Saturday, September 22, 2012

Lessons I've Learned on My Journey through Depression and Anxiety: Part 3

I am an over-thinker, and analyzer, a worrier, a controller. I like to have a plan. I like to have things under control. I don't like the unknown. I will run over scenario after scenario in my head or look at site after site online for an answer. I don't like waiting for things to work themselves out. I have a very hard time quieting my mind. In the midst of five minutes of prayer, I will have to interrupt my thoughts many times to refocus on God.

It's not that I have any greatly pressing questions in my life, but the ones I do have weigh on me constantly. And the influence of many sources, including my own thoughts and beliefs, have taught me that I need to be always moving forward, toward my goals. Remaining stagnant is difficult for me to accept.

Recently, one thing that is at the forefront of my mind is my boys' behavior. My older boy is a very emotional child, similar to how I was when I was a child. He gets upset easily and often holds onto his frustration well past the time it may possibly be considered constructive. He has, too many times to count, hit himself repetitively when he has been sent to time out for his behavior. I try to teach him, on his level, the things I have learned during my own similar battles. Sometimes it seems to sink in, and sometimes it seems to lead him to put up a wall of stubbornness and to fight even harder against me. I am afraid for him that he may continue to follow in my footsteps, developing substantial depression and possibly even suicidal tendencies.

My younger son is being tested for something called Sensory Processing Disorder. He is somewhat uncoordinated and lacks fine motor skills. He often rubs his clenched hands together, one inside the other, opening his mouth so that his two jaw bones are pressed together at the joints on each side of his face that they share, not realizing he is doing this. I try to give him activities to develop his coordination and fine motor skills and to give his joints the input they seem to be seeking. Sometimes these activities seem to help, but more often they don't seem to make a difference. I am afraid for him that he may never learn to adequately control these self-stimulating behaviors and that he may be made fun of for them or that they may otherwise hamper him later in life.

Also on my mind is the hope of someday soon buying a house. We moved into the duplex we are currently in over five years ago, planning to live here less than a year. It is a great duplex as duplexes go, but the lack of counter space in the kitchen, lack of a dishwasher, and lack of a playroom are getting to me more and more each year. On our tight budget, we can't afford much in a house, and finding the right house in the right location for the right price is proving to be quite a challenge. As much as I'd like to, I can't just make that house appear and then be magically put on the market. My fear is that we'll never find that house and that we'll have to raise our growing sons and possibly a growing family in tight quarters (The duplex is just over 1000 square feet). I am, of course, trying to keep in mind how truly blessed we are to have a home.

But the thing that has been most heavily weighing on my mind recently, the one for which I feel the most helpless also, is the gift of a growing life God has recently planted within me. With the fact that my two most recent pregnancies ended quickly in miscarriage is of obvious concern as I enter into my eighth week of pregnancy (according to the doctors charts). I have been looking for any sign of what may be happening to the little child inside me. While, because this is a high risk pregnancy, I was blessed and reassured to hear the heartbeat two weeks ago via ultrasound, I have more recently been noticing the morning sickness that had seemed to be setting in a week ago has diminished greatly, and I did not notice the gag reflex this morning as I was brushing my teeth that I had begun to have . It is hard to not read into these signs and hard to be patient and wait for the answers and reassurance I want right now.

The challenge for me is to trust. I know and believe in my heart that God will provide in all these circumstances and that, even if things don't turn out the way I'd like, He has His hands in it all and has our best interest in mind.

What's the point, really, in trying to maintain control of any of this? The common thread between each of these circumstances is that I have very little control. I can do what I am able to: provide compassionate discipline and use daily life circumstances as teaching moments for my older son; provide coordination, fine motor, and proprioception exercises for my younger son; keep an eye out for new houses that come onto the market and look at any we're interested in; eat healthy, sleep, and take care of myself in order to promote a healthy pregnancy. But, in reality, God has much more control over all of this than I do.

