Tuesday, December 13, 2016

I'm Baaaaaaack

I think I owe you an update. Many of you have been lovingly concerned as I have shared openly here and here about the journey with depression that I have been on this year. There have been many other layers to my wrestlings, struggles that I haven't yet spoken of in this space but hope to one day when the timing is right. On some days I look back at the year 2016 and think about how excited I am to put it behind me. I can't wait for January 1st when I will turn the calendar page into 2017, as if somehow that act will magically put all the trials of the last 12 months completely to rest. I've been tempted to call 2016 The Year My Life Fell Apart because in so many ways it feels as though that has been the very thing that has happened. But something in me cries out saying that, though it may tempting to make the falling apart the theme of the year, it is the putting back together of the pieces that really deserves the spotlight.

I was feeling so discouraged back in October when I initiated a trial of a new medication and didn't experience any relief in my symptoms. What my provider neglected to tell me was that my dose, even after two increases, was still in a sub-therapeutic range. This was simply a fancy way of saying that the does I was taking was lower than what had been the established as having an impact on actually treating a condition for the majority of people. Awesome. Essentially most people wouldn't experience any relief taking the small dose of medication I had been prescribed. That certainly would have been nice to know as I'd begun worrying that my body had acquired a medication resistance somewhere along the lines that was interfering with it's ability to respond to drugs. I was fearful this was "it" for me, that life would always feel heavy and unmanageable for me.

When I returned to my provider to check-in, she gave me the facts - that we still had a looooong ways we could safely go up on my dose - and I was thrilled. Maybe there still was hope! So at the beginning of November, she doubled my dose for a third time and within days, I was pretty confident something was different. I was suspicious it could be the placebo effect, (those times when one can experience a relief in symptoms for psychological reasons simply because you believe that you will, not due to the efficacy of the actual medicine itself) but honestly, I didn't really care WHAT was making me feel better. I was just so glad to finally, finally not be filled with so much dread.

A couple days later, I boarded a plane for a writing conference in North Carolina. In our Christmas letter this year, my middle child tells readers that I went on this trip "to be alone." I love her perspective on matters. Though that wasn't actually the purpose of the trip, four kid-free nights and time with a dear friend doing something that I loved certainly didn't hurt matters. I felt amazing during that time but decided to give myself a week back at home in my "real" life before I made the call that the medication was actually working.

I woke up the Monday morning after I arrived back home from North Carolina and promptly opened my fridge to assess the situation.. I was beyond alarmed at the state of affairs in there. Based on the level of nasty spills that had crusted upon the shelves and disgusting mess in all the produce drawers, I was certain some creature had taken up residence and made it's mark on the territory in my absence. It took a moment for it to settle that no, this sight before me had actually been the state of my fridge for pretty much all of 2016. Gasp. It was like I suddenly was seeing it through an entirely new lens,

This is so gross, I thought.

And so guess what I did? I did what any person in their healthy right mind might do - I grabbed a spray bottle of cleaner and a handful of rags and went straight to work. It was Monday morning. At 7:30 AM. The kids were still at home and I hadn't even fed them breakfast yet but this fridge was NASTY! So I took care of it. Every last bit of it all the way down to removing the shelves and doors and scrubbing them in a sink full of sudsy water. This behavior would have been totally normal for me in some of my past lives. I used to clean the fridge on at least a bi-annual basis. (Is that often enough? Maybe that number should embarrass me more?) But this year was different. I hadn't been "myself" for quite some time and my house had suffered some neglect.

If I'm fully honest, I had noticed that the fridge was dirty countless times over the months that preceded. But the thought of actually doing anything about it overwhelmed me to no end. So I simply ignored it and shut the door. For like a year. The reality was that I just couldn't. I knew it needed to be done but the energy required for the endeavor was more than I could muster. So I spent a lot of time under a blanket on the couch reading books instead (which I actually don't know if I would trade for anything...)

Halfway through my fridge-cleaning rampage, I caught myself.

I am cleaning the fridge! What has happened to me?!

It felt so good to accomplish something and I sensed a shifting in me. Later on that week, we were gifted a beautiful crisp sunny fall day in the Pacific Northwest. The girls were in the school so I grabbed Jack's hand and we ran for the outdoors. Armed with brooms and buckets and rakes, we gathered the fallen leaves together and worked to winterize the yard. Again this behavior shocked me when I really sat down to think about it. Yet also it felt so invigorating.

