The Battle of Redemption.

…Death wrapped its ropes around me;  The terrors of the grave overtook me. I saw only trouble and sorrow.  Then I called on the name of the Lord. “Please Lord, save me!”How kind the Lord is! How good He is! So merciful, this God of ours! The Lord protects those of childlike faith; I was facing death and He saved me. Let my soul be at rest again, For the Lord has been good to me. He has saved me from death, My eyes from tears, My feet from stumbling……..In my anxiety I cried out to You, These people are all liars! You have freed me from my chains. I will offer you a sacrifice of thanksgiving And call on the name of the Lord. 

Psalm 116:3 NLT

            Redemption doesn’t always mean healing: A believer’s battle with mental illness.

The couch was ready and waiting for me, but I wasn’t happy about it. As I sat down with my therapist for our first meeting, my mind was flooded of all the other times I’d been in therapy. I knew the drill. I tell the therapists what’s bothering me, they ask me questions, validate me and I schedule a follow-up appointment. Over the past twenty-five years I’ve seen numerous therapists. My experience with therapy was mostly positive. My journey with therapy began with the suicide of my father, at the young age of twelve.  As I grew both physically and mentally the need for therapy only grew. Not until my twenties did I fully began to process all that I had experienced and how it affected me. I buried five members of my family by the age of eighteen. Not exactly a typical teenage experience. I entered college just desperate to be a normal kid. I realized very quickly I wasn’t. Now in my thirties, on my third diagnosis with depression I was at a loss. I didn’t even know where to begin. I hadn’t seen a therapist since the beginning of my marriage when I struggled with feelings of abandonment.   Because it was this was my first meeting, the therapist asked that I give a timeline of my life; my episodes with depression. I thought to myself buckle up lady, you’re in for a ride. 

            I took her through the twist and turns of my life. Burying two grandfathers, a grandmother, a great grandmother and a father by the age of eighteen. College for the most part was a blur. I engaged in lots of self-destructive coping mechanisms and had a complete lack of structure. This is a recipe for disaster. Unfortunately, this wasn’t rock bottom.  I barely made it out of college. My mom breaking into my apartment and demanding I come home was definitely a highlight. After I managed to get my depression under control and seemed to be doing well, my best friend was killed in a motorcycle accident. At the same time a coworker took his life, I had a brush with the law and my mom getting married. A recipe for a relapse. It was not an easy story to share even twelve years removed. I explained how I was diagnosed with postpartum after my son, but with medication it was easily resolved. 

            Things were different this round of depression. I was equipped. My gloves were up, ready to battle, but all the routines and practices that had worked before weren’t working this time. As I sat there recounting my story, I was secretly begging for her to impart some words of wisdom that no one else had. More was at stake. I had a family. This affected everyone not just me.  Instead she took a punch to the gut. No warning, no heads up. 

“So, have you seen a psychiatrist before?” the therapist asked. 

“Uh, no.” I said. A psychiatrist is for people with severe mental illnesses. That’s not me.

“You’ve had major depression two other times, so it’s highly likely you’ll get it again.” 

 “You mean currently?” Surely, she was mistaken.  

“No, I mean again, after this time.”  

Clearly, I was at the wrong therapist’s office.  

            Not only was I depressed, but my depression would likely come back. Not just once, but multiple times over the course of my life. Oh, and I should probably be on medication the rest of my life. The rest of my life. Didn’t she know that I’d kicked it before? Didn’t she know that I did all the right things? Didn’t she know that I had fully given my life to Christ after my lowest point? She devastated a depressed person. Doesn’t seem possible, but she did. This is the vicious cycle of depression, anger and sadness. 

            I left that office more defeated than ever, not because of her, but because of the reality of what she had to say. This began a new journey, that I never saw coming. I’d actually have to spend the rest of my life learning how to live well with anxiety and depression.  Now what? 

            The only thing I knew to do was fight. I’ve survived much worse.  If this was going to be the card that I was dealt, then I was going to figure out exactly how to fight. Unfortunately, the Christian community seemed to be lacking. As I perused the Christian bookstore, eagerly searching for a book that would impart a new perspective, nothing appeared. Whether it was a book written by someone who was healed from their depression or a book about mental health from someone who had never experienced it, they were too fluffy. They weren’t realistic. They perpetuated the idea that mental health was a spiritual issue that could be healed with a greater faith. I had faith. Yes, there was plenty for me to work on, but I was a walking believer.  This only feeds the idea that there’s something wrong with me. That I’m different from the rest of the Christian community. This isn’t true. Yes, I believe that God can heal. Yes, I believe that sometimes our lack of faith fuels the flames of anxiety and depression, but that’s not always true. I am not the first nor will I be the last. 

