Salaam Green, maybe more than anyone I know, recognizes that we are all works in progress, and she uses her gifts to help others heal and grow. I first found Salaam’s writing work in a Facebook group for writers, the See Jane Write Network. I instantly fell in love with her storytelling and the images her words spun up in my head.
As a writer who loves to encourage people to be creative and use that creativity to grow, I dearly love Salaam’s work of using journaling to heal. She founded the Literary Healing Arts Foundation as a way to help people write their healing into reality. Please check out her web site for the Literary Healing Arts Foundation. You’ll find her blog and a page with prompts as well as a way to submit writing for healing feedback.
I am a naturally empathetic person. It’s one of my INFJ personality type superpowers. Empathy makes me a great listener, a good friend, a compassionate leader, a solid writer, a generous giver…
But it’s also my kryptonite. I internalize the mood of the space I’m in, the people I’m around, the news I hear and read. All of it goes straight to my heart. When I’m not my healthiest spiritually and/or mentally, I have to create buffers between my soul and the ”real world,” or I can’t watch the news without crying over how broken the world is – how the pandemic is affecting the entire world – how heavy the losses are for families affected by the crime and poverty being reported – how divisive and angry our politics are – how even the good news stories are often colored with shades of loss or hardship, even if it’s a story about a loss restored.
It’s all so oppressive that joy, even the deep and abiding joy of living in Christ, is hard to muster. I tend to retreat, to build so many buffers that I can hide in comfort food and craft projects. Sometimes I volunteer too much as a way to compensate and keep my brain too busy with stuff to do to be able to focus on how I feel. It’s a really dumb way to handle all the feels, but it typically happens on such a subconscious level that I don’t realize it until I’ve taken on too much work to handle and there are abandoned crochet projects all over the house (and the house is a wreck).
As I grow, I get better at spotting the cycle. I’m certainly better at recognizing the moments when I’m feeling all the feelings, and even knowing when they’re not mine.
But the letting go part, that’s not my strong suit.
I’m great at planning my way out of mess and thinking I can generate just the right to-do list that will fix all my perceived problems. Overweight and out of shape? Yes, but if I follow this diet plan and this exercise regimen EXACTLY, then I’ll be at my goal weight and peak physical conditioning in less than a year. Behind on my quest to be a “real author?” Absolutely, but if I write this many minutes per day on each writing project, and I send out this many book proposals in the next two weeks, THEN I’ll be on my way.
It’s all malarkey. Not that I shouldn’t make plans and set goals, but I am still learning the lesson that I’m setting insane goal paces as a way to avoid some of my feelings. The irony, of course, is that setting unattainable goal deadlines sets me up to disappoint myself and kick off a whole new wave of uncomfortable disappointed feelings.
I’ve been aiming instead to feel the feeling for a bit, and then I have to move on. Stress is definitely the hardest for me to let go of, and it’s probably the most indicative of where my faith is in any given moment. It’s also been the most common feeling of the last few weeks.
I’m not a super strict schedule person, because even when I try to be strict, something blows up and pushes all my meticulous plans aside. To go from a loose schedule to something new entirely with a child home from school who’s definitely used to a routine has turned my brain onto permanent “AAAAGGGHHHH” mode. It’s not that I have a lot more to do – it’s the same amount of work, although I’m doing more consistent housekeeping and actually clearing out some clutter – but there’s a lot more emotional and mental and spiritual work to do to keep my empathy superpower from killing me. The unknown and nebulous menace of dealing with a pandemic is also adding a layer of stress that’s harder to identify.
I know that I feel stress less acutely when I am consistently spending time praying and studying the Bible. I use a prayer app to keep track of requests, and it also has a meditation and preparation prompt that uses Bible verses and devotional writings to direct your time before you begin praying through requests. Some days, that’s as far as I can get (and very honestly, some days I don’t make it to an intentional time of prayer, and it’s just scattered bits when I remember something or start to lose my mind). On my best days, I also spend time reading the Bible and taking notes. You don’t have to take notes to study the Bible, but it’s very much how my brain processes information, so I hand write notes when I’m really studying. It’s also good to just read without the expectation that I need to do anything deeper.
I know that my diet and water intake will also have a huge effect on how I handle stress, though that knowledge doesn’t always translate into the wisdom of action. Same story with exercise. That’s on my list to work on this week.
