In three words: messy, overwhelming and unrelenting.
Lest someone think I am sitting here playing my own pity ballad with a tiny guitar, I mean “problem” in a mathematical sense, that there is an equation here that needs to be solved. It is workable. It can be frustrating. It is not going to solve itself. But first we need to deduce what exactly the problem is.
It could be the torrent of rain that we’ve had all day that is making the blues appear; any other day I might have written a jubilent comeback post, about how beautiful and redemptive Lent was, about the amazing celebration in my heart over Easter, having truly experienced the desert with my Lord and savior before rejoicing over His empty tomb. I have learned and experienced so much. The gratitude is abundant.
But, today is what it is, and journaling is cathartic. So, unfortunately, you get the shadowy side of my life first and we’ll talk later about the positives. (Update: I took a break to eat some lentil soup and put Jackson to bed, and I am already in much better spirits.)
Here’s the thing: I can’t wear a sign around my neck that says “be gentle with me, I’m recovering from years of psychotropic medication and learning how to truly live”. I can’t convey to each person I interact with the hardship of detoxing and rebuilding my immunity; how I went from an 11+ in energy and mood to -3 as my body takes the slow path of healing from rest. I want to explain it all! My mind races as I consider how on earth to articulate the massive story in my heart. But the words are sparse. And I feel like no one truly has time to listen to my plight.
When I tried to convey this to my husband — how no one seems to be empathize with the boulder I’m rolling up a hill — he asked me if it felt like people were basically saying “we all have it hard, get over it.” I said no. Because to first shake your finger at someone going through a trial, to tell them to pull themselves up by their bootstraps, you have to understand their trial. I told him it feels like loneliness, solitude. That no one truly sees what I am up against, nor do they truly want to understand it. I have been offered no help. And even when I meekly try to articulate needing help — “my love tank is on empty”, or “I’m not sure I can physically handle all of that this weekend” — I am expected to keep on keeping on and figure out how to get what I need. It’s okay though because for the first time in my life I have knowledge that if no one here on earth sees my struggle, God does. And He is moved with pity and love; He walks with me, guides me, grieves with me and rejoices with me. That’s not loneliness, friends.
But I’ll try to explain what’s going on when I’m in the throes of it. I am experiencing and learning about real, messy emotions for the first time in a long time. I am learning how to interact with them in a healthy way: not repressing them, not unloading them on others, not escaping them. I am learning what they look like and how they manifest. And the spectrum is VAST! It’s not just sadness, happiness, anger. Emotions are so nuanced. It’s defenselessness, feeling crushed, feeling betrayed, disappointed, vulnerable, giving my power away, frightened, flustered, incapacitated, bored, confused, choked, cheated. They all look a little different, and are brought on by different situations.
Hardest of all, interacting with people creates emotions. And the longer you have a relationship with someone, the more you see their blemishes. The more necessary it becomes to navigate the sea of emotions with tact and grace, something most of us aren’t taught.
And on top of this, it all takes so much energy and effort. A Herculean effort. If every person and every interaction brings up new emotions, I just don’t have it in me to be as social as I once was! Which is sad. I love being the contagiously happy, socially bubbly girl. But I can’t be her right now.
The effort is particularly doubled while staying within Christian boundaries: to die to self, love God above everything and love others without reserve. To sincerely forgive. To practice patience and self-discipline. There is so much learning. It’s not like I get a practice arena to spar in. I am thrown into the coliseum, given a few tools and told to make do.
This is what Theodore Roosevelt described in his quote about “daring greatly”. And I have come to find out that there aren’t many of us gladiators willing to enter the arena anymore. There is a lot of heel-digging into the ground, obstinate clinging to excuses, rationalisations, doubt, “I don’t have time” or just plain apathy. A lot of “fuck it” flags being flown, if you will. I wonder if there was ever a time where gladiators abounded; where courage reigned and people lived honestly, daringly. Our modern conveniences make it so easily to hide in the recesses, away from the chaotic, dusty, sweaty, bloody work. I suppose when those conveniences weren’t there people had no other way. But I digress.
As I stumble to walk this path, I realize life doesn’t slow down as you’re learning and falling and getting back up. My 11-month-old and my marriage and my responsibilities within the two businesses I run, my friendships and my family relationships don’t wait. None of it waits. And it all requires mastery of the very things I’m just now confronting. Plus vocational mastery! I assume many people would say they just don’t have time to actually work on these root problems because their everyday takes priority. But it just takes renegotiation. We are a flexible, resilient people. It is possible.
The thing is, when I was on antidepressants, I just didn’t have to bother with any of this. I stayed high. Like nothing really brought me down. I thought I could feel a range of emotions but really they were buffered through the rose-tinted glasses of a little pill. Confrontations or snaggles in relationships I could overloook so easily. I didn’t feel the splinters turn into infected wounds. It was like it turned off the pain receptors to the splinters still occurred but if I didn’t feel them, it was like they didn’t exist. But the infected wounds grew in number and in severity.
