Category Archives: Depression

Throwback Thursday: Refuel (because I’m running out of gas in more ways than one) (You, too?)

Originally published March 3, 2014.

Running on empty? Feeling anxious and on the verge of a breakdown? Discover one practice you can implement TODAY to avoid breakdowns and reduce anxiety in your life.I hate stopping for gas. I will drive as far as possible on “E” before stopping at a gas station. (Sorry, Mom & Dad – I know, you taught me better.) I hate the anxiety of wondering if I’ll make it to my destination before I run out – but I hate stopping for gas even more than that. It’s such an inconvenience – who has time to stop for gas? The whole concept of STOPPING before I can GO just frustrates me.

Today, this habit finally caught up with me. I load the kids, their snacks, and my bags in the car to go get groceries for the week. Everyone is buckled in, ready to be on our way, and I turn the key.

Nothing.

The lights and radio work fine, so I know it’s not the battery. I call Matt to complain that the stupid car won’t start AGAIN, and what can possibly be wrong THIS time.

Then I notice the gas gauge. And THEN I remember swinging into the driveway yesterday, doing a small arm-pump for making it home without running out of gas… never considering I’d just left myself a completely empty tank.

Didn’t exactly set myself up for a win today, did I?

Obviously we didn’t get to run our errands. Even though stopping for gas would’ve momentarily slowed me down, running out of gas slowed me down immeasurably more. By refusing to PAUSE to refill the tank yesterday, I forced myself into a complete HALT.

I know there’s a lesson in this — and it extends further than filling up my car (although I could stand to just learn THAT lesson). How do we practice the “Refuel Principle” in the rest of life? I believe we can implement this one practice in 3 essential places even TODAY:

Physical: The other day, I really didn’t feel like exercising. (Correction – almost every day I really don’t feel like exercising.) What made the other day DIFFERENT was that I made myself exercise for 20 minutes ANYWAY. I popped in a workout DVD while the kids were occupied with something (okay, that something was the iPad) and I JUST DID IT. And it’s like it re-booted my brain. Just from 20 minutes of sweating. Carving out those TWENTY MINUTES resulted in greater effectiveness & enjoyment throughout the REST OF MY DAY. It was a re-fueling for my body.

Mental: My brain and my body need rest. And I don’t just mean a minute to prop my feet up. I mean ACTUAL SLEEP. I very rarely get good, adequate sleep, which makes no sense because I LOVE TO SLEEP. But with a night-owl husband it’s very tempting to stay up too late too often. (He is not to blame. My love of sitting on the couch and watching TV with him is the real culprit. We are very exciting people, I tell you.) I know good, consistent sleep would really make a difference in my day. So why is it so hard to make this choice consistently?? (I hear you baby-mommas — I know you have to be up at all hours of the night to tend to your little one. So, I hereby grant you permission to TAKE A GUILT-FREE NAP while your baby naps and your non-napping toddler watches Dora. Get some sleep, woman.)

Spiritual: I often think of “stopping for gas” in the context of my spiritual life — taking time to read the Bible, sitting in God’s presence, letting Jesus fill me anew. I absolutely need that fueling, that filling up, as well. It’s so counter-intuitive… stop so I can go. There’s so much to do — and even the noblest woman could say she doesn’t have time to read about Jesus because she’s too busy going out there to actually serve Him. She doesn’t have time to pause and pray about the hurt in the world because she’s too busy getting out there and DOING SOMETHING ABOUT IT. I don’t hate that mindset. But the truth is, YOU CAN’T GIVE AWAY WHAT YOU DON’T HAVE. You want to give away love, hope, peace, joy? Then you better pause long enough to fill up at the Source.

As I write this, I’m already thinking, “This is so basic. Everyone knows you need to do that. You can’t just keep going going going, pouring out and pouring out and pouring out without being refilled yourself.”

But if it’s so basic, WHY DON’T I DO IT?

Maybe it’s just me. Maybe it’s my deep-down denial of how this whole gas tank thing works. As long as the car is still running, I’m good, right? I’ll just stop for gas when I run out – or when the anxiety about running low finally drives me to fill up just in time.

The truth is, I falter when I fail to care for and respect how I was made. We are physical, emotional, and spiritual creations. If I’m living life on Empty – in any of those areas – I shouldn’t be surprised by the anxiety and the frequent breakdowns.

Jesus said:

“I have come that they may have life and have it to the full.”

