Occupation: Depression – Thoughts on Faith and Mental Illness

foresale
Photo credit: Denver Post

I’d like to dedicate today’s piece to all of the doctors and health care workers who take the time to treat the WHOLE patient. Not all heroes wear capes. You know who you are ❤

 

By: Jana Greene

Here’s what today’s blog post is not going to be about: Snapping Out of It.

Snapping Out of It is the ugly cousin of Just Get Over It, who is a third cousin twice removed to This Too Shall Pass. There would be no point in snapping out of or getting over something that isn’t going to pass. Know what I mean?

I am not only a recipient of these sentiments, I have – at various times – been the advisor. I never meant to be curt with anyone, but from where I was sitting in my own woe-is-me-pod, some other depressed people had it pretty cushy, honestly.

You went to Disney World twice last year. You drive a car with working air conditioning. You are physically healthy. Your children are little full-ride scholarship, carved-out-of-cream-cheese, ministry workers who worship our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Oh my God, what more do you WANT!? Why are so SAD!? STOP IT. JUST STOP BEING SAD.

Except that depression is the very definition of subjective-ness. (I once was the lady who went to Disney World twice every year, and eventually nearly drank myself to death anyway.)

Here’s what this blog piece IS about: What depression feels like. I am SO hoping that many of you respond with how it effects YOUR life so that we can interact. It’s such an important subject.

You are already whole in Christ! 

Yes. But I feel like a whole lot of hurt. And that’s just the truth. Maybe if I had normal brain chemistry, I would grasp this wholeness in a more useful and fulfilling way!

That I struggle doesn’t mean my faith is janky.  It might mean my chemicals keep me from realizing the beautiful truths that seem to come so easily to others.

I’ve recently become more proactive in improving my mental state. I am currently in therapy to try to slay old, fermented demons from childhood forward, because you cannot slay and deny the demons simultaneously. Oh, and it would be nice not to have nightmares nearly every night.

I’m doing self-care. It’s a work in progress.

I know a perfectly lovely woman with cerebral palsy. To watch her worship is how I totally envision perfect praise. Her movements may be jerky, she may stumble at times, but I have NEVER seen more genuine worship than that by my friend.

Is she a child of a lesser god because she isn’t in perfect health? Oh COURSE NOT.

Mental illness is no different.

Depression can be *&%^$#@! organic and I have the lab results to prove it! I’m virtually out of stock with the serotonin. This is why God created geniuses in billowy, white lab coats (coincidence that they dress like angels? You decide) to whip up concoctions to help our bodies heal. Better living through chemistry. Yes, I would rather take some St. John’s Wort (although anything with ‘wort’ in it kind of turns me off) or slather on Snake (Essential) Oil) or chaw on some magical, organic hay that has been regurgitated by free range cows, but I don’t have time for that dangerous gamble.

I come from a long line of depressed people. And honey, I mean a LONG line. In the past four generations, many of us have started with the Gerber baby food of antidepressants (Prozac or equivalent) around 13, when hormones make us crazy. Deep despondency requires our brains get a little help.

We are almost ALL ridiculously creatively gifted. We are painters, and artists, and sculptors, and writers, and poets, musicians. (What’s the nice way to describe someone loony? Oh, “eccentric.”)

We fight hard, we love hard – there is no moderation.  If you are in my family and are not on at LEAST three medications to regulate your brain chemistry, thyroid, migraines, blood pressure, and cholesterol, step down, son. You can’t even play in the majors.

You see, we also have this quirk in which our brains do not manufacture dopamine and serotonin sufficiently. It’s hard to call it a curse, as it is directly correlated to our creativity. But it’s impossible to call it a blessing.

Depression feels dark. I’ve been sitting here trying to visualize what depression would look like if it were a person, and an image came to mind. Depression would be a coal miner. A hard-working, hard-scrabble, soot-covered man with the weight of the world (or its resources) on his shoulders.

He is in danger every single day, never sure if this will be the day a shaft collapses or any of 1,000 other mishaps might take his life. That’s the anxiety component.

He wears a helmet like some kind of gag gift – as if it could stop boulders and shaft supports from crushing him. On the helmet is a head light, but it, too, is covered in so much soot. It’s glow is minimal.

