Not Today, Satan

For several weeks, I feel like I am in a slow-motion time warp – everything around me is moving at regular speed, and I am moving through glass, seeing everything flash by while I fight to just get one foot in front of the other.  I honestly felt so defeated after fighting with my tiny human about tooth brushing tonight, that I just sat down and cried.  Because everything feels like a fight.  I’m spinning my wheels in so many places in my life, that the only thing moving me forward right now may be time itself.  As in, I have to have the tiny human at school next week, on time, and it’s just a matter of the calendar.  That happens on Wednesday whether I’m ready or not.  Tomorrow will come because time is moving at regular speed whether I move or not.

I can feel the depression brain whispering that I should just give up because I’m not accomplishing anything I’ve set out to do, and no amount of work is making a dent in the house getting cleaned.  No amount of work is going to get me caught up at work or on my writing or on the dozens of projects dawdling in craft purgatory on my dining room table or on getting back in shape or….  The list feels infinite, and I feel incapable and overwhelmed.  Depression brains tells me to just sit down and eat, maybe watch some television or go to bed.

I recognize that depression brain is a liar.  I’m not stuck, and I’m not incapable of change or progress.  Depression brain is literally a voice from hell, and tonight, it felt like Satan himself was whispering to my soul.  The difference in tonight and so many other times is that I could see it for it was: a lie designed to stop me.  Stop me from what?  I’m not sure exactly.  I don’t know if it’s pride or just the same clarity of vision that told me tonight’s depression brain was whispering directly from Hell itself, but I feel like it was to try to stop me from writing.  I have had a gazillion important things to get done that have taken my focus and time away from writing.  The time warp is happening because I am overwhelmed by  the things that keep stacking up on me at home and at work.  Satan doesn’t want me to move, which must mean that God has something important for me to do, someone important for me to reach.  I have no idea what that is or who that will be, but I do know that if I sit down and eat and shut off my brain, I won’t be doing anything except dying slowly and painfully and miserably in the clutches of depression brain.

That won’t be happening tonight because God heard me when I cried out to him and showed me the truth that depression brain is a liar and that I can get up and get moving.  It still hurts like hell.  I want to quit, and I want to move forward.  Right now I want to move forward more, but that doesn’t stop the part of me that wants to quit.  No matter how badly I want to ignore depression brain and just get going, it’s still there, and I still have to fight it every day.  I want to fight, and I need to fight.  I also desperately need to remember that I’m not fighting alone because God is with me, in me, and fighting for me.  He has already won the only battle that matters, but this battle is still important to him because I am important to him.  Tonight I could see that this particular battle with depression brain was a spiritual one.

If you have read much of anything I’ve published on the blog, you know that I am not often going to speak about spiritual warfare because it sounds a little crazy, and we humans, especially church attending humans, tend to give the devil a little more credit than the devil is due by attributing everything negative to spiritual warfare.  I’m also never, ever going to say that depression is a spiritual battle than one can overcome with enough prayer and faith – that is malarkey on a level I can’t express with mere words.  God can absolutely heal anyone of any disease, but he most often doesn’t without the use of earthly medical interventions.

If you have depression, you are not suffering with the disease because you weren’t faithful enough.  You may or may not be able to pray hard enough to get over your depression, just as someone with cancer probably won’t merely pray and be made healthy.  I do believe that illness of every kind exists because the world fell into sin with Adam and Eve, and we will only be made whole and healthy in the presence of God.  So very clearly understand that not all of my depression has been this “easy” to fight.  God gave me the tools to get to a healthier place through counseling, medicine, and strong relationships, and those are the tools that made it possible for me to see Satan at work on me tonight.

It’s not overstating it to say that he was the voice in my head telling me to just give up.  I would be overstating his power if I decided to listen and quit.  Once I could see the truth, the decision was mine and Satan’s power was gone, even if I made the wrong choice.  I would certainly have been enlarging his influence over my depression brain if I gave up, but I couldn’t have said, “The devil made me do it.”  I’ve given up plenty of times.  Only recently do I seem to be standing up more quickly more often.

I wish with all my heart that God would take my depression brain completely out; just take it away.  Haven’t I dealt with it long enough?  This turmoil is so painful, and I don’t make excellent decisions when I’m feeling wounded.  I eat too much.  I get cranky with the people I love.  I stop writing.  I stop arting.  Sometimes I physically ache.  But sometimes I win.  I write.  I paint.  I laugh with the people I love and hug them tight.  I exercise and eat normal human portions.  I talk to God and listen to him.  I’m actually off my antidepressant and not wanting to kick people in the shins all the time.

