Every year around this time, I sit down to write with a focus on my Hannah Elizabeth Gayle Cooley. Can you believe she’d be 14 this year? This October 30th, my daughter would be turning 14 years old, & I’m sure had she stayed with us, that our social media feeds would be full of the things that mothers and teenagers are both besties and frenemies over. I’d like to think we’d have a great relationship, and that we would be on each other’s last nerve…that she’d be musical and lyrical, and free-spirited and independent, and that above all, she’d love Jesus. That’s my hope for both of my kiddos–that they love Jesus. I think a lot of parents would say that about their children.
I don’t need to go into the “whys,” for my breakdown (albeit a brief one) into the Ugly Crys. You know me well enough to understand that when I read the phrase, “we got our miracle,” that it broke me. I’m so grateful that HONY shared this story, because I remember what it was like to see that room full of people who poured their hearts out for days, petitioning to the Lord to save my daughter’s life. We didn’t get our miracle, and I can’t paint that in any kind of redeeming light. I will never understand the whys (on this earth), and even if I did, would that make it any better? No. So we pursue on in faith, trusting that He knows what He’s doing when He makes His choices.
Last week, our daily reading plan (click the link, you won’t be sorry–see my last blog for details) had us reading in both Micah and in 2 Timothy. In 2 Timothy, we see Paul coming to the end of his life, as he writes his final words from prison.
In Micah, we see a prophet trying to prepare his community…trying to get them to wake up and seek the Lord for their redemption…He states the oft-quoted,
Meanwhile, as Paul looks at the approaching end of his life, he states,
We have a mandate to “do justice, love mercy, and to walk humbly with our God.” Only when we do these things, can we look at the end of our life and say, with confidence (not arrogance) that we have “fought the good fight,” and that we have “kept the faith.”
This is not an easy thing to do…it’s not a small task, and Jesus knows what He is asking us to do.
Trials–deaths, sickness, COVID, poverty, unemployment, crime, whatever–come and go, but Jesus and His love for us are eternal.
That’s the only reason I have any hope for anything.
After I read the HONY story last night, I tripped up over “we got our miracle,” and my mind immediately went to “why?” I’ve blogged about this before; the “whys” range from plaintive cries to flat-out screams, and they’re always there in some respect. The question is do I stay there? Do I keep questioning, knowing the outcome will always be the same, until I’m face-to-face with Him? Or do I take a deep breath (or 50), let the tears fall, and listen to Him remind me that He loves me? That He’s still in control? That I’m heard, and that He understands? I make a choice every time the “why” comes to the forefront of my thoughts. I choose to “walk humbly with my God,” and that means that above all, I trust Him.
No one ever said that was a fun choice.
Sometimes the world smacks us in the face with that reminder….that reminder that we are strangers in a strange land, and that we can’t let ourselves get sucked into the mindgames and emotional traps that are laid for us: “Dear friends, you are foreigners and strangers on this earth. So I beg you not to surrender to those desires that fight against you“–I Pet. 2:11-12, CEV
Those “desires that fight against” us aren’t just people throwing lusts of the flesh in our face. They’re also the “quicksand” that we get trapped into, that make us question His motives and character, and our own faith. It’s cyclical thinking that kicks off our anxiety and leaves us an emotional basket case. I’m not immune to it, but I’d like to think I can spot the traps a bit easier now than I used to. Those first few years after Hannah passed away? Oooh, I got caught UP in some messes.
Grief and loss are pitfalls for so many of us…playing the “why?” game with God is a dangerous dead weight that only serves an enemy that wants to see us destroyed.
It’s a tender time of the year for us–for David as well as for myself, even when we seem like everything is fine. Our daughter is never far from our minds, but as her birthday approaches, memories come back, and I know I find myself looking at her pictures a bit more…remembering tiny hands, and beautiful, red-pink cheeks (like her Daddy), and how she’d snuggle in to the soft robe my mother had made me…how she smelled like Cheerios, and how to this day, I cherish every photo taken of family and friends because I know how much those pictures of her mean to me.
