Tag Archives: depression

fog, mental illness, and getting through

As I left town before the sun rose in the morning, dense fog rolled in around me.  The farther from town I drove, the thicker the fog became.  As I listened to the radio, the DJ shared, “A fog warning has been issued for most of the I94 area.”  Great.  If he was right, I had another 200 miles of fog in front of me.

And that is exactly what happened.

As predicted, the fog crept around me off and on for the next few hours.

At times, I could only see only the white lines in the center of the road because of how dense it was.


At other times, the fog cleared allowing me see see farther and enjoy the break.


I mention often in writings on this blog that I struggle with bipolar tendencies. In the days following the fog drive, I have been thinking about how fog is a great metaphor for mental illness and the low energy times that I experience. I hope this resonates with many readers.

Fog is unpredictable.

As I drove my 200 miles in and out of fog, I was surprised at how suddenly I could be surrounded by fog and at how quickly it disappeared.  It would come and go suddenly at times but then be creeping at other times. While my mental health low times sometimes can be charted in some kind of rhythm, they are often unpredictable.  I struggle to know if I am feeling ill or having a low time as they often can feel similarly.

Fog slows down our minds.

Because of the strain to see through the density of the fog around us, we need to put other things on hold.  At times, we need to turn off the radio and concentrate on driving.  This is true with our mental health as well.  When our minds get stuck in the fog – or when the fog creeps in on us – we struggle to see beyond the fog. We may need to clear out the noise in our minds and around us.  Our family and friends may not understand this, and we need to be careful only to do this as needed rather than as a way to isolate from the world.

We need to follow the white line.

When we are in a mental fog, we need to rely on routine and follow what we can see.  Just like the white line in the center of the road, we need to know what to follow to keep us safe when our minds are foggy. This is why routine when we are in a “good zone” is so important. Establishing routine helps us to do safe things when we are in a foggy patch.  Exercise, taking medications, sleeping well, and eating well keep us safe through the foggy periods.

We need to follow only safe drivers.

Drivers from Florida, Alaska, Nevada, and Montana joined me on the road in the fog.  While they may know their own type of driving obstacles, North Dakota weather has its unique challenges.  These drivers created challenges for me as they drove too fast in several of the portions of fog. In our non-metaphorical lives, others around us struggle to understand that we are in a mental fog.  They try to speed up, drag us with them, and can lead us into a crash by distracting us.

We do not need to see beyond the fog.

The DJ told me that the fog would lift.  I desperately wanted to see beyond the fog, but that was just not what was meant to be. I  had to wait out the fog, move through it, and find moments of gratitude while I was in in it. While fogs in our minds do not have a DJ to tell us when the fog will lift, we know that it will. Experience reminds me of this. Some people keep a calendar to remind them of when the fog lifts or returns. If the mental fog does not lift for more than a couple of weeks, it is time to take ourselves to a fog doctor (medical or therapeutic) and get some help.  When we drive, sometimes the fog gets really bad, and we have to pull over.  If we cannot see past the fog, we need to wait it out or get some help.

We need to stay safe in the fog.

As we go in and out of fog, our eyes and brains adjust.  Hopefully, they do this fast enough for us to be able to remain safe, but there are times that we have some pretty close calls. As we become experienced drivers, we learn about safe driving in snow storms, fog, and heavy rains.  Sometimes the highway department determines whether or not we can drive in the weather. In our mental health world, we need to create a web of people who can help us be safe. While it can be hard to hear someone (or a group of someones) tell us that it is time to get some help, we may need to listen to them as they keep us safe.  Spending too much time in a fog can jeopardize our safety.

How do you deal with the fog in your life?

I have been writing this blog in earnest since August of 2011.  As I have written about various topics, I find myself coming back to the topic of mental illness a lot. I realize that it is hard for many to share about this side of their lives. As a friend and I talked over this past weekend, the word stigma and the concept of safe people were part of the conversation.