I am, little by little, learning to let go of control in various circumstances. I have become less controlling over the cleanliness of my house. I have learned to trust the teachers my kids have at the school they are in - teachers I know care greatly for their students and who teach according to great morals despite the limitations within the public school system. And I am making gains in letting go of control in regards to the above issues also. But, despite trying to let go and leave the process up to God, I still find myself anxious about each of these issues. Jesus says many times, "Do not be afraid." I am trying to trust and am praying for the grace to trust, so why am I still afraid?

It seems to me that I not only need to let go of control and leave the process up to God, but I also need to generally detach myself from being so very vested in each circumstance and the outcomes of each. It's not that I don't care what happens to either of my boys or that I don't want a house or a newborn child, and it's not that I won't do what I can for my children. But I can't do what God does not will that I do, and if something is not a part of God's plan, it's better that that thing doesn't happen. At this point, I feel the call to detach myself emotionally from caring so deeply about both the process and the outcomes and to surrender myself completely into God's hands, leaving everything, including the process, the outcomes, and the timing, up to Him.

I picked up a small pamphlet at church yesterday, put together by the Christophers, entitled "Choosing Faith Over Fear." They quote Father Walter J. Ciszek, who had been imprisoned by the Russians during WWII and tortured for 23 years, from his book He Leadeth Me: "...God is in all things, sustains all things, directs all things. To discern this in every situation and circumstance, to see his will in all things, was to accept each circumstance and situation and let oneself be borne along in perfect confidence and trust. Nothing could separate me from him, because he was in all things. No danger could threaten me, no fear could shake me..." To "accept each circumstance and situation and let oneself be borne along in perfect confidence and trust" is this detachment I feel I am in need of. The faith he shows, the loving and trusting detachment he models. The result, he says, is that "no danger could threaten me, no fear could shake me." I may not be tortured at the hands of those who despise me, but I perceive my boys' behaviors and my lack of morning sickness as dangers. When I know a loving God is in all things, sustaining all things, and directing all things, as Fr. Ciszek says, why should I see myself as being in danger? Why should I fear, despite what circumstances may await me?

No, in the face of the unknown, in the face of those things that seem to threaten my future or the futures of those I love, I must trust God completely and totally. I must abandon myself and the things I want to His holy Will. I must let go of every reservation, knowing that He "is in all things, sustains all things, directs all things." Knowing that my life is simply an unfolding of the story He is writing in me.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Lessons Learned on My Journey Through Depression and Anxiety: Part 2

If you have not yet read part 1, you can find it here.

The Power of Prayer

One day, late winter of 2011, I put on a CD that I had not listened to in quite a while. As I listened to his words, sung as if God were singing the words to the listener, Michael John Poirier's voice poured through the living room to the kitchen sink where I was washing dishes: "Come close enough to hear me whisper; I am loving you back to life. Do not be worried or fearful. Please trust in me, please trust in me. I am promising you I will renew your heart, if you will only trust in me." I couldn't help it - I burst into tears. I ran into the living room and knelt down then fell onto the floor. I didn't realize how much I was hurting inside. I didn't realize before then just how angry I was with God. I just cried and shook, not knowing how to rid myself of this deep anger I felt. It seemed nothing would touch it. But I began to pray, harder than I had for some time, and the anger did eventually begin to slowly melt away, enough so that I could stop crying - or at least stop crying so hard. I don't remember the details, but I'm quite sure it did take some time - days, weeks - before the anger had substantially lessened. I hadn't realized how little I had been praying before then. I only realized as my crying was settling down how I had not been able to pray, how I had set up a wall between God and myself. That day, as I continued to listen to Michael John Poirier's words, a calm came over me, and I began to pray the words deeply. And it felt great, even in the midst of the frustrations that still hung around.

I was angry for two primary reasons: I didn't understand why God would permit me to have two miscarriages, one after another. And I didn't understand why He would allow me to experience such sudden, intense anxiety. And I was left with two unknowns which felt like two big holes in my life: I didn't know whether I would ever be able to have another child, and I didn't know if this anxiety I was feeling would ever subside. It didn't seem fair. And so I held onto this intense frustration and anger. I was also, at the time, looking online for any hint I could find as to why I had such anxiety, seemingly from taking an antibiotic. So I was trusting in my own ability (or inability it seemed) to reason through the causes of my symptoms. The words of that song cut right through all of that: "I am loving you back to life. Do not be worried or fearful... I will renew your heart, if you will only trust in Me."

