Within just a few days, this blog will be celebrating ONE YEAR on the web! To celebrate the occasion, I have moved this blog to a new home, given it a new name, and freshened its look! Please join me at Fangled Faith (more info after the jump) –>
(Note: The domain for this blog has changed to http://www.ilovelifejournal.com.)
In my last post, I relayed my deep and dark experience with severe depression. In a strange way, it was like a near-death experience. Both my body and my mind were ready to give out, and some days I had actually wished they would. I felt like I was physically being broken down due to loss of appetite, weight loss, stress hives, constant fatigue, and the inability to focus or concentrate anymore. There was nothing I appreciated about my life, and I couldn’t feel any emotion except for frustration and fear. I had lost all hope and thought I was merely “existing” and counting down the hours until I succumbed to this disease. In my mind, I was dying, and there wasn’t a day that went by when this did not overwhelm me.
The fortunate news is that my (new) doctor has put me on the right medication and my journey down the dark well of depression seems almost over. My recovery is still ongoing and hasn’t taken place overnight, but every day has made me feel more and more that I am being given my life back. I am one, however, that likes to believe that God really does stitch everything together for the good and that someday I would see the “reason” behind the suffering and why I had to go through it. This helps me not have any regrets.
Here are the major things I’ve learned so far.
1. Don’t sweat the small stuff.
“All things in life are temporary. If going well, enjoy it, they will not last forever. If going wrong, don’t worry, they can’t last long either.” -The Commandments of Daily Life.
It’s sounds so clichè by now, but I have been known as a life-long worrier and over-analyzer. I was always waiting for the other shoe to drop and constantly mulled over this in many of my thoughts. However, now I know that when you have felt like you were dying, or even that your life has already ended, nothing ever seems as bad as that. I remember telling my therapist many times along this journey, “I really wish I hadn’t complained about my job, my parents, my past , or the way my friend treated me. Those frustrations were all so little and insignificant compared to what I’m feeling now. I’m dying. I don’t even recognize my life anymore.” Although I can’t erase my past worries, I now see that I need to just enjoy every moment, every person, and let things roll off my shoulders a little more easily. I figure whatever comes my way from now on, I’ll be okay, because I won’t be dying. Nothing is the “end of the world” when you feel you’ve already been there and looked over the edge. I know I will not be immune to more bad things happening, but I can’t let it steal the joy and meaning of life.
2. Take care of yourself.
I have constantly been told by my “mother hens” and my dad that I need to slow it down. I’ve always been an adrenaline junkie, but I also think I was making myself busy so my mind wouldn’t wander into dark places and it made me feel wanted and needed. But being constantly in motion can lead to burnout, which I suspect might have been part of my issue, as well. I was forced to slow it down this year and in some ways, I don’t mind. Despite everything, I took the time to solely focus on my health and in the end, it gave me the opportunity to look deep within and muster up some sort of strength to not give up the good fight. I also found what is truly important in life, and it’s not all the “busy-ness” I had lived on. It’s loving the friends who stick by you in hard times; it’s knowing that, instead of pleasing others, I should find peace and meaning in loving myself. I also know now that the world will go on, even if I don’t have it balanced on my shoulders, so there’s no reason to take on that burden.
3. Trust God.
But I am calling out to You, Eternal One. My prayers rise before You with every new sun! Why do You turn Your head and brush me aside, O Eternal One? Why are You avoiding me? –Psalm 88:13-14, The Voice
I’ve been very angry at God. For the first few months of my illness, I prayed to Him every day to please remove me from my current circumstance. Yet as days turned to weeks and my condition seemed to be worsening instead of improving, I started wondering if He was there. And if He was, why was he allowing me to go through such pain? I knew the loving God I had known did not cause my suffering, but He had the power to take it away…why didn’t He? I tried to think of what good could come from the experience, but I couldn’t and after months of pleading with God and not getting my answer, I was out of breath and just stopped asking. I actually stopped talking to God altogether and even wondered if I believed in Him anymore. I became very distant from Him and didn’t “feel” Him or His love anymore. I didn’t go to church because I felt like a “fraud” amongst seemingly good, happy Christians because my life felt so in ruin and I was considering becoming an atheist again. I felt that no one could relate. (Jesus on the cross, anyone?)
I’d love to say that everything has gone back to normal, but after forming such distrust in God, I need to rebuild my faith again.
…Will they rise from the dark shadows to worship You again? –Psalm 88:10, The Voice
This blog is called “I Love Life.” I would eventually like it to become a journal of my journey with God and how I make the most of every day because life is a precious gift. I should love life. But for the past few months, I haven’t.
I have depression and have managed it successfully with medicine for the past ten years. I had my down days and still dealt with life’s unavoidable trials, but I was “okay.” I was so “okay” that I held down a job in a creative field that I was quite good at, volunteered quite a bit at church, and even found time to squeeze in my own creative endeavors and attend a Bible study or two. (Sometimes both at once!) For the past few months, however, all of that has changed.
