Tag Archives: anxiety

Just Breathe

“Just breathe, Kimberly.  Relax and breathe.”

These are the soothing words that my mother has been whispering to me for my entire life.  And now my sweet, wise fiancé whispers them to me as well.  They are both the kind of people who feel excited “on the inside.”  They smile slightly when they’re happy while I jump up and down, clapping and laughing loudly.  They also take things in stride  and don’t get too upset when things don’t go the way they planned.  They aren’t so sure they were the ones who  were right to begin with.

So why, raised by such a calm and reasonable mother, do I find it so hard just to relax and breathe?  And why has it always been this way?  Why do I hold on to everything with such a tight grip, feeling that the world will go spinning out of control if I can’t keep it in check?

I want things RIGHT.
I want everything to go smoothly and to flow, and I want everyone happy.  But in my vain attempts to keep  it all in check, I become unhappy – full of angst and fighting to keep myself from a full-blown anxiety attack.  Thank  God I haven’t had one of those in a very long time…

God has been drilling these lessons into my head for the last several years, over and over again.  I am not in control.  I cannot make anything go my way.  The sheer force of my will isn’t enough.  I do not always have the answers.  In fact, I am often very wrong.  I can relax and let God handle the things that concern me. 

So today, Labor Day, I am ceasing from my labors.  I’m taking the advice of a friend who came over to help me unravel the mess in my head and put together a priority list.  She told me I’m not allowed to worry about the lingering items on my to do list concerning the wedding, honeymoon, and new life together in a new house in a new part of the country.  She said I am only allowed to concern myself with what is on the list for today – and I now have a well-organized list to tell me just what that is.

I’m going to go sit with a friend and drink some coffee.  We’re going to laugh and talk and not worry about the fact that my wedding invitation envelopes lay un-addressed in a pile on my desk (and no one else can do them for me because they must be RIGHT).

I’m going to stop concerning myself with who will replace me at my job and trust that God has heard my prayers for just the right person at just the right time.  (Oh, how hard it will be to believe that anyone else can love and nurture and bless those children and my dear friends, their parents, as well as I can…)

As the list of concerns and things I must do grows and the time in which to do them shrinks, I am doing all I can to lay my concerns before the Lord and trust that He will work everything out.  I am doing my best to remember how incredibly joyful this time in my life is and to relish the pleasure of being a bride.  I am trying to delegate things to my friends and family, letting perfectionism slip away and sanity return.

God, help me to remember to breathe.

Advertisements

3 Comments

Filed under Spiritual Life

Peace that Passes Understanding…

I’ve become one of those people who pass much of their day drinking coffee in a coffee shop or bookstore, working on their laptops.  I’ve always wondered why people do that.  Don’t they have a home or an office?  Doesn’t the constant stream of people and conversation around them bother them?  Don’t they have somewhere else to be?

I have a comfortable home with plenty of peace and quiet, but I get tired of staring at the same four walls at home, chores all completed, fighting the urge to watch television all day in a state of numb oblivion.  The coffee shop and bookstore have free wireless internet and perfect coffee.  They allow me the faint distraction of evaluating other people’s fashion choices, in the most Christian way, of course ~ “Bless their hearts!” (How can you not notice and wonder a bit when the 60ish guy with a jet black mullet, choker necklace made of bones, short black shorts, bright red socks, and black sandals comes strolling in?  My own fashion sense isn’t always perfect, but some things just beg you to notice and have an opinion). It also occasionally allows me to run into someone I know and have a brief conversation, and keeps me from numbing out at home. 

I sit here with plenty of time to think, feeling the weight of my situation.  For months now, God has felt very near to me in a way I’ve never quite experienced before.  There is a sense of peace and inner joy that I cannot describe or even fully understand myself.  I’ve been free of anxiety attacks and depression, in spite of the tremendous changes and stress-inducing circumstances in my life.  Technically speaking, it’s not much of a stretch to say that I should be huddled in a corner, drooling, and mumbling something incoherent over and over again… 

And yet, here I sit, calmly typing away at Starbucks, giggling at other people’s fashion sense, or lack thereof, drinking CAFFEINE.  In the past, the littlest bit of caffeine sent me right over the edge, but I’m on my second cup without a hint of a side effect.  Who am I?  The answer is, I learned to live out Philippians 4:6-9. 

