National Best Friend Day

June 8th is National Best Friend Day.

According to whom, I’m not sure – either greeting card or calendar companies. “Best friend” implies exclusivity, which I don’t want to do. No matter, as this day gives me a chance to reflect on wonderful women friendships.

Female friendships are a beautiful thing, and I’ve had the privilege of having many of them over my life. Here are a few, tho’ I’m leaving off names so as not to miss anyone. Still, I’ll throw in some pictures for fun.

In high school, I had two best friends but I had many others who were very important to me. And I’ve reconnected with a few of those, thanks to Facebook! It’s fun to see these old friends’ families and celebrations via photos and posts, and even catch up with the rare phone call.

In college, I had great friends – one I met at Freshman Orientation, and we still text regularly and our families have been together a handful of times. Another I’ve seen over the years for a few visits, and one I just exchange Christmas cards with. A couple I’ve lost track of, unless I look them up specifically on Facebook – they don’t show up on my feed, but I remember them fondly.

I’ve been very blessed in my adult life with amazing relationships. My husband and I are lifelong friends with one of the first couples we ever hung out with as adults – we’ve been camping together for over 25 years and even travelled in France together!

We stay in touch with other couple friends from those days of early family life, though we don’t get out West to see them since we moved to Wisconsin 23 years ago.

When we first moved back to the Midwest, we met another couple and instantly connected with them – more lifelong friends.

I had the opportunity to form close relationships with women at Bible Study at my church – in leadership and ministry and doing life together. I talk with one woman from that time every week! Lifelong friend! I formed special relationships in my neighborhood – by the garden or by the backyard swing set. I became friends with women who were my kids’ friends’ moms. I made close bonds with women I prayed with through my years of Moms In Touch. And I’ve mentioned before the amazing women I worked with in my jobs at the Church and the Children’s Museum.

We moved south, and I formed all new relationships. And it took time, but even the short year we lived in Florida brought several close friendships with marvelous women.

And now I live in the East – in Virginia – and I have more women influencers in my life.

Most of these women have been incredibly encouraging to me as I’ve walked through depression over the past 12 years. So many friends I’m thinking of as I write these words! Perhaps I should buy a stack of cards and send them to all these amazing women. This blog post is certainly a “Thank you!” to them!

I’m very lucky to have a best friend through all of these years – my sister. She’s amazing – a great mom, a talented writer, a hard worker, a generous woman, a fabulous friend. I’m proud to have her as my bestie.

Happy National Best Friend Day, Stace!

5 a.m. Musings

I woke at 4 a.m., laid in bed for an hour. These were the things going through my head:

  • Jack Johnson’s Banana Pancakes song (just the words I know)
  • Does Starbucks have pumpkin bread or muffins? I have to take the car in this morning for a front end alignment; maybe I’ll stop first and treat myself to a mocha and pumpkin bread.
  • What should I take to S’s on Saturday? Brownies? Something pumpkin? (back to thinking about Starbucks)

Then I decided to focus my thoughts on times during depression when I felt relief:

  • Taking a nap at B’s house – I remember laying down on her couch, a throw pillow under my head, her blue chenille-weave blanket over me. I felt so safe and sleepy.  I must have made her whole family, including her two teenage boys, tiptoe around, because I didn’t wake for over an hour. I remember B doing dishes at the sink as I sat up. Her smile at me – just the best thing a weary friend could see. Do you remember that, B?
  • My husband’s arms wrapped around me. Standing in the kitchen with my back up against the counter, and he pulled me towards him. I tucked my arms next to my sides, so he was completely around me, and I put my head down on his chest, under his chin. I felt safe, supported, enclosed. I knew he was with me through this thing called depression – his hug, and holding me, proved I wasn’t alone. I still like that position of a hug, with me wrapped completely up in his strong arms. I feel so safe there.
  • Walking into Ted‘s office (my therapist) – the stillness of the room; the sensation of taking off the invisible heavy backpack with the weight and cares of the world, and laying it beside my purse; sinking into the cushions, usually clasping a throw pillow to my chest (part comfort, part protection of my vulnerabilities that I will be sharing). He sits across from me. He smiles and I can feel the tension of the world leave my shoulders. For a few times, I sat in the rocking chair with the cream-colored fluffy blanket – the rocking motion is still soothing to me. But I prefer the couch, where I can sink down into the cushions, put my head against the back, and slouch behind my pillow. Soft glow from the lamps. A candy dish on the table. Kleenex within reach. I look up to the windows at the top of the wall – stare out at the clouds and branches. The quiet is almost tangible, like the room is doubly insulated against the terrors and pressures of the outside world, where my depression has me in its grip. But this is a safe place, and I can talk about my fears and sadness here.
  • Later, walking into Elizabeth‘s office (my therapist when I moved to FL) – the beauty of the room, the cheerful patterns.  Though my need wasn’t as strong, she had throw pillows for me to clasp, to hide behind. Her gentle voice. Her soft words of encouragement and prayer.

Now, it’s almost 4:45 a.m., and I start thinking about my previous post on Scripture, particularly Philippians 4:6-7, NIV:

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

I think more on this verse, and how it has helped me, just not when I was in my deepest depression.  In my “lighter” versions of illness, I can quote these verses and feel some relief. But I’ve also come to realize that the second part of this – the promise of God’s peace – isn’t necessarily an immediate response to the first part – the praying and petitioning. The peace comes eventually, but not necessarily immediately. This in itself is comforting to me, since I felt like I was failing somehow, when I didn’t sense God’s peace after begging Him to help me not be anxious, even after thanking Him for depression and all it was teaching me. To realize that I didn’t immediately feel peace, the peace promised in verse 7, I felt like I was failing at trusting God for my relief and His peace. But now, to realize that the peace of God, which is beyond my understanding, will come and take its place in my heart eventually, is great relief.

