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.

When It’s Hard to Pray

Today, like so many other days over the past year, I opened my Bible to Psalm 40. In the margins, written in pencil, is the date 9/13/18, and I pray I always remember what that date means. It’s the day I got my Bible from the security staff at Lakeside. I had to specifically request it because they don’t give you anything but essentials from your belongings unless you ask and only if it passes the safety test (I guess they figured I wasn’t going to try and whack myself or anyone over the head with my Bible). When I was admitted to Lakeside on September 11, 2018, I was unprepared to have to relinquish all of the stuff I packed, and it wasn’t until 2 days later that I realized I could ask to have my Bible. Being without my Bible or any way to read it on my phone (since Lakeside took that away also) felt jarring. I have gone more than 2 days without reading the Bible before, but I felt the loss very acutely being in an unfamiliar, scary setting with unfamiliar people. When I finally did get my beloved Bible, I opened to Psalm 40 first because Stephen had sent that Psalm to me in an email, and I loved everything it said and related so much to its words. I was in a pit and saw no way out, but I hoped and prayed that the Lord would deliver me and set my feet on a rock. I wanted to know that His steadfast love and faithfulness would preserve me and that He does not withhold mercy from me. 

On September 13 I had a hard time believing these things to be true (and sometimes still do, if I’m being honest), but I read the words over and over again nevertheless, underlining them with my stub of a pencil (the only writing implement Lakeside allowed, although I don’t know why because you can totally do some damage with a sharp pencil). I prayed weak but desperate prayers, begging God to help me and be near me and rescue me. I couldn’t believe I was actually in a place like Lakeside. I couldn’t believe that I had come so close to ending my life. And I couldn’t believe–yet–that there was end to the despair that was eating me up from the inside out. But I clung to the words of Psalm 40 and have continued to read them almost every day since September 13.

There have been days when the pain was too deep, when the darkness clouded all rational thought, when I could barely form the words of a prayer. On days like that, I turned to words already written, words expressing better than I could how deep the pit of depression was but also how strong the grip of God is. Praying God’s Word back to Him has been the lifeline I have needed when I feel my grip weakening, when I can’t imagine how to hold on a minute longer. It is in those moments of desperation that He showed me that He always does the work of holding on to me and keeping me under the shadow of His wings while the storm rages. 

One day during my depression found me in the office of my pastor, who has been a  source of counsel and comfort to me. He listened to me tell of my continued despair and doubts in God’s goodness, and he met me with compassion and love. He encouraged me to keep clinging to the Scriptures and to be honest with God about my doubt. He assured me I was not alone. And then he opened his Bible and encouraged me to read Psalm 88 aloud as a prayer to God. I only read two or three verses before I started crying. The words in that Psalm–some of the most depressing words in the whole Bible–mirrored my own feelings so closely that I could not ignore them. I was overcome with the kindness of God, the kindness that led Him to move the writers of the Bible to include such gut-wrenching words. That very same kindness of God led me to my church, to my pastor, to my friends, to my therapist, to my husband–to all of the people who have helped see me through this long darkness. Reading those words back to God as a prayer felt not just like a desperate plea but a holy moment, one on which I can look back and recall the nearness of God at a time when I questioned His very existence. 

On days like today, when hope seems far and troubles so very near, how glad I am to have the Word of God to give voice to the prayers I can’t pray on my own. I can pray Psalm 40 and believe that one day God will put a new song in my mouth, that others will see and put their trust in the Lord. And when that day comes, I will not restrain my lips but will tell of His deliverance. 

May I Be One Who Laughs



Back in February I spent several hours by myself in Stephen’s office, writing and thinking in the quiet of the university library where he works. I already spend a lot of time thinking–too much time, if I’m being honest–but very few of my thoughts are actually productive or constructive. I wanted to set aside some time to be intentionally reflective. I found some reflection questions in a book I had just read (Christians Get Depressed Too by David Murray–highly recommend) and online (from a website that I have already forgotten). I wanted some structure to guide me so I didn’t end up with wandering thoughts. The questions ended up being really helpful for me, as they made me stop and consider various aspects of my life and what I think and feel about where I am and where I have been and where I want to be. 

One question asked, “What do you think about the future?”, and this question has stuck with me ever since. There are many ways you could answer this, but I immediately thought, “I don’t like thinking about the future.” In fact, the thought of the future didn’t appeal to me at all but instead filled me with dread. 

I don’t know precisely when I stopped looking forward to the future, but I think it was after I was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis. Before ulcerative colitis (UC), life was relatively uncomplicated. I had struggles, but nothing that altered my life in such a profound way as being diagnosed with a chronic illness. Being so sick for an extended period of time caused a shift in my thinking. I started to fear future flares and started to expect the next unwelcome event. The disappointments that came after my UC diagnosis (hip surgeries, chronic pain, weight gain, other things listed in my last post) became debits that were being drawn from my hope account, and as far as I could see, no credits were coming in. I started believing that the future would be just like my present reality. I wrestled with my thoughts and tried to cling to the truths of Scripture, but I missed the way fear crept in and took up residence in my heart and mind. Even as I read verses that talked about all things working together for good (Romans 8:28) or suffering producing endurance which produces character and hope(Romans 5:3-4), deep down I did not have hope, but apprehension. Looking back I see the many blessings that accompanied these difficult years, but most of the time I allowed the pain I experienced to overshadow anything good. 