And so, though it was a process, I began to trust God again, and I began to pray again.

Laying awake night after night, still anxiety-filled, unable to sleep, with a racing heart and my mind also unable to quiet, I would alternate between praying and trying to sleep. I would beg Mother Mary to ask Jesus to send His mercy down upon me and give me peace, or pray directly to Jesus, begging the same thing of Him. It was during those quiet nights, lying alone on the couch praying, that I felt deep peace wash over me, filling me. It was a peace I knew could only come from God. I had felt it in the past, on a small handful of occasions, while in prayer. But I knew that feeling, and it was so very comforting. I wanted desperately to stay in that state of peace forever, but well before the morning came, it was always gone.

I started, though, praying more and more often, laying on the couch, in bed, or on the floor next to my bed, or at times kneeling, begging for that peace. And many times when I would ask for it, God would again pour His peace into my heart. I do believe it was a healing peace, for as I experienced this peace again and again, I was also growing less anxious between these sessions, and would even have times, and eventually weeks, with little anxiety.

I had been put on a couple medications by that time: one an antidepressant and the other an anti-anxiety medication. Together, they seemed to take the edge off my anxiety but by no means cured it. Nothing gave me the deep peace that Jesus did during those times of prayer, and I knew that nothing else ever would. 

I deeply longed for that peace, for that healing. And I learned to long for God. I learned I must depend on God for my healing. I believed God was telling me that healing would come from no other place but Him and that I must learn to trust in Him, not just in word, but to truly trust.

In John 14:27, Jesus says, "Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give it to you. Do not let your hears be troubled or afraid." True peace, true love, true joy cannot be found in this world. If we focus only on what's around us, it is easy to worry, to grow afraid. Our minds will run away from us with thoughts of the worst case scenario, especially if we are prone to anxiety or depression. God cuts right through that. He cuts right through the hurt and the pain, the physical and emotional symptoms. He is the great healer and the great lover. Even for those without a tendency toward depression or anxiety, I am convinced that that peace that I was experiencing in prayer is deeper and more profound than any peace we can experience in any other way.

My wonderful priest friend has told me on several occasions that modern medicine is a wonderful thing, and that health care professionals, including counselors, and our modern medications can do great things, but there is a ceiling or a limit to their ability to heal. The Holy Spirit has no ceiling; He has no limit to His ability to heal. If He wills that we be healed, and if we dispose ourselves to His power, we will indeed be healed.

I think of the leper from Luke's Gospel, chapter 5, who approached Jesus and, falling to Jesus' feet, said, "Lord, if you wish, you can make me clean." Jesus answered him, " I do will it. Be made clean" and healed him of his leprosy. I think of how that man, on one hand, had full trust in Jesus' ability to heal him and, on the other hand, placed himself fully under Jesus' will, permitting Jesus to act in the way He saw fit. And I think that is what we also must do. We must fully trust ourselves, without reservation, to Our Lord's healing power and also fully trust ourselves to His holy and perfect wisdom. He has only our best interest in mind and knows when and how to bring healing to our lives. I do believe God desires our wholeness, especially a spiritual wholeness which more often than not also translates into an emotional wholeness. And I believe that God desires to bring joy, peace, and love into our lives. But for each person that journey to healing and to peace may look different.

It is also important to remember that healing is most often a process. Healing typically involves an unfolding of layers, but one that God directs us through, step by step. And we, I am learning, must trust Him and renew that trust every step of the way (and usually many times during each step), continuously disposing ourselves to His loving presence and asking for the healing. And as we do so, God continuously draws us closer to Himself, closer to His Heart, to the very heart of that joy, peace, and love we so desire.

