Authenticity · Depression · Faith

Waking Up on the Wrong Side… with No Coffee

This morning I woke up feeling angst.

Now, I do struggle with insomnia, but this post isn’t about grumpy mornings where I’ve literally gotten no sleep. Because last night I slept great. Probably got in an eight hour night, which for me is amazing.

I had a great day yesterday. I went to bed content and happy last night.

I woke up sour.

How does that even happen?

Cue about a dozen memes about coffee… which also doesn’t apply, because I don’t particularly love coffee. I mean… I drink it most mornings, because as of turning 30, I forced myself to become an adult.

But this morning, this particular morning, I had it in my mind to drink some coffee with my cream. Yet low and behold, it was GONE!! (Not the coffee, the CREAM) My husband finished the cream.

Now I was even more sour.

But not drinking coffee doesn’t affect me. I am not an addict. I am not an addict. I won’t admit to it. (Still grumbles inwardly about not having coffee.)

Then, to top it off, my daughter asked me a question that annoyed me. On most days it would’ve been an honest, innocent question.

But this morning my body tensed.

She asked this question just to get me mad. My irrational self thought. Why, she was probably scheming from the moment she woke up on how to make me miserable. My husband probably was doing the same.

My four boys were quietly playing downstairs.

I was angry at them. Because, it was too early for them to be playing already. Surely, they had missed doing their chores. I called them up, like a drill sergeant. “Have you boys done ALL your chores?” They nodded. I still didn’t believe them. Didn’t want to believe them. I listed the chores one by one.

Check.

Check.

Check.

Then, feeling like I needed to get them to do something, I made up a new one. They obeyed nicely. Still, I was annoyed. At everyone.

Please tell me, how does this even happen?

As the kids left for school and my husband for work, I was painfully aware that something was off with me, not them.

I went on the treadmill, because if depression has taught me anything, it’s that my body was made to move. I need it for my health. I need it for my sanity. I didn’t feel like running. So I walked. I didn’t feel like walking, so I grumbled while walking. Then I dumbly closed my eyes to pray while I walked.

Of course, I fell. I should’ve been filming the moment, as I would love to watch how stupid that looked. I’m sure that alone would’ve cured any sour feelings inside.

So… you may be wondering, what’s the point of this post? Will I give you another amazing conversation where God told me exactly why I was feeling this way and why? Some grand lesson I learnt? Some attitude change that made all things better?

No. Because there was none.

Me: God, why am I feeling this way?

God:

Nothing. Silent.

This is just as real as my good conversations with him. And you know what? Sometimes there is no good reason other than the fact that life isn’t always sunny. Sometimes the reason comes to me later. Sometimes I never figure it out. Sometimes its a day: A bad morning, waking up on the wrong side of the bed.

Sometimes its a full season that lasts years. I’ve had those too. But surely as winter is cold and dark and drags on far too long… spring comes.

I’m learning to wait.

How about you? How are you doing? Are you in a good season right now? A hard one? How do you cope with the difficult days.

Depression · Faith · Freedom · Health · Running

I Met Depression… and I Won

A few years ago I was diagnosed with depression.

There are many reasons for falling into depression: Trama. Rejection. Bullying. Death or loss. Harmful world views. Stress. A life-altering event. Hormones. Lack of nutrition or sleep… and the list goes on.

Healing for each soul is a very individual path. So as I share my story of hope, that is all I want you to take from it.

There is hope.

Today I am alive. Joyful. Healed. Whole. And maybe what healed me can help you. But maybe you need to take a different path. That’s OK too.

I’m sharing to bring hope, not to say I have the answers.

In February 2014, I had my fifth child… a son. It was very, very difficult for me to face this addition to my family. Though I loved him more than words can describe, I was exhausted with the other children. I felt that caring for another baby was beyond my abilities and I was burning out quickly.

I remember a comedian once explaining how having a large family felt. He said: “Imagine you are drowning and then, someone hands you a baby.”

We laugh because it’s so true. It’s too true.

I was drowning. Everything I had ever found joy and meaning in, felt distant and out of reach. I didn’t find any pleasure in doing the very things I once loved. Life was dark, and though I saw splashes of color, it didn’t bring peace to my heart.

Fast forward a very painful four years: Spring 2018. I had gone through church hardships, loss of friendships, moving, and building a house. I had let go of my old friendships at the church that had rejected me and my family because of my depression. I was in the process of allowing myself to move on from the deep hurt that comes from being completely misjudged and misunderstood, forgiving them as best I could.

