It’s Going to be Alright.

It’s been a rough week.

I’m doing everything right.  I’ve been drinking lots of water, eating lots of fruits and veggies, and spending at least seven hours in bed every night.  I’ve even gone to the gym a few times.  I’ve been spending time with friends, going to therapy, and taking my meds.  I still feel terrible.

People talk about depression like it’s just about feeling sad.  But for me, depression has always been more about feeling empty.  I start to feel like I’m moving through molasses.  Everyday chores like laundry and cooking become a huge struggle.  It’s hard to get out of bed or off the couch.  It’s hard to leave my apartment.  There’s so much to do, but I’m so anxious about everything that I get paralyzed, stuck, and it all just keeps piling up.  Everything seems so hopeless.  I can’t stop telling myself sad stories.  I start to wonder why I should even try.  I always think that King Solomon must have been depressed when he wrote Ecclesiastes.  “Meaningless, meaningless, everything is meaningless.”

On bad days, it becomes a struggle just to take care of myself.  My appetite is weird, and I’m so apathetic that I’m usually dizzy before I really start to think about getting something to eat.  I’ll get thirsty or cold, but I won’t do anything about it until I have to get up for something else.  I find myself thinking about razor blades as a coping mechanism.  It gets ugly sometimes.

When I first started struggling with depression, my parents treated it like a major moral failure.  They acted like I’d gotten addicted to drugs or been sleeping around and picked up an STD.  They still talk about that period that way, and I’ve internalized the idea that my mental illness is a character flaw.   Deep down, I still feel like I wouldn’t be dealing with this if I were an intrinsically better person.

In reality, I’m doing everything that I can.  I’m going to therapy, taking my meds, and doing the best self-care I am capable of.  Most days are just one foot in front of the other.  Monday and Tuesday were brutal, and I didn’t leave the house or put on real clothes.  Tuesday I took a shower and ran two loads of laundry.  Yesterday, I ate three meals, showered, and went to work.  Every night, I remind myself that I get another chance tomorrow.  Every morning, I try to make today a better day.  If it’s a bad day, I make my goals “eat something” and “take a shower.”  If it’s a good day, I’ll try to get to the gym, do a little cleaning, and spend some time with my guitar.  If I’m somewhere in the middle, I prioritize a healthy diet, good sleep, and overall improvement.  I’m getting better at rolling with the punches.

Maybe someday my brain won’t be my worst enemy, but in the meantime I’m learning not to be so hard on myself.  Bad days happen, but life goes on afterwards.  Missing a few checks on the to-do-list on those bad days won’t ruin my life.  My life is going to happen, no matter what, and I’m going to make it the best I can.  It’s going to be alright.

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I’m baaaaaaack!

I took the month of May off.

I realize that if you click back one entry, it looks like I actually took the month of May plus the last eleven days of April off, which is true for blogging, but really, really not true for everything else.  What you can’t see is that the last eleven days of April were one long, terrifying push to get all of my final papers written for school, do three people’s jobs on one person’s hours at work, and not kill anyone in my project groups.

That last one was actually more difficult than I should probably admit.

But all of my finals were turned in by May 1 (except for the group that could not get it together!!!).  So . . . what happened the rest of the month?

I slept a lot.  I read trashy fiction.  I watched the entire first two seasons of Say Yes to the Dress on Netflix.  I saw my therapist.  I got more connected at the so-progressive-my-parents-will-probably-disown-me church I’ve been attending.  I worked 30 hours a week.  I went out with friends.  I babysat.

Looking at that paragraph, May was fairly productive.  But honestly, I spent May in survival mode.  My apartment is a mess.  Laundry is the only household chore I’ve done consistently in the last five weeks.  I’ve eaten a lot of takeout and fast food.  I’ve eaten a lot of yogurt and frozen dinners.  I ate cereal out of Tupperware for a while.  At this point, I think that every dish I own is dirty, and I haven’t really bothered to do anything about it.

I was also supposed to be looking for a second job this past month, planning that curriculum I’m supposed to write, and thinking about my thesis.  Those things didn’t exactly happen, either.

