counsellor

How to Deal with The Cat that Came Back: A Life with Depression

I remember listening to a children’s song when I was young about a cat that always came back, no matter how much you tried to get rid of it. In the Fred Penner classic version, the chorus goes like this:

But the cat came back the very next day
The cat came back, they thought he was a goner
But the cat came back; he just couldn’t stay away

Though the song is about a literal cat, I find it serves as an apt metaphor for other things in life. A cat that I thought I had left behind recently came back. Its name is depression.

After a six-year battle with depression, with three and a half of those years on different kinds of medication and a variety of counselors, I was finally free. My doctor had titrated me off the medication and declared I no longer had depression. For the next number of months, I was afraid it would come back every time I had a hard day or something bad happened. But it didn’t. The cat was a goner! At least I thought it was.

Four years depression-free came to a crashing halt at the end of 2017. I had been feeling off for a while but thought it would pass like all the other times. The feeling persisted, despite my best efforts to address it through engaging projects, extracurricular activities, time with friends, and prayer. I still didn’t think it was a big deal until the suicidal thoughts crept into my mind. It was then that I knew I needed help.

I felt like I had failed and was going backwards in life, especially as this turbulent time coincided with my 30th birthday. Why couldn’t I have things together like everyone else? Of course, now it is easy to see the lies in that question, but at the time it was a real struggle. I talked with my family and they encouraged me to see my doctor. He prescribed the same medication I had been on before and met with me until I stabilized. I’m grateful that medication works for me, but that doesn’t mean it is an easy road. I’ve had to continuously deal with a lack of motivation, tiredness, and self-defeating thought patterns. Sometimes I ask God why he couldn’t have given me a dog instead of a cat. Despite these struggles and the unknown ahead, I have been discovering ways to deal with my cat that came back. Here’s what I’ve learned that I can pass on to you.

  1. Though the cat may eventually leave, accept that it is here at the moment.

Fighting against reality makes dealing with it impossible. Trying to say the cat isn’t there, or that it isn’t affecting you, actually gives it more power. Accept the presence of the cat for the moment. This doesn’t mean you want it to stay, but it allows you to do what you need to do to address its presence.

  1. Take care of the cat. Feed it. Give it water. Empty the litter box. Buy a scratching post.

Once you’ve accepted the cat is with you for the moment, take care of it. Be kind to it and find out what your specific cat needs, which may be different than what other cats require. Healthy eating, regular exercise and time with other pets are all important, but easily neglected when you have a cat. You may need to see a veterinarian, or other cat specialist, too, but that does not mean you are weak in dealing with your cat. It means you are wise and strong.

  1. Talk about the cat with others. It could just be that they have cats, too.

Trying to hide the fact that you have a cat is fairly difficult. People who visit your place will probably see the cat hairs and furniture scratching. Lying about having a cat is exhausting. Although it is hard to be honest about your cat, when you are it is incredibly freeing. Not only will others be able to help you take care of your cat, you may find out that they have cats, too. Actually, having a cat is quite common, even though it seems everybody else has dogs or other cool pets that are way nicer than a cat.

I’m still hoping that my cat goes away. Until then, I’m going to practice acceptance of its presence, good cat care, and talking about the cat with people like you.

Advertisements

Putting My Wounds Into God’s Service

This is the seventh of seven posts in the Becoming a Wounded Healer: My Story Through Abuse series. All posts available here.

I am finally coming to the point where I am more comfortable talking about what happened. I want to use it as a source of healing for others. 2 Corinthians 1:3-5 (MSG) sticks out to me.

“All praise to the God and Father of our Master, Jesus the Messiah! Father of all mercy! God of all healing counsel! He comes alongside us when we go through hard times, and before you know it, he brings us alongside someone else who is going through hard times so that we can be there for that person just as God was there for us. We have plenty of hard times that come from following the Messiah, but no more so than the good times of his healing comfort – we get a full measure of that, too.”

As I wrote this series, I really wondered whether there is anyone else out there who has experienced something similar. I doubted, but statistically, it was likely. I have already had a number of people reach out to me with similar experiences in the past few weeks. I’m saddened by how common this is, but I also have hope that each of us can experience healing.

When I was five years old, I had my appendix taken out. I remember how painful it was at first. My activities were restricted. I couldn’t go swimming, which I loved. After some time, the butterfly closures were removed, and I could slowly go back to normal. I still had to be careful, and I often noticed the angry red mark staring at me. Months and years went by, and the scar faded. Now, I hardly remember it’s there. This experience gives me continued hope of what can happen on an emotional level with my past experiences, and those who have experienced similar things.

