I know I’m not the only one who lies in bed in the morning wishing the cloud of depression that makes getting up seem so fruitless and meaningless would just disappear. It gets so old when it’s there more often than not. There’s this void, this chasm between me and the energy I have for life and no technique I’ve been taught in therapy helps me cross it. The joys and relationships that keep me going during the day just don’t seem worth getting up for as I conspire about who I can reschedule with to hang out later and how many tasks can be pushed off to another day.
My secret to getting out of bed and going on with my day wasn’t as a glamorous as I’d hoped. It never occurred to me in a great epiphany. It just became what the answer had to be—get up and keep going because you have to. I wanted an answer that had more sensitivity toward my crushed and depleted feelings, one that removed the problem and reinvigorated me to deal with everything. This is one of those hard truths that I think I grew stronger for gradually accepting because it taught me how to press on even when I don’t have all the answers to my problems.
I don’t know what the future holds for me and I’m actually glad for that. It would be pretty bleak if it went exactly how I imagine it might when anxiety and depression are at their worst. I’m grateful to be loved by a Lord who promises that His plans for me are for my good because that means there’s a light and a hope for me beyond what I see for myself. There are unpredictable, wonderful moments ahead; He knows I need them to carry on. I wouldn’t be able to endure through depression’s draining toll without the reassuring knowledge that He will give me what I need to make it through each day even if it’s just barely enough.
Pushing through each day may not seem like much. However, after a while you start to realize that if you hadn’t gotten up and soldiered on that the happy moment you cherished yesterday or the meaningful moment that made you feel a bit more fulfilled today wouldn’t have happened if you let depression keep you in bed. So when you’re struggling to get up, it could be beneficial to ask yourself how many good things in your life would you not have been able to witness if you didn’t push? What might happen today that you would miss? Let your desire to feel good motivate your feet as you take the first step of your day into the exploration of joyful mysteries yet to unfold.
I have been touched by reading a multitude of WordPress posts about the attitudes people forge toward life and love in the midst of their suffering. Not everyone was struggling with the same issue but there were many common unfavorable reactions to being labeled by people who didn’t share their problems. I wanted to make a point to say hurtful labels can’t define us when they’re based only on the negative. They don’t do justice to the whole human being. My weaknesses are a part of me—true—but so are my strengths and everything I’ve ever done right. Those better parts of me wouldn’t be there if I hadn’t learned from my mistakes or pushed beyond them. This is why I believe more positive titles better capture who we are.
Whatever you’re struggling with, your diagnosis does not define you either. It is, at worst, a part of you…just as your joys and inspirations are. Other people who apply damaging labels to you and treat you accordingly are in ignorance of the whole you. I have been inspired by the numerous titles people have chosen to wear instead like a crown on their heads paying homage to their victories. They are some of the most beautiful words I’ve ever heard and they mean so much more because of the dark place they were forged in to become light.
“Warrior” “Courageous” “Survivor” “Resilient” “Persevering” “Fighter” “Champion” “Healed” “Miracle” “Victorious” “Unyielding” “Blessed” “Alive” “Precious” “Loved”
I threw together the image at the beginning of this post in honor of all their stories to inspire myself and others to learn from them. (Credit to www.drawninblack.com for the eye and www.blogthings.com for the heart)
These words are significant to me because I carry my own scars from my ongoing battle with self-injury. These marks have always been a source of shame for me even though no one else has seen them. It hadn’t occurred to me before that they might be a twisted symbol of something good. I’m not proud of creating them, as they are the biggest mistakes in my life, but I am proud of my determination to overcome the anxiety and depression that eat away at me daily. I am proud of surviving what my family put me through without fully turning my back on Christ. And I am proud of the several years’ long effort to shed the soul crushing labels my brother pasted on me as I wrestled with cutting myself. It feels wonderful to trade it all for a crown that reminds me I am stronger for what I’ve been through and how that very truth is worth commemorating every day.
What have your hardest battles proven about you? When you rip off the label, what does it say underneath? What do your scars mean to you?
This song might help you figure it out.
We often speak about the importance of spreading awareness about various mental health issues to decrease misinformation and stigmatization. I am a staunch advocate for that cause; however, I’ve been spending more time lately how these problems arose in the first place. It makes a lot of sense to me that misinformation could be the result of ignorance on the subject or a simple lack of experience being around people with a particular diagnosis. I also see how some of that could feed stigmatization but there seems like there’s something more going on there than a mere lack of knowledge. What is the basis by which people discriminate against and ostracize others? It can’t solely be fear of the unknown or of that which is different from them because then providing them with the correct information should remedy the majority of the problem.
I wonder if the reason for the counterproductive attitude toward those suffering from psychological problems has more to do with the person casting judgment than the struggling individual. Perhaps it’s an inability to have empathy/sympathy or a fundamental unwillingness to love those whose who wear their suffering on their sleeve instead of hiding it. If the latter is the case, then I highly doubt educating them about mental health is going to get very far. What do we do when our message falls on ears that do not care or wish to be our allies? This is a sticky predicament because I’m not sure that we can teach them to love when they have already chosen not to. Fortunately, I do believe there is something valuable to be said about the human heart’s capacity to be inspired to grander heights. The question then is centered on how might we go about inspiring them?
The wise saying “lead by example” has a lot to offer here. We can always model the selfless understanding attitude we wish them to adopt. We can take care to not to define people by always using their conditions to refer to them, especially around them (ex. Referring to a person as “someone who struggles with schizophrenia” instead of “a schizophrenic”). Our words can highlight the sacred value of human life by paying immense respect to it in every conversation that provides us an opportunity. Extending patience in public to those we can clearly see are wrestling with mental health issues as well as their family members is perhaps the most beautiful, influential way we can shine a light on this important matter. Our cause will always be a work in progress but the grace we show one another could add together and create an greater impact that we could’ve accomplished alone.
If there’s one monumental travesty about society, it’s that it does everything it can to make the worth of human beings conditional. The basis for any great marketing scheme is to convince people they need something more to become acceptable. All too often, the dark nature of our personal problems takes a toll on our self-esteem and the stinging words of others render us feeling less than human. True value cannot lie in wealth amassed or physical perfection as the media would have us believe. Why place our value in transitory things? Intelligence and capability—while being advantageous—can fade and do not define us at our core. Why do we artificially limit ourselves by these measurements? Even those of us who say we know better still frequently derive some degree of worth from them in the corners of our minds whether we realize it or not.
I think it is instead more beneficial for us to believe in the innate value of human life from the very first moment of existence. We shouldn’t have to reach a certain level to become loveable or deserving of basic human rights. Furthermore, we ought to consider value as an inherent aspect of ourselves and others. At no point does it become separable from who we are. No unfortunate change in circumstance or mistake we commit can strip it from us. That means regardless of what you are going through, you are precious. Nothing can take that from you.
I found more security in these ideas than I ever did from the endless amount of self-help books that instructed me to lift my spirits by repeating positive affirmations to myself in the mirror. My depression would keep me from putting any stock in them; somehow, the idea that I was either beautiful if I just said it more loudly or would succeed at whatever I put my mind to could never take hold. Oddly enough, my boost in self-esteem came from a previous source of shame—God. When I first started self-injuring and having panic attacks, I thought He was disappointed or even angry with me. It took the wisdom and generous patience of a friend to help me understand that all those years I’d heard “God’s heart breaks for you” really meant that it didn’t break because of me but on my behalf. He was not harshly condemning me from a throne somewhere in the clouds. He was on His knees next to mine sobbing with me and mourning the world’s brokenness.
God is not the heartless judge we’ve mistaken Him for. If He’s up in the clouds being distant, it’s because we put Him there in our own minds. We can yell at that god all we want about how he doesn’t hear us and why he doesn’t care about our suffering. The real God is camping out by our hearts saying, “I hear you. I want to walk through your journey with you.” The last thing He wants is the last thing we want—for us to face our problems alone. That’s why He begs us not to and loves us enough to give us Himself as a constant companion.
It is gut-wrenchingly hard to give up our stash of items we use to self-harm. We take comfort in knowing if life gets too out of hand, we can always slink back to it without anybody knowing and then do to our bodies what we feel must be done to make things bearable again. Asking us to give up our stash is somewhat similar to asking an alcoholic to give up drinking; self-injury is the only way we know how to deal with the aspects of life that seem too overwhelming to endure. Why would we give up what we find most comforting?
