Adrift (and a Simple Bible Challenge)

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Photo by Tim Foster on Unsplash

I don’t know exactly when it happened, but sometime over the last two months I stopped reading my Bible. This is unusual for me, for even during times when I was so depressed that I could manage very little, I would still listen to the Psalms being read to me, and they brought me comfort. But in this chaotic time of life, when you would think my desperation for normalcy and comfort would drive me to the Word, instead I have found myself adrift, swimming in deep waters without my life jacket on and then wondering why it feels like I’m drowning. Is it any wonder that life has felt overwhelming and unmanageable? Is it any wonder my heart feels cold and lifeless, when I have cut it off from its source of true life?

I don’t write this as someone who has the answers but as someone who knows where the answers can be found. I am done with allowing my fear and anxiety and anger and sadness to rule me. I am submitting anew to the counsel of God’s Word and asking God to change me from the inside out. I am planning to camp out in Psalm 119 for the next four weeks, starting on Monday, July 13. If you’re burned out or tired or looking for change, will you join me? Here’s the reading plan I have outlined. Each week is around 40-47 verses, and you could read the whole chunk each day or break each day into smaller sections. (The number of verses each week varies because I tried to follow natural section breaks within the psalm.)

July 13-July 19: Psalm 119:1-40
July 20-July 26: verses 41-88
July 27-Aug. 2: verses 89-136
Aug. 3-Aug.  9: verses 137-176

I plan to start each week by reading through the whole psalm, and then I will spend the rest of that week on the allotted verses. I picked this psalm because I love the Psalms in general, and specifically, this psalm is rife with adoration of God and the written word He has given us. I want to fall in love with the Bible again, and I don’t know of any other way to do this except to spend time devoted to actually reading the Bible. I also plan to write out the entire psalm over the course of the four weeks. I have done this before with certain Bible passages, and I have found that it helps me to absorb the words more deeply and aids in my meditation of the Scriptures.

Accountability is a great way to help achieve a goal, and I would love for anyone reading this to join me in this endeavor. If you want to read along, please comment, and we can figure out a way to have a weekly check in of some kind.

If you’re already regularly reading the Bible, what are you reading right now? I always love to hear what others are studying!

Coping with the Coronavirus

I have been going to therapy on an almost-weekly basis since August 2018. During that time I have been able to assemble a host of coping skills to help me battle my depression and anxiety. Given that we now all find ourselves in the midst of a pandemic, socially distancing ourselves and seeing the world turned upside down, I thought it might be helpful to share some things that keep me grounded when my feelings seem out of control.

  1. Keep your hands busy. The more anxious I am, the more fidgety I get, and it really helps me to have something to manipulate with my hands. I have this therapy dough in the “Spa” scent that I love to play with. It may seem silly to play with something that is very much like play dough, but trust me on this: having something in your hands can be a great distraction. And if you want to go a cheaper route, Silly Putty also works great for this.
  2. Try mindfulness activities. Mindfulness activities are meant to help keep you grounded in the present moment, and they are a great way to take your focus out of your chaotic thoughts and into the current reality. A few I like: try writing the alphabet with your non-dominant hand; pick a color and make a list of things that are that color; pick a color and find objects of that color in the room you are in; write a description of the room you are in, focusing on as many details as possible; play 5-4-3-2-1 (pick 5 things you see, 4 things you hear, 3 things you can feel, 2 you can smell, and 1 you can touch).
  3. Go for a walk. Physical activity is a great weapon against depression and anxiety, and it’s something that we are still able to do while social distancing. Being outside not only feels good, but if your walk is strenuous enough, your body will release endorphins and give your mood a boost.
  4. Create positive experiences for yourself. Find little ways to inject pleasure into your days. Are there flowers for sale at the grocery store? Grab some while you’re making your grocery run and brighten up a room. Is there music that calms you? Spend 5 minutes and listen to it. Feeling stressed? Take a soothing bubble bath. Small, simple gestures like these can go a long way in making the day more pleasurable.
  5. Practice deep breathing. This is one of my favorite calming techniques, and it’s super easy. All you do is focus on your breath, taking in slow, deep breaths through your nose, holding for a few seconds, and then exhaling through your mouth. The slower your breaths, the calmer you feel.
  6. Journal. Keep a journal of your experience during this very unique, crazy time we are living. It will not only help you process all that you are thinking in feeling, but it will be an interesting document to revisit after this has all passed.
  7. Reach out to friends. Stay connected through calls, texts, emails, Marco Polos, etc. Any way that you can maintain relationships during this time of social isolation will help boost your mood and decrease anxiety. We are all in this together, and we can fight it best together.
  8. Memorize Scripture. Pick some of your favorite passages and work on setting them to memory. Hang them up around your house in places where you will see them frequently. God’s Word is the best antidote to anxiety and depression.
  9. Color. I really enjoy coloring, and it is a great way to focus on the present moment and relieve stress. Coloring isn’t just for kids! There are a lot of great coloring books for adults.
  10. Practice gratitude. Gratitude is essential. Without it, it is easy to become lost in all of the negative things happening. But there is always something to be grateful for, so spend some time each day making a list of simple blessings.

This is just a sampling of things you can try to lower stress and anxiety. Get creative and be intentional, and if you really want to dive deep, here’s a list of 99 coping skills you can try! I recognize that these things will not change our current reality, but it is my hope that by practicing these coping skills, you might feel better equipped to face these uncertain times.

What is your favorite coping skill?