I know that mental illness is hard to understand. It is complex, and we often do not know how to be the “white line” for others.  For those who suffer from the fog, know that there is lots of help out there – some of that help might even be closer than you think.  For those who support those who suffer from the fog, know that you are not alone in the supporting.

We cannot control the fog in our head any more than we can control the weather. However, we can learn to cope with it so that we can get through it safely.

And no matter how temporarily, the fog will lift, and we will see the sun.


Filed under faith, Relationships, Thoughts

This Little (Night)Light of Mine

Saturday was a big day in my life: I bought a night light for the master bathroom.

Rewind: when we moved to Bismarck, we moved into a fantastic house. I love it.  The housing market in Bismarck, ND, is crazy because of the oil boom “out west.”  The most expensive place to live in the nation is Williston, ND, and that expensiveness has made its way to Bismarck.  Because of that, we chose to rent, and – for the second time in our married lives – I saw the house for the first time when I arrived to live in it.

My house is not without quirks, though. One of the quirks is that the master bedroom is in the basement and formerly was the garage. The renovation created a beautiful room with hardwood floors and a walk-out french door view of the spacious backyard.  The bathroom is even more unique than the bedroom with a quarter circle shower in the corner of the room.

The scary part of the bathroom is the step down to get from the bedroom to the bathroom. This makes for hazardous travel on those middle of the night bathroom trips.  It is even more hazardous because it is super, super dark in our room at night and even darker in the bathroom.

Imagine me inching toward the step from my bedroom, holding my hand along the wall and sliding my feet to catch the end of the step.

This pretty much wakes a person up for good.

I am proud to say that neither the huz nor I have been harmed on any of these middle of the night trips, but we have only been here for five and a half months.

On Saturday, I went on the hunt for the perfect night light and found it.  The light it gives off is just enough to make my path known but not enough to trick my brain into thinking it should start working for the day.


As I looked at the light for the first time on Saturday, I had another quick thought that got my brain going (it was ok for my brain to go, though, as it was the middle of the day!).

It really does not take much light to dispel the darkness around us.

I could go on and on for a while about the darkness around us, the negativity of others, and how that makes our souls ache in ways that make us want to stay in bed for days and days.

I do not need to do that.

We are all pretty aware that our world in general is tough, and our specific worlds can be roughness personalized because of what we experience or because of what those close to us experience.

It is not by accident that light gives us hope and darkness brings us down.

Genesis 1: 1-3 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.

And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness. God called the light “day,” and the darkness he called “night.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the first day.

When Jesus came to Earth, it was dark here. There was a dark sin condition, and He needed to bring hope to us so that we could live life.

John 8:12 Jesus spoke to the people once more and said, “I am the light of the world. If you follow me, you won’t have to walk in darkness, because you will have the light that leads to life.”

And then Jesus commands us to be light as well.

Matthew 5:14a You are the light of the world.

What we need to do is look for the light around us.  Even a small glimmer of light can give us hope in the midst of our darkness.Sometimes it is hard to find the light because so many of us are hiding our lights.

Matthew 5:15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.

We are content to be our own personal darkness, and – for whatever reason – we choose to hide our lights.  We are concerned that people around do not want to see our lights or hear why we have hope in our lives.

My nightlight is really cool.

When I turn on the bathroom light – which fills the room fully with light – the nightlight goes off. Its light is not needed any more because the bigger light consumes the room.

One day, our lights will not be needed any more either.

When Jesus returns, we will be in God’s presence for eternity.Until then, we are called to be nightlights to the world around us – bringing them hope and sharing with them the reason that we can shine even though darkness surrounds us on all sides.

John 10:10b I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.




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Guest Post: Waking Up

Today’s post is written by a former student of mine who is all grown up, married, and having kids.  She mentioned in a Facebook post a while back that she is doing some writing, and I asked her to share some words with my readers about her experiences and what she is learning.


I’m basically positive my husband and I have had the worst first years of marriage of any couple I know.

We got married and had a premature baby two weeks after we moved into a townhome. Then my month old peanut and I got to camp out at the hospital with my husband while doctors did lot of testing to find that he had a disease called CMV( can’t even begin to spell it) which very nearly killed him. The disease took a toll on the transplanted kidney from his mother, so I was working, caring for my little girl and a very sick husband and pregnant with our son.

