Five Weeks of Light Therapy


Introduction

I’ve been blogging over the last number of weeks about my experiences with light therapy. I now have six full weeks of data – one week demonstrating what was a typical pre-light therapy nap pattern and the other five post-light therapy nap pattern.

The aggregate data seems to indicate that the light therapy is having a significant, positive effect on my daytime wakefulness.

The Data

Weeks 0, 1, 2

Date Hrs Naps Date Hrs Naps Date Hrs Naps
4/13 1.75 1 6/8 1.5 1 6/15 1.5 2
4/14 2.25 2 6/9 0 0 6/16 .5 1
4/15 1 2 6/10 .5 1 6/17 1.5 1
4/16 1.5 2 6/11 .75 1 6/18 .5 1
4/17 2.25 2 6/12 1 1 6/19 2.5 1
4/18 3.5 3 6/13 .5 1 6/20 3 1
Total: 12.25 12 Total: 4.25 5 Total: 9.5 7

Weeks 3, 4, 5

Date Hrs Naps Date Hrs Naps Date Hrs Naps
6/21 .5 1 6/27 1 1 7/3 1.25 1
6/22 1 1 6/28 1 1 7/4 1.5 2
6/23 2 2 6/29 2 1 7/5 2 1
6/24 3 1 6/30 1 1 7/6 1 1
6/25 1.75 1 7/1 1.5 2 7/7 .75 2
6/26 1.5 1 7/2 .5 1 7/8 1 1
Total: 9.75 7 Total: 7 7 Total: 7.5 8

Weeks 6, 7, 8

Date Hrs Naps Date Hrs Naps Date Hrs Naps
7/9 .5 2 - - - - - -
7/10 2 1 - - - - - -
7/11 0 0 - - - - - -
7/12 .75 1 - - - - - -
7/13 .5 1 - - - - - -
7/14 0 0 - - - - - -
Total 3.75 5 - - - - - -

Analysis

There has been a sharp decline in hours spent napping from pre-light to post-light. Pre-light I had spent 12 hrs./wk., post-light it dropped to 4 hrs. but then quickly rose back up to 9.5 hrs. the second week of light therapy. Since then it has lowered and stabilized around 7-8 hrs./wk. though this past week it dropped again significantly to 3.75.

As far as number of naps go, this decreased significantly from 12 pre-light to 5 post-light and seems to have stabilized around 7-8 naps post-light, though this past week it dropped again to 5 naps.

Complications & Concerns

Overall, light therapy has caused me no issues. Sometimes it gets annoying having a warm light shining on one’s face, but this is really a minor nuisance…it isn’t that warm. Very rarely I’ll experience some minor discomfort with my eyes or a very mild headache, but I think these are caused by other factors (not enough fluid intake, medication side-effects) than the light therapy.

The one complication I am subjectively experiencing is a decrease in sleep during the night and a decrease in the continuity of sleep. Neither of these was good before light therapy, but subjectively, I feel like it is even worse now.

That said, I’m still more energetic during the day with less sleep than I was previously with subjectively more sleep and more naps. The only real reason the lack of sleep and lack of continuity concern me is because I have been aware for years that my self-control weakens significantly as my sleep debt increases…and I see this to be true now…particularly, I have to be more mindful of the words I speak b/c I have a tendency to speak more off-the-cuff.

I have also noticed that if I don’t do light therapy I experience significant daytime sleepiness and I usually nap for an hour or two or three. This is somewhat of a difficulty since for me a single hour in front of the light box is not enough…I probably spend 4-6 hrs. per day in front of the light box. Even if I nap, I put the light box in front of me so that it is shining on me as I sleep….


If I have responsibilities (which I do) which cannot be completed at my desk, this causes an interruption in my light therapy usage and it is on these occasions that I experience the additional napping and sleepiness.

Next Steps

At this juncture I am taking melatonin before bed and also have begun taking my prozac before bed. Neither has made a significant difference in my sleep continuity. I recently purchased delayed release melatonin which will release the melatonin into my system during the night, which I am hoping will rectify issues with sleep continuity.

I have also taken to moving my exercise earlier (in the past I oftentimes exercised from 9-11 pm) or not doing it at all if it gets too late…eventually, I’d like to move the exercise to the morning, but I am not prepared to do that yet.

I am also working to modify my schedule where possible to allow me to spend time with light therapy…it is not an issue to be taken away from light therapy for an hour, but I should avoid scheduling myself in such a way that I do not get several hours with it before noon.

Conclusion

I am very happy with the apparent help that light therapy has provided me. That said, I am aware that I may still be experiencing a placebo effect and also that my behavior may be changing (e.g. pushing harder to stay awake) and this may be causing the difference in napping rather than the light therapy itself…but whatever the cause, I am feeling good and am napping less, and apart from the sleep continuity and self-control challenges I find it to be entirely positive…and those negatives to be fairly minor.


The Hidden Price of Greatness

I recently finished a small volume entitled The Hidden Price of Greatness by Ray Beeson and Ranelda Mack Hunsicker. It is subtitled, “Encouragement from the lives of well-known Christians whose suffering produced spiritual growth.” The book, including bibliography clocks in at 169 pp.

