My name is Paula and I am a member of St. John and I am a dork. In case you didn’t hear that or you thought you heard it incorrectly, I’ll say it again. My name is Paula and I am a dork. I do dorky things. Often. I try not to but it just happens. I used to work really hard to hide this fact about myself because I hated (sorry for saying the h word) the feeling of embarrassment or looking stupid in front of others. Then one day, not all that long ago, I embraced my dorkiness. I started laughing at my mistakes and at the dorky things I would do, and I even found myself sharing them with family and friends and not worrying about what they would think of me. I felt such a freedom!
Combining this freedom with my retirement from teaching . . . well all I could say was WOW! Let me do a happy dance, a really big one! I danced right on into the Land of Happy Campers! Prior to my retirement, many people asked me if I thought I was going to be okay once I retired. What would I do with all my time? Would I miss the children, miss teaching, miss going to work each day? I tried not to look at the people that asked these particular questions as if they had three heads.
The truth was that I found out that I only had to teach 120 days to earn credit for the entire year and as excited as I was about this, my teaching situation had become so stressful that this is the thought that came to my mind - I have been sentenced to 120 days. I had no doubt that I was ready to serve this sentence and then let the door hit me as I was leaving.
A year and a month after my retirement, a darkness descended into my life. The word “acute” in the medical field means rapid onset and in the dictionary, it means sharp, severe, intense. I diagnosed myself with an acute depression. I literally woke up one day inside a deep darkness. I didn’t want to leave my home, let alone get out of bed. Sleep was the only way to relieve this feeling and when I couldn’t sleep anymore, all I wanted to do was lie there with the blanket surrounding me.
I still managed to complete daily needed tasks but I felt so anxious and did not want to be around people. When I was with them or I was away from my house, all I could think of what how much longer it would be before I returned to my safe haven. I prayed and prayed to God for healing.
I had been on medication in years past to relieve other symptoms of depression that I had felt when I was teaching but these feelings were nothing like what I felt now. I had weaned myself off of the medication because I wasn’t teaching anymore and I truly believed the symptoms were a result of the stress of my job. I had some of this medication left so I started taking it but even after two weeks, there was no improvement. I made an appointment to see my doctor and we talked about the situation. His recommendation was to continue on the medication to give it more time. He looked at me and asked, “Do you think you could benefit from talk therapy?” I didn’t hesitate to answer with a convincing no. What would I talk about? I had been so happy for a year now. I loved being retired. Because I could find no explanation for this darkness, certainly this was a true chemical imbalance and the medication would right it.
Two more weeks passed and there was still no lifting of this dark cloud. I decided to see a psychiatrist. My sister had given me the name of one and I called his office. He wasn’t taking any more patients. My voice became so weak and tears came to my eyes. The receptionist asked if I would consider seeing his nurse practitioner. She had a 1:00 opening today. I took it. I felt so desperate.
I look back now and I know Jesus gave me the strength to make this most difficult phone call. He helped me find Laura, a wonderful, wonderful professional who through many sessions of talk therapy helped me to find my dorky, happy self again.
We talked about my final eight years of teaching and the hurt and the brokenness of the situation flowed from my heart through my lips. Situations that I had forgotten about came rushing back. After teaching in a warm and nurturing environment for many years, I had been placed in a building of brokenness. Broken families, broken parents and children that were hurting. Their hurt manifested itself in anger, disrespect, tears, frustration and very little love and kindness.
One particular story that I had hidden away was of a 4th grade girl whose mother’s boyfriend had abused and killed their beloved dog in such a way that if I were to tell you how, I would have to first give a graphic violence warning. And sadly, there were only a few colleagues that I could find the support and love that I needed to stay emotionally strong.
After the many stories I told her, she looked at me and said, “You just came home from a war zone.”
This bounced off of me initially because how could she or I begin to compare what I had been through with a soldier returning from war? She helped me to see that in my little corner of the world, it was a war zone. One that I was in day in and day out for the last eight years of my teaching career. She helped me to embrace this thought, to allow it to give validation to my depression. I am still seeing Laura and I am still on the medication lexipro and plan to continue for a long time, maybe forever. Is this easy for me? No, for several reasons, I do not want to be on it. If you’ve read about depression, this is a most common happening. Many stop taking the medication, for different reasons.
I had Jesus by my side through this journey and I want to thank many of you here at St. John for helping me to find a Jesus that I once didn’t know. I grew up in a faith that focused on rules, rules and more rules. A faith that riddled me with guilt. I came to know that I was a fan of Jesus - I went to church every Sunday, I was loving and kind, I gave money to church and charities, I believed he was my savior. But I wasn’t a follower, a true follower. By being here for five years now, I have developed a relationship with God. It was in Sunday School here that as I read the bible, I came to know a different Jesus, a man that was loving and kind, one that didn’t make you feel guilty. I can remember realizing this, sitting in a chair in our fellowship hall and just staring into space, stunned. Believe it or not, in my faith growing up, we never opened a bible.
Being a follower now comforts me in times of hardship and brings me such joy in times of celebration. It was here that I was told, for the first time in my life, that I am a beloved child of God. I say those words to myself often and I say them to others. Are not those words magical? You are a beloved child of God.
I had my husband, Craig, by my side too during my journey through the darkness. Every morning upon waking, he would look at me and I knew he was hoping to see that the light had returned to my eyes. Without saying a word, he would know that it hadn’t. He would say, “We will get through this” and I knew that he would continue to pray and hold me tightly, be with me with care and concern.
I want to remind you of three things. Accept your flaws and your dorkiness. It is by doing this, that you will truly grow. Seek help if you feel any of the symptoms of depression to the degree that they are affecting your day to day existence. Remember that depression can manifest itself in not only sadness and lack of motivation but also in irritability, anger and anxiety. And if you decide to seek help, don’t stop until you find the right doctor, the right meds, the right therapist. It may take months. Many. Become not just a fan of Jesus but a follower. Let him into your life. He wants to have a relationship with you. By becoming a follower, I now hear Him speaking to me so much more clearly. And knowing that he is always there for me, especially in times of darkness, gives me great strength. My favorite bible verse has become, I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.
A certain book helped me a great deal during this time. It is called “not a fan” and it is written by Kyle Idleman. Craig suggested I read it. I suggest that you read it if you feel that you might only be a fan. I won’t give you my copy but I will buy you your very own.:)
YOU ARE A BELOVED CHILD OF GOD.