I am counting blessings today. It's 4 AM on Christmas Eve, and the counting is going to take a very long time, so it's good that I am up so early.
Today, I want to talk about a blessing that I have realized this year, as I believe I have turned an important corner and want to share with others how and why it's happened.
I have blogged before about my issues with depression. I had prematurely declared victory after some years of therapy and a great deal of progress, but the fight, it turns out, wasn't over. I was loathe to acknowledge this, as I had already checked it off of my to-do list.
I know that for many people, the idea of mental illness is a stigma they cannot bear. It is a pain that is unique, in that it comes with a built-in reluctance to seek relief.
Imagine breaking your ankle and feeling as though others would 'look down on you' for getting it taken care of. Imagine limping around, in pain that is obvious to you, but over time, you learn to limp in such a way that you seem normal to everyone else. Walking around on it, over time, would damage your ankle and the compensatory limp would throw off your hips, your back, your shoulders and your neck.
Your untreated broken ankle would take over your life, negatively affecting everything you do, all of your relationships, your ability to work and your general well-being and happiness.
Would you ignore a broken ankle? No. Would anyone think less of you for getting treatment to heal? Of course not. Then why do we ignore mental health issues? And why do some think less of those who seek to address them?
My comments here are my own opinion, based on what I have experienced. I am not preaching to anyone, but I feel compelled at 4:14 on Christmas Eve morning to describe why I think we should approach these matters differently.
An old Billy Joel song, titled 'James' (presumably so I would pay attention), includes a line that I have always struggled with:
'Do what's good for you, or you're not good for anybody.'
Doing what's good for me always felt self-centered. Self-indulgent. Just selfish. For a long time, I fought against this selfishness, at least in some areas, and felt justified in doing so.
Then, about 12 years ago, at what I now hope to say was the lowest point of my life, and prompted by a loving wife who was struggling with my issue as much as I was, I started therapy. I was at it for several years, and made great progress. I was much better able to cope, started taking medication to help, and then, as noted above, declared 'victory.' I was 'fine' now.
I was pretty good too. One thing I was able to address in therapy was the fact that my parents would one day pass away. I did not set out to address this, but my therapist was wise enough to broach the subject with me well ahead of time. When they passed, I was able to get through the pain of these losses due, in large part, to the work I did with my therapist in advance.
During this time, my faith in God had been reborn and was growing exponentially. I viewed my therapy, and my therapist as gifts from Him, sent to help me through a very tough time. Having decided that the 'tough time' was over, and my ability to deal with similar times, made me more confident that I was 'done.'
Until I wasn't.
I quickly accumulated a series of additional hurts and hangups that gradually caused the great engine to grind to a near-halt. Many of these revolved around my failure to act, failure to finish good ideas, failure to take risks to do anything hard. These things sapped my energy, my hope and my joy.
After vacationing for a couple of years on the islands of Fine and In Denial, I reluctantly returned to therapy. It felt like summer school, in part because it was summer when I did it, and also because I felt like I had failed my previous recovery.
In the second go-round, in addition to addressing depression, we identified a likely root cause, attention deficit disorder, or ADD. Many of us associate this with overly rambunctious kids who can't sit still, struggle to focus and can't get anything done.
This is certainly 'a thing,' but some of those overly rambunctious kids are sedentary 57 year old guys who, among other things, can't focus long enough to finish anything, including settling his father's will. Three years after he passed. This inability led to such self-disdain that I had to acknowledge that I was again, really depressed.
I am continuing therapy, for now, because it helps. I will never declare total victory, as I will manage these issues, more or less, for the rest of my life. But having been on the roller coaster, thrown up and gotten on again, I am better prepared.
To the extent that you think this is alternative to, or in conflict with my faith in God, it's not. God made these good people who have cared for me. God gave them, and many others, an understanding of how he made us - how we 'work.' Their work is that of a healer, just as other medical professionals are. Like all of the people who come into our lives, these professionals are with you for a reason. And I believe it is God's reason.
This does not supplant prayer and worship of the Lord, Indeed, it is yet another reason to praise Him. He wants us to be happy, productive people, growing in faith and love as we tackle our problems with His help and through His love.
God uses people to help people. Many people have, are and will help me at various stages of my life. But my faith is that God sends them, and I depend on Him. And that includes my therapists. He fulfills my needs. Whatever they are.
Which brings us to this morning, Christmas Eve. I am focused, I am finishing tasks of varying shapes and sizes, I am ready for Christmas (probably the first time in my adult life), even the will is (almost) done. I feel pretty good about things. To me, this blessing, and how it came about, I have to share with you. I'm hopeful that this message helps someone. Even one person getting better is a good thing.
My friends, if you are struggling, there is help. It is not 'easy' but neither is walking around with the equivalent of a broken ankle. It will take time. If you're like me, a broken ankle would be much quicker. You can heal, you can get better, you can be better.
Like the song says, 'do what's good for you, or you're not good for anybody.' It is true. And it is worth it. Don't give up, and don't settle for misery. It doesn't have to be that way.
God bless you. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!