Better: Part Two

My heart is quiet. Peaceful. The turmoil I was pinned beneath only a couple of weeks ago has vanished. Medication is amazing. For me, it is the difference between tears pouring down my face and physical pain in my gut (that is mental pain manifest). I struggled to think clearly, there was a near constant migraine. I couldn’t get a grip.

There. I admit it, being a basket case comes frighteningly easily to me.

Now, I am a Christian. I believe that ultimately, God is the answer to all my problems. I believe that He alone will save me. I believe that He is very, very good. I believe that we live in a fallen world that is distorted by sin. I’m also what is called “post-mil” which means that I believe that when God’s son, Jesus, died on the cross 2,000 years ago, He reset the course of our history forever. He rescued us from eternal suffering and instead, paid the price for every sin ever committed. Think about that for a moment. Every. Single. Sin. Atoned for completely. No strings attached, no assistance needed. Done. He said, “It is finished.” and it was. Incredible, isn’t it? And now, we, His people, are called to usher in the new world, called Heaven. It’s coming, I can feel it. I can see it too. Life is getting better. Oh, I know it is easy to be distracted by the evil around us (ISIS, abortion, death), but when you look at the whole timeline of our world thus far, there has been vast improvement since Jesus died on the cross. This is why I can be hopeful. I can see the good things He promised would happen, beginning to happen. He is working at bringing about a better reality and it is exciting! I believe that part of our responsibility to help build God’s new Kingdom is through being a good steward in the world we habitate now, that includes (but is not limited to) understanding it. We should cultivate it and create awesome stuff from its fruits. I think medicine belongs in that category. My prescriptions and supplements, though we may craft them in a lab or in our own gardens, they all come from God’s hand.

All that said, Heaven isn’t here yet. There are still spots (large and small) of sin and suffering in our world. For starters, I am broken mentally. My head just isn’t right. God ordained several very difficult things to happen in my life; abuse, the death of a dear friend, long-term sickness — and my mind kinda short-circuited. I can no longer functional normally, independently. In some ways, it has been a blessing. If I don’t stay in God’s word, my heart slides into darkness faster than average. If I don’t immerse myself in truth, I get horribly confused and think I can’t go on living anymore. Telling the difference between truth and lies becomes extremely difficult.  And so,

  • I stay in God’s word.
  • I am honest with those I trust for accountability.
  • I go to counselling and
  • I partake of God’s gift of modern medicine.

If these are crutches, they are making me a better woman, so I don’t really care. 

Another aspect of living in a fallen world is never being able to achieve perfection, even with the aid of chemistry. To anyone who thinks taking a pill to help with mental illness is a cop out, allow me to introduce you to a little something called Side Effects. They come in all different shapes and sizes. The last medicine I was on made me gain weight — a lot, like 30lbs. The new pill is, thankfully, allowing my weight to regulate, but right now, it leaves me feeling creatively and emotionally zapped. I am numb. It is work to feel the joy that I know for a fact resides in my heart. It’s frustrating, but I trust that God is doing something good with me right now, something I’m going to be able to look back on one day and be thankful for. That is just how He works. So I’m trying not to get frustrated or angry. I’m trying to be thankful here and now. Introducing a new medications can be like inducing a spiritual boot camp session: If I can be joyful when I don’t feel like it — well, that is a skill worth mastering. Thank you, Lord, for this opportunity.

In the meantime, if I’m not my bubbly self, if I am quieter than usual, please know that it isn’t personal. Please know that I am ok. The doctor says to give the new medicine a couple of weeks. There is a chance my body will adjust and I’ll feel myself again. That is the outcome I am praying for. And if that doesn’t happen, I trust God has something better in mind.

He is good and He loves me — crutches and all. 

Psalm 16:5-6 | Mere Breath

Mental Illness in the Church

It is common practice in churches, however, to treat mental illness differently. We immediately assume there is something else, some deeper spiritual struggle causing mental and emotional strain.

The fact is that mental illness and spiritual struggle can be (and are) related. We are not separate things, we are complex people—remarkable connected in spirit, soul, body, mind, etc.