Our family had joined a new church (an act in itself which was hard), made new friends and our “baby” wasn’t so difficult to care for anymore. But I was STILL burdened under this load that was crushing me. I had pushed the pain so far down, that it was coming out in my health. My bones ached constantly! The smallest chore would leave me absolutely immobile for the rest of the day. I needed daily naps.

And deep down, I still blamed myself because I had been unable to make things right. I went over the details in my mind again and again, the burden of my rejected attempts of reconciliation lay heavy on my shoulders. Could I have done more? Should I have done anything differently?

Finally, after one incident where I went outside to clean up some garbage and I found myself sleeping for four hours that afternoon from exhaustion, I decided to see a doctor. After many questions and blood tests, he told me that I was depressed.

However, then he told me something I never expected to hear from a doctor: “There are many ways to go about this, but I recommend that you try gentle exercise before taking any antidepressants.” Immediately, I protested that I had tried to exercise but that it was just too painful. I was too weak.

“I said gentle exercise,” He chuckled, “I’m not telling you to train for a marathon. Just get out of the house, in the fresh air, and walk for 20-30 minutes at whatever pace you desire! And don’t do errands or make it into a chore. Make sure it’s time just for you.”

So in May 2018 I started to walk.

One of the hardest things I’ve done is put on those running shoes. I was so afraid that I would fail at walking. But the words echoed in my head: Gentle walk. Gentle Exercise. Over and over again those simple words challenged my way of thinking and gave me courage to at least try. For me, exercise wasn’t something that could be gentle. It was a way of pushing my body to the extreme. To be the best. To compete with myself and others.

I had never thought of it as something that I could actually enjoy.

I still remember that first walk. The warm air, the slow pace, the music on my phone. The sun shone down on my face. I heard birds chirping around me. I stopped to notice the buds on the trees that were forming. As I walked, suddenly I felt a peace inside that I hadn’t noticed for a very long time. That was it… I was hooked! Not that going out was easy, but I now believed that it could help me. Each day my pace was just a little bit faster and I was able to go just a little bit farther because I finally felt no pressure and my body was getting stronger!

At the same time our pastor started teaching a series on bible memory and the importance it has when we are faced with trials or temptations. During the message, I felt God speaking gently to me: “This is it Heather! This is what you need to get you through.”

I went straight home and downloaded a verse memory app called “Verses.”

I started with memorizing Psalm 34. While I walked, I quoted my verses. When my tears wouldn’t stop, I quoted them over and over. “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit. A righteous person may have many troubles but the Lord delivers him from them all.” When I remembered the rejection of my friends, I spoke these words out loud. Little by little, I added to them. Psalm 139, Oh God… they may think I’m a horrible person, but “Lord, you have searched me and you know me… you are familiar with all my ways!” Then I added Psalm 103. “Praise the Lord my soul. All my inmost being praise his holy name. Praise the Lord my soul, and forget not ALL his benefits. Who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases. Who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion. Who satisfies your desires with good things, so that your youth is renewed like the eagle. The Lord works righteousness and justice for all the oppressed…”

As my body and spirit grew stronger, I began to run for short distances. I would run for a bit, then walk in between, all the while praying and reciting my verses. By Fall 2018 I could run 5K (I had never in my life ran a full mile before this) and God had given me the ability to memorize over 15 full Psalms. I knew 10% of the book of Psalms and could bring it with me everywhere! It was in my heart as well as my head.

My greatest fear was losing my ability to run over the winter. I was terrified that I would sink back into my depression. My husband knew this and bought me a treadmill. Not only did I keep up running and memorizing all winter, but by Spring 2019 I had a follow up appointment with my doctor and he told me that I was in full recovery!

I realize that this story may sound too good to be true to many people.

A few years of depression? And now you think you have all the answers??

No. No I don’t.

Remember: This was what worked for me… and let me tell you, if you think my answer is to mental health is: Just go quote some scripture or just go exercise, you have horribly misunderstood this testimony!!

Getting out every day to walk and run, had just as big of an effect on me as the scriptures I was memorizing. Exercise was just as spiritual as God’s word. Because you know what? I believe “Gentle Exercise” WAS God’s personal word to me. And obeying God’s treatment plan for me was hard work! Some days I wanted to stay in my room and mope, eating chocolates and watching Netflix. Or take a long nap. But I forced myself every single day to go out. Some days in the rain. Some days in the heatwaves. Sometimes I hated it. The next day was even harder to go out. Sometimes I was far too busy! It was near impossible at times! The truth is, the road to healing is never easy.

Don’t kid yourself: Healing doesn’t ever come without a cost.

Whether the cost of time, the cost of perseverance, the cost of faith, the cost of money, the cost of disappointments and trying again, the cost of failure and rebuilding hope… there’s always a cost. The question is, are you willing to try?

