Posted in anxiety, depersonalization disorder, depression, perfectionism, self-harm, suicidal thinking, Uncategorized

Withering Away into Nothingness

On February 27, 2005, I was sitting in a parking lot waiting for my parents to drive me away, away from the hell I was experiencing at college, waiting in agony, in desperation, in a state of surreallness and dizziness. I wrote: “I have never felt more disempowered / More lowly, more pitiful / The more I am around people / The more I lose joy / Because I feel like a failure / I had so much joy before / When I felt I had it all together / When the things I did made me believe I was worthy / No matter how genuine the love of others / I can never accept it because/ It makes me feel more and more ashamed / Lord I want you and you only / I want to shut the world out.” I was at the beginning on a new journey; I had no idea what hell would await me but I could tell it was starting. I was a junior in college at the time.

Since my early teen years, I became familiar with Depression. It was my new identity; a way I gave myself worth and my life meaning. I was accustomed to the sadness; the endless tears; the shakiness; the constant ruminations about self, world, faith, God, death; the many medications and therapy sessions; the physical illnesses that both caused and were caused by the depressions; even the suicidal thoughts that came and went sometimes for weeks or months at a time.

Early in 2005, I thought I was having a reprieve from depression because I hadn’t thought about killing myself in a few weeks. I began having more trust in God and peace about my future. My brain was so fogged over and still probably under the influence of major depressive disorder, but the way I saw it, I was getting better.

But then I began having strange symptoms in which I felt “I was withering away into nothingness.” It was a hazy, disoriented feeling in which I became an observer of the world and myself. It worsened to the point that I literally felt no control over what I did or said. When I talked it was like a stranger’s voice talking. This made participating in class discussions and even having conversations with friends a nightmare. I always seemed fine on the outside, but sometimes when someone got close to me I would become unable to breathe and my heart would start to race. It felt like other people were literally sucking the life out of me. Not only that but I began feeling a lot of tightness in my chest starting around 6 or 7 pm every day. It felt like my body was shutting down; I could do nothing but lay down, but when I tried to rest, my mind raced and I would lay there as if there were a hundred bricks on me.

I researched my condition and later confirmed with a doctor I was suffering from depersonalization disorder, which is often a coping mechanism for people who do not adjust to change well, perhaps a symptom of depression. Looking back several years later, I realize I’d had a crazy couple months. I was still adjusting to my life back in the U.S. after a semester in Guatemala. I was dealing with the fact that both of my older brothers were in serious relationships. My one brother Greg suddenly got engaged in November to a girl younger than me who I barely knew (they began seriously dating when I was abroad). This news sent me into a tailspin. I felt my brother was being lost to me while also jealous and full of self-pity and self-hatred because of my state of singleness.

My oldest brother Nate, with whom I was extremely close, was dating my best friend and I was very enmeshed with their relationship. December came, and besides normal holiday and winter blues and dealing with my new bizarre physical symptoms, I was reeling with pain and sorrow of the tsunami tragedy in Southeast Asia (I had a history of experiencing worsening depression when disasters such as this occurred). Then in January, at the start of an extremely stressful interim (in which I took one class but was expected to do about 8 hours of homework a day), Nate broke up with my friend. I did not deal with this well, especially since my friend was also my roommate. It was one of the most painful times of my life. Whether it was this new disorder, or just a different type of depression, I later realized my body did not know what to do with all the changes and stress around me.

I began my second semester at Bethel College (now Bethel University) with a full load of classes, including an internship in a third-grade classroom. I was also working part time taking care of adults with disabilities in a group home. In all of my activities I hoped everyone saw me as a professional, competent, secure and happy person. Inside it was a hellish war; in fact, it became a daily battle to survive, to not take my life. I was constantly reasoning with God, pleading with him to take me out of my misery, my physical pain, paralyzing anxiety and despair. There were very few days that went by that I did not create a plan in my mind of how to take my own life.

I was so desperate for relief – I had always thought about hurting myself but I had never gone through with it. So one evening, I cut myself with a razor.  I’d heard that cutting had helped with relief of pain and my distorted mind told me, “What’s there to lose?” The next day, I was at my elementary school internship in the faculty bathroom. I felt so dissociated I didn’t even know who I was. I wanted nothing to do with the broken and confused girl I was the night before but I in no way could become the competent and worthy adult I wanted to be in that moment. I was washing my hands in the bathroom and wished I could just wash away every painful thing I had ever done to myself. I felt like I was and always would be my own worst enemy. In thirty seconds, I would have to face twenty-five children and try to teach them how to not be like me. I could not do this. I hated who I was. How would I ever change?

Just a few days later, I told my psychologist at Bethel about the cutting incident and that day he along with my parents basically made the decision for me: I would take a leave of absence from school. In a matter of hours, my whole world once again shifted.

Posted in anxiety, beauty, Christian dating, college years, depression, people pleasing, perfectionism, relationships, shame, teenage depression

Beauty, perfectionism and Christian dating

“I am not worth anything until I am dating or, by a certain age, married.”

I was always told I was “pretty” and “cute.” My mom was good at doing that. She would make me cute sweaters, bows and even clothing that matched with my dolls’.  As a child I always felt so happy wearing all those beautiful things.

My mom would also do my hair very “pretty.”As I got older, she taught me how to “do” my hair (and later makeup) correctly. I later realized being able to do one’s hair without help was a sort of a coming-of-age event for the girls in my family.

Most things I learned about girls and women I learned from my family. My mom, her sisters and my grandma, always presented themselves well. Always beautiful, hair styled, makeup on, impeccable outfits and matching accessories. The message I received from the women in my life is that a woman was expected to do everything possible to make herself beautiful (externally) to the world.

I began comparing myself to my family members especially as a teen. I wanted to be dating but we were not allowed to date until age sixteen. I knew most women in my family married very young (by age 20) so I had to make sure I got a “good start.”

Puberty struck me late in life; as a perfectionist, I constantly felt less than. I was obsessed with being on the “in crowd.” While my girlfriends talked about boys and periods at the junior high lunch table, I sat there pretending like I could relate. I had a lot of contempt for my slow-developing body; I longed to be taller and less flat-chested. I was also self conscious of wearing glasses. One of my brothers and I would often talk about our relationship woes. We both probably struggled with self-esteem and the need to look perfect for the opposite sex. One day, my brother made a matter-of-fact comment, that once I got contacts, the guys would “be all over me.” Through comments like these and the influence of my friends, I began lying to myself about the way I needed to look and the experiences with guys I needed to have.

