Running on Empty
Anxiety. Depression. Brokenness. Hurt.
No one asks for these burdens. No one hopes for loneliness and pain. Depression often creeps up and surprises its victims in the worst possible way. It did for me.
I didn’t wake up one day and pray, “Lord God, I think I’d like some time off of work, so maybe a bout of serious depression is in order.” No, it happened slowly, a little at a time, and before I knew it, I was in a pit of despair. I didn’t see this coming.
Let me backtrack a bit. Within a whirlwind of two months, Charles and I got married, traveled all up and down the east coast of the U.S. visiting family, and then moved to Taichung, Taiwan. It was a new country for Charles, a new city for me, and a new marriage and new jobs for both of us. There were so many transitions to make. We touched down in the plane and hit the ground running: unpacking, setting up our house, acclimating to city life, learning new jobs, preparing lesson plans for new classes, learning to live with each other, adjusting to culture stress, and doing it all without any of our familiar and beloved community close by. Everything was new, different, and rigorous. There was no time to slow down.
I spent much of the beginning of this school year running on empty. During the first semester, my strength started to crumble. I was physically sick and missed a lot of school. I began to deal with anxiety and minor panic attacks. I could hold myself together during school hours, but I cried almost every evening. I was breaking down fast. I started seeing a Christian clinical counselor who recommended a psychiatrist for anti-anxiety medication. I continued working with both the counselor and the doctor, but things grew worse. My anxiety turned into depression. Deep sadness enveloped me, and I felt like I was suffocating under the pressure.
Pretty soon, I couldn’t keep going. I took a week off from school and spent half of it with my sister Ashleigh; that was really refreshing. However, by the end of my week-long respite, I still wasn’t ready to go back to school. My leave of absence stretched into a month, then two, and finally, we decided I won’t go back this year.
It has been an incredibly difficult season of life. I didn’t ask for this. I never wanted to be on anti-depression medication. I never thought I would be so distressed that I’d need to take an extended leave of absence from work. But the reality is that my life took a turn, and I found myself calling out like the psalmist, saying: “Why are you downcast, oh my soul? Why so disturbed within me?”
Healing and Small Victories
My goals toward healing started out really small: for instance, taking Emi for a walk in the park near our home or washing the dishes without panicking. Then I started to progress to grander accomplishments like cooking a meal for my husband or walking onto the school campus without tears. When the high school musical rolled around, I braved the auditorium full of Morrison students, parents, and teachers with Charles and my sisters by my side (and I held back the tears until after we left the show). While these victories seem really minor, I have had to recognize them as part of my healing and growth. I’m taking little tiny baby steps, but they are steps nonetheless.
One of the reasons why I’m posting this very honest blog is so that I can write about the small victories in the future and celebrate them with my readers (a.k.a. friends and family). Sometimes just making a verbal recognition of a small accomplishment helps me to see that God is healing me little by little. [FYI, my next “victory” post will be about my Easter weekend and the wonderful time I had with my sisters in Kaohsiung!]
Hope in God
Psalm 42 has been significant to me at various times of my life when I have faced hardship. It is important to me again. In verse five, the poet says:
Why, my soul, are you downcast?
Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God,
For I will yet praise Him,
My Savior and my God.
During my depression and anxiety, it has been difficult to lean on God. I haven’t questioned whether He is there, but I have questioned whether He is answering my prayers. I am beginning to realize that He hears every prayer and answers each one too…it’s just not always in the way or timing I want or expect. I am learning to put my hope in God even through the brokenness, weakness, and despair. In fact, doesn’t Paul tell us that God says, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor. 12:9)? God is not working in spite of my weakness but rather through it.
So, where am I now?
I’m still healing, and I’m still taking time off of work. The school administration has been amazingly supportive of me as I’ve walked this road. They have given me as much time off as I need and focused on my healing as the most important thing.
Charles has been wonderful too; I couldn’t ask for a better husband who loves me and supports me in every way conceivable. Our marriage has grown and our communication has strengthened during this difficult time, and I am thankful that God has used this time of pain for good and growth.
In the month or so that we have left of this school year, my goal is to reach out to some ladies in the community who have extended loving hands and listening ears to me. At the beginning of my depression and anxiety, I didn’t have the time, energy, or life in me to get to know people in the community. Now I have the time, and I sense God urging me to make the best of it. Hopefully, next year I’ll come back to a stronger community and more friends.
And I’ll keep blogging. For me, writing is therapeutic. It helps me to process my thoughts and feelings as I seek to express myself to others. Writing on the blog is also a way for me to communicate to friends and family across the world about how to pray for me. Would you pray for me as I continue to seek the Lord and put my hope in Him?
I know that good will come from this season of pain. I know that God will not leave me and that, as my mom always reminds me, “this too shall pass.” I’m even beginning to get a bit excited about what God will teach me and how I will grow through this challenging season. I will yet praise Him, my Savior and my God.