Saturday, September 28, 2013

Removing the Mask

"The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning, but the heart of fools is in the house of pleasures."  Ecclesiastes 7:4

My sarcastic Facebook status from yesterday read:

"On the cover of People Magazine:  Zac Efron's Shocking Drug Crisis.  Hmm.  A young Hollywood star with a drug crisis.  That IS shocking."

I don't know Zac Efron.  Nor do I know anyone else in Hollywood save for one guy I knew from my youth group days who I've seen in multiple commercials and one bit part on a TV show.

I don't want to say that this is true for all of Hollywood but I often wonder if those who choose a career playing roles in front of a worldwide audience enjoy wearing the mask of playing someone else.  Of being someone other than themselves.  Kind of like an escape.  A chance to be someone else.  A chance to be seen and noticed.  I wonder about their lives before they became big stars.  Did they struggle with not being seen and heard?  Were they made to feel shameful for who they were?  Did they suffer abuse or neglect?  Did they have perfectionistic expectations placed on them they that could never live up to?  If so, the rampant drug crisis' in Hollywood is not so much of a shocker.  Aside from the lifestyle of parties and high life, maybe many of them partake as another means to feel better.  To escape some type of shame they feel inside.

I've felt shame inside.  It doesn't feel good.  And I'm sort of a perfectionist in some areas.  I've worn masks.  Mine is a smiley face mask.  The nothing's wrong, everything's okay mask.  I've also known the pain associated with wearing a mask.  The forever clenched teeth.  The constant tension in my neck and shoulders which almost seems kind of symbolic because I often feel like I'm carrying the weight of the world on my shoulders.  The inflammation in my esophagus and stomach from the fight or flight chemicals released in my body when I have an anxiety attack.

I think as long as we continue to wear the mask, we will continue to suffer.  It's time to remove the mask. It's time to deal with the issues that bother us internally that we refuse to let out.  The longer you wear the mask and keep it all inside, the more it's just going to build up.  It has to come out.  We can't live with that build up.  It will come out in some way.  Maybe it's through physical illness.  Maybe it's through angry outbursts or yelling at the kids or loved ones over something seemingly insignificant.  Or maybe it's in some other way.  You can voluntarily remove the mask and let it out, or it will come out some way possibly when you least expect it.  And it may not be pretty.

Philippians 4: 6 says, "Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God."  [emphasis mine].

God doesn't want us to hold it all in.  He wants us to let it out in a healthy way.  To lay down our burdens.  Does keeping it all inside feel like freedom?  No!  It feels like bondage and it keeps building up and building up until AHHHHHH!  I'm having a panic attack.  As Christians, we are no longer in bondage so we shouldn't live as if we are.

"Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus, the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death."  Romans 8: 1-2

So the verse I chose at the beginning might seem kind of strange.  "The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning, but the heart of fools is in the house of pleasure."  Ecclesiastes 7:4

I chose that for two reasons.  One, because I just read it this morning.  We're studying Ecclesiastes in Sunday School so I figured it fitting to read during the week.  It's interesting because my Bible next to my bed is an NIV but my church Bible is a KJV.  I actually learn more depth from the KJV but I enjoy reading both versions and hearing the differences in the way they are written in each.

The second reason I chose it is because it made me think.  It sounds like a dark verse.  The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning?  But alas, it made me think of one of my recent favorite verses... "Blessed are those who mourn for they will be comforted."  Matthew 5:4  Mourning brings comfort.  In order to mourn, you have to let out the things that are building up inside.  Freedom from the bondage inside.

So how do you do that?  I do a few things.  I really like to write.  I keep a journal and I write down all of my thoughts and fears in there.  Stuff I might be too afraid to say publicly but can say privately in the solitude of my own house, just me and God.  I pray better in my journal through writing than I do in my head.  It helps me focus when I'm writing rather than my mind wandering.  I've also started going back to see the counselor I used to see 6 years ago when I was going through separation and divorce.  I feel comfortable with her and it feels good to not only write my thoughts down, but to be able to express them with someone who understands and will not judge me for the way I feel.  She is a Christian and always offers a great Biblical perspective and prays with me from the heart each time.  I also do puzzles.  It helps me to feel calm.  I like to sit outside in my car sometimes at lunch time in a shady area with the windows down and just relax and listen to nature.  Some people paint.  Others exercise.  There are many things.

Take off the mask.  Lay it at the foot of the Cross.  Talk to God about what you are feeling.  Pray that He would bring others along side you who understand what you're going through to love and support you.  And maybe a hobby.  Don't be ashamed to take medication for a season.  Your body does crazy things when you wear a mask and sometimes you may need something to help adjust the chemical imbalance that's happening inside because of it.  It's not all like a magic potion or anything.  I'm still afflicted.  But working through it because I'm trying to peel off the mask. 

I think this is the piece that is often times missing in a lot of Hollywood.  The mask of being someone else only works for so long.  When you don't know the Prince of Peace, you then have to look for other ways to feel better and that will only work for a time until you get used to it and have to move onto something else.  If you don't know the Prince of Peace, please click on the link above that says "Heaven" to learn more.  Philippians 2:14 says that "He himself is our peace," referring to Jesus Christ.  You may find temporary relief other places but He is the only way to find lasting peace.  I doesn't mean you won't suffer.  You will.  But you will also be comforted in ways you would never be able to experience without Him.

