Confessions of a Depressed Mom

When my son was young and I was a single mom dealing with depression, I asked God to let survival be enough. I committed to take suicide off the table as an option, but that was all I could do. And God’s grace met me where I was. He told me that a depressed mom was better than a dead mom, and He promised that His grace would cover everything else.

And it did. He did. God continually reminded me that no parent is perfect, so my depression wouldn’t cripple my son any more than any other imperfect parent’s issue. And the fact that I was leaning on Him through it all meant that my son was covered, held, and protected in ways I couldn’t have provided even if I’d been perfectly healthy.

Fast forward 20 years, and my son is ok. He has issues, like everyone else. Unfortunately, he inherited some of my mental struggles, but he’s dealing with them. I’ve had to inventory the effect of those years of survival parenting and I’ve had to apologize to my son for not being emotionally available most of the time.

But God took care of my son when I couldn’t. He made sure there were other people in my son’s life – relatives and church friends – to pick up the slack. And God brought his dad and I back together (that’s a whole other miracle story), to shore up my son’s home life even more.

So, why do I still feel like such a failure as a mom?

In the last few years, God has brought me to a place of growth and healing that allowed me to move beyond survival mode. In 2016, I was able to ask God what my purpose and calling were. Those questions weren’t even in my dreams for over a decade. But they are now. God has led me, through His Word and Celebrate Recovery, to make the choices and changes I needed to get to a more stable place mentally. And now that I’m here, He’s leading me to help others move in the same direction.

But sometimes, when I look at my son, I see all my failures. Especially now that I’m stable, I wonder how much different things would have been had I gotten stable 20 years ago.

And this is where acceptance comes in. I have to accept that the past is in God’s hands and that all I can do is make the next right choice today.

I spent a lot of time in my last step study mourning the past. But then, it was time to make amends and move forward. I pushed aside my shame and spoke to my son about it. My amends to him are that I make different choices now, because I can.

I’ve spent the last year or so praying that God would help me to be the mother He wants me to be. My son is an adult. I can’t go back and be the mom I should have been in his teen years, but I can be the mom I need to be now.

And I still don’t know what that looks like. I stumble every day. I don’t read books or blogs about parenting adult children because the magnitude of expectation to be the perfect parent still reduces me to a useless puddle.

So how does a mom who still struggles with insecurity and perfectionism try to do better without being overwhelmed?

I pray and read God’s Word every day. I’m not specifically looking for scriptures on children or parenting. I’m just filling my eyes and heart and mind with God. I do pray specifically for my son and our relationship each morning, but then I go through my day learning whatever God has for me to learn.

And because I’m filling myself with His Word, I’m building my faith in Him. And I’m building my trust in Him. I trust that whenever a situation arises where I need to speak truth to my son, I’ll know what to say. I trust that the Holy Spirit will let me know when I need to stop what I’m doing and spend time with him. And it’s working.

Over the last year, I’ve seen a difference in my relationship with my son. It’s been slow and there have been plenty of times when I knew we were having a conversation that mattered and I was scared I’d mess it up. But we got through it – imperfectly – and positive change is happening.

My son is an adult with his own free will. I don’t agree with all his choices. But I’m able to look at him now and see an adult with free will and not a victim of all my mistakes. It’s not all my fault.

Now, when I have a flare up of depression or mania, I can tell him what’s happening. And he can tell me when he has his own struggles with depression and anxiety.

God’s grace carried my son and I through his childhood. And God’s grace is still carrying me now, as He leads me out of guilt and shame and into the world of healthy parenting. And it doesn’t matter how long it takes. Because every step in God’s direction is filled with more grace than I could ever need.

How has God’s grace carried you through the guilt and shame of your past?

Maria Johnson, CR Mental Health Champion

Realize I’m not God…

Quite recently I found myself in a bit of trouble. You see, I was having a horrible day already, and it wasn’t even 8am yet. I had washed my clothes the night before, yet I had failed to put them in the dryer. I got ready to retrieve my clothes and realized that I had forgotten to put them in the dryer. Needless to say, I went to work with some wet clothes on. My car was (and still is) in the shop to be repaired, so I was driving a vehicle that was not mine, that I was not used to. It was my Mom’s vehicle (which brings me a lot of memories but I’ll save that for another post). I looked down and realized that I was going a bit too fast on the road and began to hit the brakes to slow down. When I looked back up, I saw the State Trooper sitting nice and pretty on the side of the road. As I passed him, he entered the roadway, immediately coming up behind me and turning on those blue lights. I thought, what a perfect way to start out a day (sarcastically).

