Anxiety and Depression

Anxiety and Depression

For many people who suffer from anxiety, depression can be an added struggle (two mental illnesses for the price of one!!)

I know that when my anxiety flares high I often have a bit of depression as well. This is one reason that SSRI drugs like Zoloft can be so helpful.  Not only do they treat the anxiety at its root, but they ease the depression as well.

I am not exactly sure why depression and anxiety go together so frequently. Apparently this is even more true with panic, possibly because the drama and exhaustion that come with panic attacks leaves us so drained and discouraged.

For me I know that with great anxiety comes a loss of abundant life. High anxiety is just plain limiting in a way that makes you feel your life is slipping away from you.

This loss of abundant life and ability for me leads to grief. Grief for the life I had before anxiety hit, grief for the way I wish life could be.

In addition to the grief I think there is often self blame. We can feel like failures for struggling with anxiety disorders. We may blame ourselves for not being able to “just get it together.”

For me the combination of grief and self blame can lead to depression. Once I can get some traction and see some progress in healing, the depression often begins to lift.

Another big factor that seems to link anxiety and depression is that they both are fed by and perpetuate negative thinking. The negative thoughts that come with one disorder can play right into the other.

When I asked my therapist husband about the relationship of anxiety to depression, he suggested looking into learned helplessness research. My understanding of this theory is that after someone has suffered a negative outcome so many times (in this case anxiety), they begin to lose hope on things being any different. They just give up and relent to the unpleasantness of their circumstances with no thought of things being any different or better.  If you want to know more about this you can click here. Be warned though, in the experiment they detail the researchers doing not so nice things to dogs, so if you are like me, that might upset you.

The biggest thing to remember about the anxiety and depression combination is that they are both very treatable.

In fact as I mentioned before the same medication and also same  talk therapy interventions help both.

So whether your anxiety led to depression or visa versa, know that it can get better.

There is always always hope for better.

So hold onto hope. And may healing come to whatever struggles you deal with.

Ancient Hebrew Stories: Taming the chaotic deep

Some of my favorite stories to read when I need to calm my anxiety are the ancient story of the Tehom.

Hebrew mythology tells that before the earth was created there existed Tehom.

Tehom is the dark, deep, chaotic waters that covered what was to become earth. When I imagine the Tehom I imagine churning dark waters filled with sea monsters and other dangers. Much like the churning dark of our subconscious it is a place that is home to many of our fears.

One of God’s first acts in creation was to tame the deep. God’s breath blew over these waters of chaos and separated them. Some were tamed to become the ocean and some were pushed up to become the waters of the sky. God created a dome to separate these waters creating a safe space in the midst of the chaos for people to live.

The next time we hear of the deep in the Hebrew Scriptures is in the story of Noah. In this story the waters of the deep are unleashed to destroy creation. Such is the power of the deep. But in the end of the story of Noah, God promises to never ever unleash the deep dark Tehom upon God’s people again.

The image of Tehom and God’s taming it come up again and again in Scripture.

Isaiah tells us of God’s promise

“when you pass through the deep waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers they will not overwhelm you.”

My favorite story of God taming the deep comes from the Gospels. Jesus and the disciples are in a boat on the Sea of Galilee when a storm comes up.  The chaos of the deep unleashes itself upon them with whipping wind and crashing waves. The disciples begin to panic with fear for their lives.

About this time they notice that Jesus is missing. When they find him sleeping below deck they ask him, “Lord do you not care that we are perishing? And Jesus does two things. He calms the wild deep with a word. And then questions the disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”

ancient stories calming the deep

When I read this story (which is actually the story our anxiety management class is named after) I am comforted by two things.

There is one who has ultimate power over chaos.

I can trust this person with my life.

I know there will still be times when the deep threatens and the waters creep up around me. And there will still be times when I am afraid.

But the creator of the universe and restorer of my life reminds me gently and with compassion that I need not fear. I can trust the one who holds up the dome of the sky.

The waters will not overwhelm me. My God is with me even in the waves and I will not perish.

I wish for you calm seas tonight. But if the storms of fear begin to rage remember: You are not alone. You will not be overtaken.

 

Surrendering Control

Surrendering Control

Some days it seems as if the world is spinning out of control.

Terrorism
Ebola
Sick and dying loved ones
Violence abounding

It is enough to make not only our hearts break,  but our minds and bodies react with fear and anxiety.

It feels like too much.  Like the waves of chaos are going to totally overwhelm us and we will sink beneath their weight.

The only thing we know to do is fight back. And the way we do so is by struggling to find control in any way we can.

