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Remember the Reason for the Season

Christmas ornaments and lights on branches of a Christmas tree; the words, "Remember the reason for the season!" in the upper right corner.

It’s Christmas Eve today, and like most homes at this time of year, we have had our Christmas tree up for awhile. The colourful lights glowing, decorations hanging, and the angel watching over everything. The top section of our artificial tree is leaning some, because the part it’s stuck into has a piece broken off causing the top portion to not stand up straight. I’m reluctant to give up this tree and get a new one.

This tree belonged to my mom. And when I look at it, I think of her. Usually my thoughts are happy and pleasant, but in all honesty, sometimes I feel sad.

I have always struggled at Christmas with my emotions for as long as I can remember. I vacillate between feeling happy and cheerful, and depressed and discouraged.

I remember feeling depressed many times when I was young (though at the time I don’t think I was aware that was what I was experiencing) and telling my parents I didn’t want anything for Christmas, because I didn’t deserve it. There were times when I would plaster on a smile, because that is what we are supposed to do at Christmas. It’s a joyful time of year, after all!

In my adult years, I have struggled with the thoughts that present themselves in my mind when I hear others trying to help with comments of “Cheer up!” or “It could always be worse. There are others who are in far more serious situations.” And, while I know people mean well and are trying to be helpful, they really aren’t. Not when my depression has made an appearance. Sometimes I just have to ride it out.

There were lots of silent, hidden tears shed at Christmas in my past. But, I am thankful that the last few Christmases have been great – no tears, no feelings of not deserving, no depression.

In all honesty, there are a number of things that have helped me with this – my medication, having a loving husband who is very understanding and supportive, changing my attitudes and thoughts, and most of all, the love of a Saviour who was born to die and give me eternal life.

Christmas is not about the presents, the tree, the lights or decorations. Christmas is about celebrating the birth of the Messiah, Jesus. And if depression is something you deal with, particularly at Christmas, please don’t suffer in silence. You aren’t alone in this, and your struggle is real. Reach out to someone, take your meds (if you are on them; if not talk to your doctor), don’t isolate yourself. Reach out to the Lord; ultimately, He is the only one who can help you overcome this.

And, I pray that this Christmas, you can feel the joy that only He can give you.

Christianity

Dear Younger Me…

photo of person writing on notebook

Dear Younger Me,

You are beautiful. You are stronger than you think. And, don’t let anyone tell you differently. And don’t believe that you aren’t.  You ARE enough!

The world is going to tell you that you have to be pencil-thin and have the latest fashions in style and the right hairstyle and makeup. They want you to look like the women on the covers of magazines. Don’t believe them. Don’t fall for it; those models are airbrushed and don’t really look like that. If you keep believing they are perfect and you aren’t, it will cause you so much harm in your life as you grow older.

I want to encourage you to be healthy. Don’t let eating junk get out of control. That will contribute to you feeling so badly about yourself later on in life. You don’t need it, but it’s fine to have a little now and then. I also want to encourage you to not take losing weight to the opposite extreme either. That’s also not healthy. Eat good size portions, drink more milk as you get older, and eat more foods that are healthier for you.  By the way, you will learn to like those little round, firm, sweet tomatoes, egg salad, and mild salsa.

Younger me, please don’t let shyness rule your world. Do whatever you can to overcome it, because you will let it affect you so much throughout your life. You will waste so much time envying those who are outgoing. Please, force yourself to talk to other people, go up to them and introduce yourself. This will save you a lot of heartache later on. Be friendly.

Please, also, believe in yourself. You can do whatever you put your mind to. Gain confidence in yourself and in your abilities early on. This will also help you – especially when you are out of school looking for your career. You are more than capable of putting into action what you have learned. You CAN do it.

Don’t be afraid of making mistakes. They help you learn and grow. Don’t think that you are the only one to mess up; you aren’t. Again, nobody is perfect.

you are enough text

Dear younger me, you are loved more than you even realize. Please don’t waste time hoping and praying for someone who isn’t interested in you. Don’t turn down boys who are interested in you because you keep hoping for the one who isn’t. And also, when you get involved with someone who will mistreat you, leave. Please, don’t stay. It will also cause you pain and heartache years after it happens.  You are enought, and you don’t need him.

I also want you to know that you will regret putting God on the shelf. Please don’t do it. God has your best interest at heart. His plan is way better than yours. Hold out, because He has someone very special for you. It will take awhile, but the wait is worth it.  He will love you and treat you with respect, dignity, and more.  You will love him and appreciate him so much. Trust me on this!