Finally, everything started falling into place by my tenth grade year when I reached full puberty. At 16, I was finally “of eligible age” to date. I finally got a little bit more self-esteem; some days I even felt as “cute” and “beautiful” as when I was a child. Soon, I  did receive attention from guys, but they were not “quality” guys; my term for the guys that typically liked me was “messed up.” I would go back and forth between feeling flattered by their comments and disgusted. Then I would always question, what is wrong with me that no decent or popular guy would like me. I would find myself in a war when it came to relationships with guys. If a guy liked me I would initially act interested to comfort my wounded inner self, but later I would come to my senses and realize I didn’t want to spend time with these particular guys. I ended up having quite a bit of guilt for “crushing” guys, though my family and friends told me to forget about it.

During the later part of my junior year, I fell in love hard. I was head over heals for a guy in my youth group at church. I initially had no interest in him until he began giving me quite a bit of flirtatious attention. During a period of about six months, his actions toward me fueled my passion for and fascination with him. It’s so interesting because my feelings of that time come back so quickly. They were so intense yet I now realize they were all about me. I really had no love and care for the guy. I only cared about how I was perceived. My self-esteem finally sky-rocketed because I felt I was finally “worth something.” Any day now, this guy would ask me out and everything in my little life would be perfect. The world would finally love me. This never happened. The guy barely even talked to me much less asked me out and later denied even liking me. Even though my interest in him had died down, I was still crushed and found myself believing I was not good enough for good, popular guys.

These thoughts continued throughout high school and hit their peak my freshman year at Bethel University (formerly Bethel College), a Christian liberal arts school where the common ditty was “ring by spring.” The theory is that, since most Christians are virgins, they just have to get married young; a marriage proposal would come by the spring of the girl’s senior year of college. There was a lot of pressure to find “the One,” that perfect Bethel boy, especially for someone like me whose only dream in life since the age of eight was to be married. Not only married, but preferably by age 21 and to have all my children before age 30 like my mom. (I used to pretend to pop babies out of my stomach with my dolls growing up! I just couldn’t wait for the real thing!)

I continued to believe the lie I believed my whole life: “If I only work hard enough to look beautiful, people—especially guys—will notice me. If can just be perfect, I will be worthy of love.”  I would often daydream about certain guys I met who I considered perfect. Sometimes I had proof that they found me attractive but wondered why they never asked me out. The conclusion I came to was always the same: “I am not good enough.”

I continued to swing from feeling like the most sexy thing ever to feeling like the scum of the earth, not even worthy to be an ant under a guy’s shoe. The summer after my freshman year, I was working full time and living with my parents at my Wisconsin home. One day, I had to bring my younger brother Tim his lunch at his work—a car dealership. I knew that Tim worked with all men and, for that reason (though I didn’t admit it to myself), I made sure I looked extra attractive. Sure enough, when I pulled around to the back of the dealership where Tim worked I noticed his co-workers staring at me. My desires to be noticed were met and I felt really good about myself. A few weeks later my brother revealed to me the conversation that came about after I left that day. His coworkers told him I was hot and asked him if I had a boyfriend. Tim said no and they responded: “Why not?! Is she gay?” Tim, of course, was disgusted with them and stood up for me, but I couldn’t help feeling overwhelming grief and self-pity at that moment. There is something wrong with me, I continued to lie to myself.

My dating experiences in college and afterward became predictable. My obsessions with perfection clouded my judgement and my own sense of identity. The judgments I put on myself were extended to the guys I dated. I was often petrified that we weren’t “good enough” together. I was terrified of how others would perceive us as a couple. I often made decisions based on what everyone else thought. I never really figured out my own identity or, if I thought I knew what I wanted, I would constantly doubt myself. If my family and friends liked a guy, I would feel pressure to like him too. I would constantly berate myself for not feeling love for the guy I was dating, when in everyone else’s mind, he was “perfect.” This came with the territory of people-pleasing and performance addiction.

I had such a profound hatred for myself during those times. I intellectually understood I was beautiful “inside and out” as everyone always told me and that I was dating material. I believed I was worthless, like I, the “bad” girl, was hurting and scarring this “good” guy for life. I was a failure in my mind. I couldn’t live up to all those women in my family who had great men and had married young. I would scream and cry out to God, “Please help me like him the way he likes me, Lord!” My low self-esteem spurred on my depression which in turn negatively affected every relationship I had.

One minute, I would come to the conclusion that he was the wrong guy for me and I had nothing to do with it. The next minute I would think, it’s all me. I am too unlovable and I’m ruining his life. Either way, I would break up with him and look for the next “perfect” guy, a dream relationship that existed in my mind. I was searching for love and truly believed I couldn’t be happy until I found it.

It wasn’t until much later that I realized that it was probably best to heal before I dated, that I was able to separate my worth from my dating status. That I discovered this truth: I didn’t need to search for love because I no doubt already had it. Instead, I was searching for the ability in myself to accept this love. My profound inability to accept love from myself, others and God is what kept propelling my depression onward.

 

Posted in anxiety, college years, depression, freedom, perfectionism, performance addiction, relationships

A Year of Bliss (mostly)

The bliss I anticipated my freshmen year at Bethel University (formerly Bethel College) was even more intense than I had imagined. After my first campus visit in eleventh grade, I knew Bethel was the school for me. Maybe a lot of it had to do with being near my beloved older brother Nate, a senior at Bethel.

My brother was someone I greatly admired because of his fun-loving personality, go-with-the-flow attitude and loving acceptance of everyone, including his sister. Through phone calls and letters, he and I had gotten closer since he left for college three years earlier and his happiness was contagious. He would tell me about his crazy roommates, the “suite” where he lived, the classes he was taking and how he was growing in his relationship with God.

Most of all, he loved talking about the dining center where he worked. I imagined him chatting with his friends that walked through the food line, or playfully spraying his coworkers in the dish room. I felt like I knew some of the mentally handicapped men he worked with because Nate was so great at impersonating them. Soon, Nate began telling me how great it would be if I attended Bethel too. I felt so flattered that my big brother wanted me to go to school with him. His excitement was so intoxicating and his love for Bethel became my love. I started to dream about the day I would be free of the bondage of high school and could experience the kind of bliss my brother was experiencing.

