Far from Home, Part 3: The Wounds I Carried

This is part 3 in a series describing my time spent at Timberline Knolls receiving treatment for depression. Part 1 is here, and Part 2 is here.

As I mentioned in my last post, my days were filled with activity. Group therapy took up the largest chunk of the day, and some groups resonated with me more than others, but all of them had something that I could use if I looked hard enough. Here’s a list of some of the groups I attended on a weekly basis:

DBT (Dialectical Behavioral Therapy) Skills: DBT is the theoretical framework out of which everything at TK operates. Several groups were dedicated to various aspects of DBT. The goal behind DBT is to create a meaningful life, and DBT teaches people how to do this through a variety of practices.
Body Image
Self Image
Mood/Trauma
Art
Family Dynamics
Soul Making
Mood Regulation
Process of Addiction
Process Group
Reflective Journaling

One group I attended was called “Grief and Loss,” and after hearing part of my story, my therapist assured me it would be a good group for me. I didn’t know why she said that since I have not experienced the loss of a loved one. I felt like an intruder just being in the room, since I knew that several of the women present had experienced deep loss. We started the group by listening to this TED talk by a woman named Nora McInerny. In it she talks about losing her husband and that she doesn’t think you “move on” from grief but instead “move forward” with it. It’s a very moving, poignant talk that I highly recommend listening to. As I was listening to the talk, I found myself becoming emotional. Tears sprung to my eyes, and I was hit with the hard truth that had I made different choices, I would be putting my husband and family and friends through the very grief that Nora talked about. Depression and suicidal ideation is a thief and a liar, and it almost cost me everything. The reality of that thought struck me with an almost palpable force in that group therapy room. After the video, several women shared their stories of loss, including two who lost parents from suicide, and it was an incredibly intense but important session.

After that group, I met with my individual therapist. One advantage of attending TK was being able to take part in their Christian track of therapeutic programming. This basically entailed attending certain groups specifically geared towards believers and being provided with a therapist who is a Christian. I was assigned to a therapist named Cynthia. Cynthia and I hit it off pretty much immediately, which was fortunate since I met with her 3 times a week the whole time I was there. Initially, it was daunting once again having to start all over with someone and fill her in on all that had been going on, but she was an excellent listener and had good recall, and I was instantly put at ease when sharing with her.

That day after the grief and loss group I found myself essentially sobbing through the entire session. Not only did I realize the gravity of the situation in which I found myself, but I also saw with clear eyes how much I have lost over the years. The losses for me haven’t been people but instead have been related primarily to my health: being diagnosed with ulcerative colitis; being sick for 3 years before getting to remission; not getting to run my 2nd half marathon due to chronic hip pain; giving myself shots on a biweekly basis; being told I needed to be in remission for a year before getting pregnant; gaining weight on prednisone; having hip surgeries and being on crutches; enduring weeks of physical therapy; continuing to have pain; eventually gaining back all of the 90 pounds I once had worked so hard to lose; having an unplanned C-section and a child in the NICU, etc. I cried for the pain of all of the unmet expectations, dreams, hopes, and desires those losses represented. I cried for the pain of having endured all of those things. I cried for the pain of having hoped that I had “done my time” with suffering and wouldn’t have to suffer like I presently was. I cried, and my therapist listened kindly while I somehow managed to express all of this to her. I cried, and I felt heard and seen, not just by Cynthia, but by God. I knew He had been there with me through all of those trials, and He was with me in that therapy room while I opened a door of my heart that I had stubbornly kept locked.

For the first time in a long time I allowed myself to admit that all of those experiences had wounded me, and I allowed myself the space to grieve what might have been. For the first time in a long time I didn’t minimize my struggles by saying, “It could have been worse,” or “Other people have suffered more.” I just let myself grieve, and it was freeing in a way I can’t express. For too long I have not let myself feel sad about the sad things that have happened to me because I have compared my pain with that of others and felt like mine was lacking in significance. But what Cynthia helped me see is that pain is pain and pain is painful, no matter how it comes, no matter the degree it is felt or experienced. All of the times I had pushed my pain aside resulted in me absorbing the message that my pain was not important, that I was not important, and so instead of making the wounds smaller, this denial just made them deeper and larger. I was hurt and hurting, and it was acceptable to admit that. Not only was it acceptable to admit it, but it was necessary so that I could move forward. 