Back in October, I started seeing a new psychiatrist, who dropped a bombshell on me. I wasn’t just depressed…I was Bipolar. Bipolar II, to be exact. For those who don’t know, Bipolar is a mood disorder where the patient fluctuates between times of great depression and times of hyper-activity and euphoria, which is called “mania.” People who experience mania feel ultra-productive and ultra-creative, but they can also feel invincible and make some poor decisions because of it, such as spending copious amounts of money, having sex with a lot of partners, quitting their jobs,, and other things done on impulse. I knew that I was super-productive at work. I also felt super-creative because I could be given a project and immediately have several ideas buzzing around in my head. I also read books and took in knowledge like nobody’s business, sometimes reading four books at once, and I would like to think that I was bright. I thought it was fun to study and learn new things, and I could somehow retain all this information and use it later when needed.
Now, I was being told that all of this could be caused by an illness, and it had to be stopped.
(In my doctor’s defense, at that point I was starting to “burn out” and wanted the “super brain” to slow down a bit. I think that’s how the diagnosis of Bipolar came around.)
So this doctor did what he could to get me out of what he thought was “hypomania.” Antidepressants are very controversial in the treatment of Bipolar disorder, as they can often bring on mania. So the Cymbalta that had kept me stable with depression was dropped. He slowly lowered my dose, but to have it out of my system put me in shock. I felt like I had the worst case of the flu I had ever had. I was nauseated. My body trembled so much that my muscles got sore to the point of needing a heating pad. I sweated so much that I ended up getting a fungal infection and rash on my feet. I was in withdrawal, and it was horrible.
The withdrawal symptoms subsided and I was feeling pretty good. My therapist, who had been seeing me for three years, commented that she thought I might hit the skids when going off the medicine, and was pleasantly surprised to see me in a good state.
One thing that I found out about depression is that it can creep up on you, and then attack without notice.
In late February, still without a good antidepressant in my system, I started my descend into deep depression. In my darkest times, I couldn’t feel and couldn’t think. I would stay in bed, just staring at the wall for hours on-end. I remember asking my dad to come take care of me, because basic functioning was affected. Here I was, a girl who had prided herself on being independent for 10+ years–despite having a physical disability–and now I couldn’t even find my way out of bed to brush my teeth or take a shower. Even something simple like watching TV was a chore. How I made it to work during this period is beyond me, but I still made myself presentable and went. But besides work and trips to the therapist, (who I was now seeing once a week, after a couple of years of sporadic visits), my bed was where you’d find me. There wasn’t much else I could do. When I was put in social situations, I didn’t enjoy them and wasn’t a great conversationalist during this time. It required so much effort because I couldn’t see anything beyond my personal fog.
Probably many of you know that suicide is a risk with depression, if it is not treated. As much as I hate to say it, it took up many of my thoughts during this time when I was off antidepressants. I even went so far as to make a plan, but there was something stopping me. I never attempted…I couldn’t do it. The thoughts were there. Whenever I said goodbye to my colleagues at the end of the day, I wondered if I’d be coming back tomorrow.
This was my rock-bottom. In the 10 years I had been diagnosed with depression, I had never felt anything this bad. My therapist became very concerned and started faxing my doctor, trying to compel him to recognize this as depression and DO something. Get a good antidepressant in my system, and do it NOW.
After a couple of months, he listened. He started upping the antidepressants and lowering the mood stabilizers (the “downers” that were to keep me from going into hypomania). He still thinks I’m Bipolar, and does not know if he can return me to my former self because, as said before, that may have been a symptom of the disorder. That has been one of the toughest things to deal with. What made me…ME…is now considered a bad thing, and I don’t know if I’ll get it back.
I am still dealing with other effects, as well. I feel very “flat” most of the time, not having the outgoing and cheery personality that I did before. I still don’t feel emotions as strongly, even love. My creative juices are not flowing at full speed, and I do have some other remaining cognitive issues, although they have become less pronounced with time. I have had a few periods when I felt “normal” again, and I tend to do better in the evening hours, being more motivated to do things (like blog!). There are still times I want to crawl into bed because nothing that used to bring me enjoyment is fun anymore, and it doesn’t seem worth the effort. My therapist says that I will get my “old self” back, but that it is going to take time and patience as the right dosage of medicine is being found. (She’s not a believer of the Bipolar diagnosis.)
Despite the lingering symptoms, however, I am still fighting the good fight. I WILL win and find myself again. There’s no other option.
I was just reminded of how much I love this song as how much it has been my anthem lately!
This week in the Brene course, we are studying about how to be self-compassionate and owning our story. This is something that is very timely right now for me. I have been a sufferer of depression and anxiety for over 10 years and I have found myself really struggling with both this past week in the midst of medicine adjustments and am need of showing myself compassion. When I get into these mood fluctuations, it can be easy to beat myself up, hate the condition I am in, and dream up every worse-case scenario when really, I need to be reassuring myself that the medical condition is NOT who I am, and that all will be well. There are many medication combos to try and I also know deep in my heart that GOD would not bringing me through the storm if there was not a rainbow at the end. THAT kind of compassion and reassurance is what I need, instead of the inner-demons of guilt and shame that can sometimes have loud voices. The voice of love is the one that needs to be louder. I need to accept myself for whatever condition I may be in and OWN it.
