Lies and My Latest Counseling Appointment…

I’ve met with this guy twice. This week was my second visit, and I cried through the whole session. I don’t think I’m going back, but my tears aren’t why.

My crying felt good, actually. There was an issue I wanted to discuss – a lie I have believed – that I needed help navigating. I knew going in on Wednesday that there might be tears. So why did I even bother with makeup?!

I’ve been blaming myself for several years for something that wasn’t my fault. And I’ve known it wasn’t my fault – in my head. But my emotions didn’t agree, and I couldn’t shake the accusation and corresponding guilt. So I knew this was what I wanted to discuss at my counseling appointment. I wanted help with seeing the lie – I’m to blame – and replacing it with truth – I did the best I could and it’s not my fault.

My counselor heard my request, and prayed with me. He asked God to reveal the truth to me about the situation, and to replace the lie with the truth. (See Wikipedia: Theophostic Counseling).

I cried. Tears streamed from my closed eyes as I prayed along. I felt my head knowledge move to my heart; it’s not my fault; I did the best I could; God loves me and them completely, and longs to pour blessings on us, if I will only let go of my desire to control the situation.

I cried as these truths finally sank in. And that is exactly what I had hoped for from the therapy session. To replace the lies I was believing with the truth I was having a hard time accepting.

And then the counselor said that he thought there was more – another underlying lie that I was believing. And I balked.

I know the lie – I knew it was a lie even before I saw the therapist. I just wanted his help to move the truth from my head to my heart. I don’t want to go diving for more lies. This was a specific situation. In general, I don’t want my every thought to be traced back to my childhood. Which was good, by the way!

I know that I benefit from talk therapy, especially when I’m experiencing a depressive episode (which I currently am). I need a therapist who will listen to all the thoughts I express, take them and reflect them back to me in a way that makes sense. Put reason and logic and order to what feel like random depressive thoughts. I want a therapist who will say, “Depression sucks,” and then help me make sense of my feelings, put them into context for me.

I need therapy to accompany my medicine, especially when I’m fighting depression like I am right now. And I’ve been at this long enough to know what I need from my therapist.

And this latest guy isn’t it. He helped me with the issue I needed, but that’s all.

I need to find someone else.

Again?

Yesterday, I took the PHQ-9, which is the short questionnaire that doctors and psych docs give to determine if depression is present. I scored a 6, which means mild.

I’ve felt it for a little over a week. The downward pull towards feeling flat. So far, it’s just been moments each day, not all day every day. It’s actually depression if the symptoms are over the course of two weeks. So maybe I overestimated and my score is less than 6. But even 4 indicates mild depression. And the fact that I took the quiz in the first place is a red flag to me that I’m concerned about my mental health. I’m noticing that something is “off.”

In church this morning, I was wondering “Why?” I’m doing all the right things. I’ve been replacing negative thoughts with God’s truth. I know I’m deeply loved. I’m using my blue-light lamp. I’m writing daily in my gratitude journal. I’m in God’s Word every morning. I’m trying to make healthy food choices, mostly. So what caused this change? Why would it come back?

Maybe it’s that time of year – mid-winter. Even in VA, with warmer weather and more sunshine than in the Midwest, it’s still clearly winter, with all the naked trees and cold winds.

I just read an article that says that January 24th is the hardest day of the year. That’s right around the time I admitted to my husband and best friend that I was struggling.

My first psych doc told me that February is a very hard mental health month. Maybe I’m anticipating that. February has traditionally been a tough month for me. So maybe it’s “mental muscle memory.”

But for whatever reason, I’m fighting depression again. It’s not bad, not yet anyway. I promise not to wait too long, to call my psych doc if it continues. But he’ll just up one of my meds, which I don’t want to do!

I see a new therapist in two days, a Christian counselor. Maybe he’ll be able to help.