– John 10:10b

Life wasn’t meant to be lived on Empty. Let’s encourage one another – share how you “refuel” in the comments!

5 Steps to Stop the Downward Spiral

I’m pretty open about my journey with depression. But I don’t think you have to struggle with “DEPRESSION” to know the battle of the emotional downward spiral.

Ah, The Downward Spiral.

The truth is, even on anti-depressants, I still battle the downward spiral. For many of us, being swept into that emotional landslide can be triggered by a variety of things. Perhaps you know your triggers. Or maybe it blindsides you.

Regardless of the cause, most of us know the spiral when we’re in it.

Although I can’t always avoid the emotional spiral completely, I HAVE learned some reliable ways to STOP IT. Here are five tried-and-true ways to stop the downward spiral:

1. Get perspective. 

Put things in perspective and rate your situation on a scale of 1 to 10. I know it sounds too simple to work, but it can be very effective. Here’s what I sounded like just this morning:

Today FEELS LIKE a Level 9 crisis. Molly woke up with a nightmare at 1:30 AM, Owen got up for the day at 5:45 AM, and there is not enough coffee ON THE PLANET for this day… I’m tired. Just being awake feels overwhelming. I FEEL LIKE Level 9.

But what is the ACTUAL crisis level? I set aside the feelings. I look at the facts. And I realize there is no actual crisis. At least not a Level 9. Really, this morning just feels harder than my PREFERRED way to start the day. So we’ll be generous and give it a 2.

Now, I can start dialing my Level 9 emotions down to Level 2 reality.

2. Get grateful. 

It’s so easy to focus on the negative. And when I FOCUS on what I find disappointing, I FEED my disappointment. And it GROWS.

Here’s the good news. I can starve my disappointment. If I focus on why (or for what) I can be GRATEFUL, I feed my GRATITUDE instead. And IT will grow.

For example: today I have a bunch of laundry to fold. I find this less than inspiring, to say the least. But I know if I’m wiling to see it, there’s something to be grateful for.

We have CLOTHES, for one thing. And healthy, active children to get them dirty. And CLEAN WATER to wash them (the kids AND the clothes). And a MACHINE that washes them FOR ME (the clothes, not the kids). AND ANOTHER ONE THAT DRIES THEM. Not to mention electricity to run both machines.

Suddenly, complaining about folding the clothes seems kind of silly. And if I let it, folding those very clothes becomes an act of gratitude in itself.

3. Get outside.

Fresh air does something good for me.  It doesn’t even have to be sunny. (But if it is, even better.) Don’t tell yourself you have to go somewhere particularly pretty or serene. Just get out of your house, go for a simple walk around the block, and see if a weight lifts from your shoulders.

Even if it’s raining – get your umbrella and go for a stroll. Stomp in the puddles.

Get out in the open air and let your spirit exhale. Get out in an open space. Get out from under your ceiling, lift your face to the sky. And breathe.

4. Get sweaty. 

Sometimes the thing that feels most difficult is the thing that will help me most. This is often the case with working up a sweat. But I’ve learned that even twenty minutes of sweat-inducing exercise (the aforementioned walk around the block does not fulfill this for me) can stop my spiral in its tracks.

I emphasize the sweat on purpose. I’ve found a reliable connection between the sweat and the effectiveness of the exercise. If it’s not intense enough to really get my heart pumping and my body sweating, then it doesn’t tend to help me mentally.

I can half-a** it for an hour in a group exercise class and walk out feeling even further into my spiral. But just twenty minutes of cranking out a high-intensity workout with a DVD, and the fog clears as quickly as the sweat pours.

5. Get beyond myself.

Unless it’s fairly mild to begin with, I’m rarely able to stop a spiral in solitude. I don’t mean I need to go socialize – although sometimes that’s the answer.

What I mean is I must position myself to see beyond “me” – and to see beyond this moment.

The best way I can do this is to serve others. (Do NOT just go read about the tragedies and needs in the world, thinking this will help you feel better about your own life. That’s actually about the #1 way to send me INTO a spiral.) Find a need you can do something about right now.

Get out of your own head. Get your hands dirty. Look people in the eye. And do something. It doesn’t matter where you live – there are countless ministries and missions desperate for volunteers EVERYWHERE. Go through your church or just Google service opportunities in your city. Invite a friend along and go serve together.

What would you add to this list? Have you found ways to stop the emotional downward spiral? Join the conversation and share in the comments!