You see, there is soot everywhere. Blackness. All of his workday (and much of his life outside) he is blackened head to toe. When he goes to eat his wax-papered lunch sandwich, there are remnants of coal in his lunchbox. When he takes every breath, coal wisps into his lungs. By day’s end, only the whites of his eyes are not blackened by thick, powdery coal.

Had he any other choice, he would have a different occupation, but like so many families dealing with chemical genetic depression, it seems a simple given.

Like fighting depressive feelings, he gives his all every single day. It exhausts him, but he will get up and do it again the next day.

Cavernous darkness and a sinking feeling. That’s what it feels like to me. Depression manifests with thoughts of certain doom, ridiculously high anxiety, and in losing complete interest in anything that has ever brought me joy.  Heavy-hearted, short on hope. Praying to be delivered from the mine, and getting really pissed off at God for not rescuing me. So I cry. I do a lot of crying, but that only makes the soot sticky.

But there are those times in the hole, the black, black vortex, that I sense a miner just like me. His presence is the Comfort. That’s where faith comes in. For what I lack in serotonin, I more than make up for in camaraderie. Eventually I will take hold of the hand – also covered in soot – and allow myself to be lifted up and out. I can try to pull up others with my own sooty hands.

It isn’t that we are truly out of hope, it’s just that it’s hard to find in the darkness.

Please feel free to share your own experience with spirituality in regards to depression.

And God bless us, every one.

 

Sufficient Grace in a Season of Suffering

suffering

By: Jana Greene

Good morning, God.

I woke up in a panic today. Sick and tired, and tired of being sick. I have basically been ill since I had shoulder surgery 3 1/2 months ago, and I’m so over it. Feeling like crap for nearly 4 months straight would depress dang near anybody.

I’m really fighting the emotional funk, and I know I’m not alone – so I’m posting my prayer here. I know several of my friends are fighting (or have fought) the same funk. Depression and anxiety are real bugaboos, even for believers. I’m so tired of the stigma that gets perpetuated in churches. Jesus People should be the LEAST stigmatizing, for crying out loud. (No, really, I have cried out loud a few times this week.) Being of good cheer seems out of the question. Getting dressed today might be doable.

Every day in February, I have declared that THIS is the day I shall get it TOGETHER already! Mind over matter, right? (Wrong.)

I tell myself that TODAY, I shall work on taxes, get caught up on seminary, write another chapter for the book (AND get busy on some other projects) and lose 10 lbs and basically be a better version of me – the me in her PJs 24/7 this week, the me bingeing on Munchos. The me that feels so weak, she can hardly sit upright for more than 30 minutes.

Everything seems to be beyond my control right now, and I need Your comfort. I am asking for more faith, which comes from You. Help me with that, please.

Weakness…..Hmmmm.
There’s a scripture for that….

Your Grace is sufficient, I seem to recall. Praise Jesus for that sweet, amazing GRACE!

In your Word, you tell me that radical weakness is not a character flaw, but an opportunity for You to really bring home the razzle dazzle. You know how you do. Paul said it best:

“…Because of the extravagance of those revelations, and so I wouldn’t get a big head, I was given the gift of a handicap to keep me in constant touch with my limitations. Satan’s angel did his best to get me down; what he in fact did was push me to my knees. No danger then of walking around high and mighty! At first I didn’t think of it as a gift, and begged God to remove it. Three times I did that, and then he told me,
My grace is enough; it’s all you need.
My strength comes into its own in your weakness.
Once I heard that, I was glad to let it happen. I quit focusing on the handicap and began appreciating the gift. It was a case of Christ’s strength moving in on my weakness. Now I take limitations in stride, and with good cheer, these limitations that cut me down to size—abuse, accidents, opposition, bad breaks. I just let Christ take over! And so the weaker I get, the stronger I become.” – 2 Corinthians 12:9 (MSG)

Save

High Anxiety – Affliction, not sin

fullsizerender-8

“Some people feel guilty about their anxieties and regard them as a defect of faith. I don’t agree at all. They are afflictions, not sins. Like all afflictions, they are, if we can so take them, our share in the Passion of Christ” – C.S. Lewis

By: Jana Greene

Oh, C.S. Lewis. How I would love to go back (or forward) in time and pick you brain. Your thoughts so messy, yet austere. I just want to smoke a pipe (vanilla tobacco, please) beside a lit fireplace at a table for two – the kind of table that’s too small to eat a meal on, but too big to be a nightstand. And I want to say, “THANK YOU!” Thank you, that you did not regard anxiety as SIN (which seems to be, unfortunately, a consideration of the modern church proper.)

