Build a Life Worth Living

The true goal of DBT is to build a “Life worth living.” You begin by simply avoid “avoiding.” How many times have we avoided doing what we know needs to be done? Some people call it procrastinating, but for some of us, it is avoidance. We purposely avoid the things we don’t want to do but need to do. There are changes we might need to make in order to build the life we want.

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To begin, we choose our values. I choose to be close to God. I value my relationship with Him so I make room for Him in my life. I want to be productive, so I make a schedule of things that need to be done at home such as organizing, cleaning, doing laundry. I want a good relationship with my family, so I plan time to focus on each of them like going out to eat and baking for them. I want to be part of a group doing good so I go to church and sign up at the local food pantry.

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The idea is to pick just one thing to start in order to avoid “avoiding.” If you don’t know where to start, ask God to gently show you where to make changes in your life. Spend some time in mindful communion with Him. You may be avoiding working on your finances for instance. You need a budget, but you have been putting it off. You may need to do something even harder than that, like working on a broken relationship.

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DBT has a list of values. Here are some examples:
• Attend to relationships by repairing old relationships or reaching out for new ones. Work on new ones or end destructive ones.
• Be part of a group. This could be to help you have a sense of belonging and having close and satisfying relationships with others.
• Achieve things in life by working through your goals and the steps needed to keep the goals part of your life.
• Live a life of pleasure and satisfaction. What’s important to you? Make it a part of your life. Enjoy your work and seek out events that make you happy.
• Be a spiritual person. Discern and do the will of God and find lasting meaning in your life.
• Be secure by living in safe surroundings and be physically healthy and fit.
• Have integrity by being honest and standing up for your beliefs. Pay your debts to others and repair damages you’ve caused.
• Contribute to the larger community by helping those in need and committing to a cause that shares your beliefs and values.

Once you’ve identified your values, select one thing, set some small goals to start working on it. You want this value to become a part of your life, but have been struggling, so it may not be easy to start. Choose a step that you can do right now and a couple more that you can do tomorrow and the next day, or next week.

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Working to live by your values can be hard, but the results can be a meaningful life and build a sense of accomplishment. Plan to be successful at it. In order to do that your initial goals may be very small steps, but you can increase the difficulty over time. You don’t need to berate yourself when things don’t work out as you’ve planned but rather encourage yourself to adjust your goals as needed to reach your end result.

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Meet difficult situations head on by thinking through them as a cope ahead strategy. What will be difficult about doing something? Write it down without judgement and name your emotions that you will feel. Determine which coping skills might work by writing down in detail how you will handle the situation, then imagine yourself in the situation and rehearse how you will cope with it.

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I haven’t written about all of the coping skills in DBT, just the ones that have helped me so far. If you want to practice DBT, I suggest you join a group with a facilitator. There is so much to learn from other’s experiences. Choose a group that meets once a week, you don’t want to speed through this, you want to have time to work on the skills in between sessions.

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The DBT manual is available online from many sources. Just type in DBT or Dialectic Behavior Therapy into the search bar of your favorite book seller.

The Hospital

I was hospitalized three times since Tyler died. The first time was three months after his death. I spent the day at a casino, drinking and gambling away all my money. I drove, drunk, toward home but stopped my car at a dead-end road behind a bank and one by one swallowed a handful of benzos for which I had a prescription. I just wanted to be with him.

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Eventually, I put the car in drive and drove home. How I got there, I’ll never know. My husband, Terry, was angry with me and was asleep when I came home. He had no idea about the pills and was justifiably upset. After collapsing in the bathroom, I fell asleep and, in the morning, I was surprised to find myself alive. I didn’t take enough.
The next day I confessed to my husband and we both knew I needed some professional intervention. I still wanted to die.

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I was to spend that day with my boss, so I got dressed and met him at the assigned place. I was honest, and he prayed with me. I was to go on short term disability and check myself in- somewhere.

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We found a hospital in a neighboring town. The Lindner Center of Hope. One of the top wellness hospitals in the country. At intake they explained that once I checked in, I could not leave without a doctor releasing me. It was a locked ward. I said yes, even though my anxiety was screaming at me. I had to do it or I would die, which still sounded pretty good to me. Luckily my husband knew my mindset now and supported me. The hospital was close, he would come every day after work, the girls, my two daughters, could visit.

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The first thing I did was strip so a nurse could take full body shots of any bruises or cuts (I had none, except for a bruise on my hip from falling in the bathroom the previous night.) They went through my bag and sent all the prohibited stuff home with Terry. EVERYTHING was prohibited; pencils, pens, belts, rings, bracelets, necklaces, shoes with laces, make-up, and I was left with 2 pair of pants, some socks and a sweatshirt.

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My room was private with a single bed, mattress two inches thick on a smooth plastic platform, no metal, no screws, no nails. There was a desk but since all writing materials were prohibited, there was no use for it. When I first arrived I found a jigsaw puzzle in the common area and brought it back to the desk in my room. Within minutes, a nurse rushed in and took it away, explaining that all these items must be done in the common area under the careful watch of the nurses. I guess I could have eaten the pieces?

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I soon found out about very creative ways that patients use to hurt themselves. Nothing with batteries allowed- patients swallow them. I couldn’t get used to no clock in my room. When I would wake in the night I would have to walk down the hallway into the common area to see the time. And the mattress was killing my arthritic hip. They could get me a special foam piece, they said, but I would need doctor to prescribe it for me. Plus, only one Aleve! “The dosage is one,” I was told, when I was used to taking three.

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We colored in our free time. We were able to use coloring pencils and crayons in the common area. We had to ask for the pencils and when we returned them we were checked off a list. Same with silverware. When you were finished eating you were required to turn in your flatware directly to the nurse. Everything was counted.

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The staff was wonderful. Due to my grief, I was connected with the Spiritual Counselor who gave me a copy of Jesus Always, my first introduction to Sarah Young, which would become a lifelong study.

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Every day we had a schedule of group meetings. The staff taught us the basic principles of CBT (Cognitive Behavior Therapy) along with how to care for ourselves and keep a positive outlook. There was Recreational Therapy which consisted of a game or craft. There were patients who were so sick that they were unable to communicate or attend group. They would be in there a lot longer than I.

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The center also performed ECT (Electroconvulsive Therapy). Two women in my ward were going through this therapy. One, who I’ll call Jane, was an Academic. She was a scientist but when she spoke, which was rarely, she could barely be heard. She mumbled and often stared into space. I wondered who she used to be-before. The other, who I’ll call Susan, was so depressed that she could barely smile. One day, when Susan returned from her ECT session, I saw her eyes clear and her face bright. I told her what a difference I could see in her and she smiled at me and thanked me with emotion!

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We were woken at 7 every morning to eat breakfast, line up for our medicines and then start groups at 8:30. We would be called out of group individually to see doctors and therapists and nurses. I would be in this wing of the hospital twice. The second time was on the second anniversary of Tyler’s death

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After a week, I was released into a Partial Hospitalization Program at Lindner Center. I went every day from nine to four for DBT classes. I was able to stay at home and sleep in my own bed. I was able to eat what I liked and was under the watchful eye of my family. This was a two-week program and I was interested and excited about DBT. The program though, was too much in too little time, 4 to 5 worksheets a day. I was unable to keep the coping strategies straight and was unable to keep up with it on my own at home.

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On the anniversary of Tyler’s death, my daughter and I went to see a medium. I was desperate- grasping at straws and this was a way that I figured I could get in touch with Tyler. I was disappointed. I didn’t think the medium was “real.” I thought she took too much of what my daughter told her and then spun it for my reading.

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So once again I took pills. But this time I took the whole bottle, I was determined to see Tyler one way or another and since the medium didn’t work, well… My husband was awake this time when I collapsed, and he took me to the hospital. After I was stabilized they took me in an ambulance back to the Lindner Center where I began another round of treatment in the same ward as last time, same routine, new people.

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They taught us the basics of Cognitive Behavior Therapy. Setting goals, understanding that depression is a chemical reaction in your brain. I thought of it as “tricking” your brain to stop thinking of something bad and trying to replace it with something good. And basic things like taking a shower and eating right. “Who needs help taking a shower?” I thought, unbeknownst to me that in the not so near future, I would need to be reminded of just that.

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My final hospitalization was voluntarily. No more suicide attempts, but I wasn’t getting better. I had switched on and off with several different therapists and psychiatrists, but nothing was working. I had al but forgotten the DBT and CBT I had learned.

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According to Dr. David Brent, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, the children of people who attempted suicide, “regardless of whether they have a mood disorder themselves, have a four- to five-fold increased risk of trying to take their own lives, according to a new study.”

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This information was a deterrent for me, because one of my daughters has bi-polar and I was very worried that she would look at me as an example and try to take her own life.
The Linder Center had a setting in the woods next to it’s main building. It was called Sibcy House and it did not take insurance. The program was meant to define a diagnosis and focus heavily on DBT, addiction counseling and CBT therapies. It was decided that I should go.

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My husband and I took a loan from my 401K and I was able to get in one July. This was a different type of program. I was still in a locked house, but we were given passes to go outside on their walking path between classes. We had yoga, mindfulness and pet therapy. There were field trips on the weekends.

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The rooms in Sibcy House were like hotel rooms. We were able to have pens and pencils and clocks, and the beds were good ones, with real mattresses on frames. There were extensive tests that I took and daily therapist and psychiatrist visits. I still see one of these psychologists who specializes in DBT on a weekly outpatient basis.

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My goals upon entering Sibcy House were to determine an accurate diagnosis, medication evaluation (I was on eleven medications!), learn new skills to help me deal with my problems/symptoms and address grief issues. I needed to be there because my anxiety was overwhelming me. It was hard to think of words while talking- what is this? Anxiety? Age ? Meds? And I was constantly moving my legs and arms. It was embarrassing.

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And although I no longer wanted to end my life, I truly didn’t care if I died from some natural cause or accident. At the time, I didn’t know that I had leukemia. It was like, “I’m ready,” to go see my son and be with God. So, you can see the kind of distorted thinking I was presenting.

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There at Sibcy House, I learned that I have major depressive disorder, recurrent, severe, with anxious features (no surprise), PTSD, Complicated Bereavement, moderate alcohol use disorder and Panic Disorder.

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But by completing the testing I also learned that I had not lost my ability to reason, think clearly, or plan. I just needed to focus my mind and filter out all the scrambling going on in there. The scrambling reminds me of the old days of cable television. If you went to a channel that you hadn’t purchased you could hear the voices and sounds of the movie, but the screen would be scrambled up with diagonal lines and blotches so you couldn’t see the picture. Nowadays, you just get a blue screen that says to subscribe to the channel call a number.

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Well, my mind was acting like the old cable stations and I would hear the sounds but not be able to discern the full picture. I needed to learn to focus my mind again, and mindfulness was instrumental in that.

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The staff at Sibcy House was extensive: Psychiatrists, master’s level social workers, doctorate level therapists, expressive therapists, nutritionists, internists, and neurologists. I thank God for that 401K that allowed us to afford this level of care. I pray for those who are not able, that God would lead them to really good experts to lead them through their grief.

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Daily, in between doctor visits, we had a curriculum that we followed. I went to every class. There were patients there who didn’t go to many of them. It was hard for me to understand paying that kind of money and not participating, but that was me judging; I know now that mental illness manifests itself in many different and unusual ways. They were doing the best they could do.

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Even though I brought workout clothes, I didn’t attend the physical recreation- or “gym” as we called it in elementary school, and I ate about three of the best ice cream sandwiches I’ve ever tasted every night! You see it: weight gain! But I was more concerned about my brain than about my appearance.

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At home, I had loads of self-help books. I had been really trying to “fix myself” but I had no direction- no guidance. I was hoping my time at Sibcy House could offer me a path. At the time, I didn’t even think about God providing the path for me. I believed in God, loved God, knew my deceased family was with God, but I viewed myself as tainted- not doing the right things to help myself, unaware of the countless Bible verses in which God declares that He will provide the path. That came later, in God’s time..

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I loved the psychological and intelligence testing! (Most of the time.) I have always been competitive. But I was less enthused on some days when my mind was foggy, and I had trouble doing something as easy as naming ten animals! This was the depression, which clouds your mind. I learned that this is linked to the loss of energy and motivation that comes with depression, and how depression can affect your brain in a way that causes the fog.

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I was very fearful of going back to work. My job was filled with grief triggers. I think it’s impossible to figure out why certain things trigger us after a close death. It seemed like I was being ambushed all the time at work. This was my PTSD. And the sad thing is that people seem to have an “expiration date” on grief- a time when after so many months or years, you should “Be Over It.” So, although my co-workers were nice human beings, they were getting tired of my outbursts. This was super scary to me!

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How would I ever go back to work in this minefield? I wanted to return to my life- to my work. That is the real reason why I focused on DBT so much throughout this time period. I needed some real coping skills to go back to work.

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Well, I didn’t go back to work, and I believe that this is the path God wants me to be on. I am reminded of a passage in “Jesus Lives” by Sarah Young:
“I want you to make your life a glorious adventure, but you must stop striving for a lifestyle that feels safe…People settle for mediocrity because it feels more comfortable. Meanwhile they continue to battle fear… A predictable lifestyle may feel safer, but it can shield you from what you need most of all-Me! … I will be with you each step of the way. As we venture out together cling tightly to my hand.”

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I eventually realized how true this is. God needed me to venture out, to have faith that when I ventured out that He would be with me every step of the way and He led me to a weekly DBT meeting which I attended for a year after leaving Sibcy House.

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There is a story in the Bible that I love. The Gospels tell about the disciples in a boat on a stormy sea right after they sat with Jesus and fed a multitude from a couple fish and some loaves of bread. They had just witnessed this miracle of the Jesus multiplying the food until all of the thousands of people were filled.

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So, they go out into this boat while Jesus was off by himself dealing with the loss of his beloved friend and cousin, John the Baptist. As Jesus came to the shore, he saw the disciples struggling in the choppy water to keep the boat upright. The storm really ramped up and it looked like they were going to capsize. They were so afraid that they didn’t even recognize Jesus as He calmly walked across the water to help them.

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I think about how many times I have not recognized Jesus when He has been trying to help me. When I don’t believe it’s His hand that is putting things into place for me. What strikes me most about this Bible story is that they had just been astounded by the miracle of the loaves and fishes, just that day! Why would they not see and believe that their Lord was walking to them? Over the water?

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In my life, I know of countless times I have been the beneficiary of His blessings, of His wise counsel, of His true love, yet, I still doubt that He is involved in my life to such a degree that He will NOT allow me to take on more than I can bear.

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Now, my favorite part of the story is when Peter calls out and asks Jesus to prove that He is who He is by allowing Peter to walk on the water too. Jesus doesn’t get offended by this but does exactly as Peter asks. Peter takes about two steps and then is filled with terror and starts to sink.

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How many times have I been given a God opportunity and did not follow through to receive the whole blessing? How many times have I doubted myself instead of trusting that God would do immeasurably more than all [I] ask or imagine?
How many times have I not ventured out of my normalcy– Or because of my mental illness, my ab-normalcy?

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The last hospital stay was well worth the time and money because it provided an expert path for me with DBT and through DBT, prayer and Bible devotions, I found myself much closer to God and ready to let Him take the reins.

In Memorium

He was a funny guy, always cracking jokes. He liked to hunt, my son did, and fish. He liked the Vikings and the Wild, two Minnesota sports teams. “In Memorium” is something a mother shouldn’t have to write about her child.
One day I came home and found my computer torn apart; It had stopped working and Tyler was trying to fix it. At the time he died, years later, he was building a computer from parts he bought on the internet.
It was four years ago, yesterday, that he died in a single car crash. At the funeral the pastor didn’t have a lot of information about Tyler so he kept repeating the stuff he did know, father, husband, sportsman. I wanted to get up and say something, but I was inconsolable. That is a regret I have, couldn’t I have pulled myself together enough to tell everyone about the real Tyler?
He loved to work on cars. He had a mustang in his garage that he was rebuilding. He worked at a junk yard, which he loved, and he was making a life for himself and his wife and kids.
Yesterday I had a bed day. Knowing my girls had chosen to stay busy with their friends made it easier for me to stay in bed. I slept most of the day. My husband stayed home from work to be with me. The goal was to get through the day-period.
When Tyler was little he was a wild child. I remember he almost bit off my thumb when I brought him to kindergarten. Authority had never been his thing. He wasn’t a bad kid, he just wanted to do things his way. He eventually got used to school and I met with his teachers regularly, so I could keep up on what he should be doing.
In first grade the kids got together and wrote down the answer to “What is a Mother?” The list of their answers came home for Mother’s Day. While most kids wrote endearing things like “She reads to me.” And “She gets me toys.” Tyler took a different route and got technical, “She has bones in her back to hold her head up.” I remember laughing so hard I cried! Always the technical thinker!
Once when he was grounded for sneaking out we took away his cable connection. Tyler found a way to go deep into the crawl space and splinter off our cord. Ta-da! Cable again. It must have been hard for him when I divorced his father and then again when I re-married. My first husband was a strict disciplinarian and Tyler had grown up under this mighty control. Suddenly, the control wasn’t there, and he tried to get away with a lot of stuff.
He had to figure out how to navigate in this new world, and it wasn’t easy for him. A short stint living with his father didn’t work out. How I wish I would have lived closer so I could help him find his way, we had moved to Ohio and Tyler stayed with his aunt. But he found his way, making a life for himself, having two children and marrying his wife. He had a house and all of his hobbies. He had a good job and provided well for them.
Tyler was good with his hands. At one point he helped build an addition onto my sister’s house, working side by side with his uncle.

His cousin Brody was one of his best friends. He would be happy to know that Brody is married with a family now. Once when he and Brody were little, they went across the road to a cemetery and decided to push down tombstones, which in itself is bad, but Brody got caught underneath one and my sister had to go rescue him.
These are the funny things I remember-and most of all I loved him so much! He went to church with me and we prayed for each other. Occasionally a song would tear my heart and I would cry. “Why are you crying, Mommy?” The little voice would ask with his hand on my arm.
Would he ask that now? Why I am crying? He knows how much I miss him and love him. I could barely move away from his body during the visitation. I wanted one last chance for him to know this.

Willfulness

Willfulness is refusing to make changes or doing the opposite of what works. It’s giving up. When I am willful I have “Bed Days”. These are days that I take my nighttime medicine in broad daylight and watch TV until I fall asleep. My whole goal with Bed Days is to sleep the day away.

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I am still groggy when my husband comes home from work and try to hide it. I don’t want him to know about my bed days. I am acting willful on these days because I know there are coping skills that could help me but I refuse to use them.

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DBT explains willfulness as:
 Refusing to tolerate the moment and make changes that are needed
 Doing the opposite of what of what works
 Insisting on being in control
 Trying to fix every situation
 Attachment to “me, me, me” and what I want.
 Giving up

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My bed days are a form of giving up. You might experience willfulness by not letting something go, an argument perhaps, or not being able to see a better idea than yours. Regardless of what type of manifest of willfulness you may have experienced, it is all about you, you, you.

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I find this to be the most powerful part of my depression and I combat it every day. When you are willing you listen to your Wise Mind. When you are willful you shut Wise Mind out. That means you shut out God. Surely, if you pray, God could lessen the despair, but you don’t want to listen, you would rather wallow in it. I want to shut off everything and hope tomorrow is a better day.

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DBT tells us to turn our mind towards willingness, toward acceptance that I am acting willful. When willfulness is immovable ask yourself, “What’s the threat?”

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When I think about the threat of living through another empty day, I can sometimes turn my mind before I choose to take a bed day. Maybe a short nap where I can think through some priorities of mine. I admit to myself that I am avoiding living. I go through the options in my mind and look for something I might want to do besides sleep. I come upon something that I can make a commitment to doing like take a shower. Lately baking and listening to music have been good alternatives to bed day. Writing is usually farthest from my mind. How can I write when all I want to do is get over this?

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“The righteous may have many troubles, but the Lord delivers him from them all.” Psalm 34:19

Being willful with God is not taking or asking for His help. God tells us to lean on Him, to accept His grace. Being willful is thinking you can do it all on your own, ignoring God’s Word. The Holy Spirit works to renew our minds. Being willful is ignoring that or not allowing it to happen because we are so caught up in this world of depression.
God can restore us- He knows the pressures that are upon us and understands what we are going through. When we are Willful we do not feel God’s closeness. Open yourself to Him.

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“And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” Romans 12:2