Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Through the Clouds

About to get on a plane back to Massachusetts this morning. These were my thoughts on the flight to Texas last week...

Cruising near 30,000ft on my way from Massachusetts to Texas via Chicago. Time to take Kory back to Baylor for his sophomore year. From my window seat the sky is blue, the clouds are white, and the sun is shining, but that wasn’t the case fifteen minutes ago. Fifteen minutes ago everything was cloaked in dark grey and the rain poured down. Funny how I forget that the sun does indeed rise and shine every day even if I’m unable to see it from my location on the globe. There was a terrible wreck on the opposite side of highway 91 as we made our way to the airport this morning.  A charred black and jack-knifed 18-wheeler.  It tore the guard rail, caused others to collide, and stopped traffic for miles.  So much for being an hour early for check-in, and now an alternate route would have to be sought for Robert’s 11am counseling appointment with a young engaged couple.
Flying "Sun Country" to California last October. Very few clouds in Hartford that day.
That’s what the rain and the dark grey do. They shadow everything. They close you in, limit your view, and cause the path ahead to seem perilously unstable. They cause fatal accidents and even lead to purposeful fatal incidents. They shroud light and hope from view. Ann, writing in regard to Robin Williams’ shocking and recent suicide, said hers felt like an engulfing flame. Mine always feels like a heavy, dark, and endless rainy day closing in and suffocating with a despair that seems it will never go away.
I went in for a yearly physical last week, except it had been two years since my last visit. And the two year wait was “doctor’s orders.”  He seemed to think I was such a picture of health that checking in yearly was silly.  And it’s true. My cholesterol and blood pressure are enviable. “Hands down the best I’ve ever seen,” he said back then.  (Good genes, I tell ya.)  So I waited.

Last week, the nurse weighed me in the hallway, and then got me situated in the exam room.  She took my blood pressure.  Very low. Always very low.  A sign of longevity, did you know? And then she said she needed to ask me two questions.

In the last two weeks, have you, at any time, lost interest in your normal activities?

and

In the last two weeks, have you, at any time, had feelings of hopelessness.

The mama bear in me balks at similar questions when the pediatrician’s office gives me the long questionnaire regarding the emotional state of my kids. Great, I think.  More evidence to put our family on the “watch list.” They’ve delayed a few vaccinations. They are Christians. They homeschool…through high school. The husband is a minister.  They are from...Texas. Deciding they need no further evidence of our questionable life, I ask to be exempt from filling it out.  Permission is always granted with a knowing smile by Dr. Kenny. He understands, and he trusts me. I’m thankful.

“Do I have to answer these questions?” I asked the nurse

“Yes, we are required to ask and record an answer,” she replied.

“For what purpose?” I inquired.

“It’s required for insurance purposes. In an effort to treat the whole person, we are required to ask questions regarding mental health,” she kindly explained.

“Oh, I see,” I replied, and then reluctantly admitted, “Well then, yes.  I would have to answer both questions with a yes.”

A “yes” reply sets off the next step in the new protocol ~ a longer questionnaire.

“Please fill this out and have it ready for the doctor when she comes in,” the nurse instructed.

I wasn’t able to get to it before my new physician knocked on the door. Having lamented the leaving of my previous doctor of 15 years, I was pleasantly surprised by a young and pregnant-with-her-first-child general practitioner. You know you are getting old when your female physician is stunningly, naturally beautiful with a small and super-cute belly bump enveloping a full term baby. I asked her when she was due. “Any moment,” she sighed. She was having contractions all throughout the appointment, but they didn’t stop her from being incredibly kind and gracious about the mental health questionnaire upon which I was just getting started.

But we descended into a cloud-shrouded connecting city.
Hard to believe the sun is shining somewhere beyond.
I tried to put it aside, thinking it would just eventually be another form in my file, but true to the priority of “treating the whole person” Dr. Emily insisted that we finish filling it out…together. Ugh. Basically, the questionnaire investigates further the severity of a person’s hopelessness and loss of interest in daily activities. Thankfully, my score was low, but she still pressed in to the issue. It was actually one of the things on my list to talk to her about. I just wasn’t expecting to be exposed so immediately.