Now it’s 5 a.m. I think I’ll get up and write this all down.

How am I doing with what I’m supposed to be doing? part two

As I mentioned before, there are things that I can do, even with depression, to help ease its symptoms. If I’m in remission, those tasks are much easier to carry out. Here are some more thoughts on the steps, and how I do (or don’t do) them with depression in remission versus when it’s full-blown.

  1. It’s important not to isolate myself – to keep up social interaction and positive supportive relationships. This is near to impossible when I’m in the middle of a depressive episode, since all I want to do is be alone, preferably in the dark with the covers pulled over my head. I’ve learned to lean on the folks who know about my struggles, and admit to these friends that I’m having a tough time. They know what to say and when, and how to gently push me to reach out or when to leave me alone.
  2. If I’ve learned anything in my years in and out of depression, I’ve learned the importance of making space in my day, and not pushing myself too hard. It’s critical that I reduce my stress, make my to-do list shorter, and pace myself. I am already my harshest critic (that comes naturally to me, and is amplified with depression) and it’s easy to beat myself up about the things I should do that I don’t get done. But I’m learning to cut myself some slack, practice some relaxation techniques, and even nap if I need to.
  3. A piece that is very important to fighting depression is adopting an “attitude of gratitude.” It’s been proven in studies that folks who practice daily gratitude, perhaps writing things to be thankful for in a journal, have reduced depression and anxiety. It’s impossible to thank God for blessings and be anxious at the same time! Gratefulness also combats negative thinking, which is a huge issue for me when I’m depressed. I ruminate, mull, dwell and judge myself very harshly, and the negative thinking spirals quickly downward. But if I can stop myself, take the negative thoughts captive to Christ (from 2 Corinthians 10:5), and focus on His blessings right now, living in the moment with gratitude, I can slow the negative thinking and self-condemning thoughts before they get too far gone.
  4. I’m told repeatedly by my therapists and doctors to do the things that I used to enjoy, even though depression means that I don’t want to do anything. This is actually a diagnosing symptom of depression – not wanting to do things that used to be enjoyable. Other ways to combat this inertia are to reach out to others – recognize someone else’s need and offer help, maybe even volunteer in a serving capacity. I’ve found it true – thinking about someone else takes my mind off myself, and I can be distracted from depressive thoughts as I try to meet someone else’s needs.
  5. Maintaining an active faith life is critical in my fight against depression. I have to regularly remind myself that Jesus knows and understands how I feel, and He loves me completely, unconditionally, anyway. I’m not always able to concentrate well enough to read my Bible, so I have several other tools that help. I have a couple of books that are simply Bible verses to read “when you feel … (sad, anxious, depressed, lonely, etc.).” I listen to a lot of praise and worship music, and even have made some playlists appropriate for my moods. Lastly, the Holy Spirit will bring Bible verses to mind that I have read or memorized over the years. I may not be able to find and read them from the Bible, though, so this is a reminder to me to hide God’s Word in my heart (Psalm 119:11) – I never know when I might need it!
  6. It’s important to continue to take my medications as prescribed, and to avoid alcohol (a depressant). There’s really only been one time when I really wanted to quit taking my medicine – I think I felt like it was all useless (that’s the depression talking). It’s important, too, to follow my treatment plan and meet with my doctor and therapist – they will encourage me to keep taking these steps. It’s important to have their help to stay on track.
  7. Finally, I need to really listen to myself, and have those closest to me help me identify if I need immediate help. If I feel like hurting myself, if my mood worsens quickly, if I descend and can’t get back up, I need to get professional help. My therapist has been great to be available when I need help quickly – I am grateful for her!

So, that’s a lot to do to keep healthy – a total of 10 steps to take when including the top three from my earlier post (sleep, healthy diet, exercise). And it’s a lot to be intentional about, so it is helpful to form these habits when I’m in good mental health, so they aren’t completely impossible when I’m fighting a depressive episode.

What are some steps that you take to fight depression? What advice do you have to others who struggle?

 

 

 

Not So Lonely

I woke this morning feeling very lonely. The word kept echoing in my head. Lonely. Alone. Maybe I should just stay in bed – who would miss me? Ahh, the self-pity kicked in.

I used that word on Monday to describe myself to my psych doc, and I think that just made it come true (self-fulfilling prophecy). I felt it all day yesterday, too.

As kitty Annabelle rubbed on my legs and plopped down at my feet, I sat down to pet her. “You’re my friend, aren’t you, Annie?” Then I prayed that maybe God would help her want some cuddle time – that she would lay on my lap and purr for a bit. She’s a great cat, but snuggling isn’t something that happens often.

I made my coffee and got out my devotional. But before I began reading, I wrote a prayer in my journal, and told God how I was feeling – lonely. And at the top of the page I wrote:

  • There is one who is closer than a brother.
  • Jesus called us friends, not slaves.

I didn’t look up these verses, but wrote them down as the Holy Spirit began to comfort me with His Word. Then I wrote about a woman I see later this morning who I consider a friend, and I know that our relationship can deepen with time. And I remembered the woman who called yesterday – probably to make lunch plans. We haven’t seen each other for at least a couple of weeks, but she, too, is a friend-in-the-making. Hmm, maybe not quite as alone as I thought.

I read my devotional – I highly recommend Jesus Calling by Sarah Young.  I read my daily Advent reading. I read some fellow bloggers’ posts. I realized that I wasn’t feeling as lonely.

And then Annabelle pushed my iPad aside and settled onto my lap. Thanks, Lord.

“…there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.” Proverbs 18:24b, NIV

“I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.” John 15;15, NIV 

Friend of God performed by Phillips, Craig and Dean, written by Israel Houghton and Michael Gungor: