Peaks and Valleys

megan-peterson-sedona

It’s 2 am and a jolting spasm curves up my legs to the lumbar region of my spine. Painful is not how I would describe the sensation, but is certainly uncomfortable. My room is spilling over with an abundance of pillows. Body pillows, wedge pillows, foam pillows, small pillows, big pillows, flat pillows, fat pillows; if it’s on the market I own it. As I turn over my stomach gnaws at me urging me upright. Saltine crackers and anti-nausea medication have become a staple in my diet. I’m constantly fluctuating between a state of feeling ill and running low-grade temperatures and not being “ill “per say but not feeling like myself. I definitely do not feel like myself. My body has a vast list of symptoms and my emotional state is far from what would be typical for me. Some may call it PTSD, or post surgical depression, generalized anxiety, etc. Label it what you want, I am simply in a place where my mind and emotions have now caught up to my body, and it is a tough place to be. Everyone tells you it will be great to be on the other side of it, and I know what they are trying to say…but being on the other side is the time you finally have a moment to breathe and internalize what has happened. For anyone who has gone through a major medical challenge, you know what I’m preaching and you know how tough it truly is. Grateful to be healing, but struggling to let your emotions run their course

As physical healing increases my emotional and spiritual health is challenged. I’ve gone through the fight, I’ve gone through the trauma and now “the dust settles”. It’s kind of like this:

  • Pre-Tumor – What is wrong with me? Am I overly concerned about how I feel? I know something is wrong with my body but 3 Doctors have told me I’m fine. It’s anxiety, or a pinched nerve. It will pass.
  • Doctors Office– Okay I have a tumor. SHIT I have a tumor. In my spinal column? I didn’t even know that was possible. I have to have surgery. I have to have it in less than 2 weeks. I have to tell my family. I don’t know if it’s cancerous. I don’t know where it came from. I should have listened to myself sooner. I should have known I had a tumor. How could I not know?
  • Surgeons Office- You have no medical options. You are at risk for paralysis, death, spinal fluid leaking, and permanent nerve damage. We need to do an emergency surgery. Those are the only words I heard.
  • Post-Surgery– Primarily terrifying for the first 3 days. Pain beyond belief the 7 days following.
  • Home Recovery– After a few tough days I made a steady increase of improvement and I still am. Physically I began healing extremely well. Now we are at week 4 and I’m just beginning to internalize some of the more difficult emotional aspects of what has happened. It’s as if my body said…okay…we can only take care of one trauma at a time so all of our resources are going to be toward healing your body to a place of stabilization. Now that I’ve reached that foundation my emotions have kicked in and are running ramped. So, what is next?

First and foremost I will not make myself to believe I shouldn’t be feeling these things. I’ve I’m withdrawn and processing the experience it is okay. If I don’t face the emotions and memories now I will not find peace. I will not “just” pray about it. I will feel it. There is no shame in being in a relationship with a living God, receiving his grace, being grateful for his mercy, and STILL not being “Okay.” Too often we tell people who are going through something traumatic to “just pray about it” or instead of saying “what can I do for you?” Granted, not everyone can do something, and often times even if you reach out the person processing a trauma will not really know how to receive help, but the actual act of REACHING OUT is what is important. It is another example of the strength that comes with community. It says, I see you, I hear you, I care about you, and helping you in some way no matter how small is a priority.

If you’re wondering if I’m saying this because I feel somehow that my friends have not reached out, just know, that is not the case. I’m saying this specifically because I now know that had the people in my life not reached out in community I would not be where I am in recovery. My friends in the area here and beyond have been so attentive and receptive to my needs, and for that I am more grateful than they know. I’m also communicating this because often when we are the one wishing to reach out and not the person/family in trauma it feels awkward and uncertain. What can I do? What do I say? Will I bother them if I call? What is their greatest need?

Call. Ask. Be uncomfortable. It is important.

 Being in authentic community with one another takes work. It does not always fit our schedule and we have to be resourceful with our time, energy, and even funds at times. Authentic community breeds on our willingness to admit that we need each other’s encouragement, honesty, joy, and occasional tough love. I think there are too many people skimming through life in surface relationships that leave little room for personal and spiritual growth. Instead of “just saying it” whatever “it” may be, we skate around and try to figure out how to be in the relationship without being vulnerable to rejection and/or discomfort.