Deliverance

Last year on this very date I wrote:

“If ever I felt like a bruised reed—like one struggling to stand against the wind, wilted and wounded —it is now. I have wondered if God cares and questioned whether He hears my prayers since He is not answering them like I want. Not only that, but there are many people besides me praying for God to lift the depression that has haunted me since the summer. If He won’t answer my prayers, why won’t He at least answer the cries of others on my behalf? He would receive glory from that, so why doesn’t He do it? I cannot understand, and my lack of understanding has led to doubts I have never felt before.”

I cringed inwardly when I read these words again, for to me now they sound whiny and entitled, but I also gave thanks when I read them. I am not the same person who wrote those words a year ago; I have changed, and the biggest change of all is that I am not in the same depressed state I was in for a solid 18 months. That’s right, friend, the cloud is lifting. Every day I feel like I catch more glimpses of the sun. Every day I feel like I am both being restored and also being made new. Every day I wake up feeling as though I have been given a new life, and it is a glorious gift.

When I think of what has contributed to this healing–even now my breath catches a little in my throat to write that word “healing,” for at one time it seemed impossible–I cannot pinpoint exactly what started it or why it has continued. I only know that for once everything seems to be working in tandem: the meds, the therapy, the exercise, the prayers, the Word of God. I do not know why it took so long for things to change, but because I believe and trust in a sovereign God I know that things have happened at exactly the time He wanted. And I know that I could wake up tomorrow and find that everything has gone gray again.

Perhaps that is why I have been quiet in this space; I have wanted to tell you of all that has happened the past few months, but I also have been holding onto a good bit of fear that I will wake up one day and find that the healing has disappeared and the dream is over. But I cannot speak my depression into or out of existence, and being silent has only caused my deliverance to go untold. So I will speak of what I do know, and what I know is this: in December I went to a psychiatric hospital for the third time because I had planned to take my life, and now it has been over a month since I have had any suicidal thoughts. In December I was hopeless, and now I have hope. In December life was pointless, and now life has meaning again. In December God seemed far away, and now I know He has been nothing but oh-so near.

I have spent hundreds of words writing about my depression,  and it gives me great joy now to spend those words writing about my deliverance. For I have been delivered from the darkness of my own mind, and even if I wake up tomorrow with depression hanging over me yet again, it doesn’t make my current freedom any less true or real. So I will praise God for His steadfast love and faithfulness and know that no matter what tomorrow holds, He will be with me when I face it.

Come and hear, all you who fear God;
let me tell you what he has done for me.
I cried out to him with my mouth;
his praise was on my tongue.
If I had cherished sin in my heart,
the Lord would not have listened;
but God has surely listened
and has heard my prayer.
Praise be to God,
who has not rejected my prayer
or withheld his love from me!

Psalm 66:16-20

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Photo by Victor Freitas on Pexels.com

Swallowing My Pride

Warning: This post talks frankly about suicidal ideation.

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If you had asked me the question, “Are you feeling safe?” 2 years ago, I probably would have laughed at you and said, “Of course I feel safe!” But safety takes on a whole new meaning when you’re dealing with mental illness. Since I started dealing with depression, there have been some days where I couldn’t answer that question in the affirmative. There have been days when I haven’t trusted myself to drive, so Stephen and I would carpool. One time my friend wanted to hang out but I was scared to leave the house, so she came and got me and took me to a movie. It is humbling having to admit that I can’t be trusted with myself, with my own thoughts. But it is also wise. If I were to foolishly insist on not having my privacy invaded in these ways, if I were to insist that I could take care of everything myself–like a “normal” person would–then I honestly might be dead. That is why psychiatric hospitals exist–to keep people safe when they cannot do so on their own. 

The other night my husband sat at the kitchen table and we began our weekly ritual: he watched me while I painstakingly refilled my pill box. Until I became depressed, I didn’t give much thought to the medications I took; swallowing pills was a routine I got accustomed to after I got diagnosed with ulcerative colitis. But once depression struck, the pills became more than medication meant to help me function in a healthy way; they became a way for me to end my life. I spent hours fantasizing about swallowing whole bottles of pills. I thought of ways to sneak out of the house with all of my pills and go somewhere else to silence the storm raging in my mind. I would look at the pills in my hand and calculate how many I could take to make a lethal dose. I couldn’t be sure, so I figured the more, the better. 

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Fortunately, I have been in therapy for over a year now, and when the subject of all of those pills came up in a session last September, my therapist insisted that safety measures be put into place at home. The first thing I had to do was tell my husband what I was thinking, which was a very hard conversation to have. The second thing I needed to do was find a way to prevent myself from having access to my medication. Such an idea was repulsive and embarrassing. What kind of person can’t even handle her own medications? My pride bristled greatly at the idea that I couldn’t control myself or trust myself enough to be responsible with my pills, but deep down I knew that the last thing I needed to do at this point in time was trust myself. So Stephen and I researched lock boxes and safes and found one that would work for our purposes. I bought a pill box with detachable containers for each day, so only one day can be out at a time. Now, each morning Stephen puts out that day’s meds and locks the rest of them up in the box, using the code only he knows. 

I say all of this not to garner sympathy or be overly dramatic, but to help you see what mental illness does to a person. Rational thoughts quickly are replaced with irrational ones, and thus it becomes easy to think that my loved ones are better off without me. I have always considered myself a responsible, trustworthy person. I never thought I would think about hiding pills from my husband and make secret plans to leave him and my family, but I have been that person. I wish I weren’t, and hopefully one day this will all be a thing of the past. Until then, I swallow my pride along with my pills and do what I can to keep myself safe so I can be present for years to come. I am grateful that God has stayed my hand and saved me from myself dozens of times. I am grateful He has given me a husband who does the hard things because he loves me. Thanks to both of them, I can lie down and sleep in safety.