Friday, March 1, 2013

the fiery trials of depression and anxiety

Image by Vincepal on flickr

When I think about high school, the biggest thing I remember is that everything seemed grey and hazy -- and by that I mean, when I was living it, the world was grey and hazy almost all the time.  Foggy.  Dark, black fog.  That's what I remember.  Of course, there are other snippets of memories here and there, but it's largely blocked out of my brain.  High school was mostly spent at home, recovering from suicide attempts, being chartered to and from psychologist and therapist visits, and dwelling in a darkness that swirled all around me.  Sure, there were a few normal high school things thrown in there for good measure -- plays and projects and prom -- but mostly what I remember was depression.

In college, I started slowly undergoing a transition from depression into eating disorders and anxiety.  College was definitely a higher point in my life than high school, and most of what I remember from college was good and normal.  But if I really think about my emotional state, I was probably all across the board, from possibly-not-eating to panic attacks to punching walls.  Yes, I once punched a wall in (not a proud moment in my life).

Post-post-college, depression was virtually gone, I was on the road to recovery from eating issues, and anxiety was my main foe.  Uncontrollable fears and irrational thoughts clouded my brain and took over my body -- causing me to fall into fits of shaking and sweating whenever I had to go to social events or do something unknown.

Depression and anxiety are generally held at-bay these days, and by "these days" I mean my normal adult life, I suppose.  But pregnancy has a way of bringing these things up again in full force.  Not every day is consumed by depression or anxiety, but there are definitely some very dark days and some very scary ones. I am always (usually?) able to go outside my self and think clearly about what's going on, and think logically through the emotions I am dealing with.  In other words, I am not consumed, I am not controlled, I am not covered by these states-of-being.  I can think things like, "This will pass," or, "I know that I have nothing to fear," or, "The best way to cope with this right now is to..."  Whenever I see my therapist (generally one-two times a year), he actually says I have amazing coping skills and he usually doesn't know what to do with me, as he sees me as a very "healthy" patient.  So usually I just bear with the emotional turmoil, cry a lot, talk to my husband, pray to God, and wait for it to pass.

But in the moment...
In the moment, though, it is a great struggle.  I find myself thinking things like, "Oh how I wish I were someone different."  "It would be so much easier if I were not an introvert/if I did not have anxiety/if I never had depression."

When I say something like, "I wish I were an extrovert," I do realize that my introversion is somewhat separate from my anxiety.  Plenty of people are introverts who do not struggle with anxiety.  But for me, they are sort of intertwined and it's hard for me to separate them from one another.  When I say, "I wish I were an extrovert," I am basically saying to God, "I do not like the way you made me."  I am saying, "I know you made me in your image, but I don't like your image.  I don't like who I am; I don't like what you've made."  This belittles God as Creator.

When I say something like, "I wish I didn't have depression/anxiety," I wrestle with knowing the difference between accepting who I am and what God's given me and fighting against the brokenness and lies that Satan wants me to buy into.  I realize that depression/anxiety in my life can bring about good things -- empathy and comfort for others, for example -- but where's the line between saying, "God, I do not like what you've given me/who you've made me to be," and, "God, these things have no place in my life because they are a sign of the Fall?"

What Scripture says...
"Do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.  But rejoice insofar as you share Christ's sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed."
1 Peter 4:12-13

Okay, I am no Biblical scholar.  I do not know Greek.  I struggle with remembering contexts and all.  Here's the thing: when I read this verse, my first thought about the "fiery trial" is to think of the Last Days when we will undergo severe trial and tribulation when Jesus returns.  Maybe that's what Paul's getting at here.

But there's another thought that came into my brain today as I read the verse.  I am always afraid of these "fiery trials," and think of them as huge, worldwide devastation-like trials.  But what if some of the "fiery trials" I have to deal with are the above -- depression, anxiety, eating disorders?  And how appropriate for them to be labeled as, "fiery."  To be refined, something must be put through the fire.  To be redeemed -- to be restored -- I must face up to the trials that are in my life.  I can't ignore them and hope they will go away.  I have to experience them, to deal with them, to feel them at their fullest in order to be purged of them.

I want to be restored.  I want to rejoice in Christ, but that also means rejoicing in my sufferings.  My sufferings tend to be ones that most can't see.  They are very internal, but they are incredibly trying and difficult.  Sometimes they feel just as pronounced as a physical disease -- that's how much they are attached to my life and body and spirit.  

I guess what I'm saying is that in the moments of struggle, thinking, "God, I don't want to have depression/anxiety," is not helpful for anyone.  Instead, I should be thinking, "God, bring me through this and restore me to your original intention -- that I may rejoice through it, rejoice at your victory over it, and that I may be able to comfort others who experience it."

What do you think?
  • Have you ever had "fiery trials" of your own that God has helped you overcome?  Are you currently trying to overcome them right now?
  • Have you ever seen how your own trials have been able to bless others?  Were you aware of this possibility in the moments of severe trial, or was it not until long afterwards that you saw the blessings?

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