Words to Live and Write by

I am willing to fall Because I have learned how to rise.

I craft Love from heartbreak, Compassion from shame, Grace from disappointment, Courage from failure.

I am among the brave and brokenhearted, and I am rising strong.

(credit to Brene Brown)

Monday, April 7, 2014

The Dark Side and The Hope of Depression - My Messy, Beautiful


Depression has really been kicking my butt lately. It's been hounding me for a decade, but these past few weeks, or months if I'm honest, it has been knocking me down harder and harder than ever before. And it's brought its best friend Anxiety along to play, too. Those two keep ganging up on me, and my arsenal is empty.

Now before you start singing "Count Your Blessings," or saying "At least," or silver-lining me, just stop. Stop and listen.

I'm opening up here and it's scary and hard, and I'm not asking you to fix me, or even to understand me, I'm just asking you to love me. Love is all I need. Also, keep in mind that love translates into action, and I need that, too. The supportive kind of action: listening, empathizing, visiting to let me talk and/or cry, helping me do the things I cannot like playing with my toddler or washing the dishes, or volunteering to babysit so I can go to a therapist, or the temple, or take a nap or a walk. I need a lot of love. And here's why:

I am not okay.

I have some twisted self-preservation instinct that makes me answer otherwise. When you ask me, "How are you doing?" I will answer, "Fine," or "Hanging in there," or some such lie. And I will be very convincing because of one of two things: either you can see me or you can't see me. If you can see me, chances are it's at church or a social gathering (I make rare appearances), or at the store; and that means I'm out of bed, I'm dressed - if I'm at church I'm wearing make-up and heels and a smile - and I look fine. So when I say I'm fine you may look at me and think, "Yeah, she looks okay. If she were in really bad shape she wouldn't be smiling." On the other hand, if you can't see me, if for example you've written a note or an email or called on the phone, you can't see my wrinkled pajamas or puffy eyes and unwashed hair, and you won't hear me hyperventilating or crying or yelling because I can fake it long enough for a phone call.

But it's all one great big lie. I am not fine. And I'm afraid if you know the truth - well, I don't know what I'm afraid of. Maybe you'll think less of me. Maybe you'll back away because I'm too much of a mess for you to handle, especially when you have your own burdens, or you don't know how to help. Maybe I'll end up in a mental hospital, which is bad (in my mind) because it proves I'm a broken mess and that label will follow me forever and ever.

I am a broken mess, though.

Depression pounds me into the ground; it flattens me. I feel its weight physically pressing down on me. Depression is heavy. It takes all my energy and willpower just to keep breathing beneath all that pressure. That means I don't have enough energy left to care for and play with my child, to clean my home, to make or eat food, to pay attention to my husband, to walk my dog, to even want to do a hobby, or exercise, or read (fiction or scripture). I have nothing left in me to give but there are so many things and people that need me to give.

That's when Anxiety comes marching up and slaps me around. If Depression is heavy, Anxiety is loud. It screams in my head: Look at all the things you aren't doing. You are failing. Look at the dirty dishes, the dirty clothes, the dirty floors, your dirty hair - everywhere is a mess. Look at that pile of bills; how many of them are late yet, and why can't you manage your finances better, or at all, or come up with creative money-saving strategies so there's enough money to pay the bills? Your husband works hard to bring home paychecks, and what do you do but lie around feeling depressed? You're not contributing at all. See how you daughter has to entertain herself because you're too tired to play or set up play dates, as if that's any excuse. What do you think that's doing to her during these critical formative years? See how your husband feels used and ignored because you want him to help with the baby when he comes home so you can take a break even though you've done nothing all day. How long can your marriage handle the strain of being one-sided? Etc., etc., etc.

And the pressure and the noise and the guilt and the shame build and build and build. Until I snap or break. If I snap, I lash out, and then the guilt of that forces me to break. And to break... it's scary. I lose control. I cry and heave and sob and tense up and start hyperventilating and curl up on the floor. And it hurts, in every way a human can hurt. And I can't stop it. I can't pull myself back together. I quite literally cannot take a deep breath. I can't find perspective. I can't function - at all. I just can't. It's not that I don't want to - heaven knows I want to - but I can't. Which, in and of itself, is terrifying.