Dear readers, if you don’t already know, I suffer from anxiety, depression, ADD and OCD, and it’s been a life long issue.

I think I was born anxious.

When I was a five-year old frozen in fear just walking into the kindergarten class, I wasn’t sinning.

When I display compulsive behaviors, I have no evil intent. (Oh, and being diagnosed OCD was SUCH a shock – not because I knew it was true, but because I thought I hid it from the world so WELL.)

When my heart will simply not beating 125 beats per minute, it’s not a demon makin’ it tick.

When I cannot focus on one thing for 10 seconds, God is not disappointed in me.

When my brain confuses being chased by a T-Rex with emailing a resume, it’s not sin – it’s out of my control – fight or flight.

Anxiety is what led to my alcoholism. It took the edge off, eventually it took me past the edge.

I thought it was a wonderful thing because all of my mom friends drank wine – I just drank mine out of a Big Gulp cup. With a lid. And a straw. I do not suggest this method of anxiety quelling, it’s highly non-sustainable. I didn’t know when to stop, and that’s why I don’t do that anymore. Haven’t for 15 years, hallelujah!

But I still contend with depression/anxiety/ADD/OCD. I just do it sober now. And it can be very difficult. I really don’t care who knows it because it is what it is and I try to write authentically.

What does anxiety feel like to me?

It feels involuntary. SO involuntary.

It feels like asking Jesus to take the wheel, but being sure the steering fluid is low.

It feels like you are the only kid in class who forgot to get her permission slip signed, and now you can’t go to the museum.

My body reacts to a crowded aisle in Walmart as if I were a wolf willing to chew my own leg off to escape the trap. (For some reason, Walmart just does me in.)

It feels like I am too awkward to inhabit a planet with normal people who don’t have panic attacks on the regular. Plus, I forget what to do with my face a lot.

It feels like a stutter in your soul.

It feels like abandonment. Remember a time when someone walked away from you for good? That feeling. The first five minutes after it occurred to you that the person was never coming back. Now replay those 5 minutes in an endless loop.

It feels like I’m sorry for being this way!

It feels overwhelming. Worry, doubt, pray. Or is it pray, doubt, worry? See? I just can’t get it straight.

It feels like DOOM. Not just regular doom, but DOOOOOOOOOOM.

It’s being certain nobody likes you, because you are, well, weird.

I have been prayed over, prayed for, where two or more are gathered or two dozen are gathered. I have felt like a sub-par Christian because my healing didn’t ‘stick’ – and that’s a really crappy feeling, ya’ll. It is pouring gasoline on a fire.

So now, I’m anxiety-ridden AND my faith is too puny to do any good?

Nobody judges the diabetic whose insulin will not bow at the feet of the cross, but people will drown you in holy water trying to get depression to go. (By the way, I do believe depression can be a spirit, but I also believe early childhood trauma, genetics, or just plain chemistry can rile up a good baseline anxiety.)

I really fail to see how mental illness is any different.

I would rather not battle mental illness, but if I must, I will try to consider it from your point of view, Mr. Lewis (‘May I call you C.S.?”)

My Abba circuited my brain just as He pleased, and did so for a reason. There were environmental events that tightened the screws. He allowed things to shape me, just as He is shaping YOU. I believe that all of it – the janky humanity in us – I believe Jesus walks with us and in us, and that’s what His heart really longs for. It isn’t the ‘alphabet soup’ disorder that defines me, it’s that I’m His.

So sometimes I freak out, and its scary because I don’t even totally understand it, but always, always I feel God’s presence, even when I can’t calm down. My anxiety doesn’t scare Him away.

He is less concerned in having a vast army of perfect people – a master race of Christians who pray away anxiety, and never say a potty word. Followers who have gotten it ‘all together.’

I believe He loves all His misfits right where they are.

How much more passionate might we be with the mentally ill if we considered their affliction as sharing in the Passion of the Christ?

Kind of flips things up, no?

Our share of the passion.

Thanks, C.S., for the reminder.