This morning I prayed for Zac Efron.  It felt weird, kinda.  Because he's a big famous star... almost not even like a real person just an image on the screen.  But he is a real person.  With real issues.

What mask are you wearing?


Sunday, September 22, 2013

Comforted

"Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted."  Matthew 5:4

Today has been a good day so far.  I slept in for an extra thirty minutes or so, but was still able to make it for Sunday School.  At first it was kind of awkward being there since I posted about my experience with anxiety and depression on Facebook last week because some of those in my class are my friends on Facebook.  But I was glad to be there.  My class is so Bible centered and really makes you think.

During the regular church service time I could just sense the presence of the Holy Spirit as I sat down and waited for the service to begin.  During the offertory, my pastor's wife played the song, "This Is The Air I Breathe."  There were no words to accompany her, but I sat there quietly, singing the words in my head as she played.

This is the air I breathe
This is the air I breathe
Your Holy Presence
Living in me

This is my daily bread
This is my daily bread
Your very word
Spoken to me

And I... I'm desperate for You
And I... I'm lost without You.

I love that song.  The words and music sank down deep into my soul as she played.

On the way home from church, we stopped by Target and I picked up a puzzle to work on.  I realized a couple of weeks ago that doing puzzles is very calming for me.  I also picked up a rain and thunder CD for my son, who is working on facing his fears.  Bad weather is one of his fears and the guy he is working with in his anxiety training suggested listening to CDs of weather to normalize it for him so it will be less frightening when the real thing happens.

The CD is playing right now and I have to say, it's very relaxing.  So right now I'm going to sit and listen to the rain as I work on my puzzle while the boys have their rest time.  So peaceful.

I've mourned.  I've struggled.  I've been down.  I've been anxious.  I've been overwhelmed.

I've been comforted.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Calming Your Fears

"I will extol the Lord at all times.  His praise will be continually on my lips.  My soul will boast in the Lord; let the afflicted hear and rejoice."  Psalm 34:1-2

Here is another great excerpt from the book Walking On Water When You Feel Like You're Drowning by Tommy Nelson and Steve Leavitt.

Are you afflicted?  Sure you are.  You are afflicted with fear.  These verses were written just for you!  The pain and fear are real.  But this scripture says to rejoice.  But how can you do that?  You fear seems so overwhelming.  You begin by praising God for all He has done so far in your life.
  • You have taken the first step already and are seeking help and God is providing.  Praise God!
  • You have family and friends who deeply love and care about you.  Praise God!
  • You were there to watch your child take his or her first steps.  Praise God!
  • You looked outside and saw a magnificent sunset.  God is amazing!
Mornings are the worst for me.  Every morning I wake up and feel like I'm on the verge of another panic attack.  Once you have a panic attack, sometimes you live in fear of having another one.  Almost every morning I wake up and think, "Wow, I feel pretty good."  But then I start thinking about my condition and I start to feel like I am dying again.  This morning I woke up and before it was even light outside, I grabbed my Bible and read God's Word.  It was good stuff.  But I still felt like I was dying.  I am still dealing with the fear of taking my anti-anxiety medicine because it's highly addictive and I feel like I shouldn't still need it and am afraid of becoming dependent on it.  But I do still need it.  I don't want to need it.  So I dragged myself out of bed and took half and then went and laid on the couch for about an hour.  I take half in the morning and half at night.  I'm trying to cut out the nighttime half and just take it in the morning.

  • I don't feel like I'm dying right now.  That's a good thing.  Praise God!
  • My parents came home last night from summering in Michigan and today my dad took the boys to the VA to ride the new elevator they recently built.  I am still extremely fatigued but I have a few hours alone to rest.  Praise God!
  • Yesterday I had lunch with two friends I hadn't seen in a while.  When I prayed for our meal I asked God to help us remove our masks and be able to talk freely about our afflictions and anything else without fear of shame or rejection... and we did have some very open and honest conversations.  Praise God!
  • Yesterday I also was able to spend a couple of hours just reading and relaxing out by a shady walking trail near my office.  It was incredibly refreshing.  God is amazing!
Taking it one day at a time.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Week Five

I started taking anti-anxiety and anti-depressant medication just over five weeks ago.  

At the moment I'm listening online to an episode of Chris Fabry Live about a study that was done among Evangelicals as well as the average American to find their views on whether they think that Bible study and prayer ALONE are enough to heal mental illness.  Almost half of evangelicals said yes.  I think this is part of the reason there is so much shame and silence about the topic within the church.

They talked about how depression and other mental illnesses are real illnesses just like any other.  Absolutely God can work miracles and take away the illness.  Absolutely He can.  But sometimes He uses medical intervention to aid in healing.  If you broke your leg, surely God could heal that before you made it to the emergency room.  Often times he uses modern medicine to facilitate the healing process.  I sprained my ankle over a month ago.  I still wear a brace to aid in the recovery.  I still iced it while it was swollen.  I'm still taking it easy.  Prayer and Bible study have not miraculously healed my ankle.  It's been a process that God is teaching me through.

Anyway, that's sort of a tangent I guess to convince myself that it's okay to take medication because it's one that I've struggled with.  I feel like a crazy person or a mental patient to admit I take medication.  But I do. And they have helped.

Five weeks ago I could barely function.  I couldn't handle being alone, especially when my kids were up and needed to be cared for.  My chest was tight and my heart was racing.  At other times, it was all I could do to get off the couch and take a shower.  My mom had to fly home from thousands of miles away to stay with me because I didn't feel like I could handle my life.  Five weeks ago when I went to the doctor, I was too down to take my shoes off when I stepped on the scale.  Come on... I'm a woman.  You take your shoes off, your jewelry off, the change out of your pocket... when you step on any type of scale.  When I went back to work, I couldn't drive myself.  I had to have someone come and pick me up.  I wanted to read my Bible but the thought of doing anything completely overwhelmed me.  I tried to pray but my mind just raced.

Today I woke up and read Ecclesiastes 7.  I snuggled and played with my boys for a little bit before starting the day.  I got out of bed.  My body felt normal.  I fixed breakfast for the three of us.  I drove myself to work.  I found out that two of my dear friends are also struggling with similar things but had been too afraid to tell anyone until I shared my story publicly over Facebook.  We're all getting together on Friday for lunch. It's like our own little support group.  After work, I picked up the boys and drove 40 minutes to a weekly appointment my son has at the children's hospital.  After that, I dropped them off at Awana and am now relaxing on my couch for the next thirty minutes until it's time to pick them up.  I haven't felt the need to take my anti-anxiety med yet but will take half just before bed.

It wasn't a completely perfect day.  I felt very tired and drowsy for most of the morning because of the meds. I also felt depressed for part of the day.  I went for a drive on my lunch break and found a quiet, shady place to park my car and just relax until it was time to go back to work.  That helped some.

I almost forgot... a couple of days ago I realized when I got home from work that someone had been inside my house while I was gone.  It's a long, weird story but it turned out okay... I think.  But I was able to sleep that night.  I didn't lay awake anxious all night that someone was going to come back in.  I used to do that anyway even before this incident.  I laid there and just prayed and trusted that God would take care of us through the night.  I was calm enough to do that.  I was calm enough to trust rather than believe the lies that I should be afraid.  I don't remember being awake long so I'm guessing I even fell asleep quickly.

Obviously, I don't think everyone needs medication and I think it's a crutch that's used way too often in our culture these days.  But I'm learning that sometimes there is a time and a place for it and I'm learning to be okay with that.  And I'm grateful to have learned about other Christian friends who know what it's like so that we can support one another.

My weeks have been like a roller coaster lately with all kinds of twists, turns, and loop d' loops.  Week five has been like the little kiddie roller coaster.  It's still had it's ups and downs but it was slower and the turns and hills have been gentler.


Monday, September 16, 2013

I Laughed Today

Perfect peace comes from knowing that you are safe in your Father’s care.  Rest for your weary mind and heart comes when you let go of what you have been trusting in and rest in God’s truths.  You need protection.  You need someone to watch over you.  There are situations bigger than you that you were not meant to face alone.  God knows you are scared, and He wants to take the fear away.  He knows you feel alone in this, and He wants you to know He cares.

When you come to the end of yourself and can say, “This is too much for me,” then God will be waiting to respond with “I have an idea that can help you be at peace tonight and for the rest of your life.”


Give control over to God.  It can be difficult to do, but it comes with the greatest freedom on earth.

From Walking on Water When You Feel Like You're Drowning by Tommy Nelson and Steve Leavitt

I just had to praise God today because I felt normal pretty much all day long.  Writing has been a good outlet for me for a long time but when I wrote about my struggles the other day and somehow found the courage to post the link on Facebook, knowing all of my friends would now know that I am actually dealing with anxiety and depression... I feel like it kind of freed me.  I didn't realize that for me, that would be one form of letting go.

I had told a few people before that but not many.  I was afraid of appearing crazy.  So I suffered mostly in silence.  Friends, I think that is a lie of the enemy.  I was holding onto the pain and trying to remain strong in my own strength.  When I copied the link and clicked "Post" on my wall, I was nervous.  Since then I've received several private notes from friends telling me that they have or are struggling with the same thing but have been too afraid to talk about it.

For me, letting go came in the form of not keeping silent about it anymore.  I think people have been praying for me since I posted.  In fact, I'm sure of it because I can feel the results today.  Not that every day is going to be wonderful from here on out because the Lord works in a lot of different ways, not just in the way we hope or want.  He knows what is best for us.  But here is a huge praise for me today:

I laughed today.

It wasn't just a little chuckle.  I laughed so hard that I had tears coming out of my eyes.  It was wonderful.

If you are reading this blog, I just want to encourage you not to suffer in silence.  We are not meant to face life alone.  For those of my friends who I know are dealing with similar situations, please know that I am praying for you by name tonight.  I love you and even more,  God loves you and wants to wrap His arms around you.  This won't last forever...

And now it's just after 9pm and I am going to snuggle into my cozy bed and go to sleep because I took my anti-depressant and half of an anti-anxiety a little bit ago and they are sending me to la la land.  Just a little dose of reality.  But for now, I'll take it because today I felt relief... I laughed today.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

What's Happening in an Anxiety Attack

This is an excerpt from Walking on Water When You Feel Like You're Drowning by Tommy Nelson and Steve Leavitt [pg 88-89]

The mind is such an amazing organ, and it’s so powerful.  The more you can educate yourself about these issues and understand that you are not alone in them, the more power you’ll have to overcome your anxiety.

