Better

Teacup

ball of twineBetter is a funny word.

It can designate improvement (“I’m feeling better than I did yesterday.”) or it can say you’re done with what ails you.

“Do you still have the flu?”

“No, I’m better, now.”

I’ve been dealing with depression in some form or other since June of 2010 (When it smacked me upside the head, and that ‘others-have-it’ problem became mine).

The first two years were pretty solidly bad depression. I started with my first counselor within two months of symptoms showing (which I’m given to understand is unusually good. I credit a combination of Becky pushing me, and good insurance coverage).

I went through a couple counselors before finding a good fit (and no longer have the good insurance), but I recognized counseling’s benefit, even when it was uncomfortable.

Side note/pet peeve:

Being able to receive instruction or derive benefit from “less-than-ideal” should not be a life-sentence to be stuck with it and “appreciate what you have.” If anything, the miss-matched individual ought to get extra points for humility and the openness to persist into usefulness. {GRRR}

What I ran into a lot was an attitude my chronic-illness/chronic-pain enduring friends continue to face:

Suffering can be very isolating, because [outsiders] are often afraid of seeing people suffer in ways they can’t fix. Sometimes things aren’t ok, and aren’t likely to be ok any time soon, if ever.

We are surrounded by people who don’t want to see us suffer (this is a good thing) but who may also (not good) end up in their own denial about the situation, and try to bring us with them.

If we refuse to come along for the ride (nope, already worked that stage of grieving), we become the difficult ones, and have to deal with disappointed other-people along with our disappointed selves. But there is a better way.

Continue reading »

The Necessary Fight: Helping My Depressed Child (Wyn Magazine)

I had to have enough conviction for the whole family when I knew it was depression. That effort on top of the grief, guilt, and personal disappointment was so draining, I couldn’t do anything beyond the naming. I felt helpless, and was silent.

As has been true in so many areas of my life, it was a story that brought clarity and gave me the images and language to move forward. Bearskin, a picture book illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman, crossed our collective laps at this very opportune time.

The title character is raised by a bear, and early in the story he chooses to fight a dragon (“I will go myself if nobody better is to be found.”). The interesting thing is that his Mama Bear does not fight for him. She’s not that sort of mama bear.

She has raised him on bear milk (making him strong), and before his fight, she provides him with armor and weapons, but then he faces the dragon on his own.

I remembered the dragon that stalks me.

Recognizing that it was now going after my kids, my first response was fear, because I knew I would not be able to fight the dragon for them. Even if I had unlimited strength rather than my present weakness, there is not enough “environmental shaping” or help I can give them to keep the dragon away. It attacks from inside them.

Somehow I had to train them. I had to make them strong. And how could I do that when I can’t slay my own dragon?

(Read the whole article at Wyn Magazine)

What Connects with…Me

Image courtesy of Liana Bitoli via stock.xchng

Image courtesy of Liana Bitoli via stock.xchng

I found a “coach,” at the end of last year, because most of what I do with my counselor seemed to be coaching, anyway. I was looking for an “outside” voice and perspective that was sharing a brain/time focused on me.

Becky and I have talked about how this is the reason to hire someone: friendships are more mutual, and we don’t want to muddy those relationships to work through our issues.

The coach got me thinking about some good stuff, and some new angles on older projects that have been marinating for a while.

~  ~  ~

Then I got my heart stomped on, and I was back in the counselor’s office.

I had a double bomb in an exhausting 48 hours: First, someone I already guessed didn’t like me confirmed they didn’t like me, and second, someone I love very much– who has a degree in an industry not supported by our local economy– told me they were saving up money to move away to do the work they went to school for.

Both totally make sense, were almost predictable, and so it took me 4 or 5 days to realize I was deeply hurt and grieving. I was so scared by my response (it felt like my depression was returning- freaked me out and you don’t play around with that!) I visited my counselor the day before my coaching appointment.

The counselor gently reassured me that that this wasn’t my depression returning. She affirmed that I was grieving, and validated my experience that just because someone is a jerk, or someone has beautiful dreams that don’t need to include you, intellectual assent doesn’t necessarily change how others’ choices affect you. Continue reading »

Holding the Fear — January’s Life & Fiction Column

If you’ve been around a while you’ve probably seen me reference The Perilous Gard, a book I feel deeply connected to. This month’s essay combines that book with one of my personal wrestlings: How do we respond to something too big to fight?

[Excerpt:]

I am very interested in those characters who are “stuck” with responding, because that’s where I live much of the time: I am faced with circumstances that are bigger than me, and the best I can hope for is that I find and climb on a sort of surfboard and ride the waves as they come. Preferably without wiping out.

When we’re in crisis mode, simply responding is pretty much the order of the day. Strategizing our way around a problem requires energy or clarity of thought that often is out of reach, and it turns out that’s the case for my favorite characters.

All my favorite characters are very much caught up in something bigger than them. Every one is much weaker than the forces arrayed against them, and barely keeping their heads above water, but I love them because they prove a match for those impossible odds—and that’s why I read!

One example: Kate Sutton.

In the young adult novel The Perilous Gard, Kate is sent by the Queen of England to the middle of nowhere. Kate is utterly alone, has no friends, and ends up trapped probably a mile underground.

My throat closes up in the cloying tightness of the memory.

