Monday, September 30, 2013

the feeling helpless days

last month, i started spotting a week (to the day) after my period. i didn't think much of it, until it lasted a week and it became heavy enough to be another light period. two periods in one month? not a fan. i figured it was no big deal.

until the same exact thing happened this month. two periods in one month two months in a row is a little disconcerting to me, especially with all my hormonal problems.

so i made an appointment to see my doctor (my PCP) to discuss this with him, as well as ask about increasing my dosage of anti-depressants. i'm on effexor 37.5 mg right now and my therapist and i agree that i might need to go up to 50-75 mg, because my current dosage, although in the beginning worked wonders, is now merely taking the edge off... and i need more than just taking the edge off.

so he agreed to put me on 75 mg, but didn't have any thoughts on my two periods-a-month problem, except to go see an OB/GYN. he followed that by saying, "except what are they going to do for you? probably just put you back on birth control."

and i just started crying. it feels sometimes like i'm just running in circles. i'm trying so, so hard to break the circle, to find something that works, to get better. and it just feels like i'm back at the beginning: the birth control pill.

i don't want to get into details today about why i don't want to go on the pill. what is important is that it is not an option for me, and to many doctors it is the only option, which is so incredibly frustrating. it makes me so sad and feel so helpless that so many doctors won't look beyond the easy route. they won't invest in you as a person and understand why you don't want to go the easy way. the truth is, the birth control pill is the easy way, but it is not the best way. the truth is, the pill is only a band-aid and i want more than that. i want answers. i want to help my body from the inside out. i want to get to the root of it and fix it. the pill will not do that. it will only make everything seem better on the outside. no thank you.

so my doctor upped my dosage of effexor, which i'll try in a few days when i run out of my current dosage. i'll keep you posted on how that goes.

but in 3 weeks i turn 26, and i no longer have health insurance. what then?

how does a girl with so many health problems survive with no health insurance? and have i mentioned i'm broke? so even if health care all of a sudden becomes affordable, i can't even afford groceries right now, let alone any kind of health insurance.

so i'll be insurance-less. my doctor and i are trying to see if i can get a 90-day supply of my medication so i'm covered for a while, but he doesn't know if i'll be able to. and he still wants me to see an OB/GYN regardless, which i know is what i should do. however, i don't have an OB out here. i had one in denver that i loved. she was catholic like me and believed we could find answers outside of the pill. i have yet to find one like her out here. and i only have 3 weeks.

i left the doctor feeling so helpless and scared.

i just want to get off the roller coaster for one day. i want answers, i want to be better, i want to feel like there is hope.

and i know there is. i know Jesus is my hope, and my goodness have i learned to lean on Him through all of this. thank God for that. i know God is pouring grace over me. i know He is.

it's just days like today, it's hard to feel it. that's just the reality of it.

Jesus, be my hope. be my help.


and right after i posted this, i read this blog:

when your life feels like a little bit of a puzzle

with this quotation:

"depression isn't a cut that needs a bandage -- it's a cancer that needs a battleplan."

thank you to ann voskamp for these words that made me at least feel understood today.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

choosing joy

So, I hate to travel.

When it comes to my anxiety disorder, there is nothing worse than being in a new place, with new people, where I don't have a car, don't know my way around, can't make my own food... Basically, where I feel like I have no control.

I just took an 11-day trip to the east coast with my boyfriend. I don't even know how to begin writing about how amazing, exhausting, wonderful, emotional, anxiety-producing, joyful (etc.etc.etc.) it was. I feel like I've been gone for months. It started in Boston for his roommate's wedding that we were asked to sing and play at.

The first night in Boston, I had a huge panic attack. I got off the plane and was already upset about who-knows-what, got into the rental car with Michael and barely spoke a word, and once we parked at the hotel we would be staying at, I started sobbing hysterically saying, "I hate traveling. I don't want to be here. Why did I come here. What am I doing. I want to go home. I want to go home. I want to go home." And thus began the panic attack.

When I have panic attacks, I usually end up on the floor because I can't handle the weight of my own body and the floor is the only thing that feels sturdy enough to support me. So I wound up on the hotel room floor, sobbing and stuck on my tape: "I want to go home. I want to go home. I want to go home."

(I'll tell you more about how my brain plays "tapes" on repeat another day.)

I will be honest with you.

The rest of the night I was a total brat. I don't need to go into details, but suffice it to say I made the night awful for Michael, because in my selfishness, I didn't want to suffer alone.

The next morning, I had the realization of what I had put Michael through and I cried all over again, apologizing profusely over and over and over, even though Michael had already forgiven me. (This is what I call the PMDD hangover: realizing the morning after how awful you behaved the night before and feeling guilty, disgusting, and unable to forgive yourself.)

