Category Archives: Depression

Stillness to Dancing

T.S. EliotJust a few months ago, I wrote about my experience with depression.

Crippling, life-stealing depression.

I wrote how I was choosing to serve God whether or not I ever found healing or relief from depression. How I was choosing to be faithful—or at least trying to be.

I shared my experience of the low, the tough, the vulnerable. And then I was silent, on the blog at least.

So today I want to share a follow up. I want to share a story of healing and joy and gratitude.

I’ve been reluctant to write this post. I don’t want my healing to sound cliché. I don’t want to prescribe a how-to formula for overcoming depression because I know it doesn’t work like that. I don’t want to jinx it.

But somehow I’ve come out on the other side and I can’t help but rejoice. I can’t help but share.

I think of my favorite T.S. Eliot quote, “So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing.”

Today I am dancing and I don’t quite know why. Like Allie of Hyperbole and a Half bursting into hysteric belly laughs at a lone kernel of corn, it doesn’t make any sense.

For me it started not with a piece of corn, but at the Sea of Galilee, overlooking the waves that Peter once braved.

Sea of Galilee

God spoke to me that day. He declared inner peace over my soul. He declared me healed and free.

I can’t explain how I heard Him or why I believed that I would be free. I just knew He broke something FREE in me that day. Free from bitterness and wallowing and the chains of depression.

I felt the healing work deep in my soul, deep in my bones. So much so that I couldn’t help but dance.

Dance?! On the shore of the Sea of Galilee? Alone. Ear buds in. Eyes closed. Hips swaying and hands raised.

Like a lunatic. Like someone crazy for Jesus and the healing power he brings.

I didn’t feel the healing yet. I hadn’t experienced it yet. But I knew it was time to start dancing over my graves of depression and burnout and disappointment.

Dancing became a sign of faithfulness. A way to declare victory before the war was even over.

I danced in worship. I danced my praise. I danced for the grace and redemption and renewal I hadn’t yet experienced.

Nothing else mattered but setting my heart and my body to praising the God who promised to heal me. To love me. To bind my wounds.

As I danced, I prayed the chains would be broken. I prayed that my freedom would bring freedom to others.

And when the songs were over, my body stilled, I opened my eyes and turned to see a Korean tour group sitting just a few feet behind me, staring at the girl swaying to the music in her earphones, in her head, in her heart.

And I didn’t care. I was being healed. I am being healed.

Since then joy has found a way to creep in. Little bit by little bit. I began to experience joy in my new grad school classes. Joy at caring for the daily needs of a 94-year-old woman with advanced dementia and one heck of witch cackle laugh. Joy in meeting with my favorite girlfriends on earth to chat and pray and cry and laugh together. Joy in just being.New Kitten!

Today I have a lot to delight in– a new boyfriend and a new kitten for starters (!!). It’s taken work, though, don’t get me wrong. I’ve worked hard in counseling, finding the right medication, admitting that I need help. I’ve prayed and prayed. I’ve recommitted to taking care of myself.

But the healing started that day at the Sea of Galilee. When God whispered something to me, calling me to deep inner peace, silencing my striving like Jesus once silenced the very waves that crashed before me. He declared freedom in me that day.

And I danced it. I hope I am dancing it still.

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Writing, God, Depression, and Surrender

So one of the reasons, the main reason, I haven’t been blogging is because I’ve been dealing with depression. Not just a few bad days, but full-blown-take-over-my-mind-and-my-life-depression.

If you haven’t done so, please take a moment to review another Allie’s informative and–I think–pretty spot on description of depression here.


Screen Shot 2014-02-10 at 11.20.51 AM
Ok, done with that? It’s important.

The depression started with burnout at my last job. Then moved to sadness sadness sadness when I moved to Guatemala. Instead of excitement, I felt an overwhelming sense of grief–missing friends, missing community, missing meaningful work.

