How Do You Feel?

“I don’t feel well.”

How many times have you said this? And how many times have you not meant physically well? There have been many times I haven’t felt well, but there have also been times I have felt “off” without really knowing why. But telling someone I didn’t feel well without a physical ailment to accompany it made me feel like I was lying, so I didn’t.

I struggle with telling others this, especially when it comes to work. I value honesty and openness, but how open and honest is appropriate in that context? So, I settle for “I don’t feel well” and hope the other person either understands the underlying context or doesn’t ask questions.

I’ve come to realize something, though, and that is this: you don’t owe anyone an explanation.

If you don’t feel well, simply say so and move on. Only explain as much as you’re comfortable or as much as is appropriate. When someone has a cold, we understand they aren’t at their best and we don’t ask questions, so why should it be any different with mental health?

Perhaps because depressive symptoms manifest differently in different people. I came across a very interesting article on my social media feed the other day about high-functioning depression, and I was a bit surprised to be able to relate to some of the points. (No, I’m not going to diagnose myself or make assumptions, but it may be worth a question to my mental health professional.) If someone doesn’t “seem” depressed, it may be more difficult for others to believe that person is struggling simply because our society takes only what we can see.

It’s important, then, to take gauge of yourself periodically during the day. If you’ve been struggling through an episode, give yourself some grace during the day and find gentle ways to bring yourself back. Maybe you need rest, be that physical rest in the form of sleep or spiritual rest or both. Maybe you need an outlet. Whatever it is, do what you need to do to take care of yourself.

So, in all honesty, how do you feel?

 

Stronger

“He gives power to the weak, and to those who have no might He increases strength…But those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.” — Isaiah 40:29 & 31

. . . . . .

I know I have gotten stronger in this season–physically, mentally, and spiritually. For me, these three components really intertwine. If I feel good physically, it has a ripple effect through the other areas of my life and I become more positive. I’ve struggled with self-image my whole adult life (so far), so feeling good physically has helped to improve my mental state.

Many Christian friends of mine have tried to pour the “typical Christian” wisdom into me–all that matters is what God sees; you are made in His image; He calls you beautiful. The problem is when my depressive symptoms present, I don’t hear that. Instead, I hear all the negatives. And I’m sure I’m not the only one. I knew I needed to do something about that negative voice, so I started a different exercise regimen. Not only has it helped me to manage my anxiety and depressive symptoms, but it’s also encouraged me. Because here’s how I see it: if God calls me loved and beautiful, then I deserve to make myself feel the way He sees me.

Really, what it has done is make me stronger.

I know I’m stronger physically because I can run faster and for longer and have a shorter recovery time. I can lift heavy things–like cat litter and my 45-pound dog–and it feels easier than it was even six months ago. I don’t have as much knee pain as I used to, even though that is an issue that will probably never go away.

I know I’m stronger mentally because I’m not crying the minute my mind because spinning. I can take a step back and be a little more objective. Don’t get me wrong–I still have days where I just want to cry, and on those days I allow myself the release. Once I do, I can walk away from those feelings, confident they were dealt with. I still overanalyze and play things on repeat–because that’s what anxiety does–but I’m getting better at stopping the cycle. I made friends, and I make plans with them, neither of which I had dreamt I could do a year go.

I know I’m stronger spiritually because I am more patient. I have constant silent prayer to God, sometimes just whispering “Jesus.” I go to church every Sunday and worship with my whole heart, something I didn’t think I could do a year ago. I write down my favorite Bible verses. When something starts going in my head, my first line of defense is to look up a related verse.

I’m far from perfect, though. I sometimes cheat on the nutrition in the exercise program, but I’m better about not beating myself up for it. I do still have negative self talk, but I’m better at combating it. I sometimes let my daily life get in the way and forget to seek out time with the Lord or put Him first like I should. But I know I’m not where I was.

. . . . . .

I know I’ve written on strength before, and I probably will again. Gaining strength is a part of the growing process, and it’s continuous. We don’t just stop finding or gaining strength–everything we encounter helps us dig a little deeper and be a little stronger. When we are weak, when we think we cannot possibly go on, that is when God gives us strength. My storm is far from over, but I am, so far, proud of the person I have become. I feel like I am getting back parts of me that I lost, and that takes strength every day.