Now, I dread the future because I am afraid. I’m afraid the hints of joy I have seen the past few weeks won’t last, and so the future will be just as painful as most of the past year has been. That is not a hopeful picture to me. All of this is complicated by the fact that much of what I’m afraid of is outside of my control: I don’t know when my disease will flare (it’s flaring now, in fact) or if the depression will subside completely or how long I will have hip pain. However, unpleasant circumstances don’t excuse me from obeying the commands of Scripture, and Scripture calls me to rejoice always and pray continually and give thanks in all circumstances (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18). ALL. Even though my circumstances may not change, I can change my perspective. I want to be like the woman in Proverbs 31 who laughs at things to come instead of dreading them. I want to embrace whatever lies in front of me because I know the One who is preparing the way for me. I want to live in confident assurance that He who began a good work in me will carry it to completion (Philippians 1:6). I need to put aside the lie that only bad will befall me. Realistically, no one’s life is 100% bad.

The truth is that my future couldn’t be more hopeful. Because the righteousness of Christ has been imparted to me, I know that I will spend eternity with God in heaven. I will be healed and whole and lovely because He loves me. There will be no more tears and no more pain and only love and light and joy. What future could be better than that?

Far from Home, Part 1: Why I Went to a Residential Treatment Facility for Depression

I have wanted to write about my time at Timberline Knolls, but I haven’t even known where to begin. Being away from home for 4 weeks to live with 30 other women with mental health problems is by far the hardest thing I have ever done, and there wasn’t a day when I was there that I didn’t question what in the world I was doing. However, I know that going was worthwhile. I know that going probably saved my life. And I know that going changed me. There is much that happened, much that I want to tell, but also much that I will keep to myself. 

So here are bits and pieces of my experience at a residential facility, where I received intensive treatment for recurrent, treatment-resistant major depressive disorder

My decision to go to a residential facility actually began while I was still inpatient (for the second time) at a mental hospital in Memphis. I was there for nine days and was miserable the whole time. The only bright spot was my therapist, who met with me every day. Towards the end of my time there, he looked me straight in the eye and said, “There’s a corner you haven’t turned yet. There is more you need to address, and we can’t do it here. You need extended time to heal. You should really consider a residential program.” I was completely taken aback. I hadn’t seen this coming. No one had ever mentioned this before, nor did I even realize that there was such a thing as a residential program for depression where you could actually take extended time away from your life to deal with mental illness. Of course, before this year I had no reason to know such a thing existed, for it certainly wasn’t anything I had needed before, nor has anyone I know ever been to such a place.

My first instinct was to dismiss his suggestion, and I said as much. There was no way I could leave my family for any longer than I already had. There was no way I could ask my husband to bear the full weight of household responsibilities. But then the therapist spoke the obvious: “If you were dead, he’d be taking care of it all, all of the time. Don’t you think he’d rather do it for 30 days instead of the rest of his life?” Though I resisted for a couple of days, after praying and talking it over with Stephen, we made the decision for me to pursue residential treatment. I had tried so many other things to little avail; what if what I needed was something big and drastic? After many tears and a lot of phone calls, I was connected with someone from a program much farther away than I had imagined going: Chicago. Timberline Knolls (TK) supposedly had a good reputation, though, and since I knew I wouldn’t be getting a lot of visitors no matter where I ended up because visiting time is so limited at these kinds of places, I decided it made little difference whether I was two hours away or eight hours a way. A representative from TK did a very detailed, somewhat intrusive phone screening with me (asking me such questions as what medications I take, how often I have suicidal thoughts, what, if any plan I had, etc.) and then told me I was cleared to receive treatment there, and they could accept me as soon as I was able to get there. This all happened on a Friday, and we decided that my parents would drive me part of the way on Monday and finish up the trip on Tuesday, when I would be admitted. 

When I first arrived at TK, I was terrified. My mom and dad waited with me while I went through pre-admission screenings and answered questions I had already answered several times over. At one point I just laid my head on my mom’s shoulder and cried. I felt lost and scared. I couldn’t believe this was my reality. I had left my husband and my girls hundreds of miles away, all because life was too much for me to handle. I felt like a failure and a burden. I remember pleading with the Lord for this to make a difference, for the time not to be wasted, for me to have a renewed appreciation for life. 

After several hours, I was led to the place where I would spend the next four weeks: Willow Lodge. One of the other residents gave me a tour of the facility, which helped me feel a little more comfortable. The lodge is basically a huge house, with several bedrooms that housed anywhere from 2-4 residents. It had a small kitchen where we had our snacks (and where some residents who were not permitted off lodge ate all their meals), a common area called the milieu, and three group rooms where group therapy was held. There was also a medical area (essentially a closet) where nurses dispensed medications three times a day. I feel like I spent more time waiting in line for my medications than anything else!   

I was assigned to a room with two other women, and the following day a third woman was added, bringing my room to full capacity at four. I was really anxious about living with other people, but I was fortunate to have roommates who were easy to get along with and who did not cause drama. We each had a twin bed and a chest of drawers and a small open closet to hang up some clothes, and we had a display board where we could hang up pictures or other mementos. One of my friends had taken the time to make several printouts of various Scriptures and put them on pretty scrapbook paper, so I was able to rotate through these the whole time I was gone. It was a simple gesture that made living in an unfamiliar place a little more bearable, and I was so grateful for it. 

The first night I was there was a blur. I wrote in my journal, begging God to be near and asking Him to deliver me from darkness and restore to me the joy of my salvation. I didn’t know how He would do it, but I prayed that being at TK was setting me on the path to get there.

To be continued…