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?

 

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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.

The Hard Days

It’s been hard for me to write lately.

This isn’t an attention seeking post. In fact, for the most part, I’m embarrassed and feel awkward when people know that I’m struggling. But honestly, I’m not doing too good. I can’t parent well. My schedule is all messed up. My house hasn’t had a good cleaning in months. My eating habits are deteriorating, I have no motivation to run. And I still write, but I can’t for the life of me focus enough to write a post that makes sense. It’s like I’m just jumping from topic to topic, trying to make sense of what’s going on inside. So I don’t post anything.

I’ve been so isolated. But I’m not sure that’s the main problem or if it’s just a side effect of everything else going on. The silly thing about isolation is that it’s sort of self inflicted in many cases. I mean, it’s not like there’s no people out there. There’s a lot of people I know, who I could call and connect with…But then again, when we’re together do I actually really connect? Or do I just talk about things that don’t really matter to me?

I guess that’s where I’m at right now. Stuck in the middle of raising a busy family, watching everyone around me buzz around to this event or that one (mostly I just do the driving), all the while I’m just dying for connection.

Why is it that I can have such a busy day that I haven’t had a second to sit down, but when I come to the end of it there’s just deep sadness – and no one to share it with? My mind is desperately trying to keep it together, but not knowing how much longer I can do it.

How does sadness take over a once joyful life? How do fatigue and loneliness drain the soul so deeply? Why does everyone seem to feel the same way, but no one want to talk about it? How can I achieve true connection again? Was true connection ever there to begin with? Or do I just like to imagine it was there, in the “good old days”??

I don’t have the answers.

But for some reason, maybe just honestly sharing tonight is enough. Maybe I don’t have to end with hope, or some encouraging message. Maybe tonight, for once, it’s just enough for me to say that today, I’m not ok.

And maybe it’s enough for me to just know that somewhere out there, someone else knows exactly what I mean.

Is There Hope for Me?

It was near the end of my counselling session, by now I knew the routine. The counsellor looked up and asked me one final question:

“Is there anything else that you wanted me to address or talk to you about?”

In other words…was I hoping for more? Most of the time I shrug, not really knowing how to voice all the strong feelings inside. But this time I knew what to ask. I knew because I had been thinking about the question for a whole month, ever since the last time we had talked.

“Is there hope for me?”

He looks at me and sort of chuckles…”Hope?”

“No, I mean it. Is there hope that I’ll ever be the same again? Will I ever feel joy like I once did? Will I ever view the world with optimism instead of dreading the worst?? Is there hope?”

His face turns serious.

“Heather, I have seen hundreds of people. Many, many people, from all kinds of backgrounds and situations. Some haven’t had a shower in months by the time they come to me, and in some situations it is very, very hard for me to have hope. But you, Heather, have a firm foundation. That means even if the whole house has been burnt down, you have something to start on. Many people have nothing, their foundation is cracked and broken. What I’m saying is, YOU have tremendous hope. You will get through this. You will make it. I am confident of that.”

Hope.

Without it, there’s not much to live for. Hope keeps us going.

I left that day with a much lighter heart. I had a firm foundation.

Now my heart is burdened for those who don’t. Would you pray with me today for the hopeless? For those without a firm foundation? For those considering suicide because they honestly believe it will never get better?

Pray for those who have firm foundations to reach out in compassion, in honesty. Not pretending to have it all together (because no one actually does) but being REAL with each other.

– There is ALWAYS hope, pray that we would ALWAYS have our speech seasoned with the message of HOPE. This is NOT saying to give simple answers to complicated situations or to act annoyingly positive when someone is sharing their burdens. This means that even in our understanding and relating to others, that we ALWAYS offer an olive branch.

– PRAY for those with suicidal thoughts to find a reason to keep going, a reason to hold on to HOPE.

-For us to recognize the signs of loved ones that are struggling with suicidal thoughts and offer assistance, get them help. Often those struggling the deepest CANNOT do this for themselves!

– For us to realize the great importance of providing our families with a firm foundation to stand on.

-For those without a firm foundation to find HimOn Christ the solid rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand, all other ground is sinking sand.

What’s Happening to Me?

 About two months ago, I went to the doctor thinking that there was something seriously wrong with me. Most days it was a struggle just to get out of bed. Exercise was out of the question. I could not last the day without taking a nap. And the pain…EVERYTHING hurt. These were just a few of my symptoms. In short, I was functioning way below my normal capacity level and I knew it. The things I used to enjoy became things that caused me stress. I dreaded them. Social outings felt meaningless. I wished I could just go to sleep one day and never wake up again. No matter how hard I tried to be joyful, the sadness was so deep in my soul I could feel it in my chest.