We don’t fly or travel. 
We overprotect our loved ones.
We compulsively wash our hands.

Sometimes this striving for control manifests in ways that don’t even match our fears.  Cleaning the house doesn’t save the world but it calms our spirits. We may become very picky about what or where or how much we will eat because what we put into ourselves is at least one thing we can .

And this may soothe us for a while, but in the end the anxiety returns. For none of our efforts actually tame the chaos around us.  It nips at our heels day after day.

One of the big moves in recovering from anxiety is actually letting go of our need for control.

For me this is a spiritual movement. It is a recognition that I am not in fact God. It is a remembering that God is God and I am but a limited mortal.

Then I do a wild thing.  I surrender my need for control to God. 

I let God have the reigns of the universe.

And then I trust God to actually handle this.

Now this is not some magical fantasy that if God is in control then nothing bad will ever happen to me. But it does involve a trust that God will help me face whatever may come in my life, the good and the bad.

And I hold onto my belief that even though chaos exists it will never completely overwhelm us.  It will be limited and held back so that I will be able to endure it.

And in the end, I think that is enough. To endure with God’s help.

And remembering that chaos also sometimes leads to creation. And that there is a good and beautiful thing in the world for every fearful or hard one.

I leave you this Sunday night with a quote from Job 38:

“Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth? … On what were its bases sunk, or who laid its cornerstone when the morning stars sang together and all the heavenly beings shouted for joy?”

Tonight I am grateful for the morning stars. And that there is one other than me that hung them in the sky and keeps them in their place in the universe.

I am grateful I don’t have to worry about keeping the sky from falling for that is not my job. It up to the one who created the dome of the sky in the first place.

I wish you a peaceful rest tonight friends. As we lay our heads down, may we also lay down our need for control. May you sleep easy and dream sweet knowing even though we are not always in control, there is One greater than us all who is.

 

It Is Okay To Feel Relaxed

It is Okay to Feel Relaxed

Sometimes when you have been anxious for a long period of time it can almost feel more comfortable to be uptight than to be relaxed. 

As if being relaxed were almost wrong or dangerous somehow.

Maybe this comes from the superstition “If I worry about it, it won’t happen.” Or maybe it stems from our idea that we are so powerful we have to make sure that nothing bad happens and that everyone around us is safe, as if we were superheros in disguise. Or maybe worry just gets to be a habit that is hard to break.

My psychiatrist talked to me about this recently. She explained that by being anxious over and over and over again I am teaching my brain to continue to be anxious. When those certain pathways in our brain are used once, it is easier for them to get used again and again, until that is the normal flow of things. (BTW, this is true with many things, not just anxiety).

She went on to talk about having to re-teach my brain not to be anxious. That’s where the drugs come in. They help me change my brain’s habits.

I’ll confess, the first time I took the Klonopin she prescribed me, it freaked me out a little. Even though I only took half a pill, it relaxed me so much that it made me nervous.

I know, I am just that good at anxiety. Impressive, right?

I was so unused to being relaxed that I panicked. What if something bad happened? I needed to be on edge so I could respond at a moment’s notice.

Talk about an overactive need for control (on the plus side this nature kept me from hitting the bottle or doing drugs in my youth, so there is that).

I found I almost had to ease myself into relaxation. I cut the Klonopin down to a quarter which basically took the edge off my anxiety enough so that I could function fully. Over time the SSRI and my healing progressed enough that a quarter of a pill made me feel even more relaxed.

My first temptation at that point was to cut back to an eighth of a pill.

When I told this to my psychiatrist she just kind of smiled at me. At first we sort of joked about how her anxious patients are experts at cutting up their pills into bits until they basically just take a whiff of their tranquilizers and call it a day. Then she did two things.

She reassured me I was not getting addicted to these pills nor was I likely to with my habits and personality.

Then she asked me if I was actually letting myself get calm and relaxed or if I was just reducing the anxiety enough to be manageable. She cautioned that if I was doing the latter, then I was still teaching my brain and body to be anxious instead of retraining it to relax.

I really thought about her words and decided she was right. I went back to taking a quarter of a Klonopin (what you didn’t think I was going to get all wild and crazy and take a whole one did you?). Then something amazing happened.

I actually felt calm and relaxed for maybe the first time in a year. It was unbelievable. It felt so good I almost couldn’t believe it.

This time I didn’t panic when the calm set in, I actually embraced it and let myself just feel happy and relieved.

Because I’m telling myself a new story now.

It is okay to feel calm. It is okay to relax. It is okay to be happy.

The couple of times when I felt guilt creeping in for feeling so good or wondering if I was going to become a drug addict, I just let those thoughts go.

