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Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Depression with a Side of Anxiety

I'm gonna have to stop writing about depression for a while. It's making me depressed. One thing this journaling has done is clarify why I am now determined to seek help both professional and relational and do things differently. 

In the past 24 years, my depressive episodes have been mostly that - depressive. No energy, no hope, no enjoyment of life. Hang around and slog through and wait for the next wave of sand. That's my lot. 

A couple of years ago, life circumstances came together in such a way to frighten me. Really scare the bejeezus out of me for a short time. I couldn't breathe, couldn't eat, had trouble sleeping, the works. The circumstances shifted, the fear subsided and I went on with my normal depression. It was bad but it was the bad I live with daily. 

A month ago, the terror returned and brought friends. The trigger was pretty small but the reaction was enormous. I've lost 13 pounds in five weeks from not being able to eat. I couldn't catch my breath when sitting or lying down. My heart would increase from 50 to 90 beats a minute for no obvious reason. And I couldn't make it stop. I couldn't do anything to stop it. My depression coping skills were inadequate. God wasn't doing anything. I was trapped between hopelessness and fear that the hopelessness would never stop and it was my fault to boot. 

I am mostly through it for the moment. Circumstances have changed. I am eating and able to breathe normally most of the time. But I cannot - I will not - allow that loss of control to happen again if I can do anything to stop it. I do mean anything. Electro shock is on the table. Drugs are on the table. If I thought there was a chance in Hell alcohol would have helped instead of making it worse, I would be drinking Scotch while I write this. 

It is clear to me I have no coping resources left. I have run myself out of mental health and I will need more than me to regain what I've lost. If I can. Two years after my nervous breakdown, I remember thinking "Oh, this is it. This is as good as I will feel from now on. It's not what I was, but it's better than nothing." Which, of course, is fodder for more depression. 

Anyway, enjoy your Scotch or Scotch-equivalent. I'll try to write some happy things for a while. 

Keep the faith. 

Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Beauty in the Browns and Waves of Sand

I heard Paul Asay, author of Beauty in the Browns,  interviewed on Focus on the Family in late January before my most recent tumble back into the dark places. Here was a guy who personally understood depression. I decided to buy his book at the next paycheck. 

I didn't, and I should have. I bought his book two months later when I was freaking out with my second brush with depression overly seasoned with paralyzing anxiety. 

Started reading the book four days ago. Two-thirds done. He does get it, and I get him. 

Our circumstances are not identical but the similarities are enough to create kinship. If you or someone you love suffer from depression, I recommend the book. I recommend buying it from Focus on the Family so that your purchase goes to a good cause instead of, well, other causes. Do as you will. 

I'll be writing about the book for a bit because he's got good stuff in there. 

Mr. Asay relates his experience of depression to the static we used to experience on TV when transmissions came through airwaves and metal bunny ears. For me, depression is more like waves of sand. 

I'm walking along, minding my own business, and sand laps around my feet. That's no good. Should probably walk somewhere else. Oops, more sand and now it's dragging at my feet. OK, I've done this before. Keep moving. Then the big wave hits, knocking me off my feet into a hole that begins to fill with sand. I've tried scrabbling out before, but that's so hard and the sand is pinning my legs and then my arms and then it's just easier to lie there and wait for it to pull away because even if I fight, the wave will come back and I'll be right back here again, pinned down, without hope. Why fight the inevitable? 

That's what depression does. It takes the fight out of you. It's hard to be around. It's hard to be the depressed person because I know I'm hard to be around at those times. Nothing is funny. I have no desire, no energy, no creativity. I don't even have the solace of sleeping through it because of my wonky circadian rhythms. I just lie there, knowing nothing matters and I will never stop feeling this way until I'm dead. And maybe not then. 

Which is why I can't take suicide seriously. What if it doesn't stop the cycle? What if the Great Beyond is worse, or more of the same? Those are really bad days. 

I'm good at the moment. Sunny skies, removal of the current trigger, have brought some light back into my eyes. I'm hoping an honest trip to the doctor and Mr. Asay's book will give me some more coping skills. I'll keep you posted. 