I’m finding myself ready to withdraw from social events, and from social media in general–whether it’s healthy or not, I never know, but I will tell you that I make no apologies. Maybe that sounds rude, but I’ve learned that if I don’t listen to these emotions, they’ll pop out at the most inopportune times, and I have no desire to have another flippin’ sobfest in the middle of a Hobby Lobby, so if I tell you I can’t make it, let me be. 🙂
I started writing a piece last night that I think I will leave unfinished; I feel like it makes a good conclusion, even though it’s not fully written, because “unfinished” feels like a pretty good way to describe how I’m feeling through all of this….
“I hear the subtle hum inside my head as I push the pillow further into my face, trying to stifle the sobs that are trying to escape: ‘You’re crazy. No one is listening. No one can help you. You’re losing it. Give up already. This is where it all falls apart. You can’t do this much longer. Admit that you’re failing. Admit that you’re nothing. You’re dying. You’re drowning. You’re dying. You’re drowning.’
Over and over, the words run through my head, fast, then slow…louder….louder….it’s a tattooed rhythm that, if I don’t stop it, will become a non-stop stranglehold that stops the air from escaping my lungs.
I feel the panic rising, and I try, try, try, TRY to breathe…I try to pray, calling on the Name of Jesus, knowing that He’s there but completely unable to grasp His peace or to hear His voice. I’m failing in this…just another thing that I’m failing at…
The water rises, and I can feel the pressure…my chest hurts, my heartbeat is heavy and erratic, and I wonder if it’s the stress, or the new medication for the never-ending headaches that seem to be beyond my doctor’s diagnostic abilities. Change a medicine. Order a test. Get some bloodwork. Never tell anyone that your head is about to explode from the weight of all that has been layering up to bury you over the past 6 months…
Don’t tell your mother… Don’t tell your dad. Don’t tell your husband; he doesn’t understand and he thinks you just “love” going to the doctor… Don’t tell your boss…you need this job, you can’t go anywhere else, and you have to make them think you’re on top of your game… Don’t tell your friends…they’re sick of hearing about one health issue after another. Don’t tell your pastors, because you can’t seem to pray this away… Don’t tell your sisters…don’t tell your brother…
Surely taking it all to God is enough…. But I can’t sleep, and no matter how much worship music I pray, how hard I cry out, or what I say, there’s no miracle cure for this….
Five days…two weeks….three weeks…. How long have I been like this? The inside of my cheeks are raw from chewing the sides of them….my skin is a disaster, and for whatever reason, I’m in constant, unrelenting pain in my wrists, feet, back, shoulders, and fingers. It might ebb or secede, but it’s always there…”
These words…my words…were written last week. Last week…it seems like a lifetime ago. I’m not going to say that I’m not struggling, even now, but last week? I LOST IT. We’re talking, hide in my room, cry into a pillow, have to explain myself because my kid saw me lose it, Lost It. I’m still fighting through this, and I don’t say that in some way that says I’m some kind of a warrior or something dramatic. I say it because that wave of overwhelming anxiety is standing on the brink of my sanity for whatever reason, and I know I’m one wrong comment away from falling back into it. Just acknowledging my own fragility makes my chest tighten…I don’t want to go there again. I never did call my doctor…I should have, but I did a Google search on a medication I was trying to get off of, and figured out that panic attacks, massive depression, and suicidal tendencies are side effects of not tapering off of this medication correctly.
That’s not saying that I wasn’t tapering off of the medication–and yes, it was with a doctor’s supervision. I must have gotten confused on the specifics of the tapering, because it hit me like a ton of bricks, and I swear to you, I will deal with migraines until I’m blind before I go back on that medication again. My anxiety is usually manageable, but for the past 3-4 weeks, it’s gotten out of control, and last week nearly did me in. I know that sounds awfully final, but I was not in a good place.
Fortunately for me, God broke through and very lovingly, in His way, reminded me of two things: He loves me, unequivocally. Also, He gave me people in church leadership who know me and love me well, and can handle my frantic text of, “I can’t talk. Pray for me.” They know me well enough to know that I don’t say things like that, and that something is seriously wrong. They checked on me later on, and made sure I was okay…I also had a friend that knew the details of what was up, and listened–sometimes, that’s the biggest thing.
I have such a blind eye sometimes to toxic relationships…like, I’m just used to putting up with so much crap from certain people, that I haven’t even noticed what a blister they’ve rubbed on my heart, until it’s abscessed. I have forgotten to protect my heart, even though I know that when I don’t, it trickles down to my family. When chemistry goes bad (you know, all of those neurotransmitters in your brain that need to stay level or else you go off the goofy-crap-o-meter), coupled with the damages of stress and toxic relationships, it’s the kind of combination that results in only one thing: A CATASTROPHIC EARTH-SHATTERING KA-BOOM.
