Email to an old therapist

I’m not sure if I’m going to send this email. I don’t want to bug you. But I started to write it last night as I was going to bed, and it stuck with me until morning. So here it is. 
We move across the country in five days. I’m still excited, and have peace of mind about the decision to move. That’s what we always pray – for God’s sense of peace in our decisions. And we have that. 
I didn’t think I’d feel anything about leaving VA. But I’ve had an impact here – in bringing and starting and leading the Fresh Hope group (support group for those with mental health challenges and those who love someone like that – freshhope.us), and in my volunteering at the Daily Living Center (adult daycare). Both groups gave me farewells this week – they said very affirming and humbling things. I’m really going to miss the friendships and the leadership opportunities that they afforded, as well as the relationship aspects. I’ve said goodbyes to friends at church – did I even know I had friends at church?!
We’re going to a farewell dinner tonight – with people my husband used to work with, and my two other friends here. They’re not long relationships like I had in WI, but friends nonetheless. Which is more than I’ll have when I get to CO. I know some people there, so it won’t be a completely blank slate. But the pressure is on me and me alone to make friends – there’s no job or kids to provide an introduction into a new situation. 
You know me and change – I always find it hard. And I’ve had to move so many times in my adult life. Each move has begun with a mild depression, except the one that started my entire journey with depression – that one was deep and dark and long. That move, which should have been simple since I was moving back to a place I had lived before, was the impetus for years of the battle with depression. Of course, if it hadn’t been for that, I never would have met you. And you counseled me through all those years to a healthier me, for which I am forever thankful.
Seems my thoughts always turn toward you, and the safe place of your office, sitting slouched on your couch, when my mood is down. And despite my excitement for the move, my mood was down last night and this morning. 
I’ve really liked my most recent therapist – she understood me quickly, though we didn’t go through depression together. I’ve said goodbye to her, but she’s offered to counsel me if I need her before I find someone out there. Until her, I feel like I’ve never really had anyone besides you, so this is new. Maybe it means I won’t call you in distress, if I have distress. Will I have distress? I’m trying not to assume so. 
Anyway, I wanted to touch base, as I always do when I’m facing change. So maybe I’ll hit send after all. 

Marriage

I wish for other people to have what I have, specifically when it comes to marriage.

I have a husband who helps around the house. He’ll throw in a load of laundry if he needs something washed. And he’ll include my dirties, too!

He loves to cook, so all I have to do is buy the ingredients for the meal. He wants me to come up with the menus and buy the stuff, but he’ll do the cooking. I usually do the cleanup, but he’s done the dishes countless times.

He listens. He often perceives when something is bugging me or bringing me down, and he’ll ask if I’m ok. Then he listens, without trying to fix it or even offering advice. He simply listens, which is often all I need to feel better.

He expresses affection. He used to make a big deal of kissing me in front of the kids as they were growing up (their response? “Ew! Gross!”). He’ll go out of his way to give me a hug. Or he’ll wrap his arms around me if I tell him I need one.

He supports my passions, like facilitating Fresh Hope and volunteering. He wants me to have hobbies. And girl friends. He wants me to be fulfilled and happy.

Things weren’t always this way. After 32 years of marriage, we’ve grown into this. I’ve learned to not assume, and to ask for what I need. He’s learned my moods and body language, and how to respond to them. We’ve both learned to listen more and argue less.

We’re still learning to express ourselves to the other with respect and without angry words. We’re learning to speak in terms of “I feel…” instead of “You make me feel…,” keeping it personal and in first-person. We’re learning to navigate the proper timing for discussions – not after a business trip nor right before bed. We’re learning to laugh together again, like we did when we were dating, before all the stresses of family and life. We’re still learning to talk about the hard things – money, the kids, mental illness.

I don’t write this to make anyone jealous. I write because I see other marriages that are one-sided or lacking love or respect of the other spouse, and it makes me sad. I want them to have more.

I’m left wanting for my friends who don’t have this. I wish everyone could have someone who is a kind, thoughtful, responsive, and supportive spouse, like I do.

My husband loves me as Christ loves the church – sacrificially, generously.