Kevin ended up having to have another transplant, which was full of its own roller coasters, but also full of blessings. As he recovered, I got to see who my husband was as a healthy man and it was great. I felt like I had a partner for the first time in our relationship rather than another person to take care of.

My son was also born healthy and on his due date after only 3 hours and 15 minutes of labor. It seemed things were slowing down and we might actually reach a less chaotic norm.

Instead of feeling hopeful and relieved, I was a basket case.

All throughout the ordeal with my daughter and husband, I felt a sense of pride that I was handling things so well. Yes it was scary and stressful at times but I never once saw the black pit I once called home. Then, once it seemed things should be going well, there it was, as dark and hateful as before.

Instead of acknowledging it however, I tried to ignore it, hoping my depression was a fluke and that it wasn’t really back after a seven year absence. My denial turned to determination. After all, we had just come through a hurricane, so there was no reason I couldn’t nip this again.

It wasn’t long after this, and I found I am expecting our third baby.

We figured then that it was just pregnancy hormones but coming up on halfway through this pregnancy, I know that it’s not. The last month has been especially hard; I’m not really sure why, but I got to a point where I became angry with my depression. I am sick of feeling broken and crazy and not even feeling like I can cope with getting my kiddos a sippy cup at times. I hate the feeling of being bogged down and just overwhelmed with the slightest thing.

I became desperate in my pleas with God to give me strength and guide to the right resources so I could figure out what was going on inside my head and even learn how to cope once again. I came across the book Mended by Angie Smith, intrigued by the title, and began reading. I’m only a few chapters in, but already the book has helped me see that, even though I prayed like crazy the past few years, I just expected God to be there and to do what I considered to be His job.

It is very humbling to be reminded that He is first and foremost God, and to realize I had looked at Him as a genie, something I scorned in others. Looking back, I began to see the ways God was giving me an opportunity to lean on Him and how I had pridefully taken stock in my own strength. More than anything, I am seeing through the last few years, how desperately God is pursuing me.

One of the things I was most afraid of growing up was living a mediocre life. I never wanted to get caught up in hum-drum.

That’s exactly what I was doing.

My friendships have suffered because I got caught up in my own world. I feel like God is doing what He has to do capture my attention, not to punish me but because He wants an intimate relationship with me. He knows I can be more, even if I’m walking around in a fog half the time.

There is so much I am still learnin, and am still frustrated by depression, but at least I am waking up again, little by little.

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Mental Illness: It is an Illness

As I tried to get out of bed yesterday morning, this post wrote itself in my brain. With every re-setting of the alarm and clicking on the snooze button, paragraphs formed in my mind.  I was compelled to write it. I tried to be productive all day – because of my current (crazy and, honestly, about to get crazier) work demands – it took until 4 p.m. yesterday before I had time to actually sit down at my desk and write.

As I mentioned in Monday’s post, we need to get educated about mental illness because it does not always look the way we expect it to.  With a little play on the “Drowning Doesn’t Look Like Drowning” article’s title, I elaborated about how we expect depression (and other mental illnesses) to look one way, but they often look entirely different.

Each person’s experience with mental illness may look different than we expect.

medium_306983822As I thought about the post, though, I realized that – as important as the concept of knowing how depression and other mental illnesses may show themselves differently – accepting the fact that mental illness is an illness…rather than some manifestation of laziness or whatever negative adjective that has been used to describe the mentally ill…is pretty important.

Let’s all say it together (I dare you to say this out loud wherever you are right now): mental illness is an illness, and an illness needs to be treated. (Repeat as necessary)

If you (all) can agree with the truth that mental illness is an illness and – therefore – should be treated in the same way that other illnesses are treated, then another part of the stigma surrounding mental illness can be removed.

Just in case you cannot agree with this, I guess I will just keep writing the thoughts that came to me as I slept…and awoke…and slept…

Who withholds treatment from someone with diabetes?  No one!

