tips for when someone you love has wonky brain

Having someone you love battle with depression and/or anxiety (aka wonky brain around this blog) can be heart wrenching and heavy, especially if it’s a particularly bad or long season of it. I imagine it can feel extra overwhelming if you’ve never dealt with wonky brain or if you’ve never dealt with it to the extent the person you love is.

But let’s start by getting this out of the way: It’s probably not your fault their brain is wonky and it’s not your fault if it’s not getting better. I say probably because if we’re being technical, if you’re being abusive or a generally yucky person to them…then it might be your fault. You might want to reconsider your understanding of love and might think about finding ways to get your insides better so you can treat people you love better.

So, it’s not your fault. But there are things you can do to make that person you love feel loved and potentially assist them in functioning until they can go back to doing that by themselves. And I’m going to share a few of them with you. I would like to add though that while I do have a bachelor of social work, I am not a mental health professional. The tips I’m going to share with you are based on my own times of wonkiness and what helped me, what I needed. Everyone is different. You know the person you love, you likely have way more insight into them than I do (trust yourself). But maybe sharing what has been/is good from people in my life when I’ve been/am wonky, will give you a tiny bit of foundation to work with.

Help me with the basics.

Wonky brain can be paralyzing. The simplest tasks like making dinner, washing the dishes, getting ready for the day or for bed can seem too intimidating to bear. It doesn’t make sense, but when my brain gets wonky, it’s comparable to using a grandparent’s computer. It’s agonizingly slow and keeps freezing, even when you’re only trying to click the start menu. In times like these, as patronizing as it might seem for you to do, I really need you to drag me to grocery store to buy food I will realistically eat/make in this wonky spell. Help me pick out some healthy food and also some freezer meals that I can zap in the microwave (something is better than nothing) when my brain is freezing. Drag me to fill up my car with gas. Help me do my laundry, take out my trash, do my dishes. When I’m depressed,  all these things begin to pile up, which makes doing them seem even more daunting and makes me feel so rotten. Do them with me. Help me get that inspiring fresh start. It can be empowering. This applies to lots of “basic” things that don’t feel so basic to a wonky brain. I remember feeling really sluggish and bad, and my mom made adult me eat a bowl of cereal and go to bed. It’s what I needed. The fact you would care enough to help me with these not so glamorous things means so much to me and makes me feel cared for. Don’t underestimate the simplest acts of love.

Ask what me what I need.

You are an expert on your loved one, but they are even more of an expert. If mental health has never been a struggle of yours, you might assume that person needs you to give an inspiring speech or give them a kick in the rear, when all they really need is a hug or kind text message or to go on a walk. I remember going through a pretty bad existential crisis (I seem to always be in one, in one way or another) that had made my anxiety, and therefore my depression, sky rocket. One my best friends, after I had tried to articulate my thoughts, asked me, “What can I do?” She couldn’t really relate to what I was going through, with my wonky brain or with my crisis. But she loved me and genuinely wanted to know what she could do. So she asked! It made me dig deep and think about what I needed and it gave her insight into a tangible way she could help. It was good for both of us. I still remember that moment clearly. I felt very loved. And love cannot be underestimated.

Don’t come with an agenda.

We can tell. No matter how well meaning you are, it can hurt deeply if it feels like you have come with an agenda. If your loved one (and you) is a person of faith, they might be carrying some serious doubts about God’s existence, goodness, or love for them. If you’re coming with the agenda of convincing them God is real, God is good, having faith in God, you’re probably just making things worse. They probably already feel bad or conflicted about having those thoughts, and it ends up coming across like you care more about their belief in that moment than you do about them. Without meaning to, it can add this expectation that unless they agree with you, you’ll give up on them. It’s natural to wrestle with these things when your brain is wonky. If you’re a person of faith, than I assume you believe God is good and God is truth. If God is truth, God can be scrutinized and survive. If God is just, God will reward the person who seeks truth. If God is steadfast love, your loved one is safe in their doubt, in their resentment. Let them lay all the anger and criticism before God. Maybe your loved one will really benefit from the scripture or sermons you share. Like I said, you know your loved one more than I do.

I remember the greatest human assets in my worst season of wonky brain were those who listened to my ramblings and didn’t look at me differently. They didn’t come with an agenda to make sure I stayed the “ideal” person of faith in my trials, convincing me of a light my eyes were too broken to see. They simply sat with me in the dark and let me share the warmth of their light. My parents did a lot of listening over the phone back then. I recall fiddling with my sleeve and saying out loud for the first time to one of my friends (now husband) that I wasn’t sure God was real and that if God was real, I wasn’t sure how good that God could be. He didn’t look at me different. He just looked at me with kindness, with love. It shook me, thawed me, in a good way. Don’t underestimate love.

Brainstorm actions with me.