Coming out of a severe depression, spurred on by a devastating social anxiety disorder, I began my first year away from my parents’ home at age eighteen.

My freshmen year of college was one of the happiest I can ever remember. There were probably many reasons for this, one being I finally felt “free.” Attending a conservative Christian liberal arts school like Bethel, that is really saying something. I could finally eat what I wanted, stay up as late as I wanted, and do what I considered “crazy” things with my friends, such as videotaping ourselves parading down the “runway” (one of the hallways on campus that had floor-to-ceiling windows on either side) with foil in our hair or dressing up in 50s clothing and playing croquet in the arena across the street from Nate’s “red house.” I didn’t have to worry as much about my parents and their judgments of me (whether real or perceived). I was simply having fun.

Relationships really soothed and straightened out the chemicals in my brain. I felt super connected the girls on my dorm floor, my RA and my RIOT leaders (sophomore girls who came and led a Bible study on our floor each week). For once I was surrounded by amazing Christian women and I craved their love and attention. I also had my brother. True to his word, Nate made Bethel an exquisite place for me. He and I hung out constantly;  I craved his love and acceptance too. He introduced me to his friends/housemates and soon they were my friends too. Together with our friends, we’d go to the jazz club in downtown St. Paul, have a movie night on Sem Hill, or a dance party at the “Red House.” We would also hang out just the two of us: walks around Lake Valentine, trips to the Tea Source and most often, study sessions at Caribou Coffee. My brother Greg also attended college at the University of Minnesota, so he and I would get together and have spiritual talks. Greg was always an encouragement to me; I always left our talks feeling strengthened and empowered in my faith. I finally felt I had a place to belong; a place to rest my head.

The spiritual aspect of Bethel really helped ease my depression too. I felt like a fish coming back to the water. I couldn’t believe how good it felt to have professors pray at the beginning of each class and for us before we took a test. I loved the care and concern my professors had for each of us. I attended almost every Chapel, began attending a local church (with Nate of course), met weekly with my dorm Bible study and went to Vespers every Sunday night; that year, I grew deeply in my faith. I even fell into a regular Bible-reading routine, reflecting in my journal constantly; all the while taking eighteen credits as a freshman!

Depression still lingered under the surface fueled by perfectionism. I was still addicted to performing well and went out of my way to get good grades. Unfortunately, I had an intense realization that college was not at all like high school. The classes were really hard. While I could always manipulate my way into getting an A in high school, it sometimes was simply not possible in college. I slowly started to accept that grades did not determine my worth.

I also lived by the demands in my head to perform well morally. I began to be known as “virgin eyes” and “virgin ears” by my floormates because I had been quite sheltered growing up compared to most of them. Not only this, but I felt it was my moral duty to share when I thought what they were doing was wrong, such as watching a certain show or swearing. I really felt like I couldn’t not say anything. In fact, it wasn’t until years later that I discovered more “sins” that had taken place right under my nose that year.

Despite feeling close with a few girls on my floor, I soon began to feel alienated and began to believe the lies that I was a “goody two shoes” and too sheltered, too much of a freak to be anyone’s friend. Luckily, my roommate at the time, still liked me and we decided to live together the following year.

Besides school and my faith, my freshman year at Bethel became the place where I solidly began to believe another lie. A lie that had slipped into my mind around the time of puberty. A lie that would again spur me into another slippery, dark and deep rut of depression.

 

 

Posted in anxiety, Christian life, depression, people pleasing, perfectionism, performance addiction, Shy Bladder Syndrome, social anxiety disorder, suicidal thinking, teenage depression

Perfectionism’s ruthless grip

High school depression continued (see my last post for the first part)…

Luckily, when it came to non-church areas of my life, I didn’t have to worry as much about God and what he thought of me. I worked really hard in school and was obsessed with getting A’s. I would do whatever it took, including going in for extra help, doing all the extra credit I could, and using my friends or brothers to perform well on an assignment. I went to the guidance office every few weeks to check my GPA. At the beginning of my senior year, I remember the high I felt for a moment when I looked at that little white piece of paper. “3.98, 6/437.” I couldn’t believe that I was sixth place in our entire class! At the same time, I knew if I wouldn’t have gotten those two A minuses in gym class the last two years, I could be even closer to the top.

That year I was in an advanced Biology class that was difficult. At the time, I was severely depressed (as the result of a devastating social anxiety disorder) and had a full load of classes, including a 7:00 a.m. Advanced Placement class. I couldn’t keep up in the Biology class and ended up with a B at semester. It was devastating for me. I knew I didn’t need the class and since it was my 8th hour class, that meant I could go home early each day, which sounded heavenly. I dropped the class, even though my teacher disapproved. I told him that B had ruined my GPA and he just laughed. I was not amused because I knew I was no longer in sixth place. Sure enough, when I checked my stats a few weeks later, I now had a “3.96” and was in ninth place. I was so disappointed.

My thoughts spiraled on and on. “If only I hadn’t taken that class…If only I had worked harder…Ninth place isn’t so bad, you’re still in the top 10 people of the whole school.”  I would negatively compare myself with my brother Greg who was Salutatorian of his class and positively compare myself to my brother Nate who was only in the top twenty percent of his class. Soon I found out who the eight other students were ahead of me in our class. I was not surprised by most of the names. The top two or three students I knew I could never compete with. They were in a different world of smarts. Then there were a few I knew I could have “beaten” if I’d only worked just a little harder. That aggravated me, but still I respected them because I knew, like me, they worked for their grades. But one name out of the eight surprised me. I couldn’t help feeling shock that this girl, a former friend of mine from youth group, was supposedly fourth in our class. In my mind she was a space cadet and a partier and could not be capable of such high grades.

I took lessons from the same private piano teacher as the valedictorian of our class. Instead of comparing myself in the usual way by putting myself down, I compared myself to her by putting her down. While I envied her smarts, I praised myself for gifts and talents that she didn’t possess (in my opinion), such as my singing voice and my physical appearance. This girl was also gifted in science and math, which I did not envy. Instead I praised myself for my giftedness in speaking a foreign language and in working with children.

My feelings about myself at that time were all or nothing. I felt either on the highest cloud of heaven or at the bottom-most rung of a ladder descended deep into the earth. And these thoughts would shift in minutes, based on who I was around or what environment I was in. I felt like a phenomenal musician at church but when I messed up at piano lessons under the watchful eye of my perfectionist teacher, down I plummeted. I was the star of my Spanish class, but felt like a total imbecile in pre-calculus class.