I’ll be honest, I didn’t read the volume in its entirety. I read all the biographical sketches given, but Beeson and Hunsicker then offered contemplations on how we could apply biblical truths when we encounter similar dilemmas to our own lives – I read a few of these, but found them less powerful than the sketches themselves…That isn’t to say others might not get something from them, in fact, a few I skipped over had headings which interested me and to which I may return at some point.


If you are struggling, especially if you are struggling while in a position of ministry leadership – this is a good book to read – even if only for the biographical sketches.

I’m always looking for individuals from the past who have struggled in various ways with their faith – it is their biographies I want to read in full, not those who seemed to live perpetually on a mountain-top (I can’t identify). This book serves as a good jumping-off point for more deeply studying various individuals’ lives.

Here is a brief listing of the individuals covered and the challenges they faced:

  • Augustine – Seeking truth and searching in all the wrong places, recognizing his inability to purify himself of sin, eventually following on the mercy of Christ.
  • Susanna Wesley – Mother of John and Charles Wesley, she had significant ongoing struggles with her husband throughout their married life. John would face significant troubles in his marriage as well.
  • Francis Schaeffer – Questioned his faith deeply, going back to an agnostic stance after being a leader in the evangelical Christian faith, and rebuilding everything from the ground up.
  • Charles Spurgeon – Struggled with recurrent bouts of depression.
  • Fanny Crosby – Death of an infant child.
  • Lettie Cowman – Her husband Charles was stricken by a horrific and long-lasting illness and she spent years caring for him.
  • Richard Allen – Stayed with many of his congregants in Philadelphia to help during a deadly yellow fever outbreak.
  • Norman Grubb – Found his missionary zeal frustrated by another great missionary, C.T. Studd.
  • Gladys Aylward – Overcoming financial impossibilities.
  • George Whitefield – Loss of infant child.
  • D.L. Moody – Destruction of ministry facilities in Chicago fire, personal lack of passion.
  • David Brainerd – Severe tuberculosis which eventually took his life.
  • John and Betty Stam – Missionaries who prepared for years to minister in China, killed within their first month there.

Have Mercy On Me

Who and Why

JJ Heller has been, without contest, the most important musical artist in my struggles with anxiety. I’m listening to her song Have Mercy on Me and bawling my eyes out…something which I’ve been doing little of in recent weeks.[1]

From J.J. Heller's music video "Who You Are."

From J.J. Heller’s music video “Who You Are.”

Lyrics

I’m tired of being afraid
I’m wondering how I got this way
I’m trying to remember what life was like before
Panic moved in without even knocking on the door

Have mercy on me
I’m not who I used to be
Have mercy on me
Jesus, please

I’ve been praying and asking you to take it all away
You never do exactly what I say
You see me from the outside, a lover looking in
But all I see is danger moving underneath my skin

Have mercy on me
I’m not who I used to be
Have mercy on me
Jesus, please

I know it’s not because I don’t love you enough
It’s not because I’m weak, it’s how you choose to speak to me

Have mercy on me
I’m not who I used to be
Have mercy on me
Have mercy on me
I’m not who I used to be
Have mercy on me
Jesus, please
Have mercy

Listen


Addendum

Other songs by Heller I have found healing and soothing regarding anxiety include Control, In the End, and When You Come Back.

And, dropping by her official site, I just saw she is touring with Hawk Nelson in the fall – another band I thoroughly enjoy!

  1. [1] For a long time I needed to cry, but then I got to the point where I was scared that it would never stop…now it has ceased and its coming back seems good…like now it is finding a happy medium that reflects a psyche that is healing.

Is This What Normal Feels Like?

I’ve struggled throughout my life with OCD – for which I now take 60 mg daily of Prozac.

I’ve struggled with ADD – for which I now take 20 mg daily of Adderall XR (extended release).

I’ve struggled with dysthymia and major depressive episodes – for which I now take 300 mg Wellbutrin SR (sustained release) daily.

This photo of a baby laughing was generally licensed by Alexandre Normand (skippyjon) under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license. Thanks Alexandre!

This photo of a baby laughing was generally licensed by Alexandre Normand (skippyjon) under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license. Thanks Alexandre!

None of these has vanished from my life, but they have all decreased substantially. Before they interfered with my life continuously, now they occasionally interfere but mainly are a nuisance and annoyance…I can manage them.

This left me with one last health issue – excessive daily sleepiness (EDS). I bought a light therapy lamp for $72 off Amazon on the 3rd of June, but didn’t begin using it consistently until the eighth…

Below is a table. On the left half you can see the date from the 8th through the 13th (yesterday) followed by the number of hours[1] I napped during the day which is in turn numbered by the number of naps I took on that day.

On the right half the same columns are repeated – but these are records from April.[2] Down at the bottom you can see the totals for number of hours spent napping and number of naps for the June and April dates respectively.

