The Fight Goes On

Today I felt hopeless again.  I always think I’m ‘recovered’ from depression, then I have a day like today. I’m reminded of all the subtle symptoms that are lingering in the background. The ones I’ve either had so long that I forgot they were symptoms, or I’ve learned to manage so well that I forgot they were there. But they are! (Depression doesnt want me to forget that!)

It can come on so sudden! Yesterday, I had even thought about doing something new and big that would really challenge my OCD.

Then today was filled with 50 ‘I can’t even’s. There was mood swings like you wouldn’t believe. I cried for over an hour until I finally just fell asleep. At one point I even got so angry that I threw things! I had the whole day for homework and I really only got about an hour of work done because I couldn’t concentrate. I was so overwhelmed with the few events I have on this week that I felt ‘paralyzed’.

I can relate all of that to just a bad day with depression, yet, I still feel so embarrassed by all of it for several reasons:

1) This is out of character

2) Even when I recognize that I’m feeling like this -I can’t control it

3) I did some of the things that help but they didn’t work right away

4) No matter how hard I tried, I just couldn’t control it

5) Not only couldn’t I control it-but I also couldn’t hide it (for some reason I still feel the need to hide my negative emotions)

Anyone who lives with mental illness knows how treacherous the path to wellness can be. It’s rarely linear. There are ups and downs, potholes and slippery surfaces, all just waiting to trip us up. Living in this precarious state of semi-recovery is exhausting. The fear of relapse casts its shadow over every single day, and when your mood dips, it can be extremely difficult to keep things in perspective.

I’ve had a pretty rough past with my mental health and I’m terrified of ending up in hospital again. So, when I wake up in the morning and realize I’m feeling less than brilliant, it’s hard not to fear the worst.

I run through a mental checklist of what might be the problem. Did I forget part of my routine? Did I sleep badly because I had a lot of seizures? Is it the time of the month? Am I stressed about school? I’m desperate to find a logical reason for my low mood. But often, I can’t put my finger on anything concrete, and I begin to panic that I’m at the beginning of a downward spiral.

I start to analyse my own thoughts. Just how bad is it? Will I feel better if I get up, have a shower, get on with some work? Or does even getting off the couch seem impossible? I’ve learnt from experience that my mental health can go downhill frighteningly quickly, so perhaps it’s no surprise that bad days in depression recovery fill me with dread. My anxiety levels escalate, and thoughts of self-harm and even suicide can become overwhelming.

Sometimes, I’m able to see a bad day for what it is: a temporary blip, to be expected in mental health recovery, and not a major setback.

I know what sort of things I can do to stop it spiraling out of control, and I actually do them: I draw, play with my dog, or make plans with a friend.

But at other times, I’m just plain scared. I convince myself that I’m relapsing, and nothing I can do can make it any better.

I know I should get a bit of exercise or tell someone how I’m feeling, but I can’t. I’m paralyzed by the fear. I don’t want to worry anyone or be a burden on them, so I keep it to myself.

‘I’m just tired,’ I say, if anyone asks what’s up. And it’s true. I’m tired of living with this hateful illness. I’m tired of being such a needy, negative person. I’m tired of never having any confidence in my mental state.

On top of that, sometimes I really am just tired. It’s hard, even for me, to know what’s really going on.

When you’ve lived through the experience of a mental breakdown – especially one that happened quickly and unexpectedly – it’s hard to escape the knowledge that your illness could come back and overwhelm you with terrifying speed.

I wish I was better at taking each day as it comes, and being able to see all bad days as just that: an isolated occurrence, not an indication that things are going horribly wrong again.

But I can’t. Will I always dread bad days in depression recovery and fear the worst, or will I eventually learn to live one day at a time, confident that setbacks are just minor blips? I don’t know. I hope that as time passes, I’ll become better at keeping a sense of perspective.

But today is a bad day, and it’s hard not to be scared.

Tomorrow, I am going to wake up, and start again praying this:

  • Isaiah 43:18-9 ESV
    “Remember not the former things,
    nor consider the things of old.
     Behold, I am doing a new thing;
    now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
    I will make a way in the wilderness
    and rivers in the desert.
  • Isaiah 65:17 NIV
    See, I will create
    new heavens and a new earth.
    The former things will not be remembered,
    nor will they come to mind.
  • Lamentations 3:22-23 ESV
  • The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
    his mercies never come to an end;
    23 they are new every morning;
    great is your faithfulness.
  • Ezekiel 11:18-19 ESV
    And when they come there, they will remove from it all its detestable things and all its abominations. 19 And I will give them one heart, and a new spirit I will put within them. I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh and give them a heart of flesh,
  • Ezekiel 36:26 ESV
    And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.
  • Romans 6:3-4 NIV
    Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.
  • 2 Corinthians 5:17 ESV
    Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.
  • Ephesians 4:22-24 ESV
    to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, 23 and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, 24 and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.
  • Philippians 3:13-14 NIV
    Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead,14 I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.
  • Colossians 3:9-10 NIV
    Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.
  • 1 Peter 1:3 ESV
    Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,
  • Revelation 21:4-5 ESV
    He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”

*EDIT: I am not suicidal. I’m completely safe. I’m just raising awareness that there are still bad days in recovery (and I am still recovering). This was just one of those days. It will pass. Thank you for your continued prayers.

Once Were Dim Prayers

In 2012 I did a bible study called “Experiencing God.” I began praying for God to reveal himself and his will to me and it changed my life. About a month into the study I began having seizures. I was then diagnosed with depression and obsessive-compulsive disorder, which I had for many years prior. My depression got worse and I started contemplating suicide constantly, then I started to give in every time there was an opportunity to act on the suicidal thoughts.

Depression made me believe I was a completely unlovable, burden; and OCD made me believe I was capable of acting on my worst fear of hurting someone. I was appalled that I could even think of such horrific things which led to crippling anxiety and worsening depression.

I was on the church prayer list for over three years. I’ve had people all over the world praying for me.

->People prayed for healing-with a miracle, medication, therapy-whatever means God willed.

->People prayed that I would draw nearer to God

->People prayed that I would hold on to the truths that I believed in

->People prayed that I would feel loved and supported

-> But, most importantly, people prayed for my safety

 

God answered every one of our prayers! Gods will for my life was not for it to end during any of the times I tried to take life into my own hands.

My memories from my time in the hospital are very broken up and foggy. However, I do remember enough to have witnessed unexplainable miracles in my very own life.

There were times where I walked along train tracks for hours and hours, just waiting for a train to come end it all. In those lonely hours very few trains actually came. When a train did come, I was sitting or laying on the tracks…and the next thing I knew I was in the ditch.

Every. Single. Time.

I don’t even try to wrap my mind around that one. It was just God.

I wasn’t fully aware of what was going on around me so when the train tracks crossed streets I walked straight out into traffic. There were some busy streets, but I was never hit. God was protecting me.

Another time, I overdosed. The amount of medication I took should have damaged my liver…but the test results came back completely normal.

I was told that my depression was “treatment resistant,” and our last resort treatment was electroconvulsive therapy. That ended up being exactly what my body needed to reset and begin healing through a specific type of counselling that targets OCD. The therapy is expensive and at first I needed to go every week! But God is so good. He met that need right away with financial support from family, friends, the church, and even some anonymous donations.

Healing didn’t come the way I prayed for and the way I wanted. I wanted complete healing, right away, with no work on my part.

It’s a good thing I’m not God.

 

If he had answered prayer the way I wanted:

->There wouldn’t have been time for all the changes to take place in my heart.