My mind was obsessed with performance. I did not know another way to look at life. The more I thought about performing perfectly, the more I would long for it. I would get a rush after each perfect paper, each A + on my report card, after each perfect score at a music competition. But usually the rush would last only a few moments. I would immediately begin thinking, “There must be some mistake” or “It’s no big deal. A lot of people got the same score.” And, inevitably, I did not always get a perfect score. In my mind, this meant I was imperfect, flawed, and worthless. These kinds of thoughts are what fueled my depression.

In quiet moments, while lying in bed at night, I would nurse a severe, aching emptiness in my gut. I would begin thinking, “Is this all life is about?” But then I would wake up the next morning and it would begin all over again. I was driven by what I did, how others perceived me. Like any addiction, I continued to strive for that high feeling. I never realized how powerful its grip was on my life.

I began to think a lot about escaping life.

The first time I became suicidal I was in tenth grade. My friend, Sue, was a girl who used to attend my junior high youth group. Since I was still new to the group the year she moved, I had only met her a handful of times. We became pen pals starting in eighth or ninth grade. Our letters were long; we’d discuss typical Christian teenage girl stuff: guys, feelings, church, family, school. Over time, I felt a deep connection with Sue. It felt like she really understood me, unlike the friends I had in “real life.” In one letter, Sue opened up to me about her history of depression. She wrote that, several years ago, before she recommitted herself to the Lord, she wanted to die. She had a Jars of Clay CD that skipped every so often it played a certain song. One day she decided that she would shove some scissors down her throat when the song played through without skipping. The song, of course, never played without skipping. Sue had an awakening that day and believed Jesus had literally saved her life. From then on, she became active in youth group (the youth group I later attended), was mentored by youth leaders and soon struggled less and less with depression and suicidal thoughts.

I was struck by Sue’s confession. I vividly imagined her planned suicide attempt. The more I thought about it the more I couldn’t get it out of my head. I wondered what her bedroom looked like. I wondered where the CD player was located. I wondered what the song was called. What kind of scissors were they? How was she holding them? I thought of my small sharp pair of purple-handed scissors that would probably do the trick. But didn’t she realize that was a painful way to die? Why did she decide on this method? Was anyone in her family home at the time? Did she plan who would find her? Or was she even serious about it? If the song would have played without the skip, would she have done it?

For a long time, I mulled the planned suicide attempt over and over. I knew it was wrong. I knew that my friend would not want me to be thinking this way. Of course, I knew her purpose in sharing this story was to testify how God got her out of that dark time. But, still, I found comfort in thinking that this girl and I were so similar. I, too, wanted to escape. However, I never imagined a way to do it. I was afraid of pain. I preferred to just go to bed at night and never wake up.

Despite the pain my thoughts caused me, I now recognize the strength I had during those years. Though I didn’t realize I had an addiction, I definitely knew I was not healthy. Somehow my deeper self continued to pull me toward life. The smallest things kept me going during those times, reminding me of why I was alive and soothing my aching, striving heart.

One friend who I could always count on was my beloved Yorkshire terrier Preston. During my senior year, I was often the first one home each afternoon. I looked forward to seeing Preston’s reaction to my arrival home and my high-pitched sing-song voice calling out to him lovingly. My heart would swell with joy hearing his small yip as he sat wriggling and writhing behind the child’s gate in the bathroom downstairs. As soon as I would free him from his prison, it was as if he hadn’t seen me in a year. He would dart out of the small bathroom like a startled mouse. Then he’d dance crazily around my feet, sometimes rolling over several times and finally ending up on his back, four paws in the air. I loved lying on the floor and watching my little dog’s mouth rush at my face to give me kisses.

I loved Preston because he played hard to get. He definitely liked his alone time, so I didn’t get to hold him or play with him for long. That’s why it was extra special when he would slink in my room during homework time. I’d be studiously working and he would crawl under my chair, curl up on my feet and sometimes jump up on the edge of my chair begging to be held. Preston’s warm body and soft kisses were a tangible reminder of a kind of love I could receive with no strings attached. In response to this love, I found I had so much love to give back. This simple realization often reoriented my thought patterns and placed me back on the path of life. Even if for just a few short moments.

Another life giver was writing, a habit I’d had my entire life. I had begun journaling in fifth grade and it started out as kind of a compulsory activity. While I did talk about excitements, fears and hopes, mainly I would write about my day, feeling compelled to depict specific activities in painstaking detail. I was especially dutiful on family trips or mission trips. I tried to never skip a day, and if I did, it was necessary that, in my next entry, I catch up on every little thing that happened. I wrote fewer words about feelings and more about general facts. For the longest time, I felt like I was writing for someone. I knew one of my parents or brothers could easily get ahold of my journal, so in a sense I had to guard what I said.

As the years went on, I slowly eased into more transparency with my writing. For a while I just wrote to my “journal;” soon I began writing to God. After all, He already knew everything anyway.

***********************************************************************

My perfectionism followed me into my college years. In many ways, college was an extension of high school, a new backdrop for the same painting. I was the same little girl on a canvas, trying to make a name for myself, trying to reach all the expectations my professors had for me, so I could get the high I longed for—a kind word, a pat on the back, an A on my transcript…

Posted in anxiety, depression, hospitalization, perfectionism, shame, suicidal thinking

Six Days in a Mental Hospital

As I walked into the psych ward, there was a big plexi glass office on the left where the staff were waiting to violate you. By that I mean take your stuff and dig through it and give you only a few things back. I did not mind so much that my belts were taken away (although my pants were way too big and kept falling off) but I was kind of distraught when then took my spiral journal. (I had kept a journal for over ten years-my writing was an extension of myself, often my closest friend.) I guess there is a chance I would take the metal spiral apart and harm myself with it. Although it was plain and empty, they did give me a composition notebook inside which I would soon begin dumping the contents of my psyche. Also, they took the string out of my hoodie, which wouldn’t have bothered me, except it was my boyfriend’s and I knew he would be a little annoyed.

