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!

The role of therapists in my life.

from my therapist’s office

My first therapist was Bill, and I saw him a few times when I was in college. I distinctly remember visiting him before I graduated from school. I was moving back home for some surgery, and wanted his help in learning how to navigate old communication patterns. The tools he gave me were very useful as I adjusted from independence to needing help. I was grateful for the techniques I learned, and I think it made my stay at home a smooth one in an otherwise difficult time.

Ted was my next therapist, about 20 years later. I first started with Ted in April 2008. His practice was recommended to me by someone at the church office. I dialed three times and hung up before I finally let the call go through and scheduled the intake appointment.

I remember “clicking” with him almost immediately. Good thing, because I was in desperate need of someone to help me with my jumbled emotions. I was in my mid-40s, we had just moved back to town, and I had expected to pick right up with old friendships and circumstances. But instead, I was feeling incredibly sad and couldn’t shake it. I tried, but was unable to explain to my husband what was wrong. I could only cry. We both agreed that I needed to talk to someone.

So Ted has been with me from the beginning of my depression, which started that summer, and for all the years since. He was with me through the very worst. When I was at my lowest. When I didn’t think I could go on living. Through my hospitalization. He helped me through the trauma and drama of deep depression, during the days when it was overwhelming and suffocating. He helped me navigate through the darkness and slowly back into the light. And he did this several times as I repeated my depression over seven years.

Ted knows me so.well. Maybe even better than I know myself. He can take the words I say and make them make sense. He finds the thread between my random thoughts, puts order to them and gives them back to me. And he’s done this for me for years.

Ted has served as my coach, as my educator, as my mentor, and as my confidant. I didn’t share with him in place of sharing with my husband, but he helped me to formulate my thoughts in a way that my husband could receive them. So that I could say what I wanted my husband to hear, instead of getting lost in my emotions or randomness. He always pointed me back to my husband.

Ted’s a Christian, and he prays for me at our appointments. He helped me sift through the spiritual battle versus the mental illness, and reminded me regularly that Christ is with me in my depression. He was the first one to really help me see Jesus standing alongside me as I struggled to fight for my mental health.

Ted helped me navigate some difficult memories. He worked with me on abandonment fears. He let me sound off about things that made me angry and helped me learn to express anger in a healthy way, instead of squelching it like I used to. He pointed out my faulty thinking, and gave me a different story than the one I was telling myself. He challenged my all-or-nothing thinking. He showed me that I speak to myself in questions, and I “should” on myself a lot.

I remember one time in particular when he really pissed me off. It’s when he pretended to be me. He told me everything I was thinking, including the things I hadn’t said out loud. I was so angry! Or maybe I was just afraid, because I had been vulnerable enough for him to see through me, to know the way I think and how I form my opinions and thoughts, and he nailed it!

I don’t worship him, nor would he ever let me. But I do have a really hard time finding a therapist, because everyone gets held up to the measuring stick of Ted. And they often fall short. It’s not a fair comparison, I know, because they don’t have the years with me like he does. So of course they don’t know me like he knows me, which puts them at a huge disadvantage when I start comparing.

I found a Christian therapist when we moved to Florida, and she was kind and gentle and accepting. I drove 40 miles one way to see her, and it was worth it. She helped me through the grieving process of relocating, and together we navigated a depressive episode with faith in Christ as my healer.

I’ve tried three therapists here – one was a hit for a little over a year. We just “broke up,” as she is moving to her private practice and I’m looking for a Christian counselor.

But I know that I’ll always have Ted. He’s promised me many times that he’ll always “be there” for me, and he always has been. I haven’t needed him as much as I used to – I’ve found these other therapists over the years who have been helpful. But I suspect I will always reach out to Ted in my depressed moments, for just a word of understanding from him to ease me through the darkness again. And he’ll point me back to my husband, and remind me that Christ is with me.

Now that’s a good therapist!

Explaining myself

A writer should always ask, “Who is my audience? For whom am I writing?”

Some bloggers say they’re writing for themselves, and they don’t care if anyone reads their stuff or not. To which I wonder, “Then why blog? Why not just journal?” I’m not questioning their motives so much as I’m trying to understand.

When I write, I have an audience in mind. Maybe it’s just one person, or maybe it’s a crowd. But I can picture a Christ-follower, usually a woman, who struggles with depression, anxiety, or another mental illness. Who wonders if she’ll ever be well. Who thinks she’s the only one in the world with these feelings. She’s me, or who I used to be, or who I could be again.

I know I have family and friends who read my blog posts, and that delights me. I like expressing myself in this way to them, hopefully giving them a little insight into thoughts that I might not express outwardly. But they’re my friends – they care about me – and I want them to know how I feel.

I’m also grateful for followers and readers of my blog who I don’t know personally. How awesome that they would take the time to read my words, to consider my experiences.

In both cases – with both groups of readers – I hope that I express the struggles of depression in a Christ-follower. I hope by writing about it, I help to diminish its stigma, especially within the Christian community.

I try to write honestly, from a place of transparency and authenticity. I might write about my current situation, or I might be recalling a time in the past. I try to make that distinction clear as I put my words on the page. Occasionally, I’ll write about the future, and I want those posts to be hopeful and not full of dread.

But the reality is that I have some anxieties when I look to the future. I wonder about relapsing into depression. I think it’s always in the back of my mind that it could happen. So I don’t look ahead too often; I’m trying to live in the moment, and write from this place.