God bless us, every one.

Save

Mountain Climbing with Jesus

Mountain

By: Jana Greene

Let me preface this piece by saying that I’m going through a bit of a depression. And yes, I know that depression is “not of God” and that if I had mustard seed-sized faith, I could declare to this mountain MOVE, and verily I say unto thee, it shall be done as it is written.

But I’m kind of a regular Joe, who navigates the terrain in fits and starts, wholeheartedly loving my Jesus, but not always making the grade.

So this morning, I found myself in the ice cream aisle of our local grocery store, crying, and in doing so, made the stock boy feel kind of awkward. I’m sure I’m not the first menopausal lady to cry in the ice cream aisle but who knows. At least I’m not crying in the liquor store, which is – in all honesty – where I’d end up in days of yore. I’m 15 years into sobriety from alcohol, praise Jesus. I’ve cried in liquor stores many times.

I came home and put my ice cream(s) in the freezer, and sat down on the hardwood floor because my energy was gone right that very minute and I had no auxiliary source in which to plug. I’m kind of slow-burn crying, and my amazing and very codependent tuxedo cat, Catsby, threw all 20 pounds of himself against me in purry solidarity. Oh my God, I love that little guy.

“Ugh,” I told God. “I’m so tired of being SAD. Why won’t you just come pluck me out of this Sad?”

And then God – who was sitting on the floor with Catsby and I, his arms around me – gave me the craziest vision. I feel I should make the distinction right now that my depression is rather garden variety, and not psychotic, and my the vision was not an apparition. I don’t hear audible voices. It is more like a vivid and comforting thought visual. But whatever, I’ll take communication from God any way I can get it.

And it looked like this:

I’m sitting in the forest, wearing climbing gear. All around me are beautiful mountainous peaks and lush valleys, and I have NO IDEA where I am. None. I’ve gone missing in perilous terrain and I radio for help. A chopper appears from nowhere, lowers a rope, and whisks me away from all danger. I am plopped into familiar territory and the helicopter  leaves, having done it’s job. And I’m alone.

In an instant, I understood what Abba was trying to tell me.

Do I want a God who will be my Genie in a bottle and pluck me out of every precarious situation, and then be on His merry way? (Although that sounds good sometimes, it’s not the deity I crave.)

I felt Abba say, “How deep would our relationship be, if I were only ever your rescue party?” In my mind’s eye, I imagine Him sitting with me and my big fat cat, and in my imaginings, God is also wearing climbing gear.

That’s the thing. (Warning: Cornball mountain / valley analogy ahead:)

Our Father longs to hike the tough peaks and deep valleys alongside us. That’s where the relationship grows. When we don’t have the strength to command the mountains to move, Jesus treks with us. He knows the way out, He has all the right tools and equipment, and most of all, He has a passionate love for me that will not allow Him to leave me behind.

Valleys are depressions in rock formations. Depressions. He could easily pluck me from the midst of my circumstance, and sometimes He does. But other times, He is my mountain guide, walking with me every step, talking with me, laughing and joking, picking flowers, climbing seemingly insurmountable peaks. He is my Spotter, my Safety Net, the Director of my Steps. He holds on to me and refuses to let go. He CARES about the little stuff along the journey. We are BONDED, man. We have a bond. It’s deep and rich and personal.

A bond we would never have if I only depended on him to pluck me from danger and depression every time I asked.  It’s such a comfort to know that He will never leave me behind!

I kept sitting on the floor with my cat and my God. I sat til I stopped crying (for now.) Catsby got up and stretched, and so did I. And I thought I’d better write this down before I forget it. So here it is, I’m sharing it with you in the hopes that your Sad might be lessened if you’re reminded that Jesus treks with you, too. It’s not instant wisdom or bottled Genie wish-granting, but reassurance that you aren’t climbing alone and you were never meant to.

Today, I’m still sad, but that’s okay. Everything isn’t coming up sunshine and rainbows and unicorn farts because I have the best mountain guide ever. It just doesn’t work that way. And I’m pretty sure Jesus GETS that.

I’m still going to eat my ice cream to make myself feel better, and that’s okay too. I’ll share it with Jesus, if he wants. I don’t have any Mustard Seed flavored ice cream, but I do have Belgian chocolate, and that’s got to count for something.

