My Eyes and Ears of Truth

I'm not sure it will ever be less frustrating to me that in my greatest hours of need, I cannot receive the comfort of the Spirit.  I can pray all day and all night, but when I am struggling with depression, I cannot feel Heavenly Father speak peace to my heart, especially about the hundreds of things it seems that I am failing at.  Often, this compounds my emotions as I think that maybe I am not feeling the Spirit, because I am not worthy of that precious gift. 

Over time, I have learned to accept that as hard as it is, my broken eyes and ears cannot see or hear truth on their own, and attempting to handle these episodes of heartbreak on my own only lead me further and further into despair.  So I have to rely on others.  There isn't really another choice. 

It's so hard to ask for help, because my brain feeds me the constant lies that all I do is burden others, that they don't want to help me, that I've asked for help too many times before, or that I am weak for not being able to handle this on my own.  It usually takes hours of struggle before I can find the courage to let someone in, but once I do, I am finally able to receive the truth that Heavenly Father wanted me to know all along-- the truth that I haven't disappointed Him, that He loves me, that He recognizes how hard I am trying even though it doesn't look like much in times of deep struggle, and that He is with me through the darkest of nights. 

My eyes and ears of truth might be broken along with my mind and heart, but Heavenly Father has blessed me with the most incredible people who can help be my eyes and ears, when mine can't give me the comfort I need in the most difficult times.

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Vulnerability Begets Vulnerability

One of the greatest blessings about how much I've struggled in the last month and how much I continue to struggle is the way that it has led me to be vulnerable out of necessity.  Things have never been so difficult or threatening before, so as a result, I have needed others more than ever before.  Being in a new place and surrounded by new people has presented an obvious obstacle to this need.  That is, unless I am willing to step far out of my comfort zone to open up and ask for help.  I have definitely grown in this ability in the last few years, but it has become incredibly harder recently knowing that no one here knows the real me yet, so exposing this broken version of myself without that foundation is frightening.  It makes me want to explain everything about my past and my story, but especially how this is not me.  I want to repeat that one truth all day, even though I know that getting to know someone simply takes time.

As I've been forced to be brave for the sake of my own life, I've seen something beautiful happen.  My vulnerability in opening up about my deep struggles has made way for others to feel comfortable sharing their deepest struggles as well.  And not only has this made me feel more comfortable sharing, because I've been reminded once again that everyone has some struggle and that depression is not something to be ashamed of, but it has also given me the feeling of such meaningful relationships, far beyond the surface level where most relationships begin.  I've felt an outpouring of love-- pure, unconditional love-- that has carried me through the darkest of nights recently, and I've felt support and companionship that has allowed me to know that I am not alone.

I'm not sure that it will ever get easier to be vulnerable, but the beauty of these most recent experiences has shown me that being vulnerable is definitely worth the few seconds of courage it takes to reach out for help, because the connection it creates lasts forever.

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For the first time in three weeks, my darkness suddenly lifted today.  We were randomly walking around Goodwill, when it felt as if someone had taken a huge weight of bricks off my heart.  I took a deep breath and let it out as a sigh of relief as I remembered once again that this isn't me.  There's something chemically wrong inside my brain, and it isn't my fault that this terrible darkness encompasses my heart so often.  I also sighed as I celebrated surviving another very dark, very painful storm.  I now have another success to add to my list of all the times I didn't think I could survive but I did.

Of course, I didn't do it alone though.  I am positive that I would never be able to do it on my own.  I feel so incredibly blessed to have earthly angels all around me who are willing to pray, text, talk, and serve me in those darkest hours, when I am in the most need of love and support. 

Sometimes when a storm passes, I feel overwhelmed at how dark the last storm was and how hard it is to imagine that the struggle is going to come back again.  But instead of looking to the future with worry, I have learned to just enjoy the light for as long as it lasts, since it might only last a few hours or days before my night comes again.

Right now, I feel so so thankful!  Thankful that I can breath easily again, thankful that I can feel and see things as they really are for a time, thankful that I get a break from the weeks of struggle that I thought would never lift, thankful that I've been given so many incredible blessings in my life, thankful that I'm even stronger now than I was before this latest storm, and thankful that I didn't give in or give up when all hope and light seemed lost.  I can do hard things, one dark storm at a time!

