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.

MM: Sidewalk Prophets-“Keep Making Me”

This Monday, please listen to Sidewalk Prophets’ “Keep Making me” by clicking HERE BEFORE reading how this song has influenced my life. I want to hear what this song means to you! I want to hear what it stirs in your heart and I want to know how I can pray for you. Visit the contact page and send me a message through there or email me at summer@lifewithschyff.com

Keep Making Me~Sidewalk Prophets Lyrics

Make me broken
So I can be healed
‘Cause I’m so calloused
And now I can’t feel
I want to run to You
With heart wide open
Make me broken

Make me empty
So I can be filled
‘Cause I’m still holding
Onto my will
And I’m completed
When you are with me
Make me empty

‘Til You are my one desire
‘Til You are my one true love
‘Til You are my breath, my everything
Lord, please keep making me

Make me lonely
So I can be Yours
‘Til I want no one
More than You, Lord
‘Cause in the darkness
I know You will hold me
Make me lonely

Have you ever prayed a “scary” prayer? One where you were not sure you really wanted to say or mean the words? I can remember a few years ago praying for God to transform me. I found it written in an old journal, “I realize that this might mean going through some hard trials, but all I want is to be fully devoted to you. Change my heart and mind, transform me, Lord.”

I already had the OCD and it was already making me depressed at the time I wrote that. I already believed I was a horrible person full of sinful thoughts (the OCD thoughts of harming people, which I now realize are not sinful).

So there I was thinking maybe God would send me something that would somehow change my thoughts; make me stop thinking horrible things. Instead, He just looked down at me compassionately. “Oh, precious daughter! Who told you these horrible lies? I know the real you and when the time is right I will send you exactly what you need to see the truth about who you are to me and the real meaning behind those thoughts that you have. Everything is planned perfectly for what you need. My timing is precise.”

I didn’t expect that I would start having seizures, my health would deteriorate. And that my mental health would become disabling to the point that I could not function. It would lead me to years in the psychiatric hospital, countless ambulance & ER visits, hundreds of tests that only left us with more questions, and even an ICU stay.

I had expectations of how I thought God should run my life…lets all pause to laugh at how small our little minds are.

A lot has happened since I prayed that prayer, it HURT, but let me tell you, it has all been for His good. I have been a total work in progress at all stages in my life, and of course right now. I feel the Lord ‘keeps making me’ change into something different, something better. He’s breaking me down and tearing away all the things I used to think were important. He is slowly chiseling away all of my brokenness.

He’s striping me of all the ‘securities’ I once thought were actually safe.

The devil wants me to feel alone in my journey of learning to manage and defeat OCD, striving to become better, and becoming who I was made to be. I refuse to feel alone in my journey. I know, without a doubt God is with me and surely someone else out there has felt these same emotions and experienced this same changing process. Lord Keep Making Me…

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Make me broken – I’ve been broken for a long time but God gave me a different perspective
on my brokenness
So I can be healed – If I must be made broken, the reward of healing is worth the pain of breaking.
‘Cause I’m so calloused –Somewhere along the way I was wounded and broken but I didn’t realize then the secrets and hiding created callouses.
And now I can’t feel –Callouses ‘protect’ my emotions.
I want to run to You – He’s the only one I could run to. I’d take the pain and the brokenness a million times over if it were the only thing to cause the yearning in my heart to run to Him like it has these past four years.
With heart wide open – This is the hard part. With heart wide open. How do you really open your heart wide when you’ve been hurt and when the process of cleaning your heart out is incredibly painful?
Make me broken – I’ve certainly been broken now – physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

Make me empty – Empty. There’s no feeling quite like it. I remember feeling absolutely nothing. I wanted to die at the time. Empty is lonely.
So I can be filled – I had to be emptied so I could make room to be filled, but filled only with Him this time around. Empty me so I can be filled with nothing but God.
‘Cause I’m still holding – Holding, indeed. Sometimes even with a death grip.
Onto my will – Yup, my will. My stupid, stupid will. Why would I ever think my plans for my life would be better than the Father’s? I don’t know, but I’m still tempted to hang onto my stupid, stupid will. It’s silly, I know, but I’m learning to surrender.
And I’m completed – Finally completed!
When you are with me –Only when you are with me. Please be with me.
Make me empty – Make me empty, so I can be filled with YOU.

[Chorus:]

Til You are my one desire – Lord, I want You to be my one desire. For all the times, I’ve put other people and things before you, forgive me.
‘Til You are my one true love – True love. There will be no love like Yours, Lord. Teach me to love like You do. And teach me to accept Your love for me.
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‘Til You are my breath, my everything – To be my breath. Could you be my breath, Lord? Could you be the words I speak, my every move, the breath I take? Be my breath, Lord.
Lord, please keep making me – Whatever it takes, no matter the price, please keep making me.

Make me lonely – Been there. Lonely. The veil was lifted and the dark reality of loneliness was revealed. You made me lonely. I had to experience that loneliness to desire You fully, though. If there was no other, Lord, but I still had You, I would cease to be lonely. If making me lonely was what it took to create a desire for You that burns deep within me, then make me lonely all over again.
So I can be Yours – Yours. I AM Yours. I don’t always show it, but I am trying. I am Yours.
‘Til I want no one – No one else could fill my longing for You. I don’t want any other more than You, Lord – You are the ultimate. You are perfect. There is no one better.
‘Cause in the darkness – Darkness is inevitable. It’s not a matter of ‘if,’ but rather ‘when’ the darkness will come.
I know You will hold me – my whole life, I have spent asking You to hold me. Hold me in Your arms late at night when I felt all alone; for I know there is no place I’d rather be, but in Your arms, in Your loving embrace.
Make me lonely – Make me lonely all over again if that is what it takes.

[Chorus]

‘Til You are my one desire – The ONLY one.
‘Til You are my one true love – No love will be truer than Your love, Lord.
‘Til You are my breath, my everything – My EVERYTHING. I am nothing without You. Be my everything.
Lord, please keep making, – Never stop making me. Don’t give up on me.
I know You’ll keep making – Jesus, I trust in You. I trust You WILL keep making me.
Lord, please keep making me – Thank you for continuing to make me… YOURS.

Lord, if you need to clean my heart out, to scrap it from deep within because it’s the only way for me to truly see You, then let it be. Take the words of this song and scrape them upon my heart until I’m made into the person You want me to be.

Lord please keep making me…

Again, I want to hear what this song stirred in your heart and I want to know how I can pray for you. Visit the contact page and send me a message through there or email me at summer@lifewithschyff.com

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*

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