Out of the Blue

Are you ever going through your day feeling fine when, it seems like out of the blue, your mood takes a dive? As if suddenly, the joy has been sucked out of your day. For us ladies, it could be a simple hormone flux. It could be someone greeted your smile with a frown, or hearing something sad on the news. Other than the hormones, it is usually easy to recognize the cause of the cloud hanging over your head.

For those of us with traumatic past experiences, it could have been an emotional trigger. What do I mean by a trigger? A trigger is something that draws out our emotions from a past experience. It could be a song on the radio, a ticking clock, a phrase, or something as ridiculous as the smell of Lipton’s noodle soup. Our brains are amazing. When a memory is created, all of the information of that moment is stored away whether we know it or not. Not just words spoken or physical sensations, but also, the sounds, smells and even lighting. It is actually quite incredible and can be wonderful when connected with a good memory. Unfortunately, when the memory is connected to something traumatic, it can send your emotions whirling.

The first step in overcoming the effects of triggers is to become aware of and understanding your own particular triggers. For me, several of my triggers were always very obvious to me even though I didn’t really understand what was happening. It took me years to be able to be in a room with a ticking clock without getting the tremors and feeling an overwhelming urge to run away. It was completely unsettling. To be clear, they were not excessive tremors. I doubt anyone else noticed. Though, they probably noticed me withdrawal and just felt it was part of my quiet nature.

My initial coping mechanism was to not have any clocks that ticked. That was easy. Unfortunately, when I married, my husband’s grandparents’ house was filled with clocks. I mean walls covered with clocks. In the living room, there were an overwhelming amount of out of sync ticking sounds and gongs. I loved my grandparents-in-law, but being in their house just wore on my nerves. My husband loved the clocks and started to add clocks to our house. I also had a private no Lipton soup rule (private meaning, I never told anyone else). When my daughter was young, she would stay with my mom when she wasn’t feeling well. Mom gave her Lipton’s soup. Of course, after that, whenever my daughter didn’t feel well she would ask for soup. And not just any soup, it had to be Lipton. Sigh. So, I would make her the soup.

A really awesome thing happened over time. My old memories started to be replaced with new memories. When hearing a clock, I was no longer pulled back into my childhood. Instead, I see the smiling faces of my husband and his grandparents. And now, when I smell Lipton’s soup, I remember my daughter as a little girl and the joys of motherhood.

I know there are still some triggers out there that have not been beautifully replaced like the clocks and the soup. However, I realize they are out there. When I feel my mood shift, I try to refocus on reality – to ground myself and not get sucked into darkness. This doesn’t always work. Sometimes the sorrow is overpowering. In these moments, I pray, listen to worship music, and seek out my husband for comfort. It may take a little a while, but Jesus always meets me when I need him.

The Reflection in the Mirror

For too many years, I focused on the negative and broken parts of myself. I bought into all of the lies ever said about me: you are ugly, you are trash, you have no value. And I believed the unspoken voices that I was unloved, unworthy of protection, and that women are just for sex. I hated myself. I hid in corners in social settings. I hid from cameras. I even hid in clothes that were way too big for me. And these were baked in beliefs and reactions, not conscious. It was just who I was. And without even knowing it, I was carrying on my own abuse.

It wasn’t until I was in my thirties that I got a glimpse of my own destructive behaviors. It happened sort of like a two-by-four to the back of the head. Sometimes, we really need to feel it for our wake up calls to move us into action. Each year my church would create a space for spiritual reflection along with a book of readings and questions to help guide you through the process. My favorite spaces were those filled with plants and bubbling fountains. There were others with images of the cross to help us start to grasp what Jesus really did for us. Those were always tough spaces. This particular year, the tough one for me though only contained a chair and a mirror. The guide simply instructed me to look at my reflection, and thank God for creating me. It broke me. I couldn’t bear to look at myself. And I certainly couldn’t thank God for making me. Instead of responding with a grateful heart, I was filled with anger. Why did He create me? The weight of my self-loathing crushed my spirit and brought me to tears.

Now here comes the two-by-four. Several days later, my friend at church asked me if I enjoyed the spiritual spaces. I shared my dislike for the mirrored room, and how I couldn’t even look at myself. What I expected from her was an “I get that.” Her reaction caught me totally off guard. “Who are you to insult God’s handiwork? You were made exactly as He intended you to be.” Inside, my emotions swirled from disbelief to anger to reflection. Her words rocked my world. I had never thought of myself as God’s work of art. That He had planned for me to be a certain way. After all, I was no one special, right? But God doesn’t make garbage?

Others may consider my friend’s words to be harsh, but they were exactly what I needed to hear. Her words started me on a new path of seeing myself through God’s eyes. And while life tore the edges of my canvas and slashed scars through me, I was still His masterpiece. And the more time I spend getting to know Jesus through prayer, reading my Bible, and listening to worship music, the more He restores me. He is taking my tattered form and revealing someone beautiful.