Depression and Me – Part 2

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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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

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