And, finally, dear younger me, have some fun now and then. Don’t take life too serious, and when you finally figure out that you are suffering with depression, please seek help. Stigmas against mental illness will always be there, but people will begin to fight them. Seeking help does not make you weak. You will be stronger for doing so.

Dear younger me, I hope you will consider my message to you. And I hope you will trust that your faith will get you through so much. Don’t let go of Jesus.

Love,

Older You

*** Check out the video for MercyMe’s “Dear Younger Me” here, my inspiration for this post.

Depression & Anxiety

If I Wasn’t On My Medication…

When depression has its nasty claws embedded deep into my very soul, it sucks the life right out of me. It leaves me not willing, or able, to enjoy anything, and it won’t let me do what I want.

I have a few hobbies that I really enjoy – knitting, spinning yarn, reading and some new recent hobbies (calligraphy/hand lettering, going to the driving range, and fishing) that I have picked up since my last bout of depression and anxiety.  When I am not in the midst of my illness, I am able to really enjoy life!

I recently heard from a friend of someone, a teenager, who said that he suffers with depression and doesn’t want to be on medication because being depressed helps him to see things as they really are, and to see that most people are pretty  delusional, especially in their thoughts or understanding of depression.  I haven’t had any conversations with this young man, but it makes me sad and angry to hear this.  THERE IS NOTHING WRONG WITH TAKING MEDICATION FOR DEPRESSION (OR ANXIETY)!  Mental illness is just that – an illness. And just like other illnesses that require medication to help, taking medication for a mental illness is done so that it helps people to live life in a normal way.  Depression is a chemical imbalance in the brain; all the cylinders aren’t firing properly.  Medication helps balance the chemicals.

If I’m not on my medication, I am not at my best. I have no desire to do anything, I want to sleep all the time, I find no humour in anything, life sucks; I’m just existing.  For me, and countless other sufferers, taking medication helps us to live and enjoy life.

I have been really having so much fun learning new hobbies – things I never thought I would enjoy – primarily the golf and fishing. I now get to experience these with my husband, son, and friends – and I have so much fun! I’ve also been really enjoying learning to do calligraphy/hand lettering for the past week or so (and while I’m not the best at this yet, I’m already seeing improvement). It’s been something I’ve wanted to do for a long time – and now I’m doing it.

I would be missing out on all of these great things (and more) if I wasn’t on my medication. I’m very thankful for it.  If you think medication might help you, please talk to your doctor; and honestly consider it.  You might find out just how thankful you are for it as well.

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A Little R&R

I’m like most people – I enjoy having vacation. That’s what I’ve been doing the past four days. I still have three and a half more days before going back to work.  I’ve been enjoying this time because I’ve been able to get a lot of R&R in; something I need to do.

We’ve been to the beach (Monday was a holiday so my husband didn’t have to work), I learned how to fish (and caught 5 – though 2 squirmed off the hook before I could land them), I’ve been to the driving range with my husband and a couple of our friends, and I’ve been able to do a lot of knitting – one of my favourite hobbies.

I’ve never been fishing before and now that I know how, it’s something our family can do together sometime.   I also enjoy going to the driving range because this is something my husband really enjoys, and this allows me to spend time with him doing something he loves.  I’ve also been improving, though I’m nowhere near ready to hit the golf course, so that’s an added bonus.  I did lose a day, though. I woke up on Tuesday with a migraine and dealt with that all day.  So that day was pretty much a write off.  I did manage to catch up on some sleep though, so that was nice.

As I said, I still have a few more days left of vacation.  My husband is working today; tomorrow he is going to the golf course (a weekly thing) with a couple of his buddies, and then he works tomorrow afternoon/evening as well.  On Saturday we have a friend coming to stay with us for the weekend, and I go back to work on Monday.

Even though I’m getting to relax and rest, I do feel guilty that we aren’t going more places (like we did my last vacation) and doing stuff.  I know my husband was wanting to go to Cape Breton for a couple of days, but he said that this vacation is for me to rest and relax.  I definitely appreciate it, but he’s missing out on doing things he likes to do on vacation (He’s been working, but he can take some time off).  Maybe we can do a something on Saturday by taking our friend somewhere he hasn’t been, and maybe do something after church on Sunday.

I am definitely thankful for this vacation. It’s certainly helped with my mental health! And I am most definitely thankful to my husband for allowing me this time.

I still have a couple of vacation days left after this (due to there being a holiday this week and two of the days would have been my normal days off), so maybe I can take them in the fall and we can go somewhere he’d like to go then.

At any rate taking time for yourself and getting some R&R is certainly beneficial to your mental health.  It’s far to easy to keep busy and focus on work or helping others and not take time for yourself.  The problem is, we end up burning out.  I’ve been there, and it’s not a fun place.

