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Common Denominator

It has been nearly a year and a half since I have written a blog post. Time may fly when you're having fun, but it also whizzes by when you're out of control.  Perhaps because being out of control masquerades as fun? Trust me, it's not.

I almost don't know where and how to begin blogging again. I enjoy writing and the mere act of letting my fingers sort out words helps me identify what's really going on inside.  One of the dangers of living alone is not having other folks daily reflecting back to me who I am and not who I pretend to be.  I need people rubbing up next to me to help me recognize the rough spots. It takes others showing me my inconsistencies and irritating the snot out of  me to help me acknowledge my besetting sins. It's therapeutic and the way God has designed it for all of us.

During the last year or so my life has imploded on several fronts. I may have looked OK from the outside but on the inside I was certifiable.  I have had blowouts with friends and family.  My home is a wreck. My finances are a wreck. My health is a wreck.  I'd like someone to blame for all this but alas, the common denominator is me. Sinful, selfish, comfort-seeking me.

Before I continue I need to own up to a couple of things. Firstly, I am giving my opinion. My opinion and a ten-spot will buy us coffee at Starbucks and little  else. I am not advocating you, dear reader, do anything about what you read. Agree, disagree, think about it, dismiss it, whatever you do, do it knowing it's your choice. Your choice, your responsibility.

Speaking of responsibilities, my second point is to say I am doing my best to take responsibility for my choices. I didn't wake up one morning and decide to ruin a year or more of my life. There were a series of choices and decisions that alone seemed harmless enough but clustered together were, for lack of a better description, horrific. One of my favorite lines from Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, by Tom Stoppard, goes like this: "There must have been a moment, at the beginning, where we could have said --no, But somehow we missed it."  Simply put, I had my chance to say, "No!" and I missed it.  

Tell me, what do you do when you've come to a sudden stop and find yourself mired in your own sinful mistakes and presumptions? There's not much you can do but throw yourself at His feet and beg for mercy. That's where I find myself as I sit and write. I am a beggar of mercy.  I should have started here first.

What series of bad choices did I make? I can't remember each one in detail, but the one that has had the greatest impact on me was deciding to do whatever it took to be pain-free.  I experience relentless physical pain.  Every single day is different but a contest nonetheless. I fight with my body for what I can do versus what I want to do.  I haven't been comfortable with my body for years. Don't feel sorry for me. That's not why I am writing this. Many people experience worse pain than I do and most of them do it with more grace. I let it get the best of me.

 Someone in the 1920s said, "It isn't the mountain ahead that wears you out; it's the grain of sand in your shoe."  Chronic pain is a grain of sand that will wear out your soul if you let it. My pain affects my sleeping, my sitting, walking, standing, and eating. I negotiate my life around my pain. When people at church want to stop me and talk to me, I am in agony. If I have to wait in a checkout line, I fear I will collapse in pain. Every single thing I do is a negotiation with my hostile body.  When my rheumatologist recommended a drug that has helped some people manage chronic pain, especially lower back pain, I was ripe for the wrong decision. The drug he recommended was Cymbalta. Despite my reservations regarding SSRI (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor) and SNRI  (serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor) medications, I said yes.

For the first couple of weeks, the drug worked remarkably well.  As my body began to tolerate the medication, the pain came back.  My medication levels were increased, the pain sort of went away and then came back with a vengeance. And so the cycle began. Like an addict chasing their high, I began chasing the feeling of being at least semi-comfortable if I couldn't be pain-free.  My behavior began to change in little ways at first.  I can read it in my previous posts and journals. Contrition over sin turned to maudlin excesses and self-pity. My emotions bounced back and forth like Newton's cradle. What few filters I do have were knocked loose. I said what I wanted when I wanted and without a thought to the recipients well-being.

Next, every area in my life that causes me anxiety became more pronounced.  A childhood fear of mail reappeared. Since that fear was borne out of my feeling abandoned by my mother, my fear of abandonment escalated.  I was a mess. I began to doubt my ability to negotiate the ins and outs of daily life. One day as I prepared to go to see my family doctor it occurred to me to ask her about the drug the rheumatologist had me on. It didn't seem to be working and there was in my mind a correlation between my mental instability and when I began taking the drug.  To my relief she quietly told me that she'd rather not have me taking that drug because it's "a complicated medicine."  We devised a plan to back off Cymbalta slowly. I left her office hoping I would be back to normal in a few days. I had no idea that there is a recognized syndrome called "Cymbalta Discontinuation Syndrome."  Lucky me, let the agony begin!

It took less than 48 hours for me to start hearing and feeling what I can only describe as electrified Velcro being ripped apart at the base of my skull. The sound was deafening and the sensation flowed like ripples down my spine. Moving my head in any direction instigated the event. It was torturous and lasted a couple of months. Concurrently I had major mood swings and insomnia. My emotions bounced right out of Newton's Cradle and tried their best to do an interpretive dance describing chaos theory. The Velcro sensation would rouse me from sleep like a cattle prod. Involuntary muscle twitches that had begun when I started the meds increased as I was coming off of them. Add feeling like my muscles contained an old Jiffy Pop stovetop popcorn maker cooking in them. I was beyond a hot mess.

The thing that is amazing to me is how in God's economy, nothing is wasted. I wouldn't volunteer for this experience again, but I am so glad I have been through it.  The entire time I was in Cymbalta withdrawal I had a prescription bottle full of pills. I knew all I had to do was take one pill and the electric Velcro/Jiffy Pop hell I was in would cease. One little pill. Sure I would probably be crazy but my sanity seemed a small price to pay to stop what was going on with my body.  For the first time, I could more than empathize with someone fighting addiction. I am not saying you have to have been an addict to counsel someone who is but I am saying really understanding the desperation of "just one more little pill" has given me more mercy for folks who find themselves in the throes of withdrawal and addiction.

I have never believed in the chemical imbalance theory as the reason for depression and other mental  health issues. If you listen to the ads for the drugs the pharmaceutical companies have on television, they don't either.  To cover their assets they add the disclaimer: "We don't know what causes depression, but we think it's a chemical imbalance."  There is a reason they qualify that assertion.  I am not anti-medication, not at all.  I am certainly not advocating anyone stop taking medications currently being prescribed to them by their physician.

As a believer in the gospel of Jesus Christ, I have hope and resources I neglected to tap into when I made my mad dash to what I thought would be pain-free living.  Had a doctor prescribed Cymbalta for depression, I would have declined. I know what depression feels like. I know how hard it can be to get out of bed and put one foot in front of the other. My soul has cowered in dark places while being chained to hopelessness and beaten with despair. It was physical pain that I thought my faith couldn't manage.  It was the desire to be able to travel and do fun things that got me to compromise my position on SSRI/SNRI medications.
Wherever you draw your line in the sand your flesh is willing to take up the challenge before you even know you're in a battle.

And so I begin again, I am overwhelmed with the damage I have done. Good thing I serve the God of the Universe. He hasn't been taken by surprise. I have not extended myself beyond his grace.

2 Corinthians 4:8-9
We are  I am afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed;  


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