Going forward, I know I will face new situations that bring up old wounds in new ways. I also know that as I pursue healing and wholeness in Christ, the scars will fade. Maybe one day I will hardly notice it at all, and it will simply be a mark of the past. Whatever happens, I know that just as God has been faithful in the journey so far, God will continue to be faithful into the future. May you have the same hope in your journey.

Trusting God Again

This is the sixth of seven posts in the Becoming a Wounded Healer: My Story Through Abuse series. All posts available here.

As I began meeting with my counsellor, it seemed the painful layers of what happened were being peeled back. More and more came to the surface that I didn’t know was there.  It was as if I was at the checkout in a store, about to pay for my item. Just before the payment was finalized, the price was increased. Over and over again. I didn’t think I had anything left to forgive, but suddenly I was angry. There was no clear-cut process to follow with a start and an end. It all felt so unfair. Dealing with everything was taking so much energy, and John was probably living his life as if nothing ever happened.

November 2016

I really struggled through counselling, and even kickboxing couldn’t get me out of my funk. I was crying out to God on the drive home – actual tears, swearing, etc. Why do I have to suffer because of someone else’s actions? It’s not fair! He’s fine and I’m still suffering. If it was my own bad choice I wouldn’t complain…Then I sensed God speak to me clearly that he understood, because that’s what the cross is all about. Jesus punished for sins he didn’t commit (ours). I was personally experiencing something of the cross. Somehow that calmed me down and gave me peace.

My counsellor’s specialty was biblical counselling, so she often connected what we talked about to Bible verses, and encouraged me in ways I could pray about the situation. I remember one meeting in particular where she told me I should pray boldly for justice. I didn’t want to because I didn’t believe there was any hope for it, and I thought if I focused too much on that, I would get angry again. I knew eventually he would experience the consequences of his actions, even if not in this life.

God doesn’t usually speak to me in dreams, but shortly afterward I dreamed as I hadn’t before. I was in my apartment and John was there too. Initially I was afraid, but he began to apologize. For the first time, he acknowledged what happened and was truly sorry for it. I began to weep uncontrollably. It felt like a massive release in my heart of all that had happened. When I woke up, I felt like I had been given a gift from God. Although none of the events in my dream have happened, I experienced some healing in a way that is hard to put into words.

In another meeting, my counsellor asked me if I had problems trusting God. Initially, I thought my trust problems were more with other people, but I realized I struggled to trust God, too. I didn’t blame God for what happened, but I still didn’t understand why it happened. I had gone into self-protection mode. Subconsciously I thought that if God wouldn’t or couldn’t protect me, I would do it myself. By putting up walls, avoiding vulnerability, and appropriating a high level of skepticism in my interactions, I was removing any possibility of being hurt again, as much as was in my power. In short, I was a control freak.

I was angry when my counsellor suggested my reactions were sinful and I needed to repent. I preferred to see them as opportunities for growth, because that didn’t engender feelings of contempt and dread, but rather opportunity and possibility. However, as I worked through the chapter on repentance in the Wounded Heart book, I realized she was right. I had confused repentance and penance. “Contempt (self- or other-centered) is the energy behind penance. It produces a sense of being downtrodden and worthless and leads eventually to rage and murderous hatred. The result is an unredemptive sorrow that is full of self-pity and despair” (p.206). But “genuine conviction of sin, on the other hand, leads to a softening of the heart that dispels other-centered contempt in the wake of the recognition that we are no better, at core, than those who have abused us. Self-contempt is Satan’s counterfeit for true conviction. Contempt attacks the perceived source of the problem to gain control and then attempts to regain relationship with others and God through penitent deeds. Conviction humbly recognizes the need for grace and embraces a sorrow that leads to life and sacrificial love” (p.206).

I knew I needed to call sin, sin, and not try to make it nicer. My attempt to control, to be in control, was trying to protect myself, rather than trusting God. It was an avoidance of vulnerability, which decreases my own life, and my ability to love God and others the way I was intended to. It was seeking comfort apart from God. It was sin. Sure, it came mostly out of being sinned against, but my reaction to that was still sin. I asked God for forgiveness again.

I wondered for some time what it meant to trust God if there was no guarantee I wouldn’t be hurt again. I realized that trusting God didn’t mean nothing bad would ever happen to me again. It meant that God was still good and still enough even if it did.

Dr. Dan B. Allender. 1990. The Wounded Heart: Hope for Adult Victims of Childhood Sexual Abuse. Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress.