The Bigger Picture

This time of year, I love looking through my memories on Facebook. Obviously there are many worth seeing: graduations, vacations, weddings, etc. from over the years.

But my favorite is this: in 2009, I had just graduated from college (I graduated May 17, I believe). The following 2 weeks, I stayed at Millikin while all of my best friends slowly started moving on. I was set to stay in Decatur for the whole summer and nanny again, which was so fun for me, but I was used to having my people surround me, and that was going to be different this year. I was excited about my first teaching job for the fall, but I couldn’t actually do much to prepare for it, so things were a bit stagnant on that front. As I stayed around, I did all kinds of things I’d never done before, particularly hanging out with new people I’d barely known before (especially random boys!). I also was working with my roommates to clean out the house, having our final Friends and West Wing marathons, and just enjoying all being together for the last time. While all of that was in fun, it was in anticipation for what was next, which was unknown and scary and kind of sad.

I had the worst semester ever right before that – student teaching was a nightmare, my relationship that lasted for most of college ended, and I truly felt like I would just be alone forever. As my friends started to leave to go on toward Nashville and Chicago and Boston and other exciting places, I stayed in good ole’ Decatur, Illinois, and I felt boring and plain and alone.

You may be wondering why I look back with such fondness on this. The answer is easy: I’ve read the book before, and I know what’s just about to happen. At this point in history 9 years ago, I am moments away from the greatest joy I’ve ever experienced. As I see these old posts full of hope and immaturity and sadness and uncertainty and silliness, I know now that on May 31, 2009, I will be frantically and grumpily washing dishes in the house where we all lived while a bunch of friends are having a good time swing dancing in the backyard. I know a cute boy will come into the kitchen and ask me for a drink, and I’ll be rude and accidentally make a comment that hurts his feelings. I know that a friend will tell me that he is the best guy on earth and is definitely worth knowing, so I’ll send him a Facebook message a few days later apologizing for being a jerk. I know that we’ll decide to hang out for the summer since we’re both stuck here alone with no friends left. And I know that almost exactly 2 years later, I’ll walk down a church aisle toward him while he bawls his eyes out with most of those friends surrounding us again, and we’ll start the journey together.

I love late-May/early-June each year for this incredible reminder. God knows what he is doing, and he can see what we can’t see. I had no idea how quickly Ryan would be in my life after this. I had no idea about our somewhat controversial whirlwind romance. I had no idea that another human could so perfectly mesh with my weirdness. I had no idea what within 9 years we’d have such an incredibly blessed adventure, almost three beautiful children, a goofy dog, a home we love, so many jobs, and so much love and laughter everyday. I had no idea what was coming! But now I do, because I’ve read the book.

If you are in a place where you are waiting for God to move, you might not realize that he is already moving. You might not realize that in such a short time from now, a dream will be realized or something life-changing will happen. Remember that he can see a bigger picture, and he really knows what he is doing. The story he has for you is a lot better than any you could make up for yourself. He wrote the book, and he knows what’s next.

Dealing with Depression/Anxiety: Part 3

I’ve been writing a mini blog series this week about my experience with Postpartum Depression. You can see the first two posts here and here.

Today I want to write about the hope that I’ve found as I’ve learned to depend on God to renew my mind. Please let me note here quickly that I am NOT saying that praying super hard is going to heal your depression. That is a bit asinine. What I am saying is that the Holy Spirit is powerful, and disciplined practice in God’s word and through prayer, with the added practice of filtering all thoughts through the “God lens,” as I call it, has made an incredible effect on my everyday life, and it has helped me figure out how to cope on a daily basis and fight and WIN over depression.

So you should know that I’m kind of a fighter. I’m a spitfire. I’m fiery. I’m passionate. I hear these things about myself a lot. Forever, I thought this was a negative side of my personality, but I’ve learned to embrace it and control it and bring it out only when needed. Turns out that its a really great benefit, because it makes me a risk-taker and brave and fearless. Sometimes.

When I realized I had depression, I did the whole thing where I snapped three times across the front of my body in a zigzag motion and I was all like “nah-uh! You are not going to win, son!” (Side note: I do this on a daily basis to my actual son. I’m not a regular mom. I’m a cool mom.) My instinct was to fight it. Like, DARN IT I WILL BE HAPPY IF IT’S THE LAST THING I DO! Unfortunately, that doesn’t work. So my second instinct was to sink into a personal hole and fall off the face of the earth in the name of binge watching television. That also didn’t work. My third instinct was what should have been my first instinct – taking it to the Guy Who Saved Me and checking out if He could handle it. Turns out He can.

