Thursday, August 30, 2012

My Journey with Christianity and Mental Illness

So remember how I (W) gave y'all that list of all the profound topics that I was going to write about now that I've settled in to my new house/job/state and have internet?

Yeah...those are going to have to wait.

My posts on this blog are typically very carefully crafted. I think about my main points, revise for clarity, and otherwise try to make myself look like a well-read, put-together, good Christian. And that's because I like to think of myself as one. But at the same time, those posts are probably not doing any favors for those of you who, like myself, STRUGGLE sometimes. So allow me to bring the nitty-gritty truth to the blog tonight:

I have been on an anti-depressant for the last 4.5 years.

Well, I was. Until 4 days ago. But let's start at the beginning, because I think it's important that someone in the Christian community finally stands up to try to end the stigma of mental illness/mental health issues in the church.

I started having anxiety issues my freshman year of college. It was probably due to several factors, not the least of which included splitting up from M for the first time ever. I developed a severe phobia of cancer, and for about a year and a half was I whole-hardheartedly convinced that I not only had cancer, but was actively dying from it. It got to the point where I started believing each night that I might not wake up the next morning. Did I have any real evidence of this? No. Did I see a doctor about this? To convince me that I did not have cancer and was not dying? No. Did I tell my parents? No. I lived with chronic fear and anxiety for months until a pulled muscle in my chest (furniture moving gone wrong) prompted a chest X-ray which revealed, much to my surprise-- NOTHING.

I started to see a therapist after that. I've seen 5 therapists intermittently during the last 7 years.

Looking back, I was suffering from a classic phobic disorder. Through talk therapy, I slowly got over it and moved on with my life. I treated that whole thing as sort of a weird, isolated episode of who-knows-what. Because obviously well-read, put-together, good Christians don't struggle with stuff like this, so it must have been some kind of fluke.

Fast forward 2 years. I transferred schools, found an awesome friend group, and started dating a much sought-after guy. And then the anxiety came back, and this time it wasn't the crippling fear of a phobia, but the antsy, heart-pounding panic that something is about to go terribly wrong at any moment. I fought it for a while-- praying, talking to M, seeing another therapist, reading self-help books-- and then I started losing the fight. I felt nauseous all the time and I lost a bunch of weight. I had so much anxiety that I would immediately start dry-heaving first thing upon waking in the morning.

I went to a psychiatrist. He diagnosed me with Generalized Anxiety Disorder and put me on Zoloft.

I ditched my summer plans for a trip to Argentina, broke up with the boyfriend, and started seeing ANOTHER counselor. And slowly but surely, I started to get better. I gained some weight back, I started to sleep better, and I decided that instead of being another fluke ( there such a thing?), this episode indicated that my brain was broken.

Fast forward another two years. I graduated college, moved to a giant new city, and started the worst job ever (for me at least.Teach for America. There, I said it). This time is wasn't the fear or the panic moving in-- it was the dread. It was like carrying a 40 pound weight with me wherever I went. I started to count as a victory any day that I didn't cry at school, because counting those when I didn't cry at all was simply too small a number.

I saw ANOTHER therapist.

I quit my job, moved out of my ant-infested apartment, got married to the best man there is (oh, hey T!) and eventually found my dream job. A year later, I have my dream man and my dream job in my dream house in my dream city. And you know what that means?

I decided it was time to wean off of the anti-depressants.

It's been 4 days since I finished my last bit of the weaning. To tell you the truth? I feel like CRAP. I'm only now realizing how much of a legitimate drug I was taking because I'm truly in the withdrawal stage-- headache, dizziness, occasional heart palpitations, and brain fog. The last four days have been rough. And I'm hopeful that a few days/weeks/months down the line, I'll feel awesome and proud of myself and all that jazz. But today, I feel sick and tired (literally) and also sick and tired of feeling like I can't even tell anyone that I'm feeling so poorly because I don't want anyone to know that I have struggled with anxiety or medication for it.

And I'm telling you this because seriously, no one in my Christian community has EVER told me their story of being put on or deciding to get off of anti-depressants unless I bring it up first. And then they let out a sigh of relief that someone else will offer support and not judgement.

This is my testimony. That I am a Christian, and that in certain periods of my life, prayer and community groups and self-help books were not enough to keep me in a healthy, productive state of mind. That I believe treating mental illness with medication is no less holy than treating diabetes with insulin or a broken leg with a cast if all other options have been pursued and come up short. That God STILL made me perfectly even though I have this thorn in my side, and that this thorn keeps me closer to Him than anything else in my life.

I'll keep you updated about the process of becoming medication-free. In the meantime, you're prayers are welcome, and your understanding (about my struggles, and about the reality of the issue of mental illness within the church) is encouraged.

And that is the nitty-gritty truth.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

I'm Baaaaack!

Whew, that was quite a ride. Both the 6 weeks of constant traveling after I, W, left my job in Chicago in June, and the 6 weeks here in Nashville for which I haven't had internet. You read that right! 6 weeks with NO internet. As of today, Comcast finally came through! As a result, we no longer have cable. You win some, you lose some I guess.

I'm sorry for the crazy delay. I have a TON of thoughts about change, starting our 2nd year of marriage, God's faithfulness during the last two years, why it's important to have community, my thoughts about feeling the Lord's presence in Rome...but for now, there's more waiting. Gotta go get dinner with my husband (who is not at work on the weekends!) and my brother-in-law (who we've been reunited with in the same town!).

Thanks for your patience!

Monday, August 6, 2012

Dressing for Church, by M

A friend asked me recently whether I would date someone who didn’t go to my church. I responded with the following “I’m not limiting myself to just the people who attend my church; if I meet someone at the gas station that qualifies (see post on the dating covenant lol) I’d go for it. That said, the chances of finding said man are exponentially higher at church than they are anywhere else.” Which brings me to the topic of today’s post… dressing for church.

