The Healing Journey

When approaching this series I was hesitant to use the word healing because it implies that once it is “healed” (whatever it may be) then we may never have to deal with it again. The truth is, the healing journey is messy and unpredictable. I wish I could say there is this simple path you walk down and it’s over. That it is possible for you to do all the right things as you heal and everything will turn out just right. In reality, the path has a lot of obstacles and a few thorns that will catch you along the way.

When I was five, my grandmother had this beautiful, cranky, golden cocker spaniel. This dog already didn’t like children and I had decided I needed to put a muzzle on her for whatever reason. Well, you can imagine what happened next. The scar on my arm is a constant reminder of that event, along with the fear and embarrassment I felt afterward.

I think the same goes for our emotional scars, or those scars that appear to go unseen. Even though we have been on the healing journey there are points in time when we become aware of those emotional or spiritual scars. A friend says, “We need to talk.” and you immediately get defensive expecting them to attack you and who you are. Something your boss says at work triggers a reminder of the degrading words your mother used to say to you. Or maybe you experienced a major loss and that time every year seems to start the grieving process all over again.

I think these sudden reactive responses surprise us, or at least they do for me. I often think, “I’ve been doing so well and have been feeling great, why is this happening?”
Whatever your trigger points may be I just want to say that it is completely normal to react. It’s normal to have those deep wounds that have been healing reopen again and bleed out a little bit. It’s being aware of these moments and being able to process the experience that makes all the difference.

Every year, I approach the end of October knowing that an old wound will reopen. I wait expectantly for some sort of clue, some sort of trigger to help me understand why the weeks of depression start to come back. Why I begin to feel disconnected, not only from those I care about but within my body. Why, as the sun hits the horizon I begin to feel dread. Why, as the night approaches the pain that I am all too familiar with consumes my body. Why the helplessness, the hopelessness, the vulnerability comes back, full force. I have no answers for this, nothing. The only conclusion that professionals and I have deciphered is the time change. The time change is my trigger every year, and it’s so frustrating.

As I curl up on my bed in despair I can’t imagine people seeing me like this. The fear paralyzes me, preventing me from having anyone come over. I don’t want to call anyone, sobbing incoherently. The shame begins to overwhelmingly taking over. The scary thing being, it used to be ten times worse before I started taking the medication.

It’s because I am taking the medication that I am able to do two things to help myself in these moments. I am able to find the strength to get out of bed and turn to my music or running.

Running helps me to connect with my body again. When I feel my muscles burn as I run up the “hill of death” on old 63 I am reminded to be in the present. I often close my eyes concentrating on each muscle moving, the pain reflecting how I feel. Reminding me that I have the strength to keep going, to persevere.

I often listen to super emo and sad music when I’m feeling particularly low. These songs help explain the pain I am feeling in ways I can’t even express myself. I play these songs and belt them out alone in my car, praying that God can hear that His daughter is in pain.

Another form of song I turn to is the Psalms and they brought me much comfort over the years. The authors share their raw, unfiltered emotion with our Lord. None of it is perfect and it doesn’t have a cookie cutter solution. Some of it doesn’t make any logical sense. Only making sense internally and deep within my soul.

About a month ago I was going through a death in my family, this event unleashed a shit-ton of other things that I had been healing from the year previously. The grief becoming present when I have a rare quiet moment.
One morning, as I searched the psalms frantically, feeling overwhelmed and exhausted, trying to find something that described how I was feeling, I ran across Psalm 13:

O Lord, how long will you forget me? Forever?
How long will you look the other way?
How long must I struggle with anguish in my soul,
With sorrow in my heart every day?
How long will my enemy have the upper hand?

Turn and answer me, O lord my God!
Restore the sparkle to my eyes, or I will die.
Don’t let my enemies gloat, saying, “We have defeated him!”
Don’t let them rejoice at my downfall.

But I trust in your unfailing love.
I will rejoice because you have rescued me (many times).
I will sing to the Lord
Because he is good to me.