->I would have missed out on time with family, discovering my love for writing, and learning how to be a true friend from my own friends.

-> And I wouldn’t have learned how to depend on God, and fully trust him.

 

Sometimes God answers prayer and fills a need I didn’t even realize I had. My family and I decided I

needed a psychiatric service dog. We looked at some local dogs, but they just didn’t “feel right.” We decided on a chocolate brown Australian labradoodle from BC. She was a huge help in just her first year and a half with me.

We started to notice an odd behavior where she would climb up onto my shoulders. It took a while for us to catch on to her cleverness…but this was her way of letting me know 10 minutes before I had a seizure.

Dogs cannot be taught to sense when a seizure is coming. They either sense it- or they don’t- and you can’t know if the dog will reliably alert until the dog is older. I have had Zoe for 3 and ½ years and she has become my seizure alert dog!

I didn’t know I needed a seizure alert dog or think one was a possibility for me, but she has given me much more independence, prevented many injuries, and even saved my life.

Raising enough money for a service dog was an answer to prayer but God went beyond that when he gave me Zoe. Its as if God was chuckling and said, “Yeah, sure I’ll do that… BUT LOOK AT WHAT ELSE I CAN DO!”

It’s a beautiful reminder of how God is in control of all things seen and unseen, and he is capable of so much more than our small minds can even imagine!

I decided I wanted to go to bible college after high school. I applied and was accepted in 2013, but I wasn’t stable enough. I thought I would never actually get to go…but It was one of my goals that kept me motivated to get better. Anytime a Dr. asked what I wanted to do when I got out of hospital, it was “Bible College,” I want to go to bible college.

This past May, four years later, I just started taking online courses through Heritage Bible College! I was probably more excited to start school than some people are to graduate.

Those are just a few of the amazing ways God has kept me safe and answered prayer. Not only am I still alive today…but I am ALIVE AND WELL!!

I have been out of the psychiatric hospital for 2 years and 2 weeks. My physical health is still a struggle and I will likely struggle with minor flares of depression here and there for the rest of my life.

But my OCD is almost manageable, most of the time my depression is nearly non-existent, and I’m easing myself back into a new normal life. I have been blessed with this life and this trial. When I look back, I see a lot of painful moments that God brought me through and used for my good.

alive and hopefull

Chapter Twenty-Three

** WARNING: This post contains a section that discusses suicide and depression. It could possibly be triggering. If you are struggling with these issues I would suggest either skipping this post and reading others or skipping to the end of this post. I promise there is a happy ending. **

 

Today I am twenty-three.

For some, birthdays are no more than a regular day, maybe some presents, or good wishes and cake. Nothing ever really changes when you turn another year older. It’s not like you wake up and suddenly have matured a year. It’s a gradual process, and your birthday is just a marker along that path.

My family has made a big deal out of birthdays for as long as I can remember. We (the whole family) would wake up and open presents before we all went our separate ways to work or school. We would pick out a special birthday dinner – whatever we wanted – and probably have a party (or two…or three) at some point.

This year I have a different outlook on my birthday than I ever have. I have never been more thankful to be alive.

I’ve never been happy to be alive.

I mean, I probably did when I was younger, but at that age you don’t understand the whole “life” thing yet.

As a child, I remember that I had this vague idea in my head that I wouldn’t live to be 18. I had a small voice in my mind that said by the time I reached 18 I would have gathered the courage to end my life.

I had a twisted sense of hope that came from knowing my life would end soon enough, ending the consuming fears and misery. I thought it was just a feeling or maybe my fragile, mental state saying that it was “Gods will,” however, I can now recognize it as depression. On some level, I must have known that it wasn’t completely normal, because otherwise I’m not sure why I never said anything.

I woke up on my 18th birthday. I felt shocked, relieved, hopeful and distraught, all at once. I pulled myself together enough for the next year and a half to make the world believe I was OK, to make me believe I was OK. That’s when things started to unravel. I began spiraling downwards, convincing myself this time I wouldn’t live to see 20.

I was 19 when I first attempted suicide. I cringe thinking to those days. Thinking the words: I am unlovable.

The years that followed my whole family was in continuous crisis mode. They never knew what the next day was going to hold. Heck, I was so far removed from reality that I didn’t even know what the previous days looked like never mind the coming hours.

Somehow [clearly through the grace of God], I made it through countless life or death situations.

I don’t know how many times I have tried to end my life, nor do I know the exact number of streets I’ve crossed, [purposely] without waiting for cars to pass first.

I can’t count the exact number of scars on my skin from each time I carelessly slid a piece of metal through, silently hoping I would bleed to death and never wake up.

I don’t know how many hours I have been lost along train tracks waiting for a train to come and end it all.

I have walked across this train track bridge [the view now terrifies me!]:

*Bridge photos from London Free Press

If a train had come while I was walking across this bridge I would have not survived. I had hoped I would slip through the holes between the pieces of wood I walked over or through the sides.

*But this excruciating, long chapter of my life is closing.*

I’m well on my way to recovery!

Twenty-three is fresh.

Anyone who knows me knows that I have been working towards bible college for as long as I can remember. I am moving into a transitional chapter of online courses and I am already halfway through my first course: Intro to Old Testament Studies. I’m loving the content!

I have said this is a transitional chapter because I’m practicing the coping skills I’ve perfected while living a very simple, low-stress life, now in a more stressful life. It’s proving tough but I’m happy to report that there have been no suicidal thoughts that have come with any intent. The thoughts are more fleeting. They come almost out of habit.

My brain doesn’t work the same as it used to, nor does the rest of my body. I have been out of school for 4 years. Those things themselves throw some consequential challenges into life.

I got a 77% on my first midterm! I’m proud of that. I worked extremely hard and did not think I could manage more than a 60.

Good & amazing things have come from this chapter!

LIST OF GOOD THINGS/ACCOMPLISHMENTS DURING “DISABLED” YEARS:

I had extra time to spend hours reading Gods word and just resting in His presence.  Not everyone gets this wonderful opportunity.

My personal relationship with God is stronger than ever. My desire to experience Him, love Him, and obey Him, is sometimes more than I can handle (In a good way)!

I was diagnosed with severe obsessive-compulsive disorder that had been going on for 11 years before diagnosis. I don’t know when/if I would have been diagnosed had I not started having seizures.

I have overcome treatment-resistant major depressive disorder, after the better part of three years was spent in a psychiatric hospital.

I’ve overcome some intense psychotic episodes.

I have a better ability to empathize with other people’s sorrows. It’s the kind of empathy that you can only gain from going through a dark and difficult time.

I have completely stopped self harming. (Nearly 2 years without cutting!) Just a day ago, an ER nurse even commented on my scars looking old.

*I also now view self harming as a completely ineffective coping mechanism, but because of the addictive nature it is still tempting.

About 4 years after the OCD diagnosis, the disorder is almost managed now!! **HUGE HUGE ACCOMPLISHMENT THAT REQUIRED AN CRAZY AMOUNT OF WORK**

I have my own website/blog that actually gets a large number of views (that is if I actually post…oops…)

I have been doing a lot of painting and drawing **even with a tremor!

I have trained a service dog! (With a lot of help from family, a friend, and a trainer). Now I have an incredible, life-saving dog! I wish I didn’t need her as “medical equipment”, but she keeps me laughing and I constantly talk to her. (I have learned that when you are alone in public, it’s much more fun to pet a dog than to awkwardly pretend you are texting someone…)

I have had time to draw, write, and spend time with my family before I prepare to move away for school.