Let me explain more about what is going on in your body when you are sensing anxiety.  Remember that when you are having an anxiety attack and your body feels like you are dying, it is actually a physiological response to anxiety.  You are afraid of dying, so your body responds physically.

First, your brain send signals saying that you are in danger and should be afraid.  In reality, you are not in any danger at all; it just feels like it.  But now your brain is on alert.  It tells your adrenal glands to release adrenaline for a fight-or-flight response, just as it would if you were in a real emergency.

But these are chemicals you don’t need.  Your body is being flooded with adrenaline, which is why your heart beats rapidly.  Your lungs are trying to get more oxygen into your bloodstream, which is why it feels as though you can’t breathe.  Your stomach is releasing acid to flush out your gastrointestinal tract and shut down your stomach function, which is why you may feel nauseous and have diarrhea or acid reflux.

Your blood is being drawn out of your stomach lining, fingers, toes, and brain, which is why you may sense tingling in your fingers and toes and feel light-headed.  Your mind is telling you that you need to either fight or run for your life.  It screams that something is very wrong, and doom is imminent.  These feelings are real, but they are not true.  The truth is that you are going to be just fine.

"Finally brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable - if anything is excellent or praiseworthy - think about such things."  Philippians 4:8

This explains a lot.  For a couple of months I had a lot of tingling in my arms and legs.  I was sure I had Lou Gehrig's Disease since it runs in my family and I was dying.  I felt somewhat relieved when my chiropractor did tests following my car accident and my grips were within the normal range.

I had a lot of tightness in my chest.  I was sure I was having a heart attack.  My arms were tingling, my chest was tight, and my heart was racing.  Yes, definitely a heart attack.  I was a goner for sure.  I went to the doctor to ask about the tightness in my chest and she did a chest x-ray.  Everything looked fine.  She prescribed Nexium since I was also experiencing heart burn.  She said it was mostly diagnostic.  If I felt better taking it, her diagnosis was acid reflux.

So I took it.  The heartburn was way better.  But the tightness in my chest remained.  It felt like my food was getting stuck on the way down and just sitting there.  She recommended seeing a gastroenterologist.  So I did.  He scheduled an endoscopy which discovered that I have reflux as well as a hiatal hernia.  I did not realize that this could all be anxiety related until I read the information on the pages above.  Wow, that makes sense.

Sometimes knowledge is power.  Understanding helps a little bit to relieve some of the anxiety.  But understanding in and of itself is not enough.  The book continues:

We must trust God enough not to have to understand.  The way you trust God is to give the situation over to Him.  I had to give losing my work over to Him and trust that He would walk me through it.  This starts with spending time in God’s Word.  The more you read your Bible, the more you’ll know God.  The more you know God, the more you will trust Him.  The more you trust Him, the more you will experience peace, joy, rest, hope, and contentment.

Lately I feel kind of lost reading my Bible.  Like I'm aimlessly flipping through the pages trying to figure out what to read.  I've been in Hebrews, James, Ecclesiastes, Philippians, 1 and 2 Timothy... I need some direction. Please pray for direction.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

A Christian's Struggle with Anxiety and Depression

God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.

Living one day at a time,
Enjoying one moment at a time,
Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;
Taking, as He did, this sinful world
as it is, not as I would have it;
Trusting that He will make all things right
if I surrender to His Will;
That I may be reasonably happy in this life
and supremely happy with Him
Forever in the next.
Amen

--attributed to Reinhold Niebuhr

I never really thought I would be one to struggle with anxiety and depression.  And up until about a month ago, it wasn't really anything I had experienced.

I had experienced depression before but it was in the form of grief when my marriage ended, compounded by the added rush of hormones from having just had a baby.  That was different.  My Christian counselor had recommended asking my doctor about taking an anti-depressant to get through the initial shock and wave of emotions following so I did and ended up taking it for about 6 months until I slowly weaned myself off of it and did the hard work of working through processing my grief over the situation.  The medication makes you "feel" less and I knew I would have to feel in order to overcome the grief process which is why I stopped taking it when I felt I was past the shock phase of grief and strong enough to move through the other steps.  I did fine once I stopped the medication and really learned a lot through the whole healing experience and it made me a much stronger person than I ever was before.

About a month ago... well, let me back up... about four months ago my office doubled in size, as did my work load.  It was a very stressful time for me because I am somewhat of a perfectionist and I like to give 100% to everything I do.  A few weeks into it, I came down with what I thought was the flu.  I had a fever and the chills and just ached all over.  I think I ended up being home from work for about three days.  I think that was the first time I'd ever taken sick days for myself  since I've been there the past four years so it was definitely out of the ordinary for me.  Once I started feeling better, the stress remained and there were a few days I left early because I couldn't handle the pressure.

But the weeks went on and I adjusted to a larger role and realized that I can only do so much, so I just did as much as I could and tried not to stress over it.

