Friday, May 31, 2013

The Looking Glass

(I wrote this post this past weekend - on the evening of my little guy's birthday. It was a beautiful day - but a difficult evening for me. Not because of anything to do with him or anyone. But because of my own battle with anxiety and depression (original post here). Then I hesitated to share it because of my love for him. What if he reads this someday? Will he worry that his mommy wasn't happy on his birthday? Will that hurt him? Will he feel less important somehow? Maybe I should post about his birthday party first then share this later. Then last night happened. A horrible night of what I can only fathom was some intense side effects from one of the anxiety medications I'm taking. I'm not sure which one. I'm not even sure that's what it was. But I've never felt so out-of-my-head. It's wasn't a panic attack. It wasn't a dream. It was something new. And it scared me and angered me at the same time. So here I am again. Not through this tunnel yet. Questioning myself. Knowing others are questioning. "why not stop the meds?" "do you really need them?" "medications can't be the answer" "isn't there a better way?" Honestly...I don't know. What I do know is 5 months ago I was unable to function. Unable to eat. Unable to drive, cook, work, do laundry, or rock my little boy to sleep. Unable to think. Now I can.What I do know is I am still doing everything. Everything. From prayer and meditation to therapists and counselors, from meds and doctors to lifestyle changes and a new way of thinking. What I do know is I am improving. But I'm still here. Still trying. Still waiting. And I need to share this with you.)

Hello world.

Today my little miracle turned 4 years old.
Today my mind was filled with the wonder at his existence.
Today my heart was filled with love for a piece of myself that I'm convinced is better than my whole self will ever be.
Today my soul was full of gratitude to God for a gift I could never have imagined.
For not only has He sent His Son to die for me, and save me from my sin, but then He sent me my son, to save my life all over again.

And through all the happy times, and all I have to to be thankful for.
And through all the difficult times and all I've had to be afraid of.
And through all the heartbreaking times and all I've had broken inside me.
He remains the One to gave it all to me...and the One who watches over me and holds me when it is taken away.

Today is my little boy's birthday.
If ever there was a day to feel happy - it's today right?
But amid the excitement and joy ... my heart kept crying out within me.

Hello world. I am in pain. And I hate it.

"What?" you say? "On such a happy day how can you feel anything but love? I know birthday parties can be stressful but just relax! It's all fine! You're not really hurting. It's just (stress/hormones/satan). Let's go out for ice cream*."

And maybe I would.
But if ice cream could fill the hole that gnaws and grows in my heart, we'd all be a whole lot happier. And probably a whole lot fatter. 
But I digress.

To anyone who has ever suffered from depression, panic or anxiety disorder. You know what I'm saying. And I'm so sorry you do. It's not a road I'd choose to be walking and I know you feel the same.

To anyone who hasn't...the difficult truth is you don't know what I'm saying.
You don't understand it.
You can't understand it.
You may think you do. You may know an acquaintance/sibling/mother/child/neighbor who claims to have suffered from it. But you don't really know.
You may sympathize. You may judge.
You may reach out. You may look away.
Some of you may research and read about what mental illness is all about.
Some of you will choose to remain ignorant.
And I wish I could say the only person you're hurting by doing that is you...

...but that's not true.

You're hurting those who are suffering in earnest - and you don't even realize it. 
You're hurting my friends.
You're hurting my sisters
And you're hurting me.

By believing that this monster that has eaten it's way into our lives is not "real".
Or that it can be easily controlled or defeated.
That it's all in our head. It's a mental game that can be beat simply by doing something different. Making a change - a decision - to beat it.
And it's just weakness or drama on our part by not getting past it.
Your false judgments along with your innocent misunderstandings hurt us.

How do I know?
Because I've been on both sides of this looking glass.

I've been the one to think "if they just didn't stress out so easily" or "if they didn't try to do so much" or "if they just had their priorities in check" then life would be easier. They need to chill out.

I've been the one to criticize saying "life's tough people, wear a helmet" or question their faith thinking "they just need to let go of all of this and realize God's in control."

I've been the one to sympathize saying "things will calm down soon - life's full of ups and downs. You'll be fine. I get it. We've all been there." then forget about them, or worse, wonder judgmentally if "they are just doing this for attention."

