Wednesday, February 26, 2014

The Lion and The Lamb

Please Note: This is a deeply personal post, and has been written, erased and rewritten countless times. The amount of courage I'm trying to gather in publicly speaking on this topic cannot be underlined enough. I realize the nature of blogs and the unending, far reaching consequences of emotionally stripping yourself to the masses. I wrote this post for a version of me - I could have used this letter. I'm hoping this helps at least one person out there in the untamed internet landscape.

We each know of a friend, a family member...but rarely (if at all) do people speak about their own fears, failures and struggles. Only after we've conquered our personal Mt. Everests do we lend our advice. But this isn't about conquering. This is about living. It's about being in the trenches - in the most literal and figurative sense. I'm caked in mud and covering my ears from the onslaught of guns - and I'm here. We're in this battle together.

The Lion and The Lamb

My package had arrived (finally) a culture miniature statue with a lamb delicately carved next to a powerful lion. 
Alone and overwhelmed, I traced the lion's mane and wept. I cried for every hope, fear and failure this statue represented.
Because life used to be different.
A shadow once held me captive. I had lived with it since I was nine years old. It interrupted my sleep one night, and never left. The shadow lived inside me and stole my voice. It clouded my mind and sucked the very joy from my soul. Twelve years ago, as a college student, I was suffocating in the thoughts of my perceived failure. 
I was imploding from within - and no one knew. The shadow was my secret. It was kept under the bed, in the closet and in the back of my heart where no one would reach.
And then one night, I curled under my covers and prayed for the pain to be gone. The hurt was a gaping hole in my chest. I had sought refuge in church service, scripture study, pleading prayer and even prescription medication. But the hole never shrank. Instead it grew as I redoubled my efforts to conceal the shadow and its power. 
I watched every minute pass that night in slow, agonizing seconds. I wished the hurt would stop. Even if it included my life. In the pit of my isolation, I wondered if the sun would rise. Would hope become a forgotten companion? Morning came - hope did not.

But help did.

The exhaustion from hiding the shadow had taken its toll on my personality and relationships. There was only one person left at my side - with the talent of a sharp tongue and even more lethal pen, I had chased away family and friends. Then promptly built a fortress so deep and so high that only a shadow could thrive in the cold, sunless heart.

But one person didn't give up. With a tear in his eye and an arm around my shoulder, my childhood friend guided me that morning to a counselor. As I entered the room, I noticed a painting. It was a lamb nestled next to a lion. It promised peace between the rage of a powerful predator and the tender soul of the prey. That day I received a promise, that one day the lion would rest with the lamb.

I healed enough to graduate, marry and devote myself to three beautiful girls. But my lion has not made peace with the lamb.

Depression is not just a mental illness. It is a physical one. It depletes the body and murders its host. It's a cancer of the soul imbedded in my genes. Even with strict adherence to antidepressants (exercise, diet, social and intellectual stimulation...) and avoidance of triggers (isolation, silence, too much social stimulation, lack of exercise...) the shadow can still threaten my joy.

I am in the trenches. My hands are sticky with the shadow's blood. I have fought for every inch, every gain against the enemy - and damn it, I'm still here. Though there are seemingly endless nights, I am still here. Life is good. But sometimes my perspective is not.
There are moments of peace. There are moments of pain. But the shadow has not won. As my husband says with a chuckle, I'm too damn stubborn to stay down for long.

Depression is so very real. So is the stigma attached to the disease. I am convinced of my weakness and failure when the shadow is strong. I cannot see my own worth, regardless of my religious conviction. People don't talk about this. Most people assume the illness is for the weak-willed or the effect of a guilty conscience. But those of us who struggle are in the company of giants. George Albert Smith, a pillar of spiritual leadership suffered so desperately from the tyranny of depression that he begged his maker to take him home. The shadow bound him to his bed for three years - and yet he was a leader of a church and would continue to do so for several more years. He was not weak. And neither am I. Winston Churchill attacked his shadow during, and after, World War II. Charles Dickens, William Faulkner, Vincent van Gogh, Ernest Hemingway, Abraham Lincoln, Michelangelo, Isaac Newton...

I will stumble. I will fall. And I will get back up. Again and again.
Can I do it alone - absolutely not. 
I have a team of devoted soldiers that are crazy enough to stay at my side and pull me from those trenches long enough to see the sun shining through the clouds. A husband of herculean strength along with loving and loyal parents, a counselor and a slew of tender friends make even the darkest shadow shrink back in fear.
Do I laugh - why, yes. Yes, I do.
My natural temperament is not morose. Life is something I quite enjoy feasting upon. Joy is something I find in gardening, running, writing, reading, my children, learning...
Life is profoundly good. It is oh so hard at times. But life is good. And one day, my lion will slumber lazily next to the lamb. Until then, I am here. I am fighting. And if you're battling the same unseen enemy listen to these four words. Do. Not. Give. Up.
You are worth this war.
You are not weak.
Hold my hand, let's do this.

Friday, February 21, 2014

The Puppy Band-aid

My middle daughter is beautiful and bright but sometimes her imagination can take her to a place flooding with anxiety. Experience has taught me the soothing effects of a puppy's love. The quick, soft kisses calm even the stormiest of days.
 There's a bond between a child and her dog, one I know quite well. Books are read, secrets are shared and fears are chased away with the loyalty only a dog can provide.
 I was once the little girl, longing for the consistent love a puppy generously offers. Bad hair-days, sucky test scores and geeky tendencies didn't dampen my dog's affections. She would still wag her tail and whine for attention - my attention. Me, and me alone. Because I was somebody to someone (a four-legged someone).
 Puppies are the greatest Band-aids, they never fall off and they never stop healing. I'm profoundly grateful for my daughter's puppy, and the puppies of my past.