Now I see that this life I live is actually so wonderful! So long as God continues to use my struggles for His glory (I have no doubt He will), I don’t mind them being there.

For a long time, birthdays acted as a sort of ‘countdown’ of my life, filled with nothing but doom. Now, they serve as a source of hope and strength, reminding me I have – and will continue to – overcome.

I have come a long way in the past few years. Now I’m able to look back and say I survived. Now I’m able to look forward and say I can continue surviving and thriving.

My child self never thought I would make it to 18, but here I am, almost five years after 18, with a desire to keep living as long as God allows, so I can do and accomplish all that he has planned for me.

Today I begin chapter twenty-three.

Anchor Answers

“Why?”

“How long?”

That’s what we really want to know. We want God to answer, to give an account of Himself.

“How long will the pain last?”

“Why did he leave me?”

“Why did she die so young?”

“How long will I be unemployed?”

“Why won’t they leave me alone?

“Why me? Why now? Why this?”

Sometimes we learn the answers; often not. But still, we ask.

The asking is built into us; we can’t help it. We ask, “Why?” because we understand cause and effect. We ask, “How long?” because we discern beginnings and endings. We ask because we’re human. Even Jesus, the divine human asked, “Why have you forsaken me?”

SUFFERING:

“Why?” and “How long?” don’t ususally have clear answers. However, there are other questions you can always know the answers to. They have a definite yes or no, with a clarity that anyone can grasp. BUT…I hope you won’t ask them when you suffer.

Is God here?

Does God care?

Is God part of this?

Did God cause this?

Does God have a purpose for this?

Is God punishing me?

Will I be okay?

image

I say that I hope you won’t ask them when you suffer, because I know you’ll need the answers before you suffer.

The answers are so much harder to find in the storm. It’s also easy to disregard the truth in the midst of a storm because we may be too wrapped up in confusion, fear, anger, or feelings of loneliness.

But, we rarely think about these things before we need them. We are often like a grasshopper who wasted the summer away without ever thinking about preparing for winter.

People who expect suffering to come will read and think and pray and wrestle with these questions well before the storm hits. Then, in the storm, they hang on to those truths for hope and comfort. Without them, suffering preys upon our pain or grief injecting fear and doubt that eats away at our hope.

I will be honest and say that I wasn’t completely prepared for a huge storm to shake up my life. These days I know that there is another storm just around the corner. We can’t escape these storms as Christians but God will be here, with us, through all of it.

The ANCHOR ANSWERS:

With clear answers to these questions, we have an anchor for our souls and a reason to hope. (Hebrews 6:19)

A biblical perspective on suffering accepts the certainty of suffering but embraces the hope of God’s reign over it.

Everyday, I fight a storm that seems to never let up. On the outside, I’m conversing with a friend, playing with my dog, or writing; but in my mind I’m struggling to hold the door closed against a biting wind of anxious thoughts.

What holds me together is truths that I hold onto.

*I know God is real and He is here, holding the door against the storm with me.

image

*I know God cares, having the empathy of one who has experienced ultimate suffering and sorrow himself.

*I know God is in this with me, like a father who wraps his little child in his coat and bears the worst of the wind.

*I know we live in a broken, cursed world full of sin, death and suffering, and yet God directs all things as the Sovereign Lord of all. Even though I cannot fully grasp this mystery of providence, I know my suffering does not escape His loving notice, nor is it beyond His power. I know she is neither a victim of fate, or the devil.

*I know Gods purpose toward me, as a believer, is only good eternally. And although the path in this life has many hazards, God makes even these serve my greater, eternal good.

*I know God is not punishing me for Christ was fully punished in my place, and lives again as the Mediator of my favor with God.

**And therefore I know, with soul-deep certainty, that I will be okay. My God and Savior made a promise.

THIS is the anchor for my soul!

I hope and pray that this can be a comfort and hope for your soul as well!

The world is scary and full of trouble. You can arm yourself against the day of trouble with the truth.

Knowledge that if you belong to Christ, God is here.

He does care.

He’s in it with you.

He has a purpose.

He’s not mad at you.

You will be okay.

If you’ll take the time to find out if this is true-by reading the Bible-then, you can know before you need to know.

You may find that knowing these things is a greater comfort than knowing why or how long.

 

Just BE

When All You Can Do Is Be:

Some days are harder than others. There are trials and challenges. We face issues that change the course of our entire lives. We deal with seizures for which healing has yet to come, anxiety that is yet to be managed, marital problems yet to be mended, longing for relationships, or a feeling of distance from God.

imageOr maybe we feel like we aren’t doing enough in our lives as we watch others who never seem to go through the hardships that we face daily, that some of us have even experienced for years. We feel pressure to do the “normal” daily activities that most people do without a second thought. Then, we feel an overwhelming sadness when we just can’t do them no matter how hard we try.

We just feel weak and worn out.

imageGod sees you. He loves you. He says that you don’t have to measure up to any standard but His.

Even when all you can do is simply be: you are loved by God.

It doesn’t look the same for another person as it does for you. He knows the trials, the pain, the weaknesses. He only wants your heart. Love Him with your whole heart!

Maybe no one else will hear your cries, feel your loneliness, or see your pain, but God sees you and you matter to Him. He hears your every heart cry and He is a Father who loves you.image

If all you can do is simply be with Him, He’s more than okay with that. He knows you inside and out, through the good and the difficult.

You may see others running back and forth doing everything under the sun, but even though difficulties are in front of you, you are still pressing into Jesus.

You are just being with Him. This counts far more than you know. It counts to Him. In His eyes it is worth more than all the gold in world because you are His precious and dearly beloved child.image

May His love cover you and fill you today.

Stellar Kart Lyrics:

Me and Jesus

When there’s nowhere else to turn
All your bridges have been burned
Feels like you’ve hit rock bottom
Don’t give up it’s not the end
Open up your heart again
When you feel like no one
Understands where you are

Someone loves you even when you don’t think so
Don’t you know you got me and Jesus by your side
Through the fight you will never be alone on your own
You got me and Jesus

 After all that we’ve been through
By now you know I’ve doubted too
But every time my head was in my
Hands you said to me
Hold on to what we got
This is worth any cost so
Make the most of life
That’s borrowed
Love like there’s no tomorrow

 

Rejoice…Always?

 

The last week and a half have been difficult. My psychiatrist allowed me to decrease my Cymbalta (antidepressant). This is a really big deal. It’s terrifying, actually! Anyone who knew me while I was very ill, in the throws of depression, knows how life-threatening and serious my illness can be. I am not against medication use at all! For some people, medication can make a huge difference. Medication for a mental illness is no different than insulin for diabetes, chemo for cancer, or medications for epilepsy, if it works and it keeps you healthy-it is 100% necessary.

However, I never noticed a change while taking Cymbalta but I still stayed on it through ECT and exposure therapy-both of which DID help me. I have a few side effects from Cymbalta. Heat intolerance-which is horrible! I am comfortable outside in a t-shirt when it is 4 degrees outside. I also have noticed an impact on my creativity and ‘sharpness’ of my thinking.

The Cymbalta was decreased exactly 2 weeks ago, all was well until last Monday night when I noticed my mood slipped and I was very anxious. My mood has gone back up nearly to where it was but my anxiety levels have stayed quite high. As a result, I have had limited time in public places. There is no reason for this anxiety and no specific worries, which makes it so frustrating for me! I did not have this type of anxiety before taking any antidepressants, so hopefully this isn’t just another presentation of my illness.