I know that I will struggle with depression all my life.  It’s not because I wasn’t well loved as a child, or because I’m not well loved now, or because some need isn’t being met.  None of that is true.  I have a chronic mental illness that flares up from time to time but is generally under control now – as long as I keep doing the work to keep me in good mental health.  It may at some point in the future require medication again.  I can beg God all I want to miraculously take it from me, but I know he won’t.  He will provide me with the tools, and he will give me flashes of clarity like he did tonight when I need to see a glimpse of him – to just hold on to the hem of his robe for a moment, as it were.  I saw tonight, heard it almost as clearly as if he had spoken the words out loud: my path is to continue to stand up and fight and to keep writing about it.

Years ago I heard him speak the same thing to me in the midst of all of our pregnancy losses, “I can give you what you want now, or you can wait and have exactly what I planned for you.”  We have the most amazing tiny human now, and if you’ve ever met her, you know she is something incredible.  I don’t know where this path ends exactly, but I trust God to take me to something greater than I could ever have imagined for myself.

If you have depression, how does your depression brain lie to you?  Maybe you don’t struggle with depression but you’ve felt like something drags you down, too.  What do you struggle with?  What things hold you back?  How do you recognize that depression brain or whatever is holding you back is lying to you?  Do you trust God to fight for you and to lead you to something incredible?  If not, what do you think it would take for you to move forward?  If you don’t want to comment here but need a friendly pair of eyes to “listen” as you work some of those things out, my inbox is always open at mabbatblog@gmail.com.

Colossians 2 – How the Bible Can Help with Depression

In the Mabbat Facebook group, I’ve been posting a Bible study guide each week, and right now, we’re in Colossians chapter 2.  (Here’s the link if you want to check that out: https://www.facebook.com/groups/773975689656609/?ref=bookmarks  It’s going up in weekly installments in the Facebook group, and then I’ll post it as an e-book after we’ve completed it in the group – more on that to come next month!)  Each week, there are a few notes, and then there’s space on the page for you to do some creative assignments to deepen your study of God’s word.  I’ve discovered as I write the Bible study prompts that there are some things I would love to add but don’t really have the room for if I stay focused.  So I decided to share those here on the blog.

Oftentimes as I’m reading the Bible, I find ideas that correlate with things I’ve learned in therapy.  I don’t know why that surprises me, because I firmly believe that God gave us the Bible as a blueprint for living the best lives we can.

20180716-Colossians 2 on DepressionIn Colossians 2:2, Paul expresses a desire for the church members to be “knit together by strong ties of love” before he expresses his desire for them “to have complete confidence that they understand God’s mysterious plan.”  As a lifelong church member, this felt backwards to me until I spent time thinking through it.  Aren’t we supposed to have Jesus first and only?  Isn’t he sufficient for all our needs?  Yes, but… Our standard church answers leave a lot unexamined.  Jesus gives us the tools we need, and he will faithfully meet our needs, but we aren’t absolved from investing a little elbow grease in the process.

Paul wanted the church at Colossae to be bound together in love to provide an environment that fosters learning, trust, and care for one another – an environment that will encourage confidence in the knowledge of God.  As I breathed in that verse, I understood that we can’t see Christ’s love unless we are expressing it and receiving it, and that is the primary function of the church – to be a network of Jesus’s love and grace.

How does this fit in with depression coping skills?  I’m glad you asked.  Strong relationships are key in combatting depression.  There are plenty of scientific studies (as well as every therapist I’ve seen) that tell us the more connected we are to other people, the lower our risk of depression and substance abuse.  If you have depression, think about your symptoms.  Do you find that you pull away from people and, however unintentionally, isolate yourself?  Do you drop out of activities with other people that you enjoy?  Do you back out of engagements with family and friends?

Paul knew it was vital for the church to have strong, loving relationships to understand the fullness of God’s love, and it’s vital for our daily lives, too.  Especially if you battle depression.

So how do you do this when you are in the throes of grief and depression?  First, let someone in.  Find at least one friend that you can trust, and open the door.  Share with them, and listen when they need to share.  Then add another friend.  Then join a group – maybe go to a class you enjoy and start meeting the class members, or go to your local church and join a small group or Bible study class.  Slowly expand your circle and invest in those relationships.  In my experience, the more connected I am to my family, to my circle of friends, and to my church, the better I feel and the easier it is to get out of a funk when I fall into one.