I pulled over on the side of the road as soon as I found a place safe, and rolled down my window, retrieving my identification. He kept it short and sweet, saying, “I pulled you over because you were speeding. [Too fast] in a [normal speed]. Can I see your identification please?” So I gave it to him. At that point, I had a choice. He asked me if I knew I was speeding. I could have told him no, that I had no idea, and made up some excuse about how I could have possibly been speeding. Or, I could have chosen to admit that I was wrong, that I was speeding, and then accept the consequences of my actions, regardless the circumstances of what caused them. Needless to say, I admitted that I was speeding, and I told him the truth, however simple it was. “I am driving a car that I am not used to and mine is in the shop. I realized that I was speeding, then looked up and saw you.” He then walked to his car and proceeded to do what I was on my way to do…his job. After what seemed like a long time, he came back and handed me my citation and gave me a clear explanation of what I was expected to do and had the options to do, and then he handed me my license back. In those words he said, “because you were cooperative…” which took me aback. I can’t imagine how many people might give him a hard time with what he does. So I accepted my citation and told him “thank you” with a smile.

You see, often time we are faced with the consequences of our own choices, our own actions, our own behaviors. Even in our mental health recovery journey. You see, I have the choice to recover. I have the choice to admit when I have made a mistake. To admit when I am wrong. To admit when I need help. I have the choice to choose how I will respond to others, how I will treat them, talk to them, and how I will love them. Too often we are so scared of the bad consequences that we fail to realize that there are good consequences as well. Mental health is hard. Choosing to admit that we need help is hard.

 The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice. 
Proverbs 12:15

What different choices are you going to make today?

April Brantley, CR Mental Health Champion

Amazingly and Miraculously Bipolar

“…no matter which way I turn I can’t make myself do right. I want to but I can’t. When I want to do good, I don’t; and when I try not to do wrong, I do it anyway.” – Romans 7:18-19 (TLB)

As a person who has struggled with bipolar disorder for most of my life, I can tell you first-hand how messy and clumsy life can get.  More often than I would like to consider, my thoughts, actions, and feelings, have caused remarkable pain to those whom I love intensely, hold closely, cherish deeply, and rely on intrinsically. Sometimes it is a prolonged season of depression where I withdraw from my wife and children to the confines of my bed because my blankets and my heart are both too heavy to lift. Other times, the thunderous noise of the pounding of my anxious heart create such a splitting headache or a feverish panic that I explode in unreasonable outbursts; with those who walk this life beside me taking the damage. My emotions can become so big that the uncontrollable crying and over-the-top laughter take up all the room in my relationships. These same emotions can also become so small that even the littlest hands in my life that are reaching for a small part of me come back mostly empty.

For the longest time, I struggled with the aftermath of living this way. Mostly, the struggle was a long stream of “should-ing” on myself. I should be stronger. I should be different. I shouldn’t have done that or said that. I should have been there or not been that other place. I embraced a worldview that saw the rest of the people around me as being normal. The rest of the world was okay, while I was most certainly not. Something was definitely wrong with me. Everybody else seems to have it all together; just look at their Facebook profiles and Pinterest feeds! Compared to everyone else, I was a disaster!

This line of thinking created a loop. Struggles and their consequences led to guilt, shame, and stigma. Living through guilt, shame and stigma enhanced my struggles, which led to painful consequences. Lather, rinse, repeat.

Perhaps you can relate.

“I will give thanks to you because I have been so amazingly and miraculously made. Your works are miraculous, and my soul is fully aware of this.”  –  Psalm 139:14 (GWT)

One thing I am truly grateful for is the death of this loop. You see, my loop was based on a lie. The lie took many different forms over the course of the years. I should be stronger. I was not enough and not ok. I was a disaster. Regardless of the form the lie took, the central theme of the lie remained: that somehow I was not enough. I am so thankful to a unfailing God and a year spent with a group of men from a step study I just completed who have helped me learn a fundamental truth that shatters this lie.  I am perfectly made by God… just as I am.  EVERY part of me is amazingly and miraculously made, which includes my Bipolar Disorder.

You see, God crafted me. He artistically spent His brush-strokes and harmoniously played His melodies and I am the resulting workmanship of His hands. God created me, bipolar disorder and all, to be exactly who I am. God is weaving His story of love, redemption, salvation, and hope through the very fibers of my life. He is penning a poetically epic classic in the epoch of His revelation to and through me. In all His artistry, God is sharing a simple truth:  I am flawed in the eyes of my own expectations and sometimes even in the judgement of others, but I am priceless and perfect in the eyes of my Creator.

You, too, are beautifully and artistically crafted and designed. Regardless of your hurts, habits, or hang-ups. Regardless of what you may think or feel.