Having a wonky brain can make a person feel helpless. I can be pretty mean to myself when I’m wonky. I feel like I can’t do anything right, sometimes anything at all. As I said earlier, the simplest of things can seem daunting. Help me brainstorm ways to make these things or the things I’m afraid of/depressed about, seem a little bit easier to tackle. For example, if I’m lonely, help me brainstorm places I can meet people. If I’m afraid to talk to people in class or at work, help me set a goal to look one person in the eye. If I need to see a counselor, help me set a goal to call or email 3 centers to try to make an appointment. And when I say a goal, I mean assist your loved one in making a comically low goal to meet within a set amount of time. I say comically low because to you, making a call to a counselor might be easy as pie, but to your loved one, it might be the most courageous thing they have done in quite some time. And taking a microscopic step and then celebrating it is often the fuel needed to take a little bit bigger of a step. It can also make a day or week seem like it has more purpose. They are the captain of their ship. They get to navigate, but you can help give them some ideas of where to go and how to get there. Your presence at the wheel is valuable. Don’t underestimate love.

Tell me things you like about my brain.

When I’m wonky, I get mad at my brain. I hate my brain. I wish my brain were different, I feel like it’s broken. One time my husband told me, “I like your brain. It makes me laugh.” He wasn’t trying to be profound. He was just being matter of fact. But that stuck with me. It was like glue that seeped down into some of the cracks and held part of me together.  Tell your loved one what you love about the very brain that’s giving them so much trouble. Maybe you like the music or words their brains writes. Maybe you like the art or food it creates. Maybe you like the stories or jokes it tells. Or the deep conversations it lets you have with that person. I don’t think it’s possible for you to tell them too many things you love about their brain. You don’t have to persuade them to love their brain right thing, but do remind them that their wonky brain is also a loved brain, even if it’s not by them. Don’t underestimate love.

{Side note: I didn’t intend for this whole “don’t underestimate love” thing to be a theme, but I guess it naturally is, isn’t it? So what are you waiting for? Go love that wonky-brained soul you care so deeply about!}

 

Strategies for the Wonky Brain – Part. 2

A while back I wrote about some of the strategies I used when my wonky brain is acting up. If you’re curious about what I mean when I say “wonky brain” or are interested in additional strategies organized in no way whatsoever, check out the post: https://missalissaann.wordpress.com/2016/05/11/strategies-for-the-wonky-brain-part-1/comment-page-1/

So without further adieu…

Procrastination

Okay, normally procrastination isn’t always seen in the best light, but it’s something I am sometimes able to use to my own advantage. There are times when  a worry  is playing on loop in my mind. It honestly feels like if I think about it just one more time, I will feel relief and it won’t demand my attention anymore. That never happens. And while there’s that fleeting sense of resolution, the unrest is back again almost immediately.

It’s next to impossible to convince myself that a worry is not worth thinking about. I’ve tried time and time again to remember that everything will be okay, that things work themselves out, that it’s not that big of a deal, that life will go on, etc., etc., etc. But the thing about anxiety is even if you know something isn’t a huge deal, your body doesn’t cooperate with that knowledge. So, I procrastinate worrying. This is especially helpful when I’m with other people, like hanging out with friends or at work. I tell myself, “You’re right. This isn’t good. When we get home, we can worry about it as much as we want. We can come unglued. We can come unraveled. Later.” And then when I get home, sometimes I’m already over it. Or, I just allow myself to freak out and try to address the issue. This strategy helps me miss out less on the present memories I am making.

I have also read on a website for parents who have kids with anxiety (sometimes the best tips for approaching mental health are actually those recommended for children, at least in my experience), that you can designate a certain amount of time for worrying, like 20 minutes, but then you have to do something else. I’ll probably try this at some point as well. I think there is something freeing about simply allowing yourself to worry for a minute instead of trying to worry, not worry, and carry the shame of worrying all at the same time.

Inbox

I find imagery to be very helpful in handling such things as abstract as anxiety and depression. This imagery came to me just yesterday when I was trying to describe to my husband who doesn’t struggle with wonky brain an anxiety that was nagging at my brain. I couldn’t pinpoint why it was stuck and holding on. But… I decided to describe it this way: it’s like when a someone sends you an email with something to do and they “flag” it as IMPORTANT or whatever that red flag means. And so you’re like, Ah gottacheckthisrightnowanddoitimmediately. But then you read it and are like !%$&*#@$&#@$ this is not urgent at all! You just want me to feel like it is! 

My brain does that, but with concerns. So a thought that isn’t urgent and isn’t important is stuck in my metaphorical inbox (my brain if you’re having hard time following along). And I’m like @#$@# you brain, this is not urgent. But no matter how many times I click delete, the email will not disappear.

Once I had this analogy, I decided that if I couldn’t delete the email (thought), I could at least mark it as read. And I told that email, I will obey you in the morning, but right now I am going to go to sleep. Because you are not that urgent. Somehow it worked. Nothing else I had been trying had released the thought, but this imagery did. I look forward to using it more in the future and seeing how powerful it can be.