I use diabetes as an example because it has several good correlations with mental illness.

  • Both can sometimes be controlled with diet, exercise, and life choices.
  • Both often require medication.
  • Both are controlled best when “patient” makes and keeps appointments with a trained professional.
  • Both require a lifetime outlook but could be mediated or “in remission” so to speak.

I know that I do better with my bipolar self when I eat better, walk or do yoga, and make good choices (like getting enough sleep).  When I do not do what I know I need to do, I am working against myself.  The same is true of a diabetic.  In some people with either illness, medications could be avoided (in some cases) when following the “life prescription” from our doctors.

However!!!! I had a good friend in high school who followed all of her doctor’s directions, and her cholesterol (yes, I switched illnesses…you can follow…) still required medication.  She was just five feet tall but weight under 100 lbs and never went to McDonalds.  She was not  someone you would expect to have a high cholesterol problem!  No matter what she did, though, she could not change her chemical make up without medication.

This is true of many with mental illness, but society often forgets that this is true.  There are many who expect those who suffer with depression to just pull it together or those who suffer from schizophrenia to stop hearing voices or seeing people who are not there.


If we accept that mental illness is an illness, then we need to agree that the illness may need treatment.  And that treatment could involve both life changes such as more exercise or eating right AND medication, therapy, or other things.  Telling the person with a mental illness to try harder is pretty insulting.

When we are someone who suffers from mental illness, we need to accept this, work with our health professionals, and make wise choices so that we can live as “normal” of as possible.  We may need to do a few things to help our condition, and we need to accept that and –  well – do them.  For example, I absolutely should start every morning with a walk.  When was the last time I did that??? Time to start – it helps!

When we are supporting someone who suffers from mental illness, we need to support that person, to hold that person accountable for going to appointments, and to encourage him or her to do all that will help – diet, exercise, medication, life changes…whatever! BUT we need to be careful and wise how we do that.  What we say is not nearly as important as how we say it.

In the past few months, I have taken some time off from this posting a lot on this blog.  While I did that, I took a blogging class that asked to consider why I write.  Originally, it was to help me to mediate the impact of my own bipolar self.

For nearly two years, I wrote and wrote and wrote. I wrote about everything – things I saw, things I did, and things I thought.  I argued against myself from one week to the next on issues.  I ranted. I raved.  My fingers flew across the keyboard.

My mind emptied, quieted, and slowed.

The blogging helped me.

Now, though, I see my purpose in this blog to a voice for those who have lost their voice to whatever biological, psychological, or illogical sickness ails them.  I want to help those who have been marginalized because of society’s misunderstanding of the crazy we feel inside our head – and trust me, I think some crazy thinks sometimes.

The foundation for this purpose first and foremost has to be to help promote the fact that mental illness is an illness.  While those of us who suffer from it – just like someone who suffers from diabetes or high cholesterol – can make choices to help mediate it, we might not be able to “just get over it.”

And we need not only to be treated but to be respected, loved, and even cherished.

I am thankful for my family and friends who have walked this road with me over the past three years since my diagnosis. While I have probably always suffered, I was incorrectly diagnosed throughout my life. Now that we have an accurate diagnosis, we can have an accurate treatment plan.

But it is not easy being me…and is not always easy being around me…but that seems to be another blog. As usual, I have babbled…and have no idea how to end…so I will just stop writing…

Happy Wednesday!

photo credit: © 2006-2013 Pink Sherbet Photography via photopin cc


Filed under health, Relationships, Social Justice, Thoughts

Depression Doesn’t Look Like Depression

As early summer hit – that time when kids and pools collide – an article circulated my Facebook world titled “Drowning Doesn’t Look Like Drowning.”  I skimmed as I have older children who now often take charge of younger children, and I thought to pass it on to them.

As I drove around the past few weeks, the title of the article changed. The content of the article changed…at least, in my mind it did.

The point of the article was to educate us and help us to reconstruct our visual understanding and recognition of a very real problem.  Children drown in pools often because those around them do recognize the warning signs.  We think drowning looks one way. And we are wrong.

