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Depression is both my constant companion and an integral part of my identity. I am always aware that the next emotional dip may be just around the proverbial corner, even though I am currently enjoying a depression-free season, thanks to medication and stability in my family and work. It is part of who I am, as much as my lack of height, my upturned nose, and my insatiable desire to always learn more. But like those other characteristics, it is only part of who I am, not all of who I am.
Last time, I detailed the first two episodes of depression I experienced as a teen. Many teens become depressed (hormones, you know!), come out of depression, and then never have a problem as an adult. I was not one of those lucky ones.
My third major depressive episode came years later at the age of 30. My life should have been great – because it was great. I had two wonderful boys that I adored; their father (my husband, Howard) and I had weathered serious problems in our marriage; Howard had joined the military and thus had the best-paying and most secure job he’d had in years; we were living a dream in Germany on the government’s dime – traveling as much as we could afford; and I was enjoying homeschooling.
But, of course, it wasn’t all rosy. There were lingering trust issues that we had not resolved in our marriage; I – as the mother of young children who also did in-home daycare – was exhausted much of the time; I felt my gifts and abilities were being wasted without a creative outlet (blogging hadn’t yet been invented!); and I had lingering doubts about the long-term stability of our marriage and my husband’s ability to cope if things got rough again (which, of course, they would because that’s life).
I was struggling – moving through molasses and foundering in the fog – and I didn’t know why. Once I was diagnosed, a light bulb went on. I’m not sure how long I was depressed before I was diagnosed because depression is like that. But I do know Prozac (10 weeks after starting it) and counseling were blessings to my overwhelmed life.
This episode of depression does not have a neat little bow to wrap up what I learned and gained through it – but I did learn and grow. I learned that doing small things count – even if the small things are just dishes and laundry. I Iearned that even in sad seasons, there are joyful moments. I learned about the faithfulness of the Lord, the perseverance of prayer, and the beauty of worship even when all you want to do is crawl into a corner and cry. I grew in my faith more during this season than I had since finishing Bible college and having children. And I learned to accept my limitations, one of which was that I could not pull myself out of my depression on my own – I needed help which, for me, meant counseling and medication.
More lessons from my last major episode of depression will come next time. But I don’t want to leave this time of soul-baring without sharing some tips for living with depression – and overcoming it. So, here’s my Top Five:
- See your doctor – and maybe a counselor. Don’t expect to be able to handle depression on your own. It isn’t a weakness or a failure – it’s a strength to realize when you need help.
- Don’t stop spiritual habits: prayer, church, Bible study, choir, nursery, serving at a soup kitchen. Whatever you do to feed your spirit, continue to do it – even when it feels impossible. Make yourself do it – you need the strength it builds.
- Count success in small steps. You got up today and showered and dressed and didn’t let any of your children die from neglect or play in traffic. That’s a successful day. Don’t worry that you didn’t write/sew/bake/clean/whatever. Take great pleasure in small victories.
- If you knew me, you’d know how ridiculous this sounds. I am the poster child for non-athletic. But I’m not talking an hour a day at the gym (although if that works for you, great!). Take a walk; ride a bike; jog beside a lake; dance to some great music (when no-one is looking if you prefer). Just move your body. Exercise is great for battling those chemical imbalances in your brain that are so much a part of depression.
- Finally, if you ever feel that you just cannot go on, that it’s all too much, and everyone you know would be better off without you – TELL SOMEONE! Anyone: husband, wife, adult children, parents, pastor or another spiritual leader, co-worker, friend, anyone. Just tell someone. That is the first step towards getting help. Suicide is never the right road.
Depression is an insidious soul-cancer, sucking the life out of all that is beautiful. But it is not all-powerful; Jesus is. This, more than anything, is the lesson I learned in this middle season of my depression-roller-coaster life. Jesus is more: more powerful, more understanding, more loving. Cling to him, as I learned to do, and depression can eventually become a memory – as it has in this season of my life.