The Wisest Words I Received as a New Mom (and as a human in general)

I received the wisest advice as a new mom - & it's as freeing for me today as it was then. Buckle up. It might be hard to hear - but you'll be glad you did.Confession time.

It’s been a rough couple of weeks, ladies. I’ve said, “My kids are SO HARD right now,” more times than I can count. I walk around at a constant 8 or 9 on the “had it up to here” scale. (So, I boil past 10 over nearly EVERYTHING.) My breathing is a fancy blend of dramatic sighs, huffs & puffs.

I’m tired of the fussing, the complaining, the arguing, the why Mom? Can I Mommy? Mom I need, Mom I want, MommywhyMomcanIpleaseprettypleasebutwhynotMomMommyMomMomMommyyyyyyAHHHHHHH.

I’m weary. I’m angry. I’m over it.

Are my kids really being that much more irritating? Or am I just that much more irritable? I don’t know the answer. Maybe both. But something has to change.

Now this just popped into my head:

If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. (Romans 12:18)

There’s that blessed verse again. And by “blessed,” I mean I really want to cuss, but that feels especially inappropriate in reference to the Bible. But seriously, didn’t I ask for a re-do on that the first time around? Now here it’s popping back in for an encore.

I know God is showing me something. But I don’t really like it. Here’s the thing:  Sometimes I say my KIDS are so hard when in reality, I AM THE ONE STRUGGLING.

What’s the difference? And does it really matter?

In one scenario, the unrest in our home is all my kids’ doing – not mine – which may sound like a relief. But in reality, it sucks, because what can I do except grieve the fact that I have really difficult children and a perpetually stressful home?

When we brought our firstborn home, I had a really hard time. This newborn gig was WAY harder than I expected, so my first conclusion was that my baby was a Really Hard Baby.

By the time Owen was 5 weeks old, I was in a pretty desperate state. A dear friend stepped into my misery and spoke some unexpected words:

“Amanda,” she said. “Owen isn’t easy. No first-born baby is easy for a first-time mom. But he’s not BAD. He’s a BABY. It seems to me that you are struggling.”

Her words weren’t harsh. They were tender and kind.

And true.

I was struggling. AND THAT WAS OKAY. And it was a very important distinction from “My baby is just so hard.”

Sometimes, I wonder if we call our kids hard – or spouse or friend or boss or co-worker – when really the situation or relationship is hard because WE are struggling in some area.

Now, don’t get me wrong – maybe the baby is colicky and the kids have bad attitudes – and that IS hard. I’m not saying my kids are easy right now. But if I can OWN that I’M struggling… that means something important.

Let’s clarify something foundational here: Ownership is not blame. Ownership is empowerment.

If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.

How far does it depend on me?

Well, not at all if I’m utterly convinced my children are the entire problem, and my children’s attitudes are the only issue. 

The ship was caught by the storm and could not head into the wind; so we gave way to it and were driven along. (Acts 27:15)

Have I given way? Am I driven along by the attitudes of my children, or the temperament of my baby? I needn’t be. I have an Anchor. Can I own that? What does it look like to do that?

I am so freed up right now to admit that for the past week I’ve basically said, “MY KIDS SUCK” – and the truth is, my kids may be having an off-week, but I. AM. STRUGGLING. And once I can say, “I am struggling,” it’s a blessedly short hop to “I need help.”

Back when Owen was a newborn, that dear friend gave me permission to be the one struggling. And this gave me room to recognize (with help from friends and my husband) that I actually had severe postpartum depression. This should not have been a surprise to me – I’d already been diagnosed with & treated for clinical depression years earlier – I knew I was at greater risk of PPD. But I was so focused on my baby being hard — and so afraid of the problem being me — that I couldn’t go there. There was fear. There was shame.

But remember what we agreed on? Ownership is NOT BLAME. Ownership is EMPOWERMENT.

Ownership meant I could tell my baby I was sorry for saying horrible things about him. Ownership meant I could – and needed to – speak up to my husband about what I needed, (namely, the need to figure out what I needed). For me, it also meant a visit to my doctor and a prescription for anti-depressants.

This week, ownership means I need to keep getting my face in the Word of God. I need to run. And I need to ask for help.

Lord, please help us live at peace with our kids and in our homes. Show us what depends on us. And show us there’s no shame in being the one struggling. Lift our heads, Jesus.

Are you being driven along in some area of your life? Without shame, without blame, what might you need to own right now?