Then came the numbness. For some unexplainable reason I was no longer excited to speak Spanish or go salsa dancing or tutor women in reading and math–things I used to love and be so passionate about. I didn’t know why I’d rather stay inside and watch Netflix than explore the city and make new friends. I was living the dream, but it felt like I was frozen in a nightmare.

I thought I was just taking a long time to bounce back from the burnout. I thought I had a really bad case of homesickness. I thought I wasn’t adjusting well, was bad at making friends, was lazy. I thought I was a failure.

I didn’t realize it was also my brain chemistry working really hard against me.

I was really sad for a really long time and nothing seemed to make it better. Since I’ve been back, the intensity of the sadness has lessened. I like being around my friends here. I like the beach. I’m not lonely anymore.

But I still don’t feel like me. Like Allie described, I feel pretty numb (which I must admit feels better than sad). Or, more accurately, I don’t really feel anything. Just a lethargy, a void. But the worst worst worst part of depression for me, an introvert, a writer, a person who has Intellection in her Top Five Strengths, isn’t the emotional numbness, but the mental numbness. A fog. A grogginess. Like someone keeps dosing my morning coffee with Nyquil.

It’s made life pretty sucky and unexciting. And it’s made writing almost unbearable. It’s like this. Let’s say writing were a physical activity, not just a mental one. For instance, running. Writing a blog post or a grant proposal would be like running a mile. I used to do it no problem. I was born to run. I lived for the runner’s high. I didn’t mind the shin splints or the side aches. The feeling of wind in and out of my lungs as I rounded the track was unmatched.

Then I got sick. I’m not sure if it was overtraining or not cross training enough or a nasty virus just happened to pick me. I don’t know if I’ll ever know what or why this happened. But suddenly it just felt wrong. Like trying to run a mile with the flu. You can probably do it, but it feels crappy and your legs don’t work quite right and you want to just lay on the sidelines and puke or fall asleep instead.sick-mom

Unlike the flu, with depression you can look alright from the outside. Everyone kept telling me to keep running. You’re so talented, they said. You can still do it. You just have to keep training and it will work out.

I got to the point where I had to decide that I just couldn’t do it anymore. I knew for me, I couldn’t. I can’t. I feel sick. I feel like my brain has been taken over by poison or a sedative, like I’m running through molasses. It’s not fun anymore.

I’ve spent the time since I got back to the States trying to figure this out. I took a hard break from writing–hence my blogging absence. I’m seeing doctors. I’m trying different prescriptions, different therapies. I’m trying to get this under control. I have an incredible community who cares for me and supports me and has been with me every step of the way. A group of amazing women who say, “we don’t understand this sickness, but we love you anyways and we’re here to help.” They show me grace, grace, grace.

The grace I’ve had so much trouble extending to myself.

I’ve been terrified that this is the new me. That I’ll be stuck in this brain dead land forever. That I’ll never be passionate about anything again. That I may never write again.

I’ve made a lot of bad choices. Trying to feel again or numb again or distract from the numbness.

I’ve been stuck in fear. Stuck living for the hell of it. I’ve no longer felt like life matters, so I’ve lived like it doesn’t matter.

I keep praying, God, if you heal me of depression. If you give me my life back, my brain back, my joy back, I will praise your name you to all the ends of the earth. I will glorify you. I will use my life and my brain and my joy to serve you. See how much good I did while working at Plant With Purpose. Serving at church. Writing on this blog. I’ll do that again if you heal me.

To which he replied (and continues to reply), “Serve me now.”

I reel. How is this the best option? How is this good for anyone? Why wouldn’t He want to heal me of depression? To give me life and life to the full?

To which he doesn’t answer. He just repeats. “Serve me now.”

He says, “I love you whether or not you have depression. Whether or not you write. Whether or not you make wise choices. Whether or not you feel like you’re in control.

It’s your turn to trust me whether you are depressed or not. Whether you write or not. Whether you make wise choices or not. Whether or not you feel like you’re in control.

Because you’re never really in control, no matter how you feel about it. I am. And I love you. And I am good.”