Date Hours Naps Date Hours Naps
June 8th 1.5 1 April 13th 1.75 1
June 9th 0 0 April 14th 2.25 2
June 10th .5 1 April 15th 1 2
June 11th .75 1 April 16th 1.5 2
June 12th 1 1 April 17th 2.25 2
June 13th .5 1 April 18th 3.5 3
Totals: 4.25 5 Totals: 12.25 12

You’ll notice that in June I spent 35% less time napping than in April and took 42% less naps in quantity.

I’ve experienced a move towards average in my experience of depressive moods, anxiety, and ability to focus…now I’ve moved towards average in my experience of daytime sleepiness. I’m not average. If average is 100%, I’m somewhere between 80% and 90%…and I know I won’t become average, that these problems, apart from an act of God, will not completely leave me…but I’ve been operating at the worst of times around 10% and at good times 60%, and in excellent times 75%…so to me, it feels like a different world. It feels like what I knew from talking to other people without mental disorders life is supposed to feel like (and which I oftentimes had a hard time believing people could actually feel like).

I’m scared. Scared if it doesn’t last. The effects of the Prozac, the Wellbutrin, the Adderall have all lasted – could this last too? I hope so. Do I know that the darkness will again at times descend on me with ferocity? Yes. But if I can just know it won’t stay…

Up to this point I have lived my life largely in the dark, with periods of light being very few and far between…what if I was able to live the opposite? In the light most of the time, with the occasional dark storm descending on me?

A Note About Medications and Alternative Treatments

I’ve emphasized the efficiency of medical treatments in managing my struggles. I have not pursued only medicinal treatments.

I’ve seen counselors…in fact, I still do…and I have no intent of stopping. Some of them have been exceptionally helpful. I would not be where I am today without them.

I’ve exercised and continue to exercise on an almost daily basis for 1-2 hours each day…and have no intent of stopping.

I’ve slowly weaned myself away from many unhealthy foods and onto a healthier diet – and I continue to endeavor in this direction. I believe this helps my overall health and probably my psychological health…and, say it with me, “I have no intent of stopping.”

I take supplements of various kinds – including Omega-3 and Vitamin B12. I’m sure they have a positive effect.

I’ve read and studied and applied and repeated ad infinitum…and I have learned much that has been useful…and I don’t intend to stop taking supplements or reading and studying and applying.

Each of these means of alternative treatment have been and are an important part of maintaining my ongoing health – but none of these, by themselves, was enough to provide any significant relief from my struggles (counseling perhaps, but still leaving too much)…whereas, the medications, apart from any of these treatments were able to provide significant symptom relief…

This is not true for many…though I think it is probably truer for those of us who have struggled with these sort of problems since childhood than those who experience an episode at one juncture or another in life…and for some, using these alternative treatments will be enough…but for me, the medications were what allowed the other treatments to have any efficacy.

And, of course, light therapy is an alternative treatment…so not everything is medicinal. I could have gone onto Provigil or Nuvigil, but I wanted to avoid that if possible…and I’ll be working with my psychiatrist over a long time and with much care to see if and how much I can reduce the medications I am taking…I’d rather not be on medications for life, but for me, I didn’t have a life without the medications.

Addendum on Light Therapy

Theoretically, most people use light therapy once or twice a day for sessions of 30 mins. to 1 hr. I spend hours at multiple times throughout the day doing light therapy (thankfully, it only involves having a bright light (not just any bright light) next to me as I work.

Anytime I begin to feel myself getting tired, I turn on the lamp and let it shine on me. Sometimes when an hour ends I’ll turn it on again (today, and it is only 2 pm, I’ve probably used the lamp for 2-4 hours).

The side-effects have been very minimal. It hasn’t bothered my eyes (I was somewhat surprised) but it does make things a little hotter (which isn’t always pleasant during the summer) and at least initially, I’ve experienced some sleep disruption even after restricting my use of the lamp to before 5 pm. Specifically, I’ll go to bed later (1 am) and get up earlier (6 am).

I suspect that this is an overcompensation by my body and that it will adjust to more normal rhythms as I continue to utilize the light therapy.[3]

Light therapy is primarily used to treat Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), which I don’t have. But it has also been used to treat several different types of sleep disorder as well as depression. For less than $75 and with a 30-day money-back guarantee, I figured it was worth the expense.

Warning: Shining any bright light at yourself will not work. There is a specific spectrum of light which is effective. In addition, regular lights emit harmful UV radiation in small amounts – which adds up when you have a light close to your face every day for extended periods of time.

One More Warning: Lamp boxes that have UV radiation are also intentionally made, so ensure the one you get filters out the UV radiation. The lamps with UV radiation are utilized sometimes to treat various skin conditions (e.g. psoriasis).

Placebo Effect

I’m very aware that everything I am experiencing could be the result of the placebo effect or some other totally unrelated variable in my life. I don’t think this has been enough to say “hey, this definitely works” – but early testing of the hypothesis has been positive. :)

  1. [1] This is somewhat misleading, in the case of any nap under 1 hr. I actually laid down for that period and rested but never fell asleep…
  2. [2] See, crazily recording details of my life has proven useful… :P
  3. [3] I hope this may mean that as my sleep adjusts more normally I’ll feel even more well-rested during the day.

