10 March 2013

The Long and Winding Road

It’s like being lost in the woods; a grim, dark, ancient tangled forest.

You don’t know where you are or how you got there.
Everywhere you look there are trees, more trees, gnarled and clawing. They reach and grab you, ghoulish, lifelike.
Your heart pounds, panic rises; you want to run, get out of there, find safety and open ground… but every way you turn looks the same. Every time you find what you think is a path, it turns out to be only one more dead end. You’re lost in the forest, and can’t see a way out.

This is what it’s been like for me, living with Depression and Anxiety for the last twelve years (ten, since diagnosis.)

Around this time last year I got to breaking point. When you’ve been lost in a forest for that long, it’s kind of hard to keep believing you’re ever going to find your way out.
I had lost hope, almost given up on myself. Started to believe I would never be free.
Realising we had hit rock-bottom, my husband spent the travel vouchers he’d won for a tropical holiday to try and help save our marriage instead.
Ray explained to me how I wound up in the forest, and why I’d been wandering there, lost, for so long.
Then he hooked us up with a wonderful counsellor back here in New Zealand, Jane.

For the first time, I saw a light through the trees.
That light gave me something to aim for. It gave me hope.
I had a sense that, although I’m still “in the woods” I am no longer lost and wandering aimlessly.
I am on the path that will take me out of this place.
With that light, Hope has returned.
Hope that one day I will be free of the forest.

But oh my goodness, what a journey it is.
Just because I have found the path and can see the light ahead of me, it doesn’t mean that the branches of those evil old trees stop snagging in my hair and tugging at my clothes.
It doesn’t mean that when the sun goes down, I don't begin to fear that the light is gone forever, that I have lost the path, and I am still wandering, lost.
When the night comes, the forest is such a scary place. I jump at every sound.
But I am learning to stay put. As Jane says, “lean into it”. Wait for morning.
And morning comes every time. The sun always rises. Hope is not gone, it just gets hidden sometimes.
I am still on the path.  I am not lost.

Recently the path has taken me through a particularly tangled part of the woods.
The medication* I had fought to go on, thinking it would help with my lack of energy and anxiety, was proving to be a nasty drug. I did not want this drug in my body any more. I wanted it gone.
Withdrawal has been a process which has taken more than two months. It has been pretty hideous at times.
Just over two weeks ago, I was able to stop taking it altogether. The plan was to go five days “drug-free” and then fill the prescription for a different anti-depressant which might have fewer side effects.

So last weekend I’d been drug free for five days and this is what I noticed…
I got goosebumps over everything. I cried at the drop of a hat (good tears; the “my heart is moved” kind).
I had a feeling of being overwhelmed with gratitude for my life and my friends.
Goosebumps at a BBQ, goosebumps and tears at church. Goosebumps and tears watching a doco about the All Blacks, for goodness' sake!

I am FEELING things. Good things. Goosies and gratitude and empathy and love and joy.
It has been so long since I FELT these types of emotions so raw and real, I started to wonder if it was because I was drug free. If those antidepressants which were meant to help me cope with life were actually numbing me. Stealing my joy. Robbing me of LIFE.

I haven’t filled the prescription.
It’s still sitting on my nightstand.

[a painting "Lost in the Woods", by Me]

I am waiting to see if having the good feelings back is worth living with the negative ones.
Because with the good, comes the bad.
Panic, short temper, self-loathing.
Feeling so overwhelmed and helpless at the sight of dishes and laundry that I cry. Feeling so much auditory pain at the sound of my children’s chatter that I have to take my dinner on a tray into my room and eat by myself. Feeling so much guilt at the way I have no energy for my children...

So this is the choice before me:
(a) Take the drugs, reduce the bad, live life NUMB.
(b) Don’t take the drugs, feel alive, find better ways to manage the bad.

For now, I’m going with (b). I have to see if I can do this. Because I am so tired of living numb. This past week as I have felt stuff again, and I realised I'd forgotten what I’ve been missing. My husband deserves a wife who can feel, ya know? My kids deserve a mother who can actually get excited about stuff. And I deserve to experience life in all it’s colours.
With the drugs, there may be no black, but everything is murky beige. There’s no rainbow.

My hubby said to me last night: Going drug-free is like freefalling.
He’s right; that description sums up this sensation. I’ve jumped and now I feel like I am tumbling through nothingness and headed for an almighty collision.
He reminded me I am not alone. I am doing this jump tandem. Strapped to Someone who has the parachute.

Last week I heard the best sermon of my life. It truly rocked my world.
The speaker was Shane Willard and I have found his message* on YouTube for you...

(* Based on the title I am pretty sure this is the same message we heard last Sunday. However I can't be sure because for some reason the sound is not working on my computer. VERY annoying.)

I wanted to share this with everyone I know; it was so profound, so powerful, so freeing.
The way he describes God, and Jesus, well. Blows my mind. Fills my heart.
This is who I am strapped to. The Person who “if all the things that he did were written down, the world would not be enough to contain all the books that would be written.”

It’s Sunday. You might not be in church (hey, I’m not either. I’m here in my quiet house. Church would have been too much for me today). You might not be a church person; you might not even know if you believe that God exists.
Would you consider giving this message a shot?
Watch. Listen. This is the God that I am putting my trust in.
This is the Light I see ahead of me giving me hope. This is my Parachute.
Call me Crazy (you wouldn’t be the first) but I am putting my very existence into the hands of this Person.

Dear readers, if you are lost in the woods, I hope this little Sunday Morning rant has connected with you in some way. I’m on the path. Not out of the woods yet. But one day I will be. I BELIEVE.
Love and hugs

P.S. *The Drug I've been withdrawing from was Effexor. 

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