For a while it seemed to be working. I felt a little better. I was affirmed. My piece touched a chord with others. Surely I was past the worst of it. But I wasn't. It got worse. Much worse. In my mind I made a distinction between being depressed and depression. I was okay with saying I was depressed. That was just a mood I had to overcome, but depression? Depression is an illness, and dammit (!) I'm not sick.
In my earlier blog I also wrote about how hard I'd been trying to fake happiness I didn't feel. Yet I went right back to that defense mechanism. In public I did my best to be happy. I put funny statuses on Facebook. I made jokes. I tried to act and look and be someone who was NOT depressed. I certainly was not someone who was in a depression. So I just kept trying, pushing, determined not to give in to what I thought was normal grief. In my darkest moments I would tell myself to just lean into the pain and sadness and eventually I would come out on the other side. But that wasn't happening.
Because of my determination to tough it out, my stress level was acutely high and events that would have been challenging in other times were devastating. I had no resilience. I was drowning, but I was so used to the water I no longer realized I was sinking.
Then at the beginning of May, I went to CREDO -- an eight day conference that's all about caring for ministers and helping them find constructive ways to care for themselves in all aspects of their lives. I should have seen this as a positive thing, but I went with fear and trembling, distrustful that anyone would really care or want to help me. I have never been so grateful to be so wrong.
For me CREDO wasn't just a conference or a retreat, it was an intervention of grace. I was cared for. I was loved. And there were people who truly wanted to help. The time and space away from my daily life gave me the perspective to see just how tough my daily life had become.
At one point in the week we were given the opportunity to let our creative side out to play. My creativity is generally expressed through my words, so it was nice to have the chance to draw and cut and paste. I didn't know what to do at first, but then I thought about an icon I'd seen that had captured my imagination. It was of Jesus and the disciples caught in the storm at sea moments before the storm was stilled. Jesus is sleeping peacefully but the disciples are terrified. I wanted to portray what might come after, when the waves were calm and, at least for the moment, there was peace. So I made that picture. For the rest of the conference, it became my symbol of hope. At some point the storm will pass. The sky will clear. The stars will show themselves. There will be peace. This picture was important enough to me that when I returned home, I framed it. It hangs on the wall opposite my bed, so I see it everyday. It reminds me to be brave.
That's the second part of this story. I am trying to live a brave life, a courageous life. I have not always been your typical person of courage. I was the kid the other kids called "scaredy cat." In fourth grade when every other kid lined up to touch the boa constrictor that was part of a special assembly on nature, I moved as far away from that thing as possible. In high school when so many of my friends were into horror movies, I had nightmares from the trailers on television. My second worst date ever was going to a party and having to sit through a Jason slashes Freddy on Halloween walking down Elm Street type movie. (The first worst date is the subject of a whole other blog) I don't like storms. I think clowns are creepy. I don't care if I ever see a snake, much less touch one. In other words, scaredy cat. But I want to be brave.
But I've learned that bravery isn't dependent on not being afraid. Bravery is trying to live the fullest life I can in spite of my fears. As a friend of mine wrote in a poem in response to my claiming a lack of bravery, being brave is a willingness to reach for a new life, knowing that it won't be easy or without pain. Bravery is showing my children that being afraid is okay and that asking for help isn't weakness. I had confused toughing it out with bravery. They are not synonyms.
I am slowly but surely changing my definition of bravery. Depression isn't failure. Asking for help doesn't make me weak. I trust that one day I'll be on gentler waves after the storm.