At the end of June, I took my son for a very thorough evaluation after several different concerns about nervous ticks and other different behaviors.  He was diagnosed with autism and CNS dysfunction.  I was okay with it at the time.  It felt good to finally have answers and some help with how to move forward.  The diagnosis did not come as a shock to me because I had suspected it for a long time.  In the weeks and months since then, it's been a little more difficult as it has all settled into my mind and all of the new things we need to do.

Shortly after that I was in a car accident and had to go to the chiropractor twice a week.  I'm still going, but less frequently now.  It was one thing added to my already stressful schedule.  But I knew it was important.  In dealing with that and the insurance companies, the bills, my son's appointments, my increased workload at the office, the stress started to build.

Oh yes, and sometime in there my son also fell and broke his collar bone so we also had a costly trip to the ER followed by visits to the orthopedic doctor for follow up, etc.

Tension building...

Finally the end of July came and the boys left for two weeks to spend time with their dad.  Ahh, sweet relief I thought.  I always miss them when they're gone and love when they call me just to say hi but, ahh... sweet relief from all the responsibility.  I usually stay pretty busy while they're gone.  You know... getting massages, getting my hair cut, hanging out with friends, enjoying a nice clean house for two whole weeks.  I did do some of those things.  And it was nice.  But I did not clean my house.  I didn't have the energy.  I laid on the couch almost every night and watched TV.  That might have been my first sign.  I usually like cleaning the house because it makes me feel relaxed to have a nice clean house to enjoy.  But the week was still pretty stress free and it was nice.

At the end of the two weeks, I drove about 15 hours to pick up the boys.  I can't tell you how excited I was to see them.  And they were excited as well.  From there we drove three and a half more hours to my sister's house.  My oldest son is pretty attached to his dad so he did cry a lot on the way up and it was hard to experience him in emotional pain.  I wish he didn't have to deal with that.

So we made it to my sister's house and had a whole week of fun planned... a trip to the zoo, some hiking, visiting with friends, the children's museum, and other fun stuff.  Day one... trip to the zoo.  I was excited because I was also going to get to see a friend who lives in the area.  We were all ready to go.  The boys were in the car.  My sister was getting the dog settled in the house.  I grabbed our bag and headed out the door to get in the car.  Until the first step.  Something went wrong and I fell completely down to the ground and couldn't move.  My ankle was throbbing in pain.  I yelled for my sister several times and she came out.  I couldn't get up at first.  After about five minutes or so, she brought out a walker and I somehow managed to get up and back into the house.

At this point, I was couch bound.  No zoo.  No hiking.  No visit with my friend I was looking forward to seeing.  I didn't know what we would do the rest of the week, actually.  I'd been without the boys for two weeks and was looking forward to showing them a fun time.  Now I was stuck on the couch hardly about to move.  Looking back, I think that's when the depression started to set in, but I didn't realize it at the time.

By day four, I was really starting to feel down.  I remember crawling to the bathroom to take a bath and soak my ankle in some Epsom salts and sitting in there crying the whole time.  I didn't think about being depressed but in hindsight, that was probably the real first day of it.  My sister was sweet and decided to plan a fun day to make me feel better.  We took the boys to a movie and then she had found a cute little cupcake place where we went to pick up some sweet treats.  I did feel better getting off that couch and out into town.

I felt pretty decent after that.  I was using crutches at this point but able to bear a small amount of weight on my ankle.  The morning we left, we drove about nine hours and visited some friends for a couple of days.  We had a nice time while we were there, although my ankle did still throb a little during parts of that trip.

The drive home was long.  I felt a tightness in my chest pretty much the entire 12 hours it took us to get home from there.  It was uncomfortable.

It was the next morning when it hit.  I woke up with a full on anxiety attack.  I'd never had one before.  I've blogged about the experience from then up until now in previous posts so I won't repeat all of that, but feel free to back read if you're interested.  But pretty much, I felt like I was either having a heart attack or dying.

Fast forward to the present.  I just finished reading a really great book for Christians struggling with anxiety and depression titled "Walking on Water When You Feel Like You're Drowning" by Tommy Nelson and Steve Leavitt.  I could identify with every word in this book and it helped in knowing that I'm not alone in experiencing this, that I'm not crazy, and that I'm not a "bad" Christian.

I've been blogging about this for a few weeks now but up until now I haven't told anyone about the writing so I'm not sure how many people have actually read any of it.  I've been feeling a sense in my soul that maybe I should share my journey because I wonder if there are other people, especially Christians, out there who are afraid to admit they might deal with this as well.  And also, it's been a hard lesson for me but I know I can't struggle in silence.  I need the prayers and support of my Christian friends and family.

I have good days and bad days.  I am thankful to God for days when I just feel normal.  I am working through this with the help of Jesus Christ my Savior, an awesome Christian counselor, and for the time being, medication to help with the physical effects of anxiety and depression.  I do have hope.  It's been really difficult, but I don't feel without hope and I am thankful for that.  I'm thankful for others who have been there and know what it feels like.  They are a comfort to me.  My sister has been an extra special blessing as she has dealt with it before and is doing a lot better now.  Unless you've been through it before, you can't really understand what it's like.  You can't just get over it.  She understands that and talking to her always helps me to feel better.

"Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God."  2 Corinthians 1:3-4  This is what my sister has been for me.