Do We All Have OCD?

Inevitably, when I share that I have Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) someone says, “I think we all have some OCD.” I imagine that most people are trying to normalize my experience – that is – make me feel like I’m not alone. Unfortunately, it can oftentimes come across to me (and other OCD sufferers) as a dismissal of our suffering (“Come on, get over it, we all have this…I’m living with it, why can’t you?”).

It is at this point that I explain that behavior occurs on a spectrum. I doubt there is anyone at either extreme end of the spectrum (completely without obsessive/compulsive thoughts/behaviors or completely and only with these thoughts/behaviors) – but we all fall somewhere on the spectrum…but that doesn’t mean we all have OCD.

One moves from personality quirk to mental disorder when the point on the spectrum you live at is regularly and significantly disrupting your life and/or the lives of those around you.

When my OCD gets really bad (aka, when I’m not on medications…but I have been for the last ten years or so) I experience complete and persistent disruption of my life and this oftentimes causes significant disruption in the lives of those around me.

Everything I do makes my anxiety increase, so I stop doing anything. If I don’t do anything I can’t do anything wrong. I know this is a fallacy in thinking (failure to act can sometimes be as/more significant than acting poorly) but during those times I’m not worried so much about what is absolutely true as what is true in my own little world…and right then and there the truth is that doing anything besides breathing induces intense anxiety – so it must be right to do nothing.

Now that I’m on medication people sometimes ask me, “What sort of OCD symptoms do you have?” I’m sometimes at a loss for words. I don’t keep a list of them in my mind (I’m notoriously absent-minded) and being an introvert (whose brain takes longer pathways to complete the same thought) it takes me a minute or two to come up with something.

When it is consuming my life I can spit out answers instantly – but when it has become just a moderate disruptor of my life – it becomes so tightly integrated with my normal behavior that it takes minutes to extract it from the tangle of who I really am.

So what does my OCD look like right now – medicated and stable?

Reading Aloud

Some people read aloud b/c they want to – I read aloud b/c I must. Something doesn’t feel right when I’m not reading aloud. I’ve read aloud my entire life – and before I could read aloud I walked around making a humming noise of sorts all of my waking hours.

One might not see this as a significant disruption in a person’s life – but when you are someone who reads massive amounts, it is…A book that will take someone else two hours to read will take me six – you simply can’t speak as fast as you can read in your head.

I comfort myself with the knowledge that a few centuries ago all you silent readers would be the abnormals – everyone read aloud…and I comfort myself by assuming that hearing, speaking, and seeing is better than just seeing.

What Should I Underline?

I underline my books. I have underlined lots of books. In many of these books the majority of the text is underlined. Why? Because I am unable to distinguish what is important from what is not.

This is extremely frustrating to me. I want to make an outline of what I am learning in a book – but I can’t – b/c I’ve underlined so much the major points fade in with the rest.

Kerry Young has at times worked for me entering my underlines and notes into Google Docs and has experienced first-hand the hours it takes to do so b/c of this inability on my part.

You Have Beautiful Eyelashes

People (especially women) are always complimenting my eyelashes, “You have such long eyelashes” and “Your eyelashes are so beautiful.”

I’d trade them for yours any day if I could. My fingers naturally glide up to my eyelashes and tug. I can feel every minute hair that scratches against my eyeball and can’t be satisfied until it has been removed…which it usually can’t be and so I eventually learn to live with it…till the intense desire for it to go away dominates me again.

Please Don’t Make Me Sit Still

I have a really hard time in meetings. I need to keep my hands busy…If they aren’t busy they find something to do…they begin tugging at my eyelashes or running across my scalp feeling for and scratching at any irregularity in my scalp.

In order to counter this I schedule meetings almost always over meals – this gives me something to do with my hands. I give myself permission to doodle during meetings – I know that some may consider it rude, but I know that I am paying better attention to them doodling than I would be obsessing.

Twitch and Grunt

Thoughts come into my brain and if they are the least unpleasant my head twitches…If I’m doing something that I in the least I feel uncertain about I feel the compulsion to go “hmmph” as if clearing my throat – and to continue doing so until my throat feels cleared (which it never does).

(You have probably never seen me do either of these…that is b/c, with great effort, someone with OCD can oftentimes control their obsessions/compulsions for a limited period of time…and I do)

Pray, Read, Serve

The biggest area that haunts me still with my OCD – which stands far ahead of all the above – is the uncertainty regarding spirituality. The constant nagging question, “Did I pray rightly?” “Did I pray enough?” “Did I mean what I prayed?” “Am I praying without ceasing?” “Do I need to do what this person asks me?” (even though I know they are being selfish/unreasonable) “Did I pay attention as I read this Scripture passage?” “Have I really meditated upon this passage?”

This one is the hardest b/c it is almost invisible. I know that pulling at my eyelashes, picking at my skin, underlining absolutely everything, and not being able to read in my head are all abnormal but it is difficult for me to remember that the way I feel about my spirituality is also abnormal.