God knows I've been that person.
To strangers. To friends. To family.

Not always being cruel but certainly not always being understanding. How could I when I'm always thinking to myself - why all the drama? Why all the tears? Why all the disappearances and emotional break downs? Why do they do this to themselves?

Did you hear that? 
That was the sound of my heart cracking open just a bit more at the verbalization of my own misunderstandings, my mistakes, my shortcomings.

How dare I assume I knew "better"? That I knew what was really going on. That I knew what they needed. I knew what they were feeling without even asking. That I'd "been there done that". 
We all have pain right? We all have anxieties right? We all have stress right? 
We're all the same...really??

No. Not really.
You are not me. I am not my neighbor. And my neighbor is not her mother.
We are all individuals.
We are all God's children.
We are all created in His image.
We have commonalities. Similarities. Shared experiences.
But we are in no way - all the same.

Most of you know I'm on the other side of that looking glass now.
I came crashing through it a few weeks before Christmas and much to my dismay I'm pretty certain this is where I have to stay. There's no way to the other side of the mirror now. It's broken - I've seen the other side - and I can't fix it anymore than I can rewind the clock.
I am where I am. God has brought me here for a reason and I don't say that lightly - I mean it. I know He has purpose for me and as long as I am seeking Him, He will lead me - even when I can't see where we are going. And while the bigger wounds from my crash into the glass have been treated and cared for. While doctors have monitored and amended and redesigned my care plan. While God is healing in His time and I cling to His promises. And while I'm seeing pieces of my old self more and more in the reflection of this broken mirror....I need you all to know something.

I am still picking splinters of glass out of my body.

I still remember every bit of what it felt like to be so physically ill I couldn't eat, couldn't sleep, couldn't think, couldn't cry. I still have days when I'm not sure what I'm going to do or how I'm going to do it.
I still have moments when I talk to God so hard and so long that the tears - oh those blessed tears FINALLY come and I feel relief. It's odd how tears are a curse when you can't stop crying for months on end, until you've been numbed to your own emotions and suddenly tears are a blessing. I can tell you that numbness, for me, is so much scarier than crying.

I need you to know - I still have pain.
Pain so deep that it makes me question who I am and why am I doing this to myself?
Here I am on the other side of that looking glass asking myself that very same question.
How very telling.

And I will tell you right now. Anxiety, depression, panic attacks - are real illness.
You can make the illness harder.
You can make it last longer by ignoring it until it finally crushes you. Or you can fuel it in a negative way enough that it will consume you. Or you can choose to recognize it - face it head on - and seek the attention needed to heal this illness.
But you can't make this up.
Who would ever choose to live this way?
This isn't just the occasional case of the blues, or a fight with your spouse, or an emotional week.
This is a daily fight for your sanity and your health. Your ability to cope. Your desire to keep going.

I am not doing this to myself.
Friends - you are not doing this to yourselves any more than the woman with thyroid disorder (um yep - that's me again) or the man with high cholesterol or the young girl with an eating disorder are doing those things to themselves.

Those are real problems.
Those are treatable problems.
But those are not always preventable, nor predictable, nor self-inflicted problems.
Sometimes illness is just illness.

Generalized Anxiety Disorder.

That's the diagnosis they've given me to explain the last 5 months (or longer if you talk to my therapist) of my life.
And honestly - I hate it. I didn't want it. I want to be ok! I want to be happy!
Every bone in my body, every fiber of my being, every logical thought in my mind tells me - you don't want this. Push it away. Fight it off. Make it stop. You're stronger than this.
If you've been reading my blog you know - I want another baby. I want to grow and serve and do MORE! Not fall apart into nothing.
I don't want this.
I didn't ask for this.
I'm not ok with this.

So somewhere between "that's a really stupid diagnosis" and "oh thank goodness I'm not crazy!" I have tried to find peace. 
It's one day at a time. 
It's one step up and two steps back.
It's a roller coaster...and I hate roller coasters.

But if you understand nothing else from my (potentially stream-of-conscious-style) writing please understand this.

This is a real illness.

