transition

Post-Depression Recovery

Life during depression is a beast all in its own league, and it deserves every bit of awareness, support, and investment in resources.

As time passes, I’m discovering life after depression has its own unique challenges as well—and unlike periods of depression, this odd period of transition seems to fly under the radar, even among the best of Google searches.

Though I would choose the current difficulties of life any day over the darkness of depression, today’s difficulties are still, well, difficult. As I process through these challenges, here’s what I’m finding:

1. Coming out of depression, though lovely, is still a transition.

Transitions can be hard. Change brings about growth, and growth can be painful. Even though this change was desperately anticipated—and even though this pain seems minimal compared to the throes of hopelessness—I am still experiencing growing pangs.

I’m like a bear crawling out of hibernation who meets the bright sun as if for the first time, squinting his eyes and momentarily shell-shocked at the change of environment.

Like Mr. Bear, I’m reacclimating to my surroundings. Suddenly filled with long-lost energy and motivation, I’m relearning what my capacity is and how to draw boundaries. Some days, like a bear cub, I play excessively out of pure joy and then collapse into a heap for a day or two.

It’s all part of the transition.

2. I lived with depression for a long time, and it feels odd—even intimidating at times—to be without it.

It was off and on, but the struggle with depression spanned my entire adult life until this year. 

At first I was afraid to confess my happiness aloud because I was afraid the sacred emotion would vanish. Even now, a tinge of hesitancy lingers.

Adobe stock photo

Adobe stock photo

Like a sparrow with a recently mended wing, I’m timid at first to launch into blissful flight. The delicate bird recalls the days of soaring in the wind, but the memory of falling sounds off the alarms in her head.

Like Ms. Sparrow, I doubt my abilities and question any sense of confidence. With time and with courage, this fear will pass. For now, I still face it every day.

3. Sometimes I’m still sad. Some days I even feel depressed again.

The arrival of days reminiscent of depression remind me self-care regimens are most effective when promoting wellness, not curing disease.

Grace and permission to struggle are granted often enough to keep the perfectionism at bay. My bed receives enough quality time to even out my mood—and to make eyes widen and mouths gape. My therapist’s office is still warmed by my presence. Recovery is gradual.

I’m like a baby sea turtle hatching from an egg buried in the sand. He undertakes the arduous trek across the beach and finally reaches the water. But even as the tide pulls him forward into the ocean, waves lapping up against the shore push him back momentarily before he can move forward again.

Like Baby Sea Turtle, I progress slowly, not in a neat, linear way but in zig-zags, lurches and pauses. Sometimes processes cannot be quantified nor journeys predicted.

Pixabay stock photo

Pixabay stock photo

Nevertheless, they can be one of the most important things ever to happen to a baby sea turtle. Or to me.

4. Part of my sadness involves grieving the past times of depression.

We grieve because of loss. Depression brings loss.

It brings the loss of happiness all those years. It brings the loss of truth believed about myself—truth of worthiness of life and love and much, much more.

Even elephants grieve. When they return to a site of a herd member’s death, they pause to grieve and remember. I grieve through tears and art and writing this.

Like elephants, I cannot forget; the impact of depression is stamped in the past. I never want to relive it, nor do I desire to dwell on it. But I will acknowledge it and honor the season of immense pain and suffering.

To dismiss it would be to spurn not only the struggle but also the victory.

5. Depression may have ended, but it hasn’t been erased from my past.

This is a misunderstood part of recovery. I’m still trying to figure it out myself.

No physical mark mars my body, but scars on my heart are certainly present. It’s easier to hide the season of sorrow now because it isn’t the daily donning of a mask. It’s a passive choice not to reveal the words stamped on earlier pages.

Yet these scars on my heart are not blemishes. They are part of my story, and my story is beautiful in its own rite. Without them, I wouldn’t be who I am now.

How depression fits into my story, what part of my story I’m living now, and where my story will go—these are all in the works.

Like every human, I’m still making sense of yesterday and today and tomorrow. 

It’s all part of life after depression.

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Media Resources for Times of Need

Adobe stock photo

Adobe stock photo

In my last post, I shared about my 6-year journey through depression. Through either personal experience or by walking with friends through their struggles, I've collected a list of Christian media to serve as resources during times of struggle. Feel free to add in the comments and share with others!

