A Downward Spiral

As an update to my blog from a few weeks ago titled “Struggling with Discouragement and Self-Doubt,” I wanted to let you know that God did indeed answer my prayers to not be transferred from my quiet, cushy job to the busier facility. In fact, my boss either quit or got fired within a couple of days of that post and her boss took over, until a replacement is found. Things have been on an upswing ever since. Morale has improved, teamwork is the new norm, we now have needed supplies, policies and procedures are getting updated, and more people are being hired to help fill the shortages. And, praise the Lord, I am no longer scheduled to move to the other facility! Yay! 😊

Before I knew for sure the transfer wasn’t going to happen, I signed up to participate in a 15-day online Writer’s Confidence Boost workshop by Jennifer Blanchard, even though I figured I’d have less time to focus on my writing in the following weeks and months.

The course was designed to help writers overcome self-doubt, fears, procrastination, perfectionism, and feelings of not being good enough, by changing our negative thinking into new positive thought patterns and forward-moving habits. Apparently, these problems are common in writers and since I struggled with them often, I knew they had to be adversely affecting my novel writing. She also showed us how to “flip our fears” (make a list of our fears and beside each one write a positive statement that counteracts that fear) and had us “write our reality” (what our life would be like if we were already the confident, successful writers we’d like to be) on a daily basis.

It’s amazing how many negative beliefs we adopt over our lifetime that subconsciously hold us back from reaching our full potential. Becoming aware of the ones we’ve assimilated into our consciousness without even realizing it and learning to debunk those myths can help us move ahead in great strides toward our chosen goal.

All good stuff, right?

So, why were my moods spiraling down each day, even while practicing the positive thinking?

Was the course stirring up some stuff that I still needed to deal with but didn’t know it or was the devil just trying another tactic to deter me from writing? Whatever the case, for some reason, the positive thoughts weren’t preventing the negative ones from surfacing.

I became plagued with thoughts of the futility of life and I found myself asking “Why bother?” I thought about the generations of people who have come and gone. Over the years, people have advanced scientifically, industrially, technologically, and many other ways, but the fact still remains that people are people and history has a history of repeating itself.

We’re born, we live, we die. So? What’s the point? Why does God even bother to put us here? Is it just so we can struggle and strive for our brief lifetime, some of us realizing He has provided a way to save us from ourselves and all we have to do is believe in His Son and accept the gift of salvation He offers, while others continue blindly living their lives never to accept that truth?

Sure, some people help others as they journey through life (and some people hinder others) but there’s also those who have to make it on their own. Either way, the cycle of life goes on as usual. Some people make a name for themselves during their lifetime, whether it’s good or bad, but so what? What does it really matter, in light of eternity?

These were the kinds of thoughts pestering me, even while doing my daily positive mindset practice. As you can tell, I was really struggling with feelings of pointlessness, bordering on hopelessness, which is why I missed a couple of weekly blog posts. I finally had to increase my anti-depressant to help counteract the teariness.

I’ve battled depression for more than thirty years. Some years are worse than others, of course. Seven years ago it was bad enough that I seriously considered suicide. I even had it all planned out. I was just going to pull the car into the garage, close it but leave the car idling, roll the windows down, lay the seat back, and listen to the radio as I drifted off.

But, suicide is so selfish really.

Thoughts about how my husband and teenage girls would feel if I went through with it made me realize how inconsiderate I was being. It wasn’t fair for me to do that to them. They shouldn’t have to live with the residual guilt, anger, abandonment, or emptiness from my selfish actions.

So, I called my doctor instead. She wanted me to come straight in — no line, no waiting, no appointment necessary.

I was at work and my supervisor was aware I had been having some problems. Numerous days she’d asked if I wanted to go home because either I was crying while working or it was obvious I had been crying.

It was just a short walk within the same building to get to my doctor’s office. They took me straight back to a room and called my husband. I dozed while we waited on him to get there. I hadn’t been sleeping well for a couple of months and I was physically, mentally, and emotionally exhausted.

The event that started that downward spiral was my older daughter getting pregnant while in her senior year of high school. As parents, we were angry, but I tend to internalize my anger and it often comes out in tears. That anger stemmed from our disappointment and embarrassment. We felt like we’d failed, both as parents and as Christians.

