A while back, our transformation pastor taught on the Fruit of the Spirit, as detailed in Galatians 5:22-23. When she taught about Joy, she taught us that we can Choose Joy. Well, backing up, the overall point of the series is that as we remain in Christ, and we are filled with the Holy Spirit, these traits will become more and more evident in our lives. So it's not just some conscious effort to always look on the bright side, but as we remain more and more in Christ, we Choose Joy more and more.
I identify as a cry baby. I was marked by tears throughout my very happy childhood. No really. No beatings, no abuse, no hardships. I grew up in a loving family, with comfortable homes (we moved a lot, being a Navy family). School came easily for me. I have no childhood traumas. But I cried over just about anything. I was an active child, so I got to cry over cuts and bruises and scrapes and even a broken bone. I had an older brother, so I got to cry over teasing. I have clear memories of just about anyone trying to get me to stop crying. My mom's most successful method was the tiny bud vase she had for collecting my tears. By the time she got the vase to me, my tears were always dried up.
I still cry very easily. I cried during Astro Boy; I cried during the Christmas episode of Bones, I cried when the little cartoon toaster threw himself into that nasty compacter! I cry for happiness, for grief, in anger. I cry.
I very clearly remember a time, when I was 8, that I cried and cried and cried. I didn't know why.
In 2004, I went through enough stress, from about four different sources, that I ran through any of my own resources and hit bottom. I did everything I could to point to circumstances instead of myself, but the circumstances pointed out that I needed help. And I got it. I started taking Lexapro; I shed (unwillingly, for the most part) most of the stressors, and I fled back to God. The uncontrollable tears slowly stopped. The anxiety softened. Where I had been spiraling downwards, more and more desperately grasping at what I thought I needed to be happy, I started to meet people who had true happiness without effort. In the process, I reexamined my belief that I was a Christian. I had prayed when I was two years old, and I'd come to look at it as a sort of checked-off box that would apply much later - after death. At Quest, I came to learn that there is more to this Christian stuff. That there is a real relationship possible, while we're still on this imperfect world. That there were people around me filled with Jesus, experiencing that relationship. And I wanted the whole deal, not just some childhood plea for salvation, but an adult agreement to lay down my own control and let Him take over. That prayer came in 2006.
My life changed. Not the circumstances of it, but my attitude and perspective and emotional state.
It got easier to laugh, to not sweat the little stuff, to assume the best - all the ways of expressing Choose Joy.
But I wondered. I hear this story over and over from so many, I know I'm not unusual. I was taking an anti-depressant, and I desperately wanted to believe I didn't really need it. My scientist brain rebelled at the faulty test conditions. Changing three factors at once? How could I know which to credit the change? Was it the drugs, or taking away the stressors, or was it Jesus? The drugs were pricey and brand-names aren't covered by my prescription plan, and that probably played into the wishful thinking. And then in 2008, my prescription expired before my annual exam, and the office called in one month for me, but the appointment had to be postponed... The upshot was two weeks, maybe three where I ended up cold-turkey without the Lexapro. There was some initial withdrawal dizziness, but that seemed to be it. My doctor okayed my suggestion to stay off it, and that was that.
Uh no. Flar tried to get me to go back. He said I was more irritable. I resisted. I felt fine. Mind you, we were going through a tough time again - money was tight, there was stress - we were fighting and I "was entitled to be mad." I gave in and went to a psychiatrist. Heh - the Lexapro was prescribed by my Gyn. for "pre-menapausal mood-swings." I figured I didn't need any stinking mind drugs unless a mind doctor told me so. One conversation. She mentioned the possibility of Dysthymia (I think that was the term she used), but she made the idea of drugs seem optional and up to me. She did say that Lexapro is not for treating irritability, so I came home "vindicated."
But there was more going on than irritability. I was draining out. I stopped working with the two-year olds, because I was wrapped up so much in my own pain that I couldn't put it aside and be there for the kids. I let worry over money and our marriage consume me.
Then the Really Bad Weekend™ came. I'd been feeling more and more miserable. I went to the mat that night and my leader and I were the only ones in our group, by chance. She asked me how my week had been, and I started to tell her how hopeless I felt. We talked and talked, and as she was telling me that she thought I sounded depressed, I could feel this palpable disconnection. If I could be that disconnected from the people physically around me, how could I possibly feel God's presence in my life? I came home and told Flar. Somehow, though, admitting the depression made me act even more bratty and self-centered. I lashed out and hurt everyone within reach, then melted down into a helpless puddle. I really didn't feel worthy to continue.
That Wednesday I went back to the psychiatrist and told her I was wrong. That I needed help. I asked her whether there was a generic drug that would take away the money stress that came with the Lexapro, and she prescribed Celesta, from the $4 list. It didn't do anything dramatic overnight. I spent a lot of time not trusting myself. Walking on eggshells around myself.
But I can feel again. I don't feel disconnected.
Sometimes I still wrap up into frightened kitten mode. It happened this week. Hide in the comfy chair; turn off the brain with TV; eat junk food and just hide. But it didn't last. And when I told Flar how I was feeling, he didn't chide me for my feelings - he didn't tell me to smile; he just gave the frightened kitten a hug. And he told me it would get better.
Circumstances aren't great this week. But I can Choose Joy.
I haven't worked in three weeks - more time to spend with Flar. Flar's construction company is winding down - more time for him to rest, which he dearly needs these days. For everything that is bad or scary, there's another side to it. I can look back and see how much God has done for us, all the ways He has already protected and provided, and I can rest in His assurances now.
It'll get even better.
This entry was written for inclusion in The Real LJ Idol writing competition on Live Journal, Topic 3: Smile.