As I sat down beside him with my plate from the buffet, I tuned in to the conversation he was having with the group. “I was the guy who tested the new planes,” he shared, referring to his time in the military during WWII. “A lot of times they still needed work.” He went on to describe the details of a couple flights where the planes would take off but couldn’t stay airborne so they went crashing to the ground. “I’d somehow get out after impact,” he said with a chuckle.
This decorated WWII pilot had a captured an audience of fellow military retirees and Honor Flight guardians gathered around the table to kick off our big day of visiting the memorials in Washington D.C. He went on to share that he sustained quite a few bullets during his years as a fighter pilot. “They would just stitch me up,” he said nonchalantly. When I asked about his injuries he turned his head to show me the most visible one–the outer part of his ear had been shot off. This hero had been through it!
This week was a difficult one and I am not shy to share that I struggle with depression from time to time, especially when I get overwhelmed. This extended season of COVID has taken a toll on our nation and the world. It has stressed our home lives, our jobs, our social interactions. It has delivered anxiety, uncertainty and alienation. It has robbed us of so much, including the many lives that have been lost. Because of increased cases, yesterday my state went to a level red which limits inside gatherings to two people if not living in the same household, and prohibits restaurants from serving patrons inside. I’m not making any kind of personal or political statement here, I’m just saying that this is our new reality, at least for a season. And I’m in the hospitality business so I am greatly affected by this change.
I could feel the dark cloud settling near me the past few days and I have learned to share space when it appears on my emotional radar. In fact, I have even grown comfortable with it. When depression occupies the seat next to me, I take time to sit with it, acknowledge it, and let it run its course. I’m sure this sounds odd so let me explain.
The American Psychiatric Association says that depression “causes feelings of sadness and/or a loss of interest in activities you once enjoyed.” Over the last several years I have learned so much about the importance of being able to feel your feelings. Trauma from my childhood set me on a course of self-protection where I was very guarded with what I would share and who I would share it with. I would joke that I was like a vast, shallow pond…willing to share kindness in great doses with anyone who wanted or needed it, but only to a certain depth. I became good at maintaining my relationships at that level of guardedness; I had a hard line in my heart that I would not allow people to get past.
Childhood scars had caused me to close off a lot of my heart and what I was willing to give, share and receive from those I cared about and who cared about me. This seemed to work just fine as I navigated through high school and college, and in my single years that followed. This did NOT work well in my marriage for obvious reasons and as a friend and I were discussing this week, there was a blatant lack of compatibility between me and my husband (which I have mentioned before; close friends brought this to our attention before we got married). Looking back, I felt I had found my life partner and that love would help us overcome our extreme differences. (Oh dear, too many Hallmark movies…) I was confident that I would somehow be able to open up to him in every way. But in reality, I was still a girl who had baggage from her childhood that had not been dealt with. So as things became more and more uncomfortable for me in marriage, I retreated back behind the line I had drawn earlier in life. I didn’t feel I had a safe place to express my feelings so I withdrew them, and as a result my husband didn’t feel like he was married to someone who loved him. So we disintegrated. This is a simple but very accurate summation of how we and so many other couples have fallen apart.
Post-divorce I went on a journey to explore, understand and allow myself to really feel my feelings. Some of this is repetitive from earlier posts but I think it’s important to rehash during these difficult days. I started by simply trying to give a name to whatever I was sensing, often from outside circumstances affecting my mood or anxiety level. I would sit down, close my eyes, and ask myself to identify the feeling. I quickly realized that I was someone who struggled with depression which only made me more depressed, lol! But it was so powerful to acknowledge and define what that looked like for me: sadness, loss of interest, lack of energy, feeling useless/worthless, difficulty concentrating, trouble sleeping, etc. My inner dialogue would go something like this: “Today I am feeling blue, in fact I feel like I want to go back to bed. I am unmotivated, lethargic, tired, restless and extremely insecure.”
Let’s say I was able to lay down for 20 minutes. If I could give myself that gift, I did, either by going back to bed or slipping in a quick nap later in the day. A win! Check it off the list. Next item was not being sure how to get my work done. Question to myself was, “What needs to be done today?” and then giving myself the grace to table some items to be done the next day, knowing it would likely be a better one. Then, when I got the work done, I would take a brief pause to celebrate. Maybe it was with a cookie or a warm cup of tea (both bring me comfort). Last thing on the list: insecurity. I recognized that this was a long-term issue that had built slowly over time during my 16 years of marriage and that it would take a lot of time to change. Getting into good Bible studies and learning God’s word with women who inspired and loved me all at the same time was really healing for me. Reading through the Psalms, having good quiet time chats with God and spending time with friends who loved me no matter what–these were (and still are) the things that brought healing to my soul. I still seek them out, I embrace them.
This is how I navigate through my challenging days. And here’s the encouraging part. Once I acknowledge, define and work through the steps, I allow myself to accept the peace that follows. It is in many ways a gift from God, and in other ways a reward for doing the work and moving through the hard stuff. I am reassured of this…the peace is ALWAYS there if I am willing to walk the road that leads me to that sacred place.
When I was going to bed last night this post started stirring in my heart and God reminded me of the joy, courage and inspiration I felt with my WWII vet as he shared his past. He had survived crash landings and direct combat hits and yet he had nothing but gratitude and a sense of honor (and humor) as he reflected back on that time in his life. I trust that if you’ve made it this far in the text, God is speaking to your heart and showing His love to you in a very personal and intense way. The struggle is real and so is His love for us (for YOU). He wants us to walk in wholeness. As we take the bullets of life let’s allow ourselves the grace to feel, the courage to be real, and then the space to heal.
If you know someone who could benefit from this post, please share. God carved out a path of intense healing for me and I would like to share it with as many people who need or want to hear.