The same is true of depression – or any mental illness, really.

Unlike drowning, depression has no singular season. There is not a single time in the year that one should become hyper-vigilant about knowing the signs of depression or mental illness.  And – unlike the drowning article – a single 500 word article with some bullets cannot sum up the entire warning signs of all mental illnesses.

We need to get educated!

I am currently reading Troubled Minds by Amy Simpson and plan to have a review of it out one of these days.  I have only 40 pages left, but life has interrupted me.  The point is that it is one book that I can already recommend.  The internet is also full of information – webmd and the Mayo Clinic each have excellent resources about mental health warning signs.

Depression may not look like depression – or at least our perception of it.  It’s time to find out what it does look like so that we can help those around us…or get help ourselves!


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We are Like the Weather

Blogger’s note: I started this post several weeks ago and am back to it because this week has been much like that day…and I had the same thoughts but had not completed the post then.  I hope you enjoy the two days’ thoughts combined into one post.

As I drove to court this morning in Duluth, MN, I listened to the news which included the weather.  I did not need them to tell me that it was cold; that was quite clear to me as I sat in my car which was not quite warmed up.  As they shared the forecast for the weekend and beyond, a thought occurred to me.

The weather always changes.

As I sat outside the courtroom (waiting is the best part of a court day), I scrolled through the Facebook posts since last night when I went to bed.  I learned about my friend who is sick at home today, read some blog posts by people who are actually on top of their blogging efforts, and felt with my friend who struggles with depression and anxiety as he lamented his current mental state.

My response to him: Weather teaches us that things do not stay the same. Ever. The same is true with our own psyche.

As Minnesota opens its arms to welcome March, April, and May after a rather frigid winter, we are reminded that things rarely stay the same for long.  Three months seems like a pretty long time when we are in the middle of it, but in the grand scheme of things that is just not true.

Seasons in our psyche are very similar to weather and often even follow the weather patterns themselves.

This is where I left off and am going to continue on from here…


I took this picture yesterday evening as I brainstormed about this post.  Most of us had thought winter was over.  In fact, today is the first day of spring.  Apparently, someone did not notify the weather or the state of Minnesota that it should show off its greenery and stop with the snow.  After it snowed overnight Sunday and continued into Monday, many of us clamored through a horrible commute to work.  Schools to our west closed as blizzard conditions raged.

And today is the first day of spring?

Seasons in our psyche can do the same thing, right?

Just when we think some dark time in our lives has been cleared out for good, it comes raging back at us like a March blizzard in Minnesota (or North Dakota…or South Dakota, for that matter).  We know in our hearts that the dark time should be gone. We have dealt with it, prayed it away, and have experienced forgiveness. And then something brings it back – a low front from the Rockies with a comma effect snow.

But – like my (real weather) blizzard on Monday – the dark time can be dispelled by a little sunlight.  Following the low front of a weather system comes a high – bringing sunshine and warmth (although someone forgot to notify the weather of that as well – sunshine all day yesterday did not bring much warmth).

And what better light than the truth that God loves us?

I do not mean this is the “cheer up, pal, God loves you and everything will be alright” or “let the sunshine in; face it with a grin; smilers always win; and frowners never win” kind of rose-colored glasses sense.  It is simply truth.

God loves us; that is light in our lives.

With Easter right around the corner, it is time for us to start to focus on re-birth – our re-birth. For though we were sinners and lost to that, but – because of what Christ did on the cross – we are freed from the guilt of our sins and have the right to be called children of God – heirs to heaven…and with the ability to have the gift of heaven here on Earth.

This is truth…regardless of today’s weather or circumstance.  Whatever I experience inside my mind or outside in my day, the truth is truth.

Let’s hold to that today.

What is your experience with the weather inside of you?

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Suicide: A Preventable Cause of Death

Today is considered suicide awareness day by those who decide those things. In line with that thinking, I have chosen to reblog a post that I published on May 1, 2012.

