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. 

Faith · Peace

I Choose Peace

For the past week, peace has evaded me. From morning until evening my life has been packed with schedules, work and routine.

It’s busy in the public school world.

I guess that’s why I always loved homeschooling, home life, and relaxed schedules. Because I believe rest and boredom are essential for our souls. The unrest this generation is facing is possibly as damaging as starvation to our souls.

We do not rest.

And I’m not used to this. To be honest, I’m not sure I’m going to get used to this. In fact, I refuse to get used to the chaos inside of me… Outside chaos can only be handled well with inside peace.

There has to be another way.

As I was meditating on Psalm 23 this morning, I heard God’s gentle rebuke:

“Heather, you are worried about many things, but only one thing is needed… choose what is better and it will not be taken from you.”

Friends, we get to choose.

Chaos or peace.

Fear or trust.

Striving or being.

It’s a daily choice. One that I have been forgetting. I choose peace. I choose trust. I choose living in each moment. I choose to stop and admire the beauty of the fall leaves. I choose to slow down and listen to what my kids are actually saying. I choose to make eye contact and respond.

I choose peace.

Peace – Hillsong

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?

 

Uncategorized

Finding Peace in Anxiety

Something I share very little about is how severely I’ve dealt with anxiety in these last few years. I really don’t like talking about it, partly because I’m embarrassed about it…it makes me feel weak, and taunts me that if I was a better person, a better Christian, I wouldn’t struggle with such things. But another reason I resist talking about it is because I don’t want to become one who sits about moping and complaining about my problems, which, compared to the rest of the worlds, are very small.

I have food to eat. I have a house to live in. My physical needs are more than met. I have a supportive and loving husband. My family is healthy. I live in a safe and free country. I have loving parents and family members who live near to me. I have an incredible church. I am cared for, listened to, I am loved.

And then I shake my head because why in the world do I still struggle with panic attacks?!?

Why do I wake up in the middle of the night, struggling to breathe, my stomach twisted into a knot? Why? Why do I have no control over it? Why can I not get a grip? And the answer is very simple:

Anxiety is a lot like drowning in your own mind, which is very similar to physical drowning. Yelling “stop it” to a drowning person will not save them, for they can not “stop it”. In the same way saying to a person with anxiety “just think about good things” doesn’t help, because maybe they aren’t thinking about anything! And even if they are, you can not just “think good thoughts” to get rid of anxiety.

It cannot be controlled in the mind just because it begins in the mind, for something is happening inside that seems to affect the whole body. I’m not writing about lingering on bad thoughts or sulking. Anxiety isn’t just having fear or worry. Those things can very much be controlled, because as soon as you can put a finger on the issues that are being worried about, you can deal with them at the root.

No, anxiety is a deep, sinking feeling that something is very, very wrong and the more you try to figure out what that something is, the more you begin to feel that it is everything. Everything is wrong. And I cannot fix everything. And so begins an attack.

Now sometimes what helps with anxiety is staying busy, which works great during the daytime, because when our minds our preoccupied with other things, they tend to not overthink the feelings inside. But most of my anxiety happens at night.

Many reputable resources tell you to lie down and breathe deeply to calm an anxiety attack…ummm duh, I was sleeping, that’s exactly WHAT I was doing.

Then next suggestion is medication and to be honest, I just don’t want to go there. This is not to say it is wrong! Not AT ALL! I do not in any way look down on those who turn to anxiety medicine, in fact, I very much understand them and rejoice with them as they find healing and are able to once again handle life. However, I am not yet at the place where I am ready to go down that road because I  am not totally convinced that my anxiety is to do with imbalances in my body. I want to be sure that it is before I begin taking such prescriptions.

Sometimes I believe that my anxiety is actually a spiritual attack, which brings me to sharing about my anxiety attack a couple nights ago:

I was lying in bed, it was 2am, and I woke up with that familiar heavy knot in my stomach. Then, a sudden thought came across my mind about something that had happened during the day and I began to feel that this issue was all out of my control and that it quite literally would put an end to my family, it would ruin my marriage, it would destroy my children. And if that were true, yes, PRESS THE PANIC BUTTON!!!

But the word feel is key!

This couldn’t be won with reason, because I knew that my thoughts were ridiculous, I KNEW it, but in my emotions they felt real and I could not get a grasp on what was going on inside of me. Half an hour of torment went by when suddenly I realized how helpless I was to fight this battle on my own. It was then that I cried out to God, pleading with him to help me, to calm me, to give me peace. Suddenly the thought came to me: “Get up, go downstairs, and start journaling to God about how you feel.” (I don’t actually believe that it was my own thought, rather it was God speaking to my heart.)

So that is what I did. For the next fifteen minutes, I wrote down all my worries, my fears, my thoughts and it wasn’t helping me AT ALL. In fact, it was causing me to think of more and more things so that eventually I filled three full pages of my journal with worries. And suddenly, there was that quiet voice again, “Now ask me to speak into these problems.”

So I wrote: “Father please! Hear me now! I need a word from you! I need you to tell me that I can let go of control, that you’ve got this!  Please Jesus, speak! For I am desperate and listening!

And here is what I heard:

God: “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you. Before you were born I set you apart! You have been born for this very time, this very place! You are right where I want you. Don’t be troubled, little sheep, for I am with you – you will not be overcome.  I will rescue you Heather. Just watch me!”

I am aware that not everybody believes that God still speaks today. And that some believe God just speaks through his word.  And then there’s some people that believe he can speak, but fail to believe when he speaks, thinking that it was maybe their own thoughts. They doubt it was really God!

But I can tell you without a doubt, God speaks today and God speaks personally.

My words, my thoughts do NOT bring me peace. They are powerless against my anxiety, in fact they sometimes make things worse. But in hearing God speak these words over me, I felt peace.

And then I asked God how he saw me right then, in that moment.

God: I see you as tired and worried about many things. But only one thing is needed.  Come to me all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest. Take my upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.  When you were afraid, trust in me. You can trust me Heather, I will take care of you. I will not desert you. I am here.

Warmth and peace filled my heart. And then I walked back up the stairs to my room, scared my daughter half to death (she was using the bathroom and just saw a shadow coming slowly up the stairs LOL), lay down, and peacefully drifted off to sleep.

Unbelievable. God had brought me from panic to peace.

Friends, this I know to be true: One word from God can do more healing, bring more comfort and restore far more than a thousand words from those around us. But are we listening? Are we asking? When we hear, are we believing?

Listening for God’s voice used to confuse me and worry me, but it doesn’t anymore because I’ve learned not to doubt when I hear him. It’s really quite simple; I just ask him to speak, and wait. Often a word, a thought or a picture will come to my head. If it doesn’t conflict with the Bible, I believe it is from God (for God’s word is the foundation for God speaking to us.) I also hold it with open hands because I am human and make mistakes, so we need to be SO humble in all of this. Many have been hurt when pride is combined with “listening” to God. We MUST stay humble and know God’s word if we want to hear God’s voice.

Right now, the church is suffering. Many saints are tired and weary. Pastors are burning out. Families in the church are fighting. Churches are splitting. People are hurting others and holding onto hurts.  God LONGS to speak to us, he longs to renew us.

Are we willing to be still and listen?

Or will we keep trying to do it on our own?

God, help us to listen to your voice in humility. Help us to learn from you, for you long to give us rest! Thank you for speaking to your people. Thank you for bringing me peace.