To the Well-Intentioned

I know you mean well.

Really, you do. You desire to be a voice of encouragement and hope.

But sometimes well-intentioned words can feel the very opposite of hope and encouragement. They can heap shame and condemnation.

I know my hard can be just as confusing for you as it is for me. I get that you don’t know what to say. I often don’t know what to say either. Most of the time I don’t need answers though. I just need your presence. I just need to hear you say you care about my pain.

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To the well-intentioned who said, “Thankfulness is the answer,” I know you were trying to help. I know you wanted good for me. A thankful heart didn’t make depression go away though. Your words made me wonder what I was doing wrong because as hard as I tried to be thankful, I couldn’t escape my darkness. They also made me question the validity of what I was feeling. Was I not suppose to feel that depression absolutely sucked? Was I to be thankful for the imbalance that made me feel I was going crazy? I can not bring myself to fake being thankful for that.

To the well-intentioned who said, “You’re over-spiritualizing,” I know you wanted health for me. The only thing I had at the moment was God’s presence with me. In saying I was putting too much comfort in that, you robbed me of the only strength I had. You made me question my experience of God and my utter dependence on him. That did not bring me health.

To the well-intentioned who told me, “Maybe God is withholding His presence so you learn to depend on people,” I know you wanted me to experience the joy of community. I know you wanted me to lean on the Body of Christ. But in saying that, I began to doubt God’s goodness. Why would he withhold his presence from me when I needed it most? I struggle still with fearing the emptiness of God’s silence.

And to the well-intentioned who said, “God must have a lot to teach you,” I have wrestled for years trying to learn my lessons to bring relief to what threatened to swallow me. I know you were looking for a silver lining on a dark cloud, but the pressure to get it “right” so the lesson would be over has pulled me even deeper into the crazy. Your well-intentioned words were condemnation to my desperate desire for the darkness to be lifted.

Simple answers rarely comfort complicated questions. If an easy answer made our hard better, hard would not bear the weight it does.

Please do not hear I am not grateful for your desire to lighten my darkness. I want that desperately too! I know your intentions were for my good. What I want to share is a caution against putting the hard of life in a box. It just doesn’t fit.

Our nature is to try to make life clean and pain contained. After months sitting with the relentlessly hope-speaking counselor, I am at peace with my boxes having been stripped away. I spent so much energy trying to shove my darkness into something I could understand I had no energy left to feel what I needed to grieve.

I know you might be uncomfortable with your own hard. That’s ok. Know that words can be powerful though. They can bring life or they can bring death. Please don’t risk my vulnerable mental health to protect your own fear of life outside the boxes.

I know you mean well. Really, you do. Sit with me. That speaks I’m not alone. Let me cry and rage against my own limitations. That speaks I’m not too much. Hold me when I fall apart and put your hand on my shoulder when words don’t come. That brings comfort I long for.

Be with me. Let me see your eyes feel. I need only to know someone sees my pain.

 

I Will Remember

Last Friday was a hard day. I have had two months of better days and even good days. With all-out abandon, I loved them.

Gratefully, I have been waking up in the mornings ready to face the day. I haven’t been driven by when I could nap or how to avoid social situations I didn’t have energy for. I have been able to think clearly again and actually enjoy parts of my day.

There has even been that magical word hope lingering.

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What a crazy thing depression is. It filters every thought so drastically. One day living in color and the next living a silent black and white.

I don’t know if it is a good thing or not that I have been in this long enough to recognize the monster tainting everything. On Friday I fought hard to remember the experience of joy. Even though its scent still lingered, it felt as if it had vanished in the quiet of the night.

My thoughts drifted to hopelessness. They went right back to the place I had spent months trying to escape.

“There is no point.”

“Life is just a purposeless passing of time.”

“Would anyone even notice if I wasn’t here?”

I felt invisible. Alone. Desperate. I felt it deeply. It totally sucked.

It sucked for many reasons. One is the fatalism it brought. Another is the absolute defeat in thinking there might never be an end to the darkness. One can not live without hope, and that defeat took all my hope with it.

I tried to remember. Even days earlier I had felt fully different. Days earlier there had been purpose and contentedness. I had felt the sun and colors made my heart skip a beat. I knew it was possible for me to live outside the darkness.

Darkness shades everything. Even in recognizing the monster at work, I could not change my perspective. I only hoped it would pass.

I had coffee with a friend. I got my toes done. I bought sunflowers. I texted those who know me and told them the day was hard.

And then I took a nap.

When I woke, the world wasn’t quite so heavy. Hope had not quite returned, but I wasn’t drowning. A full night of sleep brought more energy. A morning at church and afternoon on a football field brought even more. Three days later my heart is full and the sun dances again.

It was a hard day. That’s it. It wasn’t forever.