Sometimes I forget and I have to come back to the truth again and again. In my life God does not take me on some huge progressive journey in which I learn new truths all the time – it is the repetition of the one truth – He is good, I can trust Him, I don’t need to trust myself – that I fight every day to learn and relearn.

But I’m Not Mad

There are a lot of times when I have been really angry or depressed about my OCD. I’m not these days…much…

The aspects related to spirituality are really difficult – especially being a pastor. I’m called to follow hard after God – and this call is constantly abused by my OCD to drive me into anxiety and perfectionism. So, I still get mad about these sometimes (and when I say mad, I mean mad at God).

I actually feel pretty good. While my OCD and Depression are annoying, they aren’t paralyzing me…and compared to what life has been at times for me – I feel like I’m flying high (though I think for those who haven’t experienced the really dark times, it might actually feel pretty dark…but when you’ve fallen so deep into the abyss, to have climbed up high enough to see the sunlight…you feel like you have already made it).

Perfectionism

I really, really, really want to delete all of this and start over. I frequently write and rewrite things – emails, letters, blog posts, facebook messages…and I oftentimes never say anything b/c I can’t make it sound right…I resist the feeling that this post is incomplete…that I could say things better…I know I could say things better…but if I try I won’t say anything at all, so I give you my semi-best b/c if I give you my best, your hands will remain always empty.

Wait a Second…

I saw recently that Netflix had added the recent film (The Other Woman) about Charles Dickens (and his mistress) to the available titles. I decided to watch it tonight while exercising on my recumbent.

The film started off strangely – in modern day. I thought perhaps they were going to have parallel stories – one contemporary and one about Dickens – but as the movie progressed I realized that there was no Dickens in this story at all – I had picked the wrong film (and Netflix doesn’t have the Charles Dickens’ film available yet). I was watching The Other Woman when the Dickens film was The Invisible Woman. Shouldn’t it be illegal to have movie titles that similar?!

[I should clarify that this is The Other Woman with Keira Knightley, not The Other Woman with Cameron Diaz...I didn't even realize that there was another movie with this name until I googled it!]

It turned out to be quite a good film. It was not a guy film in the traditional sense of the word, I don’t think it was a girls film either – even though it did center around a romantic relationship and included some of the usual romantic film cliches.

It felt like one of those independent films. You know, the ones that refuse to do what makes the audience happy and instead tell the story they want to tell – b/c they are making art and they are going to make art whether anyone watches it or not?

I like these films on occasion – though I can only take them so often – b/c they do frustrate me. I want the same elements most folks want – the ‘pop’ elements of film. But these films on occasion are a refreshing change of pace.

A screen capture from The Other Woman in which Emilia Greenleaf (Portman) informs Jack (Scott Cohen) of how their infant daughter died.

A screen capture from The Other Woman in which Emilia Greenleaf (Portman) informs Jack (Scott Cohen) of how their infant daughter died.

I cried for at least the last 30 minutes of the film – perhaps longer. That is by far the longest I have cried. The film managed to bring together most of my significant wounds…most films only touch on one or two – if they touch on any.

I cried for the disintegration of my marriage. I cried for the broken relationship with my dad. I cried for the twins I never held in my arms. I cried for Talbott whose death I still feel in some ways responsible for…if only I had done this…or that…maybe she would have lived. I cried thinking about how scary it is for me to be around people, how I start to feel this sick feeling in the pit of my stomach just thinking about it. I cried b/c sometimes I feel like it is my teeth who are too sharp and tale who is too long…and I cried for the too frequent silence between Him and I.

Oddly enough, today has been a pretty good day…before and after the film – and while the film was in some ways a painful experience it was also a cathartic experience…though I sometimes get frustrated that I seem stuck in a loop of cathartic experiences…Can’t they just be done and enough? Do they ever become enough? I assume they probably do.

I can remember the months when I didn’t know how I could live another moment. When the pain inside of me felt like it should kill me…and those times have faded…now I have these experiences…and sometimes memories and thoughts flash into my mind unbidden – holding me down for a moment or two, but not with the persistence they once had.

So maybe, just maybe, I am healing. But just like when it felt like the dying inside me was never going to end, now it feels as if the wounds are too deep and they will never heal.

Apologies to Those Who Have Contacted Me Via OCDDave

Dear Fellow Sufferers,

I want to apologize to you if you sent me a message via the Contact Form on OCD Dave and have not received a response. The website’s email functionality was not working correctly and I did not receive copies of a number of emails. Thankfully, WordPress does store these messages (at least some of them) in the database and I have been reading through them and responding as I am able. I have also fixed the issue with the email functionality.

I hope to finish going through the emails soon – I have another thirteen to address at the moment. I’ll try to be done within the next day or two. I want to give each my full attention and take time to provide a real response.

If you do not receive an email from me within the next two days and have attempted to contact me, please send another message. If you don’t receive a response to that followup message within one week, please leave a comment on any of the blog posts on this site and I will see it and respond accordingly (and you’ll be able to see that the comment has been posted and know that it was thus delivered).