Philippians 4:6-9 (New Living Translation)

 6 Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. 7 Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.

 8 And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. 9 Keep putting into practice all you learned and received from me—everything you heard from me and saw me doing. Then the God of peace will be with you.

I have poured out my concerns to God, telling Him exactly what I need and desire, and thanking Him for the ways He has already provided for me.  I have listened for His voice and done all I know to do to obey Him.  I have fixed my thoughts (most of the time) on things that are ‘truehonorablerightpurelovelyadmirableexcellentworthyofpraise’, telling the fearful and anxious voices in my head to shut up and go away.  Why should I be surprised that it’s actually working? 

I have decided to believe.  If God is God, then I must serve Him.  If someone or something else is god, then I should serve that person or thing.  I refuse to be wishy-washy in my faith, flopping from side to side, saying I trust God but running around in anxious circles, throwing my hands up in the air and crying.  If I believe God is God, and I believe He speaks to me in a still, small voice of love, then I must faithfully obey His commands.  Anything else is not faith.

I believe God has spoken to me clearly the same message for the last several months:  be still, stop struggling, and wait for the redemption of the Lord.  I believe that He has said what He has for me will come to me in His timing, in His way, without all my frantic worrying. 

I have spent a lot of time with the Lord, fasting and praying, laying out my concerns and requests before Him, asking for direction and for Him to open the door before me and to keep me from making a foolish decision out of fear or desperation.  If you really think about it, isn’t that what you expect a minister of the gospel to do when in this type of situation? 

As long as I continue in the current course of action – waiting, praying, seeking God, and trusting Him to provide for me, I have an unexplainable peace.  When I get my eyes off Jesus and look at the waves threatening to swallow me up, I do face an overwhelming feeling that disaster is upon me.  In those moments, I stop and evaluate my thoughts.  I get my eyes back on Jesus and the calm returns.  As I gaze into His eyes, I feel the most comforting sense of love, peace, and comfort. 

I admit that one of my fears is that what I think is God’s voice is merely my own.  As I consider that fear, I’ve come to a conclusion:  If I’m wrong, then I’ll deal with the consequences of my decision.  If I’m wrong, then it is ME who has failed to correctly discern God’s voice.  I will not blame God or love and trust Him less.  I will deal with my own lack of discernment and pick up the pieces. 

One of the things I think God is teaching me through this time of waiting is how to stand firm in my beliefs.  God hears my prayers.  He is teaching me something through this trial.  He is in control.  What have I to fear?  The only thing I can think of right now is that I fear looking like the older lady who just walked in wearing bright green, skinny jeans, a skin-tight black and white striped shirt, and purple high-tops.  Oh my…

12 Comments

Filed under Spiritual Life

Anxiety

The way I discovered what an anxiety attack was is a little embarrassing.  I know, a person who writes a blog informing the world that she has trouble with anxiety probably doesn’t get embarrassed by much, but this one causes me to blush a little…  Toward the end of my engagement to the man who decided it would be better to date indefinitely (after we had a house, a ring, a dress, and a wedding date), I did what I always do:  I bought a book to research the problem called Men Who Can’t Love: How to Recognize a Commitment Phobic Man before He Breaks Your Heart by Steven Carter.  Embarrassed to even pick the book up, I was just desperate enough to understand what was happening in my carefully crafted world that I tried it. 

I only read a few pages of this book before I found something that stopped me cold.  It described the way commitment-phobic men feel when expected to commit.  It was a graphic description of an anxiety attack.   If I still owned that book, I’d directly quote it here, but it’s one of the few books I didn’t exactly want lining my bookshelf.  Two days before I read this description, I’d experienced those exact symptoms myself and had considered the possibility that I had a terrible disease or food allergy.  I didn’t feel anxious during that episode; I felt sick.  I felt very, very, horribly sick. 