I thought that I must be dying.

After tons of tests and blood work, I was shocked to hear the results: “You’re as healthy as they come! Everything looks good and normal!”

And then the doctor began asking me lots of questions, with deep compassion in his eyes, “How have you been doing emotionally? What do you do for a living? Do you often have feelings of despair/hopelessness? Have you recently gone through something traumatic? How’s your support system? Do you ever have suicidal thoughts? Have you recently stopped enjoying the things you used to love?” Etc…

And suddenly the light went on.

I wasn’t able to just “cheer up” or “snap out of it” because my mind was telling me there was something very, very wrong. Basically, I was in constant fight or flight mode, our bodies way of responding as if we are being attacked. The stress I had been under for so long, was literally causing my brain to begin to act as if I were in constant emergency.

I then realized that although for many years I had told people I understood depression, I really hadn’t.

As a Christain, I have always believed that God is enough. For everything.

But I finally realized why telling someone dealing with mental health issues to just “lean more on God” or that they had to “change something” actually made things worse! You see, those living under depression or other mental health issues already realize quite clearly that something is wrong with them. And most likely they already are loaded down with feelings of inadequacy or shame or guilt because they know that they should be doing more, they should be trying harder…but they just CAN’T. Their brain isn’t functioning at full capacity…neither is their body.

According to the CAMH, 1 in 5 adults are currently struggling with mental health issues. And 1 in 25 adults live with a SERIOUS mental health illness. I bet you can guess which of my blog posts get the most hits: the ones where I share about my struggles with depression, anxiety or pain.

So why am I sharing all this?

Because this issue effects not only the MILLIONS living with it, but their friends and families as well. It affects relationships, the ability to work, parenting, employers, communities.

Just think: if 1 in 5 people are functioning at 25% or less capacity, how much the communities, the businesses, and families are missing out on!

Summer Prayer Challenge Week 1 – Wednesday: For the Church to Understand and Respond Appropriately to Mental Health

So here’s the prayer points for today:

As always start your focus on Jesus. Today thank him for his attributes: Holiness, Love, Kindness, Gentleness, his perfect Justice, etc. This is SO important, don’t rush this!!

Pray for each family member next, starting with your spouse.

And then for Mental health and the churches response:

-For Christians to have godly wisdom as they seek to help those living with mental illness.

-For us as believers to give less well meaning advice and just BE there to support these hurting people, not trying to “fix” them but  listening and praying.

– For the church to have compassion on those living with mental illness and not to lay further burdens/guilt/condemnation on those suffering.

-For us to find ways to practically help those in need, not by just offering a quick fix solution, but realizing that these issues go deep and most likely take months, years or in some severe cases, even decades to work through.

-For miraculous healings for people suffering with mental illness. You bet I believe that God still heals 🙂

-For grace, grace and even MORE grace…and patience – dealing with someone who is unstable is very difficult indeed.

-For eyes to see each soul, each person as GOD sees them and to speak to them with His tender heart.

-Lastly, I have realized that many going through depression or other mental health issues have been extremely accused or hurt by the church. I’ve heard testimonies over and over again that those who have gone to the church for help got turned away, brushed aside, not taken seriously or even rejected altogether. Many of these people have since left the church and gone elsewhere for help.

This makes me so SO sad. Pray for healing from hurts that Christians have caused. Pray that God would find these lost sheep and gently bring them back to himself. Pray that they would learn to trust the church again and be able to connect once more to the body.

Once again, if anymore thoughts pop into your mind, pray these as well. Thank you for partnering with me in this.

-Heather

A Splash of Color

Many times depression has been explained to be like living in a world void of color, seeing in blacks, greys and whites. For many years, I took this as a metaphorical meaning and believed that depression was a state of emotional darkness in which one simply had to break through and choose to see the colors. I believed this for a huge part of my life and honestly still struggle with thinking this is either partly true or at least has a sliver of truth to it.

This is why it was devastating to me when my doctor diagnosed me with depression just one short month ago.

I sat in his office, surprised and yet not surprised. Numb, yet hopeful. Certain of which paths I was willing to take to healing and which paths I refused to go down.

Strangely, this seemed to me a familiar feeling, and I remembered a long time ago (yet not THAT long) when I sat in an office, feeling very fragile, alone and broken as a young teen. I remember clearly the vulnerability in the diagnosis: “You’re pregnant.”