So that said, a lot of strange memories have been cropping up. People from the past, situations I thought were long forgotten or at least forgiven. My dreams are near-lucid and small, everyday encounters will take me back to 8th grade, or cologne wafting in my store, lingering from a customer who just left, will take me back to a hospital setting with a man I let go of years ago. The memories are so real I can taste and smell them. I have had to learn to be non-reactive to these visiting memories, hoping my peaceful response will allow for some sort of healing.
Because that’s another part of the “problem”: I am still in complete trial and error mode for what will work naturally and holistically for me, what will nourish my mind, soul, body and emotions. What will qualm the distressed little girl in me who still hasn’t been comforted… What will heal the cellular damage within my body after years of (self-inflicted!) neglect and abuse. There is no prescription pad with these answers, no guru to tell me exactly what steps to take.
Oh, and the energy. I mean, truly, compared to what I have to work with now I was an energizer bunny living the standard American life. Tons of activities and responsibilities, juggling it all frantically but manageably. But now? I cannot multitask like I did. It takes a lot of effort to focus well on one task (like raising my son, or cleaning my house). I have come to serious terms about my energy being finite.
This all sounds like one big complaint. I don’t mean it to. It just is what it is, and what it is is certainly not easy. Truly I wouldn’t go back if I could. I’m learning to navigate. It feels real. It feels like productive pain, kind of like during labor. The work and suffering is not all for naught. Beautiful new life will spring forth from this redemptive refining process. I just know it.
Do you all remember mathematical proofs during school? It is essentially an argument which convinces other people that something is true… using numbers. It shows them how you got the answer. Somehow the way I’ve set this blog post up makes me think of my current situation as such, like I’ve found a solution and I’ll now work backwards to show you why it’s solvent.
First, I will say that the inclinations to do what has always worked (ahem, gotten me barely scraping by) are still there. I battle them daily. Sometimes it looks like self-harm. Sometimes, spending hours in the mirror picking my face. Sometimes overeating or oversleeping or drinking or using drugs or sex. Sometimes it’s the yearning to listen to violent music like I did in my metal-loving days. Often it’s negative self-talk, defeatist thinking, despair, comparison, judgment. I battle it every single day. This time, however, I put on the armor of God and I see these impulses for what they are:
1) I know they aren’t leading me to what is true, good and beautiful.
2) I know they won’t help me reach my goals.
3) I see them as distractions from the Truth and roadblocks to real happiness.
4) This is the most important point: I now recognize that I have a choice to act on them — I am not a slave to their whim.
Sometimes, I kid you not, it honestly feels as if Satan is whispering in my ear — “see, they don’t actually care about you or know you. If they did, they’d give you what you really need.” I perk right up and say, like Christ did in the desert when Satan tempted him, “I lie in verdant pastures, I shall not want. I have everything I need in the Lord. This earth doesn’t fulfill me, but He does.” And like that, I cast the demon away from me. I slay like Joan of Arc. You can’t battle if you don’t recognize first that you are at war.
So it’s not like my depression is just “healed”. That’s not how this works. I am so very careful to be selective about what I let my five senses feast upon. One bad decision and it creates a domino effect of badness. So another part of warring and slaying: keep yourself away from temptation. They tell recovering addicts this as well. Don’t spend time around the things that will “trigger you”. It weakens your moral, wears down your armor and resolve. It’s just more prudent to choose the sunlit street than the dark alleyway. And we are scripturally called to prudence!
Other ‘recovering addict’ gems: get back on the turnip truck when you fall off (because, yes, sometimes I give in and eat a cupcake or pick my face… and then I suffer the consequences, realize it wasn’t worth it and move on), adopt positive coping skills and of course the Serenity Prayer.
- NUTRITION!! I cannot stress the importance of this enough! All it takes is one piece of chocolate cake or a couple cupcakes and my next three days are total sloth-like downers. Sugar is my body, mind and emotion’s arch nemesis! I even took this one step further and paid for Dr. Carolyn Mein’s body type assessment, where you answer a few questions and she sends you a 60+ page e-book on your specific body type and the diet that will help its systems function best. It is amazingly, wonderfully accurate and has been a key tool in my arsenal. (Warning: her website lacks trendy aesthetics and fonts but has wonderful substance.)
- Journaling. Working through thoughts logically but giving yourself space to really bat the ideas around and play a little. Don’t judge what you write for fear of what future readers will think. Just get it out.
- Rest and contemplation. Time being still has been crucial during this period. I have to really reflect about what is going on within me. I have to be okay with it all, make sense of some of it, let go of a lot of it. I have to forgive a lot of people as I realize they aren’t everything I need — simply because they’re flawed human beings like me. Prayer has been essential; mass has been essential; staring into the eyes of my baby while he nurses peacefully has been a moment to cherish.