I had worked for several hours to prepare for a business trip the next day.  It was after 5:00 and I had a pre-marriage counseling session scheduled for 7:00 that night.  I still had a lot of work to do and was in a hurry to finish.  Suddenly I felt an urgent need to go to the bathroom.  Before I made it there (50 feet away), I started to sweat and felt light-headed.  I had diarrhea, profuse sweating, shaking, a rushing sound in my ears (high blood pressure), and a feeling of not being present in my body (derealization).  I was hyperventilating and my stomach cramps were so severe that I thought labor pains probably couldn’t be any worse.  I had endured episodes similar to this countless times before, but this time it got worse.  In a thankfully narrow bathroom stall at work, I passed out.  When I came to, I was still seated, but leaning against the side of the stall.  I didn’t know where I was for several moments.  My vision distorted and the walls of the stall appeared 30 feet high.  I had a terrible metallic taste in my mouth and I was freezing.  I felt weak and so cold that I couldn’t stop shaking. 

What happened to me was not only frightening, it was embarrassing.  These are not symptoms people typically broadcast.  Forgive me for over-sharing.  I only share the details because I would’ve never picked up a book on anxiety disorders, never known that’s what I was dealing with, and I’m willing to embarrass myself if it helps someone else figure out what’s happening to them.

I called these episodes “upset stomach.”  I had looked for a common cause to connect them since I was thirteen years old and never found one.  My mother was the only person I really discussed them with and she didn’t know what they were either.  They weren’t life-threatening and they didn’t happen every day, every week, or even every month, so we didn’t think to ask the doctor.  Not that we had a doctor.  We went to a chiropractor who attended our church.  (He probably could’ve diagnosed me accurately without horrible tests if I had told him.) 

The book also told me that irrational fears accompanied these attacks.  That is where I got confused.  The only concerns I really had during an attack surrounded thoughts like – How bad is this one going to be?  How long is this going to take and will it make me late for my next appointment?  Is something terribly wrong with me?  How will I survive this horrible pain?  Is anyone around to help me if I need medical attention? 

At my counseling appointment the next day, I told my counselor about it.  She expressed shock that it had gone on so long and I had never mentioned it.  But why would I mention a medical problem to the person I was going to for counseling?  I still wasn’t convinced it wasn’t a physical illness only.  She told me to call my doctor and tell him that she suggested I try Xanax, an anti-anxiety medication.  She warned me that it was highly addictive and I should use it sparingly.  She said if my problem was anxiety, when I started to feel the symptoms come on I should take ½ a pill and feel better within 15 minutes.  They make a pill for this problem?!?!  Amazed, I called my doctor, was given 10 pills, and found that it worked. 

I was still struggling to understand how what I experienced was anxiety.  The idea of being labeled with an anxiety disorder was unacceptable.  I didn’t know anyone else who had the same problem and I never planned to tell anyone (especially since it wasn’t something I even believed was really wrong with me.)  I felt mortified.

Since then I have discovered the reason I didn’t think I felt anxiety or fear during the attacks.  During my long history with them, I taught myself some coping mechanisms to help me through.  I noticed when I focused on the fear, my condition worsened and lasted longer.  I learned to empty my mind of disturbing thoughts/fears, focus on breathing normally, and relax during the attacks.  It became an automatic response when an attack started; I immediately cleared my mind of fears.  So when I thought about the attack later, I didn’t remember having any fear.  I had to go back and remember what I was thinking about before the attack started to identify the fear that caused it. 

In the years since then, I’ve learned some valuable things.  I went through two or three prescriptions for Xanax (10 pills of the lowest dose) in as many years, but then I lost my health insurance and couldn’t afford the medication.  I researched natural remedies and found some things that work for me. 

The first and oddest thing I found that works really, really well came from an infomercial for a treatment plan.  It explained that a big reason anxiety attacks get the best of us is because they are so horrible that on top of whatever is causing the anxiety, after the first attack we fear the attack itself, which adds fear to fear and makes it worse.  The truth is the anxiety attack is NOT going to kill me.  I’ve lived through them plenty of times before and I will live through this one.  The guy said I should talk to my anxiety like it was a person and tell it I wasn’t afraid of it.  Say something like, “Bring it on!  I can handle you!  I won’t die from this pain and in an hour I’ll be back to whatever I need to do next.  You might slow me down, but you won’t stop me.”  I felt a little dumb, but I tried it and it worked. 