            I thought about King David who struggled with depression. I thought about Paul who was desperately pleading for God to take the thorn taken out of his side. These were esteemed people of the Bible who struggled. Their lives were far from perfect.  Yet there were no books about their struggles, their stories of redemption. 

            One thing I knew for sure. Everything that happened to me was only wasted if I didn’t share my story. I wanted to encourage others. Not everyone would be cured this side of heaven, and that had nothing to do with their faith. Christians don’t get a hall pass from mental illness based upon their level of faith. We all have the thumbprint of Adam; we are all broken in some way.  

            It was time to recognize that truly faithful believers could have these struggles. Since no one was writing from this perspective, God stirred in me a desire to write. To share my story. I read voraciously. Articles, books, secular and faith-based. Everything I could find about anxiety and depression. My walls were filled with facts, stories ideas and questions about mental health. 

            As I began to share my passion for addressing mental health in the church, more and more people told me I should write about it. Everything was pointing me to writing including the nudging in my heart. I listened not just because of what others told me. I listened because they already confirmed what was on heart. God was nudging me in that direction.

            In the beginning it was just for me. I wrote to get it out. I wrote to vent and understand my story better. As time progressed and my writing went from something I did out of obedience to something I did for enjoyment, I began to see a larger picture. This was how God was going to redeem all that I had gone through. Everything wouldn’t be wasted if I could share my story and encourage others. 

            We must trust that God has a bigger, better and far more fulfilling plan.

Thwarted Plans

When things don’t go as planned.

So often we make plans, and somehow, we’re surprised when these plans are thwarted. Whether by our own decisions or the result of someone else’s decisions, things don’t go how we thought they would. Either way an unrealized dream or an unexpected change in our path can be very upsetting, sometimes heartbreaking. I have realized that the source of my depression lies in this space. Whether my father committing suicide, and changing the course of my childhood, or the choices I made in my early twenties as a result of so much anger and confusion that led me to drink and drive and put myself and others at risk, to becoming a mom and not immediately falling in love with being a mom and my new baby that I couldn’t wait to meet.

Dreams and Depression.

This last week I was hit with a smaller version of that, something that would forever change things. For the past year I have been working hard to get in shape and attempt my first sprint triathlon. As part of my road to recovery after my third round of depression, my therapist and I had talked about my dreams and things that I wanted to do. Part of what makes a dream a dream, is pursuing something you thought you never could. Competing in a triathlon is definitely one of those.

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How fitness affects our body.

I’ve never been athletic, I’ve never played in sports, but I’ve loved to swim, and after I gave birth to my son I began running. My pregnancy with my daughter was one for the books. It put me through the ringer, and I spent 16 months in physical therapy with limited abilities to work-out. After I finished my PT, I decided working out had to be a priority not just for my physical health, but my mental health. I know that not being active during that time definitely sustained if not worsened my depression. I needed to set a goal and baby step my way there. I spent 9 months working my butt off, getting in shape and making my health a priority. When I finally felt in shape I began running and the first time I ran I had a terrible knee injury and spent weeks with a swollen knee. I brushed it off and visited the chiropractor and thought surely there was a solution and I just needed to baby step my way even in running. I tried running again and the same thing happened, a swollen knee, that left me hurting and day to day activities were painful. Finally, I got up the courage to make an appointment with an orthopedic surgeon and what he told me was gut wrenching. He said Sara you have the knee of a 62-year-old and you can never run again. You need to change your entire work-out program, you need only engage in low-impact activities, limited squats, and lunges.

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My anger could lead to more depression.

My world was rocked. I haven’t cried that hard, been that angry in a long time. I yelled, I screamed I hit the wall, both literally and figuratively. How could this be? In the past year I have changed my life drastically, put my health as my number one priority, worked hard, and made life long changes. I was devastated. I could see the fear in my husband’s eye, he was scared this would send me back…..back there. You know the lowest of low. Hopelessness. While things weren’t going how I planned, I rejoiced in my external anger. I know that may sound silly, but my anger was a victory. A victory that I was expressing not repressing my emotions.

I could see the fear in my husband’s eye, he was scared this would send me back…..back there.

I was deeply disappointed, things WILL forever change, but I’m still determined to reach my goal, it may not be on my timeline (my 40thbirthday), and yes, it may be different, but I can still fulfill it.  I now begin a new journey of pursuing fitness with an injury and getting to focus on my favorite part nutrition. This mama loves to be in the kitchen. So, while I won’t be competing in this year’s Spa Girl Tri and there will need to be adjustments in my work-out routine, I’m not giving up or throwing in the towel. The road did not end it just took a new turn.

Here’s to seeing where that turn will take me,

Sara

A man’s heart plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps. Proverbs 16:9

 

Get Comfortable Being Uncomfortable

 

My first attempt at a Vlog, (yes that is a word), sharing a little bit about my journey with Hope and Laughter, and the things that I have struggled with whether through faith, writing, fitness, diet, pretty much all of it.

