The Gospel for Mental Illness

Today is my 49th birthday.

Yesterday was a terrible day, from the morning discouragements leading up to midnight’s breakdown.

Mental illness sucks the life out of me even though I am surrounded by people who love me. It makes me feel ungrateful, sometimes, and I beat myself up for feeling this way. But mental illness is like that – it eats you up. Sometimes I am neither here nor there. The unseen boundaries within my brain can cause me to be highly functional and productive one day, and utterly helpless and hopeless the next.

A very good friend and pastor posted this on his wall this morning and it was the first post I read. Maybe this is God’s special gift to me today.

“If your gospel isn’t good news for people who suffer from mental illness, it isn’t the Gospel of Jesus.

One of the most gracious, generous and selfless people I have ever known was tormented by an illness that limited mental function. And yet, God’s love was more evident in her than most able-minded people I know.”

The replies and affirmations to his post also gave me strength somehow. There is strength in numbers, truly.

May all of us who suffer from mental illness find strength within ourselves, as God gives us His strength to pull us through. It is a lifetime of extreme highs and lows. It is an illness that most will never even come to terms with. It is a black dog that is always close by.

I pray for all of us. There may not be a total cure for mental illness but there is still hope, whenever we are “well enough” to lift up our heads to see the light. There IS a light that penetrates all this darkness.

I long for that day when I will be freed from the agony of this illness, here or in the next life. When my brain will finally stop spinning from endless screams of anxiety. When I will experience some measure of peace.

Philippians 4:6-7 is my most-read Biblical passage. I firmly believe that this was written for all of us who suffer from anxiety.

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

What Philippians 4:6-7 Can Teach Us About Managing Anxiety

 

Advertisements

Trauma in Paradise

Lonely Beach

Paradise is a subjective word.

I learned this only recently – very recently.

Paradise for me is no longer just a place. It is being with the people I love – wherever we are.

Though living by the beach for a little less than two weeks would be like living in paradise, or so I thought, it was hell-on-earth for me. I did not know it would be. I would not have ventured out when I did otherwise.

I was lonely. My husband couldn’t be with me for many days as work required him to be in the city. I couldn’t do it. I could not last being with people who claimed to treat me as “family” but made me feel isolated. I could not last being away from my husband anymore.

I basically courted depression and anxiety – the very same conditions I thought would somehow be “eased” once I am surrounded by water and working in what seemed to be “ideal” work conditions. At 48 years old, I still don’t know myself that well.

It’s not the place. It never was. I was too anxious about the future and was blinded by the promise of a better career – and an attractive salary – that I did not stop longer to really think and consider. What do people always say? If it’s too good to be true, it usually is.

And I finally saw through it. All this time, I had been listening — hardly talking — and I finally discerned. It helps to just listen. Usually, the more people talk, the more mistakes they make by revealing more of their real motives.

The promises made were as loose as as the fine grains of sand falling between my fingers. True characters were revealed, shattering whatever “good impressions” I may have had. I was lonely. I felt very out of place.

I was very lonely. And I left. I picked up whatever I could carry and headed out to the bus station. I had to leave – for good.

And so now I am home again – with my husband and our 3 dogs. I am still recovering from the trauma.

I will get better. We will get better.

Pummeled By Pain & Letting Go

Depression

It feels like that — like being pummeled with one upper cut after another. Body punches, severe blows, many below the belt, are leaving me with scars and bruises that will take a very long time to heal.

Depression feels like that to me lately, especially when the triggers keep coming – relentlessly.

External factors – toxic people, the stress and the negativity they cause every single day — eat away at the very fragile inner peace I have tried so hard to cultivate for many months – nay, for many years.

Gone – just like that. Even fear of change or the unknown has nothing on the effect of soured relationships and external negativity.

Just yesterday, while browsing through business and marketing books in a mall, I quietly recited a mantra – “I will NOT be beaten. I will NOT be beaten!” The joy of walking was cut short by a very brief e-mail. I had to survive those few minutes alone inside the bookstore.