So much of this psalm seemed counterintuitive to me. It seemed demanding and questioning, but it made so much sense. It felt real and honest, and I found solace knowing that my Father understood and was there in that moment with me. I may not feel Him or have an answer, but I knew I was able to communicate my desire to Him. That He knew what I wanted, what I needed.
This is a Psalm I often turn to when I’m feeling depressed. Praying it over and over again, allowing it to fill my soul…. Identifying with feelings that it produces…. And letting them go slowly, one at a time. The peace isn’t always there afterwards as I would like, but knowing I was able to communicate with someone about my true feelings makes me a feel at least a little better.

It is after engaging in these two activities that I engage in relationship and allow my community to help me in my time of struggle. Sometimes I reverse the order, when I’m needing a particular pick me up and it’s someone I can trust.

So the moral of the story is…. This healing journey doesn’t really end. Things are going to happen to trigger old emotions. There are going to be times when the stressors pile high and you wonder how you got to this point in your life. There are going to be times when you react rather than respond. There are going to be times when it is more difficult than others.
The awesome thing is that, it’s okay. We are all a beautiful mess… and our God loves every little bit of it. Partly because He gets to walk through it with us and love us in the process, even when we feel we don’t deserve it.

So my questions for you are:
What are your trigger points, what do you feel as a result? What are some things you need to do for yourself when you feel triggered?

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Healing Takes Time

It was a Saturday morning. I sat across from my friend, listening as she poured her heart out to me, the raw emotion coming out in one big tidal wave. It ended in her saying, “I am trying to do all I can but I never seem to get better. I still feel awful and I just want to be okay.” I knew my response was not something she wanted to hear. She wanted a quick fix solution so she would no longer feel the pain that had been plaguing her for months. “Unfortunately,” I said, “there’s nothing more you can do other than keep doing what you’re doing. I hate using clichés, but this is something I strongly believe in; growth and healing take time.”

We live in an age of fast and easy

I admit, I’m one of those who when my iPhone or Internet connection is slow the angry side of Kaitlyn comes out. It’s such an inconvenience to my precious time and me. I only allotted so many minutes to this task and if it takes too long then it will throw my whole day off.

Technology has constructed us to be more impatient.  Now this is not me bashing technology, saying it is the cause of all our problems. I love my apple products. I love having my iPhone to use as my iPod, GPS, and computer all in one small rectangular box. It’s convenient and helps me out when I’m in a pickle. But I do believe technology along with the cultural messages we receive is a contributing factor to our impatience.

We have been conditioned to believe that if we don’t get something quickly and if it isn’t easy then there must be something wrong with us. That we must be doing something wrong. There must be an alternative way, a short cut; to whatever destination we want to be at. I don’t know about you, but my dad’s “short cuts” he took on road trips usually took twice as long to get to our destination than it would have to take the main route.  Not a good thing when you have a 10 and 7 year old in the backseat who are beginning to antagonize each other because they’re bored.

What I have found as I have helped people through the struggles they come in contact with in their everyday life is they want to reach the end goal of “happiness” without going through the hard work of processing through their past experiences, and feeling the feelings that come with it.

When it comes to healing and growth there is no perfect algorithm to predict where we will be in one, five, or 20 years.  We often look to the future with our end goal in mind. Idealizing what life will be like. Looking at ourselves through this image of black and white. “If I feel sad than I can’t be happy.” “ If I feel angry then I can’t feel joy.” “If it takes me more than 4 weeks to grieve this loss in my life then there is something wrong with me.”

Which leads me to this scripture: Luke 13:6-9

“Then he told them a story: “A man had an apple tree planted in his front yard. He came to it expecting to find apples, but there weren’t any. He said to his gardener, ‘What’s going on here? For three years now I’ve come to this tree expecting apples and not one apple have I found. Chop it down! Why waste good ground with it any longer?’

“The gardener said, ‘Let’s give it another year. I’ll dig around it and fertilize, and maybe it will produce next year; if it doesn’t, then chop it down.’”

We are often so quick to yell, “Cut it down!” and judge ourselves when we aren’t “healing fast enough”. Which leads to “I’m not good enough.” “I’m not smart enough.”… and so on.

What does it take to grow a fruitful tree? A patient Gardener. Willing to prune and dig into the deep weeds that are inhibiting the trees growth, pulling them out to see.

God is our great Gardener. He gets down and dirty, digging deep into the earth revealing to us the weeds that are cutting off the nutrients to our souls. Showing us parts of our lives that need pruning. He provides us with the fertilizer to help us grow: counseling, community, medication, books, journaling, prayer, grace, truth, etc. But even as He tends to our souls our growth takes time. Just as a tree takes time to grow and bear fruit, it takes us time to grow and receive that fruits of the spirit.