She didn’t have to ask too many questions, because I’ve already been down the road and figured some things out in the depression department by the wisdom of the Lord, HIs Word, my husband, and a 70 year old godly, Christian counselor. It remains an ongoing struggle, and now that I’ve had some time to ponder it, I’ve realized it’s always been present, at least since high school, but 2009 was the worst.  A prompt in a Beth Moore Bible study workbook began to bring it to the surface...  

“Write about a time in your life when you have been required to exercise much faith.”

I was working on the study for my own personal growth and learning while driving in the mini-van, along Interstate 35N through Texas and into Oklahoma.  After pondering episodes from my life that might have required more than the usual amount of faith ~ getting married? having children? moving to Massachusetts? buying our house there? dealing with Cooper’s Celiac diagnosis? The tears started rolling as I realized that none of those things of the past, but Now. Right Now. was requiring more faith than I had ever needed.
Thriving during a sunny morning, running on the beach.
Only recently discovered taking photos "of" the sunshine. Beautiful to me.
We’d been in Massachusetts for ten years at that point. I needed faith to stay with my husband on this fund-raising journey through Texas and Oklahoma.  Faith to go back to Massachusetts when it’s over.  Faith to keep being a faithful wife and mom.  Faith to continue homeschooling.  Faith to stay in the ministry.  I was tired.  I was overwhelmed. I felt alone. And I felt guilty, because I had a “good” life, even enviable by some standards ~ you know, like my blood pressure and cholesterol. The picture of health and blessing. Once the trip was over, the tears just kept coming and now everything was by faith ~ getting out of bed, eating, leaving the house, interacting with any human being. In fact, for a short time, I couldn’t even “by faith” do any of those things.

So, my mental health questionnaire turned into a bit of a testimony last week.  Probably more than Dr. Emily bargained for, but she seemed both concerned and interested. Now that I’m five years out from the severest of the depression, I wasn’t necessarily asking for advice, but rather describing what I’ve discovered and trying to gain any further recommendations she might have ~ and this partly because I’m a woman, I’m getting older, and the dark grey days typically come like clockwork now. I can literally mark most of them on the calendar, and I do, with a little red squiggly line.

I’ve been offered prescriptions to cope with the issue ~ both the kind that come from the pharmacy in a small bottle and also the kind that seem more like a “home remedy.” So far, I’ve relied on the “home remedy” ~ a combination of spiritual disciplines like daily Bible reading and prayer, and physical disciplines like exercise, sleep and rest, and healthy foods, as well as vitamin and mineral supplements.  Actually, I view them all as spiritual, since God created the body and a system of wisdom principles in which the world and humans can thrive. Dr. Emily was fine with my current self-treatment, but offered others if needed in the future.

One friend who knew the intensity of the struggle checks in with me regularly. How are you feeling? Are things any better? she often asks on our weekly early-morning runs.  For the longest time I had to reply that everything is still by faith ~ getting out of bed, going about my daily tasks, etc. Nothing comes with any sort of natural desire, let alone joy.  Today I can say that there has been some healing, but the problem is not reversed. I don’t know that it ever will be.

Robert’s grandmother died from shock treatments for depression in a Texas state hospital long before he was ever born.  My own father received a similar course of treatment in the very same hospital for the very same reason just a few years later. I now know how thankful I should be for his very life. He’s described the heartbreaking  experience to me a couple of times. Left alone in a room, roused to get in a line behind other patients, placed on a hospital bed, hooked up with electrodes, shock treatments for several minutes, get back in line, go back to your room.  No talk therapy. No group sharing. No nothing but the “treatments.” I always picture it to be cloudy and raining in Galveston, TX ~ even though Robert and I honeymooned there during a very hot Texas August. My dad finally got permission to go to the YMCA next door to the hospital and swim. He loves swimming to this day. My mother has spent much of her adult life lying in her dark bedroom with a host of varying and mysterious ailments, the most looming of which is probably depression, but I don’t know that for sure.  She chooses to remain outside of my life. Relating in normal, healthy ways is too difficult. I feel her pain, and I pray for her.
My sunny view from the guest room at my dad's house this week.
Warmth and sunshine every day is wonderful and effective.
So, there’s a family history to be sure, but I think it’s even more prevalent than that. A majority of women I know opt for the prescription medications. One felt there was no other way after she experienced just one episode of anger during a very trying situation, but I think angry episodes in stressful situations are to be expected.  I think anger is sin ~ usually a response to our own selfish expectations.  I think emotions are God-given indicators of our desperate need for Him. I guess I think we’re all too quick to think our anger or our sadness or our frustrations are abnormal, and too slow and impatient to wait on Him for healing. I have found that there is a bitter-sweetness in the waiting, though. That in the time between the scary, slippery, dark gray runway takeoff and the eventual pressing through the thick clouds that reveals the sunshine, there is deeper intimacy to be found with the One who created it all. And really, though many squinting glimpses into the beauty of the sun’s light are generously and frequently given here on earth, I don’t think the clouds will be completely or permanently lifted until He returns. That knowledge has a way of altering perspective.  Someday the brightness will be so beautiful and overwhelming that our knees will bow in worship, and our faces will touch the ground, and our hearts will overflow with joyful, reverent gratitude. We are not there yet. We must wait in some level of darkness. All of us.