Two days ago, I was given the choice to go back on the Cymbalta which would likely relieve the new anxiety, or I could continue to wait it out a little longer to see if it will fade over time. I decided to continue with the decreased dose. We will wait and see what will happen.

It was during this past week that my devotions featured Scriptures on joy.

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again—Rejoice! (Philippians 4:4)

philipians-4

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law (Galatians 5:22-23).

Since these are words from God, I figured I shouldn’t roll my eyes at these passages, but I was doing it on the inside. I do like these verses. They are feel-good words…when I’m feeling good. But when life is such a mess, they sound superficial and even seem to mock my current reality.

As I kept myself in check, the Lord clearly and ever so gently challenged my thinking.

You don’t need joy when things are going well. You need joy when life is hard, and I am always here to supply it.

I tend to be black and white in my thinking. I want things to be “either-or,” rather than “and.”

James 1:2-3 throws a wrench in my thinking.

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.

Sorrow and joy are not mutually exclusive. The Lord intended joy to be an ever-present part of a believer’s life. Even in the midst of trials, chaos, and in the messiness of relationships.

I am thankful that it doesn’t say, “Be happy whenever you face trials of many kinds.” There are trials and pain in life, and I’m not going to be happy about them. I am not happy that I am struggling with ANOTHER form of anxiety. I don’t have to paste on a smile and pretend that everything is beautiful. I can acknowledge the struggles, and that’s okay. My happiness is an emotion that changes with my circumstances.

joy-is-independentHowever, as a follower of Jesus, joy is independent of my circumstances. Joy is based on my trust in the Lord, my confidence in His constancy that gives me security and well-being. It focuses on the hope and future anchored, immovably in Christ.

Unfortunately, we will all encounter trouble. Jesus said we would in John 16:33. We will be moved by tragedy, but it should not define us.

Job lost everything dear to him—family, wealth, and health. He was devastated and praised the Lord from the depths of his soul.

Paul instructed us to “Rejoice in the Lord” while he was in prison.

Jesus wept at Lazarus’ tomb and then raised him from the dead.

I am filled with joy and fighting a severe Illness.

Joy comes from the Holy Spirit, not from us.

As we walk in the Spirit and allow Him to flow through our lives, we will experience joy. We will be able to rejoice in the Lord. Yes, always.

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit (Romans 15:13).

Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls (1 Peter 1:8-9).

 If you are struggling to have joy in your circumstance and would like to talk more about it or would like me to pray for you, please do not hesitate to contact me through the contact page on this website.

 
If you do not yet have a personal relationship with Jesus but would like to know more about beginning that relationship I would LOVE to talk to you and pray for you!

 

XOXO

 

Summer & Zoe  

Joy & Christmas?

‘It’s the most wonderful time of the year’…or is it…?

The answer is way more complicated than it should be. It should be the most wonderful time of the year because it is the season where we are celebrating the most incredible event in all of history!! If you don’t really know the story I am referring to, then hold tight! It’s – a – comin’!

The story starts way back in Genesis when God creates the entire universe! He also created the first two humans and they did the only thing they were not allowed to do at the time, resulting in sin.

There was only one way to wash away the sin that had continued from that point on: God, the creator of the universe, sent His Son to earth as a baby. This baby came as the SAVIOR and He was FULLY human yet also the Son of God. God Had plans for His son to die as a living sacrifice for all our sins. If all that doesn’t amaze you than you need to re-evaluate your faith because this isn’t just some story. It is TRUTH! A real, actual, historic event.

I was talking to a friend and she made a good point that I had never thought of. There are two sides to this:

1) Sometimes we ‘glamorize’ the Christmas story. In paintings and nativity scenes Mary and Joseph are beautiful and do not appear the least bit tired or stressed. Baby Jesus appears pretty clean for a newborn born in a stable. They just traveled well over 10 days on a dirt road. Mary is in the last days of her pregnancy, riding a donkey, and Joseph is walking. That is an incredibly, incredibly, long journey.

Have you ever driven for just one day straight? You stumble out of the car and you are stiff and sore. Mary was on a wobbly, stinky, slow, donkey AND she was very, very, pregnant. And then there is Joseph who we assume walked that whole time! At least 10 days of that. So, lets be realistic folks, Mary and Joseph had just gone through a traumatic experience of rejection for having an unbelievable story of a ‘pregnant virgin,’ they were exhausted, weak, sore, dirty, stinky, and away from family.

Now, is this important to the story? No, not one bit. It isn’t even mentioned in the bible-just educated assumptions. However, I think it is neat for us to step back and look at this. Taking a story that we tend to get tired of hearing every year (but shouldn’t), and making it fresh.

Wow guys! This actually happened! THE KING OF KINGS was born with the plan to save us all!!

This life-like image of the nativity story doesn’t just help us to visualize it better but it helps us to really see the miracle of this birth and see a great example of a young couple putting their whole lives aside to be faithful servants of God. The importance of the story should remain on Jesus Christ’s miraculous birth and the purpose of His birth, but it is neat to think about.

2) There is also the other side of the spectrum where Christmas loses the Christ. How does this happen?? Christmas without Christ is literally just ‘mas’. How do people lose sight of something so miraculous?

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Let’s be honest, it isn’t only our society who forget Him. Sometimes we do too.

It happens every year. We start making family plans, buying gifts then worrying about money, making and serving feasts. Next thing you know you are at the Christmas Eve service at church thinking about this historic event and Christs love. Your Christmas should have a little more ‘Christ’ than just a church service.

The best thing you can do this season is sharing your faith. That itself won’t get people into heaven, but it may open an opportunity that God may use to draw your loved one to Jesus.

Don’t beat around the bush. This holiday season is for sharing the gospel. People are more open to hearing about Jesus this time of year, so take advantage of that and make His name known this Christmas.

Well, that’s why Christmas should be the most wonderful time of the year but for many, the anticipation of holiday traditions cause stress and anxiety as Christmas looms on the horizon.

“But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.’” — Luke 2:10-11

A bit of joy will do. But “great joy”? Is it almost too much to hope for?

Where did all the Christmas joy go? How did things get so complicated? So rushed? So squeezed and cluttered? It doesn’t have to be that way. We can choose to step aside, step into a quieter moment, and read the angel’s words that came on that night that changed the world.

Real joy does not come from within. Trying to find joy by getting it out of yourself is like believing a river can flow uphill. Maybe that’s why so many have a hard time finding joy at Christmas. Bite into a Christmas cookie, and you might enjoy it. Open a shiny package and you might enjoy what you find inside.

But joy itself—in its true and pure form—is so much more than enjoyment. Joy is the startling realization that God really has claimed territory in this world. He’s taken back what belongs to him. And then joy is a thirst that doesn’t want to be quenched; a hunger that knows it will go on and on. It’s a good kind of hunger and thirst, to never get enough of God.

Even if we have real joy, some of us will still struggle during this season. I need you to know that you don’t need to have perfect, unending, Christmas spirit. Especially when you are experiencing a loss, illness, or are overwhelmed. It’s ok to not be ok, even at Christmas – “the most wonderful time of the year.”

The stress of groups of relatives, financial worries, general busyness, or preparing the Christmas meal, can mount, and some face an altogether different stress – the fear of spending the holiday season alone (either literally alone or mentally alone with their thoughts and fears).