Dr. Henry Cloud calls this redemptive time in his book Changes that Heal. Until we are willing to pull out the weeds and acknowledge them in our present time they will continue to grow deeper and deeper into our souls. Preventing the fertilizers in our lives to enter and help us in bearing fruit. When we do acknowledge the weeds in our life, bringing them into the present without judgment and condemnation, it allows for those fertilizers to reach our soul. Weeds (sometimes the same ones) will continue to grow trying to cut off our fertilizers. But as we continue to pull them into the present we will see a difference in ourselves and who we are becoming.

The truth is there can be light in the darkness. We can be happy while also being sad. We can find joy even when depression is present. We can experience the good and the crappy all at the same time. Fearing the weeds in our lives will prevent us from experiencing the joy that God has designed for us.

What are the weeds in your life? What and who are your fertilizers? How can your fertilizers help you dig deep and pull them out and bring them into the present? 

Healing Comes with Participation in Relationship

This is the next part of my series on my healing journey. Go here for the backdrop of the story.

A common response to depression is isolation. But when I isolate it’s not the typical recluse reaction people think of. I am very involved in my church and serve on a regular basis. I often see people almost daily. In my most recent period of isolation… I was available to my friends but I wasn’t present. I was at church but was disengaged throughout the service. I was praying, but with hollowness. People who care surrounded me, but I felt alone and empty.

For so long I felt that I needed to push down the cynical, irritable, angry, depressed, insecure part of me. The part that becomes ever-present when I’m going through an episode of depression. I thought of it as more of an annoyance. I hid it, fearful no one would understand and afraid I would hurt those I love. As I look back now I realize I feared being wholly known.

When I tried to share my depression with others, when I tried to be vulnerable, I felt like I had done something wrong. I felt ashamed for placing those emotions in others lives. Therefore I decided for my friends what part of me they wanted to see. Only sharing things that appeared to be vulnerable to others, leaving out the most vulnerable thing: my constant state of depression. Giving the false impression that I was engaging in the relationship and going deeper. Yet in reality, not being completely honest about where I was at and what was going on.

I think this is one reason why I love the movie Frozen so much. I saw it at a time when I wasn’t able to identify the emptiness I was experiencing. As I related to Elsa and reflected on the emotions I felt during the movie I began to identify what was going on.

Elsa lived in fear of the powers she had and as a result numbed and isolated from those she loved as a way to prevent them from being hurt.

These two songs provide a good backdrop for what I’m talking about.

Elsa attempts to isolate herself from her sister in order to protect her from the storm that seems to be stirring inside her. When she isolates she thinks that if she escapes she will be free from the fear of hurting others. It’s when she is alone she feels safe to let go and feel again. Seeing the beauty within her gifts and in all of who she is. When Elsa’s sister, Ana, reaches out to help, Elsa pushes her away. Fear gripping her again, the storm becomes stronger as she attempts to hold everything in. It wasn’t until she allowed those in her life to love her, as she is, that the storm began to lift. She saw her giftings as a part of her, a part that was worthy of being loved. Seeing a beauty within them.

Like Elsa, I lived in fear of what would happen if I were to share the depressed and angry side of myself with others. I feared hurting others and feared rejection. I saw my depression as a curse rather than seeing the beauty that can result from the state of vulnerability it placed me in. A place where my relationships can be strengthened and can build trust.

What I discovered was I still have a deep wound of distrust that I carry around with me. I found that in order to heal and grow, I needed to invite others into my pain. Not only my friends but my God.  I was hiding from God, ashamed and afraid of Him being disappointed in me. Disappointed that I couldn’t get my shit together and get past this eternal depression. I’ve struggled with this most of my life; I should have a handle on this by now, right?

A Prayer Journal by Flannery O’Connor has been pivotal on this journey. Her authenticity as she pours her deepest concerns and worries out to God showed me a side to relationship I hadn’t fully embraced. This book helped me to start a conversation with God that I have never felt free to have. I began opening up about how I truly feel and allowing Him to into darkest parts of my soul.