Just like picking up new and heavier weights is hard, picking up pieces of yourself is tough. You have to decide how the pieces fit back together. You have to decide if you will include everything or only some things. You have to decide who you are and who you want to–and are meant to–be. You have to look at yourself in the mirror every day and be satisfied with who you are. Are you?

When A Planner Has Anxiety

I’ve been a planner for at least as long as I’ve been in school. I did a lot of activities growing up, so between those extracurriculars and actual schoolwork, planning was essential to success. In college, planning meant learning time management so I could work and maintain a high GPA. Things were often planned out for extensive periods of time–such as multiple semesters. I like having control, and I hate the unknown; planning was a way for me to know and control my world.

When I started going to therapy, it was recommended I try to pinpoint what causes my anxiety. And you know what the root cause ended up being? Yup–planning.

But I should rephrase that to excessive planning. I had been planning my life–and the life of my husband–for years because I wanted control over what could happen. As it turns out, planning can’t control everything, and it can actually breed a lot of resentment.

When I lost control of everything, though, I couldn’t bring myself to plan anything. Not even my day. I was too depressed. And when I tried planning, my heart started racing, I couldn’t breathe, and I would burst into tears.

Over time, and with therapy, I warmed up to planning again, but with a change. I would only plan what was absolutely necessary. I began bullet journaling. Not only does this allow me freedom to only plan what I absolutely have to, but it also gives me a place to write down my thoughts during the day, writing prompts or ideas, and my prayers. Because I tend to overthink, having a safe space to release those thoughts has really made an impact.

As my responsibilities have increased and changed–like having two part-time jobs–I have to plan any fun time, retreats, or vacations I want to enjoy. As my mental state has gotten better, I can actually enjoy those times. And I finally planned my first solo vacation.

Belle and I are going on a road trip.

My birthday is next weekend, and her and I are going to visit family in another state. We will only be gone for four days, but it’s our first trip solo, and I’m really excited. It’s the least amount of planning I have ever put into a trip–I asked at the beginning of the month if they would be around for a visit, and they said yes. I’ve only been really planning it for three weeks.

And it feels really good.

God has used this uncontrollable time in my life to show me I need to learn to let go of control and hand it to Him. As always, I’ll be taking notes the entire trip. I am really looking forward to seeing what I learn about traveling solo with Belle and about myself.

So, I’m curious: what would you like to see about the trip?

Telling Your Story

If you’ve been a follower of this blog for any amount of time, it’s likely that you’ve seen it go through quite a few changes to this point. Seasons, if you will. Like I’ve gone through.

When I started blogging, I wasn’t really sure where I was going with it. I’ve known since college that I want to write, and blogging was sort of my “introduction” to getting “out there” (whatever that really means). But it was more of a public journal, with the only message being “I’m here” and maybe the attempt at online community. As I progressed in my writing, as life happened, and as my seasons changed, I began to feel that wasn’t enough.

When I started taking my writing more seriously, though, I wanted the message to be “you’re not alone,” but I was suddenly afraid. It meant telling my story, and I wasn’t sure if that was “safe.” I wasn’t even sure if I should. After all, who wants to hear my ramblings of my struggles? What I have gone through and continue to go through isn’t near as bad as what other people have suffered through. I’m not even that good.

This change was another opportunity for the enemy to come in and tell me lies. He wanted to take my writing, he wanted me to believe his lies about my abilities–that I was incapable, that my words would never matter–and not Truth. He had been doing a number on my head for years, and here he saw another opportunity. I’m a Christian; I shouldn’t struggle with anxiety. If I have anxiety, it means I don’t really have faith.

But then I encountered a podcast episode from Proverbs 31 Ministries–the podcast that actually jumpstarted my decision to make this blog a true part of my life. And do you know what it was on? Yup–anxiety. And there is one message in that episode that really hit home: seeking outside help does not make you any less of a believer.

And there it was. The truth I so desperately needed to hear as I was on the brink of an episode.

I have been seeing a therapist, but I had felt shame in the need. I have toyed with the idea of medication for my anxiety because it causes me to miss valuable hours of sleep. My therapist even provided me a letter for Belle, assigning her officially as my Emotional Support Animal. But the guilt welled inside me. And suddenly, here I was, listening to other Christian women say that seeking help is good.

This made me realize that maybe other Christian women need to hear the message that they are not alone, just like I needed to hear it.

