Monthly Archives: August 2014

Shoveling Cats

snow shovel

One pleasant summer evening we left the backdoor open to get some fresh air into the house. I was sitting in the front room, reading a book, when, out of the corner of my eye, I caught a glimpse of Raggles, one of our two cats, standing next to the couch. At least, that’s what I thought I saw. When I actually looked up from my book, however, I saw this giant, similarly-colored cat standing in my front hallway. We knew most of the cats in the neighborhood as we had had to break up more than one cat fight over the years, but this was one I had never seen. When I looked it in the eye, it hissed at me. Not a good sign.

My first line of attack to shoo this interloper back to wherever he came from was to toss a throw pillow at him. I mean, what’s a throw pillow for if it isn’t to throw it at someone or something? Surely, I thought, that would scare him away. Uh, no. The cat’s response was to assault the pillow as if it were another cat. Poor pillow.

My next course of action was to get the broom from the kitchen. The idea was that, if he didn’t leave at the mere sight of my formidable weapon, I could use it to physically push him out of the house. Instead, I found myself on the defensive end of a full-fledged cat fight, including earsplitting screeching—the cat, not me. My poor broom didn’t have a chance as the cat attacked it fearlessly. At this point, I not only had a strange cat in my house, I had a very angry strange cat in my house. And he wasn’t about to give up any ground.

So there I was in a stalemate with this intruder, neither one of us willing to back off. But, as he always does, my husband came to the rescue. While I was futilely trying to fend off my attacker with a measly broom, Craig did some quick creative thinking and retrieved the snow shovel from the garage. Yes, the snow shovel. Now that was a weapon with some oomph. He took over my skirmish and very literally shoveled the cat out the back door and off the porch—and we closed the back door.

Very often, I have found, and continue to find, myself in unexpected and unwelcome circumstances—like defending my person against a stray cat that happens to come through my back door. The thing about these unexpected circumstances is that they are, well . . . unexpected. Sometimes they are things I never imagined would happen, and, consequently, I have no plan for how to deal with them. Other times, I have expected certain situations to manifest themselves in my life, with plans for what I would do when they came to fruition, only to find those conditions unfulfilled. When that happens, I am, again, left without a plan.

So what do you do when you find yourself in such a state of affairs? Well, I usually try to come up with some course of action I think might be effective in solving the problem, like tossing a throw pillow. If that doesn’t work, I try something else, something with a little more muscle, like a broom. In my encounter with the cat, however, the broom was my last resort. I really couldn’t think of what else I could do but hold my ground and hope the cat decided to leave on its own. My husband, on the other hand, did what I should have done. He thought outside the box. While the broom was the obvious choice for remedying my unwelcome circumstance, it simply wasn’t working. It took my husband’s imagination to come up with an effective, albeit unusual, solution.

I have heard there is one beatitude that isn’t in the Bible: Blessed are the flexible, for they shall not be bent out of shape. Therein is the key, I think, to those unexpected times we all experience in our lives. Sometimes they are rather inconsequential and not much more than a nuisance, like finding yourself eyeball-to-eyeball with an enraged feline. But what about the situations which are anything but inconsequential? The times when things like illness, accident, financial distress or other life-changing event seemingly leaves you adrift in life’s ocean without a rescuer in sight? Or the times when lifelong dreams are still just dreams, with nothing visible on the horizon to indicate that what you so desperately desire will be realized? I think the solution is the same—imaginative flexibility. If one thing doesn’t work, try something else. And if that doesn’t work, try something else. You might have to get creative, but the important thing is to keep trying. I know that is the way I have dealt with my depression struggle over the years. I’ve tried lots of things, some very traditional and others not so much. Some worked, some didn’t. Some worked for a while, but gradually became ineffective. Even after thirty-some-odd years, I am still tweaking my approach.

However, perhaps the most important kind of flexibility, I believe, is a willingness to simply accept what is. I find that sometimes I still think in terms of getting my life “back to normal,” meaning back to what my life was like before the depression set in. However, the reality is, for me, dealing with depression and anxiety is “normal.” That doesn’t mean I just sit back and allow myself to be sucked into an inescapable black hole. What it does mean is that I must create the best life I can, neither in spite of nor because of my circumstances, but rather by simply, and non-judgmentally, taking into account things as they are as I navigate the wilderness of life. Above all, it means I sometimes have to get a little creative and think outside the box to find ways to get past rocks and fallen trees blocking my path—you know, like shoveling cats.

Image copyright: <a href=’http://www.123rf.com/profile_vivilweb’>vivilweb / 123RF Stock Photo</a>

Joining “The Conversation”: Addendum

Right after I published “Joining ‘The Conversation’” I checked Facebook to make sure it had posted correctly. I saw that a good friend had shared the article “There’s Nothing Selfish About Suicide” from the Huffington Post. I immediately read it because I wrote just the opposite in my post “The Hole In My Soul“. The author makes some points that I, of all people, should have understood. Most important, her perspective is a much kinder, less judgmental one than the statement that I make in my post. Although it is true that those who are left behind will never be the same, I have to agree that in the end suicide isn’t about selfishness, it’s about desperation and intolerable pain. I learned something valuable from that article. Perhaps you might, as well.

