Sunday, May 19, 2013

Courage is Owning Your Story

I'll be honest...I don't know how to write this post.  And yet...why not?  I often go on a soapbox about authenticity and being "real"...and so it would be hypocritical of me not to write this post, right?  (Got you wonderin', yet?)

I wrestle with depression...and boy have I slid into a pool of it this go round.  I know this bout is significant as I don't even have the gumption or energy to go to West Virginia for the Memorial Day holiday...a tradition I've had for almost a decade to decorate the graves of my ancestors.  The place I call home.

Not this year...


I'm not sure why I struggle...but it has been, for the most part, lifelong...but episodic.  Probably a combination of artistic temperament, introversion, family of origin, chronic stress, chronic sorrow, and marching to the beat of a different drummer...and also a life changed I mentioned in a previous post.  I'm resilient...but it doesn't come easy.  It's all God's grace.

I found these quotes quite eye-opening, as someone who has viewed creating equivalent to breathing:

  • Artistic temperament sometimes seems a battleground, a dark angel of destruction and a bright angel of creativity wrestling. - Madeline L'Engle
  • Life beats down and crushes the soul and art reminds you that you have one. - Stella Adler
  • The arts are more dangerous [than other occupations] because they require sensitivity to a large extent.  If you go too far you can pay a price -- you can be too sensitive to live in this world. -Terence Ketter
  • He was a complicated artist who had an inner life and embedded that inner life on the page.  His anxieties and fears brought him Lucy and the characters in ‘Peanuts.’  A normal person couldn’t have done it. - David Michaelis about Charles Schulz
But even more...was Ann Voskamp's post on April 7, 2013, after Rick Warren's youngest son died of suicide.  Ann tells of her own story...and how telling her story is what sets her free.  The thought I had at the end was, "Wow...I wish I had written that!"

We hear the term "mental illness" and see the Jared Loughners, Adam Lanzas, and the James Holmeses of society...the most severe extreme.  And yet, on any given day, no less than 35% of the population is dealing with issues of anxiety and depression...while still tolerating its pain in silence as they function in life...numbing as they go so they can take the next step.  But the numbing is actually adding to the problem.

With me, it comes in waves...starting out almost unnoticed...then a low buzz like the hum of a refrigerator...then I become more aware as my energy is zapped from doing anything or seeing/talking to anyone...and then stuck in a "what's the point" frame of mind...that interferes with doing anything with any of the little energy I have to muster...including reaching out.

And when do I know this bout has passed?  When I am able to glimpse purpose and meaning once again in my life...and that energizes me.  Deep, rich conversations with kindred spirits nourish my soul in a way beyond measure...including those dialogues with my Savior.

I did a series on The Battlefield of the Mind in March...about controlling how we think, how we talk to ourselves in our mind...because your thoughts create your emotions and subsequent behavior...your life, in fact.  My reward?  A bout of depression (I say while laughing).  I've heard it said that "we teach best what we need to learn most."  True dat!

But what bothers me still, is how the Church fails so miserably when fellow Christians, such as myself, are experiencing this pain.  What to do?

I love the suggestions in Rebekah Lyons' article:  My Take: Let's Quit Keeping Mental Illness a Secret.  She suggests:
Remove the stigma
As people of faith, let’s talk about mental illness, giving others permission to do the same. Let's release the stigma that keeps this a secret, holding untold millions captive. All secrets lose power when they exit the dark. The church is a place where we should be able to come as we are, with our longings for what we hope to be. Jesus always pursued the weak with open arms. When we are broken and fragile, He draws us closer to Him in ways we’ve never known. In my own journey, I’ve never felt more loved and cared for by God than in my darkest hours. When we grieve, we are comforted.
Be present
Let’s be present. Let’s love unconditionally. Eye to eye, we must be honest about our own struggles. Especially in the church, no one should have to hide or sneak around or double his or her dose. Let’s be on-call in the late night hours, when the phone rings and we are summoned to show up. What if our communities of faith were the one place you could count on to find a listening ear, a hand to hold, another loving human being with a compassionate and sensitive response?