This week’s assignment for the Brene Brown course I am taking is to find a childhood picture of yourself and answer some soul-searching questions, which I am guessing is to help students think about the person they really are by looking at who they were before they entered adulthood, when everyone tended to start looking at themselves with a much harsher eye. Why do we do that? I think because we secretly–or not so much–want to change ourselves so we seem “well-adjusted” and can fit in with those around us. I actually never worried about fitting in as a child, but I am terrified as an adult because if I “don’t fit in,” that could effect my job, my ability to maintain healthy relationships, my prospects of finding that “special someone” to share life with… Long-gone are the days of “he/she’ll grow out of it” and now we have to take responsibility for our own lives and well-being, and making sure we leave an imprint on this world.
BUT, I am one to admit that sometimes I take “fitting in” and having the “perfect life” a bit too far, so here goes for trying to reclaim a bit of childhood innocence! I don’t have any childhood photos on hand, but I found a photo that has been making the rounds lately that always brings a smile to my face and I think represents Little Me well!
a. What do you see when you look at him or her?
I see a person who doesn’t care what other people think of her, and she doesn’t analyze herself quite so bitterly as her adult counterpart does. She may be different…but she doesn’t care!
b. What do you love and appreciate about him or her?
I love that she doesn’t spend the time worrying about what others think about her, or about how “normal” she appears. She is WHO she is…no exceptions.
c. What makes his or her light shine?
Filling her days with things that make her happy and just being herself.
d. What can you do to take care of him or her?
What I would like to say to her is not too worry so much about your outward appearance or what others think. You are OKAY as long as you are still breathing and living for God’s purpose for your life! Work towards your grander, broader purpose. As long as you do that, physical/mental illness, other peoples’ opinions and treatment of you, and the other tribulations of life will not bring you down!
Another creative endeavor tonight. I have spent so much time putting myself down over the last 29 years, but a good friend recently pointed out to me that to insult yourself is to insult God’s Creation. (And I wouldn’t want to insult any other of God’s work, so why would I insult His work in me??) So I think it’s time to see myself as amazing, just like every other thing on Earth!
As you read the definition of authenticity in the chapter for this week, you’ll see that the real heart of the work is practicing the courage to be imperfect, to set boundaries and to allow ourselves to be vulnerable. So many of us were raised to believe that being vulnerable and/or imperfect was being weak and that setting boundaries is selfish and a sign that we can’t handle what’s on our plates. This week, we start to challenge those beliefs. –Brene Brown
One of the first week’s assignments for Brene Brown’s “The Gifts of Imperfection” course is to draw a heart and put in it the names of people whom you feel you can confide in and share your WHOLE heart. However, I decided to take a different perspective on it this time around…
This week, I had to say goodbye to my dog, Lucy. Lucy was very special to me because she was the first dog I ever brought into my OWN home. Loved by all and spoiled rotten, (lending to one of her nicknames, “The Princess Dog”), she had quite the personality. Always the entertainer,and royally stubborn, she often took after the comedienne Lucille Ball. Although I had actually had the name “Lucy” picked out before she was born, it fit her well and “I Love Lucy” was a phrased often used in our home, along with my horrible Ricky Ricardo voice saying “Luuuuuuuccccyyy” when trying to get her attention!
(A funny note: Just like the Lucy in the famed TV show, my Lucy also wound up “in trouble with the law” once or twice! After getting out of the fenced yard and slipping her collar at six months old, she actually got a police escort home, and I got a call in the middle of the workday beckoning me to come get her!)
Unfortunately, Lucy is also the first dog I have seen fall ill and have had to make the heart-wrenching decision to end the suffering for. After struggling with [what I thought were] bladder issues since June, Lucy suddenly went into full kidney failure just before New Year’s. Although an initial hospital stay and treatment offered a brief glance of hope, I knew shortly after bringing her home that she was on borrowed time. She was just not the bouncy, happy Lucy I remembered. She stopped eating completely this weekend–even turning up her nose at the “yummy” baby food they had introduced her to at the vet’s office–and once she could not move Monday night, I knew it was time. As we laid in my bed that night–a rare treat for her–I knew I was spending the last moments with my little doggie girl.
As I sat with her, again, in the vet’s office on Tuesday afternoon as she was sedated before getting the injection, I sat with her and whispered what a good dog she was and how much she had been loved. Although I had known in my heart for two weeks that this moment was going to come, I had had no idea what I would say to her, or even if I would have the “guts” to say it and sit with her as she slipped away. I’m now glad that I did. Despite all of her crazy antics, she knew in the end that I loved her for–not despite of–it all.
Lucy, this heart is for you.