Since our weekend escape and reflecting openly on where I've been in my personal dealings with anxiety and depression it's been, well, surprising really, to receive private messages from several people finding themselves within their own painful plot twists involving the villainy of anxiety and depression. In some of the messages there have been really specific questions, but the overarching theme is just them expressing a relief to hear somebody say something about it that they can identify with. Or just to say something about it at all.
We think we're alone . . . until we find out we're not. For so long I didn't want to identify with the depression or draw any of my identity from it. I didn't want that to be "my thing"; my struggle, my soapbox, my main point of relating with people. I didn't want to have to hand my blog over to writing about it constantly. Within me I resisted feeling like any kind of advocate for mental health or depression and anxiety. I didn't want it to hold such sway over me that it would define too much of my life. So after days like these last several have been, with lots of open conversations with various people about this very topic, it's been sort of strange and disorienting. But it comes down to this: depression is not "my thing". My thing is an openness in being real about life, the beauty and the ashes. At my worst there was still enough of a tenacity within me to at least pick up the phone and call DAILY - almost compulsively - a handful of friends who could listen to my darkest thoughts. (I even got
brave desperate enough to contact a blogger I was reading who had walked through her own horrific journey with depression. More than once she called to check on me.) My own thoughts were terrifying to me and I just needed some touchstone people who could remind me of who I am and of truth. When I think back at Anthony, Kathryn, Beth, Ginger, Starr, Sue, Cher, and my parents having to be on the other end of those phone calls, my heart aches for what they must've felt to hear my words, my fears, my sadness, my being nearly lost to myself. In a way I forced the journey on them. But to the last one, they all willingly walked it out with me. They listened and talked and cried and hoped. That is miraculous. When my actions begged for them to share the load, they sidled up beside me and did just that. And because of it, they are to me closer than a brother.
I was never as alone as I felt. Never.
We think we're alone until we find out we're not.
I so hope we learn and teach that we're rarely as alone as we feel.
I don't identify with depression and anxiety, not like I thought I might or like I was so resistant to. It's just a chapter in my book of pages. It doesn't color my days in muted hues and shades. I don't have to will myself to think or not think about it. But the experience - the WHOLE experience - has changed me forever. I am more sure of a God who loves me deep and high and wide. I am more convinced of the ability to heal and recover and once again thrive. I am less concerned with keeping up any kind of facade that life is predictable or simple or always easy. I am certain of the need for people living right up "in my grill" so that we can remind each other of truth when we forget it, to help shoulder the weight of life that would otherwise cause us to buckle, to share in deepest pain and even greater joy.
Life gets better. But only if we walk it together.
This is a letter I wrote this week to one of the dear ones willing to ask me questions. I made sure it was okay with them if I posted it as an open letter here on the blog. Their response: "I'm pressing moment by moment, and yes, please share." This is just my story. I'm no kind of professional anything. Please don't misconstrue, THIS IS NOT ADVICE. It is just a bit more of my history, especially my struggle in finding a balance in trusting God to heal me and taking medication. I share hopeful that one more person would know they are nowhere near as alone as they feel.
Friend, I really am so glad that you wrote tonight. I would love to share with you more of my story, which now I know is such a redemptive testimony of God helping me conquer fear more than I ever could have believed.
As you know I suffered BAD postpartum anxiety and depression after my son was born. And now I realize it was really perinatal anxiety and depression because I felt it early into my pregnancy. (I should also say here that I know now I struggled for a longer time than just in my pregnancy with anxiety, fearful about so many things for so much of my life, but the pregnancy and postpartum tipped the scale to a breaking point.)
After only a few days I went to my OB/GYN to talk it through and was given a prescription for Zoloft. But I just couldn't bring myself to take it. It felt confusing in my mind and in my faith why I would need to take an anti-depressant when I had never needed one before. Here is what I did to try and help myself: I tried to rest when the baby did. I couldn't. I drank GALLONS of Mona Vie (which my husband's parents were distributing at the time). I tried to eat healthfully (which was just as hard as eating junk because I had no appetite). I prayed constantly. I took supplements ranging from all the omegas (3, 6, and 9), Evening Primrose, slathered on progesterone cream, St. John's Wort. I stayed nights at my parents’ home (which is usually so comforting to me) thinking it would help me sleep. It didn’t. I sang and played worship music. I danced around my house in prayer and intercession, in sobs and heartbreak, begging for a breakthrough. I had a handful of friends and family I called everyday to try and find a lifeline. But I just kept sinking. I went on like this for a month.
