Anticipating & Surrendering Mental Misery
Way back when hormonal havoc was still a thing for me, I had it in spades. In the days preceding my "pick-your-euphemism," I'd go right off the rails. My mind catastrophized the slightest set-back. I was overly sensitive, personalizing dark subtext in "Good morning." Fail to reply to a text promptly, I'd assume rejection. My life suddenly seemed an unmanageable morass of misery, foreboding, and failure. Another fine feature was loads of self-loathing and merciless self-condemnation. How very unpleasant! Then suddenly, it would all shift, and me and my life would be OK again. Nothing changed but my noggin. And though I could soberly predict the trajectory each month, I wasn't able to commandeer my brain when I was in it. This still happens, sans hormones, unaccountably. What's it all about?
Often, I cannot account for my filthy filter at all. It's totally random. All my life circumstances can be precisely the same but my outlook differs. Other times, I can pinpoint the source of my sour mood. An uneasy conscience, relational issues, overwhelm, an unexpected concern, disappointment, HALT (Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired) In those cases, there's usually a remedy I can identify alone or with help. Confessing, apologizing, praying or asking for help, turning the issue over to God, eating, conversation or company, rest. Negative obsessing and self-shaming, however, is seldom helpful. To anyone.
Another helpful tool is to remember the many times I've felt this way before and how the feeling passed later, or tomorrow, or sometime soon. I could still try my arsenal of tools, and failing that, endure, knowing I'll feel better any time now. This latter strategy is elusive, however. I don't remember that it always passes, so I suffer, perhaps more and longer than necessary. Though less and less long these days.
Again, back in the unspeakable red-tent days, I well knew that my perceptions would get distorted come that time. I could predict it would happen, anticipate it, find scientific documentation, and OTC drugs to address it. But once it hit, it was as though all reason and clarity vanished. The dire, dark, depressing, or distressing state of my perception was incontrovertible and I need only wait for death and destruction. OK, so that may be a slight exaggeration, but only slight.
I went through this ageless routine once again this week. Despite many good reasons to be serene, satisfied, and hopeful, I ran the rotten rollercoaster of delight to distorted thinking. At least twice this week, my thoughts got so twisted it temporarily distracted me from living life.
I know I'm absolutely not unique in this.
I employed all my usual counter-measures: Fervent prayer, Bible and recovery reading, talking to friends, focusing on chores and other people, journaling...and still I was stuck. Then, as suddenly as it appeared, the negative lense cleared and all was well again. Thankfully, these dastardly mental detours are neither as long or as intense as they once were.
Comforting Perspective on Perspective
God says our minds are as inclined to wander as we are. This particular brand of distorted thinking is especially pervasive: The negative, half-full, woe is me, variety. I easily forget that God is in control, that God loves me, that God can, does, and will help me when asked. I'm also inclined to forget that in Christ, I'm totally forgiven, totally accepted, totally loved.
This is not to say that if I do wrong, I shouldn't confess it and do what's needed to resolve it for my own conscience and for goodness sake. It does mean that I need not self-flagellate or torment myself with a detailed accounting of my shortcomings. This tendency is not useful to me and others. Nor does it honor Christ, who died to absorb all that guilt.
The Bible also warns that we have an enemy who will toy with and mislead us, if we let him. C.S. Lewis' The Screwtape Letters and Frank Peretti's novels both go as far as suggesting demonic strategizing to plant unhelpful thoughts in our mind.
Finally, whatever the source, those dark moments, days, or more extended periods of rumination are opportunities--and maybe necessary catalysts--to lean in more forcefully to all the spiritual disciplines, and above all to God. On the other side, we find we're more resilient, more joyous, more disciplined, and more faith-filled than ever. In fact, suffering is widely recognized as inherent to spiritual growth.
My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing. James 1:2-4
The Bible offers many practical insights about our thought life, along with explicit suggestions on how to manage it. Three of my favorites, tote-able & index-card-worthy:
2 Corinthians 10:5 (NIV)
"We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ."
Other translations use words like "imaginations," "arguments," and "pretensions."
Philippians 4:8 (NIV) "Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things."
Philippians 4:6 (NIV)
"Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God."
It's also so very helpful to remember...
Hebrews 8:12 (AMP) “For I will be merciful and gracious toward their wickedness, And I will remember their sins no more.”
Romans 8:1 (NIV)
Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus...
Science and self-help offer plenty of help, too. Dr. Caroline Leaf specializes in mind management, offering practical resources drawn from the latest brain science.
This Too Shall Pass
Regardless of whether understanding and practical tools can restore us to sanity in the moment or not, King Solomon's "This too shall pass, can also help us endure, knowing the dark night shall eventually pass, and the sun will come up tomorrow. Believe it.
Remember: God loves you no matter what.
Grace, peace, love & joy,