On Purpose

I started this blog post on June 5, 2016, but the theme is still running through my life consistently! The topic – my purpose.

My therapist pointed out to me years ago that I speak to myself in questions, so this post will be full of those. If you have any answers, please share in the comment section below!

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Draft written 1.5 years ago:

Yesterday, the lesson was about my purpose, and God got my attention from 2 different devotionals and a conversation. What is my purpose? I’m asking myself that anyway, again now while I’m in between houses, and trying to find things to do to fill up my days. I met a woman a few nights ago who talked about her job in a way that showed passion and purpose. At the same time, I’m asking myself about writing this book – am I supposed to be using my time to do that? And how does my bent – the way I need daily interaction with people – how does that play into my purpose? What am I supposed to do with myself? Should I be looking for a job? Should I be volunteering? If so, where should I focus my energies? Once again, I ask myself what do I want to be when I grow up? Where do my previous work experiences lend themselves? To families, I think. To mentoring or some kind of teaching. But what does that look like around here? In this place in VA? Do I find a job to “tide me over?” What if I don’t want to, what if that doesn’t feel right? Do I do it anyway, as a way to meet people? (thoughts inspired by Edie Wadsworth’s blog post, Jennifer Lee’s blog post, Holy Experience devotional, daily devotional from YouVersion, Jesus Calling by Sarah Young)

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So here I am today, still asking the same question – what is my purpose in this, the second half of my life? I know the Westminster Shorter Catechism – “What is the chief end of man? Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.” But as a Christ follower, I can claim this already, What I mean is, what am I supposed to do with myself, with my time? Where do I put my energies?

I lived the first half of my marriage as “Mom.”  And I know that I will always be Mom. Therapists will tell you that this is not your identity, it’s simply a role. But after 26 years of it, it sure feels like identity. And now, with both kids grown, there’s a loss of this identity as it doesn’t take the time it used to!

I was recently asked what do I dream of doing? Problem is, I don’t really have a dream. I’m not sure that I ever had one, or even know how to.

Yesterday, I read a short book by David Ramos called What the Bible Says about Purpose, and I completed the shorter questionnaire, 5 Questions that Create Clarity. I put in writing some things I already know:

  • I need to be in some kind of leadership.
  • I need to be doing something with helping others.
  • I need to be connecting with people.
  • I’d like to still live in Florida, or alternatively, closer to my children.
  • I’d like to travel.
  • My closest friends live far away, though new friendships here are slowly developing.
  • I’m still not committed to a church body.
  • I might like to write a book. I’d certainly like to be more consistent in blogging.
  • I miss public speaking.

So how does all of this help me? I’m not sure, other than it gives me lots to pray about, and lots to process.

“And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” Colossians 3:17, NIV (emphasis mine)

Reaching From Mental Illness to Mental Health

Many weeks ago, in commenting back and forth with fellow blogger Dawn Liz Jones, she challenged me with:

I would be interested to know why or in what ways it is hard to reach from mental illness to mental health. I know for me, it was definitely hard work, with God’s help and grace. Only if you’re ever willing to share. Would make a very helpful and insightful post. – dawnlizjones

Be sure to check out her blog – great Bible insights and personal stories – Inspiration with an Attitude!

How can I reach from mental illness to mental health? Why is it hard?

A major part of my struggle in reaching toward mental health is that health feels gradual, and my descent into mental illness – particularly Major Depressive Disorder with some anxiety – felt very sudden. Looking back on it, it wasn’t sudden; it was a slow decline over many months. But it was life changing for me. It’s easy to spot the negative, to see the low points – my hospitalization was a huge “defining moment” – and to focus on the illness part of my diagnosis. In many ways, I’ve allowed depression to define me, to become part of my identity. I have life before depression, the diagnosis and later hospitalization, and then the “ever since.”

My therapist Ted always wanted me to speak of depression as a different entity, not a part of me but separate, and name the friends depression brought with it (ie, anxiety, loneliness, negative self-talk). He wanted me to see that this was not me, not part of who I am, but instead an unwanted outsider who desired to take over my thoughts and emotions.

That’s great to say, and much harder to put into practice. My depressive episodes – for over 8 years now – are part of my lifetime experiences, and they help shape me. Whether I should or not, I define myself by them. I identify myself as a Christ follower who struggles with depression, may have it all of my life, and so am learning to live with it. That means recognizing my symptoms, my markers, and my triggers and responding appropriately to keep depression away as much as possible.

My mental health is not easy to define except as the absence of mental illness. Illness is much easier to name – depression and anxiety. So health must mean something different, or I will never again be mentally healthy, since I see myself as one who struggles with mental illness.

For me, then, mental health is more about learning how to live in the better moments of my illness or when symptoms have subsided and when I’m in remission, like now. Health also means learning to recognize those steps I can take that help with it – eating well, exercising, getting enough sleep, following my treatment plan. Finally, health means recognizing signs that show something might be awry, that depression is fighting for a way in again. Recognizing those markers and triggers can help me take other steps needed to keep it away – giving myself permission to do less and rest more, bumping up my exercise, being more forgiving of myself and more gentle with myself in my own thoughts.

There’s another piece too, and that’s reminding myself to see me the way God sees me. He doesn’t define me as mentally ill. He defines me as His adopted daughter, His precious child, wholly and dearly loved, forgiven. Walking in this world with its troubles, but walking with His Holy Spirit as my Guide. Not alone. Not a mess. But beautiful in His eyes.

The awareness ribbon color for mental health is lime green, for depression it is green, and for mental illness it’s gray. Into the first few years of my depression diagnosis, I had my good friend Carol make a bracelet for me, a mixture of green and lime green stones – it is beautiful. I wore it proudly, as a reminder and hopefully a conversation starter about mental health and depression awareness. But then a few years later I read someone’s comment about the need to bring attention to mental illness, not specifically mental health, because mental illness is the taboo topic. I thought on that a long time, and it makes a lot of sense to me. We can talk about mental health, but that isn’t the issue – mental illness is. So I asked Carol to make another beautiful bracelet – this one is gray for mental illness awareness. I wear it a lot.

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And they look good together, too.