You know what I told my son last week, when he heard me crying in my bedroom?
I said (after I had pulled myself together), “You know what, Buddy? Everyone’s brain is a little different, and sometimes…
Sometimes, Mommy’s brain is kind of broken.
It gets overwhelmed, and it gets hurt, and then Mommy sort of crumbles and breaks down.
But it’s going to be okay…and I always know that. I just sort of have to reset sometimes, and crying, and getting all of my hurt out, does that; sometimes, Mommy’s medicines make things a little weird, too. I just have to process a whole bunch of stuff, and I will figure it out. Jesus knows what hurts, and what’s in my heart and in my brain, and He will sort it all out.”
How do you explain mental health to a seven-year old?
I have no idea, but I’ll tell you one thing: I’m always going to try.
Maybe if at 7, I had understood any concept of mental health, I would have been able to understand when mental health was good, and when it was challenging. Maybe if at 7, I had understood mental health, I would have developed the language I needed as a teenager, as a college student, as a young adult, as a grown woman, to understand that mental health challenges are NORMAL, and are just as treatable and as common as a headache, once you begin the conversation with the right people. Maybe if at 7, I had understood mental health, I would be aware that you can’t process spiritual concepts like prayer and healing, when your brain is so affected that you can’t sleep, or your eating habits are jacked up, or you’re so anxious that you can’t focus on beginning to get the Word of God into your mind. Maybe if at 7, I understood mental health, I would have understood that things like sadness, anger, stress, pressure, anxiety–NONE of these struggles mean you are a bad person, or that God loves you any differently or any less.
So, for better or for worse, I am always going to be honest with my kiddo about my broken brain.
There are physical, chemical reasons for emotional/mental imbalances…there are also spiritual reasons, and there is healing that needs to be done on multiple levels. I’m grateful for medical health…prescription medication is very helpful, even though getting the right balance of the right medication is tricky (if you’re going through this, please give yourself grace, and be candid with your doctor and with your family! It’s so, so hard, and I don’t think I’m there yet…I thought I was, and then these last few weeks hit). Spiritual health and support is KEY–please talk to your church leadership, and if they’re not the type that will respond to your text or your call for help, FIND A NEW CHURCH. There is no place in the Body of Christ for the pastor that will not shepherd his flock, and I speak from experience. I’m talking pastors, elders, home group leaders–you have to have someone in the church that will help you when you’re hurting. It’s biblical. We’re not made to go through these battles alone.
I’m still working my way through this storm. I’m not on the other side yet, even though I probably seem almost normal (whatever my “normal”) is. I’m waiting on some test results, and I’m probably going to look back into therapy. I still find myself getting caught up in the whole, “it’s expensive, and I don’t have time!!” but then I find myself making time for other things, so I need to figure this out. Stress is INTENSE, especially right now, as we’re one of many families that’s been impacted financially from COVID-19. My stresses and my mental struggles are so miniscule compared to some that I’ve heard about; I know I can’t compare myself to others, and sometimes it works against me (most of the time), but still. These are not the best of times. I’ll be glad to wave goodbye to 2020…and these past few weeks are burned into my brain as the pinnacle of the worst times I’ve had since all of this began (even worse than the spike of depression I dealt with in May).
There’s always, always, ALWAYS hope on the horizon, though, and I will not stop praying that I have my eyes open to the beauty in all of this. There are some amazing experiences that we’ve got to do and to witness through all of this. There have been blessings, there has been laughter, and there has been much to be grateful for. My biggest struggles have been in my own head, and regardless of the reason, I am so grateful that God does not abandon His own, even when they’re stuck in their own headspace. He breaks through in ways we may not even realize…we can’t give up. This world is quicksand, and it’s only getting thicker….I’ve had a recurring theme in this blog over the past year, though, and that’s how He is our Rescuer…He is our Anchor, and He’s also our Life Raft…
So, now that a week has gone by, I look back at the words that I wrote and the heaviness, though still tangible, is fading. I know it’s close by, and can lay back down at any second, so I’ve been doing some things that I know are preemptive…They’re not cure-alls, but they definitely help:
I have some kind of worship music playing in the background all day long at work. Right now, I’m into Maverick City Music and I’m always into Bethel. I also like just about anything by Forerunner Music (International House of Prayer).