So this is me.  And maybe this is you.  As difficult as it is for me to admit and share my struggles with the world, I've just had a sense over the past week or so that this is what I needed to do.  It's a bit scary.  I don't want pity.  I don't want people to constantly ask me if I'm okay.  I just want to be obedient and honest and maybe help other people while asking for prayers as I go through this phase of my life.

"The righteous cry out, and the Lord hears them; he delivers them from all their troubles.  The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit."  Psalm 34: 17-18

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Tuesday

I was thinking, as a true firstborn would of course, that I should keep a log of how I feel throughout the day each day.  That would help me pinpoint when I feel my best and when I am struggling as well as what, if anything, brings on the anxiety.  

I suppose in order to start it, I should actually start to carry a notebook around with me.  Fortunately I am that mom who overstocked up on school supplies, unsure of what the boys would actually need this year so I have a whole bunch of extra spiral notebooks in my closet.  So I think I'll try and start this tomorrow.

From memory, my day went like this.

Well, let me back up to last night:

8:00pm... Boys in bed.  Took half of my anti-anxiety med, turned off all the lights, locked all the doors, crawled in bed.

8:20pm... Fast asleep.  Or so I would guess.

This morning my alarm went off at 5:55am as it normally does.  Now, normally if I had gone to bed at 8:20am the night before, I would feel nice and refreshed and ready to start the day even at that early hour.  This morning?  Snooze.  

6:00am... Alarm goes off again.  Snooze.

6:05am... 6:10am... 6:15am... 6:20am... 6:25am... Snooooooooze....

6:30am... Climbed out of bed, took my meds and then immediately covered myself in blankets on the couch. I had just slept 10 hours and I could barely wake up enough to function.  I texted my friend from work to let them know I'd be late.

The boys woke up shortly after.  Fortunately I've tried to stay pretty organized to help decrease the morning stress so their clothes were already in their Tuesday bin so they just had to get them out and get dressed.

7:30am... I managed to drag myself off the couch in order to cut up some melon for them to eat for breakfast and fix myself up enough to go to work.

8:10am... I dropped the boys off at school.  That was nice since I normally take them to before-care.  I enjoyed watching them walk in together.

8:40am... Made it to work... barely.  I was still extremely fatigued and didn't really start to feel better until around noon time.

My friend Stacy and I have found a nice shady bench a short distance from the office that we've started walking to a couple of times a day just to relax and chat for 15 minutes or so.  Those are nice.  I cherish those times because they really do help me relax.  I love to be out in nature.  God's creation has a calming effect for me.

I don't remember hour by hour from there too much but I started to feel more "with it" and normal the second half of the day.  I am not able to multi-task much, however.  As long as I can do just one thing at a time, I am okay.

4:30pm... I talked to my sister on the way home from work.  She has walked this road of anxiety and depression before and it always helps me feel normal when I talk to her because she understands.  Unless you've actually been there, it's really difficult to understand what it's like.  You can't just snap out of it.  The mental and emotional stress has a physical effect on the chemicals of your body.  We talked for a while and then I picked up the boys from aftercare.  I really like talking to my sister.

6:00pm... The boys and I ate dinner and they had both already completed their homework during aftercare so we decided to take a walk down to the park after dinner.  I feel more anxious when I'm at my house so I welcomed the chance to get outside on a nice night.

6:30pm... My little one got stung by a bee on the way to the park.  Normally I think I can handle things like this pretty calmly but being in the condition I've been in recently, that could have gone much differently.  I am proud to say that I did not freak out and was able to remain calm.  We turned around and came home and figured out how to treat a bee sting since none of us has even been stung before.

8:44pm... It is now 8:44pm and I am feeling almost normal.  Tired, but  normal.  I like normal.  I'm thankful to God for normal.  My sister also recommended taking my anti-depressant at night instead of in the morning to help with the all day drowsiness so I'm going to try that tomorrow.  I'm hoping that will help me to have more "normal" days.

8:48pm... Goodnight Tuesday.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Rest For My Weary Mind

"Perfect peace comes from knowing that you are safe in your Father's care.  Rest for your weary mind and heart comes when you let go of what you have been trusting in and rest in God's truths.  You need protection.  You need someone to watch over you.  There are situations bigger than you were not meant to face alone.  God knows you are scared, and He wants to take the fear away.  He knows you feel alone in this, and He wants you to know He cares.

When you come to the end of yourself and can say, "This is too much for me," then God will be waiting to respond  with 'I have an idea that can help you be at peace tonight and for the rest of the your life.'

Give control over to God.  It can be difficult to do, but it comes with the greatest freedom on earth."


Walking on Water
when you feel like you're drowning

Finding Hope in Life's Darkest Moments
by Tommy Nelson and Steve Leavitt

Woke up with an anxiety attack this morning.  Took an anti-anxiety med and crawled back into bed and read some more of this book which has lots of scripture to support its message.  Starting to calm down...

Lord, please grant me rest for my weary mind.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Anxiety Training

Since my son's autism diagnosis, we've been working with the local children's hospital and college study program to work on his fears and anxieties.  It's going really well.

Week One
We met with Robert who is the student conducting the study.  He asked Garren if he had heard the word anxiety before.  Garren just kind of turned his face to the couch, afraid to admit he didn't know the answer. Then Robert asked if he knew what it meant to be afraid of something.  Garren nodded his head in agreement.