There was a stretch of time where I said I wasn’t going to cut myself but still had my tools for doing so secreted away where no one would find them. I didn’t think I would actually use them. But if push came to shove, I wanted to have the option to. I was trying to give up cutting and was optimistic about my efforts because as long as I wasn’t doing it, that meant I was free, right? Wrong. I hadn’t truly let it go as my highly revered emotional pick-me-up. It was still my last ditch effort to try when everything else I’d done to handle life in healthier ways fell short. My stash constantly reassured me.
It wasn’t until much later that I grew to see it as a blindfold instead of an insurance policy. It was actually concealing more from me than it was giving. I was offered the illusion of a life that felt better (only temporarily) at the expense of realizing there were healthier ways to cope with anxiety/depression that could truly grant me the happier life I craved. My problem was that I had no patience for acquiring skills that would take time to learn when I thought I had something more potent that worked instantly. My cousin had to help me get rid of my stashes several times before I was willing to launch out into the unknown for help. I was very motivated to identify which coping strategies worked best for me and get good at practicing them in therapy before the next major crisis hit. In the long run, exercises that give my arms a good workout really helped along with DBT (Dialectical Behavior Therapy) emotion management skills and CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) thought restructuring.
You may not be willing to surrender your stash yet, but ask yourself, “Will I ever be?” I was never ready to give up my stash, never content with the idea. But at some point, life had kicked me in the teeth enough times that I wanted to believe there was a way to get back on my feet without having to bear yet another scar. My hope that I could be happy and healthy grew to outweigh my comfort with cutting. Don’t get me wrong; it’s great if you stop cutting even if you can’t manage to get rid of your stash just yet. However, I would urge you to eventually consider it as one of your next crucial steps in claiming that better life you’ve passionately longed for. It’s frightening, but it’s so worth it…not in the short run but for the rest of your life.
Wrestling with depression is an uphill battle, particularly when anxiety, self-injury and other burdensome factors are at play. If you’re at all like me, you’ve probably asked yourself on numerous occasions why you bother to keep pushing day after day through a pain you’re not sure will ever go away. Discouragement seeps in and you just want to give up. I’ve woken up and stared at the ceiling with such musings swimming around in my head more times than I care to admit. I kept lying there determined to figure out the magic solution that could make everything all right. What I found instead of a cure for pain was a priceless realization that made my battle worth fighting.
Many people choose not to commit suicide because they don’t want to deeply wound their loved ones. This has always been one of my strongest reasons keeping me anchored to this world. However, reflecting on my values has doubly enhanced my motivation to stay alive during extreme difficulty. There are things I want to stand for, causes I believe in that are greater than myself. For instance, I would like my life to have reinforced in my own mind and to all who knew me the idea that good triumphs over evil. But if I one day stare in the face all the evil in my life—everything that causes me to suffer and screams that I am worthless—and decide those voices are somehow more credible than the ones that taught me to hope, love and persevere, then I am announcing that evil wins…especially if I forfeit my life because of it. I earnestly wish to leave behind a legacy that inspires others to believe in the beauty of life. I never want my actions to violate that message.
More than anything, I believe I was designed for a purpose by my Creator. I want to live long enough to find out what it is. If I said this life was too difficult and left, I would leave my purpose unknown, unfulfilled. I’d never discover what my true potential was. I would never know the answer to the question I’m haunted by each morning—Will it ever get better? I am certain of one thing; it will never have the chance to if I don’t continue working at it. I’d rather go down fighting than give up even when it is very very very challenging. I also remind myself that my life is not my own to take. My Father will call me home when He’s ready to. I have no plans to leave a moment before then.
Those of you who are losing hope in your own battles, I urge you to reflect on your motivations for fighting. Are they holding up? Are they serving you well? If not, perhaps it’s time to dig down deeply into your values and ask yourself what you would like to stand for and ultimately what message you would like to be sending to those who know you. Have you spent a significant amount of time wondering about the purpose for your life or who you might turn out to be in 5-10 years? Are you curious to find out? Please know you are not alone in your battles, whatever they may be. Multitudes of people fight the same ones every day and God is also actively living your hopes and pains with you at the very moments you experience them. Find someone you can talk to in your darkest moments and whenever no one’s around, He is always available 🙂