Self-Affirmation

I have seen self-affirmation examples and tips on good old Pinterest, and learned a little about it from one of my social work professors who was talking about self-care. It seemed kind of silly to me at first and not useful. But I have recently begun to use self-affirmation a lot. The key to it, for me, is creating my own self-affirmation. Other people’s words don’t mean a lot to me, but when I have to reflect on what my fear or sadness is actually about and come up with truth and encouragement to address it, I’m finding it turns out to actually work.

Here are some examples of the ones I created and use:

The number of hours I sleep will not dictate the kind of day I have tomorrow. I will let go of calculations and panic. I will not obsess. My body will get the rest that it needs. My body is resilient.

Sleep and brain-wonkiness for me are correlated. When I’m not sleeping enough, my brain melts like a toddler who skipped nap-time and can’t function. But sleep is also an area where my anxiety manifests itself. I get super worried about not getting X number of hours of sleep then I’m not relaxed so then I have trouble falling or staying asleep so I wake up groggy then I’m worried about how it will affect my day. And that whole time, I’m miserable! It’s a cycle and it snowballs so my anxiety about getting anxiety from not getting enough sleep is actually making my more wonky.  But in the past couple of weeks, I have seen a change in my peace level as I repeat and accept the above words.

I am capable of determining which task is more urgent and prioritizing it by sticking with it until it is finished instead of moving on to the next task.

I can start an important task without being distracted by the nagging to slave over a master to-do list that I will never be able to perfect. I trust myself to make a good decision every moment.

I have problems focusing sometimes, because I get overwhelmed at everything I could be doing. It can cause stress and self-blame when I feel I haven’t been as productive as I want to have been. Side strategy: I keep a notepad beside where I’m working to write down thoughts that pop up. When they pop up and I don’t write them down, they buzz around my head, because I’m scared of forgetting them. Super distracting!

I trust myself to think clearly, to problem-solve rationally, to build relationships genuinely. And to put thoughts back where they belong when I don’t need them anymore. 

Another one I use mainly for work, especially when I’m apprehensive about being inadequate or productive enough the next day.

I am happy to be in the here and now. No thought is strained by the future. Each thought is neatly resting in the present. I am submerged in peace. I am full of joy. I am wholly content.

This one is helpful when my brain won’t shut off to focus on the task I’m doing, because it’s evaluating if there’s something better I could be doing.

I can let this problem go for now, because my whole life does not depend on it. I will deal with it tomorrow when it is delivered to my door step once more.

Sleep

Sometimes the best thing I can do is go to sleep. It sounds kind of hippy-ish, but often times it’s a matter of simply listening to your body. Ask your body, “What do you need?” I think it’s something I’m getting better at with time, but I sometimes I feel it tell me sleep. And it’s as simple as that. My brain just needs to cool off, be free of stimuli, and reset.

Gratitude

I can just feel you rolling your eyes already! It’s okay, I would do the same. I’m not saying that if you just count your blessing, your anxiety will go away, you ungrateful piece of trash. Listing off the things I’m thankful for is a strategy that I’ve only found a few weeks ago that only works on one very specific type of wonky brain that is fairly new to me. I started feeling like my brain was overheating. Since I’m apparently all about that tech-analogy life (Little Brother, aren’t you proud??): It was like when you are “gaming” as the nerds (friendly shade) say–or in my case playing Sim 4 for so long I start to lost touch with reality–but you don’t leave your laptop vents uncovered (let’s say you’ve made a cozy nest in a bunch of blankets). Your computer starts to overheat. It can’t handle the most basic task. It lags and/or freezes. In the words of college students, it “literally cannot.” That’s how my brain was acting! It wasn’t going a mile a minute obsessing over something. It was barely moving like a stupid good-for-nothing computer that can’t handle the Sims (and not ventilation).

But somehow I stumbled into the discovering that listing the things that I am grateful for cools it down. It sounds stupid cheesy, I know. But it worked for me on more than one occasion when my brain felt like it was overheating. Who knows!

Exercise

I’m not going to pretend that I can run more than 1/6 of a mile without experiencing the need to slow to jog (Okay, slow from a jog to a very sloth-like walk) or that I do yoga every day. However, when I haven’t been active, my brain is like, “Oh! Stored up energy! I’ll take that and use it…TO YOUR DEMISE!!! MWAHAHAAHAHA!!!” It uses all that energy to worry and obsess over things. Running isn’t something that helps a lot if I’m already feeling down and depressed or paralyzed with anxiety, but when I feel the edge like it might happen, I am sometimes pleasantly surprised to find that just going for a run/jog/leisurely walk helps. I think there is also something about MOVING that is makes an unsatisfied brain feel like progress is being made.

I do yoga too, more for when my body feels sort of out of sync with my brain.Yoga with Adrienne on YouTube is the only one I’ve been able to get to. I highly recommend her.