Or have we become a generation that wants all the answers and victories handed to us on a silver platter?

It’s hard for me to wrap posts like this up in a simple paragraph, because there’s so much to leave you with. Yet one thought keeps running itself over and over in my mind again: Are we willing pay the price?

Fast forward to this fall. If I miss two weeks of exercise, I find myself slipping. Anxiety and depression grow. This path, for me, may just be a lifelong treatment. But isn’t it worth it? For my health? For my joy? For my family? For those around me who can relate to the everyday struggle?

The answer I have to choose daily is: Yes. Yes… it’s worth it. 

Depression · Faith

Mental Health: Are We Choosing our Own Chaos?

I don’t do random.

If I start something new, it almost always has a purpose. Sometimes the roads I travel start with a purpose but only lead to a dead end, or they get so rocky and dangerous that I turn around.

But I never just carelessly walk down random paths. I’m far too predictable, to safe, to orderly for risky adventures. However, I have to admit that I always seem to find myself on these precarious streets…

Like the time I chose to keep my baby at the age of seventeen. Or when I chose to get married before I graduated. A few months later, I chose to pack up a bag and live at the hospital while my baby boy suffered for almost a year, before witnessing God’s amazing healing hand.

I chose to finish my high school diploma with 3 kids under 3, even though my body begged for extra rest and I had no desire to do homework when they were finally sleeping at night.

Later, I chose the lonely road of homeschooling, though I’m not a great teacher and I feel unqualified.

I chose to leave a church full of friends and family that I had attended since my childhood to help start a church that ended up being the most painful and wounding experience of my life so far. I also chose to walk in forgiveness and healing, believing the best of people.

We left a job my husband loved, to buy into a company and build it into something, which has been painfully difficult.

And my newest path is the choice to send my five beloved children to public school next year.

I wish I could see the future but I can’t, so I try to walk as close as I can beside the only one I know who does: my Heavenly Father. He’s known by so many to be a rock. A shelter in the storm. The hiding place. He’s a foundation. He is a strong tower. Our refuge in times of trouble.

That is my God.

The choices above may seem difficult, but no matter how those around me viewed them, they all brought a sense of peace and although there has been hardships and inner turmoil around me almost constantly, I rarely have felt that sense of chaos within me.

Now don’t get me wrong, I have felt inner turmoil. In the past I felt a lot of it while dealing with depression and anxiety. In fact this month I’ve been feeling a lot of it.

I can tell almost immediately when I’m in “overwhelm” because I become unable to slow down and just be. My downtime moments are filled with distractions.

This is why I feel like having a daily time of devotions and reflection is so important. Other than connecting with God, if I wasn’t used to quieting myself nothing would seem wrong! I would feel anxious and upset, but I wouldn’t realize it until panic attacks and anxiety would start kicking in.

However now I can tell things are wrong just by assessing my quiet times. I just want to distract myself! Turn on the Netflix. Get out the iPhone. Scroll through the news articles!

There’s no desire to reflect or think about my own personal life and the “whys” or the reasons for my behaviours.

This is overwhelm: Avoiding reality. Avoiding the hard questions. Avoiding true connections. This leads to small talk, which leads to shallow and unfulfilling relationships.

It’s a constant disconnected feeling and general discontentment in life.

Sound familiar? This constant state of busyness and distraction are common place in our world, but should not be common place in the Christian life. It feels weird when I get like this because I’m not used to it. It’s like running in a random direction just for the sake of running.

Busyness is often like that, isn’t it?

We sign up for this and commit to that, not having a reason for it but simply because that’s the way the rest of the crowd is headed. It feels wrong to turn off onto a more lonely (albeit simpler) road. But in my experience that’s the path that usually brings the most meaning and peace.

Not that important lessons aren’t learned on the main roads…but with high traffic comes stress, chaos and accidents.

This is where quieting ourselves and learning to ask the hard questions becomes so important. Without reflection, life becomes too difficult to navigate so we instead turn to distracting ourselves from the busyness which leaves us disconnected with our own emotional state. Cue the sleeping drugs, anti anxiety and depression meds that studies say about 1 in 6 Americans are now dependent on.

1 in 6!! Let that sink in for a moment!

No I’m not saying that there’s never a reason to take medicine for mental health issues. Not at all! There are many legitimate imbalances in the human brain that require medical intervention. But do we really believe that 1 in 6 people need to be on meds? Or is there something else going on that we’re not willing to face?

These are uncomfortable questions and thoughts, I know. Necessary ones though.

Are we willing to face them?

Am I?

