My beautiful mess

USED LIFE 10/1999My favourite photograph/print is entitled “Walk to Paradise Garden”. It is a picture of a little boy holding the hand of a little girl, and he is leading her out of a dark forest in a bright & beautiful garden. A friend gave me a note written on the back of a copy of that picture. The note was about hope & longing for Heaven. I still have the note, 15 years later, tucked into my wallet. An extra large framed picture hangs in my bedroom. Every day I look at it, I dream of hope, of finding freedom from darkness, and praying that it will become a real experience in the story I am living. And, that one day, at the finale of my story, I will walk into Paradise – for real.

My beautiful mess is severe clinical depression. Perhaps all depression is severe, I don’t know. I just know that some days, severe is too soft a word for what I face. There are days I wonder if I’ll survive, and days I wish I wouldn’t. There is a man in the Bible named Paul, and Paul complained that he had ‘thorn in his side’ – not a literal thorn, but metaphorically speaking, and after 2000 years, while scholars debate that with which Paul struggled. I have no doubt that my ‘thorn’ is clinical depression, and many days, it is a bleeding infected mess.

In addition to clinical depression, I have developed retrograde & anterograde  amnesia, resulting from treatment I received for depression, making my beautiful mess a little messier. I have lost about two years of memory previous to getting sick, and I lost a few months after treatment. I still struggle with retaining memory with healthy consistency. I have no memory of getting sick, stopping my job, going to the hospital, and only tiny snapshots of a long hospital stay.  I was told I had friends who visited me every day during my stay. I vaguely remember two people. It feels crazy to lose my memory, but it happened.

Perhaps messiest of all is that I am a committed and passionate follower of Jesus – a Christian. And Christians aren’t supposed to get depressed. But whether I like it or not, God is permitting me to experience an intense ‘dark night of the soul’. He is permitting me to live in the tension, the irony, the questions, the confusion, the frustration, the anger…and He has not given me any indication of when I might be healed of this debilitating illness.

There it is: my beautiful mess. For the past two years, my life has been battered physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually by an illness that has not yet lifted. It is an illness that others can’t see…it is an illness that many people believe doesn’t even exist or feel the need to judge me because it is my ‘thorn’…and it is an illness that has not been healed through prayer.

It is my hope that this blog will be an honest reflection on what it is like to live with clinical depression in general, as a woman, and as a follower of Jesus. Through writing, it is my earnest, passionate hope that I will gain better understanding and perspective and healing from the messiness of depression. I remains my prayer and hope that one day I will arise from this mess into something far more beautiful that who I was before my illness began. I desire to share hope, to find purpose, and to hold others’ hands as I (we) journey from this darkness into light.

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A meaningful mess

The past two years have been the most challenging of my life. I fell deep into a severe clinical depression, lost about 6 years of memory, and realized that having a personal, intrinsic sense of meaning & value is as critical to life as breathing air.
Depression has been a severe teacher. One of those teachers who push you much further than you’d prefer or push you until you cry…flashback to math class…how many days did I end up crying, frustrated and exasperated? Yet my teacher refused to let me give up…even telling me I was a good math student. I wasn’t. Math was my nightmare and bane of my high school experience. Yet, somehow, I did survive and didn’t fail. It often felt as though it would never end, and even on the days I did well, I really didn’t understand the concepts. Depression reminds me of math. I hate it. I’m not good at it. I don’t understand why I have to have it or what value this is to my life.
I want meaning in my mess. I originally thought that depression completely destroyed my sense of meaning and value. Pre-depression I worked in a fast paced, intense work environment where I helped people in crisis or conflict. I worked as a student judicial affairs officer (internal investigator of students), and I taught Ethical Decision Making part time. I loved my work…at least I remember loving it.

A part of the messiness of depression is that I lost the image I had built of myself. I fit the image of a successful professional in a field I loved. I am highly educated and I believe I was good at my job. I am not married & have no children, so my career was a significant part of how I viewed and valued myself. I worked hard to be viewed as competent, strong, ethical, leader, with a strong work ethic. It was an image of which I was proud…it was the image (idol) I presented to the world. Then I became sick.That former image no longer exists.
I haven’t worked in a year 1/2. For months I wrestled with what is my value and meaning if I have no career and no family obligations…I came face to face with the questions: is it enough to worship God with the life He has given me? Am I valuable if I am not working? Does my life matter if I can no longer maintain an image of strength & confidence? Does my mess have meaning? The short answer is yes…there is beautiful meaning to my mess. Though I still have lots of questions for God, depression has taught me many things…I’ll share some lessons in my next entry.

Peace, Jenny

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