You may wonder why I started with prayer and Bible study as the best stress buster in my toolbox and spent so much space talking about it. There are two reasons I think it’s the most effective tool. First, focusing on God in a way that seeks to learn more about his character and channels my prayers towards others shifts my focus entirely away from myself and towards an infinitely larger subject. My worries fade in comparison, and I lose the weight of my stress in that time of meditation. Second, meditation is a highly recommended cognitive behavioral therapy tool because it teaches us to calm our thoughts and shift our perspectives and thought patterns. Prayer and Bible study is my mode of meditation.
Managing stress and learning how to let go if it is one huge feeling we can practice the “feel the feelings and then let them go” mantra on that we’re all experiencing to some degree right now. Sometimes just managing stress makes managing other emotions much easier. When that’s not enough, how do we let go of other feelings that want to linger, like anger and sadness? I don’t have a perfect answer, but I have model.
Feel the feeling. Acknowledge that it’s there and know that whatever the feeling is, it’s okay to experience it and that you are not defined by your emotions. If you’re in a safe and appropriate setting, vent it. Cry or shake your fist with rage or write down what you’re feeling. If you’re not in a space that’s conducive to expressing the feeling, note it, and let yourself come back to it when you can. Realize that expressing emotion doesn’t mean you have a free pass to act any way you want without consequence, so think before you act. If an emotion is so strong that you’re not going to behave well, give yourself some time and space.
Once you acknowledge the feeling, examine it. What exactly was the emotion? What triggered it? How did you react? What foundational beliefs affected your reaction? Was your reaction appropriate to the situation? What information would change the intensity level of the emotion you experienced? How could you react differently if you have the same experience again?
Most of the time, taking a moment to examine the feeling lets us take a step back and look more impartially at the situation, and we find that our emotional reaction is less intense than it was in the heat of the moment. Downgrading the emotional intensity is a big step in letting go.
If you’ve examined the emotion, and nothing seems to take away the edge, decide if it’s a situation you can change or not. If you can, make some changes. If you can’t change the situation, you need to change your thought pattern. Whenever the lingering negative feeling pops up, actively counter it with a positive thought or action. For example, with depression, I tend to get cranky when I’m not in healthy condition. When I realize the anger is creeping up, I try to actively avoid confrontations that I know will end ugly, and I remind myself to breathe slowly and remember that whatever it is, it will be okay. Find something to redirect in a positive way the negative thought/emotion pattern that works for you. It takes a lot of practice, and it feels a little silly when you first start, but it’s a game changer.
Even with this model and a ton of head knowledge about what I need to put into action to let go of things and feel better, sometimes I suck great wind. But good mental health is a marathon, not a sprint. As long as you’re moving forward, or at least not wallowing too long when you fall down, you’re building the endurance you need to be healthy.
If you have children or work with them, you’ve probably said, “Use your words, not your hands.” But today, we are throwing caution to the wind and assuming you’re mature enough to use your hands AND your words.
Today, my home state decided the wisest course of action to slow the pandemic spread is to cancel in-person classes at school for the rest of the semester. My tiny human was a little nuts the first week that school was paused for three weeks. Now that we know we’ll continue the semester with assignments from home, she was a lot nuts trying to go to bed tonight.
To be honest, so was I. Everything in our schedule is upside down. I’m a naturally empathetic person, and I can’t even peek at social media right now where everyone’s dogs and cats and family updates usually perk me up – right now it’s full of people experiencing the same loss I’m experiencing, and I can feel too deeply the lost senior year antics, the teachers missing their students and working like crazy to figure out how to make the next two months happen virtually, the students who miss their teachers and classrooms and friends and routines, all the people out of work, and all the people working through incredibly stressful conditions at essential jobs. It’s a lot, and it’s hard for everyone right now, no matter what your situation.
If you have been feeling a little too much of the worry of the moment (or had a mild panic attack like I did tonight), here are three things you need to know right now:
It’s okay to feel the feelings. It’s okay to mourn for the loss of your daily routine and to freak out a little bit at all the things that are different right now, including the inexplicable hoarding of toilet paper and ground beef.