I am down, so down – but not beaten. I REFUSE to be beaten. For someone suffering from depression and anxiety, it is quite a feat to even say this. I recite the mantra — then stressful news come again. It is an everyday cycle for so many months. It is a wonder I am still alive.

I am letting go – every minute, every hour, every day – of the effect of people on me; people who are not going to be in my life for long, who do not even think of me and who I don’t need to think of either.

I will cry. I have cried – no, I bawled my eyes out too many times to count. And I will cry some more. I need to.

I am discouraged and down on my knees with head bowed – but I do not pray. I can’t. It’s just too hard.

After taking a small step forward, bad news comes through text or e-mail that set me back five steps. I cry. I cry some more. I fall to my knees again because of the tremor that suddenly overcomes my body. I could not breathe.

It would seem that depression and anxiety will stay with me, despite years of medication and occasional therapy. There is no cure for it – I can only manage it under relatively stress-free conditions.

Let go – let go.

At The Edge Of The Precipice

They say that fear of the unknown is not reality — because the unknown hasn’t happened yet.

Woman standing on precipice edge at Horseshoe Bend, Arizona, USA

Have you ever felt like you were standing on the edge of a very high cliff, with a leopard about to launch itself at you, while you decide if it is worth jumping to your “unknown” demise instead of being eaten alive — which you don’t even know yet, right?

The precipice, known also to me as my “critical juncture” in life, is where I find myself standing on the past year, and every decade. There is fear either way — fear of “staying” where I am, just on the edge,  afraid  that I will grow old not ever knowing what is on the other side.

And then there is intense fear of what lies beneath the precipice — will I fall too deep and too hard? Or is there a soft green meadow underneath the sea of dark menacing clouds? Or is there an actual safety net waiting for me? Or will it be just the same as it was before.

A pivotal scene in the movie Divergent was when the newly inducted Dauntless members  had to prove themselves worthy of belonging to such a “fearless” bunch, by leaping into a dark abyss as their first real test. No one wanted to go first. No one wanted to be the first to “die”. The deep, dark abyss represented death for them.

Beatrice Prior (the protagonist played by Shailene Woodley) was the only one with enough courage to literally dive into the unknown. She was afraid, but she also realized her fear was just that – fear. The fear of possibly dying has not happened, so dive she did.

Her triumphant smile upon landing on a huge safety net became the catalyst for change in her fellow Dauntless’ hearts. You know what happened next — everyone jumped — and survived!

I am afraid of something that hasn’t happened yet – a life change that could actually be healing for me and my family. Anxiety and depression make the thoughts and decisions even harder. Anxiety and depression keep my feet tightly glued to the edge, cause me to vacillate, think and re-think every decision and outcome, and stoke the embers of fear in my heart until they become a raging fire that consume me and whatever little courage I have tried to muster.

I am afraid to jump – yet I am more afraid to stay because then, I will never know what awaits me. There is so much fear at the edge of the precipice. I cannot stay there much longer.

Lord, give me the courage to jump, for when I do, I will land on the safest place — your loving hands.

 

Dealing With Depression

Last month marked my first year since I was diagnosed with Major Depression and GAD (Generalized Anxiety Disorder). On one hand, I feel relieved to have finally gone past the 1-year mark; on the other hand, I am sobered to realize how vulnerable I am and yet how blessed to have survived a very difficult and somewhat traumatic year. Prior to my diagnosis, I had suffered two long years of intense loneliness, very low productivity, and depression.

This is not another medical paper discussing the illness or disorder, its symptoms and its cures. I am far from expert and I would rather evaluate my own experiences with the illness to help me understand it, and myself, more.

My depression is turning out to be a longer journey than I had hoped for or anticipated. I began tapering down my dosage of Tofranil at the start of this month, from five tablets to four every night. I had high hopes of recovering and moving on to some kind of normalcy but I guess I hoped too soon.