My pastor gave a sermon awhile back on wrestling with God. On the importance of honesty. He said that’s it’s ok to be honest with God about our disappointments. And the truth is. I’m disappointed. I’m disappointed that living in Guatemala felt so lonely. I’m disappointed that I haven’t yet found a job back here in the States. I’m disappointed that it’s all been so hard. I’m disappointed that depression stole what should have been the best year, the best adventure, of my life. I’m disappointed in myself and in my circumstances.

It’s okay to be honest with God. He knows my disappointment. He can take it. He can take my pain and my anger. He hurts with me.

In the sermon, my pastor emphasized that RADICAL TRUST IN GOD ALWAYS PAYS OFF.

Not that our prayers will always be answered. Not that my depression will be cured and this mental fog will be lifted.

But God is good and He loves us. He’s the only one worth trusting in.

So ever so reluctantly, I’m shifting my focus. I’m switching my prayers. I’m surrendering to the God of Love that I’ve failed to trust in for so long.

Today I will say,

I surrender to you, O God. I will trust in your Love. I will hope in your Love. Even if my depression never lifts. Even if I never get my brain or my life or my identity as a thinker/writer/processer back.

I am Yours.

Amen.

So I don’t I know if I’ll keep up blogging. I don’t know if writing will get easier. If depression will become a dark spot in my past or something I’ll deal with forever. I just wanted to share this with you. To explain a little about where I’ve been and where I hope to be going. Thanks for listening.

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Burnout Feels Like


Drowning
Like flinging and flailing and gasping for breath. Some days it feels like I’m floating facedown in the water. Waiting for rescue or waiting for death.
I can’t even remember what it felt like to swim.
Defeat
Burnout tells me leaving my job and moving to Guatemala is the ultimate failure, not a dream fulfilled. 
Like I’ve fought the battle and lost.
Like I’ve given up on getting better.
Not that I have failed, but that I am failure, will always be a failure.

Depression
Like not sleeping, not hoping, not caring.
Like laziness and anxiety, lethargy and restlessness, all rolled into one.
And crying, lots and lots of crying.
Loss
Like losing my dream job.
Losing my identity.
Losing my passion.
Losing my joy.
Losing my self-efficacy.
Losing my mind.
Burnout feels like I’ve turned into a drama queen. 
Writing this I know I sound melodramatic, but that’s what burnout has done to me. It really feels like this, and most days I can’t see past it. Most days it’s the only story I believe. The only story I have energy to believe.
It’s why I started this blog—to share a different story, a better story. To share the story of God’s transforming love. To share a story that doesn’t end in the burnout and the failing and the flailing. To remind myself that, as hard as it is to see past all of this, I can hope for the future. That the God who opened the doors for my dream job for a time will again plant the seed of hope and joy and passion in my heart. That He is not done with me. That He does not fail. That He does not flounder. That He will not give up on me.
That He will restore my joy.
Before Jesus started his ministry, God said of him: “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” Matthew 3:17
Before Jesus performed miracles. Before he raised the dead. Before he called out the Pharisees. Before he fed the 5,000. Before he died on the cross. God was well pleased.
I know I’m no Jesus, but today I’d like to hope that God feels this way about all of his children. That God feels this way about me.
As I reflect on the poisons of burnout, I write in the antidote. I remember the Love. And I paste it on my mirror, write it in my journal, replace the endless word loop of criticism with this declaration of love. This is the story I will choose to believe. 
“This is my daughter, Aly, whom I love; with her I am well pleased.”

Stacking Up Joy

Psalm 73:23

Yet I am always with you;
you hold me by my right hand.
You guide me with your counsel,
and afterward you will take me into glory.

I knew God was going to speak.

I knew he had a message. A promise. An image.

And sure enough, he did.

“Someone is running in the dark, past all of these closed doors. But God rushes in and takes your hand; suddenly you are running with him in the light—free,” she said.

I knew the image was for me.

I know the light has been promised. The joy will be forthcoming. The twirls and running and sensation of grass springing beneath my toes will be a reality.

I don’t doubt it.