Once you feel the feelings, tell them the truth. Let the crazy thoughts and emotions and anxiety parade by, but don’t get out there and march with them. Wave as they pass by. And as they march down the parade route, imagine yourself as the cheesy news anchor announcing the float, telling you bizarre facts like how many coffee beans were used in the construction of the float, and then sending it off with a great one-liner like, “But I know no matter how many coffee beans they used to make that float, it’s still not running the show.” That’s a silly example, but a real thought exercise might sound like this in your head: “Here comes stress. Stress likes to show off with flashy things like anger and overstimulation, but stress is going to keep walking right on by. I’m going to wave goodbye to stress because it needs to finish the parade route, and I can control my actions.” You aren’t your feelings. You aren’t your thoughts, though that’s a tempting line of thought, given Descartes’s catchy, “I think, therefore I am,” philosophy. You are a created child of God, which leads to…
Philippians 4:6-7: “Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.”
Slow down, breathe for a moment, and get some perspective. I don’t care what this pandemic or anything else going on in your life holds for you, God will hold you together through it. These verses are a blueprint for how to survive.
So I just listed three things that obviously had nothing to do with the introduction. That was a bonus list. The three things I started out to write for today is a set of mental health exercises to use if you’re feeling the stress a little too much right now, and they all use your hand as a cue.
First, trace your hand on a piece of paper. I’ll wait. No, I’m not kidding. Any paper will do. I only had fluorescent green handy (see what I did there…), so that’s what I’m using (as well as subpar phone photography).
Our first exercise is just breathing. Breathe in through your nose while you count to five, hold it for a count of five, and breathe out through your mouth while you count to five. Use the hand print as a visual to focus your thoughts onto just your breathing. If you want more meditative visualization, remember that we are God-breathed creations, the Bible is described as God-breathed, and every breath is life. We are breathing in God’s provision, savoring it for a moment, and then letting go of everything that’s past. Try this for a few breaths, or a few minutes, until you feel your heart rate settle and the stray thoughts that run in like saboteurs slow down their attacks.
Now, using your hand as a counting reference, list five things that you’re thankful for right now. If you like the physicality of ticking them off with your fingers, go for it. Whenever you feel like anxiety is trying to take over, list five things you’re grateful for or five things that bring you joy. It’s not going to change the circumstances, but it’s going to change your perspective of the circumstances by reminding you of good things in your life.
And the third exercise is one of my favorites (and the reason you need an actual tracing of your hand on paper). In the space outside your hand, write down all the things you can’t control that are taking up space in your thoughts. In the space inside your hand, write down things you can control. What’s the difference in the things in your grasp and the things you can’t hold on to? If you can’t control the things outside your hand, how much mental energy should you devote to them?
We tend to think of worry as something that just happens to us because our circumstances are big and scary. But… Worry is a choice. While we can’t control every thought that pops into our heads, we can control how much we let them run around unchecked. The second we let all the things we can’t control run the narrative in our thought patterns, worry is running the show. We used the parade imagery in the first list, and even though it was a parade of negative thinking, there was order and we were telling the floats what to do, right? Now imagine for a second what that parade would look like without a chaos coordinator. Think Barney ’97. Total disaster.
Let’s use Philippians 4:6-7 as our thought process model. Don’t worry; let the thoughts pass by without letting them run the show. Pray about everything; that’s certainly something you can control, so if it’s not already in your handprint, maybe you should add it. Tell God what you need; he already knows, but you still need to express it as a need for him. Thank God for what you have. Feel that anxiety turn towards peace. That’s what putting your life in God’s hands will do.
Alright, I now have two lists of three things, and since I have moderate perfectionist tendencies, I feel the need to end on another list of three so we have three three things because two three things will not do. So… here are three things that bring me extra stress relief:
Bee Badminton. Tis the season for carpenter bees. I hate them making swiss cheese out of my porch, so I whack them with badminton rackets. Bonus fun – now the dogs like to help by catching the ones I hit and eating them. It’s now a team sport.
Potato Pelting. One of my dogs has a barking problem. At night I can stop her by shining a flashlight on her, but, alas, my superpower beam is useless in the day. I usually stash some tennis balls in the kitchen that I can chunk at her to redirect her attention, but, alas, all the balls are in the yard. Today I discovered some tiny potatoes that hid in a dark corner of the kitchen until I forgot about them. They’ve all sprouted and are useless for eating, but they’re the perfect size to chunk at the loudmouth dog – heavy enough to be able to throw accurately for decent distance but light enough not to injure the dog. And I’m composting (badly, I admit, but it’s composting nonetheless, and you won’t convince me otherwise).