Within the first four days of April on a lower dosage, I experienced a relapse: immediate depression with bouts of crying and feelings of extreme hopelessness. On the fourth day, I began to experience once again the symptoms of GAD. I worried over everything — from the house chores to our financial future — and could not stop my mind from over processing so many worries. I also began to hyperventilate again and almost panicked at my extreme difficulty in breathing. Our tiny bathroom suddenly felt like a very hot and airless prison and I could not wait to end my quick shower.

I am very grateful that my husband has a master’s background in Christian Counseling so he understands what I have been going through and knows I have absolutely no control over my thoughts, feelings and actions when these illnesses recur. I also agreed to revert to five tablets of Tofranil every night. Perhaps, if I’m brave enough, I will try to reduce my dosage again next month.

My depression began when my mother passed away almost ten years ago. This was then followed by my only sister having to go back to her home in another country, the loss of my job within two months of my mom’s death, the various e-mails from relatives who accused my husband and me of so many things I don’t want to recall, e-mails and visits from people hounding me for payment of my mother’s past obligations, and so much more.

Just when I thought I couldn’t take any more blows, I began to suffer from IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome). For some odd reason, the first few doctors we saw didn’t have a clue as to what was wrong with me so they gave me all these medications for bloat, muscle pain and others. I burped constantly and feared leaving the house because of diarrhea (diarrhea-predominant IBS or IBS-D). I am very picky with toilets and have learned to always stock up on tissues and baby wipes whenever I had to leave the house. A match box also came in handy in public toilets.

This condition lasted six more years (with the “correct” IBS diagnosis) until I experienced a quick and daily progression of my depressive state. It got so bad that I wanted to end my life many times. I just wanted rest and peace from the darkness I was enveloped in and the guilt and self-accusations that constantly and mercilessly bombarded my head. I lost most productivity – I couldn’t write, draw, read or perform the simplest chores. I did not want to meet anyone or be around people. I felt that my heart couldn’t take any more beatings. Yes, Christians suffer from depression too.

I also began to experience physical malaise – extreme fatigue, breathlessness, general weakness and lack of well-being. These symptoms added to my worry because my family has a history of heart disease (my mother died of MI – Myocardial Infarction). My husband wasted no time in having me undergo several medical tests. We later on discovered that I was fine — perfectly normal and “healthy”. Even my cholesterol level was within normal range. However, the doctor said that, perhaps, I was under a lot of stress. He recommended that I take a stress test. I never went back for that.

While I was very thankful that I was physically fine, the depression and other physical symptoms did not go away. I began to introduce the idea to my husband that I was probably suffering from depression. I certainly remember using the “right” terms in describing how I felt: depressed, hopeless, lonely, extremely anxious, etc. I looked up the illness, and one web page led to another. I took the depression and anxiety tests and had a perfect score on both. I remember feeling very relieved at getting closer to a correct diagnosis and knowing that I was not morphing into a very bad and ungrateful person. My Christianity came into question many times and I accused myself of so many things.

Finally, we were told by my psychiatrist/psychologist (he is both, thankfully) that I was definitely suffering from both Major Depression and GAD. Plus, my IBS was merely symptomatic of these disorders. We were also told that with both disorders, what needed to be treated was the balance of a certain chemical in my brain called serotonin. I cried in relief! I was not a bad person! My brain chemicals and neurotransmitters just needed help!

And so, it has been one year now since my diagnosis and treatment. I’m still on it, but I know I will get better. I guess it doesn’t really matter now how long it takes, as long as I receive the help my body needs to cope. I also have a wonderful support system in my husband, family and close friends.

And for those of you who know me, I am able to write again and have found a new passion for baking at the start of this year. To have finally found a passion is already blessing beyond measure! I am very grateful and I pray that I will be on my way to full recovery someday.