A High School Friend

I had a very best friend in high school named Sue.  We actually became fast friends in 8th grade, after she came over to ask me about a book I was reading – Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret by Judy Blume.  From that interaction forward, our friendship grew and we became virtually inseparable for several years.

My family had moved to the area at the start of 8th grade, and up until Sue, I didn’t have any close friends.  My home was a little bit chaotic – a big rambling house with my folks and my sister, our two dogs, lots of boxes in the basement, and eventually my 87 year old grandfather.  He’d been a bachelor for many years, and it was quite an adjustment for all of us as he moved into a family with busy teenagers. My dad went back to college and became a business student, my mom worked part time, and our social activity and closest friends were from church, none of whom were my age.  Looking back, I see that I was a typical teenager, wanting to escape my house, and Sue’s home became the respite. She lived in a wealthier part of town, and her home seemed calm and put together, where mine felt discombobulated somehow, as our family was in transition for several of those years living in Michigan.

Sue had lots of friends, was very popular, an athlete and accomplished musician. I was shocked and delighted that she wanted to be friends with me, a gawky geeky girl.

We’d get home from school and check in with our moms, and then call each other to arrange getting together. We’d leave our houses at the same time, and meet half-way between our homes, walking the rest of the way around the neighborhood and end up at her house.  She’d often play the piano and I would sing along – she helped me to learn to read music, which aided my efforts at piano lessons. Or she’d play her dulcimer or banjo. She was very musical, and we had lots of fun, singing at the top of our lungs and entertaining her mom with our latest renditions.

There were times when Sue came to my house. My folks would often drive us to the mall to walk around. Of course, my folks walked around, too. I remember Sue commenting how cool it was that my folks still held hands, a fact I took for granted. She came with me to some church activities and retreats, and we had many spiritual discussions.

We wrote letters to each other almost every week. Just silly things, like which boy we thought was cute or all about that English assignment, or the latest gossip on one of our teachers. She always signed her notes with smiley eyes and hair.

(I came across those letters a few months ago, as I was cleaning out to get ready to move to Colorado. I didn’t remember that I had kept them, and I read several of them before deciding it was time to part with them. Maybe that’s why she’s on my mind – I’ve been subconsciously thinking of her since I disposed of the letters.)

She taught me to make chocolate chip cookies – we did that a lot. Her dad would come in after work, a very tall distinguished looking man – and he’d give her a huge hug, all the while dipping four fingers into the cookie dough behind her back and coming away with a handful to eat. Her mom, of much smaller stature – would just laugh and remind him what was cooking for dinner. Her mom had a wonderful laugh – kind of like a tinkling bell.  They both welcomed me into their home every time I came over. Her brothers were typical brothers – one a couple of years older, the other younger.  I remember one time when Sue and I were watching a scary movie by ourselves in the family room, with all the lights off and we were huddled under a blanket, and the older brother snuck into the room and jumped out at just the right moment to scare us like crazy!

Sue taught me the joy of lying under the Christmas tree. We’d turn out all the lights in the room except the tree, and we’d lie under the branches and look up. The soft glow of the lights reflecting off the ornaments was so peaceful. We’d recline there and listen to Christmas music and talk about our holiday break and family traditions.

At some point, in our Junior year I think, we became less exclusive, and our friendship circle expanded to include two other close girlfriends.  I found another friend to hang out with sometimes, and Sue’s and my friendship shifted. We were still close, but had lots of room for others.

My folks moved away during my Freshman year in college, so I never had the experience of “going home” to reconnect with old high school friends. My relationships shifted again, and I lost touch with most of the girls and guys we had hung out with.

Sue and I went to different colleges, and I remember visiting during her nursing undergrad program with my boyfriend (now husband) and another close friend. That was one of the last times we saw each other.

We exchanged Christmas cards for a few years, and then we got busy with our families.  I lost track of her as we moved across the country. At one point,  I found one of her daughters on Facebook and asked her to get a message to Sue, but nothing happened for a couple of years, until I found Sue on Facebook and we communicated briefly.

In the past year, I’ve reconnected with another high school friend, Chris, and it’s been so fun to catch up with short phone calls filled with stories of our families, and laughter at reminiscing. It turns out that she is practically neighbors with Sue, and they see each other for social activities together. I’m glad – Sue makes a great friend.

The Lonely Time

I woke up this morning with the feeling that I’m headed into “the lonely time.”

We’ve been here in Colorado Springs for just over two weeks. We quickly settled into our apartment, getting everything unpacked and pictures on the walls in just a couple of days. We’ve been to a church. We’ve been out with our son and his girlfriend. And today I went to a local Moms In Prayer Group – a beautiful ministry of praying for our kids, and a great way to meet other women close to my age.

But having done this thing called “moving” so many times, I know how long it takes to make female friends. Rarely do I find them immediately. And as we all know, relationships take time.

First, there’s the meeting – I have to be in places where other women are. Moms In Prayer, Bible Study, book clubs.

Then there’s the second meeting – maybe a get-to-know-you coffee or lunch date. That’s where I tell everything about me – my kids, my husband, my faith, what I like to do with my time – and they do the same. An information download.

Then, if that second date goes well, there might be a third. Maybe we go to a shopping mall together, or the other person shows me around town. Or we go for a walk in a park. More information download, as we wiggle our way toward intimacy.

At any point in this process, we may decide to just be acquaintances, and so the journey  starts over with someone new.

Once again, I’m doing all the right things. I’m trying to “put myself out there,” be with other women. I’ll join a book club, say “Yes” to lunch dates, maybe find a knitting group, look for a Bible Study that starts after the holidays.

I’ll remind myself regularly that I’m not alone. I have friends who live far away, but they’re still good friends – I’ll make an effort to stay connected to them.

And I have Jesus, “a friend who sticks closer than a brother (Proverbs 18:24).” He’ll never leave me (Deuteronomy 31:6b). So I’m never truly alone.

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!