You might be a sandbag!

During one of my previous depressions, my psych doc described depression as a rushing river, and my supports as the sandbags – those things that keep the depression from overflowing the banks and washing me away completely. Together, we listed my sandbags (in no particular order): him, my therapist, my husband, God, several closest friends, my ladies prayer and Bible study groups, my tremendous co-workers, my parents and my sister, my medicines, rest and down-time. Pretty amazing pile of sandbags! As I look back over more recent depressive episodes, there are other friends who have joined the sandbag pile, even fellow bloggers whom I’ve never met, but support me in my struggles and and encourage me in writing about them. (It might not be the most complimentary term to describe you as sandbags, but it paints a picture I can easily visualize.)

This time around, my local sandbag list is much shorter: God, my therapist, my psych doc, my husband, my meds, my rest and down-time. I have a couple of folks here who know I struggle with depression, even that I’m dealing with it right now. We’re still new to each other, so I’m not sure what or even if I’ll share. This shorter list has made this depression harder to manage, I think.

I’m learning that while my local team is smaller, my previous sandbags are still available! A simple text or email can connect me to them. When I first thought I was heading into depression again, I sent an email to friends and family who I knew would pray for me, and each of them responded. I felt alone, but supported. Several of them told me to call if I needed anything or wanted to talk.

It’s not really an option for me to call anyone – it’s too hard to do. Depression is isolating, and zaps my energy and willpower. The lies of depression tell me that no one who lives far away can help me. So when I don’t call, please don’t take it personally. I might want to talk, but it’s almost impossible to initiate such a call. There are a few “sandbags” who are the exception, but generally, even though the offers are genuine, the reality is that I’m not going to call. I’m not saying that in order to solicit calls – it’s hard to talk, too. It’s not the healthiest choice, but I often just want to be left alone in my gray-clouds world.

Even when I don’t seem responsive, I know my support team prays for me, sending an occasional card or email or blog comment to remind me that I’m not alone. And I am grateful that God has placed you in my life, and that you pursue me – you check in with me – and in doing so, you show me His love in the middle of my depression. And I try to respond to the emails – it’s easier than talking, because I don’t feel like I have to hold back my tears or sobbing. It’s safer for me.

All through the first years of my depression, and especially when it got really bad and I ended up in the hospital, I would ask God to use this in my life to help others. And He did. I discovered that I have the freedom to talk about it, to admit my struggles in this fight against an invisible illness. I discovered my voice in the battle against the stigma of mental illness. I was talking about it, people were responding with “I didn’t know you had depression!” or sharing their own personal battles. And my sandbags increased! Even better, God used my experience to allow me to be a sandbag to others:

God is our merciful Father and the source of all comfort. He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us…2 Corinthians 1:3b-4, NLT

I decided to blog in an effort to be a sandbag for others. To remind us – that means me, too – that we are not alone. We certainly have Christ with us, and we have each other – our sandbags.

Counting Sheep

( Thanks, Mary B!)

On Monday morning, my alarm went off at 7:20am. I hit the snooze button. Beep, beep, beep – I like that feeling of lazily opening one eye and peeking to see – sure enough, 9 minutes has gone by. Did I fall back asleep? Did I dream? Beep, beep, beep – sure enough, 9 minutes later.  And then instead of snooze, I rolled onto my back and started praying – “Thank you, God, for helping me to fall asleep last night. For reminding me of Your Presence and Comfort. For prompting me with Your Word, with verses I memorized as a child – Your Word hidden in my heart.”

Let me back up a few hours:

Sunday night was tough. I had a crying jag – second one in 2 1/2 months, lasted more than 2 hours.

It started with me thinking of my daughter who had visited us the week before – oh, we had such a great time! But then the thought “I live so far away from her” flitted across my mind and my eyes filled with tears. Then I considered the thought a little longer, and the tears rolled down my cheeks.

And I kept crying! Every time I thought I was done crying, I’d think of someone else I miss. The loneliness was overwhelming (I wrote about this in Just Start With Where You Areand the water works wouldn’t shut off. But I allowed myself – this is me working through grief, and it’s a process, tears included.

Finally, when I felt like I was all cried out – it’s exhausting work – I got ready for bed. Looking in the mirror as I brushed my teeth, I saw swollen eyes and a red nose – not a pretty picture! This just made me want to cry again (haha), so I grabbed a couple of tissues to put by my pillow, just in case. And sure enough, I laid down and the tears wet my pillow.