In the meantime, I’ll be honest with my husband about how I’m feeling. I’ll keep doing what I’m supposed to be doing to fight it off. I’ll work up the courage to ask others to pray for me, combatting my own feelings of stigma and failure that I didn’t keep it away. I’ll remind myself that I didn’t fail – it’s just something I have to deal with, my cross to bear.

“This, too, shall pass.”

Feeling Sad

I’m feeling sad today. With no particular reason why, though maybe I know what prompted it. Hard to discern.

I had great prayer time and conversation with my best friend this morning. So that was good. Then I got ready for work, and ran some errands.

The sky was overcast, and the temperature was dropping. Snow was in the forecast, and I could feel it in the air when I got out of the car. Ironically, I was picking up a bathing suit from Target!

The satellite radio station was playing songs that took me back to a few years ago. Back to days of depression, when those songs ministered to me. Melancholia set in.

I’m missing my long-time therapist, again. I miss him often. This time, I think it’s because I’m looking for a new counselor. I like my current therapist, but she’s not a Christian, which is becoming increasingly important to me. While she respects my beliefs and when I say they are important to me, she doesn’t really understand the depth of how my faith affects my thoughts and feelings, the scope to which my beliefs define me and how I relate to my family and the world around me. And I think there are some spiritual issues that I need help working through, which I don’t think she can do.

So I’m in the market for a new therapist. Which is not an easy place to be – to start all over with someone new. One name pops to the top of the list when I google “Christian therapists near me,” and my pastor gave me the same name. So I left a message in his voicemail to see if he’s accepting new clients. I’ll have to give him a try and see if we’re a good fit.

I know it’s important for me to have a therapist in my routine. I need the talk therapy as well as my medication. To help me process my thoughts. But also to know me well enough to help me if I descend into depression again.

Back to my opening statement – it’s hard to feel sad. I know emotions – even unexplained ones – are part of life. Sadness included. But in the back of my mind, every time I feel sad, the thought flashes across my consciousness that this could be depression. An overreaction, I know. But it’s real. It happens. And I have to tell myself that sadness is just an emotion, not a harbinger of doom!

I think I need to chat about this with my new therapist, as soon as I find one.

Depression and Answered Prayer

I’ve struggled with depression for over ten years. I think I’ve had more than a dozen different depressive episodes, some much worse than others. In my hopeful moments, I begged God to not waste my pain, to allow me to use it to help others. But mostly, I couldn’t see anything good in my suffering.

For those of us who struggle with mental health, it’s very isolating. There’s still so much stigma surrounding mental illness: people don’t understand it. How could I be a Christian, let alone a leader and Bible Study teacher, and still be tormented by these feelings of uselessness and hopelessness? What kind of witness was I to my friends and coworkers? A failure! I felt very alone, even at church.

I didn’t want church friends to know – I didn’t want to be judged as sinful. I didn’t want work friends to know – I didn’t want to be judged as weak. But as the illness progressed, it became more and more obvious that I was unable to do my jobs. Others had to start picking up the pieces I dropped. Not to mention the days I didn’t have the strength to go to work or Bible Study at all, so I’d call in “sick.” I always felt horrible, knowing they would have to scramble to cover my responsibilities as well as their own. But I couldn’t help it. I was unable to leave the security of my bed and the safety of my home. I couldn’t face glaring lights, traffic, or people.

I didn’t know how God was going to redeem this, make anything good come from my pain. And as I got deeper into the illness, it became harder and harder to hide from the people around me.

So I thought God might work through awareness, as my friends saw me struggle. Perhaps I could give them a glimpse, an understanding, of what depression is and does. Maybe that was how God would use my pain for others’ benefit. Maybe, by being ill and unable to hide it, I could reduce stigma. “See? It can happen to anyone!”

In the darkest times, though, I didn’t care if others understood, or what God might do with my struggles. I was simply trying to survive, to hang on through another day of excruciating mental pain and feelings of anxiety and hopelessness, with physical manifestations of weariness, head and body aches and stomach pain. I dreaded going to bed because it just meant another day of the same tomorrow. Unless perhaps I wouldn’t wake up…the thought was appealing. I begged God for the Second Coming – the only way in which I could see my pain ending. That or death, which I was too afraid to try, though I thought of it often.