Music

There is a wonkiness my brain experiences where it feels like one gear of the machine (That’s a thing, right? Gears and machines?) is slightly off, so the machine is clunking and being annoying as hell. Listening to certain songs sometimes does the trick. This is another mysterious one to me, but if it works, it works. Some favorites of my brain, for whatever reason, are: the “Magpie and the Dandelion”album by the Avett Brothers, “Good-bye Blues” album by the Hush Sound, and pretty much anything by mewithoutYou. It’s not so much the words as it is the beat or rhythm (fill in the blanks, music people) and having my brain pick out a particular instrument to focus on the entire time is comforting as well.

You Are Safe and You are Loved

Maybe this would count as self-affirmation, but it’s a strategy that I have had for longer than I was all that aware of self-affirmation. God taught this one to me. I use it for lots of wonky brain situations, but specifically when I feel physically very worked up and/or afraid. I repeat, “I am safe and I am loved.” While I do that, I picture different people I know who love me. And sometimes I even say their names out loud as I picture their faces: Evan loves me. My mom loves me. My dad loves me. Or, when fear is the big thing I’m dealing with (like before I was married and would wake up in the middle of the night from nightmares, terrified of people breaking in and unable to relax my jumpy body), I picture all the different times I have felt very loved by someone. I replay those memories, and somehow it gives me strength.

***

Do you have any strategies to add?

PS-As I said in the last strategies post, I love you and I am joyfully a completely open book when it comes to wonky brain. If you have questions because your brain gets wonky sometimes or someone you care about’s brain gets wonky, reach out to me. You can ask anything! Not that any two people are the same and not that I am some sort of special person with answers to life, but…feeling alone is yucky.

 

 

 

 

 

Strategies for the Wonky Brain – Part. 1

“Worrier” is a label that has fit me for as long as I can remember. As a child most of that worry involved an obsessive fear of people breaking in our house at night or me/my family getting bit by a dog (or when I was really little, of wolves who know how to use doorknobs coming in to eat me–THANKS DAD. Although to be fair I did ask for scary stories before bed…) However, it wasn’t until junior high that my mental health became an issue interfering with my life. And it wasn’t until my sophomore year of college that I started to even have a concept of mental health and how to maintain mine well.

So in the time between junior high and my 2nd year of college, I struggled immensely (and secretly) with anxiety and depression. It was crippling sometimes. The closest thing I had to understanding these state of beings were the vague ideas shaped by my interactions with Christian circles and my Bible. I therefore was under the impression that if I would just “let go and let God” or just “trust Jesus” or just read my Bible more or just pray with more faith, I would be at peace. Just. Just. Just. As I tried these things and failed over and over again, I began to fill to the brim with shame. I was ashamed of how I felt. I was ashamed of my thoughts. I was ashamed to be me. And I thought God felt that way too. I thought God was like, “Why can’t you just get it together?”

I get kind of sad whenever I think back on it. I wish I could go back in time and tell myself all the things I’ve learned now and have my break-throughs just a tad sooner. I could have avoided being miserable for such a large portion of that time, spewing hateful things about myself to myself, and coming eerily close to suicide on a couple of occasions. But I can’t. However, I can share these things with you. Maybe this is a foreign topic to you, anxiety and depression. But maybe it hits close to home, and maybe somehow the strategies I’m learning to use to live a little more peacefully will prove to be useful to you as well.

To start off, I want to stop calling it anxiety and depression. It’s easy to write those words off, because everyone kind of has a different image in their minds of what that looks like. It can be a reflex to be like, “Oh, that could never be me!” or “Overdiagnosed!!!” without true reflection, at least in my own experience. Also, for me, like for a lot of people, anxiety and depression are not neat categories of my mental states, but rather realities that are complicated, are intertwined, and often share symptoms. So I like to refer to it as “wonky brain,” and it can mean a lot of things, like…

I feel paralyzed with everything I could or should be doing so I can’t get out of bed no matter how many times I brace myself to move. My body feels so sluggish I could sleep for hours or just sit there staring off into space. Everything feels impossible, even the simplest of tasks. My thoughts are racing a mile per second like if my brain were drawing my thoughts, it would be scribbling messy circles at lightning speed, the kind of scribbling you do that makes the paper tear. My chest is tight and I can’t get a full breath of air. I can’t complete a thought, like every thought I try to carry out is a softball pitch that only makes it halfway from the mound to the batter. Like the little person who lives in my head and is in charge of operations unplugged herself from the wall and is just sitting in the corner banging her own head against the wall. I’m overwhelmed for no reason. I’m overwhelmed for a thousand and one reasons, 95% of which didn’t bother me yesterday and probably won’t bother me tomorrow. Like I’m buried so deep inside myself that it actually takes all my energy just to say words that are barely audible, and if someone asks me to repeat myself I cry. I can’t relax, because my body is on edge for no reason. The world is moving too slowly all around me. The world is moving too quickly all around me. Like a worry is stuck to my hand and I’m trying to get it off because it’s stupid, I know it’s stupid and I shouldn’t be obsessed, but I just can’t let it go even when I unclench my fingers, it’s stuck on me like glue.