“That’s enough,” I told myself. “But God, what can I think about instead of loneliness, so I don’t keep crying?” I wanted to focus on gratitude, but my heart felt too heavy and I was too tired to shift my thoughts. Then I began reciting Psalm 23 to myself, focusing on each line individually and meditating on the verse.

v.1 The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want. He is my provider – gives me everything I need. He directs my steps, doesn’t leave me to wander too far off on my own. And He’s my Shepherd – I know His voice; I will follow Him where He leads.

v. 2 He makes me lie down in green pastures; He knows I need rest! 

v. 2 He leads me beside the still waters.  He knows I long for peace, and calm, and gentleness, and He can give me all those things. I started to feel myself relax, breathing slowing, muscles loosening, arms and legs sinking down into the mattress a little more.

v. 3 He restores my soul. Jesus is the only one who can refresh and restore me. I need Him to renew my heart and return me to our relationship. “I’m sorry, Lord, for not remembering that You are always with me. Please forgive my wanderings and restore me to a right relationship with You. Help me to trust You in the midst of my grief, and to know that you have placed me right where You want me.”

v. 3 He leads me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake. “Yes, Father, You are righteous.”

v.4 Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for You are with me. I thanked Him again for being with me through years of walking with depression. For his faithfulness even when I am not.

I don’t remember the rest – I was asleep. Psalm 23 only has six verses, but I only needed four of them to be able to relax and sleep!

I shared this story with a friend via email the next day, and l love her response: “Well, you were in the arms of the Shepherd, so it was like counting sheep?!?!?”

Sometimes my eyes leak

Does this happen to you?  All of a sudden, your eyes leak.

Maybe someone jumps out and shouts, “Boo!”

Maybe you say, “I love you.”

Maybe your song comes on the radio: “‘Cuz I can’t fight this feelin’ anymore…”

Maybe your son walks quietly to the front for his solo.

Maybe your friend is grieving, and you’re holding her hand.

Maybe your daughter walks across the stage.

Maybe you’ve hugged and said good-bye. Again. And again.

Maybe you wish you could see them one more time. Right now.

There are lots of times my eyes leak. Yes, all of the above times. And then more times. Sometimes, they are expected. Other times, they surprise me. In startle or delight. In reflection or regret. In my fear. In my pain. In someone else’s pain. In the dark, when the lights are off and no one can see them. In a crowd, where someone might be watching.

My eyes fill up. They burn behind my eyelids. It feels as if there is something that pokes, for just a second, into my eyeballs. Blinking can sometimes make them stop. Or I close my eyes and one drips down my left cheek. Or I squeeze my eyes tightly to keep them in, but they spill out anyway. Pouring down my face. Off my chin. They are hot on my skin. They drip onto my shirt. Wait, is that one on my nose, or is my nose dripping too? I’m going to need a tissue. Or the whole box.

I’m learning to accept them. For the longest time in my life, I would choke them back. “Deal with them later,” I’d tell myself. Then I’d forget to deal with them, so they’d stuff down. Repeat that procedure enough times, and they can get stuck.

I went through 5+ years of major depressive disorder (MDD) where I couldn’t cry. I wanted to. I was sure I would feel better if could just get the tears out. But it had been so long. And the depression had separated me from many of my emotions, leaving me feeling flat most of the time. So I couldn’t cry. Not the deep cleansing sobs anyway. I tried. I watched “tear-jerker” movies, read sad poems. Nothing.

It wasn’t until my therapist made me sit with them. I could feel them, but I’d gotten pretty good at shutting them down. He told me to sit with them, and with the thoughts behind them. We waited in silence. And slowly the tears came. The pricks behind my eyelids. The eyes tightly shut. And then all the rest.

It was as if the dam broke. I know that’s cliche, but it really describes it.

I became concerned that if I started crying by myself, I wouldn’t be able to stop, so I continued to hold them until I was in a “safe place” where I could share them. I’d share a few with a friend, or my mom or sister, or a prayer buddy, or a coworker. Someone close, who knew me and understood me.

Now the tears come easily. Usually unbidden. Often unexpectedly. And I cry, and stop crying, by myself. I don’t really share them with anyone now. With whom would I? I can’t pick up the phone and call a friend when I’m crying unconsolably. What can they do? Last time I cried really hard with a friend, they stood across the room. Didn’t approach me, didn’t hug me or comfort me. I don’t think they knew what to do. Or maybe they were crying their own tears.

Please don’t misunderstand – I share them with my husband. He knows how to comfort me and what to say as he hugs me close. But there’s no one else to share them with.

Wait – that’s not true. God is here. He helps. Always. I simply need to let Him remind me from His Word:

Jesus wept. (John 11:35, NIV)

He was despised and forsaken of men,
A man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; (Isaiah 53:3a, prophesy about Jesus, NASB)

You keep track of all my sorrows.
You have collected all my tears in your bottle.
You have recorded each one in your book. (Psalm 56:8, NIV)

I’m not crying alone! Jesus is with me always, and He understands. The Holy Spirit, the Comforter, lives inside me. God cradles me on His lap. Someday, He’ll wipe all the tears away – there will be no tears in heaven.

And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes. (Revelation 7:17, NIV)

He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away. (Revelation 21:4, NIV)

I will turn their mourning into gladness;
I will give them comfort and joy instead of sorrow. (Jeremiah 31:13, NIV)