I wish I could say I have moved past all of the painful experiences I have had, but I’m still a work in progress. That’s what therapy is for–to continue to heal the wounds that I let fester unseen for too long. If there are things in your life that were painful but that you swept aside out of fear that they were too insignificant, I encourage you to bring those wounds into the light and let the healing begin.

 

Well-Placed Trust

Yesterday I met with a new mental health provider–a mental health nurse practitioner. I was seeing a psychiatrist in town, but for reasons I won’t get into, I decided to look for someone new. Deciding to leave my psychiatrist was something I had thought about for a while before I actually did it; there are limited mental health providers in Jackson who prescribe medications (I see a therapist I love, so all I need is someone to manage my meds), and I didn’t relish the thought of starting all over with someone else. However, my last psychiatrist appointment confirmed for me that it was time to move on, and I was relieved when I found someone else locally whom I could see. This nurse practitioner came highly recommended by more than one person, which helped me make my decision. Still, I had a lot of anxiety leading up to the appointment. I worried that I wouldn’t like her or that she wouldn’t make any changes to my current medications even though it’s pretty clear they aren’t helping me like they should. I worried that she wouldn’t take me seriously or would rush through the visit.

I am so desperate to find something that will make a noticeable difference in my quality of life, and so I put a lot of pressure on this appointment and a lot of hope and also dread that it would not go well. But when I woke up yesterday morning, some Bible verses popped into my head, and I repeated them to myself throughout the day whenever I started to feel myself getting anxious. The words were from Psalm 20: 6-7: “Now I know that the Lord saves his anointed; he will answer him from his holy heaven with the saving might of his right hand. Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.” Those words reminded me that my trust is only as dependable as the one in whom I’m trusting. If I place my trust in doctors, I will be disappointed every time, for they are imperfect and make mistakes. In fact, any human in whom I place my trust will eventually disappoint me, for we are all sinful. Placing all of my trust in someone to fix me and give me the help I need–while an understandable impulse–is short-sighted. Ultimately, my trust must be in God because He alone is completely trustworthy. He never makes mistakes, never forsakes His people, never goes back on His Word. When I trust God, I know I will not be betrayed.

One of my favorite verses is Psalm 9:10, which says, “Those who know your name put their trust in you, for you, O Lord, have not forsaken those who seek you.” I do not know God as well as I would like to or as well as I will in eternity, but I do know He is trustworthy. Throughout the pages of Scripture we see that God alone always keeps His promises, even when His people are fickle and wayward and foolish. I can trust Him with my life because He gave up the life of His Son so that I could live forever with Him.

Moreover, when I trust Him, I am guaranteed peace, for God will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are stayed on Him because they trust Him (Isaiah 26:3). Peace has been something my mind has craved these past few months. I feel as though I am constantly restless and searching and fighting my thoughts–never calm and at peace–but I shouldn’t be surprised that this is the case since often my first impulse is to trust in myself or other people instead of trusting in God. This is not to say that some of what I feel isn’t related to the depression I’m experiencing, but I cannot excuse myself from putting trust in the Lord to help me minute by minute, hour by hour, day by day.

My appointment ended up going really well. The nurse practitioner was very kind, listened well, and took her time in making recommendations for next steps. It will be a while before I know if the new regimen is helping, so I once again find myself waiting. Meanwhile, I am hopeful and prayerful. I am trusting in the One who made me to continue sustaining me.

 

A Bruised Reed

img_5385If 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.

But the only thing I know to do is bring those doubts to God. What else can I do? Despair is my companion these days, but it cannot be my friend. My hope must be in Him, or there is no hope at all, for He is the author of hope.  I have to remember that my feelings aren’t the truth. If I let them rule me, I will come undone completely. I may not be able to pray much beyond, “Help me, Lord,” but all He requires is that I feel my need of Him. With Jesus, all I need is need.