These situations both similar, yet, different…

“Who…ME?!?” These things only happen to others. People who are careless. People with terrible lives. People with no support. But me?!? I am none of these things!

Yes. Me.

And as question after question was asked, denial was no longer an option.

Have I suffered trauma in the past few years?

Do I struggle with chronic fatigue?

Have you lost an interest in any of the things you love to do?

Do you ever resent your children?

Do you have trouble sleeping at night?

Have you recently wished you were dead or wanted to harm yourself?

Have you felt rejected or a lack of support from your loved ones?

Question after question was asked…and I wondered, has this doctor been reading my blog? Or truly is this how depression feels?

Depression for me isn’t seeing life in grey. It is a deep, pressing sadness that follows me everywhere. It invades my laughter and trickles into my sunshine. It is like a living in a grey world, but with a splash of color that always lasts too short…or always seems just out of reach.

But I see color, that I most definitely do. I see it in my garden, when little green seedlings start to peak out from underneath the wet soil. I see it on my four-year-old’s face as he happily trots along the yard, noticing every flower, every insect, every brightly coloured stone. I see it on my daughter when she rides on her horse like the wind. I see it in my friends, when we laugh and talk together. I see it so, SO clearly.

But it never quite reaches my heart.

When I’m in a social setting, I’m not out there putting on a fake smile – my smile is genuine. My eyes really do light up when I’m happy to see you. I really do find the lamest “dad jokes” funny. But I walk away from these things, pain heavy in my heart…still empty and sad. Unchanged. And I wonder, will life for me ever look the same as it did?

I think back to that first visit to the doctors: bright eyes, young skin, fresh youth. And I look in the mirror: tired eyes, loose skin – with faded purple lines, and an older, experienced face.

No – quite definitely, it will never be quite the same. I will grow through this. I will learn through this. I will be different after this.

Looking back to the ways I changed after that first doctors appointment, I smile, knowing that while the outside changes weren’t quite so pleasant…the inside ones, in my heart, were quite remarkable.

It is hopeful then, that this season may produce the same results.

When the World Around Me Crumbles

Today, Dear Friends, I feel sad.

I call you, my readers, friends. Because it’s you who I write to, not to “my blog”. Not that I know who you are, or how many of you will even read this. I never know. Sometimes it’s thousands, the next time it’s twelve. Strangers approach me and know precise details of my life. They tell me how amazed they are by some of the things I’ve gone through. They tell me they are encouraged by my writings. They tell me I have many talents. But what they don’t seem to know is how very, very weak I am.

The past couple years I’ve been so sensitive, not just to what happens to me, but to the very things which happen around me.

I see and old picture of myself and cry. Who is that girl?

I hear a story of someones heartache and I weep. I know their pain.

I hear about the struggles of the elderly and my heart goes out to them. How difficult it is to grow old.

I read a line of a poem that speaks deeper than its words. Tears flow freely.

And sometimes I literally am like: “STOP!!! Just stop being such an emotional wreck and pull yourself together!!”

But I don’t stop.

I keep feeling all this pain because I know the moment I shut myself down to what I’m feeling, that is the very moment I’ve ceased to heal the wounds which have been afflicted. I’m supposed to be in this season of pain. Only God knows how long. But it is where I’m supposed to be, because I can’t move on until God does. He’s here. And He won’t move until I’m ready.

My world, my hopes, my dreams, my beliefs…everything I built up for the last ten years crumbled in an instant. I was left on a deserted beach with my family among the rubble that was once everything that I knew about me. Gone are my multitasking abilities, I am so limited throughout the day. Slowly, step by step, I found myself in the same place I was ten years ago, with nothing to stand on but Jesus.

How humiliating. How humbling. How naked.

And I’m crying, maybe because of wounds…but mostly because I just don’t know how this all happened. I had thought I was building my house on the rock. I had thought I was strong, trusting in him every step of the way. But it turns out that I was just trusting in my own abilities, in my own way of doing things, in my strong leaders and my godly friends. And yet…

I see him among the rubble. Here he is!

Precious Jesus. Waiting for me to see that it was all temporary. Waiting for me to realize my absolute dependancy on him. Waiting for me to look to him and say, “You are God and I am man.”

And through all the deep recesses of pain within my heart, there is absolutely nothing, NO ONE who can comfort, but him. His words are the only comfort my soul receives. His presence is the only place that feels right, that makes me forget that a piece of me is missing.

When the world around me crumbles, I have but ONE.

Only One.

His name is Jesus.

God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though it’s waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging. There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy place where the Most High dwells. God is within her, she will not fall; God will help her at break of day.” Psalm 46:1-5