The second thing I found that works is to avoid stimulants of any kind – caffeine, diet pills, too much sugar, herbal energy supplements, etc.  If I am anxious, my adrenaline is already pumping and I don’t need anything to kick it up a notch.  Caffeinated sodas are the absolute worst with the combination of caffeine and high sugar.  When I was looking for a connection before, I noticed that sometimes an attack came quickly on the heels of drinking a Coke, but I could sometimes drink a Coke and not have an attack, and at other times I had attacks without drinking Coke.  Stimulants exacerbate anxiety:  no anxiety, no problem with Coke; high anxiety, big problem with Coke.  Diet pills have the same effect:  they are typically stimulants.  Mix diet pills with caffeine and a person with an anxiety disorder is headed for disaster. 

The third thing I found that works is to deal with stressful situations immediately.  One day I came home from work in a good mood, checked my mail, chatted with my roommate, changed my clothes, started cleaning up around the house, and suddenly got hit with an attack.  I hadn’t had one in a while, hadn’t had any caffeine, and was unsure what it was about.  After the attack, I mentally reviewed what had happened in the hour before the attack.  I realized that as I went through the mail, I saw a letter from my student loan company.  My student loans were in forbearance.  I expected to receive a notice at any time that my forbearance had run out and I needed to start paying, but I had no money to pay them back.  I didn’t open the letter when I saw it because I didn’t want to think about my financial difficulties right then.  Rather than relaxing, my anxiety built because of what I perceived the letter might say.  How much longer did I have?  How much was it going to be?  Should I get a third job?  Should I look for a new full-time job?  Where would I have to move to make more money?  And so forth…  If I had opened the letter immediately, I would have seen that they were sending me a friendly reminder that interest was accumulating on my loan and they were happy to allow that to happen for quite a bit longer before they demanded payment.  I might have still felt some fear, but it would have been contained to the future and my naturally hopeful personality would have kicked in and the whole attack probably could have been avoided.  The point is, unknown fears tend to loom larger than reality.  When I deal in reality, I might still be afraid but the fear is typically manageable. 

If all that fails and I begin to have one anyway, they often stop within a couple minutes if I call a good friend and tell her what’s happening.  I have only tried this method with one very dear, very close friend.  Most people don’t want to hear from you when you’re hyperventilating in the bathroom!  I find it’s worth the embarrassment to make the attack stop. 

I wish I could tell you that anxiety attacks are a thing of the past for me.  I haven’t had one like that day in the office in years.  I haven’t had one in months.  I can even allow myself a little caffeine these days, but am careful about it.  One anxiety attack and I’m off it again completely for a while.  I haven’t taken Xanax in over three years.  Sometimes I miss the ease of popping a pill to avoid the attack, but not having it has forced me to find the underlying issue and deal with it.  It’s been a good thing, but as many good things go it has also been challenging. 

Learning the connection between my body and mind has been life-changing.  I went to a holistic doctor and discovered that my chronic back pain was largely due to stress.  I ignored what was bothering me because I didn’t think it should bother me or I didn’t have time to deal with it.  I was in constant pain.  I have been free from chronic back pain for over a year now. 

I’m so thankful for the resources I have had access to as I’ve learned to manage anxiety in a way that allows me to stay off prescription medication.  I’m also thankful I haven’t suffered things like physical attack or abuse, death of a parent, extreme poverty leading to starvation and homelessness, or anything worse.  If I had, I might still need the medication, and I’d gladly take it.  I’m so thankful I had it to get through the roughest times. 

In closing, I want to acknowledge the position many in church take on anxiety.  If a Christian can truly learn to trust God with his or her life, then all fear will leave and perfect peace will remain.  I believe that is possible.  I have found that as my ability to trust God increases, so does my peace.  I also want to acknowledge that many of us have been let down so often by those in authority over us, it is extremely difficult to trust anyone in a position of authority.  God, the ultimate authority-figure, gets tangled up in our minds with humans and we don’t know how to trust Him either.  It requires a major shift to our thinking to see God as totally separate, totally “other”, from human beings.  We are made in His likeness, but He is not like us.  He can be trusted, He can be relied up, but we allow the disappointment and hurt we feel from other human beings to cloud our ability to interact with Him.  We blame Him for things other human beings do, rather than looking to Him to help us through the difficult times.  These are natural reactions and typically very difficult to move beyond. 

In these situations, when those in authority over us condemn us for feeling afraid, it only increases our fear.  If you know someone struggling with anxiety, please pray for them.  Pray that they will be able to see God for who He is.  Pray that they will receive healing from the wounds they have suffered at the hands of those who were supposed to protect them.  Pray they will find peace. 