In closing, I encourage you to take some time for yourself, do the things you enjoy doing, have fun, try something new, rest, relax.  Your body and mind will thank you for it.

 

 

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It’s What’s Been On My Mind Lately

Grief is something we have all experienced in some way or another. And if you haven’t, give it time and you will.  Maybe it’s the loss of a parent, a spouse, child, friend. Maybe it’s the loss of a job, the use of part of your body and that’s what you are or have been grieving over. It doesn’t matter what the situation, grief is grief. And it hurts like crazy.

I’ve experienced grief in many different forms. I think the most difficult have been the loss of both of my parents and my maternal grandmother.  I was at the bedside of all three of these important people in my life.  Each one was difficult.

When my grandmother died, I was 19 and alone with her in the hospital room. My mom and I had been taking shifts of staying by her side (throughout the time she had been staying at the hospital), because there were so few nurses and my grandmother didn’t really know where she was.  She also would try to get out of the bed and go look for my mom if no one was around.  One time my mom was out in the hall talking to one of the nurses and my grandmother had pulled the IV out of her arm, crawled down to the end of the bed (the side rails had been up), climbed over the end and made her way out to the hall. So, we decided that someone should be with her at all times. It just so happened that I was the one with her that evening.

While she took her final breaths, I held my grandmother’s hand, stroked her hair, and looked her in the eye with love.  I felt her hand being removed from mine as the nurse took it to feel for her pulse.  I laid my head in my arms at her bedside and wept and wept. She was gone.

My dad’s death was pretty hard to.  He was diagnosed with cancer of the esophagus in March 2008.  By the end of July, he was given just a matter of time to live. I made the choice to leave Korea a few weeks earlier than I was supposed to (despite having major difficulties with this whole process).  Thankfully, I was able to spend a week with my dad before he died.  This time I wasn’t alone as he passed.  My mom and my dad’s siblings and his two nieces, and my sister-in-law were there with me.

I’d say that my mom’s death had the greatest impact on me.  It’s still pretty recent, too.  I had quit my job to go take care of her. She had been diagnosed with terminal cancer and she was in the early stages of dementia.  I was rather close to my mom, especially after my dad died.

I had also made the decision (and then contacted my brother to see if he thought I should do this) to take her to the hospital (for the last time), because she was getting quite weak.  She was admitted to palliative care because of her situation, and she didn’t leave the hospital again until she passed away.  My older brother and I were with her. He was reading, I was sitting in a chair at her side, and witnessed her take her final breath.

I stayed very long hours, every day, with my mom. I was getting run down and having a hard time taking care of my own self.  I was riddled with guilt because I felt like I hadn’t taken good enough care of her – that I could have, and should have, done better. This is something that still bothers me from time to time.  She was getting better care in the hospital, but I still felt that there was more I could have done.

My mom passed away two weeks before Christmas in 2016. I went through so much grief at that time, more than I think I have felt for anyone else in the past (and that makes me feel guilty as well). I can’t even begin to describe how her death made me feel. Thankfully, I had great support from my husband (and others).  Even now, I find that little things I remember about my mom, or something she would like or would like to have done, can trigger great sadness and depression in me.

I’m learning to deal with my grief in a positive way. I’m learning to turn it over to the Lord, pray, find my comfort in Him. I know one day I’ll see these precious people again, but that isn’t always enough to comfort me. I think it’s important that I deal with my grief; to not bottle it up.  There’s nothing wrong with feeling the sadness, with being angry, or crying. What I need to remember is not to dwell there for long periods of time because then it’s much harder to get back to a “happy place.”  I’m learning to find healthy ways of dealing with my grief. It’s certainly not easy, but I need to do this for my mental health.

I know that until the day I die I will face grief again and again. But having the tools in place to help me get through those situations is the best thing I can do.  But it’s more than just having them – it’s using them. That is vital. If you don’t use the tools, how can you expect to overcome your hurt?

I don’t know if any of this makes sense, but it’s what’s been on my mind lately.

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I’m Learning To Thank God For This

I’ve been taking my anti-depressant for nearly three months now. And I will say, they are really helping.  I don’t want to have to take this medication, but I know I have to.

As a Christian, I have gone back and forth in whether or not I believe that I should take antidepressants or just trust God to help me through and heal me from the depression and anxiety.  As well, for so long there has been a stigma against taking anti-depressants.  People tend to think that if you take them, you are not trusting God or you are weak. It’s not the case for either.

I have a chemical imbalance in my brain. And while I do believe that God can heal me from this if He chooses, I also believe that He created scientists who discovered a medication that can help me live a more balanced life.  Medication isn’t from the devil. It’s a tool that can be used positively to help me, and people like me, function the way we were meant to.