Bottom for me happened on a Wednesday night/Thursday morning. Even now my heart aches over the hours that led up to the moment that I knew I had lost nearly all hope. I didn’t want to harm myself or the baby, but if it was going to go on being this hard, I just wanted to either be put away somewhere under sedation and wake up weeks later better, or to go to sleep and not wake up. It hurts so bad to say that.
But God is in our deepest pit. As deep as it goes, he is deeper still. I know that now.
That day the internal fight I had been waging against taking medication just wore out. Here is what I feared about taking an anti-depressant: I felt like it meant I was “crazy” and that terrified me. More than that, I felt like it was a “faith issue” and that if I took that pill it would mean that my faith in God’s ability to heal me was not strong enough, and that crushed me.
That day, though, God got me into three places – first, to see a counselor; second, to a psychiatrist (who could prescribe medication); and third, to the pharmacy to get a prescription filled for trazadone (a non-addictive sleeping pill), Xanax (a fast-acting anti-anxiety medicine), and Zoloft (the slower-release, long-acting antidepressant).
I took my first Xanax and my first Zoloft in the room with my husband and the counselor. The counselor so tenderly and gently explained to me what was going on in my body as best he could. He explained that just like our bodies can hit fatigue points, so can our minds. That there are pathways that carry serotonin to all the right places. But sometimes after we’ve hit one of these fatigue points, rather than the serotonin being able to complete the circuits it needs for us to feel good, it’s as if it comes to a shoreline and can’t make the jump to the next shoreline. Instead it “reuptakes” and washes back to where it came from. He explained that the anti-depressant is an SSRI, which means Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor. He explained that the SSRI would help to keep the channels open so that Serotonin could once again do its job. That made so much sense to me. And I wish that I could say that I gleefully took my medicine and never thought twice about it again. But that wouldn’t be the truth.
What I did do was take the medicine EXACTLY as prescribed (and I THREW AWAY the warning/precaution sheet that came with the prescription because I thought they were terrifying with all they said), but I still had to work through the pain of needing a pill and the disappointment in myself that I had somehow failed in my faith. I also went on to see the counselor several more times. As he put it, he taught me “tools for my toolbox” in dealing with anxiety and depression, and from a biblical point of view.
What I know now is this: It took more faith for me to take the anti-depressant. That is not the way I expected or wanted God to heal me. I did NOT want that to be a part of the equation. But it was. The medicine did this for me: within a few short weeks, I could feel the clouds parting. It got my head back above the drowning waves. It did not render me emotionless or “cured”. But what it did do was even out my tumultuous emotions so that the Lord and I could “do the work” for complete healing. I took my pill everyday, and with it I prayed, and I stood on scripture. I identified the lies internally being hurled at me, I wrestled them to the ground, and I replaced them with truth. Until my emotions had leveled off I couldn’t fully do that. But with the help of the medicine, I could.
I took my anti-depressant for six years. In fact, only in January of this year did I come off of it. So far, so good with not taking it anymore. The anxiety and depression did not return. I’ve had days when I know it has breathed down my neck, but I know what the Lord has said and done, and those days pass quickly and uneventfully. But I also know warning signs (and so does my husband), and if a day ever came that those signs piled up in such a way that it seemed clear I needed the medication again, I would not hesitate. I WOULD NOT HESITATE.
Friend, I love you so much. I realize as I type that and sob, how so very true it is. And if I feel that way, how much more does the Father love you? I do not think it is accidental that I would blog and you would read it and that we would have this conversation. In the time that I was struggling that first week after the baby was born, I literally pulled out the church directory begging for some lifeline. God led me to call two women (mothers of several kids) that I barely knew to ask if they had struggled with postpartum depression. Neither one of them had, but both of them went on to tell me of separate instances of anxiety and depression that God had led them out of. In both cases they took medication for a season. For both of them, their depression was mostly a long-gone memory. But it crushed me that medication was part of their testimony. I just didn’t want that. But I don’t feel that way now. I know God used it as a tool in my toolbox so that I could get to higher ground and so that he could do a deeper work in me than even I knew he would do to free me from so many fears.These days, I'm nearly fearless. And that amazes me. . . . And would you looky here. Just yesterday my favorite artist Josh Garrels had a piece of his story to share here, particularly in a video entitled Josh Garrels on Suffering and Community (the second video on the page).
We're NEVER as alone as we feel.
And God never wastes pain. Ever.
All these years later, I know this for sure.
"The tempted, the anxious, the fearful, the discouraged may all find new hope and good cheer in the knowledge that our Heavenly Father is faithful. He will ever be true to His pledged word. The hard-pressed sons of the covenant may be sure that He will never remove His loving-kindness from them nor suffer His faithfulness to fail." - A.W. Tozer