For a long time in my dark depression, I anticipated and feared the future, the changes that I was inevitably going to face because of my maturing family. I wasted two years worrying about things that I couldn’t clearly foresee, and I certainly couldn’t control. I “pre-grieved.” I anticipated change and mourned it before it even happened.

All that did was drive me deeper into depression and anxiety, and rob me of the joys of the moment. Such are the beasts of these mental illnesses. A focus away from the present.

So I write what I’m thinking today, what I’m feeling at this time, or what I’m recalling as my emotional status in the past.

And I’m writing to explain my thoughts, emotions, moods and experiences with depression. What it’s like to live with it, when being battered by it, or when it’s in remission, like it is right now.

And I always feel better when I’ve written my thoughts down. So maybe I am my own audience, after all.

Thanks for reading!

What to Expect in 2019

I’m not one for New Year’s resolutions. I tried a few times over my 50+ years, but they never stuck. Why set myself up for failure?!

At the same time, there are things I’d like to see in my life in the upcoming year. So call them resolutions if you must, but I’m giving myself lots of grace, and no deadlines.

I’d like my morning time with God to be more consistent. It has been in recent months, so I don’t see any reason why it can’t continue to be a priority. I get several daily devotionals, but I’m not counting those. I’m talking about me in God’s Word each day. I just purchased a Lectio Divina devotional, and am looking forward to using that as my devotional tool.

I want to be more intentional about the friendships that matter most to me. I intend to make more phone calls, send more texts, stay more connected. I want to plan a trip back to my old hometown to see those people in person, to hug them and tell them how much they mean to me, even over the miles and years. I need to get that on the calendar!

I can’t say that I’ll exercise, because I am physically-active-averse. But there’s no reason that I can’t walk around the block several times per week. Just the block – no commitment to anything more. (Though I’m hoping that once I get out there, with headphones on, I’ll keep going.)

I plan to send more care packages to my kids. They’re no longer in school, so it’s really just “thinking of you” boxes. And I want to shop locally for the items in those boxes. I want to do a better job of supporting local small businesses.

I’ll try to eat more vegetables. Thank goodness for the vegetarian choice of Hello Fresh! I’ll use my new instant pot to put healthier meals on the table. I’ll learn to cook for two, instead of just reaching for the frozen pizza.

I’ll read more books. Goodness knows that I have plenty of them on my shelf that I haven’t even started yet! And that doesn’t count the books on my to-read list. Not just good-for-you books; I want to read for fun, not only for personal development. I used to read lots of fiction but got away from it in recent years. I want to get back to good ole stories.

There are activities I’ll continue in the new year: the library book club (which encourages me to read books I might not otherwise choose), volunteering (I want to get back to 2x/week), serving at church (leading a new mental health support group starting January 8th!), work, developing local friendships, taking weekend adventures with my husband (this requires spontaneity that I have to work at).

So I see myself growing and improving in 2019. If I do any of these things, even a little bit, I’ll be better for it. Resolutions, no. Aspirations, yes.

Happy New Year! Wishing you God’s blessings and a growing closeness to Him in 2019!

Girls’ Night Out

I have a new friend, Kim. We met this summer at a wedding, but just finally connected a few weeks ago over breakfast. She invited me out with some of her friends last night – what a nice time!

We went to a wine bar, had yummy rosé and sandwiches, then walked a couple of blocks to the local live theater. It was a lovely evening. Good to meet some women my own age – finally! Up until now, I’ve known one or two women who are in my age range – most of my female friends here in VA are older or younger than me by 10+ years.

I realized, as I arrived and took off my coat, that I haven’t really been out with a small group of girl friends for almost three years. When I first moved to VA, I was invited to a woman’s house for a discussion of a particular cookbook and eating plan, but I felt out of place and self-conscious in that group – I didn’t know anyone, not even really the hostess, though we’re friends now. Before that, there was once in FL, just before I was moving, when my neighbor ladies took me out for a goodbye dinner.

Prior to that, I went out many times with women my own age, while living in Wisconsin. I was friends with women who had children my kids’ ages, so that automatically brought common companionship. I was in weekly Bible Study and prayer groups with fellow women at the same stage of life as me. I suppose that’s expected – we had life in common.

Besides those groups, and the wonderful team of women with whom I worked daily, I’d get together for breakfast or coffee with a few friends on a pretty regular basis. Then there’s my dear friend with whom I shared many dinners over the years. And let’s not forget my weekly call with my best friend!

I remember many years ago, when my dad was leaving for almost two weeks on a mission trip to Africa. My mom and I had multiple conversations about what she was going to do while he was gone, and she had made plans with several female friends for activities while he traveled, to help offset the potential loneliness of him being away. And we talked then about how important it is to have female friendships!

I think I’ve complained here on this blog about being lonely, longing for nearby relationships with women my own age. So I was excited when my schedule opened up last night – I usually have a Tuesday evening commitment. It worked out beautifully that I was free last night to join this “new” group of ladies. I had just recently bought a new dress, and thought how cute it would look with boots; I’d get dressed up for Girls’ Night – a nice change from my regular sweater and jeans.

But yesterday afternoon, I almost backed out. I had returned home after running errands, and I thought how nice it would be to stay home and make dinner with my husband, share a bottle of wine, and watch Netflix together. But he told me to go, and said that I needed some female companionship. He knows me so well!

I’m glad he pushed, and I’m very glad I went. And the dress looked great with the boots!