I thank God for  His hand in all of this. I thank Him for creating medicine (He is the great physician and healer, after all), for creating science, for creating the people who were responsible for the discovery of a medication that can help so many people live the lives God called us to live.

When I was in the midst of my depression, I had a hard time trusting that God was there, and a hard time believing that He would help me through it all. I couldn’t see clearly for the fog that clouded my eyes and my judgement. But, the Lord was there with me.  He has been with me every step of the way through this. He was with me when it was so hard to get out of bed each day, when it was difficult to think or function as a “normal” human being. He was with me when I had meltdowns, when I felt like I was going crazy. He never left my side.  And He still hasn’t.  God is still with me, and has never left my side.  His word tells us that He will never leave us nor forsake us.  And I believe that to be true.

I am very thankful that I am now able to function so much better. I am very thankful for the Lord, and for the medication that I can take to help me.  I’m very thankful for a community of supporters who have been with me along this difficult journey, who have lifted me up, prayed for me, let me cry, and now they are there to rejoice with me for overcoming the battle. And I’m especially thankful for my husband who has been there for me, who has helped me to see that there was (and is) a light at the end of the tunnel. He was and is my biggest supporter, and he never once left my side (even when I feared my depression would drive him away).  He never once stopped loving me through the pain, the fear and the darkness. He held my hand, gently reminded me that it wouldn’t last forever, held me when I felt like I was falling apart, and constantly prayed over me. I have so much to be thankful for!

I’ll likely have to take medication for depression and/or anxiety for the rest of my life. And while I do have days where I wish I didn’t have to be on antidepressants, I’m learning that it’s OK that I need them in order to balance out the chemicals in my brain so that I can be a “normal” human being.  I’m learning to accept that anti-depressants will have to be a part of my life now. And I’m learning to thank God for this.

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In A Much Better Place

These past eleven days I have been on vacation. A much-needed vacation. A much welcomed vacation.  A wonderful time spent with my husband (and a day that included my step-son).

Because of my depression and anxiety, working on average of 45-50 hours per week, and being involved in a few ministries at church, I ended up becoming burnt out. As I said, this vacation became a much-needed and welcomed event in my life.

While on vacation, I had to have blood work done. Something I had put off for a couple of weeks since last visiting my doctor and getting a prescription renewal for anti-depressants.  I couldn’t get the time off work until my vacation, so I got up early and went in to see the vampires.  The results came quickly, and the next day I was back at my doctor’s office to get the results.

My doctor told me what I had assumed – my B12 is way down.  No wonder I’ve been feeling so tired!  She also told me that my vitamin D is also way down and I need to start taking supplements to help bring that up, and I also need to start eating more red meat.  I will also have to go in to get B12 shots every couple of weeks (to start, then it should be monthly).

It’s nice to have some answers regarding my health. It also helps to know the steps to take in order to overcome this situation.

It’s the same with the depression and anxiety.  I need a plan in order to overcome that as well.  I’m learning to take steps (sometimes they are only baby steps, but they are steps none the less) in order to help with these illnesses.

Getting on my medication was the first step.  It’s starting to kick in, and now I have more good days than bad. I’m thankful for that.  I’ve also been more honest with others in how I’ve been feeling. I’m slowly letting others in, letting them see the real me, letting them see my pain, and not worrying that they won’t like the “real,” me, the broken me.  And, I’ve also been asking for more prayer. That’s very important, too.

I’ve been more vocal in talking about my anxiety as well. That’s my next step. Giving voice to what is causing my anxiety takes away the power it can hold over me.  Talking about the struggle brings it to the light where the fear can be stripped away and the people I trust can remind me to breathe, can help me remember I’m in a safe place surrounded by safe people, and I’m going to be OK.

Another step is to learn more about anxiety and depression, to become more aware of what triggers these attacks for me, and what I might need to do to avoid the situations (or what I need to do to face them).  Knowledge is a powerful thing.

One of the biggest steps is to learn to turn this all over to God, to give it to Him, to trust that He’s in control of the situation.  He is the only One who can help me recover from these illnesses. He is the only one who can heal me – if He chooses.  And if He doesn’t, that’s OK.  I know He still loves me and will help me through it all.

As well, prayer is playing significant part in this journey.  By talking to others, being honest about how I’ve been feeling, they are able to pray for me – especially when I’ve felt so “weak” and unable to pray for myself.  I’m thankful for these prayers.  I’m thankful for these people in my life who care about me, who love me.