Michael forgave me and hugged me and told me it was time to make a choice: Was I going to make this trip a great one or a horrible one? I had the power to choose. 

I realized the best way to say "I love you" to Michael was to be the radiant self that I know I can be and that I know brings Michael so much joy. We were about to go to his roommate's rehearsal dinner and wedding the next day, and I could choose to be overwhelmed by all of these people that I barely knew and be miserable all weekend, or I could be the chatty, larger-than-life, bright and joyful woman that I know is really me, when I am not clouded by depression, anxiety, fear, sickness. And I chose it. I chose that girl.

But I didn't choose her for me. I chose her for him. I chose her for Michael. I chose her out of love and selflessness, not to feel better. Because love is an action and a choice, not a feeling. So even though I was feeling anxious, panicked, overwhelmed and more selfishly - that what I was going through was more important than anything or anybody else - I still chose joy.

I want to be selfless. I want to love. To actually love. Not to love when I feel the emotions of love, but to love when feels the most impossible. Because he loves me when it is the most difficult. It is when I am the most unloveable that he loves me the most and the hardest. (Sounds like what Love is supposed to be, doesn't it?)

It was this night when I realized what it actually meant to be selfless and love Michael: to choose something I didn't feel like choosing for the sake of his happiness and wellness.

And what joy when that choice ended up making us both feel more in love, happier, closer, and more alive. Praise God.

"In the first reading of the Eucharist today I heard: 'I am offering you life or death...choose life, then, so that you and your descendants may live in the love of Yahweh your God, obeying his voice, holding fast to him' (Deuteronomy 30:19-20).
How do I choose life? I am becoming aware that there are few moments without the opportunity to choose, since death and life are always before me. One aspect of choosing life is choosing joy. Joy is life-giving, but sadness brings death. A sad heart is a heart in which something is dying. A joyful heart is a heart in which something new is being born.
I think that joy is much more than a mood. A mood invades us. We do not choose a mood. We often find ourselves in a happy or depressed mood without knowing where it comes from. The spiritual life is a life beyond moods. It is a life in which we choose joy and do not allow ourselves to become victims of passing feelings of happiness or depression.
I am convinced we can choose joy. Every moment we can decide to respond to an event or a person with joy instead of sadness. When we truly believe that God is life and only life, then nothing need have the power to draw us into the sad realm of death. To choose joy does not mean to choose happy feelings or an artificial atmosphere of hilarity. But it does mean the determination to let whatever takes place bring us one step closer to the God of life.
Maybe this is what is so important about quiet moments of meditation and prayer. They allow me to take a critical look at my moods and to move from victimization to free choice.
This morning I woke up somewhat depressed. I could not find any reason for it. Life just felt empty, useless, fatiguing. I felt invaded by somber spirits. I realized that this mood was lying to me. Life is not meaningless. God has created life as an expression of love. It helped me to know this, even though I could not feel it. Based on this knowledge, I could again choose joy. This choice means simply to act according to the truth. The depressed mood is still there. I cannot just force it out of my heart. But at least I can unmask it as being untrue and thus prevent it from becoming the ground for my actions.
I am called to be joyful. It gives much consolation to know that I can choose joy."

--Henri J.M. Nouwen, The Road to Daybreak: A Spiritual Journey

Saturday, September 7, 2013

the days you remember you're still sick (or) behold, I make all things new

I've been on Effexor (an anti-depressant) for a little over 2 months now, and it really has done wonders for me. It's one of those things that I want to write about -- medication, I mean -- but today my purpose in writing is just sharing my current reality with you.

Last night, I went out to get drinks with two very dear friends. My friend, Mark, shared with me his story of depression. I already knew of his struggle, but last night's conversation went very deep and tears were shed and love and understanding and compassion were shared. It was a beautiful moment for both of us -- to remember that we are not alone. Someone understands. I don't want anyone to understand this sort of sorrow. This sort of feeling of being in prison, in hell, being tortured by your own body and mind. And I wish I was being over-dramatic. I wouldn't wish it on anyone. Ever. So to hear my friend share in this hell with me felt both like my heart was breaking for him and like I was looking in a mirror. So I wept, and he wept. I wept out of empathy, hurt, heartbreak, love, compassion, and to be honest, self-pity. I am so sorry for myself sometimes. (I think there are moments where that's a good thing and moments where that's a horrible trap. But that's for another time.) He wept because of his own pain, his own heartache, and after feeling so broken and so alone, someone could finally look him in the eye and say "I understand." 