In the meantime, I pray that God will bless you with the experience of His grace, the abundance of His peace, and the hope of His power.

In Christ,

Dave

Double-Edge: A Means of Healing, A Means of Hurt

[I struggle with a form of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) called Scrupulosity - which focuses around one's spirituality...This post reflects my being during these times...I take comfort that John Bunyan, who struggled with the same, somehow managed to serve God.

This is my normative experience when studying Scripture...the intensity of the anguish seems to vary somewhat - always despairing, but sometimes infinitely so...Yesterday and today it has beset me like the tentacles of an octopus squeezing its prey...

I am currently "off of" wheat for most intents and purposes. It is possible that this is intensifying the anguish right now...I can't tell from time to time how bad it hurts - it always seems the same.

Just as likely (more likely?) is that it is caused by starting a new series and needing to understand the big picture. I can digest (with difficulty) smaller chunks of Scripture, but when it comes to taking in the big picture...

I usually preach week-to-week, which leaves little time for others to organize the elements of the service around the theme of the sermon...this is not b/c I want it this way...or even b/c of the time I don't have...but b/c when I tackle the larger chunks I spiral like this...]

I’ve been teaching the Scriptures on at least a weekly basis for the last 10+ years. I love to help others understand what the Scriptures say, how to study the Scriptures for themselves, and to see the change that God operating through the Scriptures oftentimes brings into people’s lives. The Scripture are a means of healing for many…and I seek to always bring healing as I preach/teach.[1]

I’ve been studying the Scriptures my entire life. When I engage the Scriptures I occasionally experience healing, but almost always I experience hurt. The surgical procedure necessary to bring about change has gone wrong and the knife is slicing much too deep – a process of healing has become a process of hurting.[2]

Some have told me that my best sermons are usually when I am struggling and sharing out of that pain. I know what I am experiencing is not normative…that this isn’t the way that it should be, but it is, and all my desperate endeavors to change that have remained unchanged.

I am preparing to preach through the Gospel of Luke and to lead a small group through the same. I have been working through the “big picture” of the Gospel…and the pain I experience trying to consume the gospel’s big picture is excruciating. I can only work for so long before my head begins to throb, depression rises in my chest, my eyes begin to shutter with weariness.

“Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall become straight, and the rough places shall become level ways, and all flesh [so that seeing they may not see, and hearing they may not understand.][3] , ESVshall see the salvation of God.” (Luke 3:5-6 ESV)

“But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, ‘Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.’…And Jesus said to Simon, ‘Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.[how long am I to be with you and bear with you?][4]‘” (Luke 5:8, 10b ESV)

“And Jesus answered them, ‘Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.” (Luke 5:31-32 ESV)

“But love your enemies [it will be more bearable on that day for Sodom than for that town.][5], and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil [but the one who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven][6]. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.[but the one who denies me before men will be denied before the angels of God.][7]” (Luke 6:35-36 ESV)

I survive by breaking up my studies. When the headache comes and the depression rises I take a break and watch TV or take a nap. Over and over again, what a frustrating cycle. I work from morning till night b/c I cannot work all in one shot…the pain simply becomes unbearable and I become unproductive – reading and writing yet not understanding nor comprehending.

I survive by reading William Barclay.[8] His commentary provides reasonable explanation that soothes my soul – or at least somehow diminishes the anguish. Perhaps it is just the distraction – the distraction from the text itself to the commentary.

I know the gospel. I know it is true. I am able to minister grace and love to others…to extend hope and encouragement to others, but the same blade that provides healing slips between my ribs with astonishing ease and begins to wiggle around – wreaking havoc at every moment.

Dear God, will you take this burden from me? But I have begged a hundred thousand times if I have begged once and you have remained silent. Your grace is sufficient – but it must fall on me like the floodwaters rushing down upon the earth in Noah’s day – b/c, O God, I am not sufficient…I cannot bear up…and I do not understand…and the sky, it looks so dry.


“Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall become straight, and the rough places shall become level ways, and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.” (Luke 3:5-6 ESV)

“But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, ‘Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.’…And Jesus said to Simon, ‘Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.’” (Luke 5:8, 10b ESV)

“And Jesus answered them, ‘Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.” (Luke 5:31-32 ESV)

“But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.” (Luke 6:35-36 ESV)

“[H]e said, ‘To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of God, but for others they are in parables, so that ‘seeing they may not see, and hearing they may not understand.’” (Luke 8:10 ESV)

“And he said to all, ‘If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it…For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words, of him will the Son of Man be ashamed when he comes in his glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.” (Luke 9:23-24, 26 ESV)

“Jesus answered, ‘O faithless and twisted generation, how long am I to be with you and bear with you? Bring your son here.’” (Luke 9:41 ESV)

“Yet another said, ‘I will follow you, Lord, but let me first say farewell to those at my home.’ Jesus said to him, ‘No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.’” (Luke 9:61-62 ESV)

“I tell you, it will be more bearable on that day for Sodom than for that town.” (Luke 10:12 ESV)

“And I tell you, everyone who acknowledges me before men, the Son of Man also will acknowledge before the angels of God, but the one who denies me before men will be denied before the angels of God. And everyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but the one who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven.” (Luke 12:8-10 ESV)