Keep the faith. 

Monday, March 29, 2021

The Other Voices

Not sure when this really started, but I have other voices in my head, too. I usually have a song playing in my mind as soon as I wake up. 

It isn't from the radio. I'm awake long before the alarm sounds. The alarm is for the cats, really, to let them know this is the time you can expect Mom to get up and stay up. 

The song is usually what could be considered Christian contemporary, something I heard on Klove, Family Life Radio or American Family Radio's morning show (they're mostly talk, now). Or cable has a contemporary Christian channel, that would be more rightly named The TobyMac Channel. 

No offense to Toby. Prolific is a lucrative thing. 

So, I have this one voice that likes to talk about the bad, the worse and the unthinkable, a soloist or choir singing something about God, and my own nonsense chattering away all at the same time. It's a miracle I can hear anything else. 

TT: Yet I hear everything else. I can hear earthworms moving through the grass at night from my porch. 

I don't know if God gives me the songs or if it's a side-effect of my quirky depression-soaked synapses. There are a number of songs that have helped center me during an episode. Even If by MercyMe, Abide with Me by Matt Maher, Worn by Tenth Avenue North, Into the Sea by Tasha Layton, Truth I'm Standing On by Leanna Crawford, Out of My Hands by Jeremy Camp. Praise God Christian songwriters are not immune from the darker emotions. 

Don't get me wrong. Upbeat praise music is helpful, too, but the Psalms are darkness of human experience and the eternal light and love of God. When I'm in the darkness, I can't feel the light. I need to know someone else was there and came out of it, not that they've never walked that valley. That's hope. To know other people made it out alive. 

Keep the faith. 

Friday, March 26, 2021

Will the Voice in My Head Please Shut Up?

I have a voice in my head. It doesn't narrate my life. That would be fine. Might even be funny. 

This voice interprets events, sometimes into the distant future. The interpretation is rarely a positive prognostication. It's favorite form of commentary is why the thing that just happened isn't the good thing it appears to be. 

"Well, she said yes, but that was because she doesn't understand what's involved. She'll never make it work. It will all end in utter disaster, and it will be your fault, too, because you got her into it. Hope you'll enjoy living with that responsibility. You've been warned, so don't come crying to me when it happens." 

My gut thinks the little voice is right, and my gut controls my throat, my heart and my intestines. My gut can constrict every part of my bodily functions, but it cannot make the little voice stop talking. 

In fact, I have found no way to shut that voice up. I've tried talking over it, singing over it, repeating scripture over it. Praying over it. The moment I stop, the voice picks up with a "that's so cute. You think Someone's listening, don't you? You think all your little ideas about God and Jesus and the universe are true. What a miserable creature you are. You can't be a pagan but you can't trust God, either. If He's out there, He's laughing his invisible ass off about you. He's probably not, though. You're all alone and that's your fault, too. You just don't have enough faith to make God pay attention to you." 

I know icepick lobotomies are not the answer. I suspect it would simply add to the problem, likely with excessive drool. There are days when the thought of a sharp object through the eye socket is quite appealing. It wouldn't stop the voice. I know that. The voice tells me that while it's laughing at me.

I hate the voice. I want it denounce it as a liar. The problem with a lie is how little it has to be to spoil the truth. The truth should be more powerful but the lie lends doubt. Doubt is all the voice needs to shut me down. 

I wish I had something positive to say. I wish I believed like I used to. The fact is I'm currently going through the motions trying to find my lost first love, assuming I ever loved in the first place. I don't know what else to do, really. Until God speaks, I'm just drowning down here with only that hateful little voice to keep me company. 

Keep the faith. 

Thursday, March 25, 2021

Choosing Right

My greatest fear - other than Jaws - is doing the wrong thing. My entire life is built around the premise that I have the ability to make the right choice in any given situation all the time. 

This is obvious nonsense and a huge source of both my recurring depression and anxiety, but I can't seem to shut it down. 