I don’t have to make myself suffer needlessly out of some sense of guilt or martyrdom or an overdeveloped need for control.

I too can let go.

So I’ve been embracing this new non-anxious state. My brain and the rest of me are learning to enjoy it. It will take some time I’m sure.

But that’s okay. When you use your pill cutter to cut up your Klonopin like I do, a bottle of those jokers last forever :-)

 

 

When Healing is Painful

Over the last two months since I started having neck and shoulder problems many kind people have asked how I am doing. Mainly, they wonder if my neck and shoulder are feeling better.

I never really know what to say to this question. In many ways I am much, much better.

But to be honest, some days it still really hurts.

In part this is because my body is still a little injured and some days I get carried away and inflame the injury.

But I also think I am hurting because complete healing often includes pain.

Take my first couple of massages after the injury. First of all, my healing team made me wait a month or so to get a massage saying I wouldn’t be able to handle it right away. I couldn’t understand this at first because I have always loved the relief and relaxation that I got from a massage. But then I finally got my tight muscles worked on post injury. Even though the massage therapist was very gentle and careful not to overwork me, I was quite sore afterward.

I guess it took the gallons of water I drank a day or two to wash away the lactic acid and other toxins those knotted muscles were holding.

In the end the massage was for my good and the pain went away, but for a couple of days the only way to describe me was tender and tentative.

I think it is the same with our emotional life.

Sometimes we get hurt and injured and we tighten up inside. There is a hard place where the trauma occurred. A place that is either scarred or tensed up to protect the vulnerable spot from ever getting hurt again.

If we embark on a journey of complete healing, there will come a time when we have to let go of those knotted up places inside of us.

And when we do release the knots of pain, we are going to release some toxic stuff that will hurt for a while. But the only way for it to get washed away is for us to release it, feel the pain, and then let it be gone for good.

If you really want to know what I feel about all this, it is that our bodies and minds are tied up together more than we could ever understand. Our bodies hold our emotional pain in complex ways.

During our yoga teacher training I began to experience a flare up of anger and irritability. I brought this to my teacher’s attention and he said he wasn’t surprised. He guessed all the yoga had my body releasing some pain I had been holding internally for a while. When I told him I was tempted to cut back on the yoga because I was so tired of being angry all the time, he called me to the carpet.

He asked if I really wanted to spend the rest of my life with anger always lying underneath the surface like some shadow inside of me I couldn’t see, or did I want to do the hard work of clearing it out for good? In the end I kept with the yoga and doubled my time in meditation and prayer to calm my spirit. It helped and afterwards I felt healed in a way that I can only barely explain.

So if you to are in a period of healing that is surprisingly painful, take heart. It will not last forever. You are likely doing deep work of releasing painful toxins, whether they be lactic acid, emotions of grief or some mysterious combination of things we will likely never understand.

I encourage you to gently stay on the road to recovery. Try and breathe and be patient with the pain. And know that with time if you keep releasing and doing the good work of healing it will one day wash completely away.

And then you won’t just be pain free, you will be made truly well.

Letting go of guilt

I have come to a conclusion over these past few weeks meditating on anxiety and fear.

We all are WAY too hard on ourselves.

Most of us carry heavy loads of guilt for either what we have done or what we have not been able to do.And that guilt makes us worry.

That we are not doing enough.

That we are not loving well enough.

That well, we are just not enough.

So we strive and struggle to make ourselves worthy.  But it never comes.  And it never will.

For you can’t earn your worth.

It is just given to you because you were created in love and are held in love.

Even when the laundry piles up.

Even when you strike out at work.

Even when you let a love one down.

We were not created to get everything so right that we would one day become good enough. We were created to be loved our Creator and to share that love.

And in the end that is more than enough.

So much so that the other things begins to matter less and less until they fade away.

So let us all set the guilt down, shall we? We’ll leave it right here in the middle of the week.

And as we go forward we will just leave that nagging worry over our worth with the guilt.

My wish for you tonight friends is to know you are loved. That you bring delight and joy to your creator’s heart.  Not because of what you do, but just because you are.

Caring for the body cures the mind

When I was first diagnosed with anxiety it surprised me that the first recommendations my therapist began making involved not my thoughts or emotions, but my body.

Start taking some walks each day, she said.

Try to cut back on the caffeine and sugar.

Maybe you should try yoga, she offered.

Maybe even more surprising was the changes I made in how I treated my body did in fact help my mind.