You get the idea. Or maybe you don’t, but let’s move on.

Below are just a few strategies I’ve gathered on my way. It’s not all of them. I have more for a part two. Maybe a part 3 (I’m learning new ways all the time.)? Quite frankly, my attention span is a little less than desirable and I probably would have already stopped reading and started skimming for the words in bold by now. Or clicked away, because too many words, uugghh.

Anyway, most of the strategies I use for the more terrorized by anxiety side of my wonky brain. Some I’ve learned straight from the Holy Spirit Itself, others from my counselor, and some from strangers on the internet who wrote about what works for them. I won’t go into a lot of detail about where I learned them, because, quite frankly, you probably don’t care!

The Alphabet Game

I find this to be more helpful when I’m feel generally uneasy or I feel like my thoughts are starting to race. I pick a category, like “characteristics of God” or “people I met this year” or “cities” and then I have to come up with something that fits in the category for every letter of the alphabet. When my counselor told me about this, I thought it sounded super cheesy, but it works for me sometimes, especially on nights whenever it’s hard for me to relax to go to sleep.

Anxiety as a Person

I personify anxiety to be a more frazzled, caricatured version of myself, and visualize my mind as a house. I imagine Anxiety knocking on the door and me answering. I tell her that she can come in, but first we have to breathe 10 deep breaths together and/or I make her agree to the rule that we can only talk about one fear or anxiety at a time. I let her come in and sit down. I ask her what is bothering her and what she needs. To go to bed? To eat? To have her fears validated? Tea time with Jesus? To talk it out? To take another action? Then we brainstorm together. So yeah, I’m kind of talking to an imaginary person in my brain, but whatever. There really is something about separating myself from my anxiety that gives me a sense of control and confidence that I need to overcome my wonky brain.

Breathing

I visualize a star. I picture inhaling as going up one side of a point and exhaling as going down the other side of the point. Then I go all the way around the star. It’s helpful to me because it gives me something to concentrate on for a brief period of time, while also tricking my body into relaxing some. I’ve noticed when I make myself do this before letting myself freak out, I end up feeling calmer.

Eat 

Wonky brain can make it hard for me to feel hungry or to feel motivated to make/get something good to eat, but whenever I don’t eat right, and especially whenever I don’t eat at regular intervals even if it’s fast food, my mental health suffers. Like being hangry but more intense and internal.So when I eat regularly and when I eat well, I do better. It’s not like eating a certain way will cure wonky brain forever, but it can be used as somewhat of a preventative measure.

Compartmentalize 

Whenever anxious wonky brain hits, sometimes I am fixated on and obsessed with one fear. But a lot of times, it is more of a state of being, and fears of all sort come at me from every direction. It feels very chaotic, like a nightmare where a million bats surround you, freaking out and flying in your face. So, I sort through the fears. I visual having different boxes in front of me with labels like work, spiritual, friends, relationship, family, night-time, etc. and then I place each anxiety into its proper category. After that I put all the boxes in a closet in that house I mentioned earlier. I shut the door, and I tell myself, “You can take out one box and pick one fear from that box. Only one, no exceptions. Then you have to put the box away and lock the closet the door. Whenever we’re done addressing the fear you picked, we can get another, but not before then.” It can help to work with one thing at a time, in a line, rather than trying to juggle them all at once.

Counseling

I don’t see a counselor anymore, but I did for about a year and a half. And as life changes and new stressers are introduced, I will probably go see one again at some point. You can get duds with counselors of course. But I happened to hit the jackpot. It really helped to talk about what I was experiencing internally out loud. I’m not someone who likes to be the center of attention; I like to be the listener. So rambling about my wonky brain with a friend or family member wasn’t helpful. I felt uncomfortable and I was also worried about making my loved ones scared or worried about me when I told them about the dark and unhealthy thoughts I was having. And I tend to be the person people lean on, and so at the time when I started seeing a counselor, I felt like I couldn’t be their rock and fall apart.   I also am very intimidated at the idea of talking about my feelings because I’m not super great at articulating them. Being with my counselor was a safe spot where I didn’t feel like I had to have exactly what I wanted to say perfect before I spoke. And I didn’t have to feel guilty about talking too much, about scaring anyone, or about being misunderstood. It really helped me untangle a lot of wonky thoughts that had been accumulating for years, like the way you comb through tangled hair.

 Journaling

I don’t do this a lot, but when I’m not sure how I feel or when I’m feeling overwhelmed, I write. Sometimes I write letters to someone who’s hurt me or to myself. Other times I just write about what’s happening and how I feel. Or I sometimes even write poetry. I never think it’s going to work, but once I get the ball rolling, I find I more quickly get to the core of the issue, uncover what I’m truly feeling, and begin to be able to start finding a solution. Also, by writing my thoughts down, it makes my brain less cluttered and weighed down.