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My Christmas Miracle

These last few weeks have been among some of the darkest and most painful weeks of my entire life.  I have felt as if I have been fighting for my life every single second and constantly needing to remind myself that this will pass eventually.  I've struggled eating and have had several days in a row that I haven't managed to eat more than a few bites all day because of the extreme nausea caused by the unrelenting darkness.  I've woken up several times in the middle of the night and struggled to catch my breath because of the suffocating cloud of depression around me.  I've cried or felt just moments away from crying nearly every second I've been awake every day.  And hundreds of times each day, the unpleasant and unwelcomed thought has come into my mind that I should not continue on.  It has taken all the effort I have in me to push that thought away over and over and over again with little success in keeping it away.  To say that it has been exhausting and discouraging is not the adequate way to describe this experience, but those are the only words I can find to attempt to explain it. 

As Christmas Day came nearer and nearer, I prayed continually for a miracle.  I just wanted some relief for Christmas.  I wanted to enjoy the day with my family and not have to fight this continuous battle.  But on the days leading up to Christmas, the darkness continued, so I tried to focus on the great blessings all around me that were giving me the strength to persist and endure such heartbreaking pain.
  • On Sunday in church, several people mentioned light in their messages.  Each of these times brought immediate tears to my eyes as I was sure that what they were saying was exactly for me.  Being surrounded by thick darkness made even the word "light" bring flickers of hope to my broken heart that someday I really would feel and see light again.
  • I was asked to give the prayer for the end of our special Christmas service. While I hesitated in my mind to say "yes" because controlling my tears seemed like it could be an impossible feat, it also meant so much to me.  It felt like a special, tender way for Heavenly Father to help my heart know that this isn't my fault and that it doesn't make me any less worthy or valuable and that I still have something to offer even when I feel terrible.
  • My husband had a long weekend because of the holiday, which was a blessing in and of itself, because it was so nice to have him around on the days when I seemed to struggle the very most.  But on top of that, he did the dishes, laundry, and cooking while he was off, which took some of the heavy burden off of me, so I could focus on conquering the other burdens that no one could relieve.
  • Our family was invited to do some holiday things with other people.  As in years past, this meant so much to me so that I didn't feel like I was ruining my family's holiday celebration with my inability to do the little things that I would love to do if I was feeling well.  They didn't know I needed this, so it was very special.
  • Someone said something to me last week that gave me hope and allowed me to feel so capable of fighting this battle.  As I was explaining some of how I felt, they said, "You have been to the lowest point multiple times before, and then you've made it back up again every time.  You can do that again this time as well."  The strength that came from those words became a lifeline that I held onto.  They allowed me to feel courage and to know that I could win.
  • I have been given one of the best gifts recently-- the gift of new friendship.  And beyond that, I've been given the gift of understanding friends who care about me and want me to be okay, even though they hardly know me yet.  One person in particular told me that they read my blog, know about this struggle, and are on my side.  That alone has given me indescribable strength to know that I'm not alone here anymore.
  • I found a way to get a gym membership soon so that I can start exercising and hopefully start feeling a little better again.  It came about so randomly that I can't help but see God's hand in it.  We were invited over to someone's house and were talking about kids learning musical instruments.  I went to say something about this topic and started it with, "When I used to teach piano..." Immediately, the mom got excited to hear that I have taught before, because she has two kids who want to take lessons.  I agreed that I could probably do that.  Later, I was talking to someone else, and they told me about a wonderful gym in the area. When I looked up how much their memberships cost, I was a little overwhelmed, because it was more than I expected.  I didn't think there was a way we would be able to add that to our budget.  And then I remembered that I will be able to teach a couple of piano lessons, and the money I make from that will be the exact amount I need to get a gym membership!  Another sweet tender mercy that shows me that Heavenly Father is mindful of me and will help me do what I need to do to feel better.
I woke up Christmas morning and did not feel well, but I pushed through it for my family.  I was a little disappointed that I hadn't gotten "my miracle," but I was determined to make it a great day, so I carried on.  After spending the morning with my family and opening presents, I took my kids to the nursing home with some crafts we made to visit and make others smile.  It was all I could think to do to maybe help lift some of the heavy darkness on my heart.  We went to a few different buildings before ending in the biggest building there. It was lunch time, so we walked around talking to all our sweet new friends and giving them small and simple gifts.  When we got to the last table in the back, there was a couple who were obviously not residents but were visiting.  They asked who we were.  We told them that we just moved here and didn't know anyone so we were just visiting everyone.  The woman said something that brought tears to my eyes immediately and continues to do so now.  She said, "We were watching you with your kids going around visiting, and you simply radiated light.  We had to make sure we got to talk to you." I couldn't believe it.  Me, of all people, being in darkness, still shone light, and this wonderful woman took the time to tell me.  I'm not sure she'll ever know how much that meant to me right then.  We visited a while longer and then left.  My heart was beaming, as I was so gently reminded that I can still be a light for others, even when my heart is broken and doesn't know how it can go on.  I can still try to uplift others, and sometimes it uplifts me in the process.