Writing. I was tempted to chuck it all, even the potatoes, tonight and distract myself with television and solitaire until I got sleepy. I feel much better now for having done some mental work to settle down and praying for a while. Now that I’ve dumped my brain out on a page, I feel like I’m me again.
One final hand photo to prove I may write like I have my crap together, but I can’t even trace my hand without getting Sharpie ink all over myself. This is one of at least five similar ink spots. I can barely be trusted with scissors, so I promise if I can make it through life, you can, too.
Yesterday was hard, but you survived. Today is a new day.
There are variations of this thought in my journal all the time. The Navy SEALs famously say, “The only easy day was yesterday.” While experience bears this out – every day presents new challenges and new skills to develop that would definitely have made yesterday somewhat easier in retrospect – sometimes yesterday just sucked and there’s no getting around it.
But… Yesterday is done; it’s officially history now. Even better, you survived and made it to
today, so good job, you.
Now that yesterday’s ordeal is over, how can you improve
today by applying something you learned yesterday?
If you deal with depression, surviving today could be as
simple as deciding to keep living and to get out of bed. If that’s where you are, that’s solid
work. Improving might be seeking out a
counselor or going for a walk in the sun.
When your days are super hard, everything feels impossible,
so just focus on doing 1% better today than you did yesterday. 1% isn’t that much. If you survived yesterday, chances are great
that 1% more today will not kill you, either – and you’ll be a little better
off. Just focus on one single thing you
can improve on today and let yesterday go.
“…I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.”
Paul reminded the Philippians that we have to let go of the
past in order to move forward. Moving
forward is far more important than looking back. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t deal with
your past and make peace with it; it just means that whatever your past holds,
your present and your future depend on the actions you take today. Yesterday may still be delivering
consequences today, but your actions today aren’t dependent on what you did
Every action or inaction is a choice you’re making, no
matter how intentional you are about those decisions. When you face today as a new set of decisions
– each one an opportunity to be 1% better – it’s easier to not just survive but
We can’t improve yesterday, but your life tomorrow can be
better if you improve on today.
I’ve been procrastinating this step for months. I’d like to say something like, “I’ve been so busy with other things that I just couldn’t get this together until now,” but the truth is, I’ve been avoiding this part of the book publishing process. Like a good INFJ, I know that if I never put my book out into the world, I won’t be disappointed or hurt if it “fails.”
My definition of failure is all wrong, though. If I only want commercial success, I may indeed fail. If I want to fulfill my mission and share my story, then the only failure is to never publish. So…..
I am ready to write book proposals, and I would love some beta readers. If you’re interested in being a test subject, I need to hear from you. First, sign up for the e-mail list. You can do that here:
I’ll draw 5 subscriber names at random to send the beta copy to. Then, I need to hear from you again after you read the book. I’ll send a few questions to gather feedback, and you can add any additional comments that you think will strengthen the book.
When you subscribe to the mailing list, you’ll receive a free copy of a Colossians creative Bible study workbook. If you’ve already signed up, you’re already in the drawing. (You may also be wondering why you bothered to sign up since you haven’t been getting anything from me. I promise I have material scheduled to go out the rest of the month, so thanks for your patience!) You’ll also recieve two e-mails a week from me – one with creative Bible study material, and one with prompts to practice your art skills. Of course, you can unsubscribe at any time.
I’d really love your feedback and support. Thanks for walking with me through this journey so far!
A cycle I repeat in my life is to be disciplined for a time, to make progress, and then to implode spectacularly and digress. Self-sabotage isn’t unavoidable, but I sure act like it is when it happens, as though it were an inevitable, long-awaited invader that I am helpless to repel. I see it now as a cycle of depression and fear, so I’ve been working to uncover the roots of it whenever I see myself running headlong into a tub of ice cream or completely avoiding writing.
I wish it were a simple fix, but I find that my self-sabotage roots are different for each problem. When I skip writing for long periods of time, it’s generally because I’m afraid to fail. No one will read what I work on, and that will prove I’m not a good writer, so if I just don’t do it, no one will need to know how bad I am. (I don’t really believe this to be truth, but it is a very real fear that threatens my focus every day if I let it.)