Then we began to list the things Garren is afraid of:
Thunderstorms

"Mommy, look at those darks clouds out there right now," he interjected.
"Yes, those are dark clouds, Garren.  Let's finish doing the exercise."  I redirectred.

Lightning

"Mommy, are those dark clouds out there?"  he asked again.
"Yes, those clouds do look dark.  Can you tell Robert what else you are afraid of, " I reminded him again.

Thunder

Robert restated that Garren doesn't like thunderstorms.  "Is there anything else besides thunderstorms that scares you?" he asked.

"Mommy, are those gray clouds out there?" Garren asked again, looking out the window.
"Garren, let's answer Robert's question first." I pulled back.  "What other things are you afraid of?"

The hand dryers
The loud flushing toilet

"Mommy, are those clouds coming our way?" he asked again, having trouble focusing his mind.
Again, I pulled him back into the conversation at hand.

Dogs
Fire drills
The dark

"Is there anything else?" Robert asked.
Garren nodded his head, no.

Then we started to go down the list.  Robert asked Garren if 10 is the scariest thing ever and 1 isn't very scary at all, let's go back over the list of his fears and he can rank each one.  He also gave us homework to work more on the list that week, naming his fears and giving them a rating.

Week Two
Garren and I returned to the center and I gave him his homework paper to give to Robert when they called us back and I went to sign him in.

He walked over to the games they have in the waiting room and when I looked at him, his homework was not in his hand anymore.

"Garren, where is your homework?"  I asked, having just given it to him less than 30 seconds prior.

He shrugged his shoulders.  He didn't have any idea what he did with it.  We walked around and discovered that he had left it sitting on one of the couches in the waiting area.  I talked to him about being responsible and keeping his paper with him so that he could give it to Robert when it was our turn.  He lost it one more time, I think and then we went back.  Garren gave his homework to Robert and we looked over it.

We talked about rewards and how Garren would be able to earn rewards each week he worked on overcoming his fears.  We chose a fear from the list to work on that week:  the toilet flush.  Robert asked Garren if he was standing down the hallway from the bathroom and he heard the toilet flush, how scary it would be.

"Like a two," Garren replied.

So we decided to test it out.  We walked down the hallway to the bathroom and Garren stood several feet away from the door.  Robert went in and flushed it and then came and asked Garren how he did.  Garren replied that he did great and that it was only a 1.  So then Robert asked Garren if he thought he could stand a little bit closer to the door.  He agreed.  Robert flushed the toilet again and then asked Garren what number that was.  Still a 1, Garren confirmed.  We both praised his bravery.

Next, Robert asked Garren to stand right in the doorway.  He resisted.  Too scary.  However, he did say he would try it in a different bathroom.  So we went to the one next door.  Garren stood in the doorway.  Robert flushed.  Garren gave it a 7.  Robert asked if Garren would come into the bathroom.  He didn't want to so we didn't push past it that week.

Garren wanted to ride the elevator with Robert for his reward so off we went.  We stopped on all the floors and then said goodbye to Robert at the bottom.  Our homework that week was to work more on getting used to the toilet flush.

During the week
We took a trip to the children's museum where they had these high lily pad climbing things that went almost to the ceiling, with ropes on the outside to contain the children.  I knew Garren would not want to go anywhere near them.  So I said, "Garren, you don't have to climb the whole thing, but why don't you just come sit on the first step with me."  He agreed.  I asked him how scary it was and he said it was a 1.

"You're being really brave sitting here, Garren," I praised him, "I wonder how scary it would be to just go touch that second step but not really climb up on it.  Do you think that would be too scary?"

He said it wouldn't be too scary and he went and touched it.  Big hurrays from mom.

Next, I told him that he was really getting a lot of courage now to be able to touch that second step when he didn't even want to go on the whole thing just minutes ago.  I told him, I bet he might even be brave enough to sit on the second step.  He agreed.  Cheers again from mom.  Garren said it was a 2.

You can guess what happened next... he touched the third step.  Not too scary.  He climbed to the third step.  A little scarier because this one was slanted.  He didn't feel like he could go any further.  Just then, his tenderhearted little brother came through for about his 75th trip around and said, "Garren, I can help you!"  Awww... melt my heart.

Garren was still too afraid, but the climbing contraption had several other entrances and I noticed the entrance at the other side was not as slanted.  I encouraged Garren to try that way since he had already been so brave.  He and brother walked around to the other side as I sat and watched.  Can you believe that he not only went past the third step, but he climbed all the way to the other side!!!  An all out high fiving party erupted and we went to tell grandma, who had come along on the trip, all about the bravery.  On the way home, we stopped at Cold Stone and got ice cream to celebrate Garren facing his fears.

Later that week
We spent the day at the beach and towards the end, both boys needed to use the bathroom.  Without any prompting from me whatsoever, Garren decided he was going to face his fear of the toilet flush, went into the stall, stood right next to the toilet and he flushed it!  "I didn't even cover my ears!!!" he exclaimed, so proud of himself.  I told him I couldn't wait to tell Robert all about it at our next appointment.  He was pleased.

Week Three
As soon as we saw Robert at the appointment this week, we couldn't wait to share the good news.  He was very proud of Garren as well and Garren flashed a huge grin on his face.