I came home with a big smile on my face and more light in my world.  I got my Christmas miracle after all, just in a different way than I imagined.

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My Tribe

Although I often wish that depression wasn't a recurring problem in my life, I'm also thankful that this isn't my first rodeo.  By now I've learned that I need my tribe fighting with me and loving me through the terribly dark and awful times that sometimes accompany this chemical imbalance.  Moving away from my comfortable circle has been incredibly difficult, but in the last day, my new tribe has begun to form, and I'm so so thankful.  I'm thankful for the wonderfully caring people who love as the Savior loves, even when I often feel unlovable or easy to give up on.  I'm thankful that I don't have to do this alone, as I'm not sure that would even be possible.  I'm thankful for this Christmas season, for the beautiful music, the sparkling lights, and the strengthening hope that comes through the Light of the World.  Because of Him, there is no darkness so penetrating that it cannot be overcome.  Even when everything hurts so much and the darkness makes me nauseous and physically sick, I know that it won't win, because I have the Savior, my family, and my tribe here to lift up my weary heart and give comfort, encouragement, and strength when I need it most.


Finding Joy Through Family

"It's a bad time of year to move."  My husband has said this a few times, and I completely agree.  I always struggle with more depression during the winter, so moving to a new place with new people just after I started to experience depression again and during the winter (not to mention also having a baby who has had a terrible adjustment and is not very happy and doesn't sleep) has been very difficult. 

Some people who know me and know about this struggle have asked how I have been doing since moving.  And when they've asked, I've been fine that day or hour or minute, so I haven't thought to tell about the other days and nights filled with tears and prayers and talks with my husband.  That's one of the confusing things about depression.  I can be just fine one minute, thinking that maybe the depression wasn't real or wasn't as bad as I thought it was in the moment, and then crying the next.  And when I'm struggling again, it seems like it's been forever, like I never actually felt well and will never feel well again. 

One thing I've been so thankful for recently is the fact that we may have uprooted our whole lives and experienced so much change in the last month, but we're together as a family doing it.  I don't have to do this alone, and I find so much comfort and joy in having the most important people in my life right here where I need them to be.  I can get through another dark winter knowing that I have my family to love me through it.


Finding Joy Through Accepting Things As They Are

A few posts back, I wrote about this part of me that is broken.  It's a very specific part and very difficult for me to explain or for anyone else to understand.  Very few people know about this, and it will probably stay that way forever.  It's not really something I want to try to explain anymore, as it only leaves me more frustrated that there is no way anyone can understand it or know how to help.  I'm not sure if there is even anything to help it, besides someday having my heart healed and made whole in the arms of the Savior, a promise that I hold onto with all I have.

Sometimes my heart cries out, "No one understands, and no one will ever understand!"  That is so scary to me.  With all the people in this world, no one can get inside my heart and feel it as I do.  I can try to put it into words, but those are always inadequate.  There is no way to form words to explain the depth of pain that this one thing has caused me. 

But time and time again, when I am on my knees telling Heavenly Father that I am so alone, He speaks peace to my heart and mind through the Spirit reminding me that someone does understand perfectly, and that someone is the Savior.  He doesn't just understand depression, He understands my depression.  And He understands, because He actually felt what my depression feels like.  He did that by choice, so that He can give me the wonderful gift of saying that He really truly does understand.  I'm so thankful for that! 

While I can't put into words what I feel and will possibly never be able to, I find so much comfort and joy in accepting that the Savior is the only who understands, and that's okay!  That's all I need.  And when the pain seems too great to bear, I picture myself in His arms, gaining strength and courage from His perfect love.

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How Do You Do It?

How do you do it?  How do you move somewhere far, far away surrounded by complete strangers and attempt to help them get to know you for who you really are when who you really are isn't quite there at the moment?  How do you tell someone that at the moment you have this dark, gloomy cloud hanging over your head, but it isn't you, and it's just this small and sometimes large piece of who you are called depression?

I keep thinking about this, especially as it seems that my dark cloud is intruding more of my day, not just the evenings like it has been the last several weeks.  I know I'll be okay; I just don't know how I'll do it yet.

How do you tell that first person that this is your struggle?  How do you know who is "safe" to tell and who just won't get it?  How do you know who else is silently struggling and wishing for someone to understand, someone to be a friend, when all of this is such a hidden pain?