 

  1. [1] Of course, sometimes healing is painful. I am willing to tackle difficult Scriptures – but the end goal is transformation.
  2. [2] I think of Edmund in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. While on an island he transforms into a dragon and cannot change back. He requires Aslan to remove the scales from him – and it hurts excruciatingly – but in the end the scales are removed. I feel like that, except that in this case Aslan’s nails are going far too deep, cutting through muscle, organs, bone.
  3. [3] from Luke 8:10
  4. [4] From Luke 9:41
  5. [5] From Luke 10:12
  6. [6] From Luke 12:8-10
  7. [7] From Luke 12:8-10
  8. [8] I have had this issue even before I began preaching. I somehow stumbled upon one of his commentaries in my early adolescence and felt a wave of understanding wash over me like I had never felt before…

Acceptance and Endeavor

Why I Try

I saw my psychiatrist last Friday. I drive forty-five minutes into Philadelphia to see him, and then an hour or more back out (rush hour seems to begin earlier and earlier these days). For those who know me – this is a lot of travel…but improving my health is high on my list of priorities. Why? Simply b/c it lets me do my job better and be a better person.

When I’m not ruminating on my anxieties, I can listen to and empathize with the anxieties of others. When I’m not in the pit of depression, I am ready to reach out to the other. When I’m not sleep deprived I can offer my full attention.

Rabbit Trail: On Suffering

Many argue that our suffering makes us better able to interact, understand, and love others. To some extent I think this can be true, but I place qualifiers upon it.

  1. Suffering does not inherently result in a larger capacity for good, it must be cultivated as such.
  2. Some forms of suffering decrease the ability to perform good in the short-term[1] while increasing it in the long-term.
  3. Some forms of suffering almost always result in reduced capacity for good rather than greater capacity.[2]

I’ve experienced a lot of pain and suffering, especially over the last year, and I would suggest that the pain and suffering I’ve suffered at some point passed beyond the point of breaking to heal stronger to simply breaking. The lessons to be learned from the suffering where learned and yet the suffering continued unabated – sometimes intensifying.

Perhaps bones heal stronger after being broken, but not after being pulverized – in the latter case they just don’t heal.

But I am distracted from what I intended to write…let me return.

Endeavor

I continue to fight for better health to be a better person. I continue to improve my diet, to exercise, to work on my sleep hygiene, to read, to grow, to reach out.

As of yesterday I have health insurance again for the first time in over a year. My psychiatrist prescribed provigil (modafinil) for me as I struggle (and have for many years) with Excessive Daytime Sleepiness (EDS) which is extremely frustrating. I am waiting for the pre-authorization to go through with the insurance company.

I hope that it will help me feel the energy a ‘normal’ person experiences on a daily basis. I’m not looking to be superhuman – just not super-tired. On the other hand, I’m a bit frightened. My last experience with a new medication involved audio and visual hallucinations and parkinsonian-like tremors that lasted for several weeks. I’d rather not do that again.

Provigil also can increase anxiety – which isn’t something I need, I have plenty of anxiety, thank you very much, no second helpings for me. It has been shown to exacerbate OCD symptoms – and I am already taking Adderall (20 mg) which also exacerbates my OCD symptoms.

In the end, it will be a matter of trade-offs. Does the increase in anxiety I feel (if I do) outweigh the benefit in wakefulness I experience? For me, the anxiety and discomfort I experience from taking Adderall are relatively minor in comparison to the increased ability to focus and reduced impulsiveness (e.g. its easier not to consume very large amounts of unhealthy foods) I experience.

Right now the vocal ticks are subtle but annoying. They are caused by the Adderall. No one hears these ticks as they are controllable with significant effort, but they burst forth on occasion as “hmmphs” when I’m by myself…they cause no practical harm, but they are annoying – kind of like the hiccups.

So, I’ll try the Provigil and see what happens…

Acceptance

At the same time that I continue to look for solutions to my weaknesses I also try to accept what I cannot change – or at least what I cannot change yet. This is a difficult balance – the endeavor to move forward with the acceptance that I am limited…it is even further frustrated in that the road forward is not always clear – the endeavors I make sometimes are useless or worse regressive…and accepting that my endeavors don’t always work and that they do sometimes set me back is really difficult. Sometimes I just want to throw in the towel and say, “I’m just going to stay like this…It is too hard learning how to change.”

It is difficult for me to accept that I am going to feel tired, that I am going to need naps, that I am at times struggling to empathize. It is difficult for me to accept that I must again face my anxiety, and again, and again, and again. It is frustrating to know that my depression can sweep in upon me at any moment, that the sky can turn from bright and sunny to the darkest shade of midnight at a moment’s notice and to a great extent I am utterly helpless to prevent it.

Stumbling in the Dark…

So much of what we do in regards to our health – especially our mental health – is a stumbling in the dark. We know that there are things which work for some people some of the time – but we can’t tell which ones will work for us at this time.