I will remember it passed. I will remember I chose to do things I knew were good for me. They didn’t make it all better, but they were good choices. Healthy, gracious choices.

I will also remember how my mind turned on a dime. I will remember how twisted my thinking became and how it passed. I will remember putting one foot in front of the other and coming to the other side.

I will remember my resilience. It is where hope dwells.

The Man with the Tattoo

I wish I knew your name, my friend.

You sit down near us in a sea of people, and I am immediately drawn to your story. A tattoo under your right eye jumps from your face, but I can’t distinguish the word it says.

At first you appear a traveler like the rest of us. A heavy olive jacket to keep you warm, a knitted skullcap covering your head. Your large red suitcase showing its years of use sitting next to you.

We sit next to one another at Grand Central in the place where the masses gather to catch a meal or just pass the time. As I blow to cool my tomato soup, you eat too. But you are not a traveler like the rest of us.

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Your meal is in a can. Do you eat cold soup tonight? Or are they beans? You eat with gratefulness, and I am grateful with you.

We sit just feet apart, and everything in me wants to ask you your name and listen to what brought you here. How did you get to this place? What is the word stamped on your face? What does it tell of your story?

You turn to your giant red suitcase, the one packed with all you own. Right there, in the middle of Grand Central Station, you had brought your entire life. You rustle for a moment and then seem content to just reorder.

On the night we sit, it is cold outside. Hot soup warms our insides as layers and scarves warm our skin. Your jacket is not made for this weather. Maybe that is why you are inside. You wear well-worn black Asic sneakers. They are old with scuffed leather and look one size too small. You wear them without socks on this chilly night.

Friend, do you have socks? Does your red suitcase carry warmth to cover your feet?

We sit longer still. You because there is nowhere to go and me because I can’t seem to leave your story behind. I wonder what your name is. I want to hear how you got to this place. What pain do you carry on this night?

You suddenly begin an animated conversation. You talk to the empty chair across from you with passion. And you begin to rock.

As you talk and rock, you push up the sleeves on your worn olive jacket. More tattoos are revealed, and you bear scars. Are they the marks of one seeking healing through the highs of a needle?

Does a needle drive you now, my friend? Are you here but lost in euphoria? I see your eyes, and they look present. I think you are here. I think you see the fullness of reality.

You rock and talk and then you seem to disappear. Where have you gone and what madness has hold of you?

I think of where you’ll sleep tonight, and I hope you’ll be warm. I hope the night takes you to a place where you are known.

I pray joy for you. I pray for someone in your life to bear witness to your suffering. I pray you would know the comfort of human touch and the love of someone who cares about your very precious story.

I pray you would know how deeply you are loved by the God of the universe. He sees you, my friend. He grieves the pain written on your heart. You are worth more to Him than all the silver the world can hold. You are so, so valuable.

God knows your name. Not just the one spoken once by your mother but your true name. He knows you fully.

I can delay leaving no longer. I have to go. I won’t forget this night in a train station in a city I do not live. You have not even seen my face, but I am the one who will pray for you the rest of my days. I will not forget your dark, tattooed face. I have seen you.

And I wish I knew your name.

 

 

The Land of the Living

Last week I shared my story with the team I work alongside. They are a grace-filled and safe place. Though answers are few, it is good to be known. It is good to let others help carry my weight. I am grateful for the opportunity to borrow hope.

One who has walked through similar darkness shared a word that challenged me deeply. And planted hope.

I remain confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Psalm 27:13

I needed to hear this. I wish I would have heard it six months ago.

Hope feels to be a magical word when in the world of depression. In fact, my best description of depression is the absence of hope. That is what makes it so, so dark.

One of the places I have struggled most is in what my hope should be placed. I thought my hope should be in the resurrection (and in part, it should). But I also desperately need a hope that isn’t an eternity away.

On my darkest days, I longed for the rest heaven would bring. I didn’t want to die as much as I didn’t want to live. Glory is a great hope, but it is far away. I remember the days glory consumed me. I longed to be relieved of the world. I wanted it all to be over.

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During this season, I have clung to God’s word. I have poured over every verse that speaks joy and hope and strength. I have prayed them when I felt the very opposite. I have tried to believe when nothing in me experiences their validity.

When darkness chokes out hope, it is hard to believe there is goodness in the land of the living. It is hard to believe there ever will be goodness in the land of the living.

It is hypothesized several figures from the Bible struggled with depression. David, the author of Psalm 27, is among the most prominent. The psalms read like his ancient blog posts through a darkness of his own.

This verse does not just speak to the hope of glory. It talks about goodness this side of eternity.

So today I am seeking something other than resilience. I am asking for more. I am asking to see the goodness of God in the land of the living.

May the day hasten when I can declare it with the confidence of David.

Limits

I was feeling brave last week.

