Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Judge Not Lest Ye Be Judged

Where I do some of  my best thinking - the drive home from therapy
After writing Reconnecting with Community two weeks ago, I prepared to post it to the blog. The cursor hovered over the “publish” button and I hesitated. The post was very personal. It could make some people in my community feel uncomfortable. I read it over again to be sure that I wrote authentically—without an agenda, without trying to control an outcome.

Yes, it reflected who I am and what I value. I hit “publish.”

Encouraging comments began to appear on Facebook and on the blog. The post had value to others. But, as the week went on, I began to feel uncertain about it. What do other people in my community think of me? What are they saying? “Did you read Gayle’s blog? Why would she write that? Why is she dragging up things in the past?” Or, “She sure is good at playing the victim.”

I recognized the feeling of uncertainty as vulnerability (thanks to Brené Brown’s books). I am learning that when I feel vulnerable, shame rushes in to fill the void.

When I saw my therapist last week, we spent time talking about my feelings and my vulnerability. Dr. Anna reminded me (as she often does) that other people’s thoughts and actions are beyond my control. She asked, “How do you know what they are thinking? Does it matter what they are saying? Does it change who you are?”

It was a really good session and made me think. But the Big Realization hit me on the drive home: What I think others are thinking and saying is what I would be thinking or saying if I was in their place.

Those are the things I think about others when I am feeling defensive and hurt. I would play the blame and shame game in my head or even say it to my friends and family. I would think they are playing the victim and it would make me feel angry.

Whoa! The “good girl” inside of me doesn’t want to think I can be mean, insensitive or flat-out judgmental. And, yet, I recognized my thoughts. My thoughts, not what other people are saying. My thoughts.

Then I realized it isn’t necessarily what other people have thought or said that makes me feel shame; it is what I think and say to myself that opens the trapdoor into the sea of shame.

In other words, I judge myself in the same manner as I judge other people.

In Matthew 7:1-2 Jesus said, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”

I always took this to mean when Judgement Day comes, I’ll be judged in the manner I’ve judged others. But, it is mind-blowing to realize I judge myself with the same measure I judge others. And I can never measure up. How can I expect it of others?

It’s the same as “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:31). If I don’t love myself and treat myself with respect, lovingkindness and compassion, how can I love others?

I went back and read Chapter 6 in Rising Strong again. No surprise there. Brené Brown wrote that the people who didn’t think others were doing the best they could “judged their efforts in the same exacting manner that they judged the efforts of others.” She noticed these were the same group of people who struggled with perfectionism.

Today I showed Dr. Anna what I had written in this post to this point. I hadn’t finished it. I had a week full of revelations that I shared with her, which I’ll be sharing with you in the future.

Once again, my mind opened up more on the drive home and I had these thoughts:
  • It is easier to judge and avoid connection than to connect and work through conflict.   
  • Avoiding Connection = Avoiding Conflict
  •  The opposite of judgement is acceptance.

I’ve got more wrestling or “rumbling” (Brené Brown’s word) to do…

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Who I Am

Who I Am

I am darkness and light.

I am perfect and imperfect.

I am shy and outgoing.

I am music and silence.

I am joy and sadness.

I am saved. And I am a sinner.

I am weak and strong.

I am courage and fear.

I am love and hatred.

I am judgment and grace.

I am selfless and selfish.

I am human.

And when I acknowledge, embrace and integrate all that I am,

Instead of denying, hiding, covering, or running,

I am me. All of me.

(copyright 2015 Gayle Gresham)

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Reconnecting With Community

Cape Canaveral Beach, Florida where I spent last weekend with my daughter

Some situations in our community the past couple of years left me and my family feeling singled out, rejected, and talked about. In one word – ostracized.

After these situations, I ventured out to the Christmas Bazaar last fall with my daughter, daughter-in-law and grandbaby, feeling vulnerable, but trying to be brave. Most people were friendly and spoke to me. One woman wouldn’t say “hi” back to me when I said hello. But the woman beside her came around the table, hugged me and made a fuss over my grandbaby. Thank you, again, for your kindness. One lady turned away from my girls when she saw them. This broke my heart when they told me about it.

Whether the ostracism was real or perceived, the result was the same. I withdrew. My family withdrew.

We withdrew from the community where John was born and raised and where our children were born and raised; the place where we have lived 28 out of the 30 years of marriage; and where we have been involved over the years in the school, library, 4-H, fire department, and church.

I am writing this, not for you to feel sorry for me. I am writing because I know I am not alone. If there is one thing I know about my community and your community, it is that there are many wounded hearts, people who have been shunned or who feel ostracized from their community.
It isn’t something we like to think about.