Here are some of my ideas to

help you survive Christmas:image

  • à First, stop putting unreasonable pressure on yourself to be happy during the holidays. It is OK to feel whatever it is you are feeling.
  •  You may find your mood improves when you’re in the company of certain friends or favorite relatives – especially those who accept your full range of feelings and don’t put pressure on you to be anything other than who you are. Seek out those people who make you feel better, and try to avoid people who contribute to your depression or anxiety.
  • Try to be more physically active. Physical activity is one of the best ways to make yourself feel better. Even though it is stinkin’ COLD outside, try to take a walk, go to the gym, get out in the snow, or take on a project that calls for physical activity.
  • Emotionally, physically and psychologically, the holidays are draining. You need every bit of strength you can muster. Try to get a decent balance of rest and exercise.
  • Try setting one or two manageable goals every day – even if they are as simple as cleaning out a closet or drawer, writing a letter, or journaling. The satisfaction you get from completing a task adds to your sense of well being.
  • For anyone who drinks: watch your alcohol intake. While a few drinks may make you feel temporarily euphoric, alcohol is a depressant and often ends up making you feel worse than before.
  • If you are having trouble sleeping, have lost your appetite, have continuing thoughts of hopelessness and despair, seeking professional help may be wise.
  • Family get-togethers may be difficult. Be honest with each other about your feelings and fears. Sit down with your family and decide what you want to do for the holiday season.
  • Initiate activity yourself; do not wait for others.
  • There is no right or wrong way to handle the day. Some may wish to follow family traditions, while others may choose to change.
  • Be careful of “shoulds” – it’s better to do what is most helpful for you and your family. If a situation looks especially difficult over the holidays, just sit out that one for this year. Maybe next year you will be able to handle it.
  • Don’t set expectations too high for yourself or for the day. Undertake only what each family member can handle comfortably.
  • Set limitations. Only do the things that are very special/important to you. Do the best you can at a few things instead of trying to do everything. Even though you may want to do everything, be respectful of yourself by carefully picking and choosing how much you can handle.
  • Once you have decided what you and your family will be doing during the holidays, let your relatives and friends know so that they can try to work around your stress while you try to recover. Its okay to put your recovery and well-being first.
  • Some time spent by yourself can be helpful, but be careful not to isolate.
  • Baking goodies and cleaning the house can get out of proportion. If these chores are enjoyable, go ahead, but not to the point that it is overtiring. If it is not enjoyable, either buy baked goods, or go without this year.
  • Be aware of the increased accessibility of sugar, caffeine, and alcohol during the holidays and be cautious not to overdo it.
  • What you choose to do one year for Christmas, you don’t have to do the next year.
  • For families who have experienced a recent loss you may want to try doing your traditions differently then you have in the past. One possibility (if affordable) go away on a vacation. It doesn’t have to be anything big; maybe even a daytrip. Planning, packing, etc. keeps your mind somewhat off the holiday and you share the time in a different way.
  • Avoid the busyness of stores and holiday activities by getting things ready as early as possible. Maybe even set an earlier ‘pretend’ Christmas date to help keep on track.
  • If shopping is too much, consider shopping online. Many stores will offer free shipping deals this time of year. You can also ask your spouse, relative, or close friend help you navigate crowds or pick up items.

Most importantly, if you can’t handle helping with family things, being in crowds, or can’t afford buying gifts, remember that these things are not important at all. Please don’t stress about these things. I hope and pray that your friends and family will understand if you explain your reasoning.

If you feel guilty about not giving a gift, ask if you and your loved one can do something together instead of giving gifts. If your loved one is also a believer, you could look for ways you could teach others about real joy found in Christ. If they are not believers, consider going to a shelter where you can share the greatest story ever while serving others. You could also give gifts of time. Give a massage, give them a mani/pedi done by you, make them dinner, or watch their favorite movie with them – even if you detest it.

What is important during this season, is that you can find true Christmas joy and share it with everyone you know! Send a card, a Facebook message, an email, or tell them in person, about the greatest day in history! The day that still affects us every moment of everyday. The day where Jesus was born with a plan to suffer and die, just so that each and everyone of us could be washed in His blood. We are cleansed from all our sins when we accept His gift – the greatest gift of all – eternal life through a relationship with Him.

Christmas time is filled with SOOOO many opportunities to share the Gospel. People tend to be a bit more open to hearing about Jesus. Many people choose to sing and enjoy listening to Christmas carols about Him, even if the rest of the year they would rather Jesus’ name not even be mentioned. Then, there is a whole heap of people annually attending a church service on Christmas Eve. There are so many opportunities every year yet so few people really know the whole story. So many haven’t experienced God in their lives.

So many believe that the story of Jesus’ birth is a myth.

Christmas exists so that we can share the Gospel and allow Jesus to work in the hearts of the people around us. People are not reached by us just showing and living out the gospel. Although we must still do that, it is just as important for us to teach about Christ. The people around us also need to hear the greatest story in all of history.

Be creative in the ways that you “do” Christmas this year. Make your celebrations either as big or as little as you can handle. Don’t pile on a million tasks if you are not up to it (don’t even take on one if you are not up to it). And of course, find real joy then share the gospel as much as you can. Don’t worry about looking silly if you cannot contain your excitement…

THE KING OF KINGS WAS BORN; THE SAVIOR OF THE WORLD.

That makes this season ‘the most wonderful time of the year.’

Update: Fall 2016 Part 1

At this point in my therapy I am not where I ever expected to be. A year ago I thought I would have been further along and a few months ago I didn’t think I would ever get this far! You often think about the beginning and the end of therapy but then you kind of forget about the middle part of recovery where you have come so far but you also still have a long ways to go.

You forget that you can’t skip over steps to get to the end faster. It doesn’t work like that in mental health recovery. You have to take it slow, however, you can keep reflecting back at how far you have come and how much better you feel than when you were on the last step.

It’s been a while since I posted an update, so I figured it was about time!

I posted the last Music Monday a little over 2 months ago. The day it was posted I fell down the stairs and was unconscious for about 10 minutes. My mom called 911 and the paramedics put me in a neck brace and on a backboard then took me to the hospital. I was fortunate to (unsteadily) walk away from the hospital later with ‘only’ a concussion and a bucket load of bruises. My recovery from the concussion has been quicker than expected! The physical symptoms are mostly gone now but I am still struggling with the cognitive effects – memory, confusion, concentration, brain fog…things that were already issues but a little magnified right now, nothing too major.

Mentally, I did have a hard time switching back into “recovery mode” after the fall. I had two weeks where I didn’t do any OCD homework exposures at all. This wasn’t only because of the head injury. Part of me just got stuck in a negative “rut.” I kept telling myself that I could’t do the homework well enough so I might as well not do it at all. I wasn’t being lazy, I was just overwhelmed with fears and hopelessness.

I also had a couple really stressful events during this time. All that additional stress while recovering from a brain injury PLUS all the usual OCD stress, anxiety, and exhaustion. Then came the appointment where I was supposed to discuss the homework from the two weeks that I didn’t do it.

If you have a great therapist, they should understand how hard the work they are asking you to do actually is. They should understand and even expect that you are going to have setbacks and that normal life problems may appear a little amplified to an anxiety sufferer.

My therapist is fantastic, so she did not look at it as a bad thing or even think it was a setback. In her sweet accent, she just said, “I bet you needed that break from the work. Lets see how we can make things more manageable for this coming week.” That felt so validating to the work I was doing, but also offered a gentle hint of encouragmentand.

We did figure out how to make things go much better. The day after I saw her I picked up my homework and said to myself, “even if it doesn’t work today-you might be setting it up to make it work tomorrow. Just do it anyways Summer.”

