The other day I read a verse in Psalm 30:
I will exalt you, Lord,
for you lifted me out of the depths
and did not let my enemies gloat over me
Lord my God, I called to you for help,
and you healed me.
It struck me that this verse was actually true. Of course it was true before, when I had read it with a kind of longing and reassurance that David understood being in the depths. I had read it with desperate hope that one day I would feel this way. Now I realized I actually did feel this way.
I can remember clearly two years ago being lost in the middle of those depths. I could not see anything other than a fog of depression, and I could not believe it would actually get better. I was calling for help but the healing was not happening. Last year I told our member care specialist, “I have come out of the pit just enough to realize how deep it is, and how far I have to go to get to the top. I am still really far from okay, but I can almost see what 'okay' looks like.”
When we came back from China at the beginning of the year, I though I was mostly better. I just needed to deal with the after-effects of these years of depression and surviving and burnout. We attended a three week intensive debriefing retreat – three weeks because we were that bad off. It was so helpful, but at the end of three weeks I found out that I was still depressed. “High moderate depression," my counselor and her little inventory described it. That was pretty discouraging because I had just had three weeks of daily individual and group counseling and I was still depressed! When I thought I was doing better!
I came to realize that now and in the past what I thought of as depression was actually severe depression. If I could function and didn’t want to die, I figured I wasn't really depressed anymore. Apparently "better" looks like something higher than that.
This past month, after continued counseling and a new medication, I have remembered what not being depressed feels like. There are times when I feel what I presume is normal baseline – is this what people really feel like? - like I can handle life and I think that good things might actually happen in the future. I feel stable. It’s a weird feeling. I have been able to enjoy my kids, even to enjoy this stage and not wish they would please just grow up more and not need such constant help and attention.
Obviously there are still times when I don’t enjoy them – when Nadia is clinging and screaming, when Juliana is whining and stomping around, when Adalyn has to be prodded every single step of the way to do every single task. But this is the normal counting-down-to-bedtime stuff of parenting. These days, I rarely feel like my head will explode. When no one is screaming, I can actually enjoy this stage with these little people.
Of course there are still emotional times, frustrations and disappointments, the discouragement of sickness and poor sleep. But the amazing thing is, I can feel grieved or discouraged and then I can get over it. The next day I may feel pretty good again. I am not dragged down into an endless downward spiral.
When my psychiatrist first suggested a mood-stabilizing drug, I was a bit skeptical. “I’m not sure my moods are unstable. Everyone has ups and downs. By the way, what do stable moods look like?” Apparently they look like ups and downs but the ups are above the level of depression and the downs are something you can recover from. Apparently it is not feeling like you are crazy all the time. How interesting.
I do feel more stable now. I can see yellow paint or 80’s décor and not feel like everything is really weird and the world is an unsafe place. I can be in a strange or unpleasant situation but when I am out of that situation, I can shake it off without it tainting my whole day or week. One night I was talking with my family about a possible suicide/murder in our town and about a childhood friend with a terrible disease. You know, pleasant bedtime conversation. I felt sad and disturbed but I didn’t even have any terrible dreams that night. And I have had a lot of terrible dreams in these past months.
In fact, dreams have come up several time in my counseling because I have had so many disturbing ones. One of my less disturbing but frequently reoccurring dreams, second to stressful travel dreams, are out of control elevators. I’ve had these dreams for years. I get on an elevator and it never goes where I want it to. It shoots up to dizzying heights or drops deep into the ground or veers sideways into different buildings. I can never get where I want to go.
A few weeks ago I had another elevator dream. I got in an elevator and realized there were no buttons. All it had was a big lever you had to pull at just the right time to stop on the right floors. In my dream I was able to pull the lever and stop at just the right floor - twice! I was excited by this dream because it was the first time I had ever been able to control the elevator. Even though it wasn’t easy and didn’t function like I expected, I was able to make it work! I think this must be what it is like to not feel like your life is out of control.
Even though so much of our lives are out of our control. We cannot control if we will be able to stay in the city to which we have grown attached or in the country where we have lived for 13 years. We don’t control what apartment we will live in or who we can have over to our home. We don’t control when our heat comes on and turns off and we have no thermostat to adjust. The other day Juliana, so cutely and innocently said, “Wouldn’t it be great if they invented something where you could make the temperature anything you wanted – hotter or colder if you needed?” My sister said, “Um...they actually already have that.”
We don’t know how long the local public schools will continue to accept foreign kids or how long our area will continue to accept foreigners. Who will be the next among our friends to have to leave? Sometimes we know months in advance with time to say goodbye. Sometimes it happens suddenly, even overnight, and our global circle means friends we may never see again.
We can influence but not control our health. We can prioritize but not control mental health. We know that all manner of situations might force us to change our country, our homes, our jobs, our friends, our schools, our way of life – all in one fell swoop.
But I digress. There are so many circumstances of life we cannot control, maybe more than ever before, but somehow life doesn’t feel like it is spiraling out of control. A sickness feels like a regular event that we will recover from. A change of plans is inconvenient, even stressful, but it is manageable. I can see that it will probably not throw our life into utter chaos and alter the entire course of our lives.
I have this weird thought that life may actually work out. I have moments when I am downright optimistic. (No fear though, I don’t really thing lasting optimism is in my nature, whereas my witty sarcasm clearly is.) I have these moments when I realize I feel happy, just effortlessly happy in the midst everyday life. Is this what normal feels like? Is this what it means to be truly okay?
I forgot what this feeling was like, and it might take a while to get used to, to believe it is not just a fleeting phase. It will definitely take a while to work through the habits and thought patterns carved out by years of depression and anxiety. I realize there were many times in life when I thought I was all better but depression and anxiety were still having a profound impact on my life. I am trying to look back and sort out what was depression and what was me. I am seeing the ways that God has brought healing through counseling and medication and a lot of time.
I am climbing out of that deep, dark pit, and the view is looking pretty good up here at ground level.