He will be sitting right next to me just like always, in this perilous terrain. I’m never alone.

 

 

 

Save

The Very Slippery Assumption

419123_3625861897554_1513906151_n

By: Jana Greene

I once sat in on a Dialectical Behavioral Therapy class under a Super Zen Therapist,  and let me just say out of the gate, it was FASCINATING. I cannot even begin to touch on all the things I learned (and have on occasion, even practiced) but seriously, folks. If you ever have the opportunity to explore this therapy,  I highly recommend it.

The term “dialectical” means a synthesis or integration of opposites. The primary dialectic within DBT is between the seemingly opposite strategies of acceptance and change.

I love the premise, and the belief that OK, I feel this way, but I don’t have to. I can feel THAT way. Life is nothing if not a big, fat paradox on so many levels. I will take all the help I can get! I’m still about 95% emotion-driven, but hey – that’s a 5% improvement (and ‘progress, not perfection,’ right?)

About halfway through the course, though, we came to this one sentence in the teaching, and my spiritual breaks screeched to so such a sudden halt that it could have propelled me right out of the classroom and back into my AllTheFeels way of coping with everything.

That sentence was this:

Assume that everyone is doing the best they can at any given time.

Ok, hold up. HOLD UP!

I KNOW that’s not true in certain instances. For instance, when I visit my children in their homes and they are not super nice and tidy, I KNOW for a fact that they are not doing the best they can. I taught them, so obviously I’m calling BULLSH*T on this.

And what about other people, who have – and are actively –  hurting me by making stupid decisions? You are telling me that the person/people who have (to my mind) driven me to require therapy are doing the best they can? I have to ACCEPT that?

“No, you can accept it or not. Is not accepting it working for you?” Says Super Zen Therapist.

Huh.

Here’s what I’m still learning, and what is helping me oil those spiritual breaks and get them rolling in a forward-moving direction again….

You cannot keep a handle on another person’s issue. You simply cannot.

I came up with a dorky little rhyme to help me remember this, and I’ve probably said it to myself several thousand times (especially when the girls were teens):

It’s not your decision to make, nor your action to take.

You can die trying. You can contortionist yourself into all kinds of positions that only end up making you sore and tired. The stress will kill you, I’m not even kidding.

But that’s what happens when you assume that another person is not even TRYING, and you take it personal.

It’s not personal. That person is learning and morphing and all of your hand-wringing and brow-beating will not another minute add to your relationship life, but may well shorten it.

I don’t have to go back that far in my own history to recognize the power of this principal.

When I was an active alcoholic, I wanted to be better for my children. Even as intimate as the mother/child connection was, I didn’t always get it right!  I had to learn and do, stop and lurch forward. Lather, rinse, repeat.

My process spilled over to them, but it was never meant to be personal.

I was doing the best I could at the moment, I swear to you. I did the best I could until I could do better. I did better when I surrounded myself with people who were doing better and whose love for me was not contingent on my doing better.

It will behoove YOUR state of mind to believe that the person most getting on your nerves is doing their best in this moment, with their particular life experience.

(And when I really stop to consider it, even the example of my kids and their tendencies NOT to be neat freaks, It was I who cleaned their rooms for ALL of their lives when they lived at home, because in some twisted way, I was making up for lost ‘drunk’ time as a mommy. They may well BE doing the best they know how in this moment. Because something is important to me, doesn’t mean its the only ‘right’ way  (But that’s a subject for another therapy session….)

What about the big things?

If someone else’s life choices are spilling over on you and your heart is broken? Consider that they are doing their best. Go one further, even. Pray for them and believe for resolution to their situation. Petition God and plead your case, and then release.

It’s not your decision to make, nor your action to take.

You cannot grasp it because you aren’t SUPPOSED to grasp it.

You think holding on to it is helping, but it won’t be under your control.

You cannot drop it until you drop your Very Slippery Assumption and use both arms instead to embrace the person driving you completely crazy.

God  bless us, every one.

Christians, Meds and Mental Illness – We can do better

Credit: Adam4d.com via SaveALife.com
Credit: Adam4d.com via SaveALife.com

By: Jana Greene

This morning, I came across this on Facebook this morning, and I just HAD to share.

Please forgive me for climbing atop my Mental Illness Soapbox, but I feel really strongly about this.

