Inky Night of Depression

photo 1I gasped in disbelief yesterday when I heard the news that actor/comedian Robin Williams had died.

An even greater sadness washed over my soul like an inky blanket when I learned he committed suicide. My heart mirrored the all too familiar path of the pain of depression.

I quickly went from sadness to anger when I watched the journalist report of his demise driven to despair because of his struggle with depression and addiction.

Something rose up in me to be angry with DEPRESSION. Mad at the debilitation of how depression comes in like a thief. It robs people of joy. It terrorizes one deep in their soul. It leads one to believe the insidious lies in a sea of darkness to snuff out the light of their life.

Depression isn’t something I personally like to talk about mostly because people seem to think that if you admit you struggle with depression that there is something fundamentally weird about the core of who you are. I wrote candidly about my own journey with clinical depression in a post last year, The True Facts About My Depression. I took another step and unmasked a weakness that I have struggled with up and down since I was a teenager. I also publicly wrote about a more difficult season of clinical depression in my book, Unlocked: 5 Myths Holding Your Influence Captive.

I wanted to talk about it now in light of what’s happened this week surrounding the tragedy of a beloved funny man, Mr. Williams and to let people know that this is a very real struggle that isn’t easy to overcome.

I will not judge.

I will not speculate.

I will not seek to provide answers to the many questions of, Why? Because I’ve been there more times than I can count.

I’ve sat in the dark inky hole clawing to climb out and make sense of the how and why of depression lingering in my soul. Robin Williams through his movies was for several times a lifeline in my own depression because he made me laugh, belly laugh. Laughter is cathartic for someone suffering with depression.

I have found some answers through counseling, reading and a great support system. I do know I have to keep vigilant to work at it constantly and ask God to help me when I am on the slippery slope of disappointment and despair.

I don’t know what circle of support Robin Williams had, but we do know he was working at his struggle even recently. I am sure his family and friends might be asking themselves at this moment, what else they could have done to be there for his troubled soul. They might even be blaming themselves.

The reality is, when you wrestle with depression, sometimes you can feel very alone even if you have a strong support system. You can feel like your soul is disconnected from the person you really are and want to be with others.

I know this to be true, and I’ve found my soul resonating with the raw conversations between David and God in the Psalms. I don’t know where I would be without God’s promises of hope, hearing my laments and Him whispering words of comfort from those pages.

If you are marked with depression, please know that you are not alone, and there is hope. Even if you don’t struggle with depression, I hope you could see yourself throwing on a cloak of kindness to others who suffer. Don’t try to deeply analyze, understand or diagnose, but just work to be fully present with a person in your life who might be at this place in their journey. Those of us who wrestle with depression need people not to feel sorry for us, judge, or write a spiritual prescription, but rather throw us a lifeline of hope and patient kindness.

I’ve included this excerpt from my book to tell a piece of my depression story in hopes it might encourage you or someone else.

And so my story…

My journey with depression began early in the spring of 1997—that’s when I had been officially diagnosed with clinical depression. The long days and weeks of care giving for my grandfather had taken its toll. Blackness and despair sought to submerge me. The diagnosis of depression, though, was difficult for me to digest. I could swallow a diagnosis of arthritis or diabetes, but depression? In my mind depression was for weak people and weak Christians who didn’t have enough faith. I argued about the diagnosis with God, my counselor, pastor, and doctor, all people who were trying to help me. “I am a visible leader, a Pastor’s wife in the church. What will people whisper about me behind closed doors if they know,” I worried. The lies flooded my mind and I was overwhelmed at being exposed.

As my desert of depression continued over the next few years, I discovered that the depression wasn’t just from the losses I had experienced the past several months. Nor was it from my physical exhaustion. Actually I learned it was from deeper issues that had been tucked away-issues that God was beginning to bring to the surface. Some of those issues included false expectations and a warped perspective of needing to perform in order to be lovable. Those lies were sabotaging me and had plunged my spiritual and emotional being into the black hole of depression. I started to learn that performance had a stronghold in my heart, life and ministry that God in his faithfulness desired to root out of me. Through my counselor I realized that the depression I was experiencing was a symptom of something deeper, something below the waterline that I needed to face in order to be a whole person again.

My good friend who was also my counselor helped me significantly when she used this illustration:

If I had a broken leg, would I lie on the sofa, not tell anyone and just hope it would heal? No! I would go to the doctor immediately to get treatment. The same must be true for depression: a person often needs professional, spiritual and medical help to overcome their extreme feelings of despair and hopelessness. Through professional help, they will be able to explore the root of what is causing the depression so it they once again can lead a life of joy and fulfillment! That is how I came out of hiding into the realm of living in freedom and authenticity.

I can remember struggling at first alone because of the fear of rejection, failure or being told, “If your faith was stronger, you wouldn’t be depressed.” (Believe it or not, I was told similar statements!) I know that I have been more fortunate than some and was blessed mostly to have a body of believers who came around and supported me. I thank God that the churches I’ve served at as a leader in that season didn’t see my depression as a sign of weakness or spiritual failure. Rather they sought to help me to a path of healing.

The undeniable reality of being in that black hole was both devastating and yet opened the door to living in emotional health and freedom. It radically changed my life and ministry approach and defeated the lies of rejection. In fact, it triggered the opposite. As a leader, it cultivated a leveling place of humility in experiencing God’s abundant grace. It has built bridges with hundreds of people and provided opportunities to help others recognize that God wants to use their past to shape their future. It has opened the door and allowed me to be a cheerleader for others who thought that God could never allow them to lead.