It’s easier to explain away why someone doesn’t fit into our community. Sins become scarlet letters, which makes it OK to talk about someone and tell everyone else what they’ve done. We label people because it is easier to label someone than work to get to know them for who they are. Personal lives are treated like the soap opera on television, “Did you hear about so-and-so? Can you believe it?”

Is it any wonder so many of us hide out and stay away from community?

Or, we flat out have a feud. We try to control what others think. We draw people to our side by telling them how bad those other people are. We have a verbal shoot-out in a public meeting.

The result? Either we have power and do everything we can to keep control. Or we withdraw. Nobody likes me, everybody hates me, guess I’ll go eat worms.

Well, I’m tired of eating worms. Worms infiltrate your system with hatred, bitterness, loneliness and rejection.

Last week, I stepped out and returned to the Book Club at the library. It had been over a year since I had attended a meeting. The women welcomed me back with hugs and smiles. And graciously forgave me when I spent much of the meeting talking with the new branch manager of the library.

It felt good to be with a group of community members and to be accepted as I am – broken, hurt, vulnerable, but striving to be brave and courageous.

Last week I read Brené Brown’s latest book, Rising Strong. Her words define what I am feeling and inspire me to keep muddling through and finding the ability to rise strong. But Chapter Six, “Sewer Rats and Scofflaws” stunned me. In this chapter Brené shares a situation with another person in which she felt very uncomfortable. Her therapist asks, “What if that woman was doing the best she could that weekend?” Brené struggled with this idea.

Brené asked her husband, “Do you think, in general, that people are doing the best that they can?”

He answered after much thought, “I don’t know. I really don’t. All I know is that my life is better when I assume that people are doing their best. It keeps me out of judgment and lets me focus on what is, and not what should or could be.”

Read his response again. “My life is better when…”

How will our lives change when we assume people are doing their best? What will happen if we stop judging and accept people for who they are at that moment? How do we focus on what is instead of what should be or could be?

Looking back at my experience at the Christmas Bazaar, I know the pain of rejection was real. I experienced it and I felt it. The rejection devastated me. My thoughts ran with what should be or could be. She should have said hi to me. She could have stepped forward and spoken to my girls. She should have fussed over my grandbaby.

But what if each lady was doing the best she could at that moment? It doesn’t make the rejection any easier, but it makes my judgment a little less. If I can accept those moments for what they were without dwelling on what they should have been, then I can let go of the pain and anger I’ve held for a year.

I am doing the best I can. 

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

A Blue Day

Today is a gloomy, cloudy day. Even Pikes Peak has the blues.
But I don’t. And that makes me smile!

A month ago, the weather would have affected me and I would have been down in the dumps. But, my Vitamin D levels must be where they need to be and therapy is obviously working. I feel normal and engaged in life without any depression today. Hallelujah!

This doesn’t mean I never have a blue day anymore. In fact, I had one a little over a week ago on a sunny day. And I learned something from it.

When we are recovering from depression, a down day can make us think, “Here I go again, back into depression. Will it ever go away?”

My therapist explained that the brain remembers the path it’s been down to depression, and once it has been down that path, it’s easier for the brain to go there. But, it doesn’t have to stay there.

On the day I was depressed, I left my house at 6:00 a.m. to take a friend of a friend to the airport in Colorado Springs. I was a little bit anxious about driving because I hadn’t driven to the Springs airport in many years. Everything went fine and I was home by 8:00 a.m. I sat down and fell asleep, woke up at 9:00 and felt blah. Kate left the house to go somewhere with a friend. I felt a little more blah.

By 10:00, I was just plain depressed. I did the things I know to do to cope with depression. I ate breakfast and lunch. Took my vitamins and supplements. Spent some time with God in silence and prayer. Got outside and took a walk enjoying the sunshine. But, the cloud of depression didn’t lift.

I thought, “Okay. Today I am depressed. So, I’ll just be depressed.”

And that’s what I did. I gave myself the grace I needed to accept that I would be depressed that day. I realized that going to the airport early that morning threw me off and had made me anxious. Kate’s leaving when I’d thought she’d be home had made me feel lonely.

I did what needed done that day and didn’t worry about what didn’t get done. I felt the depression and lived with it. I didn’t make it out to be worse than it was and I didn’t panic because I felt depressed.  Later in the afternoon, I watched a movie, something I don’t do very often by myself. But I enjoyed it and didn’t lay on the guilt for watching it.