I entered the hospital on a chilly Tuesday morning.The night before, December tenth, 2007, in a blubbering, raging stupor, I told my boyfriend I wanted to ingest a bunch of pills. (And I had a lot of them from years and years of psychiatric treatment). “This has never happened to me before, Brittany, but the only thing I can remember about this sort of thing is that you shouldn’t take it lightly. I think you need to go to the hospital.” I was not the kind of person you see on the movies that resist getting psychiatric treatment. The truth is, despite feelings of abject guilt for “abandoning” my Kindergarten students and burdening my coworkers, I was ready to escape my life, and so I welcomed this new “opportunity.”

My new world was surreal. Hazy, foggy, I was so disoriented and out of myself but I just followed the directions the professionals gave me, as the dutiful “good” girl I knew how to be. I was showed to my “room,” stiff, white and cold who I shared with a girl named Ashley. Ashley was not a “good” girl. Blonde, heavier-set, and about eighteen years old, she was feisty and often had verbal fights with the staff. She and I left each other alone but I often wondered how I ended up in a place with someone like Ashley, someone who was so different than I was.

The staff said I would probably be able to leave on Friday. On the first day I was referred to an EMT for my horrible physical condition and was put on another antibiotic (I had been on different ones for the past few weeks for my sinus infection but none of them had worked.) That night I wrote in my composition journal: “I think it will be good for me here. I have this really nice nurse, Gretchen, who’s very kind and I feel well taken care of…Having some feelings of guilt but mostly feel like I’m taking a vacation from my life-which maybe is a good thing-or what they want.”

On Wednesday, a psychiatrist came and visited me a few times; based on the comments of the other residents I realized the doctor was in the habit of diagnosing everyone with bipolar and upping their already high levels of meds. Sure enough he said he thought I had bipolar II or Rapid Cycling Bipolar and put me on a mood stabilizer called Lamictal. (I recognized this as a seizure med I would often dispense for the adults with disabilities I used to worked with. It was a weird feeling being one of the “residents” instead of the staff person.) The psychiatrist also wanted to up my anti-depressant Cymbalta to 90 mg a day. I remember agreeing to all these med changes, thinking, “What do I know? Obviously he is the doctor and I am the crazy one since I am in the psych ward.” During one of our sessions, the psychiatrist looked down at his papers, “The staff have been documenting your sad affect has not changed since you arrived.” Inside I thought, “Why should I pretend to be happy when I am not?” and mostly, “I would be happier if I were at home.”

On Wednesday, Ashley went home  (or somewhere else) and I got a new roommate, Elizabeth, who I took an instant liking to. Liz was a beautiful young woman with long dark hair and huge brown eyes. She looked maybe Hawaiian or something. Liz had been admitted to the hospital after attempting for the second time to kill herself. She had overdosed on Ibuprofen PM and thought she would just die in her sleep. She woke up with severe stomach pain and decided to drive herself to the ER where they pumped her stomach (this was similar to what happened the first time she attempted suicide, she said.) Liz had three daughters and an emotionally abusive husband. I always wonder about Liz and how she is doing or if she is even alive as it is very common for someone who has attempted suicide several times to eventually succeed. She was so beautiful and had so much to live for; it was so painful to hear her story, yet it helped me realize (again) depression is not a feeling, something you can talk yourself out of. It is a severe medical condition. Depression takes ahold of you until you are so far in, it controls everything you do; there is no escaping its hideous claws. For me it was and has been a lifelong journey.

I also met a lot of other “residents”—very interesting people who I realized were not much different than me and nothing at all like the “crazy” people the movies display. A few people received electric shock treatment several times a week because, according to their doctors, no other treatments were working for their depression. One lady who had been in the hospital for several weeks, Kathy, told us not to tell her anything important in the morning before her shock treatment; she would not remember it because the treatment caused amnesia.

During one of the group therapy sessions, a woman named Karen really stood out to me. She was kind of quiet and delicate and I remember she started talking about how she was just now-five years later-dealing with her mother’s death. Later that day after a meal, Karen told me she, too, was a teacher. She taught kids with severe autism but for the past several months she had been abusing Immatrex (a medication for migraines which I also happened to use). She had been driving with a coworker under the influence of the med and almost got the two of them killed by driving through a red light. The coworker called 911 and Karen ended up here. I was so in awe of this beautiful woman who was sharing her heart with people she barely even knew; I was so grateful she and her coworker were okay and I also thought of her students. We both shared our feelings of guilt for “leaving” our students, but realized it’s nice to be taken care of once in a while. In talking with Karen I realized I was not alone.

On Thursday, I wrote in my journal, “God, I am miserable. They want to keep me til Monday. Because of the multiple sicknesses I have, sinus infection, pain and constipation, on top of the depression and sadness. They want to see if the new med and med increase will start taking effect. Since I can’t work anyway, I guess it makes sense…”

Despite missing home and agonizing over what my coworkers and family members were thinking of me at this exact minute, I tried to take advantage of my “vacation” in the hospital. The food was not too bad and it was nice not having to cook for myself or clean up. Plus I got dessert after every meal. I did things I never got to do when I was in the “real world”: jigsaw puzzles, painting, reading. I also got a lot of attention which is what I secretly wanted; during the week I was there I received visits from my parents (who drove 200 miles from Wisconsin), my brother Tim, my brother Greg and sister-in-law Sarah, my boyfriend Will, and my coworker and mentor.

While in the hospital, I realized while I was sick emotionally, I had been much worse in the past but without appropriate support. I wondered if I would have just gone to bed that night, not called my boyfriend and told him about my urge to overdose…would I have just gone on as I had so many times in the past? I had had so many urges that were even stronger in the past to harm or kill myself and I never had. While I feel I would have never taken the pills on that December night some many years ago, I still believe I made the right choice to go to the hospital. My life was forever changed by my experience there; the faces of the people I met will be forever imprinted on my mind. Their stories have become part of my story. I became a more compassionate, gracious and loving person because of my stay at a hospital psych ward. I hope to never enter one again, but I would not edit those six days out of my life if given the choice.

Still, my hospital stay forced me to face the reality of my life, however surreal and zombie-like I still felt. How did all the things that happened to me result in me ending up here, a mental hospital? And where would my life turn now as a result of this important milestone in my journey?

Posted in anxiety, apathy, healing, pain, shame, suffering

New Depression

I thought I would begin posting on my “new” blog (even though I started this depression blog four years ago.) I haven’t shared much about my personal life since I got married one year ago whether it be on social media or in person. Who knows if what I say will help anyone but I hope it does. I feel compelled to share so I am going with it.