I wish I could say I turned completely from my desire to take my healing into my own hands. The truth is that I continued to look for this "magic" cure, researching and trying to find the reason I may have become so anxious following the use of an antibiotic drug. I wanted a cure; I wanted to rush the process and just become better, though I knew God was saying to me, Patience; have patience. I am working this out through you, but you need to trust in Me. As I continued to look for a cure, I knew I was, in a sense, turning away from God and the work He was doing in me. I could feel myself becoming more anxious each time I would do that, both because I was turning from my trust in God and because I was worrying more about what may be wrong with me. I felt God trying to call me away from all this wondering and worrying, calling me back to trust and to prayer. And I did continue to pray. But it often felt to me as if the healing I was experiencing by praying was not fast enough or consistent enough, despite many powerful experiences I had had in prayer.

Looking back, I realize my impatience. Looking with the perspective of having gone through much of the process, I can see that God's healing touch and my openness to His healing touch through prayer has impacted my healing significantly more than anything else. And this process, while painful and patience-testing oftentimes, was necessary, as it was through this process that I have come to better know Christ and to trust in His healing power. As I look back over the journey He has brought me through thus far, I find myself truly grateful for the gift of the trials He has permitted me to face.

I am reminded, as I reflect on this, of chapter 15 of John's gospel: "I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower," says Jesus to His disciples. "Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit." This process, I believe, is a pruning process by which God is giving me to grace to grow in His love in order to bear more fruit. And He calls us each to this pruning process so that we may all bear fruit for the sake of His glory.

Jesus also says to His disciples, "Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me." As I found out during this process, it is only in my relationship to Christ and to our Father that healing can occur, and that any meaningful fruit can be produced. On my own, I can do nothing, but, with Him, anything is possible.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Lessons Learned on My Journey Through Depression and Anxiety: Part I

Falling on the Grace of God

As I have traveled this road through depression, and more recently anxiety, I feel God has taught me many things, especially during these last several months. I am on a very good path right now, one with its ups and downs, but one that is leading me ever closer to Him. With the Holy Spirit as my guide, in part leading me through a very holy and humble priest, I travel. I'd like to share some of these lessons with you, knowing that God is leading each of us in different ways unique to our own needs, but in hopes that you, or perhaps people you know, may grow closer to Him, through your/their own crosses, possibly including depression or anxiety.

One lesson I have learned, this one actually a few years ago, late in the year 2008, is to view the cross of depression and anxiety in a more positive light. It was the first of many paradigm shifts. It is easy to view our crosses in a very negative light, for they are often difficult to carry and weigh us down. But in God's wisdom, our crosses can become something that actually lift us up, closer to Himself. Our crosses, including the crosses of depression and anxiety, are an invitation to rely more heavily on Him, to trust in Him rather than in ourselves, to come to Him in our weakness and lay our worries upon Him.

Depression and anxiety both introduce a choice. Do we despair or worry, or do we trust in Christ Jesus? No matter how we may feel, we do have the ability to make this decision. It is said that the Bible contains the words "Do no worry" or "Do not be afraid" or some derivative of those words three hundred-some times. Christ wants to make it clear that we are not to worry, we are not to despair; He is here for us and is taking care of us, no matter what the situation. His grace is sufficient for us (cf. 2 Corinthians 12:9).

Christ is the great healer, the great physician. If God the Father wills that we be healed, we will be. But He may also be using our sufferings for our own sanctification. Or perhaps both are the case - that He is using our sufferings for a special purpose now, and to teach us how to follow Him now, and will heal us when we are ready for the healing. In any case, if we trust Him, He will use the sufferings and the crosses of depression and anxiety for our own good and for the good of those He has entrusted to us. He cannot help but bring about good in our lives if we give Him permission to do so (cf. Romans 8:28). When we truly realize this, it is difficult not to react with gratitude, despite the difficulties we are facing.