I was looking for a place to work, and my mind went to the coffee shop I used to love but is now tainted with memories of trauma. I had been once before for a meeting, and it had been hard. Maybe even a little ugly. But I had survived.

Desperately I wanted the physical reminders of trauma to be gone. I didn’t want my heart to race uncontrollably. I didn’t want to feel lightheaded, and I didn’t want to think my stomach might betray me.

I wanted to be able to walk into the darn coffee shop and work the hours away.

But I couldn’t do it.

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Pulling up to the light at the edge of the parking lot, the gravity of my body’s response was too much. The panic grew too strong. My mind could not win the war being waged. I wanted to fight, but instead, I had to flee.

The next hours were spent lying on my couch trying to recover. It didn’t come easily. In fact, it took days.

The past months have been filled with hard work. I have gone to the scariest of places and opened myself to the most vulnerable of emotions. I have pursued healing with relentless passion, and I believe it is coming.

But I still have limits. There are still places that are too tender, too wounded to move past quickly.

Once upon a time, those limits really hacked me off. I didn’t want to acknowledge their boundaries. I resented they were so unyielding.

Today I find myself respecting them. Do I wish they weren’t there? Sure. But I have been growing in grace. Instead of fighting, I’m willing to embrace my limits exist. Those limits are the basis of how I can care for myself.

This is a shaky road I walk. Every step is a risk. But I am seeing the risks pay off. I am seeing kindness replace condemnation. I am making choices that are good, even when they feel like the last thing I want to do.

I can not say enough what a precious thing hope is. Hope is growing friends. It’s growing.

 

 

 

A Parting of the Fog

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The clouds outside were dark, and the rain fell and fell until puddles claimed more than not. Grey threatened to invade and take up permanent residence in my psyche. Every hour felt hard.

As I wallowed in my own melancholy and loathing of the darkness, I had coffee with a new friend who has walked a similar road. There were not answers, but there was rest in knowing I’m not the only one. I welcomed the relief of hearing someone else share the same struggle of doubt and fear.

Depression tells many lies. One I hear often is that nobody sees me. I struggle to believe my little story is of any consequence.

On a day that same week, I was at the office later than normal. Another new friend found his way to my space. He reads my words and knows my longing for freedom. He recognizes it because he once had to fight for his own freedom. He is a speaker of hope, and he took time to speak hope to me.

The day that follows brings lunch with an old friend. A friend who knows brighter parts of me. She asks about the hard places because she wants to see them. She is not afraid. She has heard about the darkness for years, and yet she still asks. She speaks light and beauty and grace and hope.

My heart reflects the grey and gross outside my window, but my fog parts for awhile. This is grace. This is God caring deeply for me.

He sent one after another until I relented and could do nothing other than acknowledge His tender care. The lie that tells me nobody sees was crushed for a time. And the dark outside my window did not completely invade. Light came repeatedly through the words of those He put around me.

He is caring for me. Often I can only see the faintest glow right in front of my feet, but with every step I take, it is there. He continues to provide, despite my anxiety and dread otherwise.

This is hope for me. It wavers, and it comes and goes, but I will remember the week it pulsed strong.

It was good.

Hiding

I’m diving deeper. It is so, so hard.

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I sat with the hope-speaking counselor today and spoke things I’ve never spoken before. It shocked me. I have spent years burying those thoughts. I did such a good job, in fact, it startled me I could even say them out loud.

For 20 years I have been running from desire. My home taught me feelings are optional. They don’t change the facts. A logical decision is always the right one. Well-intentioned mentors instilled in me the danger of desire. The heart can’t be trusted.

So I got really, really good at ignoring desire. It worked great until the hurt became too much. Disappointment overwhelmed me. I moved from not acknowledging to outright numbing.

Just in case you’re wondering, depression is a great game of numbing. Numbing the bad sounds appealing until you realize it sucks the joy too.

Part of my healing lies in tackling this beast haunting me for two decades.

Last week I told the hope-speaking counselor I was beginning to feel a little brave. He replied with, “Then take a risk.” Today risk is slapping me in the face.

This is risk. This. Choosing to dive into the murky and dangerous black of desire.

What if it spins me out of control? What if I sink in discontent so deeply I’m not able to climb back out?

What if desire cuts even the few thin strings on which my faith is resting?

I write, and I hear, “Nothing is too big for God.” Take the risk.

Last week I listened to a podcast with Dan Allendar and John Eldredge. They were talking about the restoration of the heart. Do you know what Dan Allendar said?

“Hiding is the only thing standing in our way of restoration”

Ouch. I have not only been hiding this place, I have been trying to even forget it is there. I am filled with fear. I am so very afraid of what lies within desire.

There is no good in darkness. It has to come to the Light. I want restoration even more than I want to not expose what I have been hiding.

Help me, Lord Jesus, to be brave.