Now, for the first time since I started this round of ERP (Exposure and Response Prevention) in May, I feel like I am making progress that I can actually see. I have made progress like what is ‘typical’ for an exposure.

I have done things that I didn’t think I could do. I wasn’t even sure I would ever be able to do them!

But I did…and I can’t even explain how incredible it feels. I feel successful. I feel strong. I feel fearless(ish). And I feel proud.

It all started with picking up the homework and believing in myself. (And prayer.)

OCD: 14 (for the 2 weeks I didn’t do homework)

Summer: 31! (For the one month I have been totally beating OCD!!)

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Before I fell I had been planning on going to surprise a good friend, who moved 3 hours away, with a visit! My incredible Grandparents said they would take me (thanks again guys!). It was a much needed catch up day filled with smiles, laughs, and encouragement. I was able to surprise a friend, see her (very new) house, see her town, have lunch with her, visit by the lake, let my dog run in her backyard, and even show her how lovely it is to colour in an adult colouring book!

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My beautiful friend and I! Thank you Lord, for times like this.

If I think back to last year, there is no possible way that I could have managed a trip like this. Depression, self harm, and dissociations in addition to OCD were too frequent and I hadn’t quite figured out which coping strategies helped me the most. This means I was still having crisis situations very often and I wasn’t good at coping yet.

FLASH FORWARD to Now:

The fun and excitement from this visit outweighed the negative that the OCD thoughts and fears bring into everything.

…Wait…did I actually just say that!? Yes, it’s true!

Do you know how long it’s been since I did something that is supposed to be fun and actually could focus on anything except doing compulsions to keep everyone around me safe? TOO LONG. I don’t remember the last time, but I will remember this success.

OCD: 14
Summer: 31+6 (=37)

(1 for travel/sitting with uncertainty about what we were going to do, 2 for stopping in service stations, 2 for walking near a busy road while having thoughts, 1 for eating lunch at a busier restaurant)

Everything I do does come with challenges. Satan really knows how to use OCD against me. He knows that is how he can make me weak – so he can make me feel completely worthless, disgusting, unforgivable, and even invaluable in Gods eye’s…ALL of which is completely untrue no matter how often these horrible, awful, nasty thoughts come into my mind. So, to get back at satan, I’ve been trying to fight satan and the OCD with all I have and all the strength God is providing.

These past few weeks there has been a big change in the anxiety during exposures.

So… PRAISE THE LORD! Thank you, God, for bringing me to a therapist who is working hard to figure out which techniques will target my OCD best. Thank you for the strength and courage to do the crazy hard work that I would have labeled “too dangerous” in the past. Thank you.

I’m not noticing much change in regular everyday life yet, I’m sure that will be coming soon.

Any time that I have with low anxiety from the intrusive thoughts is precious! These past month where I have exposed myself to things that terrify me then just sat with it and slowly noticed the anxiety go down low…were just ~ WOW ~ wonderful!

Of course I still have a lot of difficult moments and days so your continued prayers are still SO appreciated!

Please pray that the OCD continues to improve. Pray that the ERP therapy gets easier. At the beginnings or before, I still am usually close to tears because I am so fearful of the thoughts. Pray for continued brain healing and answers to the other physical health symptoms that are messing up my system. Pray that I keep my eyes focused on the Lord and lean on Him for my strength.

*Part 2 to come soon*

“So OCD?”

We live in the age of different. “Hipster” is in and it’s cool to be unique, nerdy, and quirky. What better way to show your individuality than branding yourself “so OCD“?

Except for OCD IS NOT a quirk, or a set of tendencies…it’s an incapacitating, isolating disease that makes you afraid of your own mind. This is what it’s really like to have OCD:

*You believe you are a horrible person.

Imagine having a song stuck in your head. Now imagine that instead of a lovely, catchy tune it’s the thought of murdering your best friend. In horrendous graphic detail. Over and over again. You’re not mad at your best friend, and you’ve never even done anything violent, but…

It. Won’t. Stop. Playing.

You probably feel uneasy just reading that. But that’s what the “obsessive” part of OCD is like: intrusive, unwanted, disturbing thoughts that won’t go away. No one seems to know what causes them, although it might be miscommunication between parts of the brain or something faulty in its error detection circuit.

The thoughts aren’t always about you doing bad things, but they’re never pleasant. Most obsessions are based on deep fears — “What if I or someone I love gets sick?” — or basically the worst things one can think of, like blasphemy, racism, suicide, murder, rape, contamination, animal abuse, cannibalism, torture …

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People with OCD who have thoughts of doing something violent never actually act on these thoughts, and those who dread bad things happening almost never see those things happen. While most people can shake off a weird thought, when you have OCD, it sticks in your mind. Inevitably, you think, “Why do I keep thinking about these things? Is it because they’ll happen? Do I want them to happen?”

The answer’s no! No, you do not. But you will still fear you do.

*You’re Probably Not a Neat Freak

Sheldon, from Big Bang Theory, is depicted as having OCD. OCD is a debilitating condition so it is a bit strange that the show is often poking fun at his ‘compulsions’. The show plays on the OCD stigma by making sure to mention some part of his strict schedule (also can be related to aspergers syndrome which he also has) or his fear of germs. Don’t get me wrong, those are fears and compulsions that some people have but our society needs to be more aware that there are MANY other forms that OCD may come in.

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This means that despite what the media might have you think, having OCD doesn’t necessarily mean you’re neat and particular. Those of you into freak shows (sorry, reality shows): First of all, don’t even get me started on the show “Obsessive Compulsive Cleaners“…Second, have you ever seen that show “Hoarders“? Hoarding is often a symptom of OCD.

Compulsions can vary. Sometimes they correspond to fears, like washing your hands because you’re scared of contamination. Sometimes there’s no real logic behind them, like when you have to jump over a line on the floor because otherwise everybody you know will die horribly and it will be all your fault. Or you keep counting because you don’t want to lose control and start stabbing people.

Many don’t have physical compulsions at all, instead suffering from “purely obsessional” OCD, where all they have are obsessions. And some people with diagnosed OCD even obsessively doubt the fact that they have OCD.

OCD, at heart, is an anxiety disorder. Yet movie and TV characters with OCD are often shown washing their hands or straightening things, never suffering from overbearing anxiety. This is probably because it’s easier to show someone cleaning than to show someone going through extreme mental anguish.

*You Know There’s Something Wrong With You

One of the many differences between people who have OCD and people who are just “quirky” — is shame. Let’s be clear: If you regularly check your pockets to confirm that you’ve still got your car keys, or if you prefer your sandwiches with the crust cut off, or if you only eat orange Skittles, you’re not suffering from OCD.

Those are just quirks, and also the orange Skittles are obviously the best. People like quirks when they’re cute, fun, and harmless. When they involve picking at your fingernails to get blood (that isn’t even there) out or sitting on your hands so they don’t move and slap someone, people just think you’re “crazy.”

But you’ll believe it of yourself as well. You’ll be standing in your bathroom at three in the morning, scrubbing your pocket change because you’ve been awake for hours wondering if it could contaminate your clothes and make you a danger to the people around you, and you’ll be unable to stop, but you’ll know that what you’re doing is crazy.

OCD is “ego dystonic,” which means “out of sync with your ideal self” or “making you look and feel like an idiot.” People with personality disorders typically think they’re always in the right, and people with psychosis often don’t realize that their delusions are coming from their heads. But one of the defining characteristics of OCD is knowing that your thoughts are bizarre and your rituals don’t make sense.