Not only that, but when we truly trust in Him and lay our burdens upon Him, He helps us to pick up our crosses and carry them. He gives us strength to continue along the journey. He stays with us, and within us, giving us the peace the world cannot give us, peace beyond explanation, and giving us faith in Him that, no matter what the situation, we will be alright as long as we have Him. He tells us: "Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light" (Matthew 11:28-30). We often try to do so many things for ourselves, especially when we are under pressure or have a time constraint. We don't rely on our Savior enough. Yet, He is here for us and here with us; He wants to help us and to lighten that yoke from around our shoulders through helping us to carry it.

This is what my blog title refers to: Falling on His Grace. I need the grace of God to help me through this tangle I call life. I find it too easy to fall into despair or worry, and I find myself in the state of depression or anxiety quite often. And why not? Life is difficult. It's too often full of uncertainties and frustrations, full of opportunities for worry and despair to sneak in and steal our joy. But we have a God Who is all-knowing, all-loving, and all-powerful and wills our good. Rather than relying only on ourselves and our own knowledge and efforts and falling into worry or despair, we can rely on God and fall onto His grace. We can trust that God will work all things to good for us, that all uncertainties are not uncertainties to Him and that all we are worried about will indeed work out under His guidance. We can trust God that He will lighten for us all struggles and frustrations and that He will be our strength to bear them until He redeems them and brings them to glory.

I have struggled with depression all my life. I was born with a very melancholic personality. And I have, at least since early high school, tried everything I could think of to think and behave more positively and "beat" depression, only to be disappointed and frustrated again and again. What I see when looking back now is that, while I was praying to God for help and listening for inspiration from Him, I was actually relying on myself and my own understanding and abilities rather than on Him. I did not adequately trust Him and His timing. I did not desire the process He wanted to bring me through but instead impatiently wanted healing now. I am currently learning (and learning is the operative word here - I am a work in progress) that growth is a process - a process that must be led by God and not by me. He knows what is best for each of us, and He knows what timing is best. And He has the ability to carry it out. God can do for us what we are unable to do for ourselves. And when we place our needs in His hands in the spirit of faith rather than keep them in our own, He does indeed begin His loving work in us. He has placed on our hearts a desire for happiness, a desire that is meant to lead us closer to Himself. He does desire to fill our hearts with His joy, but it is only when we come to know Him and His love for us and come to trust in that love that we can begin to experience His joy.

Depression and anxiety do present a choice, as does any cross we humans must bear, but I do believe that because depression and anxiety tend to be more consistently with us than do many other crosses and do so deeply affect many aspects of our lives, making the choice to trust in Christ is more necessary. And we need to make that choice again and again, indeed every time we are tempted to despair or worry, and so we are given the opportunity to progressively grow in trust and in faith. Faith that is not tested does not adequately grow. It is when we are tested that we are given a chance to "exercise" our faith, and faith, when it is exercised, does indeed grow stronger.

Christ challenges us at all times to have faith in Him. He is able to take situations which seem impossible and rectify them, oftentimes in a super-natural way. He did this with five thousand men gathered around Him to listen to Him teach. They did not want to leave, for they were hungry for His Word, but it was getting late, and it appeared Jesus would need to send them off so that they could feed their stomachs. Jesus said, "No, let them stay," for He knew the importance of the hunger they felt in their souls. Giving thanks to His Father in Heaven, He was able to feed more than five thousand people with just five loaves and two fish. Their witnessing of that miracle, I'm sure, gave them more sustenance than did the food itself (Mk 6:34-44). Christ knows, still today, what we truly need and will work miracles in our lives in order to provide it for us when we come to Him in faith.

Later that evening, Jesus was praying alone, while His disciples were on a boat heading across the lake, rowing against a strong wind. It was a long journey, and they were greatly tiring as they continued to row all night and were likely wondering whether they would make it to the other side. Jesus then came toward them, walking on the water. They were all terrified, for they did not recognize Him against the early morning sky and thought they were seeing a ghost. He spoke to them "Courage!" and calmed the wind, dumbfounding them with His power and giving them courage and strength to continue to row until they reached the other side (Mark 6:45-52). Christ knows our journeys are difficult as well and sees when we grow tired and hopeless. He desires to speak strength and courage to us just as He did to His disciples, helping us by lightening our load and calming the wind so that we may also continue along our journey.