- Seeking out life-giving experiences and not forcing myself to do what I don’t want to do. I’m not talking about foregoing the chores and responsibilities. I’m talking about learning and enforcing boundaries. I recommend the book “Boundaries” by Townsend and Cloud if this is an area you struggle within.
- Learning about time management and priorities. Another great book, especially if you’re a parent, is “Teaching From Rest” and “Margin: Restoring Emotional, Physical, Financial, and Time Reserves to Overloaded Lives”.
- Essential oils and emotional release. Since I mentioned Carolyn Mein I would be replete not to offer her workbook “Releasing Emotional Patterns Using Essential Oils”. It has not only helped me but many of my friends. You can read about my Herxheimer Reaction and how this method of using essential oils relieved me from the discomfort and immune-response cycle here.
- Being so gentle with myself and others. Instead of judging myself or panicking when I don’t have an answer, or instead of feeling rushed into having to solve something immediately, I slow down and give myself space. Instead of feeling ashamed about how I look, I remind myself — à la Thoreau’s “Walden” — that if my appearance is good enough for God, it is certainly good enough for man. I remind myself that this world isn’t enough, but we’re doing the best we can while we’re here. I do my best to extend the same to the people around me who, too, have been battered around by life.
- Singing and dancing! What a great expression of energy! These acts can really transform a room or a mood. Remember when friends and family used to gather around a piano and sing? I’m bringing it back, y’all!
- Surrounding myself with loving, supportive relationships; staving off (or at least altering) toxic relationships. These are people who share a similar perspectives with you. They have the same goals, so they’ll keep you true to yours. The women I have spent a year with in Bible study have been an integral part of my journey. They are safe, they are loving and they lift me up in prayer. They are the opposite of vanity or judgement. The mystical is not impossible to them; we believe in the transubstantiated body and blood of the Eucharist, and in heaven and sainthood (Saint Hildegard of Bingen, pray for us!). Miracles are real and available, and my friend group believes that. Now is not a time I want to be surrounded by doubt, skepticism, judgment and fear or excuses and rationalization. I need faith, optimism, honesty, and a beautiful surrendering to God’s will.
- Learning. Instead of escaping through Facebook or Instagram or phone games or movies and TV, I seek to empower myself with knowledge. I read a lot of non-fiction books. And then I listen to e-books. I take notes and read actively. I use workbooks to help me stay accountable to my goals. I reach out to people smarter than me and humble myself in front of them with my ignorance. Every now and then I allow myself a movie — like I had to revisit The Matrix Revolution because it reminds me of Easter (that’s a completely different blogpost that my fellow nerds can get down on with me), or when I was newly postpartum I gave my mind a break while reading ALL of the Harry Potter books back to back (took me less than a month 😮👌🏼) — but for the most part I avoid mindless entertainment.
- Learning to play the guitar. It helps to concentrate my mind and my body at a difficult task. I began learning the guitar at age 12, but abandoned the plight when my guitar teacher died. I now use the Tabs app to help teach me fun but challenging songs. I also play the piano this way.
- Practicing other languages I’ve learned. I read Les Trois Mousquetaires to Jackson and speak to him in French (Le Petit Nicolas is also great, especially if you are at a beginner’s level). I work on my Spanish casually and if I was really on point I’d be taking on German or Russian. There’s a great video out there of a guy explaining why learning new languages is an excellent hobby to stretch the mind (neuroplasticity!) and keep things fresh. I really, really agree with him.
- Listening to beautiful music. Now that I’m off of my medication I can truly feel the song, the words, the passion of the melody and what the artist is trying to convey.
- Taking quiet walks in nature. The other night I could smell fresh honeysuckle during a moonlit walk on my property. It was just divine. This will sound random, but bear with me. Recently I have really been contemplating Native Americans — the plains indians to be specific: the hardships they faced, the knowledge they passed from generation to generation, the special skills they possessed, the warriors, the basket-weavers, the tribal dances, the medicine men. I think when you pursue folk medicine you can’t help but think about the cultures that did it right, and the communities that teemed with true life. I think about our recent ancestors and what life must have been life journeying in covered wagons with such little amenities, braving the elements and facing their mortality daily. It really makes me greatful for what I have, and hopeful that I can make it. Somehow nature helps me tap into that well a little deeper.
I’m sure this list is perpetual, that the equation will never quite be solved. But now I have created a resource of ideas for when I’m not feeling quite like myself, to say “oh I haven’t danced in awhile!” or “oh, I miss good music!” to try to bring myself back up — because it’s no one else’s responsibility.
Thanks for following along on this journey. I hope you, too, will pursue wellness regardless of the obstacles that might lie ahead. You will overcome them and your life will be changed, radically, for the better if that’s what you truly want. I’m here to walk with you, too!