Medicine

When my counselor first asked me if I would consider taking medicine for my wonky brain, I was like, “Um, no.” Too scary! Chemicals that mess with your brain????? Don’t even get me started with all the horror stories on the internet. Then God suggested it. I said, “No, thank you! Useful suggestions only!” But, about 8 months later after (it was a few months after I had resolved that the only way to escape the wonky brain was to kill myself and had begun planning the details of my suicide–which, obviously by God’s grace I didn’t, thank you to several humans unknowingly saying just the right things at just the right time) I decided to give medicine a shot.

Like with the counselor, I got lucky with the first medication I tried (Zoloft). It wasn’t immediate and there were some side effects, but it is one of the best decisions I have ever made. It really helped restore a balance in my brain. It was kind of like I lived in a dark, stupid basement and wanted out, but my legs were broken. So no matter how hard I tried to get up the stairs, I was stuck. And Zoloft was the doctor who came and put me in a cast so I could start to heal and regain the ability to walk up the stairs. But instead of being in a basement, I had a  messy, wonky, unbalanced brain, and Zoloft came and balanced  the chemicals out, so I could start to implement the strategies I was learning to manage my mental health more effectively. After 8 months, I did stop taking it, and that was also a really good decision for me. However, some people take medication their whole lives. And that’s okay! It’s not shameful. You should be proud you are giving your brain what it needs! Good job! My brain just needed it for a short period of time, that’s all.

 

 

***

Jesus could have handed me a restored, peaceful, and balanced brain. But instead, he took me on a difficult, messy journey. And I mean that it was messy. Being suicidal. Wanting to harm myself. Being angry at God. Being skeptical God existed. Thinking even if God existed that God wasn’t good. Feeling defeated and tired by wonky brain. It was lonely and painful. And these are things I even still wrestle with on some days. I’m not ashamed of that. If there’s one message Jesus has been trying to drill into my thick skull, it’s that there is no shame to be felt rightly. It’s forbidden, so stop it! (Easier said than done, amirite?).

What is your wonky brain like? What are some strategies you use?

PS- I am an open book about this stuff. If you have questions about my wonky brain,my spiritual walk, those dark times of wanting to hurt/kill myself,  or anything, just ask, okay? I won’t think you’re weird and intrusive. I would love to share with you, if that would help you. Really. A negative is a little less negative when you get to use it for good, even if it’s just once.

Love you!

 

 

young for the first time

Lately I’ve been feeling young again. Well, not again. For the first time, really.

I started taking Zoloft, which is an SSRI, about a month and a half ago. I wish I would have started taking it a heck of a long time ago. Before I started taking it, I can’t even remember the last time I felt like myself for over 24 hours. Of course, I still have rough days and anxieties and stuff, but I’m not so unstable anymore. I’ve been kind of forgetful lately, I guess a side effect of the meds. Which sucks, but I don’t feel out of control, at the mercy of my emotions. I can’t explain the happiness I felt when I realized I hadn’t pictured a gun to my head for over a week (it used to be a daily, constant thing).

But back to my first sentence. I feel young. I had been so plagued with worried and paranoia and overthinking and social anxiety and depression and exhaustion and hopelessness. And I dealt with it all myself. I mean, for the past year or so I have been seeing a counselor every other week, but in the time in between my sessions, it’s was all on me to…to, in a way, be both a crazy patient and the counselor. I felt like a little kid that had to grow up too fast because my parents didn’t take care of me or something. But now I just feel young. Not like a little kid, but like a 21 year old young woman who has dreams and passions and wants to fall in love and smiles at cute guys at the grocery store without panicking and who gets in stupid street races with dumb boys in trucks who think they are so cool. Like I’m discovering this whole new world where I laugh a lot and enjoy things and dance all alone in my kitchen. Like I’m pretty and confident and smart and fearless.

And that feels good, exciting, hopeful. I can’t believe I spent so much of my life missing out on being happy to be alive, can’t believe I survived so long not being able to breathe, wish I wouldn’t have thrown away countless opportunities out of fear. I can’t take it back and that’s okay. I’m not gonna sweat it; I’m gonna start living.

So that’s where I am now. Feeling young and making up for lost time.

🙂

16 hours ago

The last 16 hours have been surreal. I have never felt so resigned in my life.

About a week ago I sat alone in a chapel on campus. Rather than try to describe it; I’ll just provide what I journaled while there:

How am I supposed to handle the fact that I just the last 20 minutes entertaining the possibility of killing myself?

No, really, I did. How does a follower of Jesus do that? 

I keep racking my brain, but I feel like, in the end, even the good things in life, like friends and family and kids and the thought of falling in love…everything just settles and you’ll still be left wanting more. I don’t know. I can’t find anything that wholly makes me feel like life is worth living. Truly worth living.

I’m running on empty. I latch onto something, some phase, some future idea, that keeps me inspired, but that only lasts so long. Sometimes it feels like my life is just me filling up–or attempting to fill up–some gas tank for my soul, running empty, and trying to fill back up again.

