Monthly Archives: December 2019

Will The Stolen Years Be Restored?

Photo by Logan Weaver on Unsplash

I share this post as an example of some of the thoughts I’ve dealt with over the course of my burnout-depression. I deal with them less frequently now that my physical health is improved and I am finally able to heal from my burnout, but I still deal with them. Mental health is something we need to do a better job in handling as a society and in the Church. So this is written towards bringing more awareness and understanding to this issue.

Will the stolen years be restored? It’s a question I find myself asking quite frequently these days. I wish I didn’t have to ask the question. I wish I could say that they had been eaten by locusts; that the last 7 years have been so difficult because I was being disobedient all this time. I wish I had the sense of guilt that I have heard so many people mention they had when they went in a direction that was different from the one they knew God was calling them in. At least then it would be easier for me to process the events of the last few years because then I could point to a cause. Or so I think anyway. But there is no sense of disobedience. There is no sense that I am following the way of Jonah.

The way of Jonah makes sense as a reason for suffering. It’s easy to compute and process that things are going so terribly wrong because you are not being obedient. It might not be easy to admit to yourself that you are not being obedient to what God called you to do. And then once you’ve admitted it actually stopping your disobedience and being obedient might be harder still. But at least you’re not left wondering why you’re suffering.

That’s the one question I wish I had an answer for: Why? Why were the last 7 years or so basically stolen from me? Why was I basically playing wack-a-mole with severely detrimental health issues in seminary? Why did I never get the chance to show to myself and others what I was capable of because my health was so bad? Why did I never get the rest I wanted when I moved back home after graduation? Why did I even have to move back home in the first place? Why did it take 6 months to get a referral to the correct doctor? Why has it taken over a year-and-a-half since graduating for my health to start to recover? Why am I not yet married and promoted to Real Christian™ so I can actually feel like I belong at a church? Why has all the time, effort, and money I spent following where I believe God called me to go so far turned out to be a waste? Why, for that matter, have all my previous educational-career endeavors also turned out to be a waste? Why do past failures weigh so heavily in my thoughts that I am afraid to even start a career direction because I think something beyond my control is going to come in and ruin my efforts once again? Why does it feel like I am not only behind in the race of life, but that I haven’t even crossed the starting line?

In truth I feel like I am following the way of Job. Like Job, I feel like I have not only done nothing wrong, but have even done things correctly. I haven’t disobeyed God or strayed from following His commands. Yet for whatever reason I am still going through a great ordeal of suffering. It’s easy to read the story of Job and be hopeful because we know how it ends. We know that God restores Job and all that He allowed The Adversary to take from him. So when we read the story of Job we read it in light of the ending and we know that everything is going to work out just fine. But when it is your own life that is following the story of Job it is much more difficult to be hopeful because you don’t know how it will end. Sure there is the ultimate eschatological hope of the new heavens and new earth and eternity with God, but for me this hope is not on my mind or prominent in my daily thoughts. What’s on my mind and prominent in my daily thoughts is the why question. Why has my life turned out this way? Why have all these years been stolen from me?

If there is a bright spot in all of this it is that I have some pretty good experience of myself being tired and depressed. In hindsight now I realize that I have underestimated how bad my health actually was at certain points over the past few years. So maybe the answer to all of these questions is: “You’re just tired Tom. Take some time and rest and you’ll feel better and these questions won’t even matter in a few months.” Maybe all these questions are just lingering remnants of my burnout-depression. But maybe not.

So will the stolen years be restored? I don’t know. Maybe. Maybe not. But I really hope they will be.

Self-Care is Hard for Me

Photo by Mae Mu on Unsplash

You would think self-care would be easy right? Doesn’t it seem logical that that you would do things and spend your time in such a way that makes you happy and energizes you? And that you would avoid doing things that make you miserable and drain your energy? That you would organize your life in such a way that you wouldn’t need to regularly escape it through drugs, alcohol, sex, porn, binge-watching, or some other unhealthy coping mechanism? Yet, on the one hand while self-care seems like one of the most logical and easy things to do, on the other hand I have found it to be one of the most difficult things to do as I continue to work on recovering from my chronic-stress-induced-depression. And I think I have found it difficult primarily because it means that admitting things I have found enjoyable are actually harmful to me.