As I no longer lived in in silence, I found that I needed to accept depression as something I will always struggle with. There are going to be periods in my life when I struggle more than others. It doesn’t mean I am weak or lesser than anyone else. It does mean I have a chronic illness and like any illness it takes some time, maybe some help with medication, and self-care to feel better.

To accept a part of ourselves that tends to be misunderstood and thought to be “cured” by a few pills or “praying it away” is what I would call bravery. To share this part of our heart with others is to be courageous and vulnerable. I have discovered the people I want to share this experience with are those who have earned the right to. They have dedicated the time to our relationship and love me for all of me, not just certain parts of me. They love my imperfections because they know these imperfections have made me into the compassionate, sensitive, and caring person I am. But to discover these whole-hearted friends means I have to take a risk: a risk to be known, to love, and possibly be hurt in the end.

I have slowly come to find these friends in the most unlikely of places. They are helping me feel the love of Jesus Christ in ways I haven’t in a long time. Slowly softening my heart and helping me see the beauty in the darkness. I know this has been the answer to many of my prayers over the past several months. I am truly grateful for those who have delighted in me, even as I struggle through the pain.

God created us to be in relationship. As we open up to God and our friends/family, it opens us up to be fed through the connection we feel as a result of our vulnerability. To feel connection means we have to participate in relationship. As I have participated in relationship with both my community and my Father, they have slowly redeemed the word depression for me. They have shown me the beauty that can be found within it and within me.

My 2013

As I reflect on 2013 I see it as a time of grief. I experienced the loss of a dream, a loved one, and many of my relationships changed. As the year came to a close the month that I dread every year approached. In November it is the beginning of a darkness that seems to last for eternity: the grief, the pain, the depression overflowing my life. Not being able to identify why. But this November it was different. The darkness didn’t end in December like it normally does. It continued into the New Year and forward.

I found myself isolating myself from the people I care about. My ability to focus had decreased. I was ashamed of the deep depression I was in. I appeared to be functional to the outside world but my inner world was chaos. I couldn’t motivate to do even the most basic of responsibilities. My forgetfulness reached a level of dysfunction. I wasn’t able to be present or engage in church. My relationship with God seemed non-existent. Resulting in a shame cycle that sent me spiraling downwards, the “shoulds” plaguing my mind.

So I sat in silence trying to ignore the darkness. Hoping that maybe it would just go away like it always does. Berating myself because once again this demon was taking over my life like it had so many other times.

This was the reason why I stopped writing. I couldn’t even focus long enough to write anything coherent. I was disconnected from my emotions and my thoughts.

A month ago I decided to take action and began to take medication again. That’s when the fog began to lift and I could see more clearly. I began reading two books that have been pivotal in this journey: Changes that Heal, by Dr. Henry Cloud and A Prayer Journal, by Flannery O’Connor. I will be talking about them in the upcoming posts:

Healing Comes with Participation in Relationship
Healing Comes with Time
The Healing Journey

The Personality of Relationship

Relationships change. This is a statement I feel is common knowledge among many people. But for someone like me, who has a hard time adapting to change it can be a hard process to accept.
The way I have viewed relationships for most of my life is: if I am having regular heart-to-heart conversations with someone then that must mean we are close. Devoting time to relationships is very important to me, but it’s how I devote my time that has changed.
Over the summer I got to know several different people very well, I was hanging out and interacting with them pretty regularly via many social outlets. It was a season full of life for me. Then September hit and we all started to get involved in our respected ministries and organizations. My job became more demanding as my caseload began to grow while others had their own work to do. The people I had been running with were no longer available as things in their lives began to pile up. The friends I was communicating through social media were no longer posting or interacting with me as much. I started to feel insecure in my relationships, wondering if I was doing something wrong. Feeling guilty because I wasn’t able to spend as much time with those I cared about due to my own responsibilities.

As I dug into this in September I discovered a few things I would like to share as we begin to enter into the holiday season, a time when things tend to get busy and loneliness can crop up on us when we least expect it.