I have been going through another “Valley of Baca,” a pretty intense season of depression. Depression used to give my life meaning. I used to live for both having the problem itself and for healing from my depression. And I used to feel closer than ever to God when I was suffering. The last year and half but particularly the last several months, I have felt a new kind of depression. I have felt further from God than ever and alone in my blackness. Few of my old coping mechanisms seem to get me out of my funk and the worst is I don’t care. Apathy is a new kind of pain I have rarely experienced.

I know I am not alone and I want others to know they are not alone so that’s why I am opening up.

The reason why it’s so hard to talk about is because I know my life is good. I have a great home, a good job and a wonderful husband. Not to mention family and friends who love  and support me. But as my counselor said, depression can strike anyone and I am sick and tired of blaming myself. Which is what spurs my depression on in the first place.

I am not discounting any positive thing in my life. But I also want to be real. A real approachable person that can maybe reach someone like me. I wish I could get excited about this life life I used to. But instead of being propelled by my suffering, I am hiding more than ever.

I guess I’ve had my share of shameful moments. But why I’m so ashamed now is different than all the other times. I can be different. I know what to do. I have all the tricks in the bag (Bible reading, prayer, devotions, positive thinking, yoga, mindfulness, eating health, exercising, taking supplements and on and on). I know the right things to do and the wrong things not to do. I could change. I don’t have any reason to be doing the wrong things. Except maybe I want to forget about why I no longer feel or experience life how I once did. I just choose to continue to hide. I like to feel vulnerable. I like to be the one who can hurt my body or mind. For some reason. I like the control I have.

I don’t want to leave this entry on a negative note. I know I am in a season and I am trying to learn from the season I’m in. Like every other time, I will get through and come out stronger because of it. Instead of fighting it. And I have been doing a few good things such as reaching out to those who love me and writing. For the sake of those who love me, I want to get better. And I know you will too. The world needs to hear my voice and it needs to hear your voice.

I decided I am done hiding and thanks to some inspiration from this wonderful woman, I want to tell my story. Like her, I want it to read like a book (I already have a lot of written for a memoir I have been working on). So start here, then click forward on the bottom left arrow to read it in order. I hope you decide to follow me on my journey!

Posted in anxiety, depersonalization disorder, depression, healing, Jesus, suicidal thinking, truth

A recent talk I gave

I recently gave my testimony to my church group Immerse, composed of people in their 20s and 30s. Thought I would share it with you. It is nothing near my whole story of course-just a snapshot.

            Hi my name is Brittany and I am here tonight to share something on my heart not because I want to, but because I believe it’s what I’m supposed to do. Trust me, I have been hoping that somehow tonight’s Immerse would be rained out, a hurricane would strike, Jesus would return, anything, so that I would not have to stand in front of you all and bare my soul, but no. Whether it sounds cliché or not, I am here for a reason and so are you.

Tonight I want to talk about challenges by relating to you an extremely raw and vulnerable journey I have been on. In all of our lives, we are at a place that presents challenges, whether it be graduation from high school or college and facing the reality of being a “grown up,” whether it be a new job, a change in relationship status, a sudden or chronic illness, the loss of a loved one, whatever it is… Some of us may have what Paul calls in 2 Corinthians 12:7, a “thorn” in our flesh, a problem, whether it be an illness, habit or sin that plagues us. We think we are doomed and begin thinking of ourselves in term of this “thorn.”

It is about my own “thorn in my flesh” I would like to talk tonight. This thorn has been my decade-long struggle with depression and anxiety. On February 27, 2005, I was sitting in a parking lot waiting for my parents to drive me away, away from the hell I was experiencing at college, waiting in agony, in desperation, in a state of surreallness and dizziness. I wrote: “I have never felt more disempowered / More lowly, more pitiful / The more I am around people / The more I lose joy / Because I feel like a failure / I had so much joy before / When I felt I had it all together / When the things I did made me believe I was worthy / Mo matter how genuine the love of others / I can never accept it because/ It makes me feel more and more ashamed / Lord I want you and you only / I want to shut the world out. “ I was at the beginning on a new journey; I had no idea what hell would await me but I could tell it was starting. I was a junior at Bethel at the time. I had experienced depression on and off since adolescence; I was accustomed to it, the sadness; the endless tears; the shakiness; the constant ruminations about self, world, faith, God, death; the many medications and therapy sessions; the physical illnesses that both caused and were caused by the depressions; even the suicidal thoughts that came and went sometimes for weeks or months at a time.

Early in 2005, I thought I was having a reprieve from depression because I hadn’t thought about killing myself in a few weeks. I began having more trust in God and peace about my future. But then I began having strange symptoms in which I felt “I was withering away into nothingness.” It was a hazy, disoriented feeling in which I became an observer of the world and myself. It worsened to the point that I literally felt no control over what I did or said. When I talked it was like a stranger’s voice talking. This made participating in class discussions and even having conversations with friends a nightmare. I always seemed fine on the outside, but sometimes when someone got close to me I would become unable to breathe and my heart would start to race. It felt like other people were literally sucking the life out of me. Not only that but I began feeling a lot of tightness in my chest starting around 6 or 7 pm every day. It felt like my body was shutting down; I could do nothing but lay down, but when I tried to rest, my mind raced and I would lay there as if there were a hundred bricks on me.

I researched my condition and later confirmed with a doctor I was suffering from depersonalization disorder, which is often a coping mechanism for people who do not adjust to change well, perhaps a symptom of depression. Looking back several years later, I realize I’d had a crazy couple months. I was still adjusting to my life back in the U.S. after a semester in Guatemala. I was dealing with the fact that both of my older brothers were in serious relationships. My one brother Greg suddenly got engaged to in November to Sarah-a girl younger than me who I barely knew. This news sent me into a tailspin. I felt my brother was being lost to me while also jealous and full of self-pity and self-hatred because of state of singleness. My oldest brother Nate, with whom I was extremely close, was dating my best friend Bethany and I was very enmeshed with their relationship. December came, and besides normal holiday and winter blues and dealing with my new bizarre physical symptoms, I was reeling with pain and sorrow of the tsunami tragedy in Southeast Asia (I had a history of experiencing worsening depression when disasters such as this occurred). Then in January, at the start of an extremely stressful interim (in which I took one class but was expected to do about 8 hours of homework a day), Nate broke up with Bethany. I did not deal with this well, especially since I lived with Bethany. It was one of the most painful times of my life. Whether it was this new disorder, or just a different type of depression, I later realized my body did not know what to do with all the changes and stress around me.