Sure, he has his faults. In all of the above examples, there are times when he doesn’t do. When he assumes I’ll do the laundry, or won’t ask about my mood. Ours is not a perfect marriage; none is. But he tries, and “hits it out of the park” most days.

I feel treasured and valued. I long for that for others.

I hope that we can model what a Christ-centered marriage looks like. I hope we can improve our communication, and our relationship – as a couple – with the Lord. I want even more for our marriage, and am willing to work so it will continue to mature and improve as we grow old together.

And I’ll keep praying for my friends and their marriages, that God will transform them into all they can be.

Wellness Plan – Wrapping It Up

I’ve now written several blogs about my Wellness Recovery Action Plan, or WRAP. And it’s time to finish off this series.

The next two sections of the WRAP plan are entitled “When Things are Breaking Down or Getting Much Worse,” and “Crisis Plan.” I’m lumping these together because both point to severe symptoms, and the potential imminence for a relapse of my depression.

According to Wellness Recovery Action Plan (Advocates for Human Potential, Inc., copyright 2018), “sometimes, even when you’ve been making your best efforts to stay well, things can get a lot worse. Some people call this a breakdown, a setback, or a relapse….often your behavior changes so much that other people can tell something is wrong…Taking immediate action can make a difference in the outcome.” In fact, I might be able to avoid the Crisis part of my plan if I can successfully turn this situation around.

Some of my key indicators that things are getting much worse include that I am staying in bed, isolating. I feel anxiety and a heaviness in my chest, an urge to drive fast and recklessly, a desire to smoke e-cigarettes (I’m a non-smoker). I may have increased trouble concentrating, which was also a red flag in my Early Warning Signs.  But in this case, it would be worse. I’d be feeling like a burden to everyone around me. I may have the desire to self-injure or have suicidal thoughts (called suicide ideation – thoughts, but not a plan), and I’d find myself unable to pray. I’d dread the future and ruminate on the past. I’d have flat affect – expressing very little emotion.

So what do I do if things get much worse? First thing – tell someone! My husband, sister, or close friend. Call my therapist and psych doc right away. Reduce caffeine – drink herbal tea instead of coffee – and sit in my glider, which I find very calming. I would try to Face Time my old therapist – he can often “talk me down.” I think I’d call in my second round of support – three other close friends who I know love me and would offer me encouragement and prayer. Perhaps, if these steps work, a relapse would not occur.

The Crisis Plan portion of the WRAP is designed to make it as easy as possible for people to help me, because if I am in a depression crisis, I might not be able to make my own decisions. It outlines who I want to help me – by name – and exactly what I want them to do for me. Things like get me to the hospital emergency room, sit with me, hold my hand. And what I don’t want done, like what medicines I can’t take. It even outlines my daytime and household responsibilities and who will do them, like care for the pets and pay my bills and contact and keep my prayer team updated.

After the crisis has passed, the Post-Crisis Plan is implemented. It’s a brief section of the WRAP where I identify things that worked in my WRAP Plan, and things that need to change. Perhaps there are people I need to thank for their help in my crisis; perhaps there are apologies or amends I need to make as a result of things I said or did during my crisis.  This final portion of the WRAP allows me to step back into the responsibilities of my daily life, slowly, as I begin to return to my normal level of wellness. This may take time – crisis recovery is not immediate, and I will need to be patient with myself. But this is a good time to evaluate and make changes to my WRAP, as I can see what worked and what didn’t. Because post-crisis can be very introspective, it’s a good time to modify my WRAP to include stressors or early warning signs that I may have missed before. I can add to the Crisis portion of my plan while it’s still fresh in my memory – what additions do I need to make so that, heaven forbid, things go more smoothly the next time?

Ultimately, the goal of the WRAP is to help me avoid a depression crisis – to identify those markers ahead of time to avert another hospitalization or emotional break down. Because this plan is so thorough, I may be able to stay in remission for the rest of my life.

Living far away

I live 1,188 miles away from my parents. 1,142 miles from my daughter. 1,576 miles from my son.

I live 6 states away from my lifelong Wisconsin friends and my in-laws, and 5 states away from my sister.