My journey through this trial has been a series of peaks and valleys. I’ve had moments of profound gratefulness and I’ve had moments of resentment coupled with a handful of self- pity. I’ve had days where God’s Grace overwhelmed me and I’ve had days where I’ve been angry with God that this had to happen, and of course I’ve felt shame for feeling that way. After all, have I not had my prayers answered? Can I not here and testify God’s faithfulness? Am I not an example of his love? Sure I am. But, as I said before, I will still allow myself to process, to feel, and to be. However that may look, it is okay. God has taken me through the valleys and he’s asked me to wait on his timing, and if I’ve learned anything from this it is that HIS timing IS perfect. Had it been even a month later I would not likely be where I am. I certainly would not be healing the way that I am. I would not have had the surgeon I did, nor the wonderful nurses. God’s timing is perfect. He does not bring the pain but he will pull you through it. All we have to do is show up, walk with him through the peaks and valleys, and breathe. Everyday. Thank you for your love and for being in community with me. We are Christ to one another.

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Depression: Why We Stay Stuck

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The silence isn’t quiet, nor is it innocent. It’s not the type of silence you relish as in nature. Contrarily the silence carries with it chaos so insistent you cannot begin to organize yourself in such a way as to address it. Depression is not something you are but rather something that is. A spirit so dense it consumes, fogs, and corrupts even the brightest of minds. Depression is not the overgeneralized commercials during primetime television. Depression runs deep, and it’s dark, and it is so lonely. In fact, I think that what penetrates depression above all else is the feeling of loneliness that completely engulfs your state of being. I hear a lot of chatter about “breaking the stigma” of mental illness. Is this necessary and is it true? Absolutely. Is medication appropriate in treating depression? Absolutely. Granted, medication may not be for everyone, and I don’t think it is meant to sustain us, but there is of course irrefutable evidence that depression is impacted to various degrees by serotonin levels in our brain. Here are some aspects of depression I think we sometimes fail to talk about that are (in my mind) relevant. Mental illness is a touchy subject because you don’t want to be “that insensitive jerk” who “just doesn’t get it”. Most likely, we can all say we have experienced depression, but that does not mean we all experience or respond to depression the same way. Therefore, every person to some degree has his or her own definition of depression.

For me, college was a time of what felt like never ending trials. Particularly in my second year of school I had made some poor choices in relationships. School was time consuming but it wasn’t challenging, and I wanted a challenge. Being away from my friends and family who were familiar became a bit of a strain, at this time, mostly because I had not met who would be my true friends yet. Instead I found myself in one of those “it will never happen to me” situations. The details of that situation are not explicitly the point here, but rather, the depression that followed. As I attempted to “manage” my situation, my situation managed me. Everything that I thought I knew about myself shifted, and I entered crisis mode. My spirit was resting on a bed of emotions I had not welcomed willingly. In a sense it is safe to say that this situation was imposed upon me. This is not to say I did everything right, but, I certainly did not consciously invite the pain. Regularly I felt a combination of the following emotions, as I believe most who have suffered depression do.

  • Anger
  • Anxiety
  • Grief
  • Shame
  • Loneliness
  • Self-Pity
  • Sadness

 

