Good morning God,
I have to do this thing for a family member this weekend and I really don’t want to. I mean, I work all week and look forward to the weekends for ME time. I want to get out of this commitment but don’t know how. What do you think I should do?
When you serve others it pleases me. Serving others when it is inconvenient for you honors me. Keeping your commitments to serve others when it is inconvenient for you thrills me. I think you know where I’m going with this.
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We all come to recovery in our own unique ways. Some of us spend our last hours going out with a bang – using heavily and sucking up every last second of our drug of choice. And others of us look at our habit with tears in our eyes, exhaustion in our soul and utter defeat in our heart, ready to surrender.
How did you come into recovery?
LION – heavy in your addiction and resistant to change
LAMB – quietly surrendering and ready for help
Leave your answer in the comments!
I was instructed by my sponsor to “take exquisite care” of myself because I was feeling rather crappy. I was whining, moaning and pretty much minimizing the incredibly frightening claws of depression that were pulling and tugging at my consciousness. If she could see the scratch marks, she didn’t let on.
“Yoga, eat well, pray, gratitude, nap…” were some of her instructions. Napping was not a problem. I’ve always been a napper. I can nap at the drop of a hat – as long as I can get horizontal. I have never been able to sleep upright, in a car or airplane. Nope. I need a flat surface, of any kind. Give me a bed, a floor, a desk, a long countertop and I’m good to go.
So, I checked the NAP box and looked at the rest of the list. YOGA – maybe. I could commit to stretching in bed while slowly waking up from a nap. That will have to do for now; check. EAT WELL – hmmm. I wondered if mint chocolate chip ice cream counted as eating well. I DID eat it after I ate cottage cheese and almonds. So I ate well – check. PRAY. Okay, I can do that. I pray every morning, at the beginning and end of each meeting and sometimes sporadically throughout the day when things aren’t going according to my plan.
But lately, as I dance with the devil of darkness and try to outsmart my depression, I have found it very difficult to pray for anything. So I came up with my own version of the serenity prayer. It goes like this:
Sometimes I’ll even throw in an Amen for good measure. I say it robotically, with complete and utter lack of emotion or feeling of any kind. Why spice it up when I don’t have to? If God can’t figure out that I’m in a pretty crappy place by the words alone, then I’m screwed. So I throw the words together in a mish mash of eye rolling and guttural gagging, not really sure if I want to have any of those prayers come true.
I know I don’t really, truly want to accept my limitations. Who would? Would anyone want to be told that they cannot multi-task? That they can’t successfully complete all the projects in front of them? I don’t really want to tell my clients that I’m having a bad head day and can’t focus on anything more than repeats of Law & Order and counting the spots on my dog. But accept my limitations I must. If I don’t, I will sink like the Titanic – literally – with people screaming, splashing and all. I can hear that when I start to go under. I can actually hear the voices screaming and flailing. It is quite disturbing.
I used to be able to ignore those pathetic people as they jumped ship and splashed into the icy cold water. I was focused on the lights flickering in the upright part of the ship. I did not have the peripheral wherewithal to see the portion of the ship under the sea, to notice the gaping rip in the deck or the broken china on the floor. Damn those annoying quitters. I will push through – without a life vest – while listening to the quartet play me out – until I absolutely cannot think another sane thought.
Then, and only then, will I look walk casually to the top of the ship and look over the edge. I will consider the jump, consider the possibility of sliding slowly down the deck or taking the leap into the frozen arctic below. And I will hold on to the railing as the winds rip around me. And because I hate making decisions – I have never been very good at them – I will stall.
Instead, I will look down at my white feet and marvel at the purple pedicure I just got. Sponsor’s orders were to take exquisite care of myself. So, after I awoke from my nap and before I went to my recovery meeting, I decided to indulge in a little spiritual reading and a pedicure. I arrived with plenty of time to spare. But because I hadn’t made an appointment, I had to wait for the nice Korean people to finish with several other sets of fingers and toes before they took on the challenge of mine.
I finally sat in the massage chair with 30 minutes to spare. Plenty of time, I thought as I cracked open my book of spiritual nuggets. I read casually as I soaked my feet in the hot bubbly smooth water. After five minutes, I began looking around at the other guests, wondering when I would be taken care of. I tried my best to look focused on my reading while making sure the employees knew darned well that I was getting impatient. After all, I had arrived with plenty of time and now – holy crap! I only had 20 minutes until I had to leave.
Finally, after another five minutes of me visually chastising the workers, a nice middle aged Korean man came over and began tickling my feet with a pumice stone. I told him, between laughs, to please just get to the polish as I had to be out in 15 minutes. He obliged. He slipped my shoes on, threw the yellow spongy toe separators on and slathered my nails in the sparkly purple polish I had selected. I was out 5 minutes and $28 dollars later and was careful not to smudge my nails. But I was grateful. I checked another box.