Don't pretend to have all the answers 

Let's not shame mental illness with the judgment of spiritual weakness. As Christians, we believe this side of heaven all disease, sickness and pain is rooted in a world broken by sin. But there are real consequences to living amidst the mess. To oversimplify these complexities would be naive at best, negligent at worst. Faith should never undermine the necessity of doctors, of medications and therapy, because we must deploy every effort afforded to us when we tackle our brokenness.
Isolation/going-it-alone is the most treacherous route for those being tossed in the storm of anxiety or depression...and yet, I believe Ms. Lyons has it right.  Without understanding, available "others" in our lives, isolation is the least painful than being with those who are naive, clueless, smug, or pious.

I wrote on Facebook today, "Jesus came for the sick, not the smug"...a quote from Ann Voskamp.

In the end, Jesus is my go-to-guy and brings the hope of hope!  I have not wanted to go anywhere this weekend or pick up my camera to create anything...but I sit at home in the quiet, with the breeze coming through the house, hearing the songs of the birds of spring migration, with a glass of iced tea, having the courage to tell my story.
Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it.  Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy--the experiences that make us the most vulnerable.  Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of the Light. -Brene Brown
And all is grace and will always be...whether I recognize it or not.

And I feel a little order my front porch swing, where I could have been sitting, with all of you beside me.  I'll let you know when it comes in!


  1. My thoughts are with you my friend, I too have had bouts of depression starting with post natal depression 30 years ago. I feel that I am behind a wall of glass separated from everything and everybody, numb and shut off, All we can do is be gentle with ourselves to ride this particular wave until it sweeps over us and is gone... Try to take some photographs I find it's so therapeutic...I would love to be able to sit with you on your swing, sip tea and just quietly watch the world go by...

  2. Denise, what an amazing post. I too suffer from depression. I've been in the who cares phase the past few weeks and not much seems to help except recognizing where I am and one day at a time trying to climb out.

  3. Such a strong message that you shared with us. Hopefully being able to write about it will be therapeutic. I have had small bouts in the past, but this year, even with the long winter, I seemed to have come out okay.

    1. Sarah - It WAS therapeutic! I ordered MY SWING!

  4. Denise - what a wonderful post. I truly hope it has helped you to share with all of us. My husband suffers from depression, sleeping days, weeks, or even sometimes months on end, barely functioning. It's not something I've ever been able to wrap my brain around but I know whereof you speak. I'm so soooo thankful to the Lord that I haven't had to deal with this myself. I'm one who sees the glass half full no matter the situation. I praise God for that!
    Life is too short dear. Hold you head up high, go for a walk (make yourself if need be), take your camera and get creative. My prayers are with you!
    BTW, you've shared some awesome AWESOME shots!

  5. Wish I could sit on that swing with you...and share our stories! I've been feeling lately that i've completely 'missed life'.... but then again, perhaps i've just missed what MY life is. Different from others. Need to OWN it! Praying for understanding, and to not miss serving Him for the remainder of my days.
    Your writing and photography are awesome. Don't ever quit!! :)
    You are encouraging us out here....

  6. I hope you ordered a very large swing because here's one more who needs to sit on it and sip a beverage of some sort with you! I think my own battle with depression has worsened since the fire two years ago. I want so much to stay home, do nothing, not go anyway--very aware of the "what others think" attitudes (especially if my burn scars are on display). The photos in this piece are beautiful (love the angel). It's cloudy and gray this morning; I have a nasty cold and sore throat; I don't want to do anything that requires "thought" or energy. But I have to own it, as you say, and find the motivation. Perhaps another round of Scripture and quiet time with Jesus will help.

  7. Very powerful and moving post. You put yourself out there this morning and I can see through reading the other comments how by doing so you've helped and encouraged others. I'll be praying for you as you move through this tough time. I can't wait for your swing to arrive. I can picture you sitting in the fresh air listening!

  8. Your honesty is powerful...I think every human being deals with this at some point (various points?) of their lives. For me it's anxiety - I have grappled with it my entire life, and excess anxiety certainly leads to depressive episodes. I'm sending you good thoughts, Denise - sharing your experience only helps others and that's a good thing. Your photos are beautiful!

  9. Denise, may God continue to bless you with His Grace to endure, to survive...and to thrive.

    I walk this path with you...



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