P.S. In case you’re wondering, I have a lot of respect for my ex-fiance today.  He was right to call off the wedding and although I’m sure we’d both do things differently if we had it to do over again, I honor him for speaking up.  It takes courage to say the hard things, and I’m grateful that he did.

12 Comments

Filed under Spiritual Life

Depression

I dealt with depression for the first time when I was fifteen.  To be perfectly honest, it started because I felt so guilty.  I had snuck outside after all parents were asleep to make out with the visiting missionary’s older, wild, green-eyed son when they stayed with us for a week on a fund-raising tour.  He tasted like smoke and his sister kept bugging us to stop.  (Definitely weird, but a good way to keep your purity…)  I felt so guilty for what I had done that I went into a depression that lasted for months, even making myself physically ill.  I listened to a Margaret Becker cassette tape non-stop, singing about how God wasn’t afraid of my honesty.  I didn’t know what was wrong with me and tried to smile and act normal around other people, but inside I felt dead.  God gave a prophetic word to a youth worker one night in Bible study and she prayed for me.  That night my illness went away along with the depression.  I felt like a wet, thick, heavy blanket fell off my shoulders.  That’s when I realized I’d been depressed. 

During my freshman year of college I lived in a girl’s dorm.  Horrible, unspeakable nightmares became a regular occurrence.  When I woke up in the morning, I was so upset and disgusted that I laid in bed, paralyzed, unable to face other people, unable to look in the mirror.  I spent many days in bed crying and worrying that something was deeply wrong with me.  I went to the college counselor and she was as wacky as anybody I’d ever met.  Among other things, before I’d talked for 15 minutes she told me that my parents were total crap and had done everything wrong.  I knew that my parents had done a pretty decent job and while not perfect, were definitely not total crap.  I never went back.  But I had a dull ache inside and didn’t know what to do to make it better.  I fell in love that summer and thought for sure that the ache would go away.  I was blissfully happy and sure that I’d be married soon, but even then I knew something was terribly wrong inside.

When the boy I was blissfully happy dating dumped me, the dull ache became a seething wound.  I worked at a Tex-Mex restaurant and most of my memory of that year involves all the food I ate.  After eating an early dinner, I’d work for five hours, forget the dinner I already ate and eat again.  Fast food and Tex-Mex did it’s work quickly and within a year I gained 50 pounds.  I listened to country music and cried nearly every moment I was alone.  My parents tried to talk to me, but they assumed I was so upset about the break up because we must have had sex.  Their suggestion offended me because it insinuated that I shouldn’t be that upset if I hadn’t had sex.  Not that I would tell them, but I was still a virgin.  I was a mess and the heart-break was the only thing I knew to cry about, but I was crying for the dull ache and the fifteen year old girl and other things I had no way to understand at that point.  The wet, thick, heavy blanket was back with a vengeance. 

Somehow I managed to graduate from college within the expected four-year time period.  I’m still not sure how I did that.  I’d graduated high school near the top of my class and in college lost my academic scholarship and feared I might not graduate because you had to have a cumulative 2.5 GPA.  I think mine might have been a 2.6?  I knew something in my life had to change, so I moved to Nashville after college to pursue music and book publishing. 

By the grace of God, I ended up at a church that had a full-service counseling center for their members.  My sweet aunt, a psychiatric nurse, listened to my woes and expressed her concern.  She suggested I get professional help.  I was skittish after my one and only experience with a counselor, but since the church fees were income-based, I decided to give it a try.  The counselor faxed me a form to fill out before I came in.  The form requested all kinds of personal information and at the very top it said something to the effect of, “If you want counseling to work, be honest.  If you aren’t honest, we can’t help you.”  Cringing, I filled the form out honestly and faxed it back.  I remembered that statement and decided I was going to do it right.  But for safety, one of my first statements to my counselor went something like this:  “I come from a very good, Christian home.  My parents are just about perfect.  They did a good job with me, taught me the Word, and I love them very deeply.  Whatever is wrong with me is not their fault.”

That was the beginning of six years of counseling.  This counselor was a gift from God – down to earth, honest, and extremely talented.  Those sessions absolutely changed my life.  It was hard work, but I got to the root of my depression and was able to work through it.  The seething wound, which had begun to heal a bit with time, cleared up. 

I had one more bout with depression near the end of those six years when the man whose engagement ring I wore decided he wanted to date indefinitely.  He wasn’t ready to get married after all.  I started having a hard time getting out of bed in the morning and my jaw ached all the time because I constantly clenched my teeth.  My lovely counselor told me about something called an anti-depressant and my primary care physician gave me a six-month supply of samples. 

I was still sad and I still cried, but my sadness became manageable.  I could get out of bed and get my job done and maintain my friendships.  The side effects were fairly mild – sleepiness and a foggy memory.  It wasn’t bad, but I noticed at times I couldn’t recall the word I needed or it took me a little longer to figure out simple math.  I took it for six months, as my doctor and counselor suggested, and then I quit.  I felt like I could handle it at that point.  My grandfather passed away within a week of going off it, but even with that I had a normal level of grief.

I found out during my next doctor’s visit that it’s dangerous to go off those drugs cold-turkey.  You’re supposed to wean off them.  Not doing so can cause serious side-effects.  My doctor freaked out when I told him.  Thankfully I never experienced any problems.

A few years later when I was in seminary, I had another dark time.  I was sad and didn’t know why.  I did much soul-searching and wore out a good friend who is a therapist with questions and discussions.  I got to the bottom of the problem pretty quickly and dealt with it.  When I talked to my dad about it a few weeks after the darkness lifted, he said with compassion, “Oh Kimberly, it’s February.”  Huh?  He explained that the days are shortest in February, it’s cold and it’s been cold for a while, and the fun of the holidays has worn off, so many people get down in February.  Who knew?  My problem wasn’t simply the time of year, but that probably didn’t help.  Ever since then I’ve been on the look out for that wretched month and do my best to schedule fun, invigorating things then to ward off the blues. 

I read something in the book Hiding from Love by Dr. John Townsend a few years ago that has really helped my outlook on depression.  He basically wrote that depression is what happens when we get sad and can’t process the feelings.  Instead of dealing with the sadness, we get stuck, and that is depression.  Sadness is the antidote for depression.  When bad things happen, it’s normal to feel sad about them.  If we allow ourselves to feel the sadness and deal with it, then we move through it and return to normal.  When we don’t deal with it, we get depressed.   Sadness is a temporary, difficult feeling; depression is a black swirling hole of muck that tries to suck you in and hold you down. 

I had some sadness to deal with, but my experience of the world and normal human relationships was so limited that I didn’t know sadness was the correct feeling.  I acted like everything was normal and told myself I was fine.  But I needed to feel sadness so I could move on.  Instead I felt like the swirling black muck might suck me under.  My counselor helped me understand the way things happen in normal, healthy relationships and then helped me face the unhealthy, abnormal things I had experienced.  I got sad (and angry) for a while, but then I moved on.  I was able to forgive when I understood that my circumstances required some forgiveness and it was okay to acknowledge that fact.  In my case, the anti-depressant helped me function while I worked through some extremely sad and angry feelings.  Without it I’m not sure how I could have kept going to work and interacting with others.  I was thankful for it. 

Since reading that information, I have learned to allow myself to feel sadness when sad things happen.  I don’t like to cry because I really hate the cry “hangover” – pounding headache, puffy eyes, splotchy face, and blurry vision.  I also tend to think I’m strong enough to handle hard things and keep on going.  It’s hard to stop and let myself feel the sadness, to cry or scream or punch something.  But crying releases the stress and washes away the pain, so I allow myself to cry with a cold wash cloth and 2 Advil.  It helps.  And I allow myself to rest when I recognize that I’m in a stressful situation.  Oh, and I also exercise.  Boxing is really good to get out anger and long walks are good for clearing the head.  Long walks often help me to stop the tape playing repetitively in my head trying to make sense of something I don’t understand. 

The summer of 2009 was blissfully happy.  There was no underlying ache.  Life was simply good.  My relationship with God was thriving.  My job responsibilities brought me joy.  I had a lot of time with my incredible friends.  I even had a personal trainer.  I remembered when I got glasses in elementary school.  I hadn’t known how clear the world could look until it was suddenly clear and I realized how fuzzy it had been.  I hadn’t realized that some people go through most of their lives with this kind of clarity.  I savored it while it lasted.  The bliss faded as the temporary circumstances I was enjoying came to an end.  It was amazing while it lasted and I look forward to more times like that in the future.  Now that I know that it’s possible, I’m on the lookout for it. 

I know it’s not always that easy, but it’s my hope that throughout the rest of my life I’ll continue to learn and practice more effective ways of dealing with sadness and moving through it.  I hope I never have depression again.  I hope I never take an anti-depressant again.  But if something devastating happens and I’m struggling to get out of bed and take a shower, I’ll go back on them to get through the rough patch.  But if there is a next time, I promise to wean myself off them slowly.

I feel that it’s important to mention in closing that my experience is quite different from many people I have spoken with over the years.  I’m grateful that my depression has been treatable and manageable.  Unlike many others, I responded well to the first drug I was given.  The resources that were available to me to get the help I needed were priceless.  If you do not struggle with depression but know someone who does, I beg you not to tell them they simply need to pray more or should snap out of it.  If you feel it’s an issue of prayer, then YOU pray for them more.  If you feel they need to snap out of it, then be their friend and help them laugh and lighten their load in any way you can.  But please do not place a heavier burden on them then they already carry.  They would snap out of it if they could.  If they had the energy to pray more, they actually might.  Help them carry their burden and vent your frustrations to God.  That’s just my two cents, but of course this is my blog so you know that.  Thank you for taking the time to read my thoughts all the way to the end of this very long entry.  I welcome your comments.

7 Comments

Filed under Spiritual Life

Little Lessons over Coffee

When I was 24 years old, I got a wonderful job that included traveling all over the country hosting training seminars for pastors and church leaders. I loved that job. I loved flying, planning seminars, and negotiating contracts. I loved meeting church leaders. I loved being in charge of an event.

One thing I did not love about the job was the hours. I’m not a morning person. I don’t understand people who just roll out of bed with a big smile. Weirdos. I’ve tried all kinds of things to make myself more of a morning person but nothing works. When the alarm goes off, I always think there should be more time to sleep. Always.

So you can imagine my feelings when I discovered part of my wonderful job included being the first person at work in the morning. We fed the participant’s breakfast and it was my job to make sure the breakfast was ready to be served in the most time-efficient way to feed 200 people in 30 minutes.

I had to find a coping mechanism, so I decided to give coffee a try.

The only way I could drink the industrial strength hotel coffee was to lace it with lots of sugar and cream. I could be coherent after my first cup and effective after my second cup. I realized this coffee solution might work at home too. I bought a coffee pot and some fancy, flavored coffee. I was delighted to find that lacing fancy, flavored coffee with sugar and milk made it delicious. I quickly developed a habit.

Once it became a habit, I felt a little guilty about it. I don’t like to be addicted to anything, so it always kind of niggled at me every morning as I made it. I should stop this. It can’t be good for me. But I enjoyed the taste and the alertness it gave me. I didn’t stop drinking it, but my guilty feelings over it increased. I felt like it wasn’t good for me and I even felt like God wanted me to stop drinking it, but I didn’t listen. I have an over-active imagination at times and surely God didn’t actually care if I drank coffee. I told myself to stop being ridiculous.

I’ve always had a battle with something I shall here call “upset stomach.” I’ll spare you the details of “upset stomach,” but it was my constant companion from the age of 13. I could never pinpoint what caused this problem and decided it was just my cross to bear.

“Upset stomach” got worse in my late 20s. It caused me to pass out in the public restroom at work one afternoon. Then I read a book that had a description of my version of “upset stomach.” This book called my strange malady an anxiety attack. Anxiety? Me? I wasn’t trembling or fearful. I was strong and brave. But the symptoms were listed right there. I told my therapist about it the next day. She had me call my doctor and ask for a prescription for Xanax. She said to take half a pill when my stomach started getting upset and within 15 minutes it would be calm. Xanax, the wonder drug, put an end to “upset stomach” running my life. I used it sparingly and made 10 pills last for two years.

At the end of those two years I found myself in the middle of one of the most stressful times in my life. Things came to a head when I had a convergence of stressful situations in one afternoon.  I found myself hyperventilating in the back of someone’s car and it got worse from there. The next day I asked for a refill on my prescription. This time the 10 pills lasted one year. I began to have anxiety over the anxiety pills.