-Allison

Books

Grace for the Afflicted: A Clinical and Biblical Perspective on Mental Illness by Matthew Stanford, PhD

Blame It on the Brain? by Edward T Welch

Shame, Perfectionism & Belonging (which are all intertwined with anxiety & depression)

The Gifts of Imperfection by Brenê Brown, PhD, LMSW

Daring Greatly by Brenê Brown, PhD, LMSW

Rising Strong by Brenê Brown, PhD, LMSW

Present Over Perfect by Shauna Niequist

As Soon As I Fell by Kay Bruner

Abba's Child by Brennan Manning

Scary Close by Donald Miller

The Me I Want to Be by John Ortberg

Trauma

The Color of Grace by Bethany Haley Williams, PhD

Whole (blog) by Sarita Hartz (especially for missionaries)

Transition

Packing Light by Allison Versterfelt (Allison Fallon)

Rocky Reentry (blog for reentry)

Addiction

Breathing Under Water by Richard Rohr

Coming Clean by Seth Haines

General

Lord, Heal My Hurts Devotional by Kay Arthur

 

Music

Caveat: This is mostly from the beginning of my struggle with depression, so these are a bit out of date. Also, if you're experiencing depression please know some songs can make you sink further into hopelessness. If you start to feel this, skip to another song. :)

Shawn McDonald: Don't Give Up, Rise, Storms

Superchick: Crawl (Carry Me Through), Breathe, Hold, Stand in the Rain, Help Me Out God, Beauty from Pain, Suddenly

Gungor: Please Be My Strength

Ginny Owens: I Will Praise You

Matt Hammitt: All of Me, Let It Bring You Praise

Steffany Gretzinger: Out of Hiding

Tenth Avenue North: I Have This Hope

 

What's your favorite Christian media for difficult times? Got something to add? Drop it in a comment or email me!

 (*Note: links to books are affiliate links)

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How the Cardiovascular System Helped Me Find My Purpose

Music played from my laptop next to the couch. I pulled my blanket up to my chin and listened and prayed. A friend came to mind, and I thought about how she was a conduit, a vessel for the Gospel. My mind turned over the word "vessel" and since my friend is also a nurse, wandered to thoughts of blood vessels and the body's vasculature.

All at once, something clicked inside me, and I sat straight up. When I thought of my friend—and myself, and everyone—as blood vessels, something suddenly made sense to me. Bear with me while I give some backstory.

It's been a year since I have moved back to the United States. A year full of struggles, depression, hope, and growth only reentry could bring (it was so crazy I even wrote an ebook on it). One of the things I struggled with during the transition from life overseas to life in Waco, Texas, was finding purpose in my location and vocation Stateside.

While in Cambodia, I learned the missionary lifestyle is not so different from—or more important than—the lifestyle of a believer back home. However, this knowledge didn't prevent guilt from creeping up on me when I moved to the States. I felt guilty for abandoning those I loved in Cambodia, and I questioned whether I was weak for not staying there. The attention and applause the American church gave to missionaries no longer applied to me. Without a clear-cut outline defining my goals and my purpose, I felt lost, out of place, and particularly unimportant

Though the Lord has since provided incredible community, a sense of purpose and contribution, and relentless reminders of His love, in the back of my mind I have still believed that what I am doing here in the United States is less important—less vital—to the Kingdom than what I was doing in Cambodia. We often call missionaries the people on the "front lines," but where does that leave the rest of us?

When I thought of people as blood vessels, as conduits supplying life to other body parts, I realized it didn't matter what my location was. I could be a capillary in the pinky toe all the way in Cambodia, where the vasculature isn't as dense, or I could be part of the aorta at the hub of the heart. I could be a coronary artery, feeding the heart itself and keeping it strong so it could continue sending out blood to the body. I could be a femoral artery, a little farther from the heart but not in the boonies of the fingertips. Regardless of where I was, I was neither less important nor "more" vital than any other vessel. "More" and "less" do not exist as long as I pulse with the heartbeat of the One who gives life.

blood-pixabay.jpg

The goal of the cardiovascular system is to keep the body alive—all parts of the body. The aorta has no purpose if no arteries supply the brain; likewise, capillaries in the brain have nothing to give if the carotid is not functioning. My purpose is the same in both places, though it may look different. It may involve giving more of my financial resources (now that I have a paying job again!) and less time traveling to remote villages that have no blood supply yet. It may look like resting and soaking up the extra access to life-giving friends and community, hearing the Gospel preached in my own language every week, and feeling the pulse of His heartbeat, strong and regular as it reshapes my attitude and habits and life to be more like His.

When I was in Cambodia, I thirsted for community and soaked up every bit I received. I treasured phone calls and found Jesus to be my closest companion as I sought Him on my knees (in front of the oscillating fan, of course). I desperately hungered for the encouragement and prayers sent to me through friends and family and strangers, all the way from the heart of God to mine. I could not have survived without this. I am forever grateful for those who served as vessels at every step of the way: from the aorta to the arcuate artery, allowing hope to flow to me in the pinky toe of Kratie, Cambodia.

Here in the States, I am deeply grateful for community, for the people who draw near to the heart of God and who urge me to do the same. My soul feasts on the abundance of spiritual resources, and I am refreshed and restored. And I hope I too am a conduit. I hope I too am a vessel allowing hope to flow through me straight to the one who needs it, or to trickle from me to another to another to another, eventually reaching a girl on the other side of the world who is on her knees seeking the One who fills our deepest needs. I hope I get to play a part in her experiencing community and purpose and forgiveness. I hope she would know there is One who loves her, and this One who loves her most is there with her, on the floor in front of the fan, ready to refresh her soul.