When I got to Celebrate Recovery, I slipped the shoes off and let my nails finish drying while the band rehearsed. It wasn’t until we were wrapping up that my friend pointed out I had trashed the polish on both big toes. Great, I thought. So much for exquisite care. The darned pedicure had cost more than I wanted to spend, made me walk uncomfortably for an hour and now looked worse than before. The result was more stress than I had to begin with.
So now I stand at the railing, feeling the cold sea air whip around me as I look down at my purple polish. The two big toes stand out, marred, fumbled and imperfect. They are surrounded by eight perfectly polished pals. That’s just how it is. Sometimes I will be the big toe. Sometimes I will be the perfectly polished pal. And, I think as I let go of the railing and slide down the slippery deck – that will have to be okay.
Love myself unconditionally? I don’t know that I ever could. I think about how my daughter looks at me, with love only a child can have for her blotchy, jagged mother. I see the love in her eyes and hear her words when she says, “You’ll never know how much I love you.” They stab at my heart like little arrows from cupid. And I realize, she is probably right. So unconditional love for myself? That will take time – maybe an eternity.
And wisdom to know facts from feelings. Well, I actually already do. It’s having the discernment to recognize when I’m choosing to accept feelings as facts – that’s where I need the wisdom.
So exquisite care is what I’m focusing on today. That might be all I am able to do. That and swat away the negative gremlins that grow with every ounce of attention I give them. Okay, maybe not even that. But I will stop feeding them so much. And if I can get through today without picking up a drink or drug, and without putting down those I love and myself – that will be a very, very good – dare I say – exquisite day.
I recently heard a woman talk about how she thought she was always last on God’s to-do list. She believed God was taking care of everyone else but her. He was doling his blessings onto everyone around her while she sat lacking. She thought for certain everyone else in her life was getting all the lucky, fortunate breaks while she remained stuck in an unsatisfying life. She was absolutely positive that God answered other people’s prayers and that hers ended up in His spam folder.
Until she got into recovery and met the God of her understanding. This God was not the same God she knew before. This God wasn’t selective and biased. He didn’t hold a grudge. He wasn’t easily flattered. This God was kind, loving and equal in His benevolence. He blessed everyone, forgave everyone and loved everyone, regardless of how they felt about Him.
I used to think that my God also tossed my prayers into the recycling bin. I was pretty sure that all those foxhole rants that I called prayers were rising up into the atmosphere and either evaporating into the ozone or falling on God’s deaf ears. I knew with absolute certainty that everyone else had a better God-connection than me because they were living better lives.
Until I got into recovery. Then I discovered that it wasn’t that God hadn’t gotten around to me at all. It was that I hadn’t gotten around to God. Wow! My mind exploded just a little when I had that realization. Me? Not getting around to God? But I had prayed. I had gone to church. I had even dropped a few bucks in the Salvation Army bucket. I had gone out of my way, inconvenienced myself ever so slightly to make sure everyone noticed that I was getting around to God. Sound familiar?
But that’s not what it’s about. At least, I don’t think so. I don’t think my God wants me to show off. I don’t think He wants me to be inconvenienced in an attention getting way. He doesn’t want me to take inventory on my good deeds and wait for public recognition. He doesn’t want me to do any of these things in the same way that He doesn’t want to throw a pile of money in my lap so that He can be lauded.
My God is humble. He works with me, not for me. He works through me, not above me. He gives freely, when I am ready to receive responsibly. He pushes gently, when I am stuck in fear. He guides my heart to generosity when the need is unclear to me. He mutes my bitter tongue and patiently places loving words in my mouth. He lets me see myself the way my husband sees me, love myself the way my children love me, and treat myself the way my best friend treats me.
All because I was willing to get around to God. You see, these things were always available to me, I just didn’t know it. These little gifts were lingering around the outside of my consciousness, always escaping my diseased, sick thinking. I couldn’t see them through my greed and pride. I couldn’t savor the sweet satisfaction that comes from being compassionate while choking on my need for recognition. I couldn’t feel the overwhelming peace of being alone with Him when communion was an event not an experience. There was no way I could have ever known the sense of gratification that comes from doing His work when I kept slapping my label on it.
Today I know that I can have as much God as I’m willing to get. I can go all in and and get all of Him in every area of my life. Or, I can dance around the pool of His glorious riches, dip a toe in and get a small dose of ease back. I won’t lie. I’ve done both. Some days I dance around the edge, unable to find the willingness to go any further than ankle deep. Other days – even if I’m scared and the water is frigid – I dive in knowing that the reward will be worth it. And so far, God hasn’t disappointed.
So, have you actively gotten around to God or are you still waiting for Him to get around to you? If you’re still a toe dipper, I encourage you… come on in – the water’s fine!