It’s come to my attention recently that dressing for church is a big deal. Like an “I might meet my future hubby today” big deal. What one does or doesn’t wear to church is of utmost importance… it can determine the entire trajectory of your future for better or worse! One must take careful consideration when picking the outfit and accessories, because one wrong move can send the wrong signal to someone who just might be the right person. What to do?!

In my casual observation, I’ve noticed a few different breeds of (presumably single) women that I would like to reference for this point:

1) Ms. Conservative Denomination: There are actually a whole load of subtypes within this type, ranging from one end of the spectrum to the other according to their former orthodoxy. On one end? The skirt-to-the-ankles wearer, who might even don a hat in accordance with I Corinthians 11:5 – “And every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head…” On the other end? Slacks and skirts, but never jeans, God forbid. This woman is winning hearts the right way with her “beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit” and her fierce dedication to Christian traditionalism. Besides, doesn’t everyone know that denim is the enemy of God?

2) Ms. Modesty: often a close relative of the former type, this one prides herself on out-modestying every other woman in the building. She will not incite lust in any passerby, courtesy of her turtleneck, cardigan, knee-high socks, and/or scarf. Just in case, she avoids lace, prints, cutouts of any kind, and anything else that may be considered an “eye trap” of seduction. She’s not giving herself to any man other than her husband, especially because Jesus said that looking lustfully at a woman is the same as being an adulterer. This one is no home wrecker!

3) Ms. America: this woman is likely new to church and the church scene. She may not be spouting versus from 2 Timothy from memory, but she does know a thing or two about hooking a man. She often forgoes short skirts (great to dance in but difficult when sitting in a pew) but flashes some cleavage just to keep everyone on their toes. She knows she looks better than the stuffy covered-up Betty’s, and banks on the fact all these men experiencing abstinence-induced deprivation will surely notice. If they’re waiting until marriage, they might at least make it worth their while and find a wife with a smoking hot bod, right?

4) Ms. Secretly Seductive: okay, so she knows and mostly agrees with the whole purpose of God’s call to modesty, but she hates feeling like she’s potentially one step away from becoming a potato-sack wearing, soon-to-be cat lady. She does her best to not be overtly seductive, but she throws in a little something here and there just to… suggest… that maybe she’d look “darn” good were she not quite so modest. Favorites of this type include: stilettos, 2+ inches above-the-knee sundresses, colored bra straps, slightly undone hair, and strategically placed accessories. Men can feel comfortable bringing this type home to mom, while also showing her off to their non-Christian friends and getting mostly positive feedback from both. She’s pretty sure that this secretly seductive approach is how Ruth snagged Boaz… and she made it into the lineage of Jesus! Pretty sure that means God approves…

5) Ms. Song of Solomon: this girl knows that she is the bride of Christ and that He thinks there is no flaw in her. She puts almost no thought into what she wears to church, other than the occasional thought about what will look like she’s putting no thought into it. Her makeup is minimal, her hair usually up, and accessories? What accessories? Her heart is so close to God that a man needs to seek Him first in order to find her. Besides, she’s a great pick because she’ll look the same as a 45 year-old soccer mom as she does now… no surprises here!

Each of these types likely ropes in a different kind of God-fearing man. Which to choose?! Of course, we could all just not worry about it and trust God to bring us to the right man, even if we did happen to be wearing a sack cloth (and ashes?) when it happens, but where is the fun in that? What are we supposed to do in that case? Take all of the time we save by not shopping and not straightening our hair and , like, hang with orphans and sing hymns instead? …really?

Big News, by M

Are you all so tired of hearing from me? I realize today that W has not written in this blog in over TWO MONTHS. I think that means that her hiatus needs to be over... yesterday. Please feel free to put a little pressure on her if you know her in real life. =)

This one will be relatively quick. I just wanted to share with y'all that I have a very new and exciting update that I can't WAIT to tell the world about...

I got a new job!!!

Remember when I very melodramatically wrote this post only a few months ago? Well, God had something in store for me and like a true brat, I just couldn't trust him enough to wait in peace for it to be revealed. It very much reminds me of when I wrote this other post about how I sinfully believed that God didn't want to give me an awesome man and a beautiful love story, approximately 35 days before He actually... started to. Hmmmmmmmm I think I need a reality check. haha

But seriously, this job is a true God-send. It is absolutely a gift from a Father that loves each of us mightly and desires to bless us richly and use us to bless others. Let's hope I can remember that next time...

Starting two weeks from today, I will be joining the Singles Ministry team at my beloved church!!! FYI, "singles" can sometimes be a misnomer... as I've said here before, it's basically a ministry for anyone who is not currently married. So, the Singles ministry serves church attendees from 19 (or post-college) all the way up to seniors who may be unmarried due to death or divorce. There are engaged singles and single parents, too. So, it really is the biggest and farthest-reaching of all the ministries, even though it often seems like "singles" just means other people like me and my friends. It was a very serious vetting process - I went through 7 interviews, two personality profiles, and a 180-question psychological assesment. Let's just say that the whole process was very long and a huge test of my patience and faith. But, the wait is over and the verdict is in.... I am SO PUMPED!!!!

This job will be an answer to many of my prayers, and I can't wait to see the many ways that God will surprise me through it, too! All of you that know me know how much this church has meant to me and how much I believe in the good they are doing throughout my city and throughout the world... What an honor and privilege to join their ranks on staff.

Throughout the interview process, I made Psalm 16:2 my motto: "I said to the Lord, 'You are my Lord; apart from You I have no good thing.'" Amen. HE IS GOOD!