Dustin Bailey,
Mental Health Champion & CRMH Blog Contributor

Ready for a fight

At the time of writing this I will be going to the doctor in about an hour. I have a follow up appointment to discuss a change that was made to my mental health medications. The medication I started was a good thing for me a few months ago. That was a few months ago though.

There was a theory that my Doctor was working on; that by improving my sleep, my body would have a better chance of regulating itself. He was essentially saying that my insomnia was a major factor in my depression. I had a sleep disorder that was causing my brain to spiral.

In the first couple weeks of taking the medication I didn’t really notice anything. That is common for medications of this kind. Typically mental health medications can take 30 to 60 days before they really set in. I am glad about that too some extent because my moods, thoughts, emotions fluctuate enough on their own, I don’t need them changing every four to six hours as if I were taking an aspirin. This can be frustrating for those first couple weeks though while I wait.

Eventually though they started to make a difference. I was sleeping well. I fell asleep faster and I stayed asleep longer. This changed my depression for the better in a tremendous way. I felt better than I had in years. I felt happy and I had energy. Then things started to change back.

It started with just taking longer to fall asleep. Then I started waking up in the middle of the night. I would take longer and longer to fall back to sleep. As my sleep fluctuated so did my mental health. I was having depressive periods that were getting closer together and for longer periods of time before I would see improvement.

Add to the mix that I live in Northern Minnesota and it is winter time. I know God has me here for now and I am not supposed to leave for at least a little while. (Although if God released me I think I would have smoke coming off my shoes like a Roadrunner cartoon.) I love Minnesota and the people here but this weather…Uff-dah!

So I am sitting indoors the vast majority of my days. I don’t see the sun for long stretches of time. Because of all of this I find myself in a cycle that needs to be broken. I need something different. I need to make a change.  It is a good thing that I am heading back to the doctor.

The reason I am telling you all this is simple. Because I have heard it from others; over and over again, so I know I am in no way alone. And the process is so incredibly draining. I just want to feel good! Why is that so much to ask?!?! I get tired of the roller-coaster, I want to get off now.

Sound familiar? For many of you it does. Be it first hand or from the outside looking in, this scenario plays out in homes all across America, all across the globe. So why do we do it? Why do we keep trying to be healthy when so often we can slip right back to where we were? Why do we keep fighting?

For me? I have many reasons. I am married to one of those reasons, another calls me Dad, two more call me son, and the list goes on. I receive emails and messages from many of you encouraging me to keep going. I have seen the faces of those I have impacted as they admit for the first time out loud that they are struggling and the sense of release that brings them.

I don’t keep going for me.

I look outside myself for my purpose. God has shown me that it is not about me, it’s about HIM. When I was shown my purpose I knew that all of the struggling is worth it because His plan is at work in me. So I can move forward. I can go through the pain. I can deal with the hurt, and the frustration, and the anger, and the loneliness, and all the other struggles.

If you are reading this wondering what your purpose is, wondering why you should keep fighting, why you shouldn’t just let the waves drag you out to sea; I ask you to hear this…You have a purpose given to you by God! You are not here by accident! The days of struggle will be worth it! The nights filled with tears will be worth it! You have a gift inside of you that no one else can take and no one else can give!

I understand that this is hard to believe for many of us. I am not asking you to just change your thinking so things will get better. I would never be that patronizing. I won’t ask you to believe me, I am asking you to trust me.

Please, keep fighting!

I know it is hard, keep fighting!

It won’t always be this hard to hold on, keep fighting!

I want you to stay. And I am not just talking about suicide because there are plenty of opportunities to check out without dying. Please keep fighting!

God will carry you, keep fighting!

Keep fighting.

Nate Stewart

National Director of Mental Health for Celebrate Recovery

requirements

When I first thought that God was calling me into ministry I was very confused. First because I never wanted to be in ministry. The second reason was because I felt as if I wasn’t qualified. If this was supposed to happen, it should have happened before my life went off the rails.

I was still active in my addiction, although I didn’t realize it. (I had it under control after all.) But I knew enough to know that my lifestyle had brought with it consequences. I had lived a life of sex, drugs and rock & roll…if people only knew, I was sure to get the “Thanks but no thanks.” speech.

My mind had betrayed me by then. I struggled with suicidal ideation. I had thoughts that were dark, too dark for someone in ministry to ever have. Hypocrisy is what turned me off to the church in the first place. I didn’t want to be one of those people, I was a freak.

I had become a Christian but the things I thought of the Bible and church seemed to show me that I wasn’t one. I wasn’t offended by profanity, I didn’t like “worship music”, I wasn’t about to get dressed up to go to church, I wasn’t thirsting for scripture and I certainly didn’t have a “life verse”.

