Friday, June 2, 2017

The Black Dog

I have struggled with depression on and off for most of my adult life.  Sometimes the black dog comes when I least expect it and begins to bark sharply at me.  Other times,  I can recognize the black dog in the distance and I do everything I can to shoo him away.  I don't much care for the black dog.  I love most dogs and I have two of my own, but I'd rather this one leave me alone.

The summer after my freshman year of college I decided to stay on campus and take summer classes.  I was afraid to go home.  Many things in my life had changed and I just didn't want to face all my high school friends.  I tried very hard to stay busy, but I was terribly lonely and ended up going home almost every weekend anyway.  I spent most of my time with my family.  I was carrying around some pretty heavy feelings and felt unable to talk to anyone, but didn't want to be alone.

Fast forward to the fall and I was hurting very badly.   I felt completely alone.  I made decisions that I regretted and that regret made me feel worse.  I didn't know who to talk to or what to do.  I slept whenever I wasn't in class or at work.  Most of the time I felt like I was walking around in a fog.  Eventually one of my friends lovingly confronted me and helped me get back on track.  To this day I am thankful that she didn't just feel sorry for me or wait for me to get better.  She loved me enough to do something.  She helped me find my way back to myself and ultimately to the truth of God's Word.

A few years later, I was in my third year of teaching when the black dog snuck up on me.  I was completely overwhelmed.  My job had been consuming my whole life for a long time and I bounced back and forth between loving it and resenting it.  I was newly married, but I spent most week nights alone since we worked opposite shifts.  When we did have time together, I was made to feel like I wasn't enough.  It was a perfect storm.  Eventually it became too easy to call in sick to work on a semi-regular basis and write sub plans rather than trying to face the day.  My administrators never called me out on my absences, but others noticed and that just sent me deeper in to feelings of self-loathing.  That time, I went on medication.  I needed to be able to go to work and I needed to feel better.  I knew that without the medication, I was headed to a very dark place and that scared me.

The medication made me feel more normal, less empty, more like myself.  I was able to finish the school year strong and I never said a word to anyone even my husband.  Structure and routine helped, forming new friendships helped and I went off medication.  That time I thought that I had beat depression for good.  I was convinced that my depression was situational and nothing more.

Fast forward many years.  I had two children.  I survived almost a decade of being married to someone who was capable of living two lives.  I discovered deep, painful secrets about my husband's other life.  Eventually, my marriage ended.  In the middle of all of that, my oldest child was struggling in school.  It took everything I had just to get him out of bed and ready for school every day.  One would think that would send the black dog running at full speed, but that's not what happened at all.

I was a single mom.  There was no choice but to keep moving forward.  My family and friends rallied around me.  I found a good Christian counselor.  My goal during that period was to emerge from that mess better, not bitter.  To place every one of my ugly feelings in God's hands.  To seek healing and wholeness.  To find a place where I could forgive my ex-husband.  All those things happened.  Not over night, but eventually.

This is what I learned about myself.  I am prone to depression.  I know that it runs in my family.  I know what causes the black dog to enter my life.  I have to work to keep him away.

  • When I look at the darkness.  That's all I see and everything around me gets darker and darker.  I have to choose to look for light because the light drives away the darkness.  
  • I don't do stress well.  Stress makes everything feel bigger than it is.  Stress makes me physically sick.  When I know that it's a stressful teaching season, I show myself grace and let ALOT of things go.
  • I have to practice really good self care.  Starting my day early in peaceful quiet before I am hit head on with the needs of my family is essential.  Daily Bible reading and prayer are essential.  Keeping my house in functional order is essential.  Being intentional about maintaining friendships is essential.  
  • Most importantly, I have to surrender all the worries and hurt feelings and unmet expectations and fears to Jesus.  I just have to let it go and let Him handle it because if I don't, I will overthink it all into a dark place.

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