I can cover on the big issues. Drunkenness, drug addiction, gambling, money management - got that under control, mostly by following biblical instruction, with a strong inclination to avoid anything that makes my heart rate increase. As time goes on, though, even avoiding the big wrongs, the little ones pile up. Most of those probably don't even fall into the category of "wrong." Is it wrong to eat cold cereal instead of hot? Is it wrong to move those bricks when you know you'll just move them again? Is it wrong to eat fast food when you have something at home? 

I identified this in college as perfectionism, and became a recovering perfectionist. Learning how to separate real right and wrong from choices with neutral moral value. That was a "right" choice. 

See how sneaky it is? 

Because as time piles up behind you, unless you're a complete idiot, you will notice that some of those innocuous seeming choices really did have consequences and they came back to bite you. Like having six cats in a house too small for them that ultimately leads to four animals dying of stress-related illnesses within 19 days of each other in 2016 that triggers a four-year clinical depression in their surviving human. So now you have to plan even farther ahead, examine every angle of every decision to see if you're missing something that could ultimately go incredibly wrong. This is impossible, I know, yet I try to do it. To protect myself from doing wrong. To protect myself from going insane. 

Somewhere I got the idea if I can think it, I should plan for it. Insanity. The depression, the anxiety, the constant internal debate over what to do or not do - I can't do it anymore. Yet I don't know how to stop. I don't know how to let God be God and let the consequences fall as they may. I'm not talking about betting my house on the roll of the dice. I'm talking about whether or not to adopt another cat. That's a silly thing to go crazy over, yet I am going crazy. The issue should be resolved yet I cannot let it go. 

Pray for me, please, that God will let me know in a tangible way that's He got it all covered. Trust that I am praying, too, minute by minute as I try to catch my breath around my racing heart. 

Keep the faith. 

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

Such a Pharisee

 Pretty sure I've said this before, but I'm a Pharisee. Yes, I know a lot about the Bible. Yes, I present a good front to the casual observer of what a "good person" generally looks like. The fact is, to quote Avram from The Frisco Kid, "I don't know one thing about God." 

I really don't. I have read the Old Testament a lot because I like the stories. I like the clear cut "do this and you'll be blessed; do that and you'll be cursed"-ness of it. I'm good with rules. I make my own if there aren't enough lying around to really keep me on the straight and narrow. 

The New Testament is more "do this because you love Jesus." The blessings are spiritual and eternal, not "here, have some land." The focus is on being remade from the inside-out, not looking different on the outside. That's a lot harder. It's a lot harder to be patient, run from evil and cling to what is good, in as far as it depends on me live at peace with everyone. How does that happen? 

It is past time to do the work of the Christ-follower. Get out of my head and walk the walk. Go out of my way for a human when I don't want to. Pastor Paul Sheppard once made the point that "GOD LOVES PEOPLE." I can hear him saying it over and over, and I now say it to myself over and over. It's good to know. 

At the worst of my worst days, I was exhausted and hating myself for how horrible I felt and acted. As I embrace recovery, I'm still exhausted but at least I tried to do good, be kind, be patient, be gracious, be encouraging, be loving through the day, and so I don't hate myself as much. Practicing the fruits of the Spirit is my reasonable act of service. I think it was David Jeremiah who said serving God is worshipping God. My obedience is more acceptable to Him than any other thing I might offer. That's my daily goal now. To serve God, serve others and keep myself out of it. 

Keep the faith. 

Tuesday, March 23, 2021


 2019 was my worst year ever. It followed a string of worst years ever that may have started in 2016. Or earlier. 

My first real tangle with depression was the summer of 1996. Done with my master's degree and back home to discover absolutely nothing was what I expected it to be, I went down hard. I remember the night in November I considered suicide and that line from Shawshank Redemption: get busy living or get busy dying. I chose life and spent the next two days drawing a children's book I have no intention of publishing in my lifetime. 

My nervous breakdown happened in 1998. Too much stress, too little resilience, and the Turtle snapped. A job change took care of the inciting incident and I spent the next two years on St John's Wort coming back from that edge. 

On it goes. Every few years I come up for air, and then down into the depths again. I'm used to it. This is the wave I ride called life. 

