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.