 

Depression · Poetry · Running

What They Don’t See

They see me run.

But they don’t see the struggle,

fierce determination,

deep hurt,

raw pain,

rejection,

and anger unleashed.

Ten more minutes.

Why is it that the last ten are the hardest?

My breaths become deeper,

The pain is a reminder of what I’m fighting for.

Nine.

They don’t ask, so I don’t tell.

When they don’t know, all must be well.

Keep to myself, nobody gets hurt.

Eight.

I tried so hard,

A wanna be person.

Driven. Focused. Self sufficient.

Unimportant.

Seven.

No cheerleaders here.

Pressing on on my own,

Fighting my battles with tears.

Six.

Maybe if I try just one more time,

Would they see my soft heart?

Or despise my persistence.

See my deep longing?

Or loathe my existence.

Five.

Half over.

I heard of a man who knew all the Psalms,

So it became my mission to know them all.

Quote my verses some more.

I know ever so many, but no clue what for.

Four.

I paid all my bills not a second to late,

Gave all my tithes,

Opened my gates.

Three.

I forgave all my foes,

But they haunt me at night.

Why continue pursue me when I gave up the fight?

Two.

Learning a language.

But why bother, just to speak it alone?

Writing a book,

But if no one cares, what am I writing for?

One.

One more minute of striving for this,

Why do I bother?

Driven to conquer sadness,

Through sadness.

Done.

I’ve conquered this run.

I’ve won the struggle.

Left depression behind.

The next day to find.

Tomorrow I start it all over again.

Waiting for the day, my running can end.

Depression · Health

Ask if I’m Okay

For all my friends and loved ones out there who have dealt with depression or who are still dealing with it, I wrote this for you. I’m here for you if you need to talk, or even if you can’t talk, but just need someone to know that you’re struggling. You are NOT alone.

 

Dear Friend,

I know you’re there. You’ve always been. I know that if I have a baby you’ll bring me a meal. I know that if I’m faced with a loved ones death, you’ll hold me when I cry. I know that you’ll smile and congratulate me about any new and exciting event in my life. I know that you’ll do that. It’s what friends do.

I know that you’ll listen with excitement as I tell you all about my vacation and if I tell you about my problems, you’ll give your best advice. I know that you’ll laugh at my jokes even if they’re lame, or tell me a story about your rough day to make my day feel better. And if one day I’ve just HAD ENOUGH, and my washing machine has broken down while my kids have the flu, I know that if I call you…you’ll be there. You’ve always been. It’s what friends do.

But there’s one thing you never do, and it’s ok because until now I’ve never done it for you… It’s never probably crossed your mind, because it never crossed mine either.

Please, dear friend, just once in a while: ask if I’m ok.

And most likely you’ll hear me say: “Yeah, I’m good! Why? What’s up?”

And you can say, “Oh nothing, I’m just checking because I want to know if you’re not”…because a lot of the time I am okay.

But once in a while I’m not.

And then on those days, when I feel so alone, like nobody cares,  I can think back to the time you asked me if I was okay and remember that if I’m not okay, you’d want to hear about it.

And I’m sorry. Sorry for not doing that for you, because I understand now that some pain is just too hard to bring up on it’s own. Some pains are so deep that they need a friend to come and say, “Are you okay? I want to know if you’re not, because I care.”

I understand now that it’s awkward to bring up some types of pain, because you don’t know what to say…often you don’t even know what’s really wrong…but the pain is very real and it is crushing you. I understand that now. I understand why you pulled back and withdrew, why you avoided family and friends, not because you didn’t want to talk…but because you didn’t know how to. I now understand why you seemed to want to be alone, not because you didn’t want me around…but because you didn’t think I would be able to process feelings that even you couldn’t seem to work through.

And I want to tell you today that it’s ok. It’s ok to call me to cry, even if you don’t have the words to speak to me. It’s ok to tell me that you’re not ok and it’s ok if you don’t explain any further. It’s ok if you let me know those ugly feelings and thoughts, those ones that you want to run from. It’s also ok if you don’t. I just want to let you know that I’m here. It’s what friends do.

It’s also ok if you have nothing to offer me other than your tears. So if you ever feel completely alone, or that no one actually wants to hear the true response when they ask you a casual, “How are you?” Please know that you can be honest with me. I’m not afraid of your feelings, even your darkest ones. I want to know that you’re okay. You don’t need to feel like you owe me anything for listening. I’m not a therapist. I’m just a friend who may have little to offer you other than a shoulder to cry on and my prayers. I probably won’t have the answers to your problems. But you don’t have to apologize for the way you feel, or for “being a downer”, because I want to be able to walk this road with you. I want to be there! My dear friend, you are not alone! You are loved. You are deeply cared for!