John came home from work and Kate came home. I related that I’d been pretty depressed, but I didn’t run myself down for it. Just said that’s the way it was. Hopefully, the next day I’d be normal again.

I got a good night’s sleep and woke up the next morning feeling fine.
Looking back, the one thing I would do differently is call a friend and go out for lunch. That may have helped my loneliness and bumped me out of depression.

Accepting a day of depression seemed to take the power away from the depression. If I accepted it, I didn’t have to feed it with feelings of unworthiness or worthlessness. I examined my emotions and understood why I felt the way I did and it is okay to feel that way.

A blue day can be just that—a blue day. Nothing more, nothing less.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Where Anxiety and Depression Meet

Every once in a while, I open up my journal and look back at where I was when I started this journey. Wow, I have come a long way.

Today I thought I’d share one of my early journal entries. I had told my therapist that I feel really anxious when I woke up in the morning. Dr. Anna had asked me to write down an example of how I talked to myself. Easier said than done. It took several days to be aware of what I was saying to myself. But, then early one morning I caught myself.

I get up at 5:45 a.m. to make my husband breakfast and pack his lunch and then I go back to bed, because I am NOT a morning person. But, for some reason, I thought I should be.
On May 20th, I became aware of what I was thinking as I made John’s lunch. And I sat down and wrote it out after he left for work.

Lots of negative self-talk this morning. I want to go back to bed. But I’ve got lots to get done. I’ll go back to be and get up at 7:00. Yeah, right. You’ll sleep ‘til 8:00. You won’t get anything done anyway. I need a schedule or a routine. You never keep a schedule. You never do what you plan to do. You’ll plan it, but there’s always some reason you won’t do it. You never finish anything. If you schedule something, you’ll talk yourself out of it.

This is one paragraph of it. I remember sitting in shock after writing it. Did I really talk to myself that way? I wouldn’t talk like that to anyone else. There are two pages of this in my journal going over every task I needed to complete that day. No wonder I woke up feeling anxious! This verbal tennis match running in my head occurred every morning before I got out of bed and continued after I got up.

The first thing Dr. Anna did was give me permission to go back to bed and sleep. I obviously need my sleep. Sleep is important if you are depressed (and she said I wasn’t getting too much sleep –another symptom of depression). And, she gave me only one task for each day. My only check-box to mark is “What is your mood?” She also taught me to stop my thoughts. Realizing my thoughts were not normal or good helped me to stop them.

I learned to challenge a thought and ask its value. Is it true or not true? What’s the worst that can happen? What’s the best?

Brené Brown’s book, Daring Greatly, talks about scarcity – the thinking that we are never enough. She quotes Lynne Twist (author of The Soul of Money), “Before we even sit up in bed, before our feet touch the floor, we’re already inadequate, already behind, already losing, already lacking something.”

I am enough. I don’t do things just like everyone else. I am learning to be myself and be comfortable with me. And the verbal tennis match in my head has stopped.

Related posts:

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Adjusting To Change

Last week, John and I spent the week in the mountains after a family camp-out over Labor Day weekend. We rode our 4-wheeler of Lost Canyon Road up above Twin Lakes and we rode over Tincup Pass. Fall is in the air and appearing in the aspen trees. So relaxing and peaceful. And then on Friday and Saturday we enjoyed camping at Camp Como with some of our church family.

I knew change loomed ahead and my 3:00 a.m. worry time woke me up on Saturday morning. Our adult daughter, Kate, would be moving in with us on Sunday. Kate sold her house and quit her job to begin a new chapter in her life with a move to another state in the future. But, for a couple of months, Kate, along with her 2 dogs and 1 cat, will be living with us.

What will this change do to my life? How will I adjust to the upset in the balance? How will this affect my depression and anxiety? So many questions and not many answers.

We moved Kate in on Sunday and she closed on her house Monday. Today I woke up at 9:00 a.m. from a dead sleep. I felt like I could have slept all day. And, I still have sore muscles from the packing and moving.

When you have suffered from depression, it’s easy to think on a down day you are slipping back into depression. But I have learned from my therapist to label my feelings and realize they are feelings and not necessarily depression. And it is okay to feel my feelings.

So, I knew I was exhausted and had good reason to be – both physically and emotionally. Feeling tired is not depression. I feel a little sad and unsettled. My home, my space that I value, is more chaotic with the animals adjusting to each other. Right this minute, I have a Yellow Lab and a German Shepherd mix wrestling in my living room. It’s not my normal quiet, calm space. Boxes are stacked everywhere, until Kate arranges for more storage.