I’m still not completely recovered from this. The depression and anxiety still affect me, still hit without warning. But, I’ve come a long way already. With the help of God, my medication, taking the steps I need to on this journey, prayers from my friends and family, and this much-needed vacation, I am in a much better place than I have been. And I look forward to the bad days becoming fewer and fewer as I start getting better and better.

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Today Was A Better Day

The bulk of this week was not great for me. Not only have I been dealing with my depression and anxiety, but Sunday afternoon family members shared some terrible news with us. It devastated me. And I found myself spiralling downward quickly.

Both Monday and Tuesday I had what I can only describe as breakdowns while trying to get ready for work. I couldn’t seem to function. I stood in the bathroom, attempting to get into the shower; all I could do was stand there, sobbing uncontrollably. All I wanted to do was crawl back into bed, cover my head, and disappear for awhile.  I didn’t want to face the world.

My husband was there for me. He held me, hugged me, told me it was OK to cry. He prayed for me. And he encouraged me. He reminded me that I’m not alone, that he is going to be with me through this, and that it will get better. I love him dearly for that (amongst other things).

Today, though, I woke up and I managed to get through the day without feeling hopeless, without feeling like my world was imploding. Today I was able to smile, to laugh, to feel almost myself again.

I’m not saying that I am over this, that the depression is gone, that my meds have suddenly kicked in and everything is hunky dory.  But, today was better. Today I made it through 15 hours without crying.

I have had many people praying for me, encouraging me to lean on the Lord. I’ve prayed. I’ve asked for strength. I’ve tried to not focus on little upsets that have happened today. And I made it through.

Today was a better day.

I know there are still going to be down days ahead, but I also know I’m not alone in this. I know Jesus is walking with me. He’s here for me, to give me strength, to dry my tears, to give me support as I walk along through the darkness, to light my way.

And for that, I am thankful.

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I Caught A Glimpse of the Light…

My husband tells me it will get better, that right now I can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel, but I will.  He tells me it’s still there, hiding beneath the grey clouds that loom over me on what seems like a daily basis.

I catch glimmers of that light, now and then.  It’s mostly a pin prick that expands and contracts at varying intervals throughout the day – mostly when my mind is on something else.

Driving home from work, my husband shone some of that light on me. He told me that a friend of ours had lifted me up in a beautiful prayer this morning. He told me how another friend of his shared that I had made him feel welcome and accepted when we had met, that I make others feel welcome and accepted, too. My husband shared this with me to help me see that there is light, to help me see that I make a difference, that I matter – things I haven’t been able to see in myself or to accept in recent months.

I caught a glimpse of that light at the end of the tunnel this evening. I know it’s there, even if I haven’t been able to see it much lately.

Today, I felt the clouds lift a little. They’re starting to settle around me one more, but at least I know the light is there, that it will shine again, that the clouds will drift away, and the depression and anxiety will loosen its gnarly grip on me.

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It’s Difficult

As I write this, I feel overwhelmed and feel the need to catch my breath. I’m not winded, I haven’t been doing anything physical to cause it. And, really, I can breathe fine; it’s just a sensation. It’s hard to describe, and I guess the closest I can get to that is to say that I’m trying to prevent myself from breathing too fast or hyperventilating and I find myself holding my breath for short periods of time.

I’ve mentioned in my last post that I suffer from depression, but I’m starting to think I may have anxiety as well.  I think the two go hand in hand. We often hear the term “anxiety and depression,” and given the way I’ve also been feeling lately, I’m leaning towards believing that I am going through a bout of anxiety. And it’s not fun.

I don’t know a lot about anxiety; its something I need to look into more, maybe talk to my doctor about.  As I write this, I have an overwhelming sense of…I don’t know what. Maybe it’s fear.  Maybe it’s a spiritual attack. Whatever it is, I feel like it’s overpowering me and forcing me to retreat inside myself, away from others.

At times I feel trapped inside my head. I feel like I’m lost inside a maze and I can’t find my way out. I feel as though I’m walking in thick fog, but I’m afraid to take the next step in case I fall over a cliff.  I feel as though the air is being sucked out of my lungs. Sometimes, I feel like I’m going crazy. I want to lock myself inside my home and not have to face the world, or my job, or people (aside from my family).  Some days I feel that I have to force myself to do what I don’t want to, because I have to.  I have to go to work, I have to help provide for my family. I have to associate with people because I can’t be a hermit. I need to live my life.

I’m learning to deal with this, though. It’s a difficult journey. I know I can overcome this, but it’s hard. I’m thankful to have loving, caring people in my life who help me through these tough times. And I’m thankful to have God in my life, too.  I know with His help, I will overcome this.