During all the emotional turmoil in our family, my younger daughter, then a junior, coped by staying away as much as possible, sometimes for days at a time. I was tempted to report her as a runaway a few times when I wasn’t sure which friend she was with.

I suffered a terrible sense of loss with the news of the pregnancy and endured a period of mourning as a result. Since I had been helping my daughter get ready for college, I was looking forward to her taking the first steps toward becoming a physical therapist. That dream shattered with a baby on the way. I knew my daughter’s future was now going to be much more difficult and uncertain.

In my doctor’s office that day, she said my options were either to go to the emergency room for a psych intervention or be admitted straight to the psychiatric hospital for evaluation. I didn’t want the stigma that would come with either of those options, so I managed to convince her I would see one of the psychiatrists on a regular outpatient basis.

I kept my word. He changed my antidepressant and increased the dose until, eventually, things calmed down.

My daughter graduated high school and a few months later had the baby. I’d repaired our relationship enough that she wanted me present for the birth of my grandson, an amazing experience for which I am truly thankful.

The child, of course, is a huge blessing in our lives. Although I was the one to spend more time with him when he was a baby, once he became mobile and started talking, my husband bonded closely with him. Since my husband was worried all my time was going to go to the new baby, I now give him a hard time about the irony of being left out as I watch them spend time together.

Over the last year and a half, I had even weaned myself down from the maximum to a minimum dose (450 mg to 150mg) of my antidepressant. Since that last episode, my brain chemicals had found a balance and I had been doing well.

Until recently.

I hate the feeling of losing my grip and tumbling uncontrollably down the slippery slope of depression. It’s a feeling I’m all too familiar with, but I can’t stop it or think my way out of it, any more than a diabetic can think their way out of a dangerously low blood sugar or someone with hyperthyroidism can stop their thyroid from going into overdrive. A couple of times over the past few years I’ve come dangerously close to running out of my antidepressant before getting it refilled, and I found myself almost going into a panic over the thought.

Now that my emotions are under control and I can think straight again, I’ve come to realize two things.

One, I really think this was just the devil making one last ditch effort to derail me from mission. Not that I think he’ll give up from now on, but practicing the daily positive mindset work was probably making him nervous.

Secondly, our struggles in life can make us stronger, if we’ll let them.

I was listening to a Joyce Meyer audiobook in the car while driving to work yesterday and she told the story of a man who found a caterpillar’s cocoon. He kept it for days, watching it, and finally he noticed a barely perceptible tear in the wall signaling the butterfly was getting ready to emerge. He continued watching for hours as the slit in the cocoon gradually got bigger. Finally the butterfly poked its little head through the opening, but then it seemed to stall. It stayed like that for some time without anything else happening and thinking it was too tired to push anymore or was stuck, the man decided he’d help it. He got a tiny pair of scissors and cut the slit open so the butterfly could get out, but when it did, he noticed its wings were puny and shriveled and its body was all swollen. He watched some more expecting the wings to enlarge and unfold and the body’s swelling to go down, but they never did. For the rest of its short life, the butterfly was never able to fly, but instead dragged its swollen body around, unable to reach its full potential.

What the man didn’t know was that the butterfly’s struggle to get out of the cocoon is what pushes the fluid from its body into its wings allowing them to fill out and have enough strength to fly. Without that struggle, the butterfly is doomed to a less-than-optimal existence and is unable to fulfill its purpose.

Like the butterfly, our trials and hardships can strengthen us and help us reach our full potential, if we’ll learn and grow from them. Or, we can cripple ourselves by taking the easy way out. Or, we can become angry and bitter, stagnating in a cesspool of negativity.

If we’ll push through the hard times, overcoming our difficulties by not giving up or giving in to the devil’s lies, we will emerge a better person from the experience.

I figure if we’re going to be on this earth anyway, we may as well do our best, enjoy the journey, and reach our full potential.

So, don’t listen when the devil whispers, “There’s no point. Why bother?”

Do whatever it takes to push on through. It’s the only way we’ll find out what God has in store for us.

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