Kate is also adjusting to her changes and I want to support her. We are dancing the dance that mothers and daughters do when daughters are grown. I try not to be the parent and tell her what to do. And she tries not to be defensive when I say something. Our bond is a delicate thread to treasure, not to break. We both know communication is the key.

I will give myself grace. I will give Kate grace. And I will give John grace as he adjusts, too. This isn’t permanent. In the next couple of months I will enjoy my daughter and our relationship. Rather than wishing for peace and quiet, I will embrace the here and now. I know what I need to do to take care of myself. I will find my space and my quiet, even if it is in the camper. Kate and I will enjoy walks together. And, I’ll enjoy walks by myself. We will go places and have fun together. 

I will treasure this time…before the next big change.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

All or Nothing Mentality

I painted my back deck last Friday.

Painting is not one of my favorite things. In fact, it’s about my least favorite thing to do. When I lift my arms above my head, I pass out. And I have a bum wrist. Throw in a heap of perfectionism. Yeah, I don’t paint.

But, for some reason, I can paint a deck. Maybe it’s because it doesn’t have to be perfect. Or, it’s because I can finish it in an hour or two and don’t have to lift my arms. And, I had a motive – I wanted a pretty place to sit and eat breakfast out in the sunshine.

I opened the bucket of paint and rolled a swipe of paint. Uh-oh. The barn red paint was more raspberry sherbet color. Oh, well. It will dry darker. It doesn’t have to be perfect. I finished the deck, but still had to paint the steps and railing. And, decide whether or not to paint the dog house raspberry red.

Saturday morning I painted again. It was a struggle to get going, but I did. I started painting the dog house and thought about my “all or nothing” mentality. Why do I think I have to be able to finish a project in one day? Why is it so hard to get it going again the next day?

I learned about my “all or nothing” mentality earlier this summer when I decided to practice my hammered dulcimer 30 minutes every day. I set my timer every day and played for 30 minutes. I saw it as a challenge to improve, not as a “should do.” But one day I didn’t have 30 minutes of time before a busy day. I only had 20 minutes. My first thought was, “If I can’t play for 30 minutes, then I don’t have time to do it.” All or nothing. Then, I realized how ridiculous that was. I played for 20 minutes and enjoyed it!

Much of my “all or nothing” mentality is my personality. I recently read the INFP’s prayer is “Lord, please help me finish what I sta…” Ha-ha! Yep, that’s me! If I don’t get all of it done right then, there’s a good chance it will never get finished. I also know I learn from whole to part and that is the way I work, too. It’s hard for me to break things down into increments and work consistently.

This is why it was totally conceivable for me to think I could write the second half of my book during a week’s writing retreat. When I only wrote one chapter, I gave myself grace and a high-five.

Becoming aware of when I am in “all or nothing” mentality, making a choice to do a part of it instead of all, and giving myself grace are new steps for me. Steps I will continue to take.

Oh, and I did finish painting. How do you like my raspberry-red deck? Come join me for a glass of iced tea.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Are You Enough?

You are not good enough. You are not smart enough. You are not productive enough. You are not talented enough. You are not disciplined enough. You are not Christian enough. You are not… enough.

Lies. All lies. Lies I told myself. Lies Satan told me.

Lies I believed. Until they broke me.

And in my brokenness, God made me whole.

I have always been the good girl. The one who went to church, obeyed her parents, didn’t party, didn’t get into trouble. And I grew up into a good, Christian woman. A good, Christian wife and a good, Christian mother.

But being a good, Christian woman wasn’t enough. I could not live up to my expectations. The Proverbs 31 woman I am not. I could not live up to God’s expectations (or what I thought were his expectations). For years I have asked God to change me. But he didn’t. I stopped reading the Bible because I felt condemned. I could not live up to it. I didn’t attempt to have a quiet time or devotions because I never kept it regularly. I wasn’t disciplined enough. I didn’t pray enough. I wasn’t enough.

One day, I made an honest statement to an elder in my church. I told him I felt condemned when I read the Bible. He paused a moment, and then said, “That’s interesting. When I read something I feel I’m not living up to, I feel challenged to try to do it.”

It opened my eyes. I still did not know how to do it, but I saw there was another way of living. A way of feeling challenged to live it instead of feeling condemned.

Then the depression hit me this spring and while reading the many books that gave me insight into myself and my relationship with God, I made a discovery. Though I knew it was impossible to keep the law of the Old Testament and that Jesus died on the cross to abolish the law, I had tried to keep Jesus teachings in the same way as the old law. And keeping Jesus’ teachings to the letter is as impossible as keeping the old law.