Doctors say that one of the best ways to fight depression, anxiety, add, and so on is exercise. I’m doing it – to the tune of two hours a day…I think it helps, but not much.

I know the medications help – the prozac, adderall, and wellbutrin – but I also know they have side effects – and I’ve been on prozac for so long I don’t even know what those side effects are any more. Have I always been this way or is this something the prozac causes?

Some would tell me to go off the medications. Honestly, that usually pisses me off. Yes, I said pisses – b/c I feel pretty strongly about this. Trust me, I don’t want to be on medications. If I could get off them I would…in fact, I am continually seeking to move myself in that direction…but I’m also not interesting in descending into the depths of pain and paralysis which these medications have freed me from.[3]

Sidebar: Why What Works For You Doesn’t Work For Me

Let me digress for just a moment. Folks are always telling me what works for them in regard to their illnesses – and I appreciate this – until they suggest that this will work for me as well. I am interested in trying new cures, I am interested in going new ways, I’m not closed down to new ideas – but b/c it works for you doesn’t mean it will work for me.

For numerous reasons what is effective for one person will be ineffective for another – and right now we haven’t been able to analyze what causes something to be effective for one person and ineffective for another. We know that some of it is the result of genetics, some may be the result of experience, others may be conflating variables.

In my family two of my siblings had bad asthma – I don’t. One of my siblings had a deathly allergy to peanuts – I don’t. One had a deathly allergy to bee stings – I don’t. Point being – even within the same immediate family there is room for significant genetic variability…which means that while taking St. John’s Wort may help one individual immensely it isn’t going to touch another person. The same is true of pharmaceuticals – which I rely upon more heavily – for some people prozac works wonders, for others it does nothing – or worse causes suicidal ideation or increased anxiety.

I’m so glad for you if some means of treatment has cured you of your ills…I’d love to hear about it and I will consider if it might be a beneficial road for me to journey down…but please, don’t insist that it is the road to health.

P.S. I also believe in the efficacy of spiritual solutions / divine interventions. I am a fan of a lot of what Neil T. Anderson has written, but again, I think we are looking at partial solutions – not always solutions. The same Paul who by the power of God raised a young man from the dead at another time writes to his adopted son, Timothy, to drink some wine for his stomach ills…no miraculous cure, just practical advice.

End Sidebar

Accepting Grace

I believe in grace. I believe in love. I believe in God. I believe in the God who is love…and I think I’m pretty good at extending grace to others.[4] I’m not so good at accepting grace for myself…and this is the ultimate challenge in acceptance. To accept who I am now…while not giving up. To endeavor while receiving grace. To go on while knowing I am falling short. To accept love without deserving it.

It is funny, I can extend grace, I can teach grace, but I have the hardest time accepting it. Paradoxically, this may be the reason why I can extend and teach grace. I extend it b/c I know how desperately I need it. I teach it b/c I know how deeply the truth transforms us – from experience and b/c I can feel inside of me the murky depths roiling as they experience grace pulsing through them…ohh, would that they would be overturned, exploded, made free and clean!

Prayer

Father,

I’m angry at you a lot. I feel like I’ve suffered enough…I want to serve you and yet I am so hobbled in my abilities. I wonder why you call me to love others and then cripple me in such ways that limit my abilities.

I feel lost so often. I struggle with battles that refuse to abet. Even in my dreams, O Lord, my subconscious lives out the struggles again and again – the relationships that have been torn and lost…and which, O Lord, I am entirely confused how to restore – if they can be restored.

Father, let me accept the things I cannot change, let me change those I can, and let me have the wisdom to know the difference.

I am not as brave as Paul who would desist from crying out to be healed from his thorn in the flesh. I still ask you after these many years to remove this burden from me.

I am afraid. I’ll suffer as long as you want me to – but I don’t want to suffer for anything you don’t want.

I kneel at the cross and let your agony, your pain, your suffering wash over me. It is the only balm I know to soothe this broken soul.

Amen.

  1. [1] And I use ‘short’ in relative terms as compared to one’s lifespan. In other words ‘short’ could be a week but it could also be five or ten years.
  2. [2] This is something I’ve been saying for a long time, but which I feel has finally received some external validation as I read John T. McNeill’s A History of the Cure of Souls. For example, Christians oftentimes argue that the shed blood of the martyrs strengthens the church – that the natural result of an unpersecuted church is a weak church. While there is something to be said for this, I think that McNeill makes an excellent point when discussing Armenian Christianity, “…the sufferings of the Armenian Christians under the Turks were too severe to yield the moral advantage that often comes from state hostility in milder form.” (pg. 317)
  3. [3] I am not resistant to all suggestions to get off medications – not only do I desire to but I am open to such advice when it comes in a way that is reliable and reasonable. My current psychiatrist is an advocate of natural treatments, but he isn’t going to take me off my medications or suggest I go off them – it will be a long process of trial and error to see if various natural remedies/supplements/etc. can replace/supplement what the medications currently accomplish…
  4. [4] Though sometimes, I know that my version of grace is inadequate. If it was truly grace it would include more justice than I sometimes include…There is a severity to grace which I have not yet learned…