When I began to learn more about anxiety this made sense as so much of it is physically rooted.   Anything we can do to discharge the adrenaline and cortisol coursing through our veins, anything we can do to increase levels of feel-good chemicals of serotonin, dopamine and oxytocin, bring it on. And if there is something we can do to release the tense muscles that are holding only God knows what inside their painful knots, all the better.

In our anxiety management class, my husband and I came back again and again to care of the body to soothe the mind. Now this is tricky, because you don’t want to fall into the trap of perfectionism or all or nothing thinking with taking care of yourself. (Oh no, I missed two days of walking this week, I am such a failure!”

I think the best way I can sum it up is with these two invitations:

Begin really paying attention to what makes your body feel good and what makes it feel stressed.  

Be as good and gentle to yourself as possible.

It is okay to take time to love and care for your physical self. And when you do this, everything else will get a little better too.

 

Any physical changes that have made a big difference in your anxiety levels? Or changes you are looking to make?

 

Parenting with an Anxiety Disorder

Parenting with an Anxiety Disorder

Parenting children while dealing with an anxiety disorder can be a very tricky dance.

If you are like me, of all the things you worry about

Messing up your kids is probably your number one worry.

They come into the world so sweet and perfect, that it is almost overwhelming to imagine how you will get them to adulthood healthy and whole.

In terms of parenting with an anxiety disorder, there are two main ways that I struggle.

 

One struggle is dealing with the limits that my anxiety places on my parenting.

It hurts my heart to think of the number of times that I have told my children

Mommy can’t

play,

help you with homework,

take you to soccer today,

because she

has a migraine,

doesn’t feel well,

is worried about flaring up her allergies.”

 

Add to that all the extra things my kids have had to do because of my anxiety-induced limits. Just in the past month they have taken on laundry duty, carried items and pushed the cart at the grocery store, and generally been my arms and back around the house while I sort out this stress-related neck and shoulder pain.

I try to tell myself that my kids are resilient. That learning to help others in their family/community is an important lesson. That if I didn’t struggle with this, there would be some other limitation that would affect my relationship with my kids.

But at the end of the day I still worry that I am shortchanging my kids.

 

The other big issue I face in parenting with an anxiety disorder is trying not to pass on the habits of worry and fear to my kids.

This may be the bigger factor of the two for me. I pray that one day my children will forgive me my faults and brokenness, like all children eventually have to do with all parents.

But Dear God in Heaven, let them not inherit my anxiety.

This is doubly tricky because I believe propensity towards anxiety can actually be inherited as in written into our DNA. But I also know that anxiety can be learned.

We have two children, one that was born from me and one that is adopted. Of the two kids, I actually notice our adopted child mirroring my anxiety more than the one that shares my DNA. Now is this because she came with her own anxiety, having been abandoned at birth, moved from foster home to orphanage and then finally across the world until she settled in her forever home? Or is this because she is modeling her same-sex parent who has taught her to be anxious?

Since anxiety is a complicated beast, we may never know.

So mainly I focus on damage control.

1) Sometimes I am honest with them about the fact that I am anxious.

And I tell them I am probably more anxious than I need to be because worry is something I struggle with. We think we can hide these kind of things from our kids, but young ones are uncannily sensitive and smart. I figure if I don’t put it out there and explain what is going on, they will still feel my fear and come to their own conclusions on why I am afraid.

 

2) When possible I defer to the braver, calmer parent. 

I am lucky in that my husband does not suffer from anxiety. To me he is a fearless rock. When we get in a situation where I know I am more anxious about something than I need to be, and he is just fine, he takes the reigns. This is why Daddy takes our kids zip-lining while Mommy tours a winery. The kids learn to be brave and I soothe myself until I can greet them at the end of their adventure with a smile and pretend it is fun to hear how they flew down a mountain.

 

3) I teach them how to soothe their own anxiety.

Since I’ve taught my daughter to be anxious, I figured it was only fair that I also teach her deep-breathing techniques, progressive muscle relaxation, and how to recognize and switch her anxious thoughts. Since my son tends more towards irritability, we work on breathing and easy meditation.

 

4) I try to be brave.

Honestly, having kids has brought out the brave in me more than anything ever could. So when they want to ride the chair lift at the fair or watch the tightrope act at the circus, I summon up my courage and go along for the ride. Sometimes they are sweet enough to encourage me, “Come on Mom, you can do it!”

And when they want to ride around the block by themselves or go to the middle school dance, I take a deep breath and say okay. I may be breathing the worry away until I see their beautiful faces again, but I know it is important to believe in them enough to let them go.

 

In the end I guess we all just do the best we can with what we have.

And learn to say I’m Sorry.

And I Love You.

And hope we’re not hugging them too much because we’re worried about how badly we’re messing them up.