One of the worst parts is that I can see all this happening to me as if I were outside the situation. I see what a mess I am, and I know it's not me - like the broken woman is someone else entirely. But I have to live INSIDE her. I have to live in this broken body and mind, as if I were nailed in someone else's coffin, screaming and clawing inside where no one can hear me. "I'm here! I'm still in here! Someone save me!!"

The Cracks Let The Light Shine Through
"Expansion" by Paige Bradley
I think know God has a bigger plan here. I am regaining just enough strength and perspective to see a few things.

First, this will pass. It is an episode, not a forever condition, although the physiological factors underlying it may be with me for life. But this dark and scary pit is one I will climb out of, as I have done before

Second, this experience will actually make me stronger. I don't buy the phrase "What doesn't kill you only makes you stronger," because sometimes it doesn't. Sometimes it leaves you weaker, damaged, and afraid, and the best (or worst) thing that can be said about it is that it didn't kill you. But this time is different. It's different because I am responding differently. Instead of waiting for the storm to pass, waiting to see the light ahead, I am taking a stand. I am shedding the shame and I am sharing, asking for and accepting help. New help - things I haven't tried before. I am determined to find a way to live my life so I am no longer walking along the edge of the precipice, liable to fall at the slightest push. I don't know how I'll do it, or how long it will take, or how hard it will be - but I will find a way. This time I am fighting back.

Third, God may actually have a purpose in this. It might not, in fact, be just the condition of my body, or just my life's trial to learn to live with, though it certainly is that. I'm starting to believe that God wants me to fight back, to learn how to be stronger, not for my sake alone but for others.

It's becoming clear to me that this trial might be similar to my struggles with infertility and pregnancy complications. When kept to myself, they are a heavy cross to bear. But when shared they become a conduit for empathy, for connection with other people in ways that would be impossible had I not experienced those things for myself.

Don't misunderstand me, this doesn't make my trial any easier, but it does give me hope and purpose, and those are powerful things. I may not be able to "beat" this, but I can come to understand it and let my broken-open heart fill with empathy and a greater capacity to love others.

“The heart that breaks open can contain the whole universe.” - Joanna Macy

Here's what God has to say on the matter: "The books on high will be opened and they will record the great messages that you have delivered, the charity that you have exhibited, the love you have shared, and the great things you have accomplished in this mortal life." And so on. (The rest is sacred and private to me.)

That has always seemed a tall order to fill, an impossible task really, to be the person He describes. But I'm beginning to see how He's making me that person. The process isn't easy; it requires me to go through some pretty hard stuff - I dare say some of life's hardest. 

But what if those "great messages" are really one-on-one conversations with a person in pain, when I can simply and honestly say, "I know what it's like, and you are not alone." What if the charity and love and "great things" I accomplish are not with the proverbial ninety and nine, but with one - one precious soul at a time, for each individual is precious beyond measure. 

To quote a hymn that's been on my mind, God sends blessings "through words and deeds of those who love." And true friends are His greatest gifts. What better friend can a person have than one who climbs into the pit with them and reassures, "You are not alone," while God does His work to help them find their way back into the light.

So all this breaking me - physically, mentally, and emotionally - may be for the express purpose that I know what it's like to be broken. After all, God asks us to lay at His altar a "broken heart and a contrite spirit" (see Isaiah 57:15 and Psalm 34:18). I'd always thought of these two things in relation to forgiveness. Contrite does mean remorseful or full of grief. But what if it can also mean something else? I'm a student of Latin, so I always search for meaning in the roots of words. Con means "with" or "together," and trite means "worn out" or "frequently used." Put the two together, and a contrite spirit may mean a spirit that is willing to be used by God, willing to submit to Him to the degree that we ourselves are so worn out that God is the One working. 

It occurs to me that when I break, if I offer up the pieces of myself willingly to God, He will put me back together as He wants me to be. I am like a broken vessel (see Psalm 31). And each time I get put back together there remain a few additional cracks for Light to shine through.