I would love for us all to become more aware of each other and prevent this cause of death (10th leading cause in America according to the CDC). Suicide is not a disease or a crime, but it takes lives at an alarming rate. Let’s pay attention to each other, read between the lines, and ask clarifying questions so that we can help those who may consider this as an option to escape the emotional pain they experience.


Yesterday was another day of on the road time for me.  I do love that my job takes me on the road from time to time; however, the past month and the next month seem to be filled with more times on the road than in my own bed.  My office at work sits empty, but my backpack and my travel bag are always full.  And travel time – especially over the past week when I have been without a book on CD – lends itself to thinking time.

Thinking is an excellent activity.  I firmly believe that we should do it and that we should do it often.  Those who do not think tend to become those who do not do.  Thinking – whether analytical or reflective – is motivating, inspiring, and problem-solving.  We can only accomplish those great dreams if we first think them up.

However, thinking too…

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The Piano Guys

Last week, I had one of those days that we all have.  It was productive enough, but there was not anything new or wonderful coming from this girl’s mind, fingers, or anything.  I did what I needed to do with work, I did laundry, I cleaned the kitchen, and…well…I watched YouTube videos of this awesome duo who play the piano and the cello in a way that is fun, innovative, and exciting.

I found The Piano Guys through the Facebook friend of a Facebook friend (who happens to have been a youth pastor in Bismarck, ND, when I was in high school…she is now a missionary in Japan). She had posted a link about their version of Coldplay’s Paradise that has an African twist – both in scenery and in language. Can we say cool? Yes…

Their arrangements are awesome, and I am pretty tempted to buy one of their CDs. The problem is that what makes them so awesome is their videos and their arrangements. The locations that they choose, the videography, and the musicians themselves make this performance so inspiring to me.

Believe me – my day last week completely changed when I spent a little time with these “guys.”  They completely turned the day around for me.


Do I have a favorite?  I do!  Can you guess from the picture above?

Take a listen.  Then share your favorites with me in the comment section!

Happy Thursday!

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Blogging Myself Out of Bed

For those who have not followed this blog for a while, I thought I would re-cap why it exists before I share a bit about today …

My name is Stacy, and I live in a bipolar energy life.  Although bipolar disorder falls under mood disorders, I experience bipolar as an energy force more than as a mood force.  Although those around me who experience me in the midst of this might say it is propelled by mood, in my body I sense it as energy.

The title of the blog – slowingtheracingmind (written that way to emphasize how the racing mind works) – comes from my need in the high energy times to use this blog as a coping mechanism to slow down my energy enough to capture it and channel it into a blog.  What the title does not do, however, is tell you that the blog can also be a coping mechanism when the mind has slowed to the point that getting out of bed in the morning is the most difficult thing I can imagine doing.

That is today, and I am blogging my way out of the fog.  500 words a day keeps the crazies away. 

I stayed in bed until far after I was meant to be up, out the door, and at work.  I knew that I was only putting off the inevitable – the need to get up, face the world, and answer the phone calls and emails that need answering.

IMG-20120312-00299But everything seemed overwhelming, unnecessary, and complicated.  I wanted to just stay in my bed where I was not in pain (thank you, recent back injury), where no one interrupted my quiet, and where the covers seemed to wrap around me in a way that made everything seem ok.

Even going to Target to pick up Tylenol for the girl was overwhelming! Do you know how many different forms of Tylenol there are?  500 mg, 250mg, extra strength, extended release…the list goes on, and the list overwhelmed me.

After I dropped off the medicine at the girl’s school, I headed into work where demands sit waiting for me…still.  On days like today, I use a phrase on myself that I use on others when they seem to have an overwhelming feeling in their lives for some reason or another – be gentle with yourself.  In other words, do what you can, it will all still be there tomorrow, and tomorrow will likely be better than today.

As I walked from the parking garage into my office, I had a nagging thought that comes to me during these times.  You must not waste a single moment, not a single day. How dare you take for granted that you have breath?