Relationships are malleable and adjustable.
Just as fall turns into the frigid winter, winter will turn into the life-producing season of spring.  I see relationships in much the same way. Sometimes our relationships go through a few rough patches due to things like insecurities or our own fears. There are times when we see some people more than others. Sometimes the role a friend once played in our life is something they can no longer do during the particular season they are in. Perhaps someone plays different roles during different seasons in our own lives. Allowing space for the relationship to grow and adapt can be worth the change if we let it.
The beautiful thing about relationships is you share memories together. As you experience each others’ stories throughout the years you receive a glimpse into each others’ lives and as a result the relationship grows and deepens. No amount of change is going to take away these memories.
A perfect example of this is my relationship with a close friend of mine. She is a constant encouragement and joy in my life, but our relationship has had its fair share of winters. These winters allowed us to get to know each other in a way that we never would have during a blissful summer. It’s the memories we shared that kept us together as we sorted through our differences and allowed us to move into the spring we are in now.

With change, there is a grieving process involved.
Even if the change is good, I think there is a grieving process. Usually when something changes, there is a loss in the mix. It is possible to grieve and experience joy in the change while acknowledging it is happening and giving space for the relationship to grow and adapt.
With this in particular I am reminded of a time when a friend of mine set some clear-cut boundaries with me. The boundaries limited the contact I had with them and meant our relationship was going to be changing dramatically within a short amount of time. It didn’t help that it happened during a time when I was transitioning churches and a lot of my current relationships were going through struggles of their own. In my own eyes, I felt I was losing yet another close friend of mine. It took some time for me to adapt to the changes and it took me a bit longer than normal to grieve the relationship that was no longer what it once was.
I wish there were something encouraging I could say about this…. But I think grieving and pain comes along with loving and being in relationship with others. It’s a risk worth taking in order to experience life giving properties that love provides.

Relationships are not black and white.
I have a tendency to live life as if it’s black and white. Either someone loves me or they don’t. If I spend time with someone we’re friends, if I don’t we aren’t. If I don’t have a heart to heart conversation with this person weekly then that means we must not be very close or they don’t trust me.
How draining is that?! I don’t want to live like this. And I don’t want to place these high expectations on my friends, let alone myself. There is no possible way one person can meet every need I have, and I wouldn’t want them to.
Some of my most life giving relationships are those where I can just sit on a couch with a friend and talk about absolutely nothing in particular, laughing together uncontrollably. Or perhaps a friend who shares my love for classical music and can sit with me as we allow the music to fill our souls. Some of these friends are not those who I would share my deepest concerns but that doesn’t mean I care any less for them.
We have many different relationships and they are vibrant and full of color. They serve different purposes in our lives and each are beautiful in their own personal way.  Each friendship has it’s own personality and that personality grows just as our own personalities do as we discover more about ourselves.

A friendship doesn’t need to be figured out, it’s the adventures you take together to do the figuring that make it it’s own.

Waves of Grief

It’s hard to believe that it’s been a month and a half since my world was shaken. Since then it has been a rough journey, mostly feeling numb to everything around me. I don’t think I have been numbing the pain, I was in shock and the reality of the situation hadn’t hit me yet. But because of that feeling of numbness I know I wasn’t able to experience joy as I had been.
Then the waves of pain started to come. A song plays or I’m driving in my car and memories — fond memories — of her pop into my head. I embrace them, those moments have been gifts to me. While it’s difficult for me to experience these emotions, at least I am able to feel again and enjoy what I do have.

Here’s a portion of the book Praying Our Goodbyes by Joyce Rupp that helped me experience some of deep aching within me:

If you have ever said a deeply significant goodbye, you know what it is like to have life pelt you with sorrow, to be overwhelmed with emptiness, loneliness, confusion and sadness. At these times we are bent over, crushed. The pain is overwhelming, often too deep for tears.

The pain is overwhelming, often too deep for tears. How difficult yet comforting to hear.

Kaitlyn Unplugged: What does it truly mean to “sign out”?

This week I decided to unplug from all of my social media outlets for a bit.

What stirred this inside me was my response to a church service during the week. Right when I walked through the doors of the church something inside me changed. I no longer felt safe, which felt weird because it is the safest place I could possibly be. After the service I was upset and angry about various things going on in my life. Eventually, after word vomiting all over a friend, I jetted out. I felt like my feelings were beginning to spiral out of my control and I knew I needed to go to a private place to process. Once in my car, I called an old college friend who I knew would tell me the truth in the situation.