 

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Am I not enough?

Why did I need help? What was so hard? The puzzling looks on their faces haunted me, and the guilt ate away at me. Why couldn’t I do it? Why was it so hard? Why could these other mom’s do so much and why could I only do so little? Why did I need a break from my kid? Was there something wrong with me? Did I not love my kid? It’s amazing the guilt we carry, and the judgment that we feel for doing what’s best for us because it doesn’t fit into the little box that our world has told we must fit into.

I was blown away at how hard being a mom is and how much work and most importantly how restricting. At the time Mark and I lived downtown and went on dates every weekend, and walked anywhere and everywhere. All that changed when I had Zeke, I learned the importance of drive-thru’s and that carrying that huge car seat everywhere was literally a pain. I needed a babysitter to get my hair done, and needed to check with Mark’s schedule for a girls’ night. The days of my independence were gone.

I needed a real break, but I was terrified to admit it. I mean I quit my job, I didn’t work, I was now a stay at home, bringing no money to the table, and I needed a break? This was embarrassing and what I felt like was a complete reflection on me and my inadequacies. By the time Zeke was nine months, the ddoctors finally realized I had post-partum depression and out of that Mark and I agreed to get me some help. Fortunately, I had a friend who only needed her nanny a couple of days ago, so we did a nanny share. Four hours, two times a week. It wasn’t a lot but it changed my life. I was able to run errands, in half the amount of time, I usually did. I had time to do things like Bible Study, and have lunches with friends, I developed a whole new set of friendships because of those few hours a week alone. I was a better mom for it. I was happier and nicer, and couldn’t wait to come home to Zeke. The best part was Zeke loved his time with Marcie, and Marcie became a part of our family. The way she played with Zeke was amazing, and they played non-stop. He was just as excited to see Marcie come over as I was.

At the end of the day we have to realize that what works for us as individuals, helps us be better mom’s, wives and friends. We can’t allow our insecurities to prevent us from doing what’s best. We can’t allow the judgment, or the shame we feel because of how others react determine our choices. We have to take control of our lives and our families lives and do what’s best for them, not what looks good to everyone else.

The Lord will work out his plans for my life—
for your faithful love, O Lord, endures forever. Psalm 138:8(NLT)

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It’s More than Just the Baby Blues…

Close to 1,000,000 suffer from postpartum each year and that’s only the reported cases. Close to 10% of women don’t even report feelings of postpartum because of fear or shame. In fact, more women will suffer from postpartum depression and related illnesses this year than the combined number of new cases for men and women of tuberculosis, leukemia, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease and epilepsy. (postpartumprogress.org, http://postpartumprogress.org/2011/02/how-many-women-really-get-postpartum-depression/).

So with all these statistics out there, how come no one talks about it? I was diagnosed with  postpartum depression after I had my first child and it was gut wrenching and heartbreaking. I think the biggest struggle was the fact that it went undiagnosed for so long. There is so much emphasis on the care of the pregnant mom and the unborn baby, but as soon as you have your child, the care becomes virtually nonexistent. You see your OBGYN two weeks after delivery as a check in, but let’s be honest, who is thinking clearly at this time? No one. I didn’t sleep for 72 hours after I had Zeke. I was hyped up on adrenaline and anxiety. I had no idea what I was doing. The reality is no one has any idea what they are doing, but very few will admit that. All the sudden you are responsible for this tiny human being, that you know nothing about, that cries A LOT that needs to be fed constantly, and demands all of your attention. Even if someone tries to explain it to you, you just don’t get it until you experience it yourself.  The transition from working full time and being quite independent to quitting my job, feeling very isolated and now responsible for a whole other life who I didn’t really feel connected with was much harder than I thought.

Many doctors chalk up how you are feeling to baby blues, lack of sleep or hormones. The reality is if you don’t feel like yourself, and your baby is more than two weeks old, go and talk to a doctor. I had a history of depression, which my doctor was aware of, and I was still told that I didn’t have it. Well newsflash I had postpartum depression and unfortunately I went undiagnosed for close to nine months. I went to several medical professionals before someone really listened to me and heard me out. The thing I learned from this whole experience is the only who will fight for you is you.

You aren’t the first mom, who hasn’t immediately taken to being a mom, postpartum or not, you aren’t the first mom to struggle, you aren’t the first mom to feel alone, you’re not the first mom to say this is a lot harder than I thought it’d be and nor will you be the last.

I had the opportunity to speak about my struggles with postpartum depression through an amazing organization called http://www.fearlessmom.com I shared my story, in a roundtable discussion with a therapist who specializes in anxiety and depression as well as the head of Fearless Mom and another mom.

I hope this talk sheds some light on what you are going through or what you have overcome, and please if you know someone who you think needs help, reach out and encourage them. We are all in this together.

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