And it is true – I should not waste any amount of time.  I am here.  I know that I am here with a purpose.  And I know that even today, with its low energy and lack of zest for life, is a day to be lived. What gets done will get done, and what does not will wait. But I cannot hole up in a bedroom waiting for my head to clear of the fogginess.  I need to role out of the comfort of my bed and do what I can.

Tomorrow is another day.  As I wrote that, I thought of a line from Great is Thy Faithfulness, and I would like to end today’s post with the whole song (line that came to mind in bold)…a reminder that I am not alone in this fog and that I have hope beyond today.

Great Is Thy Faithfulness

Great is thy faithfulness, O God, My Father
There is no shadow of turning with Thee.
Thou changest not, Thy compassions they fail not;
As thou hast been, Thou forever wilt be.

Great is thy faithfulness, Great is thy faithfulness;
Morning by morning new mercies I see.
All I have needed Thy hand hath provided;
Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord unto me.

Summer and winter, and springtime and harvest,
Sun, moon, and stars in their courses above
Join with all nature in manifold witness
To Thy great faithfulness, mercy, and love.

Pardon for sin and a peace that endureth,
Thine own dear presence to cheer and to guide;
Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow,
Blessings all mine, with ten thousand beside!

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Christmas and the Blues

Last week, I wrote a post that discussed an observation that I had of a worker at a nursing home and her aversion to Christmas.  A good friend and pastor in North Dakota – Danelle Olson – commented on the post, and I have asked him to collaborate with me on today’s post to provide a Christian perspective on Christmas and mental health.  Thanks, Danelle!

Danelle and I share are kindred spirits in that we each have a mental illness diagnosis, but we are impacted by it differently.  I shared about my diagnosis and a bit of its impact on my life in a post titled Bipolar Nature.”  Danelle – could you share a bit about your story?

I grew up in Bowman, ND and attended both elementary and high school there. From the time I stepped into the kindergarten classroom until the time I graduated from high school, I struggled immensely with anxiety.  I worried about everything from grades to social activities in an exaggerated manner, but was never formally diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) until much later in life. 

I have served the United Community Baptist Church in Anamoose, ND as a solo pastor for the last 10 years.  During this time, my GAD has, for lack of a better term, “morphed” into Major Depressive Disorder.  I have taken a variety of medication for the affliction, including such drugs as Lithium, Pristiq, Efexxor and Celexa. 

What are some of the struggles that you have with enjoying Christmas?

One of the major struggles for me during Christmas has to deal with expectations during the season.  There’s an unwritten rule in our society which says: “You should be happy and joyful during Christmas.”  Everybody puts up Christmas lights.  Everybody buys things on sale at Wal-Mart to use as presents.  Everybody walks around saying “Merry Christmas!”  Again, everybody is “supposed” to be happy, but with clinical depression, it just doesn’t work that way. 

On a similar note, it hit me this morning (December 21, 2011) that I can’t seem to feel the right way at the right time during Christmas.  For example, in just a few hours, my family and I will be driving to a town four hours away to celebrate Christmas with my parents.  Since I love both of my parents dearly and get along with them very well, I should be happy about making the trip, right?  However, because of a brain chemical imbalance (i.e. depression), I don’t feel as joyful as I should feel.  (NOTE:  I understand full well that nobody can control their emotions in the strict sense, but I am referring here to the inability to be happy about what would normally make me happy if not for depression.)  

You are a pastor, and Christmas celebrates the birth of Christ – central to your faith.  How does that interact with your struggles with depression?

Since the birth of Christ is indeed central to the Christian faith, one would think that a Christian believer/Pastor such as myself should feel joy during this time of year.  However, as stated previously, my not being able to feel the right way at the right time gets in the way of my experiencing joy. 

Having said this, I of course feel extreme GUILT at Christmas for NOT experiencing joy like other Christians do.  In fact, I wonder sometimes if people think that I’m simply being ungrateful regarding the birth of Christ and how he came to save us from our sins.  Nothing could be farther from the truth.  I KNOW the truth, but the joy that is “supposed” to accompany knowing that truth is often absent.  

