Tuesday, April 27, 2010


Recently I heard a sermon on this passage from 2 Corinthians:
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows.
I like that command/promise value pack. God comforts us. He has, he does, he will. He expects us to care about other people who are hurting because we know how they feel and have experienced God's care for us. My understanding of the words "compassion" and "sympathy" is that they involve shared experience. I have compassion for someone who feels lonely, hopeless, or rejected because I have felt those things, too.

I assumed mature Christians would behave this way toward others.

When the conflict with sr pastor outgrew his relationship with Husband and began to involve our parenting decisions, I decided I should talk directly with sr pastor. I was hurt deeply. I felt like he had judged us and felt insecure about being at church.

I carefully, thoughtfully worked out what I wanted to say to him and how to say it in an relationship-building way. I decided to approach him as my pastor, asking for his help finding my place at the church. My imagined worst-case-scenario was that I'd cry and lose control of myself. I tried to remember that authentic tears generate sympathy and connection and that would certainly be good.

Things started out well. I described my frustrations and asked for his help. He offered brief, practiced answers that I suspect he has given often to similar requests. Then I thought aloud, "The last year has not gone the way I'd expected..." and started to cry. It was a profound understatement of how difficult things had been for my family.

This is the moment when I'd have expected 1 Corinthians to kick in. As a pastor -- in theory, my pastor -- I thought he would comfort me with the comfort he had received through Christ.

He didn't.

Instead he picked up the thought and turned it to himself. "Things haven't gone the way I'd expected either! When your husband came I thought..." and he began listing his frustrations with my husband.

I was speechless. What a crazy mess. This pattern repeated over and over in interactions we had with sr pastor. It is so painful, feels so unkind. It also makes me hurt for him because he seems unable to see beyond himself.

This post was inspired by a recent item from the Church Whisperer. "We are surrounded by pain and sorrow and dysfunction and incapacitation. Without something to offer in opposition to that pain, without a heart that breaks for hurting people, our mission fails."

Friday, April 23, 2010

Wilted Lily

On my Easter lily day I told my husband after dinner, "It's been nice to have a good day." I wanted to be sure I appreciated it. Glad I did that quickly - the bloom has faded.

Yesterday I was in tears and so tired and couldn't find a pleasant thought to ponder. We were traveling to visit out-of-town family and highway driving is a hard time to adjust a mood. My mind kept wandering back to themes that make me feel sad or desperate. I am so exhausted. Why do I have to take my job (parenting) with me everywhere I go? I really, really, REALLY want a vacation. I probably NEED a vacation. How can we make that happen? Who could watch the kids for several days? What if nobody can? This will never end.

The only "true" part of that is me being tired. I'm sure we can work out a time to get away. The catastrophizing path in my brain is just so familiar.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Finally, Easter!

Feeling Easter-lilyish today. Hopeful. Like I've been wearing sunglasses on a cloudy day all this time, and now the clouds have cleared and my glasses are off and I have to squint because God is shining so brightly in my heart.

No event has inspired this -- Husband is still unemployed, life is still very similar to what it has been for a while. But I feel different.

I even created a new label on this post: hope. Over 100 posts so far and this is the first time it's occurred to me to use "hope" as a category. Thank you, God, for today.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Depression Symptoms: Worthlessness

A profound sense of worthlessness

About a year ago I pasted these two pictures of myself into my journal.

The black-on-white image shows how I have experienced my self for most of my life. The boundary between me and everyone else was permanent and easy for me to see. A task like listing 10 words to describe myself seemed simple. Among people who believe or see things differently than I did, I might have remained quiet but identified points of disagreement and felt easy about living with them.

This chalk-on-sky-blue expresses how I have experienced myself for much of the past year. I am not vivid against the background. I blend in, find it difficult to distinguish the difference between myself and the people around me. A finger rubbed against this image blurs it, and friction made me feel like I was disappearing.

I love my husband and children so much and, as our small world came to seem dangerous, I devoted myself entirely to protecting them from pain. I couldn't do much but I wore myself out trying. I felt isolated with my kids and tried to fulfill every caretaking responsibility as creatively and energetically as ever. Eventually I felt lost, inadequate, and resentful. I felt myself disappearing inside of all that they needed.

Children are miserable sources of identity. They hardly know that I am separate from them so they do little to reinforce my boundaries. My response to the conflict at church, my husband's depression, and my own escalating fear and anxiety was withdrawal. It was a destructive cycle. I was losing a clear sense of my self and withdrew from almost every relationship or activity that reinforced my identity.

