I returned home a few days ago from the first overnight trip I've taken without my family since 2011. I've been making an effort to process my experience, but it finally occurred to me that writing it all out would likely be the way to make some real progress towards dealing with this mental and emotional overload. (Duh, Joy...) And so, once upon a time...
...there serendipitously arose a last-minute opportunity to attend a four-day, out-of-town workshop. The stars aligned (i.e. my husband heroically rearranged his schedule) and I was able to go.
It was, in a word, amazing. But holy intensity, Batman! Long days, late nights, tons of new information, big ideas, fresh perspectives - more than enough to boggle my mind. Even more overwhelming was the constant challenge to assimilate, to incorporate, to apply what was being presented. But I was alert, focused, interested, excited - looking forward with great hope and expectancy to what could be. I was on board!
In retrospect, maybe what I experienced on the third morning was not much of a surprise at all. At the time, however, it came as though out of the blue - wholly unanticipated.
The morning session began with a time of singing together. In the middle of the second song, the all-too-familiar thick cloud of depression wrapped itself around me, choking me. I couldn't sing another word - I had suddenly lost the ability to believe that the beautiful words of acceptance and love and grace and forgiveness applied to me. Simultaneously, being around people became utterly unbearable. Without a second thought or a word to anyone, I headed for the door.
I'm coming to see what depression means for me in terms of what it takes from me. It robs me of the capacity to believe truth. It renders me feeling-less, numb. And it severely limits the possibility of receiving help from people who love me, since it blocks my willingness to accept care - convinces me I'm not worthy of such.
I don't know what I hoped to accomplish by running away. I wasn't thinking rationally - it never occurred to me that my absence might be noticed and cause my group concern. But as I sat outside in the cold, crisp air, I began to observe myself as if I were someone else.
I noticed particularly that though there was beauty around me - ancient trees clothed in late-lingering leaves, blue sky and clouds creating gorgeous celestial artwork, fresh mountain air - it didn't penetrate into my soul. I saw that my surroundings were beautiful, but it failed to move me.
I'm not sure how long I sat there, staring at the cement staircase upon which I had landed. Eventually, I was discovered, reprimanded, loved on and returned to the workshop. In the far recesses of my mind, I felt the glimmerings of regret that I had caused my friends anxiety, but it was pretty dim. I was still moving in a fog at this point - the remainder of that session was completely lost on me. I felt powerless to re-engage.
Then came a coffee break, and the reckoning. I was pulled aside by my group leader. I heard the words being spoken to me - a wonderful, intricate blending of rebuke, encouragement, truth, care and challenge. I was able to respond, just barely. But a bit of anger and indignation was starting to cut through the fog. I hate being reprimanded. I do not do well with people telling me what to do.
But I did it. I think the initial motivation was to just smooth things over, to shift the focus elsewhere, to make it look like I was okay, to keep everyone from pouring on more care and concern. But that small step in the right direction, even for the wrong reasons, started an avalanche.
The activity immediately following all this was in a small group setting, with people I'd met only two days before - and all men at that. I had been strongly encouraged not only to attend but to engage. So I did. Maybe it was somehow easier to talk to strangers about it, but I ended up sharing some of my struggles. And the genuine outpouring of sympathy and concern and wisdom and knowledge and love I received from these big, tough, manly strangers broke through the fog and broke my heart - in a really good way.
After all the heart-felt prayers and cleansing tears, it was lunch time and down time - thanks be to God! I met my leader in the hallway, and the joy on his face as he beamed at me and exclaimed, "You did it!" was a lovely reward for the exhausting, soul-wringing work of confession and repentance. And after I apologized to my dear friends for shutting them out and rejecting their love and concern, it felt like the sun had just risen again.
Several questions have emerged from all this that will need to be examined at length (some other time!), but I'm taking one extremely encouraging and hope-giving truth from this incident: when I have help, I can overcome. In clinical terms, the duration of a depressive episode can be greatly diminished by outside intervention.
God, please help me remember this truth. Help me to have the courage to reach out, and the grace to receive Your love through those beautiful souls You've placed in my life. Amen!