20180716-Colossians 2-7Another verse that grabbed me in Colossians 2 is verse 7.  It’s a beautiful image to think about: “Let your roots grow down into him…”  It’s also a solid way to build a foundation for faith.  First, establish roots, then build, then grow, and then overflow.

That’s not just a solid way to develop faith, but it’s also a solid way to build mental health.

You need roots – some basic skills to recognize depression in your life and some basic skills to combat your symptoms (a treatment and/or maintenance plan).  Once you have that, then you can start building up your coping skills and work towards a “new normal” as your symptoms stabilize.  Then you will grow stronger, and then you’ll be able to share and help others.  The thing about this setup is that you can never neglect any of the stages; they’re all continual and build on each other.  As soon as you skip a step (ignore your roots, say), the entire thing (your mental health) comes crashing down.

This may be less dire for episodic depression and acute grief that will pass once the circumstances shift, but if you struggle with depression as an ongoing issue, you know you need to keep your eye on the ball and not ignore the things that keep you healthy.  I have recently been able to stop my antidepressant medication, but I can feel it when I let stress build up and skip the things that make me feel sane, like exercise, eating well, writing, and art.  When I see my cues – a short temper, complete lack of motivation, and a desire to eat all of the chocolate in the world – I know it’s time to evaluate and get back to basics of self-care.  Sometimes, I know it’s time to check in with my therapist.

What does your root structure look like?  Do you have a solid foundation of self-care and coping skills?  What does your life look like when you are “overflow” stage?  If you’re not there, what will it take for you to get on the right track?

*I am not a professional therapist or counselor, so I don’t offer this as a replacement for professional care.  If you are dealing with depression, please talk to your doctor and make a plan to begin healing.  I believe that Jesus can heal us, but I also know that he gave us tools like doctors and psychologists to help us when we need it.  If you are not getting better through prayer and healthy habits, please seek professional help.  I hope if nothing else, I hope my example can help remove the stigma that so often shadows mental health issues in our churches.  If you don’t know where to start, contact me, and I’ll be happy to help you locate resources in your area.

“In the Fields Today”

20180701 In the Fields TodayMy body has been crouched in this furrow for so long

That my view is narrowed

To just the dirt in my hands and the plant in front of me.

This plant is sturdy.

The stalk is strong, the roots stronger.

But what of the seedlings around it?

This small patch of field is dry and shriveled.

How can one plant be good, while the rest languish?

Didn’t they have the same care, the same sun?

This is not my concern,

Just as the weeds will wait for a more discerning eye to sort.

Shaking the dirt from my hands, I rise.

My view widens.

There are rows and rows as far as my sight stretches.

Some are lushly green; others are wilting.

My hands reach out to another furrow,

Somehow knowing

Without words or commands that the farmer needs them there.

I follow to find more rows, more need.

I feel the satisfaction of fingers immersed in rich soil.

The farmer wants me here.

I kneel into the work, and the panorama of rows tightens

To the one plant before me.

You Can Shout!

“A voice said, “Shout!” I asked, “What should I shout?” “Shout that people are like the grass. Their beauty fades as quickly as the flowers in a field. The grass withers and the flowers fade beneath the breath of the Lord. And so it is with people. The grass withers and the flowers fade, but the word of our God stands forever.” O Zion, messenger of good news, shout from the mountaintops! Shout it louder, O Jerusalem. Shout, and do not be afraid. Tell the towns of Judah, “Your God is coming!””  Isaiah 40:6-9 NLT

 I don’t know why exactly, but this passage in Isaiah grabbed me when I read it again a few weeks ago.  Isaiah is being told to go and deliver a specific message: we humans inhabit space and time for a moment, but God is forever.  He is eternal and eternally true and faithful.  I don’t know what your track record for faithfulness is, but mine is a little shoddy in some aspects.  I have never been unfaithful to my husband – I guard my marriage and my heart to keep that from ever being an option.  My record with healthy eating and exercise, on the other hand, is awful.  (Maybe I need to apply the same fervor I have for protecting my marriage to protecting my body…)  My discipline at writing is improving but clearly goes through spurts of faithfulness.  Thank God, God isn’t like that at all, in any aspect.  He is thoroughly faithful, so we can trust him.

 Why is that important, you may ask?  I mean, sure, we can trust God.  Every kid who attends a single Sunday school class will hear that a gazillion times in an hour.  It’s easy to accept that we can trust God, but what does it mean in real life outside of church?  It means you can act on what you believe.  You can shout!  If God is faithful, and his word is true, then you have the most solid foundation on which to build your entire belief system.  You have a standard for thought and behavior that applies to your entire life.  And you can shout!