What do I mean by this? Well let me give you an example.

Sleep is an area in which I need to improve. Starting in 2016 and continuing up until about a month or so ago really I did not find sleep to be very beneficial. 2016 was really when all my stress issues started. At first I had problems sleeping more than 4 hours a night. I would bolt up wide awake after about 4 hours of sleep and then I would have to read for an hour or so in order to be able to go back to sleep and get maybe 2 more hours of sleep. It wasn’t enjoyable or refreshing. I did not wake up energetic and eager to start the day. I tried all sorts of tricks and supplements and nothing really worked. I was able eventually to get up to 7 hours, but it wasn’t a restful or restorative 7 hours. In fact it really didn’t feel much different from the 4 hours I got when my stress issues started. So having tried all manner of things to get good sleep, and not finding success with any of them, I gave up on good sleep habits since they didn’t seem to make much of a difference anyway.

But, as I hinted at in the beginning of the last paragraph, I now find sleep beneficial once again. The first step in restoring the benefits of sleep was to get on the correct medication and dosage for my burnout-depression (the initial dose was too low). Now that I have the correct medication and dosage I have found sleep to once again be refreshing and restorative. And since it has become beneficial once again I have had motivation to actually take advantage of it and maximize its potential. For me this means doing something I have not done in a long time: wind down in the evenings. In seminary, as in most grad schools probably, my routine was work all day until absolutely exhausted and then go to sleep. If there is something due the next day then work until it is finished, even if it means downing a pot of coffee at midnight and dealing with caffeine jitters. Now though I no longer have such a pressing workload and I am able to relax in the evenings and not worry about deadlines.

I have found that for me reading for fun is the best way to wind down in the evening. But in the process of making this discovery I have found other things that I enjoy to be harmful to recovering sleep. Primarily I have found things like televised sports and gaming, things where there are images moving quickly on screen that I am required to process the movements of to be too stimulating late at night (I use blue light filters on my computer monitors and phone, so my guess is that it is the rapidly moving images that are causing issues for me, not the blue light). Now, I enjoy all of these activities. I enjoy reading a good and/or interesting book. I enjoy watching a good football game. I enjoy watching hockey. I enjoy watching certain shows and movies on Netflix. I enjoying raiding with my guild in World of Warcraft. None of these activities are inherently bad either. But I’ve discovered that most of them are so stimulating and give me such an adrenaline rush in the evening that they end up harming my sleep, one critical area of my life that I have been trying to get on track for several years now.

This brings me to the reason why I have found self-care so difficult: I have to remove from my life things I enjoy that are harming me for things that I enjoy that will benefit me. Admitting that something that you enjoy is actually harming you is not an easy task in itself. Breaking your habit of engaging in whatever that activity happens to be is an even more difficult task. I suspect that depression makes this task yet even more difficult because depression is so devoid of joy and hope and happiness that you want to hang onto anything that gives you even momentary relief from it. Or at least that is what it feels like to me. I think many of the habits I currently have are the result of trying to deal with my burnout induced depression and get some sort of relief from it, not because I know they are beneficial to my overall well being.

In any case though, self-care for me feels a lot like eating vegetables. I do not like most vegetables. Not because they taste bad, but because they have no taste at all. Most of them for me taste like water, and the ones that do have a taste to me I usually find to be unpalatable (like green beans). However I force myself to eat things like broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, carrots, spinach, and lettuce because I know they are good and beneficial for me. Over time I have learned to prepare and eat these things in ways that taste good and flavorful for me so that I not only get the nutritional benefits from them, but enjoy eating them as well.

In my experience so far breaking old habits and attempting to establish new, more beneficial ones has been a lot like eating vegetables. It feels distasteful, and even unpalatable at times, but it is good for me to get rid of old harmful habits for new beneficial ones. Eventually I might even learn to practice these new beneficial habits in ways that bring me even more enjoyment than my previous harmful habits. Perhaps one day I will look forward to eating vegetables, instead of just eating them out of sheer discipline.