Even the things I love, sincerely, deeply, love, aren’t giving me that longing to stick around anymore. Not really, any way. I either feel this incredible void inside of me or I feel so overwhelmed with thoughts that I can’t breathe–really, it’s those overwhelming feeling that gets me. But both make for miserable existences.

I want to end my life. Because I can’t go on. It’s too much. I can’t handle it. I want all the noise in my head to SHUT THE FUCK UP.

Why am I like this?

Why?

I want to be good and holy and live a life worth of the calling, but I’m so exhausted and burnt out and constantly “in a tizzy”–as my best friend would say–trying to get what it means to do those things and then actually do them.

And, God, I just feel so                                                    alone.

After that I went and hung out with above-mentioned best friend (L). I remember I thought it an odd thing to have such dark thoughts and then go and enjoy the presence of another human being so much. In a way, I wondered if I was being phony. But mostly I felt like I did not want to dampen the mood. And after a while, you get kind of tired of being the Debbie-Downer. Of being “transparent.” I hate lying and acting like everything is fine, but there comes a point when you begin to question the purpose of burdening someone else with a  problem that isn’t getting resolved. I know L would punch me in the face for hiding all this from her. But it is what it is.

But back to why these last 16 hours have felt surreal…

Last night in the tub, all wrapped up in a towel, I tried to cry. I don’t know. I guess I thought if I could cry it all out, I would feel better? Tears didn’t come. Instead, frustration–becoming all too familiar these days–welled up inside of me and then settled down into this eery calmness. And that’s when I let myself consider, really consider, not just fantasize about, killing myself.

I decided Thursday is when I would get everything all sorted out, all the details not the deed. I can’t go about this carelessly, you know. I have to make this seem like an accident. Or if I don’t, get letters written to people so they don’t go the rest of their lives thinking and wondering if it was their fault. And then there’s just things I would have to get in order, like, my belongings and stuff. I certainly wouldn’t want anyone to have to deal with the disaster of shittiness that is my room at the present.

I chose Thursday because I have a paper due Wednesday. Which is stupid reasoning but I guess I figured I might as well write the dumb thing, DAMMIT.

I didn’t immediately scold myself or push the thought out or ask somebody to pray for me because I’m feeling low or anything like that. I went to sleep with a feeling of resign and woke up feeling even more resigned and the whole thing feeling even more surreal.

I’m walking through my day in this weird fog. Not sure what Thursday will look like. Not sure if I can even go through with planning a suicide. Even more unsure if I can even go through with committing suicide. Most unsure if I can keep living.

What about my brother, though? And what about the kids who look up to me? And what about my friends? I comfort myself with the idea that life goes on and eventually so will they. But I also think about how me killing myself would reflect God. At both of the Bible studies I went to last week, we talked about reflecting God. I can’t find any way that my killing myself would reflect on him positively, glorify him at all. I don’t want to hinder his work down here.

If anything keeps me from killing myself, it won’t be a desire to actually be alive. Rather, it is a strong sense that saying good-bye in such a way would deeply hurt and even be a stumbling block for a lot of other people that God loves.  Not that God couldn’t recover from that. He reminded me of that as I typed the previous sentence. He didn’t say it in a way that was encouraging suicide and it wasn’t in a mean, “See if I care!” way. He was just telling the truth. And the truth is life is not about me.

If I stay here, it’s not because I like being here, in this body toting around a brain that won’t calm the fuck down. If I stay here, it’s for Jesus. So I can love like he loves. I might not be happy. But I can still do what’s right, what’s good.

We’ll see.

the great paradox of my depression

The great paradox of my depression is that, while it takes me to some of the darkest places and deepest pain I have experienced, it also brings me some of the greatest joy and the most intense moments of clarity concerning God that I have ever known.

The other day was rough. I wanted to bang my head against the wall. It felt like my thoughts were racing a mile a minute–but it was too foggy for me to process any of them. I couldn’t relax but I didn’t have it in me to do anything. These moments are the most dangerous for me, because they’re the moments when I wistfully think of putting a gun to my head. Not because I want to die necessarily. I’m just so desperate for all the shit going on in my brain to slow down–and I don’t know how to make that happen.

Like I said, I couldn’t relax. So that put sleep out of the question. But I was also so out of it that I knew I wasn’t going to get anything productive done. I was feeling particularly defeated because before this 5th semester of my college career began, I had made so many lifestyle changes. I had sat down and identified all the activities or habits or environments that trigger or feed into my depression/anxiety episodes. And then I had come up with ways to eliminate or avoid those things as much as possible.

I know that a messy room, a disorganized academic life, and not eating healthy or regularly makes things worse. So I have kept my room clean (if you know me, you know how big of  miracle that is–and I have even gone as far as making my bed every morning) and my things organized. I have been eating much better than last semester.  I know that procrastinating increases my stress and anxiety level to nth degree. So I have been on top of everything. Spending too much idle time at my apartment or being alone too often round house kicks me in the face and leaves me in a ditch unable to move. So I’ve been working twice as much as last semester, running and playing sports every week, staying on campus during the day, calling my family every four or five days, and making sure I meet up with friends when I can. I know when I don’t have a good book to read, something that will challenge and inspire me spiritually, my life starts to feel futile. So I’ve been reading almost every day. I’ve been responsible and wise.