I stopped looking at the news for more than a few minutes a day. I can’t deal with the state of this nation anymore, and I can’t handle the anxiety it induces, particularly during this election year, so I’m just checking basic headlines and I’m leaving it alone. Also, I DO NOT ENGAGE IN ARGUING WITH PEOPLE ON SOCIAL MEDIA. I also don’t tolerate people arguing on my pages. It’s nothing but a waste of time that does more to harm the body of Christ and further the thought pattern that Christians are nothing but argumentative, arrogant fools, and I won’t be a part of it. I Peter 3:15-16–I’ve quoted it enough on this blog that I’d better live it out, right? See an opinion you disagree with? Scroll on by. There–didn’t hurt, right? 🙂
I’m sticking to a routine, which is easier since my son is back to in-person school (glory to GOD, y’all!). This includes getting in daily Bible readings or listening to a daily reading. Here’s the plan I’m using: https://thewaystlouis.com/bible-reading-plan/
I’ve explained that certain messes in the house absolutely must be cleaned up, and need to stay clean, because I can’t handle it–messes aren’t peaceful, and I need peace. Since only one of us is working right now, that falls on the other to take care of. This mandate doesn’t win anyone any friends, but neither does having a mental breakdown at 4:30 in the afternoon. I’ve found this image helpful, as it explains things I didn’t realize (and if you’re the one in charge of cleaning, don’t take this as any kind of shade or guilt–that’s how I initially took it, and I started getting worked up over it, and then I realized that hey–I can only do so much. This is just the psychology behind it, and dang it, I’m gonna give myself some grace!!):
5. Deep breaths. I’m absolutely serious about this. I’ve botched a few presentations lately, and I’ve botched a few personal conversations lately, because I get so anxious and nervous that IJustStartTalkingAndICantShutUpAndBeforeIKnowItISaidWHAT?!? And, like toothpaste, you just can’t put those words back in the tube. It stinks. So I’m making myself breathe, deeply, and close my eyes, and refocus–sometimes in front of people, which leads to #6:
6. I’m being brutally, painfully honest. Posting this blog isn’t easy. Admitting my mental state from last week isn’t easy. Telling my husband that I’m cuckoo-crazy-pants isn’t easy. Watching him stomp up the stairs because I’ve unnecessarily snapped at him isn’t easy…and neither is apologizing a few seconds later, when he’s reemerged to find out if the weather’s changed. Admitting that I can be tumultuous (I’m being nice) isn’t easy. None of this is easy. Realizing that one tiny pill can upset this apple cart of a crap brain isn’t easy (and it’s incredibly, incredibly frustrating…not only to deal with, but to get doctors to understand). Having to make myself visibly stop and breathe/blink when in a conversation with a co-worker so that I don’t start bawling, isn’t easy, and neither is looking them dead-in-the-eye and admitting that, “hey, I’m sorry–I’m a mess right now while we adjust some medications” is NOT EASY, and I have to wonder what the professional impact will be. I’m not afraid to ask for kindness if I need to, I don’t think….but–
#7. I am worth it. My mental health is worth sorting out and worth paying attention to. My stability is worth fighting for, especially for my family’s sake, because being a wife & a parent is everything I’ve ever wanted in my life, and dang it, I’m not going to watch that relationship be affected or lost because I didn’t put the time, the education, the prayer, the help, into it.
If you’re still reading, please know that above all, YOU ARE WORTH IT, too. Jesus says so, and He’s said it from the beginning of time. You–not some ambiguous people group. You, as an individual, YOU are so loved, and you are so worth PEACE….I think that’s what mental, and spiritual health, all tie into–peace. We can’t have peace in our hearts when we’re fighting so hard, but we can’t give the battle over to the Lord when our brains are imbalanced. It’s a battle against flesh (the brain) and blood (the spiritual), and it’s one that starts with Him. He uses all sorts of things–meds, prayer, health and mental care providers–He has endless resources, and He loves you so much that He’s in this fight even more than you are.
You’re loved. Keep fighting. We’re in this together—I’m not saying that to be trite; I’m saying it because it’s true. ❤