Prayer and Prozac (originally posted 10/17/15)

In approximately 6 years, I have written exactly THREE blog posts (on a different site); each one delving into a particular event (whether physical or spiritual) that had a profound impact on me.  The impact being so strong that I had to write about it while my memory was still fresh with the events.  I have had many more than three life-impacting events over those years, but for some reason writing became fearful to me and I denied myself something that has always brought me joy and comfort.  As I read over those blogs, it was like visiting with an old friend.  Yes, I had written the words, but I felt encouraged and refreshed as if I was reading someone else’s work.  I am very self-critical especially when it comes to writing, so I was pleased that my first instinct was not to re-write them in my head. The main reason I have never pursued writing more seriously can be boiled down to one simple, yet paralyzing word–depression. This is a very hard topic for me to talk about. In fact, I prefer to just pretend it doesn’t exist. So I’m going to take a deep breath and just throw it out there… 1.  I have Major Recurring Depressive Disorder (MRDD) with Anxiety. 2.  Yes, I’m medicated for it. Whew! That’s almost as hard to write as it is to say out loud.  If you think, “Oh, sure! Just pop some pills to make yourself feel better.”, I hope you will stay with me a bit as I share my story of living with a disease that wants nothing better than to kill me. At 47 years old, I can look back and reflect on the events of my life and I have come to the conclusion that I have suffered from depression my whole life, I just didn’t know what to call it.  As  a kid I was subject to frequent bouts of melancholy or rage that seemed to come out of nowhere.  I imagine that I was just considered a “moody” kid.  My parents would ask me what was wrong and had no answer because there usually isn’t a specific event that precipitates a depressive episode.  I would just feel sad, anxious, or mad for no particular reason.  As I entered the teen years, I pretty much blamed these feelings on PMS because my symptoms were exacerbated by the hormone surge of my monthly cycle. Also, there was a lot of chaos in my life from an early age, so it didn’t seem particularly strange that I was generally not happy.  I guess my first clue should have been that my paternal grandfather committed suicide when my dad was just 13 years old.  My mom implored my sister and me to not talk about it because it might upset my dad, so this just became a historical family fact–end of story, suck it up and move on.  Except there is no “moving on” with depression.  Unlike the little rain cloud floating above Eeyore’s head, depression envelops you and weighs you down like a wet woolen blanket.  Oh, there are some times you get a respite, but mostly you end up dragging this burden around while trying to act and feel “normal”.  But what was normal? I saw friends happy and succeeding in school, work, or relationships and I just assumed there was something inherently special about them (or wrong with me) that prevented me from experiencing the same things.  This resulted in me living a very reactionary life. I was convinced that I was just a victim of circumstance and really had no control over my life.  I spent a lot of time searching for what would finally make me happy.  I had the “when-s”… I’ll be happy WHEN… …I have a boyfriend …I graduate college …I get married …I have kids…etc., Get the picture?  Well the problem with the “when-s” is that once that prized event happens, it NEVER fills that empty place.  The sun shines for a while, but sooner or later the clouds roll in, the sky darkens and you just can’t stand who or what you are.  You either learn to live with it and give up hope for the life you want, or you give in to the darkness and take your own life. Yes, I have had those thoughts and have entertained the notion that everyone would be better off if I just wasn’t around to be such a burden.  Life is to hard.  I don’t want to hurt anymore… Instead, I decided that I was the one in control and could change from pure will.  I didn’t like being introverted and insecure, so I started to mimic the personality of those around me who I thought were secure or confident.  My earliest memory of this behavior was when I was in second grade.  There was a girl in my class who was blonde and cute and had lots of friends.  I wanted to be JUST like her.  Well, she also had a lisp–half way through that school year I ended up in speech therapy.  Not the result I had hoped for. Even now I wonder if I am really me or just a Borg who has assimilated enough other people to create a collective personality. Another way I thought I could feel good about myself was to not speak out and just “go along” with the crowd.  It really isn’t accurate to say that I was influenced by “peer pressure” because there was no “pressure”.  I just did whatever my peers did even if I felt in my heart that it was wrong.  My biggest regret is that since I had been the victim of bullying in grade school, I made friends with a bully in middle school.  Well actually I was more part of her entourage.  I didn’t agree with what she did, but I didn’t want to be on the receiving end of her abuse, so I said nothing.  Just thinking about it brings waves of shame and regret. And so it went throughout high school and into my early adulthood. My “following” had moved on to smoking, alcohol and drugs.  I thought that was how I was supposed to behave even though it wasn’t any fun.  By my early 20’s I had given up those things but still didn’t have any sense of self.  At 28 years old I was a year into a bad marriage when I felt like my whole life was spinning out of control and there was nothing I could do to stop it.  I was in college at the time and had to drive half an hour to campus every day. I know it was divine intervention that lead me to listen to Dr. Charles Stanley’s teachings during my commute.  I learned about how much God loves me and how Jesus died for my sins. No one wants to admit that they are a “sinner”.  I mean, it sounds like you’ve committed some horrible act like armed robbery or murder. My spirit was still hardened, but I continued to listen every day. It took about 6 months, but I finally yielded to the Holy Spirit and understood that I was broken and needed a Savior.  God’s plan for me was far better than anything I could imagine–I just had to let go and trust Him in a way I couldn’t trust anyone else.  It was April 21st, 1996.  A glorious spring morning. I sat in my truck and cried out to God.  I admitted that I was (and still am) a sinner, that I wanted a relationship with Him, and accepted the gift of salvation he provided through Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross. I knew my life was never going to be the same, but not in the way I expected.  It has taken almost 20 years for me to truly understand grace, forgiveness, and that God loves me no matter how broken I am.  He can’t love me any more or less than He already does.  But I still have depression and that is a conundrum that has baffled me for years.  If I am truly saved, how can I be depressed? Why didn’t God take away this burden even though I had begged him repeatedly to do so? Was I REALLY saved? Was there a special prayer, Bible study, or group that would “fix” me? I’ve heard countless times from the pulpit that all you have to do is rebuke your infirmity in the name of Jesus and you will be healed. That wasn’t my experience, so I felt scared and ashamed. I knew God was punishing me when I chose to end my marriage after 5 years of living through hell.  Christians aren’t supposed to get divorced, right?  During that time I did do a lot of work with the help of a Christian counselor to be more confident and to speak up for myself (much to the chagrin of some who liked the passive and pliable Ericka). After that I began to live my life the way I thought would please God.  No, I can’t be perfect, but if I at least showed Him that I was trying my best, He would answer my prayers for healing.  I was able for the first time to start living my life outward-focused.  I went on short mission trips and volunteered at my church.  I was learning that serving and putting others first does not make me a doormat. However, my theology was flawed and even though I was doing God’s work, I was still trying to earn His approval.  With great devotion, I began to build a house of cards. I believed that my Christian life was solidly built on rock of Jesus, but I alone was holding up the walls while treading in quicksand.  If I felt myself sinking, I would fervently pray and tread faster because I didn’t know what else to do.  I was bound and determined to keep everything level and plumb through my own efforts. Now I was remarried, a mother of a child with special needs, homeschooler, foster-parent, and soon-to-be adoptive mom of two siblings–also with special needs. I soon found myself way over my head, overwhelmed, angry, and despondent.  One day, a little bit over a year ago, I started crying and couldn’t stop. I knew I was drowning, and that I needed help.  I thought I would spend a few sessions with a counselor, pull myself together and no one (besides my beloved husband, Herbert) would know how close I was to a complete mental breakdown.  Instead, I spent months talking about painful events from my past that I thought I had dealt with. I was diagnosed with MRDD and put on two anti-depressants.  I HATED the idea of being medicated and was afraid that it would affect the pending adoption.  But a funny thing happened, I started feeling better. No more bouts of uncontrollable crying. No more fits of rage.  I also could think clearly and I was like, “Wow! Is this what it feels like to be normal?”  No, the meds did not magically cure me.  I had to learn new skills to recognize and fight a depressive episode.  For the first time in my life, I could really hope for happiness.  Another amazing thing happened.  I could see how I was preventing the Holy Spirit from working in my life.  It is like hiking with a very heavy backpack.  You are exhausted and there is someone there who is offering to carry your burden.  You say, “Yes!”, but you don’t give it to them.  Somehow there is security in holding on.  The pain is almost unbearable now.  “Why aren’t you helping me?!” you cry.  Your knuckles are white because you refuse to let go. Your friend is not going to forcibly take it from you–you have to give it up willingly.  When you finally do, there is freedom. I had to let go of the idea that I could be all things to all people.  Because our family had grown and my younger children had significant needs, I had to give up homeschooling and being a foster-parent.  This left me feeling like I once again had no identity–who was I now? I grieved. I also began to pursue God more fully.  I found a new desire to read His word–to get to know Him.  I feel closer to God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit than I ever have–even more than that day I first gave my life to Christ.  I’m not living a shame-based life and I no longer have the “when’s”.  I can live in the moment, whether that moment is good or bad.  My life has not magically become easy or stress-free.  I still have three children that have challenging needs and a husband who needs my time and support too.  But I can feel the presence of Jesus and I know that no matter what happens next He will always be with me. I also felt ready to write and share my story.  I will always need my medication, and will need to see a Psychologist from time to time because I can still become very overwhelmed with the struggles of life.  But now I feel no shame.

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