I began my second semester at Bethel with a full load of classes, including an internship in a third-grade classroom. I was also working part time taking care of adults with disabilities in a group home. In all of my activities I hoped everyone saw me as a professional, competent, secure and happy person. Inside it was a hellish war; in fact, it became a daily battle to survive, to not take my life. I was constantly reasoning with God, pleading with him to take me out of my misery, my physical pain, paralyzing anxiety and despair. There were very few days that went by that I did not create a plan in my mind of how to take my own life. I was so desperate for relief – I had always thought about hurting myself but I had never gone through with it. So one evening, I cut myself with a razor.  I’d heard that cutting had helped with relief of pain and my distorted mind told me, “What’s there to lose?” The next day, I was at my elementary school internship in the faculty bathroom. I felt so dissociated I didn’t even know who I was. I wanted nothing to do with the broken and confused girl I was the night before but I in no way could become the competent and worthy adult I wanted to be in that moment. I was washing my hands in the bathroom and wished I could just wash away every painful thing I had ever done to myself. I felt like I was and always would be my own worst enemy. In thirty seconds, I would have to face twenty-five children and try to teach them how to not be like me. I could not do this. I hated who I was. How would I ever change?

Just a few days later, I told my psychologist at Bethel about the cutting incident and that day he along with my parents basically made the decision for me: I would take a leave of absence from school. In a matter of hours, my whole world once again shifted. Little did I know I would continue to struggle with the confusing physical symptoms of disorientedness and feeling outside of my body, body heaviness, headaches, and paralyzing anxiety and depression for another several months. Not to mention the hard toll the many medications I was prescribed took on my body and mind over the course of many months and years.

While 2005 was one of the hardest years of my life, I can tell you today that I rarely have that harrowing feeling of being stuck inside my body and being unable to control what I do or say.  I rarely feel unable to breathe when people are in my presence nor the tightness in my body beginning at 6 pm each evening. Hallelujah! The dissociative symptoms began to wear off during the summer of 2005 and as I prepared for my reentry to Bethel. Unfortunately, severe and unpredictable mood swings would continue to interfere with my daily life for many years. While I have gone through a tremendous amount of healing-thank you God!- I still struggle with depression, anxiety, panic and mood swings today. I still struggle daily with thoughts straight from the Devil: lies about who I am, that perfection is the key to happiness, that my worth is dependent on my marital status or the kind of job I have or how I look; about who God is, that he is distant and uncaring, that he is not the real God, that he is weak, that everything I ever believed about God and Christ is in my head, that I made it here because of my own will power; and many many more.

I wanted to share with you some of the things that I learned since those dark days and what I continue to learn as I live with my struggles daily. I have learned what it means to live, to live fully on this earth. For so many years, I supported a habit, a bad habit perhaps borne of the lopsided chemicals in my brain but, I believe, due even more to demonic influences. The habit became automatic. Whenever I encountered a trial, large or small, a sudden voice in the recesses of my mind: “You could always kill yourself.” The thought that I had a way out was liberating to me. The thought came more pronounced and invading the darker and deeper my depressions. On the most troubling, painful, shame-filled nights of my soul I would war in my mind the idea of taking my own life. I would always involve God in this. I would cry out, “Lord, please take me home to heaven!” When I was wracked with so much physical pain and emotional deadness, I felt like I could offer the world nothing. I lamented, using my Christian upbringing as a rationalization for my thoughts. Many of the hymns I grew up singing had to do with looking forward to heaven and leaving this earth. One of my favorite contemporary Christian songs included this lyric: “This world has nothing for me.” When listening to this song and others with similar words, I thought, “See, it can’t be wrong to feel what I feel.” But then I would get so low and, knowing God would not strike me dead, I realized I had to act for myself. There were so many times I was close to ending my life. But I never attempted it. I woke up one morning in April 2005 and my day lay before me like a barren wasteland. Dead, empty, meaningless. I was so hollow, I began thinking again of escaping life by my own hand. I started creating a detailed plan. My main reasons for not killing myself were, first of all, I knew it would be unbearable for my friends and family, and, second of all, what would God say when I got to heaven? That day, I thought, I was no longer the person my friends and family loved and could never be that person again. I also reasoned that although God would be mad he would still let me in to heaven. Maybe I would feel some disappointment for letting God down, but once in heaven, it wouldn’t matter. So, there I lay with my own life in my hands. But I just laid there, practically immobilized. Looking back on that day, I knew there must have been an angel holding me down on that bed.

Over the course of many years, I am learning that unlike the “Christian” messages I have received (and perhaps distorted in my mind) it is okay to enjoy life on earth while also anticipating heaven. Thanks to our Amazing Savior and Healer, nowadays I rarely think of taking my own life! (I am still in awe because this used to be a daily occurrence!) Instead of longing for Jesus to come back on a daily basis, I have come to realize all of the beautiful things that this world has to offer. Through some of the teachings of this church, I have realized that the kingdom of God is not out of reach but it is with us right now. I have begun to see myself as a beautiful extension of Christ and my life as a gift. Again it has taken many many years of growth, of continued trial and failure in my life and of help from professionals and others God has put in my path.

This leads to my next realization in my journey with depression: Jesus wants me to experience joy. Probably one of the strangest yet most profound lies I have believed my whole life is this: “I deserve to be miserable.” I don’t know where this came from except I grew up most of my life thinking I was the “sick one” (I got sick a lot) or the “whiny” and “negative” and “crabby” one out of all my siblings. Throughout my life, mostly due to my melancholy personality, I have always struggled to “be happy.” I would get messages from my dad, cheery messages like “Let’s be looking for the good and positive things in life!” (in which cases I would want to hit him) or sardonic ones from my brothers, “Did you know it takes seven times more muscles to frown as it does to smile?” Even now when I am experiencing joy and yet I know there are people suffering, especially if I’m somewhat close to them, I tell myself, “No, you can’t be happy when so-and-so is suffering” as if I’m going to betray them. I have come to realize that my friends wouldn’t want me to be miserable; they wouldn’t want to wish their pain on me. I’ve also realized God is the God of joy. And Zephaniah 3:17 says, “The Lord your God…will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing.” I try to picture God dancing and singing when he thinks about me…it’s so hard to do, but I have really begun to believe it! I strive to be like God, dancing with joy over the things he has given me.