I recently received a message from a girl who wanted my help. Her name is Michelle and she is the founder of Schizophrenic.NYC. She stumbled across my blog and wondered if I would be willing to write a post about her organization. She would even be willing to send me a free tee shirt. Now, she had me at help… but the word free sealed the deal.
See that cool t-shirt I’m wearing? That’s just one of many designs she creates and sells to help raise awareness and fund programs for the homeless mentally ill in and around New York City. And even though I’m not from New York, I can identify with the mental illness part.
I suffered my first depressive episode at sixteen and it sucked. It sucked my sanity, sucked for my family and nearly sucked the life out of me, literally. At the time, I had no idea what was happening. I thought I was just being witchy and mean. I thought I was just being overly emotional and sensitive. I thought I was a loser, a scumbag, a failure – not worth the air I breathed. And I at the time, I thought that type of thinking was normal.
Luckily, I had a great family who loved me, supported me and got me the help I needed. I learned about the illness and how to turn my thinking and moods around. When I struggled with depression as an adult, I was blessed to have a loving family and adequate insurance to get the care and support I needed. I again learned about the illness I had and how best to treat it. When I was finally diagnosed bipolar in my early 40’s, I again was fortunate enough to get the help and treatment I needed.
I was one of the lucky ones. But there are many more who are not as lucky. These are the one in four homeless that we see on street corners and under bridges. These are the mothers, wives, daughters and sisters who didn’t have insurance. They are the husbands, sons, fathers and brothers who were not given the information they needed to get better. They are college graduates, attorneys, doctors, entrepreneurs, laborers, teachers, scientists, engineers, professors who didn’t get the support and resources they needed. They are the stigmatized, the ridiculed, the ostracized. They are the homeless mentally ill.
THEY ARE YOU AND ME…
stripped of our insurance, our family, our finances and our dignity.
I won’t pretend to know what they feel like, the homeless mentally ill. I have never been homeless. I won’t lie and say I never walked on the other side of the street when I saw them, those reflections of a less fortunate me. I won’t sit here and say that I bled sympathy for them and willingly threw money at their open hands because I didn’t.
I JUDGED THEM.
Until I realized that I was just one drink,
one drug, one missed diagnosis away from being them.
That realization came one day early in my recovery. I was on that pink cloud, seeing everything with my new pair of glasses and frankly, feeling invincible. As I was driving, I passed a busy intersection and saw him, the man who would right size me. He was wild eyed and dirty. His clothes were stained and ripped and several sizes too big. His long dirty hair hung loosely on his darkly tanned, exposed chest. I couldn’t tell if he was young or old because he wore an overgrown beard and an expression of defeat.
But it didn’t matter. What mattered was that in that instant I knew that this man, this homeless, dirty stranger was me if I didn’t do what I needed to stay sane and sober. If I didn’t work my recovery program, stay accountable and do what my sponsor and doctor told me to do, I could be him. If I slid into the abyss of depression or the insanity of mania again and didn’t let people know, didn’t reach out, I could fall off the edge and wind up under a cardboard box.
I knew, in that flicker of an instant when my eyes locked on his, that this man had a name, a past, a history, a mother, a father, a purpose. And for whatever reason, he had ended up right there, on that street corner, at that exact moment that I needed to see him. Why? I didn’t know and didn’t care. All that really mattered was that he had and I was glad. I was glad that he had put me in my place. I was a sober, sane woman that day. But only for that day. I wasn’t before and had no guarantee that I would be in the future. And thanks to that dirty, homeless man, I was reminded of that and have never forgotten it since.
Michelle is schizophrenic. I’m bipolar. These are two different mental illnesses with different moods, behaviors, thinking and courses of treatment. But one thing both of these illnesses, and most mental illnesses have in common is that they are misunderstood. When someone has delusions or paranoia, it doesn’t always mean they are on drugs. When someone is weepy and negative all the time, it doesn’t always mean they like to play the victim and crave attention. When someone jumps at loud noises or panics in crowds it doesn’t mean they do it for the entertainment of others.
There is no one fix for mental illness or for homelessness. But there is a lot we can do to improve the lives of those suffering both. We can…
GET EDUCATED – learn about mental illness and how it affects those in your life
GET GRATITUDE – be thankful that you have what you have and figure out how you can share it with those who do not
GET ACTIVE – participate in programs or campaigns that advocate or raise awareness for mental illness and homelessness
GET GRACE – show compassion when you see someone suffering with mental illness
I’m so grateful that I saw that man that day. I’m so grateful that God gave me the ability to write what’s on my heart. And I’m so glad Michelle read it and reached out to me. Despite all of the advances we have made as a society, there is still not enough being done or said about mental illness.
Please help this Michelle and her awesome cause by hopping over to Schizophrenic.NYC and checking out the tee-shirts Michelle and her organization offer. Note their tagline – I LOVE IT! And please, talk about it. Talk about the site to others. Talk about mental illness and homelessness to others. Talk about what you know, what you don’t know and what you want to know so that together we can be more informed, involved and empathetic to our brothers and sisters in need.
On the surface these two steps seem pretty simple. When I was first introduced to them I thought they were rather straightforward. No problem. I can turn my will and my life over to the care of God. Heck, I was doing a pretty lousy job caring for myself so I figured I had nothing to lose. And as far as my will? Well, I had been trying to change myself, trying to discipline myself, trying to will myself into getting better, healthier, saner. And that hadn’t worked out too well either so I was more than happy to let someone else take a stab at it.
I also figured that since I enjoyed listening to classical music on rainy days over a good cup of coffee at Panera, that I could definitely meditate. And prayer was a no-brainer for me. I had been praying for God to make changes in my life for as long as I could remember.
Yup. This whole 12 step thing was gonna be a cinch.
And then I read those steps again. And again. And… again. And I kept getting stuck on that little word… His. I had to follow His will. I had to abandon my will and rely only on His will. Being the intellect that I thought I was (another old idea), I figured that I was smart enough to know exactly what His will was for me.
I considered myself to be an expert listener because I had read books on how to listen. However, if you asked my teenage son to judge my listening skills, I would have failed. I also believed I was very good at reading between the lines and discovering the true meaning behind things. But again, if you asked my husband to judge how well I received his well-intended love and support at the height of my illness, he probably would have given me a very poor score.
Regardless, I dove into these steps figuring that I was smart enough to navigate them quite well. Actually, I was so egotistical that I thought I would merely let God know that I was fully aware of His will and I that I needed no further instructions – check the box, done, move on. Two steps down, ten to go.
But then something happened. I started getting better. I got a healthy dose of ego-deflation that led to some clarity, sanity and dare I say it, humility. It didn’t happen overnight. Nope. It was like a medication that takes a while to build up in your system. You don’t feel the effects for a few weeks. And then when you do, you realize just how sick you were. You didn’t notice the giant ego and pride before because you lived with them forever. It isn’t until they’re gone that you notice just how toxic and unhealthy they were.
Once I gained some sanity and clarity, I could see that maybe I didn’t know everything. I even was willing to say that perhaps I knew very little. With every meeting, every sponsor session, every step, I learned that I knew less and less. This process was eye-opening and freeing. It lifted the weight of the world off of me. I no longer had to be responsible for every answer, every solution, every fix.
But it also caused me to doubt my ability to judge right from wrong, good from bad and most importantly – God’s will from my own.
How was I supposed to turn my will over to God’s if I wasn’t able to hear him clearly? How was I supposed to follow His will if I didn’t know what it was? How was I supposed to know the difference between my will, my desires and selfish motives and His good, pure will for me? The clarity that I gained in recovery also brought with it new and unchartered confusion. I had never worried about what God’s will was before because I had lived by Jenny’s rules and done what I wanted, when I wanted, for reasons that satisfied me. But in order to continue on this path, to complete the steps, I had to learn a new skill.
I had to be a Will Whisperer.
I wasn’t skilled in this area. I had no prior experience discerning God’s voice and will. But thankfully, others did. So I turned to the people God had placed in my life. I turned to my sponsor, my accountability partners, others in recovery and listened to them as they translated God’s voice for me. I turned to His word and began trying to read His messages as they applied to me and my life. And most importantly, I turned inward to me, to the me that had always been in there underneath the ego and the pride. I looked for the little child who had known what the right thing was before insecurity made her question herself. I looked deep within myself to find the spirit God gave me; the pure, selfless, true passion and love that He wanted me to use for good before I locked that all away behind a wall of fear and doubt.
With the help of my sponsor and others, I learned how to better discern God’s voice. I was told that those awful, anxious, weird feelings in my stomach were not from God. If I ever took an action that made me feel like I had to hide it, lie about it or justify it, it was probably not the action God wanted me to take. In other words, doing things that I couldn’t be completely transparent about, that I couldn’t be completely at peace with, were probably not the things God was directing me to do. They were probably not God’s will for my life.
In time, I learned to spot several red flags that indicate when I’m following my will and not God’s will. They are:
- doing things to gain self-glory or recognition
- doing things that hurt others to make myself feel better
- using others to improve my position
- taking the easy path even though it feels wrong
- seeking out people who will approve my bad behaviors rather than trusting those who don’t
- justifying my actions, over and over and over and over again
- making excuses for my actions and behaviors
- acting on my own without discussing my decisions with another humble, sober, person I admire
- lying to myself and others
- ignoring obstacles that might be put in my path for a reason
- ignoring the wisdom and advice of those that have gone before me
- avoiding the difficult things even when I know they are the right things
- believing that I don’t have to follow the nudging and urging I feel to do the next right thing
- taking action even when it makes me feel all icky inside
These are just some of the signs that maybe I’m forcing my will on myself instead of surrendering to God’s will. There are other signs, too. They are subtle, tiny little God moments that make me aware I’m out of alignment and remind me to redirect myself. Things like feeling worn out, tired, sick tell me maybe I’m exceeding my limitations. Feeling angry or frustrated with someone might be God telling me to back off and mind my own business. Feeling like I’m failing at a job or project could be God’s way of telling me that He has something better planned for me.
I will never claim to completely know what God’s will is for my life. But I do know that I’m willing to be open to interpretation. I’m open to hearing God talk to me through you, through people in recovery, through my sponsor, friends and family. I’m willing to look for God’s signs in my surroundings. I’m willing to seek His messages in His word. And I’m willing to pay close attention to the greatest indicators of all, my physical and emotional responses to things. Because when I listen closely to all of these things, that still, small voice that is sometimes so hard to hear, finally becomes just a little clearer.
I am going to admit something to you that I haven’t even admitted to my sponsor – I know, I know. But c’mon, I know you’ve held something back from time to time too. But this isn’t a little something… this isn’t a small thingy that I just casually forgot to mention. Nope. This is a big, bad, hairy, scary boogie-man sort of thing that has been on my back, over my shoulder, in my closet and sometimes under my bed for as long as I can remember.
Ready? Okay… here it is… (big sigh)
I’M SCARED TO WRITE.
Now before you get all – What the what?! on me, let me explain. I’m not afraid to write behind the cloak of anonymity. (Notice I don’t have many personal pics on this site?) I’m not afraid to write for someone else (ghostwriting, freelancing, favors). And I’m not afraid to write for free (this blog, FB, Twitter, general mish-mash of musings – although I’m open to payment or donations :)).
But I’m terrified to actually finish something of my own that will be published. In other words, I’m scared to finish my books. I have a few, several actually, that I’ve already written. They need a little dusting off, a little editing, but otherwise they are ready for agents. And still, I have yet to get them to publication. I have yet to actually follow-through and take these works of blood, sweat and tears to the next level. What I have done, as I mentioned in this Sunday’s Facebook post about procrastination, is spent the past several months doing everything BUT working on these books.
I guess you could say – I’M STUCK!
I’ve seen many people struggle with being stuck in recovery. Sometimes it happens early on. It’s that paralyzing fear of actually having to recover that can stifle our progress. Other times I see it in the old timers. They have moved so far away from being new and fresh that they start to mildew and rot… growing fungus from lack of movement. They just can’t seem to shake that feeling and they feel stuck.
Other times I’ve seen people in recovery struggle with the same issues over and over again. On the surface, the stuck-ness always seems like it’s a new dilemma. Last year it was the husband, this year it’s the kids, next year it will be the boss. But when you dig down, you can clearly see the stuck-ness is just a symptom of the same root cause.
What is that cause? Heck if I know. It’s different for each of us. Why am I stuck? I have no idea. You might say I’m scared of success. You might think that I’m scared of rejection. I can tell you I’m certainly scared of failing – failing you, failing my family, failing my supporters – failing myself. But I don’t know if that is what keeps me stuck. And honestly, I don’t care anymore.
I could spend another four months – or four years – analyzing what keeps me stuck, asking why, why, WHY?! OR I could just plunge forward, not worry about how I got stuck and just focus on doing what I need to do to get unstuck. After all – there is no Y in stuck.
So here’s my plan. I started this whole ball rolling by getting honest with my sponsor (ugh). And I got the teacher/preacher act back from her – which is rare for my sponsor. She’s usually rather casual and calm. But when I told her how I had done virtually nothing I had planned doing with my books and instead had distracted myself with oodles of other things, she kind of laid into me in an Al Dente sort of way. She wasn’t tough, but wasn’t all soggy and mushy either. She was lovingly firm. And I needed that.
Next, I figured I’d better take a cue from a girl that shared at the rehab meeting I attended last week. She said she stayed on track by calling her sponsor every day, going to regular meetings, having a commitment at her home-group and doing service work. She stopped doing those and ended up relapsing. All good ideas I thought. And since I was only visiting the rehab and didn’t want to be a patient, I should probably start implementing them regularly.
Lastly, I figured I better do the steps – again. I’ve done them before, more than once. And each time I did them, I did them thoroughly. But it’s been a while. And I know I’m getting lazy and complacent. And stuck. The Promises are coming true, but many of them are just out of my grasp. I’m not sure if I’m scared of all the good things I know I will get. I’m not sure if I still don’t feel worthy of God’s mercy, grace and blessings. I’m not sure if I’m worried I’ll be unable to fulfill His awesome plan for me. But again, I don’t need to know the “Y” behind any of it.
All I need to know is that I am at a point where I feel I’m not really moving forward. I’m not even sure I’m moving at all. Have you ever felt that way? And if that’s how I feel, I’m either stagnant or moving away from the goal God has set out for me. I’m either growing mold or not trusting Him. Or both.