Depression: Finding Myself Again

 When I was severely depression I was detached from my family, my friends, and myself. No one could help me, no god could save me, and no amount of coursework could distract me from the darkness I dwelled in. Above all, I was angry. My anger and anxiety raged in a way that made me unrecognizable to myself. I played and endless game of “What if?” and “Why me” with myself. Had it not been for the mentorship of one of my professors I would have made the choice to drop out and head for the hills, leaving behind a full academic scholarship. I had zero appreciation for anything or anyone and all I really wanted was to take sleeping pills earlier in the evening than I should have. I began to resent life itself, I was tired of jumping through emotional hoops everyday, all day, just to get by. Let’s skip ahead about 8 months, because I don’t have time to write about it and you don’t have time to read about it. Down the road I began to resent myself, instead of my situation. Everything I thought I was projecting outward and was the victim to I was actually taking in. The situation I had been dealing with had greatly altered my state of being, yes…but…the truth is I had not done anything to help myself. I suppose you could say I accepted the “victim role.” I had to begin to be honest with myself. After months and months of just surviving I came up for air long enough to look at the situation differently. Instead of being angry, I could use the pain to gain wisdom. Instead of shaming myself for what had happened, I could be gracious toward myself for eventually putting an end to the chaos. Instead of living in a cycle of self-sabotage I could use the trial to propel me in pursuit of academic/professional goals. Instead of being lonely, I could reach out to relationships I trusted. I did have options. Depression was no longer something I could take anymore of. True emotional rock bottom is not depression, it is when depression becomes so paralyzing that you are compelled to get up and move toward healing.

Why We Stay Stuck

The last statement in the above paragraph is the premise of this answer. I believe both from personal experience and from the testimony of others that people who never come out of a depression stay stuck for this reason; they begin to claim themselves as such. Instead of saying “I’m suffering with depression” it becomes a constant state of “I am depressed.” It becomes easier to identify with the emotion(s) or state of depression as opposed to acknowledging the depression without identifying with it. In other words, do not become friends with your depression. I realize to some that may sound asinine, after all, why would you want to befriend depression? Well, you wouldn’t. That much is obvious. What I am implying is that when we stay stuck for so long it becomes easier to stay stuck. Instead of being vulnerable with others and trusting the process of testifying to our emotions we keep them “safe” inside where they are in fact festering, multiplying, and slowly bringing us closer to seeing a “normalcy” to depression. Depression is not normal and is not something we are. It is, however, a very real struggle with very real debilitating symptoms. I am in no way undermining the severity of depression but I am suggesting something that a Doctor would not tell you to be true, has some truth. Keep in mind, I am telling you as much as I am reminding myself. I had in essence become so comfortable with being depressed that I enabled my own fall. Naturally as I began to slowly leave the fog of depression and recognize some of these patters (not alone mind you, I did reach out to an older mentor) I was able to process some of the emotions that were overwhelming me. Nothing happened over night. Truthfully the depression became worse at first, because it was now fighting for a place in my soul. One part of me was trying to rise up, while one part of me wanted to stay down. One part of me knew what the victim looked like, while the other part of me wondered what the more mature version of myself on the other side might look like. Nonetheless I’ll tell you what I did, and how I recovered, again I’ll note…very slowly.

Recovery

In an effort to make a long story short I can sum it up this way: God orchestrated a relationship that arrived in perfect timing. I am to this day very close to the individual who took me in and helped me recover. She has a family, a very active and busy family at that. Yet, she recognized something in me I could not see at the time. Her and her husband took me in, insisted on it actually. I slept on the couch, or in the guest room. I came and went at my leisure. I did my best to hold it together around her kids, but overall I was a wreck. She showed me a love like Christ just as I was. She did not expect anything from me expect that I work on getting better. To this day, I’m not sure that had I not put a step of faith forward to engage in that opportunity for relationship I wouldn’t still be depressed. Let me be clear: She didn’t “Cure” my depression, but she did facilitate an environment/support system that enabled me to safely address my depression. I realize not everyone, probably not even most people, will be blessed with that. However, at the end of the day I had to stand up for myself. I had to choose where I would lean, and I chose to lean into my faith. Instead of trying to “manage” I began to (slowly) let Christ fight for me. It may sound dumb, but it is so true. If you can’t relate to or take away anything else from this blog for yourself remember this; you will either become comfortable being a victim or you won’t. There is no in between. I’m not suggesting you don’t go through the depression, but I am insisting that you reach out and let someone help you get to the place of not becoming a friend of depression. For me, I believe that the relationship I had was Christ’s way of using my friend as an instrument to do just that; help me say goodbye to the friend depression had become. In my experience it became another example of God’s Grace to me; his never ending pursuit of me, and his willingness to meet me in a way I could receive him at that time. My story is just one of many stories. Whatever your story may be, do not give up hope, and do not befriend the darkness that buries your spirit. Be strong, be present, and expect Grace to guide you to a new season