Kate didn’t know if she’d ever see the light of day again. She was a slave, and the only moment of independent choice she had came at the opening of each day. She had a choice to receive or reject “the Cup,” which contained a drug that would bring an artificial delight and mute her senses to the suffering and isolation she endured. She chose to reject it.

Read the rest at wynmag.com

Combatting Depression (guest post at Devotional Diva)

For me, combating depression has been about my relationships as much as my biology. Especially my relationship with myself.

I know there are people who make it look like you have to pull away from your real life in order to “find yourself,” and those single-minded individuals can make folks like me suspect. But I honestly believe I’m as healthy as I am right now because of the digging and asking and finding and O-Kay-ing I’ve done about myself.

Read the rest at Devotional Diva.

It’s Not Me, It’s You: Find a Therapist That Fits (Wyn Magazine)

In the darker corners of my depression, having to look for Counselor Number Three gave me additional evidence that I was a failure.

From my current perspective, stronger and more healthy, I can look back and understand I met two more people, professionals, but limited as all humans are, who were not the best match for my personality and needs.

In the summer of 2010, our house had been on the market for two months with a realtor who disrespected me, but we were in a six-month contract and that was that. Because of newly diagnosed allergies, my children and I were restricted in our choice of foods, and I had to learn how to feed us all while they were a constant dripping-tap of complaining at the change.

There was more to the overwhelm I felt than those details, but those were the challenges I could see.

A friend frequently had an interesting tidbit or observation she’d gleaned from her time with her counselor, and many times she urged me to find a professional listener of my own. She felt I should nail down what was troubling me, because really, existentially, it couldn’t be a self-centered realtor, whiny kids, and giving up my favorite foods.

Apparently I wasn’t shallow enough for that.

Thank God for encouraging Friends!

Read the rest at wynmag.com

Life & Fiction: Pick a Genre

Life & Fiction is my monthly column at Wyn Magazine where I apply my experience with Story, reading, and the writing life to the broader goal of mindful, healthy living.

When you go to counseling for the first time, it’s useful—for you and the therapist—to know why.

If you have something specific that drove you to counseling, it can help direct the beginning of your time together. The focus may change, but it’s a starting place.

I think of it as giving yourself a genre to work from.

In literature, or at least, in submitting a book for publication, you need to get more specific than “Dystopian-Paranormal-Fantasy-Romance with SciFi elements and a Chick Lit feel.” I can already imagine the type of novel that would fit that description, and I think it would be crazy-fun to write, but a bookstore, and therefore a publisher, will have to ask, “Where it would be shelved?”

In the same way, recognizing your issue down to a very finite level will probably give you a great deal of personal relief and even satisfaction, but being too specific will also limit the type of help you may receive.

Read more at wynmag.com

What Mental Health Help is For (Wyn Magazine)

I said before that my story is long. What I find fascinating throughout its process are the ways my mind is opened to new understandings. One of these examples was through the process of canning.

I used to do a lot of canning; mostly meat, beans, soups, and stews. With all my food sensitivities, there was no longer anything like fast food in my life, and this was my attempt to build a buffer.

Invariably I would start a project bigger than I could complete in one day, shuffle the crowded fridge to keep things food-safe overnight, and finish canning the next day.

Unfortunately, about a third of the jars would crack during the canning process. When I pulled them out of the hot water, the glass bottoms would fall away with all my hard work and all my patience.

I called the local canning guru, changed my technique according to what she suggested, and tried “one last time.”

As I removed the heavy lid of the pressure canner from the second batch, my middle daughter bounced through the kitchen and asked if any broke this time. I told her I’d learned what made them break and now could carefully avoid it.

“What made them break?” she asked.

“Temperature stress,” I began, and then translated it down to six-year-old level. “When the inside temperature is too different from the outside, the weaker glass isn’t strong enough to handle the difference; it breaks.”

And I froze.

Wow.

That was a good explanation for my some of my depression.

My inside was nothing like my environment, and I had cracked.

Read the rest at wynmag.com

How to Cope with Retriggering Your Breakdown (Wyn Magazine)

Co-written by me and Kristen Kansiewicz, a Licensed Mental Health Counselor on staff at East Coast International Church outside Boston, this article addressed something all our Wounded Healers at Wyn Magazine experienced as they wrote their stories of falling apart for our inaugural issue in June.

If you are one of the millions of women who have experienced an emotional breakdown at some point in your life, you may find that from time to time you re-experience that low point.

Often in the process of healing and recovery, you work through stressors and emotions and eventually feel whole again. There is a relief and gratitude and maybe even the assumption That’s finally over, now I can get on with my life.

Months or perhaps years later, you may find yourself talking with a friend or writing about your experience of breakdown and that moment of reflection causes all those feeling to return as if the problem never ended.

Read the rest at wynmag.com

Strength is Overrated (Wyn Magazine)

This is the story of my ending up in a very unexpected and deep depression.

It is a long story, and still not complete, even its indulgent length, but it is a start. And it says a lot about expectations and assumptions.

 

The short, bitter version is that I thought I could do it all, and I was wrong.

The longer, more compassionate version is that I never saw it as inappropriate to “do it all.” It didn’t seem like too much, at first.

Read the whole story at wynmag.com

Then you’ll understand why a camel is the featured image {wink}