Not merely physical - though some of the physical symptoms include muscle tension, dizziness, chills, sweaty hands/feet, heart palpitations, dry mouth, numbness in the hands/feet, shortness of breath, nausea, vomiting, weight loss, and the inability to be calm and still. (btw - I can check all those boxes)

It's not merely mental/emotional - though feelings of panic, fear, uneasiness, nightmares, problems sleeping, repeated thoughts, obsessive thoughts, flashbacks, crippling fear and severe anxiety are common symptoms.

It's a life-effecting, game-changing, mind-bending, heart-wrenching illness that I for one cannot wait to beat. I pray to God that it is His will I will be healed. That this is not like Paul's "thorn in the flesh" and I must content myself with it because He knows how much it's broken me thus far.
It has not torn me away from Him.
But at times I feel my very being is tearing itself in half.

Mental illness gets the short end of the stick. It's unfairly named as "mental" as if your physical body is somehow unaffected. And for some horrible reason it's developed a reputation for being a "made-up" illness. We are desensitized with with such words as "crazy" and "unstable" and confuse a true medical imbalance with someone who is "lacking in faith," a "control-freak" or "just a worrier."

If there is anyone out there who is more of a skeptic than I am, we've never met.
I am all about reason. Finding answers. Making sense of everything. I drive my family crazy questioning everything. Not believing it until I can see it for myself. (Doubting Thomas anyone?)
And that has been God's theme of the last 5 years of my life. He is truly refining me with fire - showing me that I am NOT always going to be able to find a reason, or an answer, or a solution.
That I can be wrong.
That I can be weak.
That I am vulnerable to lose what I most want to control.
Even myself.

But if living these trials has taught me anything it's that God can use anything for His purpose. He can turn even our greatest pain into a mysterious blessing that gives life to something worthy and beautiful.

This was hard to write.
I almost didn't write it because I felt awful for sharing something so difficult on the birthday of my sweetest blessing.
But if I pretend that I'm only suffering on bad days - that's not helping anyone.
Not me. 
Not others who are beating themselves up for feeling sad during happy times.
Not those who don't understand that this is not circumstantial or controllable.
The reality of mental illness isn't pretty or easily compartmentalized or convenient.
The reality is that even when everything is okay - this illness tells you it's not.

There are many times I wish I was still on the other side of the looking glass. 
Blissfully ignorant of what it's like to experience any trials : miscarriage, the heartbreak of losing a baby, the fear of what your unborn child's disabilities will mean for your family, the longing of wanting to be pregnant for 2 years with no success, the helplessness of anxiety and the hopelessness of it's sidekick depression.

But on the other hand...if the looking glass was still perfectly intact, I would still be looking vainly at my own reflection. Unaware, unable to relate to anyone other than myself. Focused on the image before me and all I wanted see. How I thought life should be.

So even though it hurts like shattered glass through my heart, I'd rather be looking to God to help me pick up the pieces and see through His eyes, than spend my life gazing mindlessly at my own reflection.

Because no matter what I see in the mirror - it's still me. The way He made me. The way He is molding me daily to be. Not perfect. But somehow perfected in His love.

Thank you.
Thank you for caring enough to read this.
And if you are so inclined - you can use this link to learn more about what's affecting so many - most of whom are still suffering in silence for the fear of being misunderstood, perceived as weak, or feeling guilty for the pain they feel - even though it is out of their control.

*It should be noted that I have a "super" wonderful birthday boy post on it's way. :) He had an awesome birthday - best yet in fact - and I am so blessed to be his momma. It should also be noted that I wrote this and was later invited out to ice cream by my sweet siblings before I posted. Ironic and totally coincidental guys. So don't think I was trying to say anything. ;) I love you. And I love ice cream.


Colleen said...

Read it, heard you, love ya.
And just so you know, not everyone is a skeptic. Even though I've never personally experienced this kind of illness, I believe you and I care. I read this blog post the other day that says kinda the same thing you were saying but in a different voice.

liz kulp said...

many prayers for you... that the Comforter will bring comfort to you... and for healing, and peace in your soul...hugs and luv...

Our family said...

Thank you for being so real! I can't wait to meet you and your family someday! Sending you lots of love and praying. Xo, Angie and boys

ashley malefyt said...

Thank you for taking the time to share your heart, Joanna. <3

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