Joining “The Conversation”

It wasn’t Robin Williams who took his life yesterday, it was a physical illness no different than cancer or heart disease. I know it is hard for many to understand how someone who was, by all observable evidence, so incredibly successful and accomplished could possibly feel he was such a failure that life was intolerable and no longer worth living. I, for one, understand that thinking all too well.

I’ve talked to many people suffering from depression and anxiety over the years, and the one thought that is common to most, if not all, is that mental illness is a shameful character flaw. I’ve been fighting this battle for more than 30 years, and very often I still feel that way. I know it isn’t true, but that’s what it feels like. Because people are ashamed that they can’t control their thoughts, they often react in one of three ways: 1) They self-medicate with alcohol; drugs, both legal and illegal; video games; television–anything to numb the mind and escape the pain. 2) They seek help in secret, doing everything they can to make sure no one finds out what, in their mind at least, a failure they are. 3) They refuse to acknowledge there is anything wrong at all and, at best, simply endure an anguished existence, or, at worst, lose the battle with this most insidious of enemies and commit suicide.

In a strange way, Robin Williams’ death just might turn out to be his greatest legacy because it is forcing the issue of mental illness to the forefront of people’s attention. It is becoming a catalyst for The Conversation that needs to be held on the world’s largest stage. Too many people suffer so needlessly because they either feel like there is nothing that can help or they are too embarrassed to accept the help that is available.

Not long after I began this blog almost a year ago, I wrote a post describing my experience with mental illness, particularly as it has affected me spiritually. As my contribution to The Conversation, I am reposting this piece in the hope that it will make its way into the hands of those who need either an assurance or a reminder that mental illness is not a shameful character flaw, that they are neither a loser nor a failure because they have been given this challenge to manage in mortality, and, above all, that they are not alone for there is help, both earthly and heavenly, to be had for the asking.

The Hole In My Soul

When I started this blog, I knew I would write about the hole in my soul sometime, but I didn’t know when. The idea was just kind of sitting out there on the sidelines looking on. After a conversation I had with a young woman recently, I knew it was time.

To be honest, the “hole” was really more like a crater, but “The Crater in My Soul” just didn’t have the same ring to it. That crater was caused by the meteor of depression, with a result not unlike that of the meteor that crashed into the earth 65 million years ago and, in theory at least, caused the extinction of the dinosaurs. Like that meteor, when depression slammed into my soul more than 30 years ago, the impact raised massive amounts of emotional dust that blotted out all light in my life. This caused all the classical symptoms doctors use to make a depression diagnosis—loss of interest in formerly enjoyable activities, inability to concentrate, feelings of hopelessness, difficulty making decisions, etc., etc. But there is one symptom that you never hear about, and, for me at least, it was the one that caused the greatest pain. I’m talking about the loss of the ability to feel God’s love and the sweet assurance of the whisperings of His spirit.

Hole in soul image1In my deepest despair I sought solace in scripture, but that just made me feel worse. The descriptions of joy and peace and comfort were feelings that seemed not only beyond my reach, but beyond my very comprehension. When I prayed, I felt like I was praying to a brick wall. When I sought the comfort promised the obedient, I found distress. No matter how hard I tried to do the things I had always been taught would bring me into God’s favor, there was seemingly no response. I would wait until my husband was asleep, then I would get up and go into another room and pray and plead for hours. I cried buckets of tears. Still nothing.

I never doubted for an instance the reality of God, but I began to doubt His faithfulness. I asked and heard no reply; I sought and found nothingness; I knocked until my emotional and spiritual knuckles were raw and bleeding, but still I couldn’t perceive any opening of a door (See Matt. 7:7). I faithfully attended Sunday worship services even though it was torturous; while others would talk about feeling comfort and peace, of feeling God’s loving arms around them like a warm blanket, I felt nothing. No, that’s not quite right. I did feel something, I felt inferior. What was wrong with me, I wondered. Had I somehow royally ticked off God? Please, I besought Him, tell me what I’ve done wrong and I’ll fix it! But no answer was forthcoming. I came to understand later that that was a question He couldn’t answer because I hadn’t done anything horribly wrong that I needed to fix. Eventually I began to feel excluded by Him, then abandoned, and ultimately betrayed. Through all of this I kept praying, studying His word, worshiping, and giving service whenever and wherever I could. I had decided, rather peevishly, that I wasn’t going to give God the opportunity to tell me that if I had only prayed more or read more scripture or gone to church more or served His children better He would have relieved my despair.

I finally reached the point where, if God wasn’t going to help me, I decided I would have to take matters into my own hands. The only escape from the intolerable anguish I felt, as far as I could see, was to take my own life. But because I believe in an afterlife, even that solution wasn’t completely satisfactory. You see, I didn’t want just to die, I wanted to cease to exist. Knowing that was impossible only intensified my distress. But I finally decided that if I killed myself and ended up in hell, at least I wouldn’t have to cook or do laundry. Go ahead and laugh; I do. Obviously, my reasoning wasn’t exactly stellar, but that’s what depression does to you. I knew how I would do it—I would take a bunch of pills and just fall permanently asleep. What I couldn’t figure out was where or when I could carry out this ultimate action of finality without my children, ages 4, 7, and 9, finding my lifeless body.

