life:filtered

…learning to live a life filtered by the truth of the gospel.

When a good thing is a trigger March 21, 2016

Filed under: seriousness — Stephanie @ 4:37 pm
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In the mental health community there’s a lot of talk about triggers. A trigger is anything that causes uncomfortable emotions. It can be something small like a song you hear on the radio or something big like news of a death, it doesn’t matter. All that matters is that it triggers you and sends you reeling into panic, anxiety, depression or mania.

Strangely, one of my biggest triggers is a place I love. My church. When I’m in a bad place, just walking into the building can trigger panic and anxiety. It started a few years ago when I went through the worst depressive episode to date. I was sitting in the third row, a silent observer. It was the first Sunday of the February, a communion Sunday. My pastor talked a lot about gospel transformation, allowing the gospel to take hold and transform. And as the music started and people filed to the kneelers for communion, I started to shake. For so long I had longed for this gospel transformation, longed to let the gospel take over me with its power. I watched in the semi-darkness as those around me experienced that transformation, the very thing I was missing. Or at least, that’s what I imagined was happening. So I pulled a scrap of paper from my Bible and scrawled these words, “I quit. I can’t keep doing this. It’s too hard. I can’t keep trying only to end up back in this place of darkness time after time. I’d rather not get my hopes up that [gospel] transformation might happen.” The room grew darker by the minute as my heart filtered out the light. I couldn’t force myself out of my chair and up to the kneelers that morning. Couldn’t feast on the bread of life or drink deeply from the cup. I was turning to stone. A stone that was being crushed under the weight of depression. And in the sacredness of that moment, I gave in to the darkness. I let it wash over me without resisting it. The weight was oppressive; suffocating. The fight had gone out of me. Darkness was my only companion.

The next few days are a blur. I went into one of the deepest depressions of my life with thoughts of death and pain clouding my heart and mind. I had been in this place before, but this time it felt scarier, more intense. While it’s true that a change in my medications was partly to blame, there was a battle being waged and my heart and mind were the battlefield.

But I didn’t quit. I continued to go to church, though for weeks after that experience, walking into the building produced an extraordinary anxiety. I took Klonopin just to make it through the service. I sat in my chair shaking, the medication barely taking the edge off the anxiety. How could something so close to my heart cause my heart cause such deep pain? Why did I continue to go? Why subject myself to the pain? Because deep down, I knew that it was my only hope. The only place speaking truth in the darkness.

Even now, communion can cause anxiety to rise up in me. I sit and watch, sometimes unable to make it to the kneelers to partake. Some Sundays, I force myself out of my chair. Others, I just can’t do it. There’s too much at stake. The days I do, I kneel, forcing my heart to calm itself, barely able to pray, barely able to take in the beauty of the table. Feeling like I am somehow less because of this feeling inside my heart. I long for an anesthetic to numb the pain of my longing. But maybe that pain is good. Maybe it is God’s way of drawing me close. If I could only let it—let Him, in. The pain could be a signpost of God’s transformative power working in me.

So I’ll continue to push through the feelings and make my way to the communion table. I’ll push through the anxiety and allow God to transform me. Let the gospel take root in me. I’ll fight the darkness with the truth of the Light. But transformation is a work in progress as God slowly walks me through this journey. And I’m further down the road than I was four years ago. Even four weeks ago. And as Paul writes, the one who calls me is faithful, and he will do it.

©stephanie g. pepper

 

turning sad June 21, 2013

Filed under: seriousness — Stephanie @ 10:44 pm
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“Some people turn sad awfully young,” he said. “No special reason, it seems, but they seem almost to be born that way. They bruise easier, tire faster, cry quicker, remember longer and, as I say, get sadder younger than anyone else in the world. I know, for I’m one of them.” –Mr. Jonas to Douglas in Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury

I’m struck with a deep, profound sadness sometimes. There’s no discernible trigger, no circumstance. Nothing “happens.” It just is. A dark emptiness falls and casts its heavy shadow over every part my living. This sadness, it happens a lot to people like me. People existing with this insidious illness called depression. It saps the life and energy clean out of us, as sure as any other “real” disease. Simple things like getting out of bed or eating become overwhelming, monumental tasks. And a hazy fog settles over life, distorting the days or weeks or months with a thick veil.

And the light of a thousand candle-prayers can’t chase it away.

berlin-prayer-candles-320x240

For nearly twenty years I’ve fought this darkness. See, people who’ve had one major depressive episode are increasingly more likely to relapse, making my odds of relapse about…100%. The funny thing is most people have no idea. I’ve gotten really good at pretending. At dutifully wearing a mask of happiness, because “nobody wants to see a sad face.”

And I’ve heard nearly every reason this illness is my fault. And usually those reasons come down to I’m not doing enough to be a good Christian. I’m not praying enough, I’m not reading the Bible enough, I have some sin I haven’t confessed—and if I just had more faith, I’d be healed. Because good Christians—real Christians—don’t get depressed.

I have high blood pressure too. Is that a result of lack of faith? If I prayed more or studied the Bible more, would my blood pressure return to normal? Do real Christians not have high blood pressure? 

See how silly that all sounds? I can’t pray away depression any more than I can pray away high blood pressure. So why do I keep secret the pills that regulate the chemicals in my brain but not the ones that lower my blood pressure?

Because I still think it’s my fault. That there’s something in me that’s lacking and surely, someday, I’ll find that last piece of the puzzle and be well.

I think I found it.

See, Jesus, he never promised life wouldn’t hurt. He promised the opposite—“in this world you will have trouble.” And that means that disease and illness and sorrow and pain are a part of life. Bad things happen, sometimes for no apparent reason. People get sick. Worlds go dark. Life is messy and hard and ugly and nobody ever talks about that because it doesn’t fit with our idea of abundant life. But the upside of that promise of trouble is the guarantee that he has overcome the world, and that my strength and joy is found in him and his power. Ultimately, he wins. And Jesus is what makes life beautiful. He takes hold of the ugly and shakes it right out until his beauty shines in and through life.

It takes whole lifetimes.

So those days I wake up feeling fragile, and that homesick, heartsick longing for home creeps in, that yearning for a place I’ve never seen but know because he set it in my heart from the beginning; I can grab hold of the promise that this is not the end.
And when I struggle to believe what I know is true, when I’m wrecked and bruised and all I’ve got is a strangled, broken “Jesus…” I have to trust that it’s enough. And it is, even though it doesn’t always appear to be. Because I’m never anywhere the Lord doesn’t know about and isn’t right in the middle of with me.

And just maybe it’s him pressing in, drawing me closer.

© stephanie g pepper, 2013
for a thorough, serious yet amusing, spot-on blog post about depression, visit Allie at Hyperbole and a Half.