Depression is that way, trying to get me to think that no one understands, no one cares, and it will never end. In the very darkest times, I even wondered where God was, and felt like He’d abandoned me in my dark cave of negative self-worth.

But God had not abandoned me. Jesus was right by my side, and He wasn’t tapping His foot and telling me to “hurry up and get better.” He was sitting alongside me in my pain, comforting me and reminding me that He loves me so much. He was crucified for me, and for the pain of depression. He had died on the cross to give me eternal Hope. And as I sl-ow-ly emerged from the darkness of depression, God gave me the opportunity to serve Him with my illness.

Fresh Hope is a peer-led support group for people with a mental health challenge – and their loved ones. Just this week, I was part of a team which started a Fresh Hope Group at our church. The organization is about creating a community where we learn to live a rich, faith-filled life, in spite of having a mental health challenge. It’s for anyone who struggles with mental illness – depression, anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder, bipolar, PTSD, schizo-affective disorder – and for anyone who loves someone who is hurting in this way.

“And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.” Romans 8:28, NLT.  He’s doing that for me through this Fresh Hope Ministry – working all my pain from depression for my good and for others.  In Fresh Hope, we’ll encourage each other, and comfort one another with the same comfort we’ve received from God (see II Corinthians 1:3-4).

I have suffered, and therefore have the privilege of understanding. Of having gone through the valley of the shadow of death, and emerging on the other side. I can relate to the hurting who come to the group. God is using my illness to help others. And further healing me in the process.

When I grow up

Is anybody else struggling with who they wanna be when they grow up?

My kids are adults now. They live independently. Successfully. Without me. Which is as it’s supposed to be. If I did my job right, and I think I did, they are well equipped to live as responsible decent human beings. I continue to pray that they love God and follow Him as they did in their youth.

But I’m left with wondering what I should do next. Now that I’ve raised my kids, it’s time to find what’s on the agenda for me.

Most women my age – early in empty nesting – have gone back to work. Some have gone back to school. Many, including myself, are volunteering.

I’m excited about a new ministry that I am starting – a chapter of Fresh Hope at our church, which is a peer-led support group for folks who struggle with mental illness, and their loved ones. This is a ministry that I’m really excited about, and have dreamed of for years. It’s finally happening! Our training as facilitators is almost complete, and we’ll start meeting as a group at the beginning of January.

I’m quitting my job – again – right before Christmas – and will dedicate myself to this new ministry. But I wonder what I’ll do with my extra time, and am looking into becoming a peer support specialist. The training I’ve found doesn’t quite fit into my otherwise-free schedule, so I’ll explore continuing education as an option.

I’m also thinking about writing a book, which is something I think many bloggers consider. But I have a friend who has recommended a program that helped him publish his book, so it’s worth more review.

I considered all of these concerns in a previous blog post, so I’m not surprised that they are still issues I’m resolving. I probably need to discuss all of this with my therapist, since it seems to be a recurring theme!

But I think I’ve made her mad, or at least, I’ve introduced conflict into our relationship. That’s not a bad thing – just an issue to be addressed. I need to be honest with her as I consider my life and depression and all that it entails. She pointed out at our last appointment that I’m going to have my depression “in my face” if I write a book about it. That, along with the mental health support group, puts my depression front and center, and she cautioned me about balancing that with health so as not to be waylaid by it. Good point.

But I need some help navigating my next steps. I need clarification. I need her to say back to me what I’m saying, since I can’t seem to hear myself. What is it I want to do? What steps do I take to make “it” happen? What other commitments can I make that are healthy and feed my long-term goals? I need her to help me figure this out.

And if you have any insights, I’m listening! Please include your thoughts in the comments below!