For me, it boils down to one simple action – Trust. If I trust my sponsor, I will follow her suggestions – all the way through, which includes doing the steps. If I trust the steps, I will come out of the fog and into a deeper relationship with God. If I am closer to God, I will trust Him more and I will do the next thing He has set out in front of me without questioning the Y, when, where, how or what. And if I can do all of these things, I will eventually get unstuck.
The farther away I get from my last depression, the harder it is for me to remember the specific feelings associated with that hellish place. But when the topic of depression comes up, a chill runs up my spine when I remember just how bad it was.
My depression was different each time. The first time I experienced depression I wasn’t quite sure what was going on. I was a teenage girl experiencing raging hormones, substance experimentation, sexual exploration and the normal pressures of high school. My blue skies turned gray over a period of years. Then in just a few short months, those gray clouds turned black and opened up, pouring rain and hail down on me and my loved ones. Before I knew it, I was sullen, silent and suicidal. The old Jenny was gone and a shell of a person, a ghost Jenny took my place.
My family tried to help… but only made it worse. They pushed me for answers, they prodded me with questions, they got angry. I was killing my parents. My siblings told me how selfish I was and what a toll I was taking on my mom and dad. Everyone hated me and I knew it. I knew I was causing everyone I loved so much pain. I knew that every silent moment, every drink, drug and inch of emotional distance was another knife in my parents’ hearts. I knew it but was helpless to stop.
The sickest part about my depression was that as I was causing pain to those I loved, I was screaming inside for help. I was begging and pleading for someone, anyone to help me stop these awful behaviors, to help me out of this evil, wretched place. And yet, I was unable to open my mouth and vocalize any of it. Instead, my depression shot daggers of hate out of my eyes, pushing those I needed most even further away. My depression strangled my throat so that only ugly words could be formed and it paralyzed my muscles so that I could no longer smile, hug or laugh.
The second depression was not quite as subtle. It was temperamental, demanding and bratty. At first I thought it was just normal to be completely nasty. After all, I was a young stay-at-home mother who hated winter and lived a life of “not good enough.” I tried to blame the feelings on everyone and everything outside of me. It was only when I got so low I couldn’t deny it any longer that I had to face the fact that I was depressed again. When this reality hit, the only option I saw was driving my car into the river. But instead of doing that, instead of telling anyone close to me what I was thinking or feeling, I called a therapist and finally got some much needed help.
The third visit from my dark nemesis was more noticeable to my friends and family than it was to me. I was demonstrating anger, agitation and irritability long before I realized anything was truly wrong. Then came the lack of concentration and focus. Fatigue and binge-eating followed. Within months I was avoiding social engagements and wanting to do serious harm to those around me. Not homicidal harm. I just wanted to punch my coworkers and slap whiny people. You know, those things we all think about sometimes. Except I actually saw myself doing them.
Once I recognized that I was again sliding and sliding fast, I told my family. I immediately got some help. But because I am bipolar, the antidepressants I was prescribed sent me into a psychotic episode. Ahhh… the shame of it all. You see, it was during this phase of my illness, during this insanely, maddening, overtly suicidal phase that I felt the truly sick nature of my depression.
I knew I was losing my mind and was completely and utterly helpless to do anything about it. I described it as if I was holding onto a rope with both hands and the rope was slowly being pulled from me. The tighter I gripped, the more my hands chaffed, ripped and bled. No matter what I did to try to hold on to the remaining strands of my sanity, it still slipped through my hands. The worst part was that I was still just sane enough to realize I was going insane. That was terrifying.
My family tried to help. My husband lost 15 pounds he was so stressed. My children tiptoed around me and worried every day. My parents and siblings called my husband long distance daily to check on me. My therapist gave me direction, my psychiatrist gave me medication and my job gave me time off.
None of it helped. In fact, some of it made my depression worse. Not because these were bad things to do for me. But because mental illness, depression in particular, is insidiously evil. It tells me that I am a piece of crap. It tells me that I am worthless and unworthy of anyone’s love. It tells me that no matter what YOU say, everyone would be better off without me. It tells me I am a loser, a mistake and a burden to you and everyone else on the face of the earth.
So when you try to help I will push you away. When you try to hug me, I will cringe in real physical pain because the emotional pain of hating myself is too intense. When you tell me you love me and want me to get better I will hate myself more because I know that with every passing second, I am hurting you more which makes me feel worse about myself. When you ask me what I want to do I will cry because I can’t even put two thoughts together. When you ask me if I would like to go for a walk, go to a movie or go out to eat I will shrug and try to comply, but only to make you feel better. What I really want is for you to make decisions for me but I cannot tell you that.