But, let me be direct here: if we immediately dismiss the possibility of mental illness and automatically assume spiritual deficiency, our actions amount to spiritual abuse. I know those are powerful and pointed words, but I believe them to be true. Please, don’t miss them.

-Ed Stetzer in A New Approach to Mental Illness in the Church 

Two Years Later

Abra:

From the archives — we are now three years later. Last night I spent most of my evening nauseous, retching, fighting off the tears. The medications I am on have some really horrible side effects if you forget to take them. I am fighting to remember that these kinds of trials come from God’s hand and if I get angry about this, I am really getting angry with God. Which would be ridiculous because God has always carried me, blessed me and protected me. Slowly and painfully, we are training my heart to rejoice in these trials, and instead of complaining and looking inward to how I feel and what I want or what I think life should be like (or who to blame), I’m learning to look to Christ and it is there that I see all His kindness reflected back at me:

My husband, who is lovingly standing beside me, comforting me and nursing me in my times of helplessness.

My children, who are beautiful and challenging and resilient and ultimately a delight to live with.

My Bible, God’s word, which encourages my spirit and points me back to Him.

They are all there. Mercy upon mercy, piled up so high I can’t see what the future holds. But I am not afraid and I will not be discontent. I will not focus on this momentary suffering, but be strong of heart and laugh at the days to come.

The Lord is my shepherd, I can’t take my eyes off Him.

HappMere Breathy birthday, my funny, crazy, little Man. I wouldn’t change a thing! May the Lord bless you and keep you, Liam Daniel Baines Carnahan. The Lord make His face shine upon you, and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up His countenance upon you,
And give you peace.

Originally posted on Mere Breath:

My youngest turned 2 today. He is so old and so young all at once. Such a little man. I love him.

Liam

I love all my kids. Even factoring in the hyperemetic pregnancies, the result is far greater than the effort I put into them. It is my custom to reflect on my experience with Hyperemesis Gravidarum annually in this public fashion. I do it because I don’t want to forget and because I have friends going through what I went through (and worse) right now.

This last year I learned a lot. I read more, thought more, sought more, and prayed more. It has been a good year. It has been a challenging year. I’m not sure I can blame all of my health problems on having had HG 4 times, but I know it contributed in a big way. When you starve long-term, are on mass doses of medications and…

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Gospel Suffering

“Whenever you love, you reenact Jesus’ death. Consequently, gospel stories always have suffering in them. American Christianity has an allergic reaction to this part of the gospel. We’d love to hear about God’s love for us, but suffering doesn’t mesh with our right to “the pursuit of happiness.” So we pray to escape a gospel story, when that is the best gift the Father can give us.”
-Paul Miller in A Praying Life: Connecting with God in a Distracting World

Better

The fog is lifting. It is weird and wonderful. When I am not taking any medication, thinking clearly is extremely difficult. It literally hurts. My muscles tense, my body aches, my neck and back move out-of-place from the strain of crying so deeply, too often. The weight of world presses in on me and I can’t breathe. I hang on for dear life to God’s promises, I fight to keep my eyes fixed on Him and it is a battle. There was a mess up with my old medication. I was looking for a new primary care provider and the doctor I saw was foolish. She doubled my dose which interacted with my sleeping medication and resulted in Serotonin Syndrome. It took a couple of days before I realized what was happening. It was bad. I cut back to my old dosage, but the damage had been done and while the symptoms lessened, they didn’t disappear. My heart rate was up, I was shaking almost constantly and I couldn’t sleep anymore. So I slowly weaned off the medication completely. Withdrawal is no fun. Once off completely, all my PTSD symptoms returned. It was bad. I was horribly overwhelmed, unable to be the wife, the mommy, the friend that God created me to be. I called a new doctor and set up an appointment. They got me in quickly. The new doctor took the time to really talk with me. She wasn’t interested in simply treating my symptoms, she wanted to know how I had gotten to this point and she wanted me to get better. Through our conversation, it was revealed that she, too, is a Christian. She invited us to her church, encouraged me to seek out community, friends, a support system. She reminded that I shouldn’t be afraid because God is good. She wrote two new prescriptions and referred me to see a councillor she recommends. She ordered me to take a little time everyday to do something completely unproductive, just for fun, just for me. She reminded me that taking care of ourselves is part of taking care of others. I went out and bought really cute, really comfortable new shoes. I didn’t need them, but my heart is blessed by them.