When those pills ran out, I didn’t get my prescription refilled. I went the “library” (Barnes and Noble) and picked up every book I could find on anxiety disorders. I scanned the books, looking for natural ways to relieve anxiety. I read that people with anxiety should not consume stimulants. It makes the symptoms worse. NO MORE COFFEE? Hmmm… That can’t be right. I don’t really have anxiety anyway: just the symptoms. (I can be slightly hard-headed at times.)

I learned some valuable things about how to deal with anxiety from my research, notably that my insistence that I wasn’t afraid or anxious was causing anxiety to come out in very aggressive ways. As I learned to deal with anxiety in a healthier way, my stomach got better for a while. I was still drinking coffee though, and eventually it got worse again, then better, then worse, and eventually much worse. During another very stressful time in my life, I found myself sick constantly. I couldn’t keep anything down. While I thought this might be a great weight loss plan, it was interfering with my life so much that I finally gave in. I stopped drinking coffee. Amazingly, my stomach issues stopped completely. I couldn’t believe how good I felt.

After a few months, I missed my hot delicious morning drink, so I decided to try decaf. I was pleasantly surprised to find it tasted just as good. I thoroughly enjoy a morning cup of cinnamon vanilla nut decaf with 2 teaspoons of sugar and a splash of half-n-half. Pure heaven… Guilt free!

During this Lenten season, I’m fasting from desserts. Not sugar, just desserts. The first morning of my fast when I made my coffee, I felt that little niggling feeling as I reached for the sugar that I was not to use it. Ridiculous! This is the good stuff and I’m not using much! But the feeling was still there, so I decided to only use one teaspoon – a little compromise to appease The Voice… I’ve heard that same voice every time I’ve made coffee since then. I reach for the sugar and argue with The Voice that there’s no way I can enjoy coffee, DECAF coffee, without a little sweetener. Surely one teaspoon won’t hurt anything.

My fast was extremely successful the first week. I didn’t cheated one time. The second week it was mostly successful. The third week it was mostly, technically successful, but the old food challenges suddenly raised their ugly heads again. (So I’m fasting from cheese, but not hamburgers and fries!) I thought the food challenges were over for me, but apparently they’re not. Sigh…

This morning as I went to make my coffee and reached for the sugar, The Voice came into my hearing very insistently. “This little rebellion is why your problem with food is back. Do not put sugar in your coffee this morning. Trust Me. You will enjoy it without the sugar.”

Fine! I thought as I slammed the sugar container back on the shelf. I won’t put sugar in my coffee and I’ll hate it and stop drinking even decaf! Is that what You want?

“You will like it,” The Voice said.

I poured my plain, decaf coffee into the travel mug and walked out the door sullenly. I started driving to work and took my first sip of the coffee I was sure would curl my toes. It tasted very nondescript, almost like hot water. I took another sip. The same. By the time I got to work, the coffee I was drinking had come alive in my mouth. I tasted aspects of the flavor I’d never noticed before. It was delicious.

I tell this little story on myself not to freak you out that God wants you to stop drinking coffee or eating sugar. I have issues with anxiety that make it difficult to function properly with caffeine in my system. I have issues with food that make it necessary for me to fully submit to God in that area. We all have issues in some area of our lives. I tell this story to address the issue of obedience.

How often do we continue walking headlong into misery because something God wants us to do doesn’t make sense to us? My own pride has kept me in chains for too long. Even if it hadn’t been God’s voice asking me to stop drinking regular coffee, what would it have hurt for me to stop drinking it? Even if it hadn’t been God’s voice telling me to stop putting sugar in my coffee, what harm would it have done for me to taste something I didn’t like? Instead of just trusting it was God’s voice I was hearing, I stubbornly clung to my own “common sense”.

I believe my issues with food are gone now. I believe that after today I will no longer struggle to comfort myself with food, I will no longer feel like I deserve an indulgent snack because of stress in my life, I will no longer avoid feeling lonely or hurt or rejected because I’m stuffing it down with pizza and cheeseburgers and whatever else I can find. I will no longer have a split personality toward food – enjoying healthy, organic food one moment and running through the fast food drive thru for food made of grease and sugar with no dietary value the next.

It is a new day – not because I stopped putting sugar in my coffee today, but because I started being obedient in the smallest thing.

7 Comments

Filed under Spiritual Life