This week, we decided to work on Garren wearing his eye patch in front of other people.  He has to wear a patch over his strong eye for two hours a day to help retrain his brain to use his weaker eye, which he had been turning off in favor of his strong eye.

Garren was less than thrilled about putting on his patch in front of Robert.  "I'm too tired." he kept saying.  After a few minutes, I got it on him.  We all decided to take a walk around the office and talk to people while Garren was wearing the patch.

"I'm really super tired, mommy." Garren kept saying in a whiny, crying sounding voice.
I assured him that he would do fine and that I was going to be with him the whole time.  He was being really brave just like before in facing his fears.

We went into one of the doctor's offices and Robert introduced Garren.  Garren had his face planted firmly against me and continued to complain of being too tired.  The doctor tried to talk to Garren. 

"Can I see your patch?"  the doctor asked.  Garren didn't budge.
"Orange is my favorite color," the doctor continued, noticing the color of the patch from the side.
"I'm really really tired," continued Garren.
"What's your name?" asked the doctor.
"Mommy, I want to go home.  I'm really tired." he said again.

Robert told Garren he just had to turn around and face the doctor and tell him his name and then we'd move on to the next office.  Garren quickly turned around and said "Garren!" and then headed towards the door.

On to the next office.  It was pretty much the same thing.  Then the next office.  He turned around for a few seconds longer, but still not much.  We decided that we would continue to work on this fear through the week and at our next session.  I told Garren he had to wear his patch until he got to the car (he gets motion sickness with it on in the car).  We got on the elevator to go downstairs and a dad and his son got on.  Garren wanted to get off and wait for the next one.  I told him we were going to ride on that one.  The little boy stared at him the whole ride down.

A few days later, I had an appointment with the chiropractor.  I knew since we wouldn't be there too long, it might be a good opportunity to practice Garren wearing his patch in front of a few people.  I had to fight him to get him to put it on before we went in but he finally cooperated.  When we got in, he went over to the chair in the waiting room and sat with his face towards the wall so no one would see him.  I mentioned the patch to the receptionist and she asked Garren if she could see it.  He stayed facing the wall.  I asked her if she had ever seen anyone with a patch before and she told Garren she had actually seen someone with a red Spiderman patch before.  He skiddishly turned to face her to show her his patch and she said it looked really cool.

We then went back to the room and the doctor came in.  We talked about the patch and he said he really liked it because it had bicycles on it and he likes to ride bicycles.  He said if he had to wear a patch, he would definitely want one with bicycles on it.  This time, Garren didn't stand with his face to the wall and acted normally.  Success.

Next Step
Tomorrow we are going to practice wearing the patch in front of other people again during doughnut time at church.  There will be more people there than we've seen so far, but the length of time won't be too long so hopefully he will manage it.  We'll see...

This approach of gradually getting used to fears seems to be working really well.  We have nine more weeks in the study and I'm excited to see how brave Garren is with many other things by the end of our time there. Feeling blessed by progress.


Monday, September 2, 2013

Labor Day

The boys and I had an awesome day today.  We spent the morning at the beach.  It was very hot but still a beautiful day for it.  It was quite relaxing sitting in my beach chair while the boys played in the sand.  

We also spent a lot of time in the water since it was so hot outside.  My almost-six year old loves going out "deep"  (i.e. up to his chest or so) and jumping over the waves.  My nine year old typically prefers to watch from the shore.  He occasionally will venture in up to about his ankles but any further than that is a bit too scary for him.

Today, he came all the way out to where he couldn't even touch and floated with his inner tube.  We've been working on facing his fears.  I was so proud.  The three of us spent quite a bit of time in the water.  It really was a lot of fun.

After that, we came home for naps/rest time and just lounged around for a bit before taking a trip to the grocery store.  It was a beautiful day.  Tonight is a beautiful clear night.  I felt so normal today.  It felt really good.

But right now I'm starting to feel the anxiety set in again.  I took half of my anti-anxiety med almost an hour ago.  It's the quiet times that are the hardest I think.  The times when my mind has a chance to wander...

It's Labor Day.  I feel better when I'm laboring.  Lord, be near to me in my rest.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Blessings

"And it shall come to pass, if thou shalt hearken diligently unto the voice of the Lord thy God, to observe and to do all his commandments which I command thee this day, that the Lord thy God will set thee on high above all nations of the earth: And all these blessings shall come on thee, and overtake thee, if thou shalt hearken unto the voice of the Lord thy God."  Deuteronomy 28:1-2

Our current series at church is called Blessings.  

Today I felt blessed.  I was sitting with the boys in the cafe before church where they were enjoying some deliciously messy chocolate donuts.  We sat down next to Kim, who is always a blessing to me.

We talked for a few minutes and then it was time for Sunday School. Afterwards, I went to find my "assigned" seat in church when Kim stopped by and handed me a book called "Walking on Water When You Feel Like You're Drowning" by Tommy Nelson and Steve Leavitt.  She had run home (next door) between donuts and church to pick it up.

I've only read the back cover, the table of contents and a few pages of the introduction so far.  I'm looking forward to reading all the way through to the last page because it seems to be so timely for the things I've been struggling with.

Yes, today I feel blessed.