I remember one particular night when I approached God on my knees in “prayer.” I use quotation marks because I’m not sure you could really categorize what I did as praying. I have never been so angry in my life as I was that night, and I let Him know about it. Why, I demanded, had He abandoned me? Though I was far from perfect, I had done everything I could think of to the very best of my limited ability to be obedient. Where were the promised blessings? The promised peace? Why, why, why? I implored. Even now, more than 30 years later, tears stream down my face in the remembering.

I received a very clear answer to that prayer. I was made aware of the great love God has for me (and all of His children). I didn’t, I couldn’t, feel His love, but I did understand it intellectually. I also understood that even if I tried to take my own life, I wouldn’t be held responsible because in my current state of mind I wasn’t accountable.  Those answers just made me even more angry. Here I was, contemplating one of the worst things a person could do, and the answer was “I love you”!?! And what did He mean, I wasn’t accountable? What kind of an answer was that?

It was at this point that my sweet, patient, incredibly supportive husband knew there was more going on than just PMS or moodiness. (Why he hadn’t left me by that point, I don’t know. I had certainly made his life hell.) Somehow he knew I was at a critical emotional tipping point that was beyond either of our capacities to handle. I believe it was at God’s prompting that he put me in the car and took me to a doctor. He didn’t give me a choice; we just went. I don’t know what doctor we went to. In fact, I don’t even remember seeing the doctor. The only thing I remember about that appointment was that the nurse made me promise that I wouldn’t commit suicide. I made that promise even though doing so made me furious. From my perspective, she had just taken away from me the only thing left in my life I had control over—my choice to live or die.

Let me say here that suicide is NEVER the answer, no matter how inviting and logical it seems. Quite frankly, it is an incredibly selfish act. You might be gone and in peace, but those left behind will never be the same. I know because two of my cousins have taken that route. Even if you are absolutely convinced that you are unloved and unlovable, I can guarantee there are people on this earth who would be devastated if you ended your life. If this is something you are contemplating, please talk to someone and get help. It’s out there. As long as you keep things inside, it’s just going to get worse. If the first person you confide in doesn’t help, keep telling others until you find the right person to help you get through this terrible ordeal. And promise me that you won’t do it. Please. Over the years I have gone up and down more times than I can count so I know from experience that things always, always, get better—not necessarily perfect, but better.

And so I began my long, long journey in search of physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being. I’ve tried just about everything except voodoo. There have been supplements, homeopathy, energy therapies, neurofeedback, acupuncture, herbs, yoga, psychotherapy, pharmaceuticals, and even this blog. I’ve taken numerous medications—some that worked and some that didn’t. Some that worked had side effects that were intolerable, so it would be back to the drawing board. My first line of attack is medication because it enables me to have the physical, cognitive, and emotional resources to do other kinds of things that will help. Without medication, I would never have started this blog; it simply would have seemed too overwhelming to even attempt. This blog has allowed me to find my own voice; committing to a course of action that I value has been the best therapy of all.

Is the hole gone? Mostly, at least for now. Because it is filled with soil that is neither sand nor bedrock but something somewhere in between, there is always the chance that some flood will come that will erode my sense of well-being. In other words, I am not cured, and I don’t think I ever will be in this life. I believe I will always have the disposition towards depression and anxiety in mortality, but now I know how to deal with it—I know better where to get the peace to fill my hole. More importantly, I have lived long enough to see how my experiences have enabled me to become more than I ever would have been without them (See my post “Psych-ick Fruit”). Most people who know me would never know I deal with mental illness if I hadn’t publicly spoken about it many times. Oh, I have my days, but never anywhere near what I experienced at the beginning.

Hole in soul imageAnd where am I now with God? Fortunately, He is perfectly patient and infinitely forgiving. Over the years He has brought me back from the brink of the abyss by leading me to the doctors and other resources I needed. I know now that I was never left alone; I was just temporarily blinded to His influence and interest in my life.

For those of you who are where I was, trust that things will get better—they always do. And trust God. Trust that He loves you and that He is watching over you even if the heavens seem sealed with concrete at the moment. Though He might not take the trial away, He can and will make you equal to enduring it. He knows perfectly just how imperfect we are, and He’s perfectly ok with our imperfection. In fact, He doesn’t expect perfection of us in this life. If you can’t believe now, at least put the decision to disbelieve off until you are in a better state of mind. When the clouds lift and the light begins filtering in, then revisit the question of His reality and His love. The best way to do this is to ask Him. He will answer. He always does.

Image 1 credit: <a href=’http://www.123rf.com/photo_18982376_distress-and-suffering-with-a-human-eye-crying-a-single-tear-drop-with-a-screaming-facial-expression.html’>lightwise / 123RF Stock Photo</a>

Image 2 credit: <a href=’http://www.123rf.com/photo_17811635_depression-relief-and-conquering-mental-adversity-with-a-pencil-eraser-removing-a-tear-drop-from-a-c.html’>lightwise / 123RF Stock Photo</a>