We are each called to have a Christian hope. Our hope is born of faith in the One Who sanctifies us, Who delivers us, Who shelters and feeds us. Christ is our all in all. He will provide for our every need if we but place our trust in Him. He has proven Himself time and time again throughout the course of history and will prove Himself trustworthy in our lives as well if we give Him the chance. Christ knows what we need better than we do, and He is able to provide it for us. He is able to be our strength when we are weak and our hope when all the world appears hopeless. Can we not place our trust in Him Who was able to feed five thousand from just five loaves and two fish and was able to calm the sea? Why, then, do we not have hope that all will turn out as it should in our own lives and the lives of those we love?

Again, we are presented with a choice: do we hope, or do we despair? Do we have faith or do we worry? We may not know what God has in store for us, which is a challenge in itself to our trust. To trust God is to let go. We like to be in control, especially when we are feeling anxious or depressed, for control brings with it a feeling of being grounded somehow, and therefore a feeling of greater security. Worry somehow brings with it this feeling of control. But as we learn to trust, we learn that our security is much greater when put into the the hands of God than it is in our own hands. To trust and to hope can be frightening at first, but the more we exercise our trust and hope, and the stronger it becomes, the safer it feels.

Each cross we carry, including depression and anxiety, hold this challenge and this invitation: to trust and hope in God rather than continue to worry and despair, to grow closer to Him who is the Source of all goodness and all love. God wants us to know Him. He wants to pour His love upon us. He wants us to know His joy and His peace. He is inviting us. Let's answer this invitation with gratitude! St. Paul says, "I will rather boast most gladly of my weakness, in order that the power of Christ may dwell with me" (2 Cor 12:9b). He had become grateful for his weakness because it was in His weakness that He had come to know the strength of God. St. Paul had made that decision to rely on God, to allow God to draw him closer to Himself, and God answered. Let's follow his example!

I have had a sense for several years that my depression was in some way a gift, an invitation, though I really couldn't explain why. I knew I needed God and that my need for Him was more apparent than it is for many people. And I was, even at that time, grateful for that gift. But I didn't know how that opportunity would play itself out. I find in interesting that God used my worsening symptoms in the form of sudden and fairly intense anxiety to teach me these things. Thus, it's only been in the last 4-5 months that I have begun to understand it and have been able to put more words to this need to trust in Him. This initial understanding, I believe, is the beginning of a long process of growth in faith and a growing closer to Our Lord, a process I hope and trust will continue.

The anxiety I experienced this year, and the depression I have experienced all my life, had seemed to me to be beyond hope of a cure. While I cannot call myself "cured," God is doing wonderful and amazing things in my life and is teaching me the ways of faith and of hope in Him and gifting me with His reassurance and with His peace. In God, I have no true need to worry or to despair, and the choice to trust and to hope is progressively becoming easier and more natural. And I am truly amazed at the work He has done in me; I am amazed by His love and His power. I have no doubt whatsoever that it is God Who is doing this work in me. Currently, I am typically in a fairly stable mood without any signs of significant depression. I do have my days when I am feeling somewhat depressed, but even on those days, I have the faith that I will very soon feel better. And my anxiety also typically well under control, with my having very tolerable anxiety, if any, the vast majority of the time. When I compare this to where I was a year ago, with nearly constant moderate or intense anxiety and increasing depression, I'm honestly amazed.

I will, in future emails, attempt to explain what I am learning in greater detail and following the steps God led me through in my own healing process, in hopes that my explaining it will shed, though God's grace and His guidance, more light on these things for my readers and for myself. I hope that, as I grow in understanding, I will be able to express the beauty of the things I am learning with growing clarity. This is my journey I am sharing with you, and while I know each person has their own journey, and God is leading each of us individually, I do also believe we are here to share our experiences and to lift each other up, and in the hopes of finding a common thread in which one person can help another.

God bless you!

Just a note: I want to make it clear that it is not my faith that is providing the healing, but God's grace, along with my docility (or attempts at docility) towards His works. :)