What’s more is my church began a sermon series a week later called Crash The Chatterbox, and the first message on insecurity laid right on my heart. The minute my pastor said, “who told you the gifts God has given you will not make an impact?” I felt the  tears begin to well up and my soul felt ripped. Because that was exactly how I had been feeling for a while.

The thing is that “you’re not alone” is a strong and much-needed message in the lives of Christian women–heck, in the life of any woman. We all seem to think we are alone, that we are the only ones who suffer, that no one can possibly understand. We feel others will judge or shame us: “they live such happy lives, they couldn’t understand”; “if I tell them about my situation, they’ll tell me how it’s my fault”; “I can’t reveal the truth because I’ve put on a mask for too long.” When the truth is those “others” have probably also faced similar circumstances and we just didn’t witness it, and they are probably just as desperate to share their story to someone who would listen.

Besides, how do we have the Bible? Because Jesus’ disciples decided to tell their stories. And their stories impacted the world.

I’ve learned a valuable lesson: telling your story is important. It doesn’t matter what it is. Do not compare it to others’ stories; your story is your own. And your story is special because it is yours. God’s impact on our lives was never meant to be a secret–every time He does something, we are to shout our praise and give Him the glory and point others to Him. And how else do we do that than by telling our stories?

A Racing Heart

My mind is tangled. My heart races. I can’t breathe. No matter how much I try to regulate my breathing, I can’t calm it down. So I sit in a type of silent pain, waiting for the hours to pass.

. . . . . .

This is what my life is like a lot of days. Struggling with anxiety means your head hardly has a quiet moment. Sometimes it has to do with a situation or event, sometimes it doesn’t. My anxiety has been around since at least high school. I think I hardly noticed it in school because anxiety and stress is “expected” in college. When life after college got out of my control, my anxiety “came back”, and it did so with a vengeance.

As a Christian woman, I have been given the “Christian answers” to my anxiety:

“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made know not God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” — Philippians 4:6-7

“For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope.” — Jeremiah 29:11

But these didn’t really help because I didn’t understand what was behind the anxiety. And there is something behind the anxiety: a voice whispering all my insecurities.

You’re not really qualified for that job, so don’t even try.

You’re not a good woman or a good wife; it’s no wonder you’re struggling. He doesn’t want you. Who would?

You’re a terrible dog-mom. You don’t know what you’re doing at all.

But that isn’t God. It’s the enemy. And I have to tune out the enemy or I will continue to suffer.

“The voice you believe will determine the future you experience.”

If I continue to give space to the enemy’s voice, I will experience an anxiety-ridden, miserable future. If I choose to turn my mind to Christ, though, I will experience His peace, love, and mercy–and a more positive future.

Over one year ago, I felt a nudge that I felt was from God. I felt like He was telling me that what was about to happen would lead to a positive future. But then things crashed around me, and I began to question if I had truly heard Him.

And that is when the enemy comes in and whispers lies: Did you really hear from God? Did He really tell you that? Maybe He really doesn’t want good things for you. He’s just watching you suffer, and He isn’t going to do anything about it.

But getting out of my head long enough to even try to focus on God’s voice and promises can be a lot. It can be emotionally draining.

. . . . . .

I had to find something to get out of my head. So I started taking exercise more seriously. I began running–and have even done a few 5K races–with my dog, Belle, and I was finally utilizing the exercise facility at my apartment. I noticed a difference within days. My mind was focused on running pace and number of reps, so it didn’t have time to entertain any more lies.

Exercise helps me refocus my energy and push myself in positive ways–in ways that will make me physically and mentally stronger. Adding Belle to the mix actually helped my head because I became focused on our combined abilities and we bonded.

 

Even with music in my ears, I often start to silently pray, especially during races. This helps my spirit and it makes the time fly by.

And when I get home from a run, I feel motivated to read my Bible and journal.

. . . . . .

But some days are better than others. Some days my heart races for no reason. And if that happens when I’m at work, I have to wait it out until I can go on a run. Today was one of those days. As I was running, lies began to seep in again: you won’t make 3 miles. Just give up now. Stop trying. But I didn’t listen; I pushed through. And when I refocused my energy on my music, on running with my dog, on the moment, I was able to push that whisper away.

My story with anxiety isn’t over. There are so many other components–exercise and nutrition, therapy, practices. But I know God has plans for me, and I believe that now. I am better at discerning what is God and what is the enemy. And that is progress.

. . . . . .