Still later that week, my father-in-law contacted me. He had a free queen-sized bed frame and mattress available. Did we want it? We could upgrade our current double-sized guest bed to a queen to make it more comfortable for our guests. He sent me a picture of the bed and my wheels began to spin. I could paint it! Emerald green, maybe? Then I could throw on a white comforter and sew some orange and navy accent pillows with pops of emerald. That could bring it all together with the blue area rug already in the bonus room. I jumped on Pinterest and began scanning my options. Before long it hit me - I was dreaming again! My creative juices were flowing. This had been a long time coming.

For quite some time now, I have had at least a gazillion pending painting projects - my daughter's dresser, the purple magazine rack, the toy bins, the kitchen cabinets. I had even gone so far as to gather the tarp, paint tray, roller and brushes - they were all ready and waiting on the bonus room shelves, waiting for me to make it happen. They still sit there today, 18 months later, I'm afraid. The energy never came. But suddenly it was feeling doable again.

Last night, someone asked my husband how he feels I've been doing on this new medication. Has he noticed this shift in me that I describe? I expected a vigorous nod of affirmation. The lightening of my load over the past month has felt so dramatic and monumental and relieving for me. I feel productive again! And I feel marginally capable (though I realize that anything including the word "marginal" usually isn't the highest of compliments but it's an overall improvement for me so I'll take it!) I can handle the little things and they no longer create in me an immense desire to crawl under and blanket in the corner, never to reemerge again.

But when my husband was asked this question- do you see a shift? - instead of answering confidently, he furrowed his brow and thought for a long time.

"Yes," he said finally, with a heavy overtone of hesitancy. "I would definitely agree that she is beginning to dream again. That part of her has been missing for months. But the thing is, she fights so hard to keep everything together that most people observing from the outside never would have known just how much she was suffering inwardly before, myself included, so the shift isn't quite as obvious to me."

Maybe his response shouldn't have surprised me as much as it did. In retrospect, there were others close to me in my life who also wondered at the idea of my being depressed. I didn't fit the textbook depiction of a depressed person - one who is not showering, unable to meet basic needs, totally withdrawing. But man was I ever suffering on the inside. I know that full well now that I have finally experienced the relief!

For a good long while there, I didn't know if I would ever be able to write a post "from the other side" of depression. I feared that feeling down was forever to be my baseline. But here I am, so very, very grateful.

Even still, over these past few weeks of feeling better, I have had moments where I catch myself thinking This medication is just temporary. Soon I will be able to wean off and be just fine. That could happen, yes, but the greater likelihood is that I'm going to continue to require medication, possibly indefinitely even. This idea of being dependent upon a drug doesn't sit well with me. I feel somehow weaker and less fully human to have this thing that my general well-being is dependent upon, a chemical deficiency. The voices from my upbringing still flash through my head, whispering ugly lies that I'm reliant on a medication because I "just don't trust God enough." What a terrible, horrible misconception so many of us have been led to believe.

Do you feel this too? Has someone somewhere along the lines convinced you that you are to blame for your depression?

Dear Lord Jesus, set us free! I pray for anyone else who might be struggling with deception coming straight from the mouth of the devil - lies claiming we struggle and feel this way because of something we have done. These words are not from you, Lord. Remind us that we are fearfully and wonderfully made. Show us that we are fully loved and cherished and accepted in our brokenness. There is nothing we could possibly do to make you love us more.

*     *     *     *     *

This year has been one marked by an owning of brokenness for me, recognizing more fully than ever my need for a Savior. The Lord has so tenderly been showing me all the places where He has been at work, healing and restoring me. I know some of you are also in places of deep hurt. I know this because you have told me so. I pray that you would have the strength to examine these places and fully accept your own brokenness. And then I pray that you too might experience God's healing, even when feelings of emptiness and hopelessness abound.  

A friend recently shared with me the lyrics of one of the late Leonard Cohen's songs entitled "Anthem" and the imagery struck me. In it he sang:

Ring the bells that still can ring 
Forget your perfect offering 
There is a crack, a crack in everything 
That's how the light gets in. 

Though, to my knowledge he was not a believer, there is rich wisdom that we as Christians can take from the words of this song. I just love the phrase "There is a crack, a crack in everything. That's how the light gets in." We are a broken people and our fractured nature will remain with on while we reside upon this earth. But through His healing and restoration, the very cracks in us no longer serve as markers our struggles and failures. Instead, these cracks become illuminatory, a means through which the light of our Lord Jesus shines through ever brighter, magnifying the incredible nature of His redeeming power. What a beautiful word picture! May we ever continue to ring in His name, despite of our imperfections.

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posted by kelsie