2019 took me to new lows. December 16, 2019, I was in my van, crying, and I admitted I was powerless over my problems. I turned to my Higher Power and told Him from this point on, I would trust Him with my life. I couldn't do it anymore. I couldn't control enough. I couldn't plan enough. I couldn't do enough to make myself feel safe. He had to take over. 

Thank God, I made that decision before 2020. I stuck to my new guns and took one day at a time, trusting God, reading the New Testament and determining each day to practice the traits a Christ-follower is supposed to exhibit. I failed a lot, but it was better. Better to end the day knowing I was trying to be patient, gracious, kind and loving to people instead of a snapping Turtle. 

I suffered my first relapse this month. God was kind, as He always is, and gave me what I needed to get back on the recovery wagon. I am an addict. I'm addicted to myself, my way, my wants. It won't do. Jesus didn't die to give me my way. He died to give me His way to live. His way is better. I want it. I will continue to get up each day and live one day at a time with the strength He gives me. 

Keep the faith. 

Monday, March 22, 2021

The Second Year

The second year is always worse. The first year can be bad. Panic, numbness, disaster, unexpected catastrophe. But in the first year is also an understanding from yourself and your fellows that something horrible is happening and a bit of compassion results. We've seen that. 

That changes in the second year. You've had a whole year. Why is this still an issue? Why haven't you accepted/ adjusted/ bounced back/ made peace/ whatever had to happen for you to stop being a problem and start being the solution? What's wrong with you? We're seeing that, too. 

We're in the second year. We're exhausted, broke, terrified and out of patience with the situation and ourselves. Rage, despair, and depression are the hair coats we're wearing and the whips we're using. 

We can't afford to lose our patience, or our compassion, for ourselves and our fellows. For the Christ-follower, it is imperative to practice the fruits of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. The Spirit will give us strength to practice these virtues if we focus on why we're doing it. We do it because God is in control and because our fellows are going to Hell without Jesus. Now, more than ever, it is time to practice our faith. Real faith in a real God who loves us and died for us and killed death forever. 

I've studied the Bible most of my life, but I haven't practiced very well. I'm making up for that now. I hope we all are. 

Keep the faith. 

Sunday, March 21, 2021

The Blob

The second scariest movie I've ever seen was The Blob. I mean the 1958 version that, should I have the guts to watch it today, is probably completely ridiculous. But I don't, so I'll never know. I wasn't alive in 1958 so I must have seen it sometime in the 70's. Maybe Monster Theater. No idea. No idea when it scarred me forever but it had to be young. 

What terrifies me about The Blob is the inevitability. I don't know if this scares other people, but looming disaster with no way out is scarier than sharks. Or maybe it's the same as sharks. 

The Blob might be the scariest movie I've ever seen except its impact on me was more subtle than Jaws. After Jaws, I stopped swimming. And going near bodies of water. Including bathtub water. Never know where a shark will come from. No, I haven't seen any Sharknado movies. I have enough problems with my brain. 

Life has become The Blob. Do you feel it? No matter what we do, we can't seem to get away from the danger. Just about everything nowadays is dangerous. Either plain deadly or life-ruin destructive. There's no end in sight. 

One of the things I love about being American is our absolute belief that there's always a way to win. A real way, too, not a cheater way. There's always an out that gets not only the prize but a happy ending to boot. Doesn't feel like that anymore. 

Pastor Craig Groeschel of Life.Church recently recommended not "trying to change" but "training to change." I'm starting that today. Since God won't bring me home yet, I guess I'm supposed to stay here and do something other than panic and cry and assume the fetal position between workdays. 

I was doing OK, but a recent event has knocked me back to pre-2020 anxiety levels. I don't like it. I don't want to live like this. I want that abundant life the Apostle Paul and Pastor Paul Sheppard talk about. If I have to be here, I'd like it to mean something. 

I'm praying for you. For all of us. I'm training my brain to focus on Jesus the Savior and King and Coming Redeemer but it's really hard to feel that truth right now. I'd appreciate your prayers, too. 

Keep the faith.