Do you struggle with anxiety? What do you do to manage it? Is there a way you could manage it better?

 

The Thing About Goals

What does reconciliation look like? How long will it take?

I was asked these questions a few weeks ago, but they are questions I don’t have solid answers to. By definition, reconciliation means: (a) agreeing to an amicable truce; (b) resigning to something not desired; and (c) the process of making consistent or compatible. Of course, in the case of which I am speaking, Option C is the definition I am going with.

For the first time in a few months, I had the opportunity to express just that. I had the opportunity to say I have changed and that, basically, it means knowing our individual needs and being able to work through this difficult path together.

I was told it doesn’t seem our goals are compatible “still,” and there was clear frustration. And it was that moment I realized I had said my goals without really expressing them. I’ve spent a year in my own head, evaluating and re-evaluting my goals–for life, my marriage–but I had never had to express that process to someone who had been absent from it for so long.

Really, my goal is to make this work. However I need to. I know what “sacrifices” I am willing to make. I know what I need. I know myself a little better. But I’ve also realized other things.

My goals are flexible. This doesn’t mean I am a doormat. Instead, it means that my goals, and the processes, change as my needs and desires change. And that’s completely okay. As long as I do not feel I am being untrue to who I am, then having flexible goals is fine. For instance, I want to travel. At first, the thought process was something like: “I am determined to find a job abroad and experience that location.” Now, it’s something like: “Oh, I can go on vacation there and eventually return to the territory I am comfortable.” Same goal–traveling–different process to get there.

Ability to do what I need to do. This actually boils down to my anxiety and depressive symptoms. If I feel an episode is coming on, I need to be able to “get out”–of the specific situation, of the location temporarily, of my head–somehow. I need to have the flexibility to do this. I’ve also realized that it’s completely okay to travel, visit family, or go do something without my husband. I relied on him for companionship and to fulfill emotional needs, and I’ve realized it’s unrealistic to expect a human to fill a spot only God can. I need to be able to get outside with Belle or write when I need to or when I am called to.

My marriage. This is plain and simple: I want my marriage. This relationship overrides everything except my relationship with God. I let other people come in with their concerns and their help, and I stopped listening to my husband’s valuable input. Pick your battles. Not everything is worth having an argument over. Compromise will be important. But, all in all, this relationship will win over everything else in life.

Employment. I need a job. Not only is that a financial fact, but it’s a personal need. I can’t not work. Of course, I would prefer to be a writer full time. If he is willing to allow it, then I will, of course, take it. If not, though, I know what sort of jobs I want (and don’t want). I know what sort of sacrifices I can make in this arena. I know what I hope to be.

Really, these things–these realizations, these conversations–take time. And I’m not sure how much. In the end, I said I realized what I am willing to do, and that I will do whatever it takes.

. . . . . .

The next few days are big. I hope to be able to properly express my goals. I pray for the wisdom to be silent when needed, but to also speak the right words. I pray for the Lord’s guidance and grace. I pray for His favor. I feel ready, and I pray He finds me ready too.

Through all of this, my goal has been to get to know the Lord better. I have prayed more. I have found an amazing church and community of believers. I have written more, thereby working toward fulfilling the calling He has placed on my life. My goal has been to get to know who I am in Him.

My prayer is that this is part of that.

Judgement (Isn’t) For The Dogs

I’ve expressed many times that Belle is my support. I honestly do not know what I would be like through all this if I did not have her by my side. Her affection, training her, hiking with her…it has all provided me with ways to either get out of my own head of transfer my anxiety or depression into a worthwhile and meaningful experience.

But I have seen a lot of comments on some social media sites–mainly the ones that happen to pop up on my news feed and are organizations that “help” people get ESAs (you know, the “registry” type sites)–that have upset me. Some people say that an excitable dog would not make for a good ESA, and they imply that those with that type of dog as an ESA is faking it. Other comments show judgment toward the dog, saying that an aggressive dog is not an ESA.

Who are you to say that my excitable dog does not provide me the emotional support I need from her? You don’t know me or what I struggle with. You have not worked with her. You do not know us.

Who are you to judge that someone’s dog is aggressive? Barking does not signify aggression. Jumping does not signify aggression. You don’t know her like I do.

I know judgement on dogs will (probably) always exist, but it is frustrating. So, like any writer, I took action by writing about it.

Have you ever judged a dog by its appearance? Or even by its breed?