I’m working on improving my health and losing weight, and that is consistently the worst area of self-sabotage for me in the last ten years. My tendency is to eat my feelings. My current weight is proof of that bad mental habit. I’ve worked really hard to stop the stress eating, and I’ve mostly curbed it with better coping tools. Once in a while I’ll turn to chocolate for comfort, but it’s a rare thing now. What’s less rare is just randomly eating a metric ton of crap or eating nothing but sweets for days at a time. I have no reason or desire to eat the junk, but I struggle to stop it.
The more I dig up the roots of this particular self-sabotage issue, the more I uncover grief pain that still lurks under the surface.
All those years of dealing with miscarriage after miscarriage without the healthiest coping tools led me to put on a lot of extra weight. That mental weight is very physically visible in my body weight. Every time I’ve worked to lose weight, I end up putting it right back on, even when I’m mentally healthy.
It finally hit me that I’ve carried the weight like a badge of honor and a memorial of all that loss instead finding a better way to memorialize the pain. The truth is, it hurts to deal with the enormity of my grief, still, years later and so many miles down the road from the intensity of surviving the immediate experience of it. Honestly, it hurts even more to admit it here because it’s embarrassing to say out loud. I haven’t been able to maintain weight loss because I might forget by angel babies. It sounds a little ridiculous, but it’s the biggest root I keep stumbling over when I look at the problem closely.
I love that the way I hear from God most often is to hear echoes of what I’m hearing in my personal Bible study and prayer everywhere. It seems like whatever message I’m picking up is suddenly the sermon topic, the theme of every book I read or podcast I listen to, the eventual topic of conversations with family and friends… I just know now that when I hear the same thought from multiple directions, that’s what God needs me to hear.
As I dug and dug to figure out why I kept eating junk despite my best plans to eat well and exercise, God kept putting Philippians 1:21 in front of me. When I finally saw what my stumbling block was, I realized that I am completely willing to die for Christ. No questions, no doubts, only joy at the thought of seeing my angel babies and having all my tears wiped away. But Philippians 1:21 says, “to live is Christ and to die is gain.”
If living is Christ, then I can have at least some of my tears wiped away here on earth. If living is Christ, then I can live in that joy now without waiting for heaven. If living is Christ, then I must be a better example of the discipline he demands of me to be my best and offer my best to serve him well.
In short, I have to focus on life because death is not my calling.
We are called to abundant life, and I haven’t been living every area of my life as though to live is Christ. I have to change my thinking every day and fill in the blank, “to live is ___.” My previous answer obviously hasn’t been Christ when it comes to diet and exercise because I’ve been living in the past instead of in the grace and life of Christ.
It’s not going to be an easy emotional hurdle to clear, but at least now I’m working on the right problem. I can lose weight and not feel guilt or shame about my pregnancy losses. I can eat like a regular person rather than hiding the pain with bad food choices. I can live in Christ in this space, too, and I can continue to heal without fear of forgetting my grief. I just need to focus on new and healthy ways to acknowledge it.
Every new year, or new school year, I end up on the hunt for the perfect planner. Much of my search is a misguided attempt to create the perfect schedule that will allow me to complete every task and goal (so long as everything runs perfectly, and I can run on coffee instead of sleep). While that endeavor is doomed to fail, I have learned a few things over the last few years about what helps me be the most successful and productive in my realistic plans.
I need to be pretty constantly reminded what my biggest goals are so that I can work on them a little bit – even if it’s only five minutes – every day. I need to encourage myself with positive thinking, and I need to remind myself that every day will present a challenge. I also need to hold myself accountable for some basic daily ritual tasks, and I need to evaluate how I’m living each day.
I’ve learned that consistent journaling and evaluation helps me spot depression symptoms and potential relapse issues before they get too big to deal with.
So, I spent about a month each in several planners and decided to just make my own that had the things I wanted to track and the questions I needed to journal through each day. I stripped out my personal details to make a blank I could pass on to my neighbor, so I thought I’d share it here if there are any other writer-artist-depressed-dieting types out there. It’s a fairly niche market, but you can also take what’s there and change the categories to suit yourself.
The file is a pdf, so you can print it if you want to use it, and it’s here for you to click on and open – no strings attached. I’m only doing a month at a time, so if you use it and like it or have suggestions, please pass those on. You can comment here or drop me an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. Also, I’m working on setting up a mailing list this weekend, so if you like the free planner and Bible studies, please sign up. I’ll share more details on that post.