My mind keeps turning back to when we first moved to Iowa.  It was such a hard move on me.  I was convinced that I was the only person in the whole state who struggled with depression.  (Yes, I really did think that ridiculous thought.)  Come to find out there were people all around me who understood and had felt the same pain, but I didn't know that at first.  So I hid it, kept it to myself, and attempted to bury it deep, but it got worse and led to the very first time when I really thought there was no hope.  It was a terrifying, exhausting time that I don't want to repeat.

In some ways, things are different now.  I've opened up way more now than I ever did before we moved to Iowa, mostly thanks to this blog which has allowed me to write freely and openly with less fear of how I'll be received.  I've learned to not be ashamed of mental illness, as it is a struggle just like any physical struggle.  My eyes have been opened to just how many people struggle with this darkness, even people I never would have expected.  I've learned that speaking up blesses me as well as those around me who need to know that they are not alone.

But how do you do it?  How do you take that first big, scary step of telling someone?  How do you swallow the fear that they might judge you for it or think it's your husband's fault or never see past it to who you really are?  How do you bring up something that so many people feel awkward talking about, including me sometimes when I realize that the other person feels uncomfortable?

I don't have any answers, and the thought of leaving all the wonderful people who understand and love all of me seems overwhelming.  I know I'll be fine somehow.  I just wish I didn't have to start over.


Finding Joy in Opposition

Lately, I've been thinking a lot about this sweet boy.  I love him so much, and I don't mean to complain, but he has been challenging.  He's very rarely happy for more than just a few minutes at a time, and he cries more than any baby I've ever known. 

But that's not the part I want to focus on.  I want to focus on how his nearly constant crying has taught me to be thankful for opposition.  You see, whenever he is happy, I immediately drop everything I am doing to talk to him, see his cute smiles, hear his adorable coos, stare into his beautiful blue eyes, and take in every second of his happy times, knowing they are fleeting and will soon turn into cries again.  They are the highlights of my day, and I feel myself absorbing them and trying to tuck them into my memory to remember forever.

One evening, I was really struggling.  I was explaining to my husband how it's hard that my good times are getting shorter and farther between, and it's likely to continue this way for a long time.  That's so hard to accept and embrace.  But then my mind turned to my sweet baby boy and how his frequent sadness has made me appreciate his fleeting happy moments so much more.  The light clicked in my mind.  My days might be filled with darkness, sadness, and lack of energy now, but boy have I learned to love and cherish and be thankful for the moments that aren't like that.  The sudden boosts of energy are so refreshing.  The days when I am not on the brink of tears all day are beautiful.  The times when light seems so clear and bright are rejuvenating.

But would I appreciate these the way I do if darkness was not part of my life's story?  Would I know exactly how wonderful those moments are if I didn't know how heartbreaking and painful the opposite can be?

Just writing that makes me feel so blessed.  I never would have known to be so thankful, and that brings me incredible joy.


Finding Joy in Brokenness

There's this piece of me that is broken.  So broken that time and time and time again, the bandaid over this unhealed wound is suddenly torn off and the raw, damaged patch of hurt is exposed once again.  It doesn't make sense, this brokenness.  But it is there, and I continually try to make sense of it.  Sometimes I cry out in desperate loneliness, realizing that no one in the world can possibly understand this piece of me that even I don't understand.  I often pray that it can be healed, taken away, made better, or at least made understandable to me.  But it remains.  And it might always remain until my broken brain is made whole someday. 

At times when the hurt seems unmanageable and the pain feels like it will engulf me, God answers my prayers, not by taking away the hurt or the pain, and not even by helping me to understand it (I'm not sure there is much to understand about it), but by giving me someone to sit with me in that dark moment until I can find a portion of light again.  Most often, this is my angel husband, the man who loves, cares, and comforts me like no one else can. 

I usually try to avoid telling him why I can't stop the tears from falling, because it hurts to admit that I'm no more healed at that moment than the last time this happened, but when he wraps me in his perfectly loving arms, I know that he is my safe place, and that no amount of frustrating sorrow can come between me and him. 

Over the last six years, five of which have been years of struggling with depression, I have learned so much about joy.  That finding joy is possible, even in the darkest times.  That joy is not about my circumstances but about my perspective.  That joy is a matter of faith in God's perfect plan, even if that plan includes many, many evenings with a splotchy face and puffy, red eyes.  That finding joy takes effort, but the result of increased faith and an overwhelming sense of God's mindfulness of me is so worth that effort.  That joy somehow turns my feelings of bitterness into feelings of gratitude.

I had one of those broken moments tonight, but what started out as a desperate prayer filled with hurt and tears later turned into a prayer of gratitude for the wonderful man God has given me to help me find joy, even in my brokenness.  And once again, I am reminded that finding joy is always possible.