Within a couple of days of starting the new medicines, I feel almost normal again. I can breathe easily, think more clearly and feel the peace of God cover over me again. I am weak, but joyful. I feel sleepy (side effect) but not overwhelmed. I am thankful. With new medication comes new side effects. There is no such thing as a perfect cure on this earth for the illnesses we are given. But as Christians, we don’t have to be discouraged by these inconveniences. We believe that God is good, that He loves us more than we could ever imagine, that He both cares about and is actively involved in even the most mundane aspects of our lives. I believe that, in addition to all His incredible promises, that God has given us medicine as a help (Genesis 2:15, creating medicine is simply part of cultivating the earth). So I thank God for these little pills that make such a remarkable difference in me. I ask Him to help me use them with wisdom. I bask in the overwhelmingly good knowledge that He delights in me, right now: content to be weak, to need mental crutches, and be dependent on Him. I can stand with my head high knowing that He never intended me to stand on my own two feet, but that He has called me to rest in Him. In my weakness, He is made strong.


Thank you for your prayers. I needed them and God faithfully answered them.

Better | Mere Breath

I am able to do all things through Him who strengthens me. -Philippians 4:13

Transition

You know that feeling when you are in labor, transition stage, I think they call it, right before you begin to push the baby out? Do you remember the sense of being hopelessly overwhelmed? The pain seems almost unbearable, but Mamas know that when they reach that point in the birth of their child, that they are nearly done, they know that the baby will soon be in their arms and they will cry with joy as they meet a new soul, but in the moment, it doesn’t feel like you are ok. Labor feels like you are dying and that weight of physical and emotional agony press in and you can barely breathe — I had to be reminded to keep breathing. That is kinda what it feels like having PTSD and not taking any medication for it. I know what I feel isn’t real, I know God is King and He is good and He loves me. I know this from the tip of my nose to innermost part of my soul — but it doesn’t feel that way. 

I have broken body, God has given it to me for reasons I don’t fully understand, but it is ok. I know it is, I know that I am ok, even when I feel so overwhelmed that I forget to breathe. I know I am ok even when my body hurts so badly from tense muscles that even a light neck massage makes me cry out in pain. I know I am ok when I am crying for no good reason and no amount of mind-over-mattering or scripture recitation helps me stop.

People are not math problems.
Faith is not a magic bullet for illness.
Grace is what saves us, not anything we do or don’t do.

I think God gave me these mental struggles with severe anxiety for a reason. I think He purposefully orchestrated all the events in my life that led up to my diagnosis and I believe He did it for my ultimate good because He loves me. I think He also blessed us with minds to create medicines to help ease symptoms, to give us relief, respite in a fallen world — because He loves us.

I am tired. I can’t think straight. But I am rejoicing in God’s goodness. I am praising Him for getting me through another day, full of truth and fighting to feel the hope that resides in my heart.
We started on new medication #1 today, it will be several weeks before I feel the effects, but I am thankful to know this feeling of hopelessness isn’t going to last much longer, that this veil of lies will be lifted soon and I will feel what I know to be true. We are still waiting for my #2 medication (the one that is supposed to bring immediate relief) to be approved by our insurance — an excellent opportunity to practice patience and continue disciplining my anxiety even when I know it is unfounded. I appreciate your prayers, I feel them and they comfort me. Thank you.

Sustained

I woke up to hollering. The kids are acting especially, well, like kids today. My body feels wrong. It hurts all over going from merely sore to sharp, knife like pain (from a large cyst that hasn’t been responding to treatment).  I’m exhausted because I haven’t been sleeping well, the pain keeps me awake. We are changing some of my medications so I am in the midst of withdrawal. I can’t think clearly and it feels hopeless to carry on, but feelings don’t necessarily reflect reality.