Additionally, people who have OCD don’t even get any joy out of their compulsions. Relief? Definitely, but it’s temporary, like scratching a mosquito bite. You don’t want to count every pole and sign you pass, you have to.

There are people who are ‘perfectionist control freaks’ and love every meticulously planned minute of it. But they have a different diagnosis: obsessive-compulsive personality disorder. OCPD involves being neat and exacting (is that even a word??) to the point of disrupting one’s life and being really annoying to everyone else; it’s all of the OCD stereotypes with none of the anxiety or shame.

*It’s Rarely Just OCD

The day I was diagnosed with OCD was one of the best days of my life. Finally, I knew what was wrong with me, I wasn’t crazy, and I could get it treated. But then came the depression, dissociations, psychosis, trichotillomania and dermatillomania, anxiety, PTSD diagnosis…”oh, yeah. You have all those things too. Sorry about that.”

Panic attacks, Tourette syndrome, hypochondria, body dysmorphic disorder, trichotillomania, dermatillomania, and eating disorders are all OCD spectrum disorders. They’re diagnosed on their own but also like to hang around in the background while OCD tricks your mind. They’re like its creepy cousins.

OCD also often coexists with depression. This is partly because of chemicals and genetics, and also because constant obsessing, isolation, or exhaustion from ritualizing can be extremely depressing. Studies show that having OCD from an early age tends to make you more susceptible to depression because it wears on you so much. You’re also at higher risk of suicide.

The good news is that OCD and its tag-along disorders are treatable. There are all kinds of medications and therapies that can help alleviate symptoms. And since the spectrum disorders are linked, one treatment can sometimes cover all symptoms. OCD is not something that can be cured, but it can be controlled.

Im not going to lie…my OCD has not responded to many medications. There was one experimental medication that did work but seems to be not working for the last little while. At first this made me feel like I was back to where I started just less than a year ago.

Thankfully, a lot of stinkin’ hard work has moved me forward in my recovery! I keep hearing from my supports that they are noticing that I’m so much better than I was then. I still have a very far way to go but a few steps are behind me now.

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The face of OCD? I look calm in this picture but I was actually struggling with millions of intrusive thoughts and likely counting in an effort to “neutralize” the thoughts. OCD doesn’t have “a face.” 

*You have a demand for certainty

You think you should know for sure whether you will get violent, loose control, or are contaminated.

What if i didn’t unplug my hair dryer and it catches fire? Then the house would catch on fire, burn down to the ground, and it would all be my fault. What if there are germs on the door handle and I touched it? Then my entire family would get extremely ill and die. What if I lost control and acted on one of my horrible thoughts? Then I would stab somebody and they would die a horrendous death just because I didn’t take the proper precautions.

What if, what if, what if….?

The compulsions offer relief from the uncertainty. OCD sufferers are desperate to feel certain so of course they try to do anything and everything that offers relief even if it takes them hours upon hours to reach that “safe” or “just right” feeling. Then Nothing short of perfection is enough to ease the raging anxiety in the sufferers mind.

Dear non-sufferers,

Do you still think it’s funny, cute or quirky to have OCD?

Are you still going to label yourself “so OCD” when referring to your neat, tidy, and clean preferences or your choice to double check that you have your car keys?

May I ask that you please, please, reconsider that choice of words?

It can be hurtful by making us feel like you are disregarding an OCD sufferers debilitating and incapacitating symptoms.

Waves

Standing on the edge of the shore, I peered out into the ocean as far as my eyes could see. Way out there, the waves appeared so huge and powerful.

Overwhelming. Unstoppable.

I sure wouldn’t want to be caught out there! Those waves would crash over me, taking me under to be drowned.

Caught up in anxious thoughts, the water suddenly splashed around my ankles. The bubbling water refreshed my tired feet, white foam tickling my toes. This felt invigorating and relaxing as my feet sunk into the wet sand. Soaking up the moment, I looked out once again at the huge waves in the distance. And that’s when it hit me.

The threatening waves that started out enormous, had gradually diminished into tame wavelets by the time they reached the shore.

What was viewed from a distance brought fear and anxiety. But when viewed up close, now appeared tame and subdued.

This image paints a powerful picture of what we do with the fears and worries of our life. When we peer into the distant, unknown future, our minds get tangled up in waves of anxiety. Things that haven’t even touched us yet threaten to pull us under, drowning our faith with fear.

What will I do IF that happens?

How will I survive IF they do such-and-such?

I will surely crumble IF this comes true.

While these enormous waves of fear build their power and momentum, we allow defeat to crash over us, drowning out every ounce of peace and joy.

Viewed from a distance, these fears lurk heavily in our mind. But if only we would wait…

Wait for those fears to lose their momentum. Wait for those threats to diminish. Wait for those worries to dissipate to wavelets.

By the time our “what ifs” reach the shore of reality, we will often realize that the very things that once threatened to drown us, are now tame ripples we splash with our feet!

The things that appear powerful are now powerless. The things that seemed overwhelming are now manageable. The things that looked impossible are now hopeful.

img_2168In past seasons of my life I have allowed the waves of fear to pull me in. I’ve allowed my thoughts to run wild with worry instead of letting God’s peace soak up my thirsty soul. I’ve learned that when I live my life out in the distant waves, I can’t possibly enjoy the abundant life back on the shore.

On the shore there is solid ground. On the shore I can stand still. On the shore I can soak up the sunlight.

Just as the bubbling water foams around my feet from the broken waves, God’s presence and peace soothe my aching soul.

So how do we live on the shore when the waves threaten to drown us? I truly believe the secret is where we focus our eyes.

I can glance at the waves in the distance, but I don’t stay there. I can get a glimpse of an approaching storm, but I don’t get caught up in it. Instead, I focus in the other direction.

The day I stood on the beach at the edge of the shore, I turned around and heard the laughter of children. Their shrieks of joy drew me in. They were picking up shells. They were running back and forth, splashing in the ripples. Some were flying kites, throwing balls and building sand castles.

They were too busy having fun to notice the huge waves in the distance. They lived in the moment, enjoying the blessings of life.

I didn’t see any child looking out and focusing on the waves that could swallow them up if they drifted out. I didn’t see any child paralyzed by fear, refusing to budge from their beach chair.

Maybe this is a picture of what it means when God tells us to become like a little child. A child playing on the shore, refusing to get pulled under by the waves of fear. A child trusting their father to take care of their every need.

Where are you today? Are you living in fear from the “what if’s”? Are you letting the waves of worry control your every move?

If that’s where you are, I urge you to turn around. Walk upon the shore.

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Trust God with the things that seem to threaten you. Enjoy the abundant life He wants you to have. Surrender to Him your fears and worries you see in the distance.

I pray that the peace of His presence will refresh your tired and weary soul.

Summer Schyff

For This Season

I’ve been so embarrassed to ask for prayer lately because sometimes it feels like my life is just a never-ending drama. With all the seizures, OCD, depression, PTSD, new symptoms, other health illnesses we’re still trying to diagnose, and then the most recent OCD worsening, a new stomach issue, and over a week long lingering migraine thats the result of a head injury: it just feels like it should be the end of the ‘hard stuff.’ That there shouldn’t be more and if there is, it’s somehow my fault.

I have this little voice inside of me that tells me I’ve used up my entire allotment of sympathy and prayers; that life should be easy and painless and perfectly put together now because I’ve maxed out my quota for pain and people are tired of hearing about it already.

(Never mind that I am tired of living it already!!)