I grew up in church. And not just your regular churcher. I was the Minister of Music’s daughter. I was in various 90s children’s musicals, including Daniel, Darius, and Delion, Nic at Nite, Go, Go Jonah, and Levite Genes. I was in Mississippi state competitive Bible Drill (I can look up ANY verse in the WHOLE BIBLE in less than 10 seconds). I was in Awana (TRUTH…ON THE MARCH!). I was at church at 7am on Sunday mornings, 4 pm on Sunday nights, all night Wednesdays, hospital visitation on Tuesdays. I used to be in the balcony of Bowmar Avenue Baptist Church for youth musical rehearsals while my dad ran the show and my mom played the piano and I’d do their choreography and be jealous that I was only a kid still. Once in 5th grade, my talent at the Awana Campout talent show was to say the books of the bible in less than 20 seconds. I can still do it, too. There was one week in Awana in which I passed 35 seconds in one night because I wanted to finish my book before the end of the year. I grew up listening exclusively to Christian music like Point of Grace, Michael W. Smith, Steven Curtis Chapman, etc. My favorites as a teeny kiddo were the Steve Green Hide ‘Em In Your Heart Songs. I was the queen of “somebody backed out of singing a special at the last second, can you pull something out of thin air to sing for the offertory please?” (thanks to my mom’s piano playing amazingness and my dad’s unlimited repertoire access.) Anyway, I think you get the idea that I was like ultimate kid church nerd over here.

There are, to this day, incredible benefits to this life that I had. One of those is the excessive amount of scripture I was forced to memorize as a child. To illustrate my point, I’ll give you a few off the top of my head that directly apply to what I’m saying right now. “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” “Even a child is known by his actions, by whether his conduct is pure and right.” “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways, acknowledge Him, and He will direct your paths.” “I have hidden your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.” “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” Most of the Scripture that I still have easily memorized was seared into my brain (and heart) thanks to Steve Green. Shoutout to you, Steve Green! You rule.

And Steve Green’s Hide ‘Em In Your Heart Songs were the first step on my journey to recovery. My parents bought us the CDs for Christmas (you can get them here, and you should, because they are AWESOME no matter your age) for my kids. We have been playing them NON. STOP. These songs are intended for children, and they have typical 90s arrangements (including recorder and flute as featured instruments!). But that doesn’t matter, because guess what? The content is rock solid. I’d even say the content is sword-like. Because it is straight up Scripture, y’all. And you can’t get a better weapon than that.

The best thing about listening to a song that is word-for-word Scripture is that it gets stuck in your head. And the best thing about Scripture getting stuck in your head is that it is literally hidden in your heart, and it comes to mind when you need it.

This is the first way that God healed me.

My mind is a black hole. I think very, very quickly, constantly, never ending. You can probably tell from the high volume of words in my blog posts. My mind and Lorelai Gilmore’s mind are very similar, although I like to think that I generally have a better filter than her (not always, but generally). Because of this, I tend to spin out of control with negative thoughts. Whenever I’m presented with a worry or negative thought, it is like poison. It takes over my entire mind. It makes my heart race. It controls me and it overcomes me. And then I remember (and when I say “I remember,” what I really mean is that God, in all His glory, takes a moment to remind me who I am to Him):

“whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable, think about such things. if anything (anything) is excellent (excellent), if anything is praiseworthy (praiseworthy), think about, think about, think about such things!”

“you knit me together in my mother’s womb, you knit me together in my mother’s womb, I praise you, I praise you, you knit me together in my mother’s womb. because I am fearfully and wonderfully made, because I am fearfully and wonderfully made, I praise you, I praise you, because I am fearfully and wonderfully made”

“there is a friend (there is a friend), a friend who sticks (a friend who sticks), closer than a brother! there is a friend (there is a friend), a friend who sticks (a friend who sticks), closer than a brother! an F-R-I-E-N-D who sticks closer than a B-R-O-T-H-E-R, closer than a brother!”

“when I am afraid, I will trust in you, I will trust in you, I will trust in you, when I am afraid I will trust in you, in God whose Word I praise. In God I trust, when I am afraid, in God I trust, in God whose Word I praise.”

“the eyes of the Lord are in every place, keeping watch on the evil and the good.”

“do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good, do not be overcome by evil. with good, with good, overcome evil with good.”

“let us not grow weary while doing good, in due season we shall reap. let us not grow weary, while doing good, in due season we shall reap. if we don’t lose heart, if we don’t lose heart, in due season we shall reap, if we don’t lose heart, if we don’t lose heart, in due season we shall reap.”

and my FAVORITE:

“a joyful heart is good medicine, good medicine a joyful heart. a joyful heart is good medicine, a joyful heart is good. but a broken spirit dries up the bones, a broken spirit dries up the bones. a joyful heart is good medicine, good medicine a joyful heart. a joyful heart is good medicine, a joyful heart is good!”

I just did all those off the top of my head. They might not be word for word, and I may have mixed up a few words. But you guys, this is my biggest weapon! Think about that last one.