So I do what my pastor reminded me to do and cling to what I know is true about God: that He gave up His Son for me. Jesus was sorrowful unto death (Matthew 26:38) and tormented in ways I cannot fathom, as He bore the full weight of God’s wrath for the sins of His people. This same God deals gently with me and will not break me. He removes my sin as far as the east is from the west (Psalm 103). All His paths are steadfast love and faithfulness (Psalm 25). He is not withholding good (Psalm 84), so for reasons I may never know, this depression is for my good. He has given me all that I need for life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3). Many days it is hard for me to believe that things can get better, but I remember the Lord’s past faithfulness to help me hope in tomorrow (Psalm 77). I fix my eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of my faith, and I trust that one day He will heal me completely.

Nothing in my hand I bring,
Simply to thy cross I cling;
Naked, come to thee for dress,
Helpless, look to thee for grace;
Foul, I to the Fountain fly;
Wash me, Saviour, or I die.

                                                                                 from “Rock of Ages”

 

Make Your Needs Known

I don’t know about you all, but I’m not a fan of admitting my needs. It makes me feel embarrassed to confess that I am struggling. However, I have seen repeatedly how valuable it is when I allow myself to be vulnerable with others. The past 6 months have been very difficult for me, thanks to depression, but I know these months would have been even harder if I had not shared my struggle. I wanted to share what I have learned about being vulnerable in the hopes that if you find opening up to be hard, you will feel more comfortable making your needs known in the future.

One huge benefit of sharing my needs has been seeing God work in ways that I might have missed had I not opened up. When I first began to feel depressed, I battled a lot of shame and guilt about it and therefore was afraid to tell others. But even though I often feel too ashamed to share, I would rather be loved in community than be ashamed and alone. I have learned that a shared burden becomes a lighter burden. Living in community has changed my perspective on God as I have seen Him actively at work in my life and in the lives of the people I love. When I feel too hopeless to pray for myself, what a gift and joy it is to know that others are praying for me!

One of the things that one of my pastors told me once is that I didn’t need to feel like I was burdening my family and friends with my problems or feel guilty for reaching out; he said that the people of God are a provision from God to support us when we are suffering. Galatians 6:2 tells us to bear one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ, but we cannot bear what we do not know. Sharing our needs invites others in and lets them see God at work. If we do not share our needs, we are also robbing others of the chance to use their gifts to help in whatever ways they can.

The church is my family, and with my family I can celebrate the joys and mourn the sorrows. God gives us everything we need, and I have realized that sometimes what we need is other people to remind us of the truths we have forgotten. I can’t ask God why He isn’t helping me if I’m not willing to use what He has already given me–His Word, the Church, and loved ones with whom I can share my burdens. God uses His people to accomplish His work, and that work includes the ministry of comfort and prayer just as much as it includes things like therapy and medication for me.   

There have been many days where it has been hard for me to see any hope, when the despair has crept in and taken over everything. Because I know that depression lies and tells me I am alone and no one cares and things will never get better, I have to work to prove myself wrong, so I reach outside of myself. I have texted friends on more than one occasion pleading for prayer because I didn’t know how I was going to make it through the day. My friends can’t remove my depression–though I certainly wish they could–but they can help me carry it. I know they have uttered numerous prayers for me. They have brought me meals, written me cards, given me God-honoring music, and spent time with me when I felt alone or sad.

Being vulnerable has shown me that when I am open, people draw near instead of running away. People who truly love God don’t run away when things get hard because they have faith in the God who works all things for good. There is no problem too big for God, and therefore there is no problem we should be afraid to share because He can fix them all in His way and in His time. We are not taking full advantage of the gift God has given us in the Church if we keep everything locked inside. In the 8 years I have been a member of my church, I have seen God answer so many prayers–prayers that I wouldn’t have known to pray had people around me not made their requests known. I see it as a privilege to pray for those I love, and I know the same is true for those who pray for me. Seeing God answer prayers gives witness to His goodness and faithfulness in our lives.

I am needy, but while I used to think being needy made me weak, now I know that being needy simply means being human. We all need Jesus to take our very next breath, and He wants us to come to Him in our need. Think how much lighter your burdens would be if you gave them to Jesus and allowed the church to help you bear them. Let’s come together and make our needs known and be blown away by how God meets them. Don’t be afraid to go first. You don’t go alone.