Much of the past year has been devoted to establishing relationships and routines that help me see myself. Now I have several friends in town who know me well and with whom I feel completely at ease.

Writing this blog has been incredibly helpful. It is a perfect combination of describing my experience for my own benefit and getting feedback from readers that helps me see myself and my experience through someone else's eyes. Thank you all for caring for me that way.

To read all the posts in the depression symptoms series, go here

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Recovery Week

I've been quiet this week because I suddenly realized how completely exhausted I am. Husband is done. He is no longer pastor at our former church. It is such a relief.

It is not, however, the finished-your-final-exam kind of relief I'd hoped for. It's more of a bad-guys-finally-stopped-chasing-you relief. Several times I longed for a week's beach vacation where my only responsibilities would be moving from bed to beachtowel and back again. I feel spent.

I went on a women's retreat this weekend. I was with a group of several dozen Christian women who did not know me. It was a lovely group -- diverse ages, warm, caring, and open to new friendships. I felt safe among them and realized it's been years since I felt safe in a church group.

God encouraged me through the Bible study and through several different women I met. I was proud of myself for finding a way to be kind & respectful toward our former congregation while also being honest about my sadness. Today someone even described me as "vulnerable," which is not a word I've ever known anyone to use about me.

I feel hopeful and realistic. We have passed an important landmark but the road is still long.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Being the Pastor's Wife

At the seminary, I recall a very conscientious effort to help wives of students develop a sense of community and mutual support. It seemed like a good idea, since we were all in the same oddly-shaped boat. It didn’t work out too well for me, though. I felt always on the outside – not German enough, not pious enough, not sweet enough, not “Lutheran” enough – to fit in. I grew up in another denomination and would still be there, I suppose, except that I love a Lutheran man whom God has called to be a pastor. During those first few years I struggled just to understand and accept the Lutheran interpretation of baptism and communion and to figure out how to use the hymnal.

As the years go on, it is a happy surprise for me that the core of Lutheran doctrine is so liberating, so clear about the nature of my relationship to God in Christ. The more I understand the freer I feel to depend on and grow in relationship with Him.

I still feel like I’m on the outside. The Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod seems to have a particular culture and I do not feel like a part of it. When I wind up in groups where everyone else has two degrees of separation from every Lutheran who ever lived, I am lost. My uncle didn’t teach your cousin religion in high school; my grandpa wasn’t the pastor who officiated at your husband’s sister’s wedding.

I am stranded on a bridge: too Lutheran to be anything else, and too uncomfortable with the Lutheran cultural identity I’ve encountered to feel I belong inside of it.

Generally speaking, all of this is ok. Depressive episodes of self-doubt notwithstanding, I like myself. I do not, however, assume that other people will like my particular amalgamation of orthodox and non-traditional, reverent and irreverent, conservative and liberal.

The spiritually wise choice is to let this conflict nudge me deeper in God’s Word and an identity that rests solely on Christ. That sounds simple but it isn’t.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Keys to the Kingdom

In the worship service this morning we prayed that God would work through pastors to fulfill their vocation so that "the joy of God's people would overflow." It struck me as a beautiful and, right now, sad image of the task God has given to pastors. Pastors seem to have tremendous influence to nurture or to destroy the faith that God gives.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Riled Up

Since I stopped attending worship at our old church I have avoided the place entirely, even driving past it. Today I offered to help a friend by dropping off one of her kids at church and didn't even think about the fact that I avoid going there. I figured it would be ok. I didn't need to go inside the building or talk to anybody.

Turns out, I don't have to go inside the building to feel agitated by being there. I spent about five minutes in the parking lot, spoke to only one person and that conversation was pretty innocuous.

Afterward I felt wound up and agitated, like I'd had three too many cups of coffee. If I'd sat still and thought about it I would have cried.

I expect this. I understand that I have a conditioned fight/flight response to this church. An acquaintance put it succinctly: "Even people who don't believe in God believe in B.F. Skinner."

I understand it and I hate it.

Depression Symptoms: Sleep Disruption

Waking in the early morning hours and not being able to go back to sleep; insomnia

Excess sleep, fatigue

Sleep disruptions of both sorts have bothered me, though I’ve had more trouble with fatigue than insomnia. For the last many months I’ve discovered that when I feel apprehensive, or obliged to do something that seems overwhelmingly difficult, I get sleepy. I suppose it’s a practical defense mechanism. Understanding the connection between fatigue and anxiety is new for me. A few days ago I had counseling appointment and knew it would be helpful but dreaded it. I really wanted to stay home in bed. Understanding the fatigue is helping me fight it. Having an idea of why I feel so tired sometimes helps motivate me to fight the urge.