“A joyful heart is good medicine, but a broken spirit dries up the bones.” Proverbs 17:22.

I love this verse so. much. I think it is so cool that it says that a joyful heart is medicine. We tend to think that a joyful heart is something that just happens, like “oh, I’m feeling joyful today, yay!” But it isn’t. A joyful heart is a conscious choice. Just like I choose to take some Tylenol when I have a headache to dull the pain, a joyful heart is something I can choose to put on when I’m having a broken spirit that is drying up my bones. I can choose to dwell in the joy I have through God’s provision. Joy is not a feeling. It is a choice.

This truth has been astronomically life changing for me. I realized that joy is not the same thing as happiness. Happiness comes and goes like a quick rain. It can quench for a while, but then I’m waiting for more. But joy is, to quote my pastor Jeff, a quiet river. It is always right there, steadily moving, consistently full. It is water that flows from another place, not water I have to make up for myself. I just have to choose to walk over to it, acknowledge it, and drink from it. For me, drinking from it is a change in attitude. It is replacing my sour, poisonous depressive and anxious thoughts with the truth of Scripture. I repeat the Scripture over and over again to myself. It changes my mind. It renews it. It quenches it.

The kicker is that truth is not always happy. The truth is that God allows seasons of heartache for us. Some of our dreams don’t come true. Some people never see earthly prosper. Some people lose everything. Job did. But the truth is that God is there. He is a friend who sticks closer than a brother. There is nothing to fear, because I can trust in God whose word I praise. I don’t have to grow weary, because in due season I will reap (even if that season is not on this earth). I do not have to be overcome by evil, because I can overcome evil with good. I am fearfully and wonderfully made. God is watching everything. He sees me. This is how we know what Love is, Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. These things aren’t happy. They don’t make me go YAHOO. They don’t make me suddenly feel things. But they replace the emptiness with something full and powerful and eternally thirst-quenching.

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” Romans 15:13

Dealing with Depression/Anxiety: Part 1

I’ve always been a Negative Nelly, but my hopeless feelings about life have really gotten out of hand over the past few years, especially since giving birth a year ago to my daughter. It turns out that I have Postpartum Depression! Hooray for me (sarcasm is an important part of my life as a Negative Nelly)!

This isn’t a popular topic to discuss, really, because nobody wants to be the big ole whiner of the group. But I’m afraid in our understanding as a society that whiners are annoying people who are frustrating to be around, we are missing some important opportunities to learn how to understand a group of people who have a legitimate chemical issue that is overwhelmingly difficult to overcome. And some of those people, in their attempt to not be the whiner of the group, suffer totally in silence when they really need help.

Depression and Anxiety are different for every person, so I don’t think that what I’m going to talk about here necessarily applies to every sufferer. I do think that sharing my experiences about what it feels like, what helps and what hurts it, and how I have learned to cope and even overcome it may provide someone a new view into life with depression or possibly provide hope for someone else who is struggling, so I’ve decided to write a 3-part blog mini series about my PPD. Here’s part 1: What It Feels Like.

What It Feels Like

It is difficult to contextualize what depression feels like. I’ve heard lots of people talk about how it’s not just feeling especially sad (like The Office, lol, hope you’ve seen that one, “Dwight, you ignorant slut”) but that it’s more than that. Sure, it feels sad sometimes. Gloomy. In the dumps. But it’s just more involved than that. It feels heavy, like everything normal is just harder to do. Everything feels overwhelming. I’ll look at my dishes in the sink and have a panic attack (anxiety) and feel utterly hopeless (depression) because doing those dishes just feels impossible. I often know that I’m being irrational, and I even think that in the moment (Mel, you’re being irrational, dishes are not that difficult and they only take a few minutes to finish), but I can’t seem to shake the feeling of being overwhelmed. It feels like I’m doing normal things, but I have to do those things while wearing a house on my head. It’s just heavy. This is really the best way I can describe it.

I’m also naturally a pessimist (which is not the same thing as being depressed, by the way), so I will face normal, everyday tasks with a feeling of pointlessness. What’s the point of doing this, it’s just going to result in [insert difficult-to-deal-with thing here]? And there’s a sense of anger involved, like why can’t I just be happy? I wish I was just happier and more laid back and just could deal with things better. Often, when dealing with my depression symptoms, I will still see everything wonderful in my life. I’ll notice my beautiful children and how wonderful they are, how smart, how magical it is that they are learning so much everyday, how silly they are, how joyful they are. And I’ll notice that I have a beautiful home, a great support system, wonderful friends and family, and an amazing God. I’ll see His blessings, and I’ll know it is there. But the stupid thing about depression is that I can see all of those things, but I can’t seem to be glad about them. I know they are good things, but I just don’t have any feelings toward them. There is an emptiness involved. This is a frustrating place to be, because often advice toward people with depression is “just focus on the positive things in your life, and it’ll make you feel better.” Well, that sometimes just doesn’t work. I can see and focus on all the positive things in my life like crazy, but it doesn’t change my resting hopelessness.

