Standing After the Storm

The sky is blue now and only a breeze makes the leaves flit about on our young live oak. You would never know a hurricane passed through two days ago. You couldn’t imagine how the wind whistled through our windows and how that little live oak bent farther and farther as Matthew pushed it to its very edge.

Yesterday it felt like the sun might not ever shine again. But it did. It is.

In the middle of it all, I realized a hurricane makes for a very striking picture of the journey through anxiety.

The day before Matthew arrived was gorgeous. The city was a buzz in preparation, and it felt surreal. There was hardly a cloud in the sky.

I met a friend for brunch, and we sat outside. Those not from Florida can’t appreciate what a rare opportunity that is before mid-November. It was the first hint of a slight reprieve from the sticky days of summer.

The weather was so captivatingly pleasant, I spent the evening soaking in more of it watching the youngest’s football practice. I didn’t need to be there. I just wanted an excuse to be outside.

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The night before Hurricane Matthew

Parents around me shared hurricane stories and tried to assure themselves they had prepared adequately. Those from south Florida spoke with shock at the lack of shutters and boarding. The ones from the north grew in anxiety over how to fit their families in closets while the storm passed.

We were all, everyone of us, anticipating disaster. Catastrophe. Tragedy.

Everything around us looked peaceful and normal, and yet we carried with us the impending sense of doom.

We did not know if we would be ok.

 

Those 24 hours, as Hurricane Matthew strengthened and edged closer and closer to our homes, is exactly what it is like to live with an anxiety disorder. Except most of the time there is no hurricane coming. There isn’t even a storm in the forecast.

It is just a forever anticipation of disaster.

It is always being on the look out for how to be prepared for a catastrophe. It is constantly looking around for how to protect yourself from what could happen.

It is believing that something so cataclysmic is going to happen that I will not be ok.

 

The storm came. We went to bed anticipating only a few hours of sleep before winds began thrashing outside. We were prepared to tarp broken windows and huddle together in closet away from flying glass.

Wind did blow. Hard. It made our windows sing. But we woke with 8 hours of sleep and no broken glass. We even had electricity. The hurricane had moved just 10 short miles east as it came its closest.

Into the afternoon, wind would gust and rain would pour. The live oak in our backyard would lean farther over with every gust. But it continued to stand. The gusts still blew, but with every hour they weakened.

And then it all stopped.

Leaves and limbs littered the street. A few trees didn’t fare as well as our little live oak and toppled into the street. Fences would need to be repaired across our neighborhood. But that was as bad as it got. We were banged up a little, but we were ok.

 

Matthew released the last of his fury in the Orlando area around 3pm on Friday. By the next morning, the sun was shining, and there was hardly a cloud in the sky. The storm passed, and the sun did shine again.

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The morning after Hurricane Matthew. 

Isn’t that just like life? We get banged up, but we continue to stand. We really are ok, even with our bruises. Just like a person’s struggle with anxiety.

Hard things come. They do. But rarely is it as bad as our anticipation. Anxiety likes to puff-up catastrophe. It lies about resilience. But we are stronger than we think. We are far more resilient than we fear.

Storms come, but they always pass. And afterward, there is a beauty you can’t appreciate without having sat through the pounding wind and rain. I have more depth, more compassion, more kindness because of storms I have stood through. The world is richer and more inviting than it has ever been.

We are resilient. I am resilient. I might lean a little like our live oak, but I am standing. I have more and more experience that as many storms as come, I will be ok.

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Global Suicide Prevention Day

In 2014, 42,773 Americans died by suicide. One of those was my friend Robert. He is not just a statistic, nor are the other 42,772 represented by that number.

The suicide rate in the U.S. has recently hit a 30-year high according to an article in the New York Times. The overall suicide rate in America rose by 24% between 1999 and 2014. And more than 800,000 people die by suicide around the world every single year.

Is that not shocking to you? It’s shocking to me, and yet, I can understand the desperation of each of those numbers.

Today is World Suicide Prevention Day. Let’s be a part of the conversation.

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Last Fall I got a semi-colon tattooed on my wrist. To many, it’s an odd little thing (especially my parents). But for me, it’s a victory sign. It’s a reminder that as dark as depression can feel at times, it is only a pause. Not a period. It is not the end of the story.

My story is not over.

I am huge supporter of an organization called To Write Love on Her Arms. To Write Love on Her Arms is “a nonprofit movement dedicated to presenting hope and finding help for people struggling with depression, addiction, self-injury, and suicide. TWLOHA exists to encourage, inform, inspire, and invest directly into treatment and recovery.”

The TWLOHA community was an incredible speaker of hope during days I felt were hopeless. I now join with them in speaking against the stigma of depression and other mental health issues. I want to normalize the conversation.

Each year TWLOHA picks a phrase to champion during Suicide Prevention Week. This year the phrase is “so I kept living.”

It is from a gem of a book called Reasons to Stay Alive, in which the author writes about his own journey through depression and anxiety. It is a must read for everyone who knows someone battling depression (which, statistically, is all of us).