I was able to understand and love him last night, and encourage him that everything was going to be okay. There were so many nights where all I wanted to do was die and here I am, on medication that is working for me and feeling like a healthier version of myself.

And then today I lost it.

There are days when I just feel like an utter failure. A total, complete failure. I want so badly to be "better". I want to be healthy, to be well, to be able to deal with life like a "normal" person. To be able to multi-task. Or remember things. Or be able to focus on more than one thing at time. To be able to not get overwhelmed to the point of wanting to die. I want to be a great girlfriend, the girlfriend who can be the encouraging, beautiful, supportive, gracious woman who I believe my boyfriend deserves. I catch glimpses of her sometimes. But when I am sick, when I am so overwhelmed and suffocated by lies and grief and sadness, I can't see her anymore.

Today I couldn't see her.

After a beautiful night where I felt so sure, so grace-filled, so whole, so ready to encourage my friend and love him through the darkness, there I was in the darkness myself once again, not 12 hours later.

I just moved to another city after spending the last 4 months with my parents and siblings in order to let my heart heal in a safe place. I am so scared to not come home to my sweet brother every single night. I am so scared to spend so much time alone. Alone with my own thoughts, my lies, my fears. Alone with my TV, the thing I cling to so desperately to not get inundated with darkness sometimes.

I just started a new job. I am so scared to fail. I am scared of hating it. I am scared of doing everything wrong. I am scared of everyone hating me. I am scared of not being good enough.

My best friend is getting married, and I am her Maid of Honor. Michael's roommate is getting married, and Michael and I are doing the music for the wedding. My aunt is sick with cancer and we are going back east to go to both weddings and visit her and my family. I have so much to do to prepare for all of these things that it feels impossible.

Everything just feels impossible.

And I just crumbled. I cried and cried until there were at least 30 crumpled up Kleenex next to my bed. And Michael stayed on Skype with me and told me to look at him and told me everything is going to be okay. I didn't believe him. I am done with the episode now and I can look at it and know everything is going to be okay. Everything is always going to be okay.

But when you're in an episode and the world is spinning and your head wants to explode and your body just aches to not feel so desperately sad -- you just don't believe that it will be okay.

There is a depression, a sadness, that is so physically painful that it actually feels unbearable. These are the moments that I feel like dying. These are the moments when I think I legitimately can't handle feeling like this -- it is too big, too much, for my body.

And I cry and cry, just hoping that the tears will get out of my body and take the sadness with them.

And I just feel like I failed. I was doing so well. I was so happy. I was so stable. And here I am, having an episode again. I'm still sick.

The truth is that I will always be sick. I have struggled with depression for 10 years and this will be a battle I will fight for the rest of my life. And I can kick and scream and bang on the walls of the prison cell.

Or I can let it be. And I can rest.

I know that Jesus is near me. I know He is carrying me. I know that this is my cross for a reason.

It is so that I can share my heart. So that I can weep with the broken-hearted. So that I can hold someone's hand and look them in the eye and say "I understand" and mean it, from the bottom of my aching heart. So that I can pray for people who are depressed with an earnest heart. So that I can encourage people who have lost faith to pray. So that I can teach people to understand mental illness better. So that I can love more fully, more deeply, more genuinely. So that I can experience joy in a way that most people could never understand. So that I can, hopefully, glorify God in my suffering.

All I want is to love Him and to be loved by Him. I can kick and scream and cry and stay in this prison and wallow in self-pity. Or I can let Him come into this prison with me and hold me.

I had a vision in April when I first decided to move home. It was a vision of myself - my whole body was like shattered glass, big shards of glass that would fit together like a puzzle to make up my body. But the pieces were all separated an inch away from each other. And from the inside of this glass was this huge light -- a light bursting from the inside out, pouring through these shards of glass and shining bright through all the brokenness.

That is who I long to be. Broken in body, but bursting with light in spirit.

My body will always be sick. But my soul will rejoice in the Lord, knowing that He has blessed me with an illness that brings me closer to Him. It is the way He makes me holy if I let Him. It is the way He loves me the most when I let Him. It is the way I can glorify Him best by His grace.

And so my soul shall rest in the Lord, knowing that in Him there is peace. There is joy. There is love. There is comfort. There is light.

"Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband; and I heard a great voice from the throne saying, 'Behold, the dwelling of God is with men. He will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself will be with them; and he will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain any more, for the former things have passed away.

And he who sat upon the throne said, 'Behold, I make all things new.' Also he said, 'Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true.' And he said to me, 'It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give water without price from the fountain of the water of life. 

...And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. 

And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine upon it, for the glory of God is its light, and its lamp is the Lamb."

--Revelation 21