Periodically I’ve had trouble with waking at night and not being able to get back to sleep. For a while when I was obsessively anxious about the conflict at church I’d wake keep rehearsing the series of offenses and trying to find ways to solve them. This wasn’t ordinary lying-awake-to-solve-problems stuff. It was pointless and I felt I could not stop it.

I still wake sometimes at night fall into unhelpful patterns of thought while I lie in the quiet darkness.

Maybe I’ve done something horribly wrong.

Maybe I don’t belong in the Lutheran church.

God, am I totally missing something?

I’m swimming in an ocean of misery, mistakes, pointlessness and I can’t see the shore.

I’m just starting to learn how to deal with this. I have to open my eyes and shake my head to get out of it. I realized I also need something else to think about. At first I tried praying, but my mind wanders easily from prayer back to self-doubt. Then I tried rehearsing scripture. A phrase from Ephesians 3 came to mind, “I pray that you ... grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ.” I started to think of God’s love as the ocean, wider, longer, higher, and deeper than I could ever understand. I was swimming in an ocean of his love, an absolutely safe place to be. That’s a good thing to ponder in the middle of the night.

To read all the posts in the depression symptoms series, go here.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Depression Symptoms: Weight Loss/Gain

Significant weight loss or gain

First it was weight loss, then gain. “Loss of interest in most things” included food. Even when I was hungry I didn’t care enough to eat.

Predictably, perhaps, that phase was short-lived compared to the overeating phase. I have a long history of eating for reasons that have nothing to do with hunger, but have generally balanced it with episodes of attention to eating and exercise so that I don’t actually gain too much. Now I am at risk of not fitting into any of my clothes.

The hardest part about this has been that I feel lowest at night, after dark, when I tend to be in the house with little distraction and unlimited access to food. Some nights I have been just trying to stay awake until a reasonable bedtime. I didn’t want to sleep ten hours every night.

Along with a lot of the other symptoms, this seems to be getting better lately. I’ve had more motivation in the evening and am more often able to do something. Read, clean the kitchen, talk to my husband. It takes a lot of energy and self-talk to get started, but doing almost anything generally lifts my mood.

To read all the posts in the depression symptoms series, go here.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Easter Worship

I didn't make it to church this morning.

That's not a confession, it's a lament. It's a miserable irony of depression that the things I want most are the most difficult to do--sometimes they seem impossible. The good I want to do I do not do...

I absolutely planned to go this morning. I'd talked to the kids about it and checked on whether the nursery would be available. Then I woke up this morning with visions of my impatient children, overflow crowds, and all that holiday hullabaloo that can feel so lonesome.

Yuck. This is such crap. I kind of feel like I've missed out on the most important day of the year.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Depression Symptoms: Loss of Interest

Loss of interest and enjoyment in most things

One of my favorite things about my life right now is that I can walk my kids to school. The school is just a few blocks from our house and when the weather is nice it seems like such a picturesque life: happy little kids running and laughing on the way to school.

Last spring I’d be on this walk and realize I didn’t care. It was good that my kids were happy, but I didn’t have any feeling about it.

Other things that had reliably lifted my mood in the past became completely uninteresting - sunshine, being with friends, planning short trips to visit family. I seemed incapable of happy anticipation.

Everything became a matter of routine and discipline. I ate because I was feeding the kids and knew I should eat, too. I went outside because it made the kids happy. I spent time with other people because that seemed to be a good thing to do.

Losing interest in everything meant losing all intrinsic motivation. Everything I did was for some external reason. I noticed that Therapist was sometimes very expressive on my behalf, as though to show me how I would feel were I to have feelings. I’d describe some small event that seemed good and her face would light up and she’d bounce up in her seat as she talked. It is strange to need someone else to express feelings for you.

Since my husband and I have both been dealing with depression, we have not been able to provide this helpful emotional feedback for each other. Emotional blandness seems to be even more persistent for him than for me, so we are only occasionally able to cheerlead each other through low patches.

This spring is noticeably different. Sunshine lifts my mood; my children’s happiness is contagious. The church I attend now is a happy place for me and the smiles and handshakes I’m offered buoy me. It’s like I’m waking up. I’m still drowsy, but I am confident that God will open my eyes and get my heart rate back to normal after a while.

To read all the posts in the depression symptoms series, go here.