But I can’t feel it. Right now–even after prayer upon prayer–I don’t feel the joy and I can’t see the light. Not yet.

But I don’t doubt it.

The one thing I know is that I won’t fake it. There is a time when I would have faked it, so hard it would almost tear me apart.

But today I will not fake it. The God who promises me light is smart enough to know that I’m not there yet. He’s patient enough to give me the grace to grapple. To say, God I don’t feel this joy that you talk about. I trust it is coming. I pray for the strength to ask for it.

I feel it fragments. In moments. In glimpses and hand squeezes and heads bowed and tears pricking.

But this picture of overwhelming light and sun and freedom–I don’t feel it yet.

I love the image of stacking up truths. I like the idea of the addition, the stacking, the summation of experiences and truths and ideas.

But lately I’ve been challenged on this mindset. For what good is truth without love or joy?

I could stack up sad, pathetic truths for days.

1. The world is a place of deep pain and intolerable suffering.
2. God doesn’t always answer prayer.
3. People I love get sick, trapped in destructive patterns, move away, move out of my life.
4. I can’t seem to get ahead of this curve of depression and burnout.

…..Etc. etc. until I can’t get out of bed.

But where does this get me?

This keeps me in the dark, sprinting, heaving past closed doors.

There is another truth I can choose to see: the light wins.

God grabs my hand and sets me free.

Will I build my life around the darkness or will I build my life around the joy?

In One Thousand Gifts Ann Voskamp writes, “Do not disdain the small. The whole of life – even the hard – is made up of the minute parts, and if I miss the infinitesimals, I miss the whole … There is a way to live the big of giving thanks in all things. It is this: to give thanks in this one small thing. The moments add up.”

The moments add up.
The joy adds up.

I want a life stacked on joy.

God, I ask for the courage and discipline to choose to see the good. To unclench my fearful fists so you can take my hand.

Even in the darkness–in the not yet–I can stack these moments. I will stack the little joy and I will build my life on your promises:

Aly, you will grow. I will comfort you. I will restore your joy. I love you.

I thank you for the glimpses. The fragments. That which I see in part that will one day be given to me in whole.

I thank you God for the hope of most this amazing joy. Please guide me with your counsel and take me to your glory. Amen.

T.S. Tuesday: The Spiral Staircase

So for this T.S. Tuesday I’m going to steal not only from T.S. Eliot, but one of the authors who originally introduced me to Eliot’s poetry: Karen Armstrong.

I read Karen Armstrong’s memoir, The Spiral Staircase: My Climb out of Darkness, my senior year in college. The year I spent writing a memoir trying to make sense of the poverty and injustice I saw and the anger and questions that surfaced with it. Her eloquent memoir is a story of climbing out of the depths of depression and self-hatred into contentment, empathy, and love. At that point, I resonated only with the depression and self-hatred, and had yet to experience sustained love or self-acceptance. Hers was the first memoir I read where a spiral into darkness didn’t end in the dark. And it gave me hope.

In the Preface of her memoir, Armstrong explains how her title, The Spiral Staircase, was inspired by the image of winding staircase evoked in T.S. Eliot’s poem, Ash-Wednesday.

She explains that “This image is reflected in the twisting sentences of words and phrases, apparently making little headway, but pushing steadily forward nonetheless.”

She compares this slow, circular journey to her own climb out of darkness, saying, “the strange and seemingly arbitrary revolutions of my life led me to the kind of transformation that –I now believe—was what I was seeking all those years ago.”

I loved it then and I love it now.

And now for some actual excerpts from the poem, Ash-Wednesday, I.

“Because I do not hope to turn again


Because I do not hope


Because I do not hope to turn


Desiring this man’s gift and that man’s scope
I no longer strive to strive towards such things”

Contentment.


“Because I cannot hope to turn again


Consequently I rejoice, having to construct something


Upon which to rejoice”

Gratitude.


“Teach us to care and not to care


Teach us to sit still.”

Rest.

If you’d like to read the whole poem, click here.