Getting Off the Emotional Roller Coaster



image.jpegI’ve always loved the biblical character of David. When I was a little girl I was intrigued by the way he is described in Scripture. The Bible literally said he was fine. Literally. That was enough for pre-teen Daniah to start having David Daydreams while I was supposed to be paying attention in class.

As an adult, I still love the character of David, but for different reasons. I see a lot of myself in him. I didn’t really notice this until recently, but David is (arguably) one of the most emotional characters in scripture. If not, then he is certainly the most emotionally expressive. I love his underdog story, how he was the most unlikely to be called or chosen to do anything important, but was actually called to lead a nation. But a big part of David’s story is found in the book of Psalm.

I used to avoid the psalms because I found them monotonous and boring (harsh I know, but true), but earlier this year I realized a major character flaw in myself, and I also noticed the same flaw in David: emotional instability. David fought against his emotions his entire life, and they led him to do some pretty crazy things (like impregnate his general’s wife then have him murdered so he wouldn’t find out, then marry her like five minutes after the guy’s funeral). I think when our eyes are opened to our dispositions, our habits ways of doing things, we are more likely to see these things in others. And I quickly noticed that David and I shared the same life-long struggle of trying to get a grip on our feelings.

The psalms are actually extremely vulnerable and give us some real insight into who David was. He begins chapters by describing his anguish. He gets lost in expressing how depressed and trapped he feels. He pours himself onto the pages, going off in what would seem to be dramatic outbursts, calling down death from the heavens on his enemies, pleading for their swift demise, wishing he were dead. It’s all extremely….human.

But somewhere in the midst of his distress, David remembers who He is praying to. He remembers how powerful his Father is. And in remembering His Father, he remembers himself. There’s something powerful about those bare-bones, open prayers we pray when we’re staring hopelessness in the face. It’s like Yahweh waits for us to be honest so He can step in and help.

The tone will shift from overwhelming despair to overwhelming gratitude in the space of a few verses. While in the throes of my own dark mood earlier this year, I remember reading Psalm 119 for the first time and witnessing David encourage himself. He pulled himself away from darkness with his words. He went through the full gamut of emotions. His stunning highs and devastating lows – they’re located on the pages of scripture.

Psalm may not read like other books in the Bible, but I am so grateful that it exists. There’s nothing more helpful in a season of pain and loneliness than being able to hear another person’s story of survival. David stared depression in the face. He didn’t ignore his heartache, he faced it, and he made the decision to be a victor, not a victim.

He warred with his downcast soul and commanded it to be joyful. He wrestled with his thoughts and took control of his mind. And in the moment I saw how David screened his thoughts, I realized something about my dark moods: they always start in the mind.

How many of us really think about what we’re thinking about? How many times do we hold our thoughts captive?

How many times do we ask them, Where did you come from? Who sent you? Why are you here? How did you get here?

Most of us don’t.

Most of us just think the thoughts that drop onto the desk of our minds. Most of us let those thoughts drag us down into negative places, life-taking, demotivating, painful places. Most of us let the climate of our thoughts dictate our mood and actions.

I’m guilty of this. But I will not be a slave to my thoughts anymore.

You cannot control what thought comes into your mind, but you can control what stays.

I got on the emotional roller coaster a few weeks ago and it wore me out.

I would try and build myself up only to think and entertain the thought, “What’s the use?” I wallowed. I cried. I stayed in bed and let defeat wrap its slimy arms around me.

I decided to remove the guard posted at the gates of my mind and in doing that, I also decided to be a victim, not an overcomer.

I have ridden the roller coaster for months at a time, and I have lost pieces of myself in the process. I’ve let my refusal to focus on what’s good instead of what’s wrong dictate my reactions. I’ve allowed hurt, anger, confusion, and unforgiveness to keep me from moving forward. I’ve allowed my negative state of mind to drive me down the road to destruction and despair. I’ve had some bad days, you guys.