But . . . today is June 1, which is the incredibly arbitrary deadline I gave myself to start acting like a real human being again.  So this morning, I stripped my bed and ran a load of sheets and towels.  I gathered up the trash to take out and started the long and somewhat disgusting process of loading the dishwasher.  I have a list of jobs to apply for and some time set aside to work on my resume.  I’m writing a blog.

I think the time off from real life was good for me.  I think giving myself permission to collapse a little bit, to rest and recover from a whirlwind semester was a good thing.  I’m a chronic over-scheduler, and sometimes I don’t recognize that I need a break.

It’s also exciting (in a sad, I’m-obviously-still-recovering kind of way) that I continued to function somewhat this month.  I kept going to work.  I always had clean clothes.  I went out with friends.  I didn’t hide in my apartment and refuse to get out of bed.  Yes, I felt overwhelmed at the beginning of May, but I feel better now.

That’s a victory in itself.

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Practicing the Sacred

Growing up in an Evangelical, Pentecostal tradition, I was fairly focused on what people believed about God.  How they lived their lives was important, of course, but someone who did good things wasn’t necessarily a good Christian, and even a Christian who did good things but didn’t believe everything he or she was supposed to was suspect.  After all, belief is what saves us, right?  “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved.” (Acts 16:31)

As I’ve gotten older, orthodoxy, or correctness of belief, has become less important to me.  I still believe that there are some sacred, inviolable truths, but they are fewer than they once were.  Additionally, I’m increasingly willing to accept that it’s possible to believe something that I don’t, or not believe something that I do (even if that something is really important to one or both of us), and still have a legitimate Christian experience.

The idea of “orthopraxy” (correctness of action, often standing in opposition to orthodoxy as centrally important) was first introduced to me in my Intro to Hinduism class in college.  As I have discussed previously, these classes were extremely challenging to my understanding of what it means to be a person of faith, who God is, and how humans interact with and make sense of the divine.  While the Hinduism class was important to me in a number of ways, one of these was that it got me interested in Christian liturgy.

That’s right.  Studying Hinduism got me interested in Christian liturgy.

I grew up in a tradition without a liturgy.  In fact, I grew up in a tradition where it liturgy was associated with spiritual dryness or death.  But Hindu religious expression seemed to have room for both the ecstatic experiences of Pentecostalism and the highly structured beauty of liturgical traditions.  There was room for intensity and emotional buy-in and spontaneity, but also for tradition and ritual and candles and bells and ancient prayers.  The practice of puja (daily devotions, includes things like prayer, candle-lighting, bell-ringing, sacrificial offerings of spices or milk, and incense burning) seemed sacred in a way that sitting down with my Bible and journal never did.

It was after that course that I bought a copy of the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer and began reading the evening prayers each day.  I’ve since branched out into other forms of this practice, and I recently started attending a very traditional Methodist church.  Embracing liturgy has helped me understand my faith in a completely different light.

Connecting with a liturgical tradition has helped me learn that sometimes “walking by faith” means going through the motions.  Sometimes, it means honoring God in ways that aren’t comfortable.  It means offering a sacrifice of obedience, of daily ritual, even on days when there’s no spark.  It’s a kind of faith grounded in something other than emotional experience and rooted in millennia of brothers and sisters speaking the same words and doing the same actions, day in and day out.

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Everyday Best

I haven’t posted in ages.  I was sick most of last week between a badly timed bout of PMS and something that seemed to start out as a sinus infection and ended up as a bad cold.  I feel like I just can’t get traction this semester.  I feel like everything is moving too fast, and there’s no possible way to keep up.  I’m starting to feel the pressure of what-are-you-going-to-do-next, and sometimes I’m not even sure what I’m doing now.

When I was 8 years old, I felt God’s call to missions.  Over the years, I’ve wrestled with the details of that calling, as it led me towards Africa, then towards a specific country, towards teaching, then medicine, then finally public health.  And on one hand, I feel like I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be right now.  But another part of me is terrified that I’m not going to be in the right place to take the next step, and yet another part wonders what, exactly my “call to missions” will look like in action since I’m fairly certain I’m not interested in doing traditional missions or working with a heavily faith-influenced organization.