You see, none of these things, no matter how well intended, will make me feel better when I’m depressed. I know that’s not what you, family and friends of us depressed folks want to hear. But for me, that is the dirty truth. Let me say it again:
NOTHING YOU SAY OR DO WILL HELP ME OUT OF MY DEPRESSION!
I will only get out of it when I’m ready. I will only come to the surface when I have the right medical, physical and emotional therapy. I will only accept those therapies when I’m ready. And I will only be ready when everyone leaves me alone and I make that choice to fight the demon inside me.
But until that time… HERE’S WHAT YOU CAN AND CAN’T DO FOR ME:
- Leave me alone. Stop watching me, stop calling me, stop bugging me every second. Stop asking me how I’m feeling and checking to see if I’m still breathing. Not only is it incredibly annoying, it makes me feel worse.
- Talk. Depression is an awfully silent illness. It renders even the most loquacious people completely mute. And when we stop talking things can get deafeningly silent. But please, keep talking. Talk to others in the house, talk around us, talk at us, even if we don’t respond. Keep the conversation of life going and eventually we might jump in. There’s nothing worse for me than silence, even if I’m the one creating it.
- Live your life. I might want to end mine, but I want you to live yours. Yes, this is insane. You might think I want all the attention on me. You might think that depression is my way of getting you to coddle me and dote on me. WRONG! I don’t want your sympathy, your service or your attention at all. Actually, I just want to disappear in a puff of smoke. But somewhere inside my insane illness is a needy, greedy victim that thrives on your attention. Please don’t feed it. Live your life and let me know about it. I just might want to join you.
- Keep to a schedule. Just because I’m going to sleep all day doesn’t mean you have to. Even if you live with me, please keep to a schedule. Get up, shower, make noise, fart, do whatever you would normally do. It might inconvenience me and that’s okay. Sit on the sofa and watch stupid shows or play video games while I’m napping. It might piss me off enough to snap me out of my mood for a moment or two. Who knows, I might actually watch with you.
- Don’t give me choices. For the love of God, PLEASE don’t give me choices. It takes a Herculean effort just to decide if I will wear slippers or flip flops. Please don’t make me work any harder than I have to. Just state what is going to happen – “We’re having chicken for dinner.” or “Breakfast is on the table when you’re ready.” or “We’re going to the psych ward at 10:00.” Really, don’t give me any wiggle room. Just say it once and move on.
- Offer me some help. Key word here is OFFER. I probably won’t be able to call psychiatrists or therapists myself, or won’t want to. But you can. You can even schedule an appointment. Again, don’t give me choices. Just schedule the appointment, tell me we are going and take me. Once I am in the care of a professional, let them do the hard work. If I choose not to go or take meds, talk to my therapist and ask them what your options are. But don’t make those decisions on your own and don’t force me to do anything after that first appointment. Just tell me and if I refuse, pray for me and keep on living.
- Get help for yourself. I’ve always said it is probably 100 times worse living with a depressed person than it is living with depression. I have watched my husband suffer horribly as I pulled him into my hell. I watched him struggle, cry and die a little inside
every time I got worse and sunk deeper. He stopped living and instead lived to save me. Even though his intentions were good, they made me feel worse. Please get help for yourself. Talk to other people who have lived with depressed loved ones. Call a counselor or therapist and learn what you can do for me and for you. Join a support group. I don’t care what you do, just do something. Take some of that attention off of me and put it on you, please.
- Don’t celebrate my progress. Insane, I know. It might be cause for major celebration when I do something monumental like shower or get out of my pajamas, but please don’t throw a party. It’s okay to make a casual comment but don’t tell me I smell so good or look fabulous today. Just smile and go about your day. I will ask for recognition if I want it. Chances are I don’t. I probably just want to fly under the radar. Little positive steps will give me the strength to go further. If I think I’m being watched I might recoil.
- Don’t try to understand it. Unless you’ve been depressed, you cannot understand what I am going through. What you can do is talk to people who have lived with depressed people. You can talk to mental health professionals. And you can invite someone with depression to reach out to me or vice versa. But don’t ask me what I’m feeling, why I’m feeling or what you can do because I don’t know.
- Don’t accept unacceptable behavior. I can be really nasty when I’m depressed. Hypomania, mania and depression can all manifest with irritability and anger. Don’t let me get away with unacceptable behavior. Being ill doesn’t give me the right to be mean. If I’m overly sarcastic, vengeful, spiteful, rude or disrespectful, tell me that you do not like my sarcastic, vengeful, spiteful, rude or disrespectful behavior and you will not accept that. SET BOUNDARIES to protect yourself and to prevent my illness from gaining unlimited momentum.