In the book, author Matt Haig writes of standing on a cliff in Ibiza contemplating taking the last step to end his life. “I think life always provides reasons to not die, if we listen hard enough. . . And so I kept living.”

What a great exercise for me to share that I kept living because there are three amazing kids who need their mom.

Because my husband told me, “we’ll get through this together.”

Because I told people when I wasn’t OK, and they listened to me. 

Because a tenacious counselor told me week after week not to underestimate my resilience. He spoke hope over me again and again.

Because I remembered what it was like to love what I do.

Because I had words to share.

I kept living because I knew my life was precious to the God of the universe.

I kept living.

And here I am. I am alive, and I am speaking hope.

If you are struggling today, will you please tell someone? Depression lies. It tells you you are alone, but you are not. You are not alone.

If you want to help someone struggling, would you consider giving to the efforts of To Write Love on Her Arms? This week they have been working to raise $85,000 toward the cost of treatment and recovery for those who need it. One of the counselors investing in that effort is mine. The work is real, and it saves lives.

Join the conversation. Tell someone your story. Keep living.

A New Ending

The past several months have held light. Hope.

I have felt stronger and more resilient. Not completely myself, but I am catching glimpses of who I used to be. I can imagine again what it might be like to live in joy and experience that sweet place called thriving.

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Healing did not come in one day. It has come in hours, over months. Hours of friends showering me with grace as they listened to me share over and over again how I felt like the darkness was winning. Hours with my hope-speaking counselor declaring resilience when I could not believe it for myself. Months of me recognizing the need to make choices that are good for me, even if they are impractical or feel an extravagance.

Bad days come farther and farther apart. When they do come, I still have memory of the good. I know bad won’t last forever. I can rebuke the darkness that enters my mind because I remember the truth I had known just days before.

Health did not just happen. Every day I have fought for it.

I have listened to my body and sought relief for my worn-out adrenal system. I have learned to be grateful for medicine that brings the serotonin-stability my body is too taxed to create on its own.

I have gone to the gym when I didn’t want to because exercise is good for a depressed body. I have napped when I needed to nap. I have texted a thousand times over with my faithful people just to say, “I need to know someone sees my struggle.” I have scheduled lunches and appointments on days without commitments so I would have a reason to get dressed. I have sought out the sun.

And week after week I have sat in my counselor’s office to wrestle with my own brokenness. I have been more honest with myself than I ever have. I have sat with the hard. I have felt my disappointment. I have quit running. I have learned what mindfulness is, and I practice it. I fight to validate what I am feeling instead of telling myself it doesn’t matter. Slowly I am learning to breathe instead of panic. I am choosing to see myself as strong instead of the vulnerable curled up waiting for a fatal blow.

Health is one good choice at a time.

Over the days, the weeks, the months, the choices have added up. They have become habits of the healing kind. They are pieces of a puzzle being built to lift the weight of depression.

It was not long ago when I couldn’t imagine a future. Every single hour felt overwhelming, and I did not think I would make it. I could not fathom a day when depression would not rob me of life.

But here I am. The future has a new ending.

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.

Danger

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.

 

 

 

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.

The Trauma of Yesterday

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Immediately I feel nauseous.

It washes over me like a wave. It fills my belly and begins to squeeze my chest. My heart is racing. Adrenaline flows through my limbs. They begin to tingle. My head tingles. My eyes struggle to focus, and I’m so light-headed I dare not move.

My breathing becomes fast and shallow. I want to close my eyes. I do.

The waves continue to come. Nausea, adrenaline, pounding. My heart literally feels like it’s going to beat out of my chest. I want to throw up.

“Open your eyes,” I remember my hope-speaking counselor say. “Come back.”

He is not here to coach me. I have to fight my own way through. It takes all my will to open my eyes and focus on the cup in front of me.

Stay here. Feel the chair beneath me. The cup is full of pens. They are real. I am here. I am not there. I make myself feel the air on my skin. The hair falling on the back of my neck. My eyes begin to focus. I remember to slow my breathing, and I count.

Inhale. Exhale.1.

Inhale. Exhale. 2. . 3. . 4. . 5. .

Stay here.

It happens in an instant. Trauma revisits me, and I’m sucked into my body’s God-given preservation system. It’s meant to protect me, but it doesn’t discern I’m not in danger right now. Trauma lives in the past.

My body is the one the keeps bringing it to the now.

Today is was a coffee shop. The thought of going to a coffee shop where my world was turned upside down years ago. It was the place where my picture of reality tumbled down like a domino train. Where what I thought was, wasn’t. The explosion of that place, the betrayal, I feel them as if they are happening right now.

My body fights as if they are now.

I hate it. I hate that my body is preparing to flee what no longer endangers me. It holds me captive to a place I want to have no power over me.

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me. Let me grieve the pain of that place without the panic of today. Free my body of it’s fight. Bring sorrow, but please speak relief over the terror that haunts me.