“My art is largely made up of my pain; re-framed, redesigned and re-purposed. It’s a mutually beneficial experience for both the creator and the beholder. Transformative healing is a beautiful process.”
― Jaeda DeWalt
Over and over the last few weeks, the tiny human and I have both been dealing with frustrations and quick tempers. This morning, one of the dogs stole her cookie, and she completely fell apart. I grabbed the box of cookies and tried to get her to keep moving to the car. But she couldn’t yet. She was slumped on the top porch step and bawling. I couldn’t sit down to hug and cuddle because I was holding all of the things, and we had to get her to school and me to work.
I try to give her space to feel her feelings and then talk about them so she can learn how to accept the emotions but deal with them in truth rather than let them stand as truth. I also recognize that there is a time and a place for everything, so we both need resiliency to be able to handle some emotional moments quickly in order to deal with the task at hand. In this morning’s example, I had already provided a replacement cookie. (Breakfast of champions – some days we eat a healthy morning meal, some days we skip it, and some days a cookie is acceptable if it gets us out the door. You may be a responsible adult with all your crap together, but this is reality in my life: some days you have it together, and some days you can’t find it with GPS and a homing beacon.) I had already expressed empathy and solidarity that dogs should not steal cookies, but she was still crushed.
I responded as any mature adult would and continued down the stairs to put everything in the car, preparing to forcibly lift the tiny human and put her in the car if it came to that, muttering under my breath the whole way and questioning why God would let this happen on a morning that had otherwise been smooth sailing. This day had tight parameters on time and things that needed to get accomplished, and I was watching it explode before it even got moving.
My counseling work of late has been about framing problems and things I want to improve in statements that are positive. “I am stressed about work” becomes “Take a deep breath, focus, and work on the task at hand.” I am always telling the tiny human when she gets angry and frustrated by failing to do something in her first try to slow down, take a few breaths, and try again; you have to try at least three times before you can quit.
This morning, as I finished loading the car, she stood up and started down the stairs, still crying, but moving. I told her that it’s fine to be mad at the dog, but she’d miss out on the replacement cookie – worse, she’d choke on it – if she kept up the dramatic crying (it was no longer real despair, and I call her out on fake crying). I told her we needed to rethink the problem with the dog stealing her food so we could solve the problem, and we could talk about it after school.
“But we can’t solve the problem – she already stole my cookie and ate it!” The tiny human was still stuck. How many times have I refused to reevaluate an issue because the situation has already spun out of control or because I don’t want to accept the facts on the ground not matching up with my expectations.
“You’re right. We can’t fix that, but we can replace the lost cookie and then make a plan to keep the dog from stealing your food again. We can solve the problem by making sure it doesn’t happen again.” And then God pointed at that spot in my brain that gets stuck on past failures and said, “You see it, right?”
I’m trying to teach my child resiliency that I don’t always have a grasp on. I’m doing the work, and I’m getting better at it, too, but I’d be a hypocrite of the worst order to tell you “this is how it’s done” after I stomped and muttered and railed at God over the tiny human’s railing at a lost cookie unless I admit that I am a work in progress.
Some days depression brain wins, some days I’m healthy and firing on all cylinders, and most days I’m somewhere in between, arguing with both truth and depression brain. I have the most success when I reframe my thoughts. The brilliant pattern in only using positive statements is they leave no room for the negative thought.
You are actively replacing the potential guilt/shame spiral with an affirmative. You push out the negative by filling the space in your head with a positive action plan.
This is not the same thing as avoidance; you don’t avoid the emotional response to your circumstances. You acknowledge the feelings, and then you apply truth and use the emotion as a cue to implement your reframing tool. It takes repetition and practice (and SOOOOO much prayer) to make this tool a habit. But it can become a habit and a powerful weapon in our arsenals to defeat depression brain when we keep practicing.
Another beautiful thing about reframing is that it perfectly exemplifies God’s grace. Of course we have failed (and will continue to fail as long as we are human), but grace is forgiveness and the opportunity to try again. Grace is room to grow.
Reframe those doubts and the thoughts of despair. What does God really say to us about them? Don’t settle for what the serpent would whisper in your ear and find some truth in the Bible. Reframe the lies with his perfect love. Reframe the pain into something beautiful.
“This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!” 2 Corinthians 5:17 NLT
This is one of my sketchbook entries this week. I most often write when I need to vent emotions, but I seem to process them on a different level when it’s a visual process rather than verbal. I’ve felt the weight of a lot of little things threatening to roll over me and crush me. It took seeing it in my sketchbook to realize that I have not been praying about most of those things like I know I should.
Sometimes my art work in progress reflects that I am very much a work in progress, too! Do you ever find that worrying over a gazillion little things weighs you down? What do you do to let go of the fear and anxiety that weight represents?
I wrote this in September, but I wasn’t ready to share it I guess. Today feels appropriate on Pregnancy and Infant Loss Memorial Day:
Eleven years. Our first pregnancy loss was 11 years ago last week. On Labor Day weekend 2007 (You see the wretched coincidence, too, right? Believe it or not, it only just occurred to me.), I checked into the hospital for surgery, my husband protecting me when I was too small to speak up for myself, a pastor friend praying with us before the procedure – like last rites for a tiny soul we won’t meet this side of eternity – and then me looking up at my doctor’s masked face and hoping that it was all as unreal as it felt.
Eleven years ago, I woke up from anesthesia and went home to recover from surgery, and eventually over the last eleven years, I’ve recovered emotionally and spiritually, too. At least I think I have. It’s hard to feel “recovered” when I feel like I do today. I usually feel the weight of the magnitude of our ten loses on that first baby’s due date, which is April 1, so to feel the sudden heaviness of it now was an unwelcome surprise. I can prepare for what I know I’ll feel each April. I couldn’t be ready for this fresh hell. I don’t know what else to label this depth of sadness and grief.
It felt important to write out and to share, even though it hurts, and even though I may short out my laptop if I cry on it any more. I don’t really want to talk to anyone about this moment of pain, but I know I must express it, or it will fester and kill me slowly from the inside. I’ve locked away the grief before, and that’s a miserable way to exist. So I am letting it go. I am letting myself feel the pain so that it can run its course and heal up again. I am not letting myself wallow in it or letting it stop me from living; retreating for a day or two is fine, probably even healthy, but more than that and depression brain will take over. I am at least in a place that’s healthy enough to recognize that what I’m feeling now will pass, and that I know living in a fleeting feeling for too long will put me in an unhealthy place.
I’ve been saying that we have dealt with the pain of loss and grief for ten years, but to realize that it’s now officially over a decade is… hard. I’m a writer – I know there should be more words, better descriptors, something more than hard… But that’s all I’ve got. Right this minute, it makes my brain go numb to think about. It feels like every emotion associated with grief pops up at one time, so my brain shuts down. That’s why it’s taken me almost a week to even mull it over long enough to write down the bones of this current pain. Writing it out, now that I can, gives me a skeleton frame to flesh out as I purge the emotions.
I’m not naïve enough to think that I had finally conquered the grief, so it would just live in it’s little corner of my heart and never come out of its cage. I know it can escape and jump into my consciousness at any moment. I guess I just felt like I knew when to expect the regular intervals of escape attempts, so being sideswiped when I thought I had my crap together is… hard. I honestly feel pretty broken. What I don’t feel is defeated. I know that feeling the hurt all over again isn’t a sign of weakness. It doesn’t mean I’m losing ground. It only means I’m human.
I’m a human who has experienced horrible loss and pain, just as many of you have. It’s not more horrific than anyone else’s pain, but it is unique to my experience. And my experience of learning how to heal the gaping wounds is what tells me I’m going to be fine in a few days. It may hurt like hell, but I can use the tools I have assembled to cope with this fresh outbreak, and I can grow through it. I can use this reminder that time won’t erase grief to feel deeper empathy for the people around me who are struggling through a new loss or mired in an old wound like me.
This moment is reminding me that my only hope is in Jesus. He is very literally the only true hope I have that I will not only see my lost children in heaven, but that they are safe and loved and cared for in his arms. The are whole and perfect and wonderful, and one day we will praise God together. Their lives, however briefly they physically existed are important to God, and their story matters.
I can express all of this through the artistic skills God has given me, which turns this clump of words here into catharsis, healing, and a way to shine the little light I have on the path for anyone else who needs to find their way through grief and depression. If that is you right now, reach out and grab a lamp; find a foothold, no matter how tiny, and climb up a little. Ask God to send you more light, more air, and go seek it out. Write out your pain to release it. Draw whatever emotions are running under the surface so you can address them. Bring them out into the light and tell them the truth: you are stronger than the pain because God is for you.