And yet there I was. I felt my depression, that heavy beast of  thing, slowly making its way up through my toes and into my heart. About  a week earlier I had started to hear its footsteps. I guess, though, I thought if I kept trucking, kept running, kept busy, it wouldn’t catch up to me. But the other night, I guess I ran on empty. I sat on the floor of my bedroom, feeling so incredibly pissed and overwhelmed with disappointment. I knew going into all those changes they couldn’t make my depression vanish. But I had hoped with a child-like hope that they could keep it a bay…forever. But nope. There was nothing I could do. It was back.

I wanted to scream. Is it always going to be like this? My whole entire fucking life? Is this the thorn in my flesh? Stupid. Stupid. Stupid.

Sometimes when I’m depressed I think God is mad at me. I think that it’s all my fault. I should have spent more time debriefing with him every day. I should read scripture more. I should think of myself less. Even though I know that’s not the case and He’s told me before, I start to blame my self. Every time.

Luckily, my Papa’s mercy is limitless. I felt led in my spirit to listen to a certain song right then: “Never Let Go” by the David Crowder Band.

when clouds veil sun and disaster comes, oh my soul, oh my soul

when waters rise and hope takes flight, oh my soul, oh  my soul

oh my soul

ever faithful, ever true, You I know

You never let go. You never let go. You never let go. 

You never let go.

when clouds brought rain and disaster came, oh my soul, oh my soul

when waters rose and hope had flown, oh my soul, oh my soul

oh my soul

oh my soul overflows

oh what love, oh what love

oh my soul fills with hope, perfect love that never lets go

oh what love, oh what love, oh what love

oh what love

in joy and pain, in sun and rain, You’re the same

oh, You never let go

I felt my Friend there that night with clarity. In a simple, non-imposing way. He didn’t ask me to participate the daunting task of pouring out my emotions. He didn’t suggest I rattle off my thoughts to somehow sort through them. He didn’t tell me to read my Bible. He didn’t say anything. He just sat with me. Even in the darkness I was experiencing at the time, I felt a joy that is beyond my understanding. What a paradox.

Jesus is unbelievably faithful. In all of my confusion about life–and trust me, I have so much confusion about everything (even and especially concerning the Bible)–He is the one thing of which I am sure. Jesus is. Not the Bible. Not a Sunday school lesson. Not a bullet point list of the things I believe about His love. No, it is Him.

If I hadn’t met Jesus a few years ago, I, quite frankly, wouldn’t give jack squat about Christianity. But my relationship with this guy I can’t even see or hear is somehow the most solid thing I have now. Honestly, sometimes I want to give up on my beliefs and walk right out of the cumbersome faith world. But I’m unable to disbelieve Jesus is there, even if I try. I can’t walk away from Him.

I could never find a more faithful friend, never find anything more real, than Jesus.

letter to God

Papa,

I’m sorry. I can’t do this. I don’t understand what’s going on with me right now, what’s wrong with me.

Last night I told you I don’t want to be like this, be such a mess. I just want to be one of those radical followers of Yours. You said, “You are.” That perplexed me, but I know not to argue with You.

Today you reminded me of that and said, “Don’t you think I knew you and what you would go through when I asked you to follow me almost four years ago? Or last year when I asked you if you wanted to walk the Earth with me [whatever that means], don’t you think I knew what the future had in store? I did. But I asked you anyway.”

That makes me feel better.

But it’s like I can feel the stress/anxiety/frustration/agitation physically. I want to scream. I want to run and never stop, but I don’t even have the energy to get out of bed. I can’t breathe.

Earlier this week you led me to this song “Need You Now” by Plumb:

Well, everybody’s got a story to tell. And everybody’s got a wound to be healed. I want to believe there’s beauty here. ‘Cause, oh, I get so tired of holding on. I can’t let go, I can’t move on. I want to believe there’s meaning here.

How many times have You heard me cry out, “God, please take this!” And how many times have You given me strength to just keep breathing? Oh, I need You. God, I need You now.

Standing on a road I didn’t plan, wondering how I got to where I am. I’m trying to hear that still, small voice. I’m trying to hear above the noise.

How many times have You heard me cry out, “God, please take this!” And how many times have You given me strength to just keep breathing? Oh, I need You. God, I need You now.

Though I walk, though I walk through the shadows–and I, I am so afraid–please stay, please stay right beside me with every single step I take.

How many times have You heard me cry out? And how many time have you given me strength?

I wish You would take me, end this.

Last night You gave me the strength to just keep breathing, but how long will it be before I will have strength for more than that? I can’t do this for much longer.

Papa, I love You.