- Don’t leave me alone for too long. I don’t want to scare you, but I might be contemplating suicide or thinking some pretty dark thoughts. I don’t want you hovering over me and stopping by, calling all the time. But I don’t want to be alone for very long either. Even if I live alone, I want to have some sort of activity, obligation to keep me in front of other human beings. Try to encourage me to stay working or volunteering. If this isn’t possible, see if you can recruit me to help with a project of sorts. Again, don’t give me too many choices or options. If I feel I am needed in a way that has nothing to do with my depression, it might help me get out of my head for a little while. Heck, set me up with an accountability partner or sponsor who I have to be accountable to every day with a phone call. Give me responsibility instead of usurping it from me which will only makes me feel more useless.
Disclaimer: I’m not a mental health professional. I’m not a counselor, therapist or social worker. I’m just a woman who has struggled with bipolar-depression most of my life. I hope my experience can help others living with depression and those who love us. The suggestions above are merely suggestions and you should always consult a mental health professional when facing depression, bipolar, suicide or any mental illness challenges.
I was making my morning coffee the other day and was down to the last few packets of Truvia. Over the years I’ve used sugar, Splenda, Sweet & Low and numerous other types of sweeteners in my coffee. And I’ve run out many times. But this particular morning, I had just enough. And I was grateful.
There have been many times when I’ve come close to running out of something and found that I had just enough. I’ve pre-soaked laundry and loaded it all in the washer only to find I had just enough detergent to clean that one load. I’ve done the same with the dishwasher. I’m sure we’ve all found ourselves in the shower with just enough soap or shampoo to get the job done. And everyone can identify with having just enough toilet paper left on the roll.
These moments are little “Thank God” moments for me. They are minor situations that cause me to stop and say, “Whew, that was close. Thank God I had just enough.” I’m reminded to be thankful because of how close I get to running out. But I don’t always do that with other things in my life. I forget to thank God for the things I have plenty of because I don’t think about them until I’m on empty.
The things I’m talking about are not coffee, sweetener, toilet paper or gasoline for my car. I’m not referring to electricity, money or even necessities like food and water. The things that I have plenty of, the things that I often forget to thank God for are the things that I used to live without. These are things like faith, willingness, self-love, patience, compassion, courage, honesty and hope. These things, these intangibles, eluded me for decades. I watched them flicker in and out of my life numerous times over the years, never understanding how these flights of fancy could fix themselves permanently in other people’s lives and not mine. I never understood how others had a seemingly unending supply of these things and I barely ever had any, never mind just enough.
Then I got into recovery. I worked these amazingly simple and brutally difficult steps. And I found a new relationship with God. In doing so, I discovered that these things that I never had were finally available to me. I learned that faith could be mine and could be mine forever. I just had to have faith to get faith. I was taught that willingness was there for the taking and I could have as much as I was willing to give. The same was true with patience, tolerance and honesty. I was able to acquire huge quantities of all of these treasures with very little effort. All I had to do was give them away. I just had to be patient to receive patience. I had to be honest to be treated with honesty. And I had to be tolerant, loving and compassionate to receive those beautiful things into my life. The irony is that the more of these I share and give away, the more I get back in return. So the never ending supply is directly related to my actions. If I want more, I must give more.
I also found that once I started getting these things, I didn’t truly appreciate them until I saw them running low. I didn’t thank God earnestly for the hope I gained in recovery until I was faced with my bout of sober hopelessness. When I found myself miserable, scared and backed into a corner, I reached for my hope only to find that I had so little I had to ration it. It was in that moment that I remembered to thank God for the hope that I had longed for. The same thing happens with patience and tolerance. I don’t recognize them for the assets they really are when they are overflowing in my life. I only acknowledge their value when I need a refill.
Sometimes God reminds me how blessed I am without having to take me to the brink of disaster. Every once in a while I’m obedient enough to listen when He sends these kinder, gentler messages. He uses hopeless people, those who are on the ledge, begging for the pain to end, to remind me to be grateful for the hope I have today, the hope that sits snugly at the bottom of my heart, so much a part of me that I almost forget it’s there. He uses angry, bitter, judgmental people to shake me up and remind me to be grateful for the budding tolerance I have today, even though sometimes I misplace it. He uses hurt, pained, broken, abandoned, abused, frustrated, desperate people of all shapes, colors and sizes to stop me in my selfishness and remind me to be grateful for the blessings He has poured down on me.
God uses other moments of fallibility to bonk me over the head with gratitude when I least expect it, too. He uses my own angry moments to remind me to be grateful for serenity and my willingness to apologize to remind me to be thankful for the little bit of humility I have. He uses my frustration over a particular situation to force me to appreciate the fact that I don’t have to control everything and to be grateful for the power to let go. God uses all sorts of people, places and things to bring me to gratitude for the intangibles in my life. And as long as I still have obedience, just enough obedience to pay attention, I might get the message.
So the next time I see an irate person, a hopeless person, an ungrateful person, whether in the street or in the mirror, I will take it as a sign from God and I will be thankful for the tolerance, hope and gratitude that I have today. I don’t have much of any of these things. But I have just enough. And for that I’m grateful.