I was waiting to be judged.

And I was. There were people that looked at me differently. I had people tell me to my face that I was not what a Christian was supposed to be. And that is how God confirmed to me that I was meant to go into ministry.

The judgement I received was different than the judgement I expected. I was judged as qualified for ministry not exempt.  My past, although far from what someone would put on a brochure for healthy living, gave me an opportunity to be in a way like some of the heroes of the faith that I read about in the Bible. God doesn’t call people who have it “all together.” Look at David for instance, God described him as being a man after His own heart. David was also the same guy that slept with a married woman, tried to cover it up, and when that didn’t work he had her husband killed. Your take away from that example is not meant to be that God wants us to do all those things. David had to pay some very real consequences for what he did. The point I want you to take away from that is, God uses misfits. I was definitely a misfit.

And the thing about my mental health issues and my addiction issues and all the other things I experienced is that it not only didn’t disqualify me from ministry if made me able to reach a people group I wouldn’t have normally been able to reach out to simply because of societal norms.

Not that a person who didn’t share my experiences couldn’t reach my demographic. There are just some things that make it easier. In no way do I want this to come off as one of those stories that make the person with the “vanilla” testimony feel less qualified to minister to the world. In fact I think in many ways they have an advantage and I wish those stories were a larger part of ministry. It just wasn’t my experience.

Of course I understood that I couldn’t keep living the way I had in the past but that didn’t mean I had to be a perfect person either. God doesn’t want us to look, smell and act perfectly. He wants us to love Him. He wants us to love the people around us. He knows that we will not be perfect; He likes us anyway. He knows we will make mistakes; He likes us anyway. That is why Christians throw around the word GRACE, because we need it. I have mentioned before in these posts that us being perfect to get into God’s favor is not love it is a transaction. God is the one who made the sacrifice. God is the one who loved us when we didn’t even love ourselves. God offers us GRACE.

I will continue to try and be more and more like Jesus. I won’t keep on sinning so that grace can increase; the Bible clearly says otherwise.  I try, I mess up, I try some more, that is a process that won’t end and I am okay with that because God is okay with that.  I will be complete when Jesus takes me home. That is an expectation we both rejoice in. Not that I earn my way to heaven but that I instead was saved by grace.

Looking back to when I got involved in ministry I had so much to learn. I needed to learn that I wasn’t so good at sinning in my past that God couldn’t use me in the present. I needed to learn that being a hypocrite isn’t a deal breaker. I can profess Jesus is Lord with my lips and still make mistakes.

My mistakes do not make me exempt. My mental health struggles don’t make me exempt. God has made me exactly who He wants me to be, I am in a lifelong process of figuring out what that is. I am not stuck in a perceived notion of what a Christian looks like. I am a Christian who is changing his own perceived notions of what a Christian looks like.  

God has called us to a purpose. ALL OF US. One of the first steps in that purpose is believing that it’s there. And there is nothing on this earth that can exempt us from that calling. It doesn’t matter what the world tells us, because God says we are enough, we do matter, we can make a difference.  

Nate Stewart

National Director of Mental Health for Celebrate Recovery

I can’t forget the past.

Great is thy faithfulness. That is a phrase that is sometimes hard to believe. Some days as I struggle to stay afloat it is easy to turn my thoughts to all that is falling apart around me and wonder how God is being faithful.

 When I am fighting thoughts that say I am worthless. I find it hard to hear God say that I am priceless.

When I look at my mistakes and I feel like a failure I find it hard to hear God say I am chosen.  Who in their right mind would choose me?

When I am standing on the edge of giving up it can be hard to understand why God would continue to ask me to follow Him.

Yet here I am being reminded that His faithfulness is indeed great. Not because of some big miracle that has happened in the last 5 minutes kind of reminder. It is easy to see God when things are good. Instead I am seeing God as faithful because of how He has proven Himself as faithful in my past.

In recovery we are often told to look forward, not to the past. For many things that is true. It is very easy to get stuck in the past, never allowing us to move forward. Pain, unforgiveness, guilt; these are all things that can stunt our growth. Sometimes however, when my depression is bad, I NEED to look backward. In the same way that a dark night makes the stars shine, I sometimes need to look toward the ick to see where God has shown through.

Hindsight is sometimes required to really understand what is going on in a situation.

I think of the disciples who walked with Jesus for the extent of His ministry only to end up hiding after Jesus crucifixion. They walked, talked, ate, slept, and ministered with Jesus and still didn’t get it. It wasn’t until Jesus rose from the dead and appeared to them that they finally understood. They had to understand the complexity of what was going on and the only way they could do that was to look back at what Jesus had done. When they understood what He had already done, then they could have hope for the things He would do.