There is no possible way I can “Be perfect, therefore as your heavenly Father is perfect” as Jesus taught in Matthew 5:48. The only way I am perfect is through Jesus’ blood. He alone has made my imperfect perfect.

I am enough because Jesus made me enough. My freedom is through Christ. I am free to be who God created me to be. I am worthy.
Therefore, I will never be the Proverbs 31 woman. My house won’t be perfect and my meals (other than taco salad) won’t be perfect. I won’t keep schedules or to-do lists. I won’t be productive in the way most define productive.

But I will be the best Gayle Gresham God created. I will rest in God’s way, not mine. I will seek Him in my way, not the way others do. I will trust Him and Him alone. Because He made me be enough.

For more on being enough, read Brenè Brown’s book, The Gifts of Imperfection.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

A Dappled Sky In Salida

Today I am sitting beneath the dappled sky near Salida, Colorado. Surrounded by mountains, pure, clean air and a cool breeze.

This week is set aside for writing the book about the cattle rustling story in my family history. It really helps me to be in the setting where the events took place. But I also feel such peace. At home in a place I’ve never lived, but have wonderful memories of camping in the area over the years.

This morning, as I looked up at the dappled sky, I felt centered. Everything is right with me and God. My soul is alive. My worries and anxieties are gone.

What more could I ask for?

Well, words. Words to write this story. But I keep trusting God that they will come.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

A Rainy Day Plan

Yesterday was cloudy. All day long.

When I saw my therapist, Dr. Anna joked that maybe I had “Weather” Affective Disorder. She can tell whether it is sunny or cloudy just by looking at my face.
And I can feel it.

My depression is so much better. On sunny days, I don’t feel it or think about it. But on a cloudy day, it is there. Dr. Anna shared an illustration of depression being like water in a glass. My mood will stay above the water line and I will feel normal on a sunny day. But on a cloudy or rainy day, my mood dips below the water line. It doesn’t plunge me to the depths, but it dips enough that it changes how I feel.

Dr. Anna suggested I make a Rainy Day Plan when I first started seeing her.

This is my plan:
  • Sleep well. In fact, sleep in if I want to.
  • Drink a glass of water as soon as I get up. Drink 8 glasses of water throughout the day.
  • Eat a good breakfast with protein.
  • Take my vitamins.
  • Use my Joy essential oils. A sweet friend mixed this for me and gave it to me when she learned of my depression. Every time I apply the oils, I think of her friendship and her kindness. It gives me joy and makes me feel better.
  • Take a walk. Take a walk even if it is raining. Be mindful of the smells, the green grass, the flowers, the crunch of the gravel under my shoe. I also try to take a walk after a storm. It will instantly lift my mood.
  • Read a good book.
  • Create space for God. A time to be silent, to read a verse or two, to pray if I feel like it.
  • Call a friend and visit.
  • Play the hammered dulcimer or guitar.

Most of the things I do every day. On rainy days, I am intentional about doing them. I am intentional about giving myself grace and caring for myself.

Do you have a plan for days you feel depressed? What helps you?

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

The Sun, Me and Vitamin D

Sunrise from my home

We had a wet, cold, cloudy, dreary late spring and early summer here in Colorado. In May, we had 14 inches of rain – a far cry from our normal 2.13 inches. Now, I am not complaining. After years of drought and fires, the green grass and full ponds are so refreshing.

However, this was the time when depression came upon me full force.

I could feel the weight of depression descend upon me on a cloudy, rainy day. And, I could feel it lift when I walked outside into the sunlight on a sunny day.

I began taking a 45 minute walk every day the sun was shining. As it warmed up, I wore shorts and a tank top. I could instantly feel a change in how I felt as the sun’s rays hit my skin. And I began spending more time outside just to feel better.

At the end of June, I had my appointment with my family doctor. One of the tests she ran was on my vitamin D level, which came back low. She instructed me to increase my vitamin D intake with supplements. Which I have done.

What amazes me is the difference I can tell since I significantly increased my vitamin D intake. Although I still like walking in the sunshine, I don’t have the sensation of needing to soak it in to feel better. I feel better anyway.

If you are feeling depressed, be sure to consult your doctor and ask to have your vitamin D level checked. It sure made a difference for me!

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Lord, Please Order My Day

“Lord, please order my day for me. I trust in You.”

As anxiety and depression took over my life, I found myself paralyzed. I couldn’t make decisions. I couldn’t even decide whether to go to the grocery store or not on a certain day! I had a to-do list each day that I woke up thinking about, agonizing over the “need to’s and should do’s.” Most of which went undone.

Several months after starting therapy, after I had learned to shut down my anxious thoughts or reframe them, I took a walk and thought about freedom, God renewing my mind, and ordering my day.

Asking God to order my day was a new thought to me. But the more I thought about it, the more I loved it!

  • ·         To trust that what I do is His will
  • ·         To trust that what I don’t do is His will
  • ·         To live in freedom and not in chains
  • ·         To live in God and not myself
  • ·         To trust Him with my time, my writing, my service to Him, my relationships
  • ·         To surrender my thoughts, my desires, my control, my anxieties, my depression to Him
  • ·         To be aware of this trust and freedom, this new way of living

I have been asking God to order my day for two weeks now. The pressure is off! The anxiety and worries are gone. I love waking up in the morning now feeling rested and having hope and joy for my day.

My prayer this morning:

Lord, please order my day. Let what I do be your will and what I don’t do be your will. Bring the people into my day you want me to connect with. Let our interactions be your will, not mine. Keep my ego – my manipulations and desire for control out of the way. Let me be my authentic self, the one You created. Let your light shine through me today. I trust in You, in You alone.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Life Is Like A 1960's Western Television Series

Forest Gump said “My momma always said, Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you are gonna get.” Well, I think life is like a 1960’s television western series. Good things and bad things happen in life. You deal with it, and then move on to the next episode.
Just think of Ben, Adam, Hoss and Little Joe on Bonanza. They spent their lives protecting the Ponderosa from swindlers, land grabbers, and a crazy con-man who thought he could “row” a boat across the ranch and claim the land as his own on a technicality. They wooed women, fell in love and, ALWAYS, lost their loves in tragic accidents or murder. Or else she really loved someone else. And sometimes the men were caught up in a case of mistaken identity, jailed for a crime they didn’t commit.

In the shows, the Cartwrights lived, loved and laughed. They fought, struggled and persevered. They grieved and learned to live again. Isn’t that what life is about?

Now, imagine if Bonanza was a true story. A person could not go from tragedy to tragedy, drama to drama, or from love to loss to love to loss constantly. Think of the years of therapy and medication the Cartwrights would need to even get out of bed in the morning!

And yet, that is what we often try to do. Something major happens in our life, then a tragedy, and more drama. Rather than taking the time to process our feelings and thoughts, we keep pushing through. We don’t have the luxury to get everything settled in one episode. Or we don’t have the resources.

But, then the re-runs play over and over in our mind. The movie reel never stops. We become angrier, more anxious, depressed or helpless. We isolate ourselves. The re-runs become debilitating. Especially when more than one episode plays at a time.

That is where therapy or counseling helps. We can tell the story to a counselor, but this time we allow ourselves to feel the pain, the hurt, the anger we may have avoided. A counselor can help us navigate through the feelings and move us towards processing the feelings.

And then, the counselor can help us “reframe” our experience. How did we grow from it? What was the best outcome? Sometimes the best outcome is that we survived the experience. But even seeing that can be enlightening.

My family and I have been through a lot of stuff the last few years. Even a thunderstorm with wind and lightning can set my nerves on edge and leave me feeling helpless. On the minor side of events, our old 5th wheel camper blew over and was totaled in a microburst last summer and then our new one was struck by lightning this spring.

Through therapy, I have been reminded that just because something happened once, it doesn’t mean it will happen again. My mind has stopped replaying the episodes. I no longer drown in the pain, fear, panic, anger when I think about the past episodes. And I trust that whatever happens next is something we will make it through with God’s help. Because we do keep making it through.

Now that I’ve dealt with the re-runs, I am ready to face the new episodes. The good and the bad. Because that is life. Let's ride.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Conquering My Castlewood Canyon Bridge Phobia

Bridge? What bridge? I knew you would laugh when you saw the object of my phobia.

This is a photo of the Castlewood Canyon Bridge. I told you it takes 2-3 seconds to cross it.

When I realized I was depressed, the bridge was one of the things that came to mind. My box, my life, had become smaller. If I continued to cut things out of my life because of anxiety, then I wouldn’t even leave my house.

I managed to conquer my Castlewood Canyon Bridge phobia before I sought therapy. And it started with a fiction book, Dog Crazy, about an agoraphobic therapist who specializes in helping people who are grieving over the loss of a pet. In the book, the heroine overcomes her phobia using exposure therapy by taking a dog with her out the gate and around the block. She takes short walks over and over to desensitize herself.

Around the same time, I happened to catch an episode of The Doctors on phobias.  They had a man on who said he could make a phobia go away in an hour. I watched the show and one thing caught my attention. He said he “erases the emotional hard-drive.” That’s what I needed to do. Erase the bridge phobia from my emotional hard-drive.

When I thought about the bridge, I experienced the same panic again. I could feel my body clench and my heart begin to race. Over and over. I could almost see a red light flashing and a voice blaring, “WARNING! WARNING!”

I started by picturing the bridge in my mind and willing myself not to feel the panic. I imagined the beautiful scenery – the open highway, green grass, wildflowers, and Ponderosa pines. I saw myself driving down the road in my truck with some good music on and singing along. The bridge was coming, but I didn’t feel any panic. I focused on the highway on the other side, not on the bridge. And I did this regularly for a week or so, every time the bridge came to mind. Soon, I didn’t feel any panic associated with the bridge when I thought of it.

The day came when I started to Parker for an appointment and it was pouring down rain and hail. When I came to road 98, I planned to go straight. I didn’t want to cross the bridge in the rain. But, the weather was clear to the west and it looked like the hail continued to the north. OK, I would go over the bridge.

I started to feel the anxiety a couple of miles away from the bridge. I began to pray. Deep breathing – breathe in 1,2,3,4,5, hold it, breathe out 1,2,3,4,5. I turned on KLOVE radio and sang along. The anxiety subsided a little. The truck slowed to 55 as I neared the bridge. The wheels hit the seam of the bridge and I focused on the highway ahead of the bridge. Nothing. Nothing!!! I didn’t feel any panic! I couldn’t believe it. I knew the taste of victory.

Each time I crossed the bridge during the next month, I felt less anxiety. Now, I don’t even think of it when I cross it. I enjoy the scenery. And, now I know I have some control over my thoughts and my anxiety. 

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

My Bridge Phobia

Bonner Bridge to the Outer Banks of North Carolina. Photo by my father, Ken Christison

You never expect to have a phobia. They just sneak up on you and shout, “Surprise!”

In 1990, we bought a 4-wheel drive Ford F-150 that was taller than the 2-wheel drive Chevy pickup I was used to driving. I didn’t think anything of it when I drove the new truck out east of town to our friends house. But I sure noticed it when I crossed the little one-lane wooden bridge near their house. Suddenly, the truck seemed like a monster truck with giant tires. My heart raced and I clenched the steering wheel. And I sighed with relief a second later when I reached the end of the bridge.

I didn’t think anything of it until we set out on a road trip from Colorado to North Carolina a few weeks later. I found myself watching for bridges when I drove, clenching the steering wheel over the bridge and sighing with relief when over the bridge. If the bridge happened to be on a curve, then I felt a little more panic.

Over the years, I began to drive less on our trips to the east coast. The bridges became BRIDGES (((shudder))) and I was certain the truck would decide to jump off the side of the bridge of its own volition. For some reason, I didn’t have any problem with my husband driving over bridges. The truck would only attempt suicide if I was driving.

First, I stopped driving in West Virginia. Then I stopped driving east of the Mississippi. The last trip we made, I only drove through Colorado and Kansas.

Thankfully, there aren’t many bridges in my part of Colorado and I don’t think anything about the bridges I drive over. Until last November…

I had a dental appointment in Parker and drove the back-roads to Highway 83. It started to snow a little. I happened to think of the bridge over Castlewood Canyon and thought I should have gone through Elizabeth. Especially with it snowing.

I started feeling anxious several miles before the bridge. I slowed down as I approached the bridge 65, 55, 45. My breathing became shallow, I clenched the steering wheel and my heart began racing the moment I hit the seam of the bridge. I expected to breathe a sigh of relief at the end of the 3 second bridge (yes, it takes 2-3 seconds to cross this bridge). The relief didn’t come. The panic stayed with me and gradually subsided.

In a matter of three seconds, my world changed. I knew I could not drive over the bridge feeling panic every time. So, I would no longer drive over the Castlewood Canyon Bridge. Case closed.

Stay tuned for next week’s Part 2 – Conquering My Castlewood Canyon Bridge Phobia

Monday, June 22, 2015

A Time To STOP

The first thing I did when I realized I was depressed was STOP. Basically, I decided to take a vacation; a vacation from the anxious thoughts in my head and a vacation from the “shoulds” and “need to do’s” in my life to deal with the depression and anxiety.

STOP became Space, Time, Openness, and Power to me.

Space became a very important concept to me. Somehow, I had boxed myself in and I needed space to find me and to find God. When I shut down the anxious thoughts and endless to-do list in my head, I began to find space. Space to think about God and space to think about me.

I gave myself the gift of time: time to read, time with God, time to laugh and play with my baby granddaughter, time to take walks and see the green grass, the clouds against the blue sky, the wildflowers peeking through the grass, time to play the guitar and sing, and time to play the hammered dulcimer. I spent evenings with family and friends.

I began to open my heart again. I became open and honest with myself and aware of my thoughts. I tried to be compassionate with myself, to think of what I would say to someone else going through a hard time and tell it to myself.

Realizing I was empty and weak, I depended on God for power. Not my power, but His. Not in my time, but His time. I gave up control and handed over the reins.

Stopping was the very best thing I could do for myself. I initially thought I would take a break for a week, which turned into two weeks, then a month. By the end of the month, I had learned many things about myself. My new understandings were helpful, but I realized I didn’t have the tools I needed to move forward.

That is when I contacted a counseling center to get help. And I am so glad I did.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

To Take Medication or Not Take Medication

When I first shared on Facebook about my depression, I was not prepared for the explosion of comments with a fiery debate over whether I should take medication or not. People either knew someone who did not get help or medication and committed suicide or they knew someone who took medication and committed suicide. One friend shared her experience where medication made all the difference in the world for her and others shared the dangers of medication.

This is a topic I discussed thoroughly with my therapist in our first session. I am not opposed to taking a medication; however, I have severe allergies to many antibiotics and medications. This puts medication on a ‘let’s see how it goes with therapy first and no medication’ basis.

I have an appointment with my general practitioner coming up to talk about the depression and anxiety. She will also consult with my therapist. I trust both of their judgement.

Increasing my exercise, eating well, sleeping well and taking vitamins and supplements have helped. I am taking a Vitamin B complex, magnesium, selenium and Vitamin D.

Books for the Journey

I have been doing lots of reading the last couple of months. Each book has had something that means something to me for my journey. Almost like stepping into God's footprints and seeing where they go. 

I've read almost all of them before, some several times. I thought you might be interested in these books, so here is my rather eclectic list:

Traveling Mercies by Anne LaMott
The Gifts of Imperfection by Brene Brown 
The Ragamuffin Gospel by Brennan Manning
Dog Crazy by Meg Donahue
A Testament of Devotion by Thomas Kelly
Essentialism by Greg McKeown
I Thought It Was Just Me (but it isn't) by Brene Brown
Homestead by Jane Kirkpatrick
Ruthless Trust by Brennan Manning

I'll share more from each of these books as I write about my journey. I am sure you are wondering what a fiction book like Dog Crazy is doing among these spiritual and self-help books. I'l tell you - when the time is right.

Beneath A Dappled Sky

It's been a while since I wrote about my depression and anxiety. A month ago I realized while I had gained a lot of understanding of myself since I'd become aware of my depression and anxiety, I needed tools to move forward. I started seeing a Christian psychologist who is a God-send for me. She listens and she is giving me the tools I need to shut down my anxious thoughts and helping me to live the way God intended me to live. I am learning to tell the difference between realistic and unrealistic thoughts. To be aware of what I am thinking and of my negative thoughts. This awareness is hard to do when you've spent a lifetime ignoring and denying those thoughts, keeping your mind occupied with anything to avoid them. Now I know to stop them.
I've discovered I need lots of space in my life. Space to think, space to spend time with God, space to write. No schedules or to-do lists. Freedom to work the way I work. Not the way others work.
And I'll spend more time enjoying the dappled sky, watching my nephew run and play, laughing with my granddaughter and loving every moment spent with family and friends. I must say, life is good.

(From my Facebook Profile June 9, 2015)

Learning to Keep Myself Company

"Awareness is about learning to keep yourself company." A quote by Geneen Roth in Traveling Mercies by Anne LaMott.
Acknowledging the depression, writing about it, sharing it on Facebook and reading comments from friends seemed to open a window and some fresh air blew in along with sunshine. I decided to take the week off. Taking the week off from everything that I tell myself I need to do gave me permission to stop. My mind has stopped running through its thread of "you need to do this" or "you have to do this." For me, "need to" and "have to" weigh on me heavily and most often don't get done - even my beloved book project.
For example, yesterday I looked out the window at the dirty white truck and thought, "I'll wash the truck tomorrow when I get the oil changed." What struck me was I didn't think "I need to wash the truck." A little nugget of awareness.
My mind is clear - empty of the ideas, thoughts, creative tidbits and problem-solving for all of my projects and life problems. I told the taskmaster to take a hike and she did! Frankly, I am surprised.

I have space to talk to me. But I don't have to talk. I love the silence and I am basking in it.
(From my Facebook Profile April 8, 2015)