straight years. I look back on that phase on my life and I honestly have no idea how I did all that. The only thing I can recall as that I mastered the art of sending emails and writing meeting agendas while breastfeeding. Today I feel like the queen of accomplishment if I even manage to get dressed.

Am I proud of those years? This is a question I have never really asked myself until now. The old me would have said an absolute and obvious yes (!!!) because that old me was functioning under a whole different set of principles - my deep desire to stay on the pedestal and look like I had it all together and, in doing so, somehow win the affection of others.

These days are a lot different. I think there are a number of factors at play. When my counselor first urged me to seek alternate pharmaceutical treatment for my depression and anxiety, I was relieved. It felt so validating to hear from an external party (and a professional at that) that the signs of depression were operating. Initially I felt hopeful - there might be a form of treatment that could make things better! And then in the days that followed, things took a turn. Like a knit blanket whose yarn has snagged on a rough edge, I felt myself beginning to unravel. Slowly my "functioning" self dissipated and I felt myself slipping into alignment with the descriptions one might read of a person suffering from depression. Unmotivated to complete daily tasks? Check. Exhausted? Check. Indecisive? Always. Loss of interest in hobbies and activities one used to find enjoyable? For sure.

It's as if in finally accepting the diagnosis of depression, I finally allowed myself to feel all the feelings that came along with depression, feelings that I'd been swallowing and internalizing to the deepest depths up until this point. I thought that in finally accepting my depression, it would set me on a trajectory toward getting better. But in many ways, it has only made things harder. This acceptance has brought the pain to the surface so that I am forced to really sit in it. And this sitting in it - it is painful. I like to get things done, check them off and move on. But what I'm learning is that this wrestling match I'm in is really more of a marathon. I'm not sure how long it will last. On so many days, I long to disengage. I wish the humans in my house could care for themselves and get themselves where they need to be so I could stay in bed all day.

"Is this a thing," I questioned my counselor "that I actually feel much, much worse after acknowledging the fact that I'm depressed?"

"Anything is possible," she told me.

She continued on to explain that it made a lot of sense that I would feel worse now that I was finally letting go. After spending so much of my life over-functioning in protection of my image, I had reached a breaking point where I could do it no more. And so it was only now that the traditional symptoms of depression began to surface.

The "old" over-functioning me never qualified me on those depression scale surveys that they use to assess for depression at the doctor's office. I would mention to my provider that I was feeling a bit down and she would hand me one of those surveys and I would "pass," leaving my doctor's office with the same heavy darkness that I entered with, armed with no new information other than the confirmation that I "wasn't depressed." There were even some people close to me who said what I was dealing with couldn't be depression. How could it be if I was able to keep my life together so well? I was getting out of bed every day. My kids were fed and I got a lot done. But inside, hidden beneath it all, I was desperately sad, not to mention utterly exhausted.

When I went to see a new provider recently who specializes in this sort of thing, I'll admit, I was terrified. I expected she would hand me the very same depression scale assessment that I'd taken in past. And she did, in fact, hand me one such survey. This is the best way they know how to diagnose this sort of thing, I suppose. As soon as I had the paper in hand, I worried that she would look at my answers and deem me "just fine" and send me on my merry way. Should I fudge the test? Should I check more "extremely likely" boxes to guarantee me a diagnosis of depression and therefore some treatment? These are some of the thoughts that ran through my mind, so desperate I was to feel better. Thankfully, I didn't have to fudge the test. My honest answers as the "less-functioning" version of myself landed me score enough to call for treatment. But even if it hadn't, this provider made it clear that these scales were simply a tool among many others that could be used toward obtaining a diagnosis. It wouldn't have been the end-all-be-all to determining my health.

It's a very tender place, this space of first owning and accepting and then seeking treatment for depression and anxiety. I fear others will view me differently, that suddenly I will lose some of my worth and credibility. I fear they will see me as incapable. The likelihood is high that a handful of people will. And, quite honestly, I expect most people will view me differently, as well they should. With every revealing of detail, every exposure in vulnerability that we offer up, comes a clearer, truer picture of who we really are - one and the same, struggling with our own messes and insecurities. I'm learning that it is only when we recognize we are all together broken people, that we can finally experience the freedom to jump down from the crazy I-Have-It-All-Together pedestal that the world urges us to erect and plant ourselves upon.

I for one have spent the vast majority of my adult life frantically trying to balance atop such a pedestal. My Have-It-All-Together pedestal was carefully constructed and I tended to it meticulously. At different phases in my life I probably would have even died fighting to defend, were it not for the grace of God. But I'm done hiding and pretending to have it all together. It's a very slow process, one that I am gradually surrendering to. What I've found is that as I've released every illusion at perfection, I have people in my life who are reaching for my hands and helping me step down off this fraudulent pedestal and into the graceful arms of vulnerability and acceptance.

Though I started a new medication about three weeks ago (and even increased the dose), I have yet to feel a noticeable difference. If anything, I've only been more anxious and this has been very hard for me. I feel like a lady in waiting, holding my breath and wondering as I begin each day, will I feel better today? I long to say I am better but the truth is that I still have a long way to go.

This week, the Holy Spirit met me where I was at. I didn't recognize it as such at first but I know it now. Amidst the feelings of overwhelmedness and anxiety that quite literally overtook me at times this week, the simple phrase "I trust you, Lord" kept running through my head. So this phrase "I trust you, Lord" is my new mantra in this season that I know will be wrought with disappointment and unknown. What I longed for was a quick fix - a pill to pop that would get me to a place where I was feeling and functioning better. And though I am still holding out hope that there will be a medication that can provide some immediate relief, I do know that, in this journey, I will grow. And so when the fear, guilt and anxiety threaten to consume and completely debilitate me, "I will trust you, Lord." When I wonder if I will ever get through this "I will trust you, Lord." When I'm scared my friends will tire of my struggle "I will trust you, Lord." When I worry if my kids will come out OK on the other side of all of mama's wrestling "I will trust you, Lord."

"I will trust you, Lord." 


  1. Hang in there, Kelsie! Even when you can't handle things, God can! So, continue to trust him. And with God's help, you'll get through it!

  2. As always, I identify with so many things you write in your blogs. I appreciate your honest words so much and find your insight both refreshing and freeing. Most of my family members have struggled with depression but it is gut wrenching anxiety that seems to be my constant battle. I have found relief through medication and I hope you will find the right match as well. If you ever want to chat more I'd love to get coffee or hang out while our littles play. It was wonderful catching up the other night.


posted by kelsie