The truth is that I am confident in Christ right now. I am as clean and guiltless as I possibly can be through Jesus. I am struggling not to be snippy with my kids, I’m struggling to not resent their constant needs, I’m struggling to stay awake and it annoys me when I am reminded how weak I really am. But I am thankful. I am thankful for the patience my husband has with me. I’m thankful for the prayers of the saints. I am thankful for the encouragement I’m receiving from friends. I’m thankful that my children are so resilient, so ready to forgive me, so ready to help out. I’m thankful for the food in my pantry, for pain killers to take the edge off, for the heating pad that helps relax these tense muscles. I’m thankful the smoke colored sky outside and the sound and smell of rain falling. I am thankful to be aware of my sins and shortcomings. I’m thankful for second chances. I am thankful for the freedom to confess, to forgive and be forgiven. I am thankful that Christ is just a prayer away. I am thankful that His mercies are new every morning.

As a Child of God, I know that every challenge is really an invitation. It is an invitation to practice relying on Him to sustain me, which is merciful, because I cannot sustain myself even when I’m at my best.  In the same way we give our children school work and chores to learn, to practice, to create good habits because we love them, God gives us heart work — and that is really what is going on in my life right now. He is the Master Gardener, He started in Eden and now He is tending the seeds that He planted in my heart so I can be strong and beautiful and healthy in Him.

So today, as I am keenly aware that I am not enough on my own, He is reminding me to rely on Christ to sustain me. God promised that He would and I believe God keeps His promises. I believe that He loves and delights me as a good father does his daughter. I believe He wants the best for me and I believe that sometimes achieving that goal isn’t always fun. I believe that everything is going to be ok, even though it doesn’t feel like it right now. I know my to do list is getting longer, and I know I can’t put my kids on hold until I feel better . But I can rest knowing that God is fully aware and in control of all this and He will never leave me or forsake me. He will carry me through. I can have peace in my heart when my body is being tossed about in a fallen world. I can because God is. What I’m going through isn’t fun, I do not feel happy — but I have joy and hope. My spirit may feel downtrodden, but I know this won’t last forever. Where I am right now, afflicted and weary, this is not a bad place to be because I am a daughter of The Great Comforter.

Sustained | Mere Breath

Sacrificial Friendship

“The sacrificial building up of one another — this is what makes Christian friendship, well, Christian. It’s Christian both in the adjective (sacrificial) and in the verb (building up).”
Excerpt from Putting the “Christian” in Christian Friendship by Jonathan Parnell

The article (linked above) is really good! When I rededicated my life to Christ in 2014, I was literally left speechless when several of my Christian friends essentially broke up with me because they didn’t like the person I was becoming. God brought me comfort as I worked through those difficult times as He reshaped my perception of what a healthy friendship looks like and brought me new friends that challenge me and push me closer to Him for His glory and my good. While it still stings from time to time to know that some brothers and sisters in Christ resent me, I am very thankful for all of these experiences as it has given me new eyes and a new heart for others.

“For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” -2 Corinthians 12:10

Redeemed

“Redemption communicates, in a sense, an ongoing state or effect. In Christ, we not only have been, but are continually being brought back to our new status in Christ. He takes our ashes, and makes them beautiful. He takes the prostitute, and makes her a pure virgin. He takes the one who feels dirty, and continually declares them white as snow. He takes Rahab the harlot, and makes her the great-great grandmother of King David. He takes David, the repentant adulterer and murderer, and still has him write psalms that we sing today. He takes the widow of Zarephath, who was preparing to die from starvation, and not only provides for her and her son, but uses her to house the prophet Elijah. He took Saul of Tarsus, the persecutor of the church, and made him a pillar of that same church. Any one of those (and many more) could have declared themselves ruined. But God had other plans.”

-Excerpt from Redemption for the Ruined By

I absolutely love this! I’m aware that sometimes I sound like a broken record when I talk about my life. Living with PTSD is an ongoing challenge and how I got to this point still has consequences that continue to need dealing with, but the truth of being washed clean through Jesus, being redeemed, and recreated into something new — that is a truth that seems too good to be true! I am overwhelmed with God’s goodness and I don’t want to lose that sense of wonder. So I remind myself and remind you, too — because this gift of redemption isn’t exclusively for me. This gift, the glory, this crazy/wonderful life is yours for the taking.