Are you okay?

I’m here to listen. It’s what friends do.

Depression · Faith · Forgiveness · Freedom · Prayer

Finding Joy in Hardships

Joy is easy…when times are good. But what about those darkest of times… those days, weeks, months or  even years where you find that everything you dreamed of comes crashing in?

These past few years have been the hardest years of my life.

Now if you know my story, that’s probably a bit hard to believe. But what about your teenage pregnancy?? What about the loneliness of losing all of your high school friends as they went on with their lives without you? What about the months you watched your son suffering in the hospital, wondering if he was going to live to see his first birthday? What about the time where your spouse lost his job and you had no idea how you were going to feed the three young babies depending on you? Harder than those days? Yes. A hundred times…yes.

It hasn’t been the outward kind of hard, where everyone can see what’s going on and rushes in to help. Our health is great, our finances have been good, our marriage is doing well. These are things we so often take for granted until they’re gone. Losing a loved one, failing health, money struggles, or having a rough marriage bring very dark times as well. But these aren’t the type of hardships I’ve faced this past year.

I was quite suddenly faced with a totally unexpected confrontation, during a very difficult season of my life. This brought about a dark feeling of rejection that I can’t, try as I may, find the words to explain. Maybe it’s hard to explain because I’m not free to tell the whole story… just vague little pieces to protect those involved. I think only those who have felt so hurtfully accused, deeply rejected and so utterly confused as to WHY, could fully understand what I’m talking about. But the hardest thing wasn’t that it happened…it’s that was happening for over a year. For months, I went to bed almost every night with my pillow soaked in tears, wondering if I would ever again lie down with peace in my heart. And for the most part, I carried these burdens alone – desperate to talk to someone, anyone who would listen…but my heart was torn because it involved those I loved SO dearly, so I kept silent.

My life, to the very core, was being shaken. At one point I truly believed that I had lost the favour of God on my life. I began to do everything I thought I could do to win his favour back. I tried so hard to admit all my faults, to confess and confess and confess, to not be defensive, to take the blame, to restore the peace…and through it all, I began to let go of something very important; my joy.

My joy was gone. Somewhere along the way, my eyes had turned from looking at Jesus and I began to focus on the problem. Like Peter among the waves, I had stepped out of the boat in full confidence; only to lose sight of the fact that I was never meant to walk on water…I was simply supposed to look at Jesus. When I realized this, healing could begin.

Here I was faced with one of the most difficult questions to ask during a trial: How can something like joy be found again…even if your circumstances haven’t changed?

The first step was to recognize the devil’s lies. I realized that I can’t do works to earn God’s favour. Period. God’s children receive his favour as they look to him. And when we have our eyes on him, he loves to pour out his favour.

I also had to let go of the way I wanted things to turn out. I felt that if I just did my very best, if I prayed hard enough…then God would make things better. As it turns out, God never promises to make the road easy or better. He does promise to work everything for the good of those who love him. And I needed to trust this promise. As soon as I was free from focusing on my problem, I could fully turn my attention to pleasing God.  Then and only then, could I follow the steps HE wanted me to take.

The final piece in my journey to rediscovering joy was found in the book of Philippians. If you haven’t read it before, or even if it’s been a while, read it. It’s a true gem. Here is a book written by a man almost 2000 years ago, who had been through so many trials. At the time he wrote it, Paul was in prison, facing a very lonely future, a trial which could’ve led to his death, and hearing of people against him actually preaching – all while he sits under house arrest. Despite all this, the letter is one of the most joyful and thankful books of the bible. Instead of complaining about the negatives events that surround his current circumstances he chooses to see the positive side of things. He also shares two secrets about finding joy and peace that I began to cling to:

“Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace…” Philippians 4:6-7

Pray. That much I had done. Telling God what I need. Check! Thank him. Thank him! Thankfulness is part of the secret to having the peace of God in your heart. And I began to thank God, even in my pain. Declaring his goodness out loud is SO POWERFUL! As I began to thank God, day after day, I slowly started to see some good things that had come out of my situation. And then, the final secret to joy:

“…I have learnt the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength.” Philippians 4:12-13

I can have joy because he gives me strength.  

This realization, that God wasn’t just watching me suffer from the sidelines – but actively walking through the fire with me and holding me up, brought me great joy! Every painful moment, he was there. Every night I cried, he was holding me. And in my weakness he is beside me, giving me strength. I am not alone. Now that is a reason to have great joy!

“In your presence is fullness of joy, at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” Psalm 16:11