As we dug into my feelings we discovered my need for approval from others was becoming a prominent struggle in my life. The reason I felt so unsafe in my community was because I was so insecure with myself. The lies had broken through all of my defenses  and culminated in a big chaotic mess that night. My friend informed me that if this was effecting the way I felt within my community it was worth digging into with God and trusted mentors.

As I thought more about it I recognized one of my primary sources of security is social media. “How many likes can I get from this status post?” “How many people will respond to this tweet?” “Why did those people get tagged in that post and not me? I like volleyball….” I was using social media as my primary source of communication while disengaging in individual relationships. 

When I unplugged this week I honestly had no idea where I was going with this. I set not time limit and decided to allow God to lead me in the direction I needed to go. First, I signed out of EVERYTHING and I mean everything. Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc. When you have several devices signed into these things it’s a bit of a hassle to sign out. For example, my iPad refused to sign out of my twitter account and I spent about 10 minutes trying to figure out how stop the insanity. The reason why I signed out was because I wanted the dust to settle for me. The many emotions I was feeling needed to be identified and I needed to sit in silence with God.

Later, I received an e-mail stating that someone had mentioned me in a tweet. It was then that I recognized something about unplugging. When people “unplug” they tend to sign out of all social media outlets for a week or two expecting whatever their struggle may be to go away. They aren’t addressing the behavior, the feelings, or the insecurities and are avoiding the problem.  When they come back they aren’t prepared for the problems they were experiencing and tend to revert back to whatever caused them to do the unplugging in the first place.

I saw this a lot when I worked in inpatient treatment for substance abuse. When my clients would leave, they were leaving a safe place where they didn’t have to deal with their outside stressors. Often they would think they could go back to their hometown and just continue life the way it was without preparing themselves for the battle. What they hadn’t thought about was how those situations at home were probably the reasons why they were drinking or using in the first place. Many would often relapse because they weren’t prepared for social pressures or for whatever triggers that may occur.

After seeing the email, I sat there staring at it for a while struggling with what to do. Do I read the e-mail even though “I promised” God that I wouldn’t engage in social media or do I not read the email because of that promise? It was then that it hit me. This is a friend I care about. I am not disengaging from social media because of them, I am disengaging because of my own insecurities. I decided to read the email and found that my friend was sharing an article they thought I might like.

After reading the article, the next question was, do I respond? If I were to ignore this tweet I would not be addressing the insecurity I had been feeling. So I evaluated the motivations behind me tweeting. Was I tweeting because I expected him to respond and needed affirmation from him or was I tweeting because I was engaging in my relationship with him and wanted to share a piece of myself with a friend?

When unplugging it is important to be self aware and know what is going on inside of you. There will be triggers and those same insecurities are going to crop up every once in a while. It is all in how you respond to them. Jonalyn Fincher puts it nicely in her weekly Vlog on Rubby Slippers.

And just so you know I did tweet my friend back.Social-media-for-public-relations1

Right now, I am signed back in on all of my social media accounts. I’ve been liking, favoriting, and sometimes responding to others posts but I haven’t posted anything. In fact, posting this blog will be a first. As I begin to work my way back into social media I am going to be aware of my motivations and my insecurities as I engage in relationship with my friends and my God. 

“Unplugging” really differs among people. Some people unplug because they need some silence to allow the dust to settle within the chaos. Some unplug because they are using social media as a way of increasing self worth. While others unplug because they feel it’s an addiction that they need to stop. Each of these reasons are valid, but unplugging looks different for each one. How someone unplugs depends on the individual and where they are in their life.

The thing about social media is that it doesn’t have to take away from your relationship with God or with your friends. It can actually enhance these relationships.
It all depends on
1) your motivations
2) where you are in your life
3) where you are seeking your value
4) how appropriate your behaviors are
Social media is a fantastic tool to use within community and it’s actually one way I have been able to connect with some of my friends and with God on a different level.

Here are some questions to ask yourself if you are thinking about unplugging:

What is going on within my soul? Why do I feel an urge to take this action?
What practices will I use to replace my time spent with social media (i.e. praying, walking, cooking, reading, writing)?
Am I willing to go to God and trusted friends with this struggle?
Am I trying to avoid something by disengaging from social media?

I would love to hear thoughts and ways I can better improve this.

photo credits: writingindustries.com, trueslant.com