Sometimes, I’ll be doing some regular old task, and I’ll think for a fleeting moment about something. Sometimes it is random, and other times it is triggered by something I see (like in my Facebook newsfeed, for example, this seems to happen a lot). For example, I’ll suddenly remember a situation in which I said something or did something stupid or hurtful to someone. This is a normal thing for me, because I am the queen of putting my foot in my mouth on accident and then stressing out about it for weeks later. My heart will start to race. I’ll keep looking through Facebook and I’ll start thinking about something else. 10 minutes will pass, but I’m still feeling very upset and my heart is still racing, and I can’t remember why I’m upset. This is extremely common for me. And a lot of times, I won’t even be able to register what it was that triggered the anxiety, which results in hopeless frustration and the cycle restarts.

The most frustrating thing about anxiety and depression for me is undoubtedly how stupid and irrational it is. I am a very logical person. I believe in truth and reason. They matter to me and guide me. I think God made us with the ability to reason because logic is a helpful tool in difficult situations. So when logic, truth, and reason don’t change how I feel about things, I get kind of mad. I don’t want to feel this way. I’m sick and tired of feeling hopeless and overwhelmed. I’m annoyed at myself that I just can’t seem to beat it. I’m irritated at society which teaches that positive thinking just changes everything. And so I start to get mad. The anger is really the way that my depression starts to show to the rest of the world. I snap at people and get short tempered. I’m angry with myself for my dumb depression. I’m much less forgiving and kind and patient when I let my depression win. Or, what is even more common – I’ll crawl into a deep hole and not let any part of myself show. This was my standard coping mechanism for about 10 years (during which I never realized that I might have had depression). Being so afraid of being rejected for my irrational feelings of depression, and being so afraid of being unworthy of people’s love and attention, I sank back into a shell of myself with no defining features worth anyone’s time. When I look back, it is a miracle that anyone cared for me, and I praise God for those unconditional friends and teachers every day.

So to sum up, depression and anxiety feel heavy. They make regular things feel harder or even impossible. I often can’t remember why I’m feeling anxious, but my body still has symptoms. I get frustrated that my feelings are illogical. I get angry at myself, which displaces into anger at others. I crawl into my personal hole and reduce contact with people whenever possible.

After reading all of this, you are probably thinking “Boy, that’s frustrating” or possibly “Geez, you’re a hopeless whiner.” And that’s what I’m thinking, too! So you are not alone! But I want you to know something important about my depression:

It is not winning.

Hope wins, you guys.

I want you to know my philosophy on life as I finish this post. There is so much hope. I believe in God. I believe He is a powerful God who loves me endlessly, remarkably, sacrificially, amazingly. I believe that I do not deserve this love. Inherently, I am worth crap because I am full of sin. I mess up all the time infinity amounts and to epic proportions, and because of those mess ups, I am not worthy to be in God’s presence. God wants me in His presence anyway. He loves me anyway. And that truth is enough to live off. I have depression and a little bit of anxiety. But I am loved, loved, loved, loved, loved beyond a shadow of a doubt, beyond any understanding that I can have, beyond any reason or logic. I know that this is true, and that truth keeps me going through the day, through the symptoms of depression, through the spells of anxiety, through the feelings of hopelessness. That basic, utter truth is enough for me to find all the hope and peace and joy in the world. But it is a matter of choosing that truth even when it doesn’t change my feelings about things – that’s the battle of my depression.

So now that you have a basic understanding of what my depression and anxiety feel like, be on the lookout for my follow-up post about how I’ve been treating it.

Side Note: I’m not a big medicine taker, so I was very reluctant to start any medication to treat my depression, especially since I was breastfeeding at the time when we realized that I have it. So I sought after natural methods. Natural methods do not work for everyone. Some people really, really need the medicine. I will tell you that a deciding factor for me that I didn’t need medication was that I definitely have clinically diagnosed postpartum depression, but I’ve never once seriously considered ending my life. I feel like my life is pointless a lot of the time, but I know that there are too many people who love me desperately and depend on me daily. My life is too important, even when it feels hopeless. If you have thoughts of suicide, please understand that your life is too important. Don’t give it up. Don’t let depression win. It is stupid and dumb, and you are not. If you need medication, please take it (in the appropriate amounts and at the appropriate times of day). If not, you probably still need treatment. I sought treatment through Christian counseling and a few personal disciplines, and I’m starting to realize that there are connections in my depression to what I eat and do each day (diet and exercise greatly make a difference). I’m realizing that our bodies are more connected to our minds than we realize.