Practicing Kindness

“Go easy on yourself,” the hope-speaking counselor would say when I left his office. For months, I thought it was just his way of wrapping up.

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Then I began to hear.

I heard how much I dwell on expectations I didn’t even know I had. I heard my own bitter disappointment in being where I am, struggling desperately to climb my way out of depression and anxiety.

Morning after morning I would wake and want to stay hidden. I would sleep long at night and then sleep my day away too. Tears ran and ran. Previous passions sat untouched. Phone calls went unanswered. I hurt desperately, while at the same time feeling so numb I can hardly breathe.

Why is this happening again? What am I not doing right to have landed me in this place once more?

Why can’t I control it? Why can’t I make it stop?

I despise it. I despise that my body is preparing to flee what no longer endangers me. I’m angry at the darkness washing over me. It holds me captive.

“Get it together,” I plead with myself. “Wake up happy. You’ve had too many days of darkness. Choose light today. Choose joy.”

But I can’t choose, and I hate it.

“Hey, go easy on yourself.”

One day, it is too much. The demons are too loud. I sit in the hope-speaking counselor’s office drowning in condemnation.

“Stop that sh*t,” he says. “This is what is going to happen: From now on, when you start going down that road, you’re going to hear my voice in your head saying, ‘Stop it.’”

He speaks compassion into me, and I hear it. Be kind to myself.

It seems so obvious, but it isn’t. Condemnation comes far more easily than compassion, and sometimes it sneaks in so subtly its presence is there before I know it. Being kind takes practice.

Be kind to myself.

As the memories of trauma sneak up on me, I work hard to practice being kind to myselfMy hope-speaking counselor’s voice is turning into my own when condemnation creeps in. I have been practicing. Kindness is beginning to replace rebuke. The work is hard, but the payoff is tangible. The darkness doesn’t always go away, but light is beginning to enter it.

I will continue to practice.

I will be kind to myself.

My Fit

I hear the silence even now.

I see the dark of my closet surrounding me and feel the tears burning as they pour down my face.

I am hoarse from yelling “I don’t want this!” over and over again.

My chest feels like it is going to explode from my heart racing so ferociously. I can’t breathe. Even my lungs are protesting.

The silence is deafening.

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I hear verses float through my head: “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” “He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.” “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.”

I scream them too.

God, why aren’t you comforting me? Why aren’t you saving me? I’m mourning like I have never mourned before. You didn’t promise me ease, but you did promise me your presence. Where is your presence? Where are you?

Two years later, I still don’t know what to make of the silence. I don’t know why depression hinders the experience of God. I see countless ways God intervenes in my life, but I struggle even now to feel Him as before.

Months ago, I reached an end. I had no fight left.

Then a cloud pulled back. I caught a glimpse of my reality. Somewhere along the way, somewhere in the darkness, I had chosen to do life on my own. I had decided that since I wasn’t experiencing the presence of God, I couldn’t count on Him. I would need to take care of it.

The problem was I was making an outright mess. I was striving with everything I had, and all I could show for it was complete exhaustion.

I had traded in the truth that God is good all the time and the promise that He will never leave me nor forsake me for the lie that God can’t be trusted. It wore me out.

God, in His tender graciousness, allowed me to give it a go.

Now, I believe, He is right here helping me open my hands. He let me throw my fit, and now He’s helping me settle back down and rest in His goodness once again.

I still struggle to feel God’s presence, His comfort. I don’t know why. More days than not, however, I am able to rest in what I don’t know. I am able to trust even though I don’t understand.

Grace to Grace

One of the delights of my Fall was beginning to connect regularly again with a dear friend.

Every other Thursday I show up to her house with life in full-tilt all around. In the midst of the crazy, we sit and break bread together. We lay our souls bare, and it is easy.

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Just before Christmas, I knocked on the door feeling completely empty. It took everything I had just to show up. My energy was being sucked into surviving the season.

I had nothing to offer but two grilled cheese and some truffle oil on potatoes.

She opened the door full of her own exhaustion. The exhaustion that comes from little ones teething, clinging. The exhaustion of preparing to pack her precious family of six into a shoebox for two days on the road to Grandma’s.

She was being poured out to empty.

In the time between comforting a babe and entertaining a princess, we sat down as we always do. We broke our bread and were grace to one another.

We had nothing to offer other than ourselves, which was exactly what we needed. Exhaustion to exhaustion. Brokenness to brokenness.

I realized that often in relationships, even those we hold most dear, we can feel great expectation to be something other than where we are. Brokenness can convince us we have nothing for another.

But most of the time, we just need to show up. On that Thursday in the middle of my exhaustion, I just needed to show up.

My heart is full over the space where we can be broken together. I welcome the grace we can pour over one another because it is only grace that shows up when we are empty.

Let’s keep showing up. Let’s keep knocking on the door and offering the meager loaves we have. It’s an abundance.