Christians, please stop shaming people for taking medicine for mental illnesses.

Oh how I wish more believers understood THIS SUBJECT. If you have a minute, click the link below and read the comic that pretty much sums up the experience. And share it. Share it lots with as many Christian friends as you know.

What it’s Like Explaining Depression Meds to Many Christians

(A million THANKS to http://www.ToSaveALife.com!)

In my periods of depression and anxiety, I have been told that it wasn’t ‘going away’ because I wasn’t ‘letting God have it,’ or that I didn’t believe ‘hard enough.’ Look, I’m all about some supernatural deliverance and totally believe in it. I’ve experienced it several time in my life.

HOWEVER, sometimes God allows us to experience things for reasons He doesn’t explain to me, and you know what? I accept whatever He wills in His time.

It doesn’t help my anxiety to feel guilty for feeling anxious.

I can ASSURE you that nobody “holds on” to depression and anxiety.

And no, I have NO shame about suffering depression and anxiety. Jesus may still be allowing me to do battle with it on occasion, but I am completely FREE of the shame that too often accompanies a legitimate illness.

It is 2,000 times worse to pray for someone in depression and then spiritually guilt them for not immediately getting better than it is to not pray at all for that person. That’s kicking a dog when she is down, and not at all the Christ-like thing to do. Ditto medication, which helps people with brain chemistry deficits or disorders have the chance to experience life as you do with your ‘normal’ brain.

Thank GOD that medicines are available.

Sometimes depression is chemical. Sometimes its situational, but no matter WHAT, God doesn’t hold it against me if I don’t snap out of it. He walks with me THROUGH it, every single time. I wish I could say the same for some of His followers.

There isn’t a pill yet to help people stop judging others so harshly. If there were, I doubt the haters would ingest it.

Saint Paul had a ‘thorn’ to carry all his life and managed to minister to others like nobody else in history. I think we can all do WAY better to minister to the modern-day thorn-carriers. There are so many of us.

We can do better, Christians.

Okay, rant over.

Greene out.

Peace.

“If you don’t Understand” – A ballad from the hurting ones

God moves all obstacles between Himself and His children

By: Jana Greene

Every once in a while I come across a post on one of the many recovery boards I follow that just blows my socks off. A piece that is more than words, but a declaration and plea – a raw and personal effort to help normal folk who do not suffer addiction or mental illness to understand what it’s like to walk around in the skin of an addict or person struggling.

When I find that post (and get over wishing I’d written it myself!) I get excited about sharing it.

This is that post. And with the author’s permission, I am sharing it here.

I hope this post, with its’ chewy center of wisdom, goes viral. I hope Ashleigh Campora’s words echo in the minds and hearts of those who ‘don’t understand,’ and gives comfort to those who woefully DO understand, and need encouragement.

“If you don’t understand mental illness, good. Good for you. You shouldn’t have to understand. If you don’t understand why some people can’t get out of bed in the morning, good. I hope you jump out of bed every day, ready to take the world by storm. If you don’t understand how someone could drag a blade across their skin, good. I hope you’re never that desperate to feel something. If you don’t understand what drives someone to continually starve themselves despite everything they’ve lost in the process, good. I hope you stay heavy and present and real. If you cant understand why that woman avoids mirrors; why she just stares blankly, in anger. I hope you never look at yourself with such disgust. That you always see yourself for what you really are: which is beautiful. If you don’t understand why he won’t just go to church or rehab or find someone who can help him, good. I hope you always have somewhere to turn. If you don’t understand how someone can keep swallowing bottles of pills; tying knots in ropes; or standing at the tops of bridges, good. I hope you are never that desperate for relief. If you don’t understand, good. You’re not supposed to. It’s all f#cking sick.” – Ashleigh Campora.

The very definition of ‘stigma’ is “A set of negative and often unfair beliefs that a society or group of people have about something.” Those of us who suffer addiction and mental illness? We ARE that ‘something.’ And we know that we make no sense to those of you who do not walk in our shoes.

The only way to make stigma get up off it’s ass and move far away is by spreading these stigma-killing messages:

You are not alone.

You are worthy to be free of the oppression that binds you.

People can (and DO) recover.

God bless you, Ms. Campora.

God bless us, every one.