Shout Pic 1Why does the crazy lady keep saying, “You can shout,” you may ask?  Because it’s true.  YOU can shout.  But I’m not a preacher, or a Sunday school teacher, or a worship music leader, or…  Whatever you just threw up as a defense, can we agree to drop it and lower our guards for a moment?  The beauty of trusting God’s word is that you can believe him when he tells us that each one of us is uniquely gifted and equipped to share his love.

You are uniquely gifted and equipped to create, and in so doing, share God’s character and his love.  You.  Can.  Shout.

 Go back and read the very first line of this Bible passage.  “A voice said, ‘Shout!’ I asked, ‘What should I shout?’”  I love this thought.  The voice is God telling Isaiah to go out and yell something to his people.  Go create.  Go paint or write or bake or run or organize…  But what should I create?  The wonderful thing God does for Isaiah here is he gives him the message to share through his creativity.  This probably won’t happen in such an obvious manner at the outset of your creative career; it may not happen so obviously even after you’ve been creating with God for years, but if you ask him to join you and guide you as you create, he’ll give you the message if you’ll listen.

 Isaiah gives us a model of creating with God: first answer his calling on your life, then answer his call to be creative with the gifts he’s given you, and then express the message he’s given you to tell.  Isaiah was a prophet who often relayed God’s messages to the people.  Consistently, he’d been shouting a single message: “God is coming!  Get ready!”  It took on various forms, and up to this point in the narrative, many of those messages had included “Woe to those who…”  You can browse the chapter headings and get a pretty good idea.  Isaiah had practiced the habit of listening for God’s message and repeating it through his creative talents.  Over and over and over – 39 chapter’s worth of practice is documented for us until we get to this point in Isaiah’s story.

 So when God tells Isaiah to shout, he doesn’t hesitate; he just asks what he should shout.  There was no question that Isaiah would practice his art.  The only question was what the exact message should be.

 That’s my goal in creating; I want the only question about my writing and drawing/painting to be, “What is the message supposed to be today?”  And that’s what I want for you, too.  I pray that will know what your gifts are and that you will practice your talent so much that it’s just like breathing.  I pray that God will show himself to you in those times in such a way that you will recognize that this is your God-given gift, and he will meet you in it when you use it faithfully.  And most of all, I pray that God will use you to shout his story of love and grace.

 Shout Pic 2One more thing I love about this passage, this entire chapter and the ones that follow, is that this marks a shift in tone for Isaiah.  There were a lot of “woes” before Chapter 40, but here the chapter opens with “Comfort…”  Classical music fans may recognize this text from Handel’s “Messiah.”  There is a beautiful piece that almost verbatim quotes the opening of this chapter.  I highly recommend reading it if you want to feel like God is giving you a hug; it’s a wonderful reminder that he wants nothing more than to love us and to see us excel.

 Maybe your gift isn’t public speaking like Isaiah’s was, but you do have a gift, and God wants you to use it.  I will be sharing some posts over the next month to help you discover your talents if you’re not sure what they are (and affirm you if you’re sure you know what they are).  If you want to join the conversation that’s already started in the Mabbat FB group (https://www.facebook.com/groups/773975689656609/?ref=bookmark), jump in there, and you’ll also be able to practice drawing and writing with the prompts in the Bible study posted each week.  We’re currently in Colossians.

Shout Pic 3You can SHOUT!  So what are you going to shout this week?  You can do this; you don’t have to be afraid because God is with you.  He is for you, and I am cheering for you, too.  Get out there and get loud!

WIP Wednesday 27 June 2018

Continuing the dancer theme, I have been working on some flamenco dancers. The passion and fire in a live performance is like nothing else I’ve ever experienced. If you ever get the chance to see flamenco in person, do it. The give and take between the dancers and the musicians is a beautiful act of shared creation. The intensity level is on par with Argentine tango; you’re drawn in, and at the same time you feel like an interloper.

At any rate, here’s a sketchbook rendering.

And here is a canvas sketched and ready for paint. My daughter and niece and I have an art evening planned, so maybe she’ll get some color tonight!

What are you working on? I’d love to see in the comments or in the Mabbat FB group!

Today, Depression Hurts. Tomorrow…

What does coping with mild to moderate depression look like in practice?  I can only share from my experience of what works.  I feel it’s important to put the both the good and the bad days out there, so maybe someone who doesn’t have a solid toolbox of coping tools can learn from my mistakes and my battle-earned wisdom.  This is something I wrote a few months ago but wasn’t ready to publish then.  It’s how a bad but not-too-bad day feels, and it’s what I do to make it through.