If you and I have placed our hope in Jesus then we have His Spirit within us.  Jeramiah 29:13 says,You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.” (ESV) God wants to reveal His glory! God wants to show us His good works!

Yes there is darkness in this world. And when we look up at the night sky the darkness seems to be vaster than the stars. But when we focus on the stars we see the beauty.

So I look back. I remember. Then I can look forward.

God has been faithful. God will continue to be faithful. No matter how dark it seems, I can always find His light.

Great is His faithfulness.

Nate Stewart

National Director of Mental Health for Celebrate Recovery

A story to tell.

I am sitting in a coffee shop that normally isn’t too busy…but today it is. To the point that it is really loud. Hard to concentrate loud. Thankfully the Mumford and Sons that is blaring in my headphones is able to at least lessen the impact and give me the ability to write a little bit.

That is important because I need to write. Not just this blog post, but more so what I plan to work on after this. My book. I am writing a book.

The desire to do this began about 16 years ago. I had a breakthrough in my mental health one night and when that happened I heard very clearly that I was “to write my book.” I didn’t know exactly what that looked like I just knew what I heard. I was supposed to write a book.

Over the years I have started and stopped then restarted again several times. I would write out the first chapter and decide that it was horrible. I would delete what I wrote and leave it alone for several months and then start up again just to do the same. I felt that what I was doing was failing my calling.

At different times I could see that I had learned something new that I needed to include in this book so I thought that the timing was just a bit off because God was preparing me or something. And I think that was accurate…for a time.

Last summer, while at the Celebrate Recovery Summit in Nashville TN, I had someone say something to me that threw me a little. She didn’t know what I was working on, that I had any thoughts about writing a book. She didn’t really know me from Adam. But she walked up to me and said, “God told me to tell you that your book will be printed in many languages.”

I just kind of stood there for a second, not sure that I had heard her correctly. About the same time I had been leaning toward writing again but was a little apprehensive because of how many times I had started and stopped before. I was trying to not get too excited about what she said because I have had people say things before, which were very specific, and very inaccurate. For some reason what she said resonated though. I couldn’t get her out of my head.

During that time the idea of starting a project seemed ludicrous. Between the next Summit beginning in a month and the 22 day road trip that my family would be taking across the country I knew I didn’t have time to start anything. I would just start up when I got back from the road trip.

I should tell you that this woman had something else that came up while we were talking. “You need to get going on this soon though or God is going to use someone else.” she said.

So I thought I better get going, but I didn’t think I had to rush. And because I didn’t feel a sense of urgency about the book I ended up procrastinating. “Ya I will get to it.” And I have…sort of. I began writing and went at it pretty good but I allowed the busyness of life take priority. When I realized what was going on I tried to get going again, and decided I would try something new to help motivate me. I had a title for my book in mind for quite a while. So I thought if I get a website that matches the title it will help me visualize my end goal. And that is when I found out that God wasn’t playing.

I did a search and found out that someone else was using the title. The title I knew I was supposed to use. I had the cover image all planned out and everything. And to top it off I saw a start date of the page this person is using and it began…10. Days.  After. Summit. I mean, C’mon!! Seriously!?! So I slammed my laptop shut and said forget it then. I guess I missed my chance.

After a couple of days of feeling sorry for myself I calmed down enough to hear from God again. And I believed He asked me, “When have I only given you one chance?”

The door hadn’t been slammed shut. I still can’t use the same title. So there are consequences to my taking so long to do what God called me to do. But just because someone else is using the title doesn’t mean I shouldn’t tell my story. Or more directly, His story in my life.

I still believe that I need to get going. I still think God is going to use it. Will the outcome be different from what was told to me at Summit? Maybe. But that ultimately isn’t the point. It’s not about me. It’s about Him. He has called me to do something and I need to do it.

And just like my headphones are blocking out the distractions of this painfully loud coffee shop, I need to let Jesus be pumping into my brain and my heart to help me block out the distractions of life that pull me from the tasks that God has for me.

I will leave you with this. The story I am telling is one of mental illness. The story I am telling is one of pain and despair. The irony is that sometimes my mental health is what keeps me from telling this story. As a person who struggles with wanting to get out of bed most days and someone who thinks of taking his own life on a daily basis, the story I am telling is one of Hope, my mission hasn’t changed.

And neither has yours. God has something for you as well. You may not know what that is yet, but it is there. You may think you missed your chance, you haven’t. Keep going. Please keep going.

Nate Stewart

National Director of Mental Health for Celebrate Recovery