I’m not living in the wilderness by any means, but I’m far from family and friends (not counting those I have here, of course). I live in Virginia – the furthest East and South of anyone in our immediate families.

This is especially difficulty when someone is sick or in need. Like my mom, or one of my lifelong friends. I want to be with them, but there’s no easy way to do so. I have to plan way in advance to be able to afford the plane ticket. And I need to be there for several days – so I’m at my destination longer than it takes me to travel to and from there.

I wish I could just stop by my daughter’s for the weekend. Or plan a 3-day holiday at my son’s. But it’s cost-prohibitive.

Don’t get me wrong. I live in a beautiful part of the country – in the valley of the Shenandoah Mountains, and the views are spectacular. Our town is small, but near a couple of larger cities with college campuses, and 45 minutes from an airport, which connects us to the rest of the country within a day’s travel. We have easy access to concerts and breweries and museums.

I’ve lived further away. When my husband and I were first married, we lived in Utah, far from our families in the Midwest. And more recently, we lived in Florida for a little over a year. But Florida is a vacation destination, so we saw family and some friends while we lived there, with the promise of many others to come visit.

It’s hard to live so far from family and friends. Thank goodness for instant messaging and texting and FaceTime and Facebook. For phone calls and video chats. For vacations and an understanding husband, who tells me, “Go,” when I need it.

Over the course of the years we’ve been married, we’ve talked about living overseas. Now that’s far away! And quite honestly, I think now would be the time, before the kids settle down and have families of their own. I don’t want to be far away when there are grandbabies to hold!

All this means that we probably have another move in us, sometime in the not-too-distant future. And maybe a move after that, to wherever we’d like to retire and live out the rest of our lives. That’s hard to decide, because while we long for the western mountains, we loved the beach. But neither of those are close to family! I guess our biggest deciding factor will be access to a national airport, for easy travel to all the places we’d like to visit!

It’s been awhile…

I didn’t really intend to take the summer off from writing. But it seems like that’s exactly what I did. My last post was June 13th, which is a season ago! Sorry for being incommunicado – let me catch you up.

Summer was good. My mood has been up – it seems that the cocktail of antidepressants I take is working to keep my depression in submission. Yay! I meet monthly with a therapist – I believe medication is more effective with regular talk therapy, and statistics support this fact.

The highlight of the summer was a two-week vacation – I’ve never taken two weeks before. It’s a wonderful feeling to get to the end of the first week, realize vacation is usually ending… but this time, it’s not! There’s a whole other week left!

A museum/home on Lake Maggiorie

The first few days were just my husband and me, connecting with a colleague of his is Lugano, Switzerland. We stayed in a five-star hotel (wow!) and enjoyed a boat excursion around Lake Maggiorie and a furnicular ride to the top of the mountain. We sat in bistros and watched people, and drank delicious champagne and ate great food! That part – all by itself – was a fabulous vacation.

Then we traveled to Germany, where we connected with another of my husband’s colleagues, and at this point, our kids joined us. So we had a family vacation, complete with a monestary-stay and an enormous hike around a mountain. A second vacation – full of family, food, and new friends.

Beautiful German architecture in Gelnhausen

But then, just when the fun should have been ending, we spent a week in France with two long-time-friend-families. We rented a beautiful home in Normandy – saw the beaches and museums, ate delicious food and shopped and relaxed and laughed. Another memorable vacation!

Relaxing in France with friends and food

When we came home, I went back to work part-time. I’ve also been doing volunteer work all summer at an adult care center – I’ve really enjoyed getting to know the residents and staff.

I got hearing aids – that’s a topic for another blog post.

And now it looks like a dream of mine is coming true – the start of a peer-led depression support group at our church. We’re just in the infancy of getting the process rolling, but I’m thrilled. This has been a heartbeat of mine for several years, and it’s exciting to see it start to come together – all in God’s perfect timing. He is bringing the facilitator team together – it’s awesome to see Him working!

I’m still missing my kids, as they are each living many miles away. But I treasure the memories and pictures we made in France. Until I see them again, it’s just me, my hubby, and the cats. Life is good! And it feels really good to say that!

The kitten, Henry (front), is almost as big as Annie!