 

To those who have been and to those who are conduits and vessels, thank you. What an honor to serve Jesus alongside you.

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Lessons from the Bedside: Physical Therapy and Change

"They are NOT getting me out of this bed. They just make my pain worse."

"Whew! That physical therapist worked me too hard."

"I'm just not up for occupational therapy today." (No matter that the patient was also "not up to it" yesterday, or the day before, or the day before that...)

If you're a nurse, you have no doubt witnessed these scenarios. Though it's easy for me to discount patients' complaints and reluctance to work with PT/OT, I have to admit, I have a lot in common with their attitude—especially when it comes to change.

Currently, I'm in the midst of quite a bit of change. I'm shifting careers, learning new skills in the writing world, and trying to keep up with an ever-changing healthcare system, all on the coattails of moving from Cambodia back to the United States and working through reentry. Change, like physical therapy, is difficult. As I've observed my patients in the hospital over the years, here's what I've learned about both change and physical therapy:

1. It's painful.

Some patients won't move their feet off the bed for PT/OT until they've had their pain medication. I don't really blame them. Retraining your body to stretch and move and function in a new way can be very, very painful. Change and transition can be the same: a season of retraining our bodies, minds, and spirits to try new things, form new habits, and leave the comfort zone of our beds (or homes, or jobs, or cities). Yet just like with therapy, increasing our activity in these uncomfortable areas only increases our strength and ability to thrive in new ways. It may be painful, but it's worth it.

Adobe stock photo

Adobe stock photo

2. It's scary.

"Don't let me fall!!" patients will exclaim when they transfer to the chair or the bedside commode for the first time. Their legs are weak and shaky, or their balance causes them to sway. Yet the therapist is always there, providing support and holding onto them, a trustworthy safeguard even when patients doubt their abilities. Similarly, in times of transition I too am fearful, and I do my fair share of crying out to God, warning Him I'm losing my balance and am going down, fast! How often I forget He is there, holding onto me, supporting me, even if I don't believe He's strong enough to catch me. It can be terrifying to walk when we're weak because there is always the possibility we will fall, but when we take wobbly steps forward, we arrive to new and important places (like the bedside commode! Just kidding. Kind of.). It's scary, but it's worth it.

3. You'll want to quit.

To be honest, sometimes I have a hard time not judging patients for "being babies" about PT/OT.

"I can't go any farther," they state. Or, "I just can't go anymore. I just want to go back to the bed."

As the patient healthcare professionals they are, our physical and occupational therapists encourage the patients to keep going. They remind them of the benefits of therapy, and they point out how far the patients have already come. Still, some patients refuse to keep moving.

Unfortunately, with all my judging of patients, I am the same way when it comes to anything new. New location, new method of transportation, new routine, new job—anything new throws me for a loop, and like a grumpy old woman who's stuck in her ways, I sit and pout and complain that I can't go back to the way things were before. Even if "before" meant I was bed-bound and my muscles were atrophying.

Like most people, I enjoy comfort. Neither getting out of bed to retrain muscles to walk nor getting out of old routines to form new, healthier habits is comfortable. It's hard, and we'll want to quit, but it's worth it.

4. It's a process, and it takes perseverance.

I wish physical therapy only took one session to accomplish all its goals. I wish one day of accepting change completely reformatted my brain to eliminate all anxiety and stress about new things. However, both physical therapy and change involve growth, and growth is a process. Processes require time, and time requires perseverance.

Little by little, cell by cell, muscle fiber by muscle fiber and neuron pathway by neuron pathway, as we persevere our bodies and brains shift.  The old, unusable junk is broken down and rebuilt into a new, healthier, stronger version of ourselves. Over time, we find ourselves able to jump higher and run faster than we did before knee surgery; we find ourselves utilizing stronger character traits of leadership, servanthood, and compassion as we relate to and lead those around us. It doesn't happen overnight; it's a process, and it takes perseverance, but it's worth it.

5. It's possible.

Though I witness many people who, like me, grudgingly swing their legs out of bed to start therapy, I also watch incredibly motivated patients work day in and day out to regain their strength. These patients focus on the positive and rarely complain. Nothing can deter them from finding something to be grateful for—including the opportunity to participate in occupational and physical therapy. Each time a therapist knocks on the door, they never refuse to get up or tell the therapist to come back later. They are willing to move forward in their healing.

Change and growth, whether physical, mental, emotional or spiritual, inevitably involve pain, fear, exasperation, and teeth-gritting perseverance. Change is all of these things, but it's possible. And it's worth it.

 

"Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will." Romans 12:2 (NIV, bolding mine)

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