(But please don’t hear me say that medication is wrong or sinful. I think it can most certainly be a gift from God, discovered and created by His children for the benefit of His children. There is a time for everything.  Ann’s blog says it so well. I struggle, though, with the idea that all depression is chemical and therefore only remedied pharmaceutically. There is wisdom and there is foolishness.  Ironically, I have been thought foolish for not taking it.  Maybe those counselor-friends are correct, but I have not felt the go-ahead from the One who continues to lift my head by other means. Others have felt the go-ahead. I will trust their judgment in the Spirit. I hope they will trust mine.)

It took a while for noticeable healing, and though most activities are still “by faith” and by choices of “the will” there is more ease and joy in the process. I don’t ever feel “up for the task” of the hurdles, the conflicts, or the challenges the Lord allows, and He has allowed some heavy ones in the last few years. Without intending to be cliche, His grace truly has been sufficient. He’s made me to boast only in His strength, because I, myself, am nothing but weak.

Five years ago, in the midst of extreme fatigue and despair, my tirelessly compassionate husband allowed me to sleep in, stay in my room for the morning, spend time with my Lord, and heal.  Daily, he delivered hot tea and encouraging Scripture written on pastel card stock stationery that he purchased from Target. It was about three months of the rest and support I needed. Not everyone is so fortunate, I know.

Here’s one of the verses he wrote out for me:

Thus says the Lord, “Yet again there will be heard in this place, of which you say, ‘it is a waste, without man and without beast,’ that is in the cities of Judah and the streets of Jerusalem that are desolate, without man and without inhabitant and without beast, the voice of joy and the voice of gladness, the voice of the bridegroom, and the voice of the bride, the voice of those who say, ‘Give thanks to the Lord of hosts, for the Lord is good, for His lovingkindness is everlasting.’
Jeremiah 33:10

Verses 7:34, 16:9, and 25:10 constantly warn that gladness and joy will be removed for a time. This verse indicates the coming reversal of those things. It's a promise to us today, too.

More photos of the sun on a a morning run.
This one on the Norwottuck Rail Trail Bridge over the Connecticut.
And here is the section of Psalm 72 I discovered while reading in my room during that very dark time:

O God, You have taught me from my youth, and I still declare your wondrous deeds.  And even when I am old and gray, O God, do not forsake me, until I declare your strength to this generation, your power to all who are to come. 

For your righteousness, O God, reaches to the heavens, You who have done great things, O God, who is like you? You who have shown me many troubles and distresses will revive me again, and will bring me up again from the depths of the earth.
v. 17-20

Yes, He brought me up from the depths of earth's darkness and despair. He brings me up again and again even now, and He will continue to allow me to rise up from the dark, fallen, shrouded earth into the atmosphere of joy and light ~ veiled though it is for now. He promises it, I’ve experienced it, and I trust Him.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

"Then a cloud formed, overshadowing them, and a voice came out of the cloud,"This is My beloved Son, listen to Him!" And all at once they looked around and saw no one with them anymore, except Jesus alone." Luke 9:7-8
I love how our Father speaks to us from the cloud, even the cloud we might be in, and points us to Jesus. Again and again and again.
We love you, Mel. Sending you blue skies and sunshine for your soul. K&J