May 3, 2018: Today is a full-on depression day.  I don’t want to move.  I don’t want to sleep.  I desperately need a shower, but that feels impossible to do.  Honestly, the whole last week has been some version of this that I have generally been able to overcome.  Today, though, is ridiculously hard for some reason.  I feel like screaming or crying or flopping on the ground in some sort of catatonic state.  But all of those require an initial effort, and today I just can’t.

IMG_0804Maybe today is harder because I didn’t sleep well last night or because my period started, and it feels like my uterus is trying to kill me.  Maybe my hormones are out of whack.  Maybe pollen is God’s greatest curse on Adam and Eve, and so snot is also trying to kill me.  Maybe.  There could be a million reasons why, but none of them matter.  Because I just can’t.

So how do I get through today in some moderately adult fashion (since throwing tantrums is frowned upon at my age)?  I will pray a lot.  None of my prayers today will sound very dignified.

This morning I muttered and grumbled because I couldn’t find clean underwear for my child since it seems all her clothes are either dirty and scattered all over her room or in the washer, which I forgot to transfer into the dryer and must wash again.  And then I said, “God, you could just find me a pair of underwear,” as I searched through a pile of unfolded clean clothes all belonging to me.  Behold, a pair of tiny human underwear was in the midst of the pile.  I will hope today that God answers all my obnoxious demands so perfectly to my liking, but the reality is, he will get me through it, pretty or not; how prettily will mostly depend on my attitude.img_0805.jpg

Besides praying undignified, muttered, short and snappy prayers, how will I cope with today?  Mostly I will just keep talking to myself and reminding myself to breathe in.  Breathe out.  Take the next step, whatever it is.

One minute at a time isn’t so huge, so I can walk to the bathroom and start the shower.  I can wash my hair and cry where I won’t scare the dogs or tiny human, and then I can get out and do the next thing.  I won’t think about the whole day or my to-do list or what’s coming up this weekend.  I will gently tell myself that I did something great by bathing, and I will tell myself that I can do more great things today, like brush my teeth.  Even though I desperately want to eat my weight in ice cream or peanut butter or chocolate, I will eat good food in moderation, and I will celebrate by telling myself, “we can do this; we can make it through the day.”  And even though I feel like kicking people in the shins and sticking my tongue out at them while I run away, I will smile instead, and I will hold my feet still, and I will celebrate by reminding myself that on a normal day my smile is my secret weapon.  I can coax a smile out of the grumpiest of folks if I look them in the eye and smile – it’s my best and favorite superpower.

Everyone has some superpower, and a sparkling-eyed smile is mine (procrastination is also one).

But I’m not a nice and friendly person when I feel this depressed.  Generally, I shut down and avoid all contact, but when I don’t, I am sharp-tongued and angry.  It’s not pretty.  I actually take pleasure in the mean things I think – and sometimes let slip – and then I feel awful for being a jerk.  More self-loathing to add to the heap of horrible I already feel.  And even though I know it’s fleeting – this will pass in a few days – it feels like I will feel like this forever.  I almost edited that last sentence because I overused the word “feel,” but then I realized that’s the key to my self-talk coping.

I speak truth to my feelings.

It turns out, feelings can lie.  My depression feelings are depraved liars because they tell me I’m worthless.  They tell me it doesn’t matter what I do because no one cares.  They tell me it’s okay to skip my life and wallow in self-loathing and self-pity.  None of that is true, and in my heart I know that I am a creation of God; I have intrinsic value as his child.  I am a worthy daughter of the King.  I have to tell myself the truth over and over, and even when my feelings make it impossible to believe, I can still act on the truth.  Once I make that first move into the light of truth, I start to feel better.  Each act builds on that momentum until I realize that I made it to lunch without falling into my pit of despair.  Then I made it to dinner and through the tiny human’s bedtime, and then it’s my bedtime, and I made it.

Tomorrow may be just as hard, but I can tell the truth tomorrow, too.

What truth do your feelings need to hear right now?  Listen in your soul, and hear the voice of God tell you this: you are precious and valuable.  You are loved.  You are worthy of love.  Today may be hard, but the load will get lighter the more you listen to his truth, the more his truth lives in you and fills you up.  Jesus is waiting to carry the load for you if you’ll let him.  There is an army of people surviving depression who are cheering for you and love you and want nothing more than to lift you up.  My door is always open.  Join me in the Mabbat FB group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/773975689656609/?ref=bookmarks or e-mail me at mabbatblog@gmail.com if a group feels too scary.