And then there’s so much else going on in my life right now.  I don’t have time to worry about the next step, because I’m trying to figure out how to keep from relapsing into depression and how to live like a normal person after 3 years of panic attacks and meds.  I’m trying to figure out who I am after all of that.  I’m trying to figure out what I actually believe about God and how that impacts my every-day life.  I’m trying to figure out if I’m going to be alone forever and how I feel about that, particularly since I can’t count on my family for support.

I’m trying to grow up.  It’s more complicated than it looks.

Life doesn’t stop so I can deal with things.  I’m honestly not sure I would get anything done if it did.  But somehow, I have to believe that God will offer me time to work out what’s important and grace for what’s not.  Somehow I have to believe that the part of me that wants stability and companionship isn’t somehow entirely outside of God’s will.

Maybe that’s my challenge for Lent.  Maybe it’s in this time of preparation that I need to begin to make space in my life for questions, not by allowing them to overwhelm me, but by putting boundaries around them.  Maybe I can fast from doubting and enjoy my life.  Maybe I can fast from worrying and focus on the present.

I’ve always been afraid of missing God’s “best” for me.  I think it’s a common concern for kids raised in evangelical churches.  But I’m beginning to realize that God’s best isn’t just in the broader arc of my life.  It’s in the smaller spaces, too.  God wants his best for me every single day.

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On Being Balanced

I’m an all-or-nothing kind of girl, and always have been.  Sometimes this is a good thing.  When I commit to something, I do so wholeheartedly.  I make projects that I am invested in a priority, and I am willing to go above and beyond to make them work.  This makes me a committed student and employee as long as I care about my classes and job.  If I can get involved in things I am passionate about, this is a definite strength.

At other times, my intensity becomes an issue.  I tend to over-commit.  I tend to dig my heels in and try to do something on strength of will alone.  Every part of a project feels like my baby, so I struggle to delegate or ask for help.

Also, I’m not good at balance.

Two weeks ago, I was feeling so much better.  I had some energy back.  I wasn’t dealing with so much background anxiety.  I made it to work on time, went to all of my classes, and ate fairly well.  I was starting to feel like I had escaped the slump and had my life back under control.

I dived back into things headfirst, and promptly over-scheduled myself.  I wanted to do ALL THE THINGS that I had been missing.  I wanted to socialize, attend lectures, and go to club meetings.  The first blush of normalcy after a period of depression is always a little intoxicating, and I got drunk on it.  I over-scheduled my weekend, shorted myself on sleep, and left absolutely no time to recharge.

Needless to say, last week didn’t go so well.

So, here I am, reminding myself that I am an introvert.  As much as I love having friends and hanging out, I need unstructured time to myself.  I need time to write and make music and read fluffy nonsense.  I need time alone without a to-do list or expectations.  I have to find a balance between social time, professional time, and “me” time.

I am also recovering from a long period of depression and a more recent small relapse.  I have to take care of myself.  I have to eat well and sleep well.  I have to move a little every day.  I have to watch my self-talk and monitor my habits for signs that things are not going well.

This weekend, I did better.  I worked some on Friday, but chose not to go to the career fair.  I spent Saturday at home, allowing myself the unstructured time I needed to recharge.  I spent Sunday socializing and working on homework.  Today, I woke up feeling well-rested and ready for my week.  I met with two of my professors this morning to talk about classes I missed, and now I’m settled into a to-do list full of homework and chores.  This evening, I’ll work for a few hours, finish up the homework, and go to bed with a clear conscience, ready to head to class bright and early tomorrow morning.

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Sleep: Not Just for the Weak

Sleep is important.  That should probably be obvious, but sometimes I need a reminder.  Which is why I’m so glad I have my best friend to remind me when I get into a funk that the best way out is to “sleep well, eat well, and socialize.”

I need sleep.  There was a time when I functioned well on a limited amount of sleep.  As long as I had a shower, a good breakfast and some caffeine, I would be fine.  Even if I’d only slept a couple of hours, I could stumble through my day.  That has gotten less true over the years.  Now, I’m basically a zombie if I haven’t slept.  I’m slow and anti-social and it tends to induce migraines.  It’s not a pretty picture.

Even more than that, though, my sleeping habits are generally a good picture of how I’m doing mentally and emotionally.  If I can’t sleep, there’s a problem.  Even if I can sleep, sometimes I just won’t.  When I’m a little down or anxious, sometimes I just find it really hard to go to bed.  I’ve actually been known to completely flip my sleep cycle this way without intending to.  It’s like some utterly illogical part of my brain is convinced that if I stay up a little longer, I won’t have to deal with tomorrow.

For me, getting good sleep is part of staying well.  It’s part of being able to function like a normal human being.  It’s part of being happy.  As such, I’ve developed a few rules:

  1. Find a bedtime and stick to it.  This is definitely the hardest one for me.  I love staying up late and sleeping in on the weekends.  But if I’m going to sleep well during the week, I have to stick to this one.  I make it work by not setting my alarm on the weekends, so I still get a little bit of a treat.
  2. Beds are only for sleeping.  And sex, if you’re having it.  But not for anything else.  I cheat on this one a little sometimes by sitting on my bed to work around midday, if I’m home, but I’m more careful about it in the morning and at night.  I’m also a lot stricter about it when I know I’m having trouble.
  3. Get rid of ambient light and noise.  Turn off all the lights.  Get blackout shades if you have to.  Dim your alarm clock or turn it away.  Turn on a fan or buy a white noise machine to cover up noisy neighbors or traffic.  Having consistent conditions like this will help you develop a better sleep pattern.

Obviously, I’m writing about this because I’m not sleeping well, and that tends to affect my whole life.  Last week was so much better, but I’m still trying to find my feet in these new, better habits.  I can do it.  I just need a reminder, sometimes, of what it takes.

How do you notice you’re struggling?

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Think on These Things

I took a bit of a break last week to get re-engaged with real life.  It was a busy week.  I started Tuesday a little behind, which seemed to snowball through my schedule.  Additionally, I tend to over-schedule myself with social activities when I’ve been hermit-y, so my weekend was a bit crazy.

Last week wasn’t perfect by any means.  I didn’t get as much sleep as I would have liked.  I didn’t cook as much as I would have liked.  My apartment was a huge mess until yesterday, and now my bedroom is a huge mess because I shoved most of the clutter in there before company came over.  I didn’t get any exercise, and I didn’t practice my guitar.

It’s easy for me to get distracted by these things.  It’s easy for me to look at my life and see all of the less-than-perfect moments that fill in the cracks and spaces in my day.  It’s easy to look around and see all of the things that I’ve let slide.

But I’m trying to stay focused on the positive, so one of the Sanity Manifesto points that I really focused on last week was to write down three things each day that I was grateful for (#20).  I didn’t actually write mine down, but after I turned out the lights each night as I was drifting off to sleep, I counted down three good things about that day.  It helped my perspective.  It helped me see that last week was not just a crazy, busy week in which I failed to meet some of my goals.  Instead, it helped me to reframe last week as a crazy, busy week in which I met many of my goals despite a hectic schedule.

So, what went well last week?  I got to all of my classes, and was only late once.  I completed all of the assignments that were due.  I spent time with friends outside of school.  I spent at least some time with God every day.  I listened to some good music every day.  I studied and worked and wore makeup every day.  I kept going.

I think the last thing is the biggest for this week.  When things got crazy or I hadn’t had enough sleep, I didn’t retreat into my shell and refuse to engage with the world.  Instead, I took a deep breath, thought about the bigger picture and kept moving forward.  When I was running late for class on Thursday, I didn’t get anxious over walking in late.  I kept pushing forward.  When I had company coming over and I was running behind schedule, I didn’t call off the event.  I decided that welcoming people into my home was more important than appearing to be an obsessive housekeeper and that friendship would overcome an unvacuumed floor.

I’m learning to let go of perfection.  I’m learning to focus on the positive.  I’m learning to live where I am instead of wishing myself six steps ahead.

What were you grateful for this week?

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