Against all the blaring sirens in my heart and soul telling me I am “too much” and “out of turns to ask for help” and I just need to “be quiet, suck it up and handle it on my own”…

I’m saying:

I need prayers in this season because my heart is breaking in a new kind of way that I didn’t know was possible. Who knew there were more ways for it to break? And I cringe asking for prayers, because I wish more than anyone that it was all put together already and I didn’t need them. But I do. So can you please pray for me? Again?

As I wrote in my journal God so tenderly seemed to respond in my soul, “Who put a limit on mercy, Summer? Was it me? Did I say you were out of turns for compassion, grace and love? Who told you that you were a burden and that people were weary of walking alongside you?

Peter asked Jesus, “Lord, how many times should I forgive this brother who sins against me? Up to seven times?”

Jesus looks Peter in the eye and blows his mind. “I tell you not just seven, but seventy times seven.”

Jesus looked me in the eye and whispered the same thing over my heart this week.

Who am I to limit how many times I can be on the receiving end imageof mercy and grace and forgiveness and prayers? Should I receive the tenderj and fierce prayers of my community only seven times? Or seventy times seven?

God himself is reminding me: if forgiveness is not limited, neither is mercy.

Or prayers. Or grace. Or love. Or compassion.

Do I deserve it? Have I earned it? Do I need to re-pay it? Will I have to ask again? Am I a burden? This week I am practicing the art of silencing all these questions and leaning into the grace of friends who have not once shamed me and told me to “just be well already.” Friends who have stood beside me and not grown weary in their love and prayers.

And I am standing in awe of a God who keeps whispering “seventy times seven” over me.

Maybe you need to be reminded today that seventy times seven is for you too.

Maybe you need to offer more than seven shots at grace to someone in your life.

Maybe God needs to step into your shame and fear and “people are SO tired of hearing this story from me” thoughts and remind you that this whole Gospel thing? It’s about mercy…

and mercy and mercy and mercy and mercy… the unlimited, never-runs-dry, seventy times seven kind.image.jpg

Question That Makes Us Fake

How are you?

The most common greeting-so common that it just springs out of peoples mouthes without them even thinking. Although, most people feel genuinely interested in the other persons life when asking the question.

People aren’t built to expect bad things or bad days, so when asking ‘how are you’ they are usually just ready to hear all the good and wonderful things that have been happening in that persons life.

Unfortunately, not everyones lives are all sunshine and daisies. That leaves pressure for those of us who have been struggling. We feel we need to respond with positive answers-regardless of how we are actually feeling. We feel we we need to pretend everything is going how we hoped it would be.

Why do we do this? It’s so fake and routine!

At church I often I find myself frantic for the ‘right‘ answers when asked, “How are you?” For simplicity sake and so I didn’t need to break out into a big honest spiel, I reply, “Good!” or “Alright!” And to my close friends, whom I fear may see right through me, I shrug my shoulders and make ‘that distressed face.’ That’s when you know things are very bad.

Really, I’m fine…except for I am totally not. I’m completely falling apart inside. My mind is a raging hurricane! My thoughts are a disgusting junkyard full of twisted metal!

I am beyond upset and disappointed in myself for slipping so far from where I was just a few short weeks ago. It scares me that all it takes is one wee trigger to set my mind off, to shake me to my core and to completely disrupt my life.

But then, I’m also upset at myself for being upset with myself (totally makes sense, right?) because this is not my fault. Again, I remind myself that recovery comes with setbacks, and no matter how hard you try, you can’t escape them.

“This is just a setback. This is just a setback. This is just a setback.
3…6…9…12…15…18…21…24…27…30…33…”
(Repeat. Repeat. Repeat…)

Imagine being so consumed by something that you literally could not think of anything else until you felt certain of the outcome you needed…so caught up in the thoughts and worries that you could not go to work, concentrate in conversations, do simple math (like counting out money), or perhaps even stand to be around people because your brain is essentially on overdrive.

The result: a heavy, crushing, debilitating, long-lasting, wave of anxiety.

It was so much that I tried to end my life…again. It pains me to say that. I so badly want to keep it a secret because I am so ashamed of myself. Ashamed that I didn’t tell anybody. Ashamed that thoughts that appear SO trivial could drive me to such extremes.

This is the harsh reality of mental illness.image

It brings people to the place they said they would never go. That dark, scary, place. The place I thought I was so far from. It sneaks up on you when you least expect it and it changes your thinking. You think no one really cares. You think death is the only option. You think this is the safest way.

For me, the distress comes from harm OCD.

My mind races 123876562431078465 miles a minute. I’m scared of my mind. I’m scared about these intrusive thoughts. I’m (irrationally) scared for my loved ones, and even strangers’, safety. Even though I know I would never act on these thoughts. Ever. I’m so scared of acting on the thoughts though. I’m terrified that there is half an ounce of longing to the thoughts; as if that part of me wants and enjoys the thoughts. They feel so real.

My greatest fear is people around me getting physically hurt-especially the people I love the most…and what if that came from me…what if I was the one that hurt them!? I couldn’t live with that happening, so I do everything in my power to prevent it.

The media does not help. Many tv series show people killing left and right. They make it look “normal.” Often the killer doesn’t even have a motive! So then, I sit there and think “What if that’s me one day!? What if I just went crazy and attacked someone!?”

That is why this week, I thought the only way to keep other people safe (from myself) was to hurt myself. It doesn’t make sense and it’s not true but that’s what I thought. It’s what my OCD made me believe was true.

What I did not think about was ANYTHING else. Not about other people, my dog, my dreams, Gods plan/timing… I could only think about all the horrible things that I could do. I didn’t think of anything real; just what I felt was real.

It is a miracle that I escaped unharmed…I mean NO liver damage when my liver should be in liver failure. If that’s not a divine sign from God that He is not finished with you yet, I don’t know what is!

I’m fighting my brain constantly (literally constantly). I was drained from this never-ending battle.

OCD had a firm grip on me last week even though I am doing everything I possibly can to get past this. I’ve tried telling myself, “Summer, you would never do that. Thoughts are just thoughts. They don’t mean anything.” I’ve tried to ignore the thoughts; I’ve tried not to ignore the thoughts. The best thing I can do is to just ‘let the thoughts come and go as they please.’ ‘Don’t give the thoughts meaning.’ ‘Do not try to fight the thoughts.’

Simple right?

NO!! Its so ridiculously hard to let go of revolting thoughts and images that literally make me vomit at times. My coping strategies that helped me out of this mess before seem completely useless right now. Regardless, I will continue to do everything I can to manage until something changes.

So, next time you go to ask someone how they have been, try some of these alternatives:

How has your day been so far?

Have you had a nice morning so far?

Recall and ask about the little things in their life. It means the world to people when you ask about the little details of their life.

Ask about an area of life that they care about. (Writing, drawing, music, tattoos, school, work, sports, exercise, pets/animals, relationships, travel, ect.)

Just simply tell them that you have been thinking or praying for them. There is something fantastic about the feeling of someone thinking about you. You feel cared for, loved on, and not forgotten.

Or hit them with a compliment instead of a vague question! Don’t you look extra lovely today!

Or, the best thing people can do for me when they know I’ve been struggling is say, “Hey, can I pray for you right now?” BEFORE you leave me and I’m left wondering if any people care enough to go home and actually pray for me.

If you don’t know the person well enough to say anything personal, just say, “Wow! It’s so nice to see you! I pray for you often. Hope to see you again soon!”

Don’t assume that because I look well, I am doing well. There is a very real battle going on inside my head that no one else sees.

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