I’ve let my feelings cause me to eat and cry myself sick. I’ve allowed them to somehow help me justify treating the people that love me like they were less than because ‘they just don’t understand me’. And I’ve allowed them to cause me to isolate myself from the help I needed to get better.

I’m not new to this, but somehow the climb back up from the bottom always feels brand new. It always feels like you’re recovering from a panic attack for the first time, like you’re leaving bed for the first time, like you’re stifling tears for the first time, like you’re making the decision to think better for the first time.

I want to help someone who may be in the same position that I have found myself in over the years. I want to help someone who is ready to be emotionally stable. Here are a few things I had to do in order to regain my footing and finally take control of my thoughts and moods again. I’m not an expert, and I don’t have full control over my feelings, but I will never stop fighting against myself. I will continue to try and be the best version of myself possible, and I will continue to drive the negativity out of my life. This much I can do, the part that requires my self-discipline, the part I can choose.

  1. I had to stop telling myself the story.

I had to stop meditating on filth. I had to stop zooming in on the rejection, the confusion, and the lack. I had to stop replaying the same scenarios over and over again in my mind. I’m not saying it was easy, but what you won’t let go of will continue to control you. I realized that when I stopped ripping the band aid off, I was finally allowing myself to heal.

  1. I had to own my thoughts and take responsibility for my actions.

You can’t overcome what you won’t confront. These thoughts I had were mine, and they were coming from a vile place in my soul. We all have that place where darkness seems to just gather and plot to permeate every other part of who we are. But you can’t stop shining light in there. Go into the darkest parts of your person and break up the negative emotion party every chance you get. And they party even harder when you just ignore them or worse, blame them on someone else instead of taking ownership. We have to take responsibility when we allow our feelings to get the better of us and we end up hurting the people around us. Yes, I know hurting people hurt people, and this is why we also extend and receive grace. But grace is not an excuse to continue bad behavior.

  1. I had to hold my thoughts.

Pastor Steven Furtick from Elevation church preached a sermon called “Hold that Thought”, and it changed my life. In this sermon he says, “Your quality of life cannot exceed the quality of your thoughts.” I’ve proven this time and time again. It’s not that we stifle how we really feel or refuse to face the brokenness of our past because all of this is necessary to personal growth. It’s about sifting through your thoughts and choosing what to mull over. We all know that thoughts can be fleeting or we can let them hang around for a while. The choice is always up to us.

For me it’s the anxious thoughts, the uneasy, worried thoughts that send me down the dark corridor to stand in front of depression’s door. When I find that my thoughts are predominantly restless, you can bet that my mood is predominantly sad.

How do I combat this? I hold my thoughts. I interrogate them. I’m aware of what I’m feeling and I think about what I’m thinking about. If I find that anxious thoughts keep dropping into my mind, I do some soul searching and find out why I am anxious. Ignoring emotions doesn’t work for someone who struggles to maintain emotional stability. It only adds to the growing pile of unexpressed feelings you’re already shifting and sliding all over. You have to take the thoughts captive. Hold them. Demand to know what is going on with you mentally at all times. Refuse to be ignorant where your thoughts are concerned. You need to know why they’re there. And that leads me to my next point.

  1. I had to screen my intake – garbage in, garbage out.

We all sang the song growing up, “Oh be careful little eyes what you see…”

There’s some real truth there. When I’m in the midst of regaining my emotional stability, I can’t allow myself to be exposed to any and everything. I can’t listen to certain music, I can’t watch certain shows or movies, I can’t have certain conversations with certain people. I can’t because I need to rebuild my defenses against any wayward ideas or suggestions that may be inadvertently sent my way. I am aware of when I’m more emotionally impressionable than usual, and I have to accommodate that. Sometimes you need to take a step away from social media and spend some time doing something enriching or life-giving.

Do not assume that what you’re consuming isn’t having an impact on your moods. Pay attention to what you’re taking in.

  1. I had to combat the lies with proven truths.

My identity is found in Yahweh. That doesn’t change because He doesn’t change. His love for me is not based on how I act, where I go, what I do for a living, who my friends are, how bad I fail, how many times I cuss in a day, or how little time I choose to spend with Him.  My life is infinitely better when I am close to my Father, and I find it significantly easier to screen my thoughts when I am fully aware of who I am in Him. I can identify the lies my mind tells me so much easier, and I can retort with what He tells me daily. That I am loved, that I am chosen, that He has amazing plans for me, that everything is working together for my good, that I am precious to Him. It’s not enough just to shoot down the lies, you have to expose the falsity and make sure that you know why the lie is a lie. Otherwise, it will dress itself up in different clothes and come at you again. Completely disrobe it, shake it down to its core, and understand what the real lie is.

For instance, I sometimes think that I will never be truly happy.

That’s a lie.

When do I think this? Usually when my circumstances are hard or when I’m in a season of pain or loss.

Let’s get to the root of the issue. The lie is telling me that my now is indicative of what my entire future will be. Just because I’m not happy right now doesn’t mean I won’t be happy ever again. But let’s go deeper, what does being happy mean to me then? Why is my happiness so contingent upon my circumstances? Shouldn’t I have joy and peace in whatever season of life I’m encountering? Yes I should, but I don’t have them right now, so why not?

(Now I’m pulling at the roots) It’s because I am placing too much value on the present and on external things than internal, and I’m fixing my focus on what I don’t have rather than what I do. So I don’t need to fix my circumstances, I need to fix my attitude and my focus. What am I choosing to think about? I guarantee that when I start to think about all the blessings in my life instead of all the things I wish I had or that other people around me have, my mood begin to change. The clothes fall off the lies.

The truths: I have an amazing family that loves and supports me. I have made it through seasons of pain and loss many times before. Every bad thing that has happened in my life has somehow managed to be used for good, so I will choose to make this season count. I will turn this pain and loss into something fruitful, and watch Yahweh use it for the good.  Yahweh is faithful and He is in complete control. I’m not random or a mistake, my steps are ordered. I don’t need to have more in order to be happy. I just need to appreciate the things I have now.

It’s exhaustive and exhausting, but if you don’t tend the thoughts and ideas growing in the garden of your mind, who will?

  1. I had to change my language.

Words have power. I am going to say that again in all caps and bold, WORDS HAVE POWER. You can talk yourself up, talk yourself down, spew hate, share love, encourage, discourage, grow, or stunt your life with the words you say. I find that while I’m on the emotional roller coaster I will say whatever pops into my head. Anything and everything. I will just say how I feel again and again, no matter how negative.

I will literally assassinate positivity with paragraphs that all start with the phrase “I feel…”

We like to call pity parties venting when we’re stuck in a negative cycle don’t we? There’s a difference between venting to process and progress and venting to feel sorry for yourself and hopefully get other people to feel sorry for you too. I’m not throwing any stones here because I permanently reside in a glass house. I’ve done this more times over the years than I care to recount, but you can’t change your behavior until you realize what you’re doing wrong. Check your conversations when you’re in your feelings, and take note of the words you’re saying. Are you speaking death or life into your situation?

This was a long post, but I can’t even tell you how much I blessed myself writing this. Introspection is never easy, it’s painful and vulnerable and messy. But it’s a part of growing up, and you won’t grow unless you know who you are: your good, your bad, and your ugly.

In addition to all of this, I want to encourage anyone who may be struggling with repeated bouts of depression, anxiety, or other serious life-hindering cycles to seek help.

I promote therapy, I’ve seen a therapist and it helps.

Sometimes you can’t do it alone, and I believe you can be pro-faith and pro-counselling. You can pray about it while you seek professional help about it. If you are unable to pull yourself up out of the place you are in, get help. Your life is not meaningless, and you were not created to feel defeated every single day. You can feel better than you feel right now. There is still hope.

I hope this helps you find the courage to face yourself.

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