Thirdly, don’t think there is one solution to your problem. I have this habit of getting into all-or-nothing thinking a lot. There is one thing out there that will “cure” me, instead of realizing that every good and perfect gift comes from God. Surprise, surprise these “good things” can actually come from the secular world. While I greatly benefitted from Christian books and music, reading Scripture, prayer, journaling and encouragement from Christian friends and family, I also underwent a year-and-a-half long group therapy program similar to AA that is based on Buddhist ideas and it really changed my life. And I won’t neglect to praise God for all that he taught me through that program. I have also been down the traditional medicine and therapy path, but have also experimented with alternative medicine. I have received relief from both worlds, but, sadly, I have discovered that neither is perfect

You may have days where there is nothing you can think of except escaping life on earth. This leads me to my next lesson I learn daily: gratitude. No matter how hellish you feel, there are always things to thank God for. Think of things you take for granted like being able to move your arms and legs; your ability to smell, feel, hear, taste and see; your ability to breathe; your overall health. Think of all the people in your life who love you and who you love so much it hurts.

Break life down into particles.  Look for the smallest things that bring you joy: a bird singing, the sun shining, how your pet feels when you pet him or her, the taste of your favorite food, the warmth of a deep hot bath when you’re freezing, the smell of rain…Use your five senses at all times.  “Count your blessings” may be an old saying, but it is really a life-giving activity. Whenever you’re struggling, make a list of all the things in your life that make you happy (a “gratitude list”). Another idea is to create a “survival kit” –a box with things that will fill your soul with peace and give you strength and hope: pictures of loved ones, favorite books, powerful Scriptures, etc. Turn to your gratitude list and survival kit on the really low days. And never forget that every good and perfect gift comes from God (James 1:17). Thank him for those gifts every day.

To continue, use the Words of God –Scripture-as your very breath. A lot of the times I couldn’t get any words out onto paper or into my mind so I would turn to Scripture, especially the Psalms. Despite my utter pain, I found solace in Psalms because they are so guttural and real. I felt myself constantly crying out with the Psalmist, “Oh Lord, how long will you look on? Rescue my life from the ravages, my precious life from these lions…” I would write down the Psalms and memorize them. Or I would write my own rendition of a Psalm. On February 24, 2005, even though I was living a hellish existence, I wrote this poem in my journal based on Psalm 42, “Flowing down filling me up / Heavenly waters above / Falling lightly / Then heavier and heavier / So cool refreshing cooling / The depths of Your love in the water / Calls out to the depths of my soul / They meet and caress/ Filling me with hope and peace / Deep fills deep / My soul is satisfied.”

This leads me to writing. Writing in my journal whether in the form of a poem, a prayer, or random ramblings was what kept me sane. I always had an outlet-I knew I could say whatever I wanted in there and no one would have to know unless I told them. The best thing about my journaling times was the closeness I would feel to God. Sometimes I would start off my journal with all sorts of lies about myself and the world and God…but I would just write and write and write. True, sometimes I ended up even more confused and hurt than when I started. But more often than not, I would end with a profound truth and realization of who I was or who God was. In going back and reading my journals, I realize in awe and amazement that what was coming out of my pen was not of me…it was the words of the Holy Spirit Himself. I have actually gone back to receive comfort by my own words a lot of times! God was truly at work in my life and my writing is one very vivid way I was able to see it.

Another important lesson I am learning is acceptance. You need to accept that you don’t and may never understand. I still don’t understand why I got so “messed up” when I grew up in a mostly stable household with loving Christian parents. It does not help to analyze it too much nor to compare your experience with another’s (“so-and-so was abused as a child and she went through this dramatic healing, and here I am” or “so-and-so’s faith is so much stronger”). There are so many things about the world, such as wars and natural disasters, that continue to confound me and could easily make me depressed like they did in the past. As simple as it sounds, I am learning to “pray, not worry.” I need to trust that the God I know and love is in control and I am not.

I have to learn to accept that things are the way they are and most of the time I cannot change that. A few years ago, I accepted that I would probably struggle with depression the rest of my life.  Let’s look at the verse I brought up before, 2 Corinthians 12: 7-10: “…there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” This is so powerful! It is so refreshing to know that Paul, the author, also pleaded with God to take something away (in my case it was about a thousand-not three-times!) but he came to accept his “thorn” because he realized God could use him in his weakness. Not only that, but Christ’s power is made perfect in our weakness. While I am still learning what this means, I know one of the reasons is I can reach people because of my experiences with severe depression and anxiety. If I did not go through that or if I didn’t continually struggle today, I would not be here sharing this.

Finally, in closing, an essential element of healing for me has been to connect with others. Every person here tonight is battling a “thorn” in his or her flesh. We are all so similar. Your “thorn” may be sin itself or it may be a struggle that has the capacity to produce sinful behavior. Like me, you may continue to tell yourself as you sin away, “I can’t help it-that’s how I am.” Please do not believe this lie! We are all prone to certain sins because of our personalities and experiences. I have accepted that it is natural for me to jump to negative conclusions about every person or situation. And I hate that about me. But because of my relationship with Christ, I have seen growth in myself. One of the reasons is that the Lord has helped me reach out to others. In talking today, I feel that I will be leaving even more chains behind because I have let some unpleasant things about me come to the light. Sharing our sins with one another breaks down barriers and unites us with each other and with God. 1 John 1: 5-7 says, “If we claim to have fellowship with God yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.” Satan wants us to keep our sins a secret so we are bound by them; all the while he is lying to us, telling us we will never change.

So the main thing I urge you to do in closing is to tell someone today about your struggle. Yes, it will be hard. You may wonder what people will think of you or even if your friends or family members will disown you. So many times I have thought that; then I was pleasantly surprised that my loved one reacted in a loving, caring way. Often you will find that others have the same struggle as you do-how refreshing it is to not feel so alone! You will be surprised at the freedom that will come in sharing your burden, so I urge you to come into the light!  I am willing to talk with you afterward about your depression or any other issue. Otherwise we have pamphlets available with some services in the area where you can receive support. Thanks, you guys, for letting me share with you tonight. I know there is a reason why each one of you is here tonight.