Because of the nature of struggle, some Christmas seasons are worse than others.  Where are you this year?  Is there an explanation for that?

As previously stated, my family and I will be travelling to my mom and dad’s farm near Bowman, ND.  Usually, we have some relatives from Indiana who join us for Christmas, but t they will not be making the trip this year for family reasons.  So, this Christmas will be a little sadder for me.  (My belief is that people who struggle with clinical depression feel more deeply than others.  This means that I take disappointment harder than others do.) 

 What are some coping strategies that you use during the Christmas season in your personal life and in your family life to maintain a healthy outlook?

My greatest coping strategy has been to surround myself with loving and friendly people.  With that in mind, my church family has been absolutely wonderful to my family and me, and we enjoy their company very much.

A second coping strategy-and I hate to admit this-has been sleep.  Sometimes, when I am overwhelmed by “the black cloud”- a term I have coined which I think describes depression- I’m almost compelled to rest for awhile.  Now of course, this strategy wouldn’t be possible in most work situations, but my church people  have been gracious to me, and although none of them have said it out loud, I think they understand after 10 years that their pastor is not going to be 100 percent all of the time.   Most of my people have no idea what it’s like to have Major Depressive Disorder, but nonetheless, they seem to understand that I’m not just “making it up”.  This awareness on their part is helpful for me as well. 

 You commented in a Facebook thread that “even depressed people must make an effort to focus on the birth of Christ. He continues to hold on to us, even when we are unable to hold on to him on account of our mental and emotional afflictions.”  How have you experienced this in your life?

I have already said that I have been the pastor of church for 10 years here in Anamoose.   During that time, I have had VERY few times when I could honestly say that I wasn’t troubled with depression and/or anxiety, but God has brought me this far.  This is what I meant when I said “He continues to hold on to us, even when we’re unable to hold on to Him.”  I was trying to make the point that somehow, and in some way, God has brought me through 10 years of ministry and, I hope, has used me in some small way to make a real difference for his Kingdom. 

I would also like to add that last June, I admitted myself to the psychiatric hospital at St. Alexius Medical Center in Bismarck, ND to undergo a major medication change for a week.  While I wasn’t there a long time, it was one of those deals where I looked back at the experience and said: “God, I would never have made it through that experience without you.” 

 Any other thoughts that you would like to share with me?

I once posted on FaceBook that I would like to write a book that asks the question: “What does God do with genuine Christian believers with depression who experience very little, if any, real joy in their lives?”  Of course, the quick “answer” to that question is that happiness and joy are two different things.  The former is based on circumstances and feelings while the latter is based on a decision.  This sounds good on paper, but does it really reflect the kind of Christian life God wants us to live?  Can a person really live a true Christian life, be in a true relationship with God, and feel NO positive emotions whatsoever?  (Think about a wife who says of her husband: “Oh, I love him very, very much.  I just never have any positive, loving emotions towards him.”  In my mind, this just can’t be.) What’s more, if the part of my body (i.e. brain) which I use to decide to be happy is sick,  what am I to do? 

Although this post may bring up more questions that it does provide answers, our hope is that others who struggle – especially at Christmas – will feel a little less alone.  That feeling of isolation and a lack of understanding from those around us is probably the worst thing to experience.  I resonate quite well with some of the lyrics in “Falling” by the Civil Wars.

Tell me it’s nothing
Try to convince me
That I’m not drowning
Oh let me tell you, I am

Please, please tell me you know

Although the intent of their lyrics are for a far different purpose (a woman breaking up with her man), I feel them deeply in my soul when I hear them because I just want others to see me as I am and not try to convince me otherwise.

One of the ways that I manage my “issues” is by being very honest with my huz and kids about what kind of day it is in Stacy’s brain…if I am aware enough to know.  The other thing that has helped a whole lot is to give them the freedom to ask questions about what is going on.  Am I responding in that way because I am just having a “regular person” bad day, or is there something bigger that needs to be addressed and managed?

Danelle and I hope that readers find kinship or understanding in this post.  Please comment and share with us; we would love that!

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