This dark night of the soul was exceptionally a long season in my life. Partially, there were some root causes in issues I needed to face and honestly, I can’t fully figure out the other part, but it’s okay.  I’ve come realize that every path of depression is different. Sometimes it is how we are wired, events of loss and trauma, or our family of origin can pre-dispose us to depression and other physical and/or personality traits.

For me, I am just a plain ol’ melancholy person. My wiring immediately can place me crossing that line into disappointment and despair, I think myself to death at times. I have gained the resources and tools how to monitor negative thoughts and replace them with gratitude and godly truth.  I also have a family background of depression, that too can play into it. It is a weakness and yet I have made progress and have lived for several years since that episode in great victory managing the dark thoughts and turning them into a flourishing well of life as God intended.

I have had shorter relapses in the years that have followed but I am not undaunted. I remain vigilant to this day believing that it doesn’t define who I am but rather is a part of my story and the influence I can have with others. I receive it, embrace it and even welcome it believing that it has helped to shape who I am and cultivate a very meaningful intimate relationship in understanding the unfathomable grace of God.

Excerpt from Cynthia Cavanaugh, Unlocked: 5 Myths Holding Your Influence Captive, New Hope Publishers 2013 

Quote in Picture from Beth Moore

My Summer Escape to Just Be

jb-193.jpgI haven’t put pen to paper or typed a single word for my blog in over 72 days! That is simply disastrous for someone who aspires to be a committed writer, blogger, creator AND hopes to influence others through writing. The last post was about training for the No Limits 5K Run on June 7th. As an update, since I haven’t posted in awhile, the 5K day was so lovely with amazing people who came out to run and walk for justice and celebrate my birthday. I was overwhelmed as my friends, family and total strangers who fast became new friends rallied for two very important social justice issues centered around poverty and human trafficking.  Gratitude was splashing all over my heart that day!

A few weeks later when finishing up one last creative project, I hit the wall.

I crashed and I collapsed. Signs of burnout were everywhere. Emotional meltdowns over such silliness is what alerted me that something needed to change and fast, or my friends and family would lock me in a closet and feed me through the door.

It’s been a crazy extended 10 months of travel and working on creative projects, attending family weddings and just an all around-over the-top-year. Added to the insane schedule, I have also done some extensive inner heart work the past several months~steps of recovery, I think they call it. Torturous work, but so necessary for healing.

My self awareness radar went up when I started to cry more, didn’t want to see people, was overreacting, had trouble sleeping and was overthinking everything. My voice had an edge too, and not a very nice one at that.

I knew I was in deep doo-doo.

Even worse, my creativity dried up like the parched floor of the cracked Mojave Desert.

It was time to stop and find my way back to a life rhythm that made sense or at least that was manageable.

I looked at my calendar and yes, even the summer seemed jammed. In desperation, I flipped the pages from June to August and the weeks back from August to June to see when and where could I make an oasis in my desert. Just as I was flipping out from flipping calendar pages, God dropped a few weeks into my schedule that had been pre-planned but now suddenly became unplanned.

I was extremely disappointed as I had been anticipating spending time with my new granddaughter for months.  Suddenly, my parched soul looked up and saw the gift that was being handed to me, A BIG CHUNK OF TIME. Carefully and selectively I dreamed of how I should spend the two weeks. The first week was a let whatever happens kind of week. Lots of sleep, reading, sitting on my deck staring at the beauty, roaming my favorite stores and listening to some new music. I started to unwind as my nerves detangled.  In the midst of that week, I prayed and pondered the best way to spend the second week.

My secret wish became an idea to go away for several days and have a personal spiritual retreat. Just me and God. No people, no phones, no email, no social media. Unplug totally. Seek God for some answers for decisions I need to make, bask in his presence, hunker down in the cavern of my soul and just be still and listen. Within a day, it happened. Another gift from the God who knows me so well and what I need and when. He opened up a lovely secluded place for me to just “BE” for several days.

This coming Monday, I leave for my “JUST BE” personal retreat. I’ve been doing some research on it, I know it’s crazy to think about the proper way to “JUST BE,” but it’s how I am wired; the over-achiever-have-to-at-least-attempt to make a plan and then prepare.

Over the next few days as I get ready, I am filtering through a few books, my journal and of course my bible to tuck into my suitcase. It was also suggested on one website to bring a creative journal with art supplies to express what I might learn or experience at the end of each day. I am making a plan but surrendering the structure and just want to use it to jump-start the whole experience.

My heart is expectant and I would be so incredibly blessed to have you pray for me as I am away. My expectations are simple. I just want to be with and hear from God. There has been too much noise in my head for too long that I need help to untangle the web. It will only come as I step away from all that is distracting me right at this moment. Mostly, I would say that I am my biggest distraction. Any tips or thoughts on what you’ve experienced on a personal retreat, please send them my way. This isn’t my first personal retreat, but it has been what seems like an eternity and I am a bit rusty on being still and quiet!  My last check on the internet will be Sunday night before I shut everything down.

This is my prayer…that I would immerse myself in the stillness and adopt a childlike spirit in the time away.

O Lord, my heart is not lifted up;
my eyes are not raised too high;

I do not occupy myself with things
too great and too marvelous for me.

 But I have calmed and quieted my soul,
like a weaned child with its mother;

like a weaned child is my soul within me.
O Israel, hope in the Lord
from this time forth and forevermore.

Psalm 131:1-3 ESV

Image by a lovely lady who knows how to slow down and listen. Lorna Rande Artistic Imagery