What is Depression?

According to Mayo Clinic, “Depression is a mood disorder that causes a persistent feeling of sadness and loss of interest. Also called major depressive disorder or clinical depression, it affects how you feel, think and behave and can lead to a variety of emotional and physical problems. You may have trouble doing normal day-to-day activities, and sometimes you may feel as if life isn’t worth living.” (mayoclinic.org)

Depression is more than just feeling down or blue for a few days. There are strict criteria for a diagnosis of Major Depressive Disorder, including 5 characteristics that must be present for two weeks or longer to result in such a diagnosis.

My depression started as adjustment disorder.  That’s a diagnosis for when a stressful situation – in my case, relocating – creates out-of-the-norm reactions for such an occurrence.  Usually, adjustment disorder resolves itself within a few months. My story is that I had moved back to the town where we had lived for many years, and while I knew that relationships would be different, things just didn’t pick up where they’d left off. Yes, I went back to the woman who had always cut my hair. And I found a new doctor who I liked very much. But my friendships had changed. The church leadership was different, and I wasn’t supported in my volunteering with Vacation Bible School, which I had previously directed many times. I was lonely even with old friends around, and everyone was so busy with their lives, I felt alone and isolated.

I was easily irritated, though I tried not to let it show. I was anxious and worried about a lot of things, which had never been a problem for me before. I began to experience physical symptoms – backaches and headaches. Stomachaches, feeling a hole in the center of my body.  I had trouble sleeping – either too much or not enough. It became a chore to do simple things, like take a shower.

I got my old job back, and found a new church where I was accepted and given leadership in Women’s Ministry. From the outside, all things looked good. But my mood was consistently low and I had no joy.

When the adjustment disorder didn’t resolve within in a timely manner, it became Major Depressive Disorder (MDD). My mood continued to darken, I found it very hard to concentrate and focus, and life seemed blah. I began to feel hopeless, like things would never improve.

In my case, depression was a progression from adjustment disorder to MDD. For others, it can seemingly come out of nowhere. It can be related to past hurts or abuses. It can manifest itself as anger. There is no single cause of depression, which makes it difficult to treat.

For me, the prayers of others, the proper medication, and cognitive behavioral therapy and talk therapy were hugely instrumental in my healing. It wasn’t an easy path – it took several years to find the right medications.  But that’s a topic for another blog post!

Celebrate with me!

I had a realization a couple of days ago: I’ve been an entire year without a depressive episode! That’s the first time in eleven years!

Yes, I had some bumps. And some down days. But that’s part of living; that’s not depression.

I attribute this milestone to several factors.

  1. I take my medications faithfully. And if I feel myself dipping towards depression, I tell my psychiatrist so he can modify my meds.
  2. I was actively involved in a support group: Fresh Hope. We met weekly – folks who struggle with mental health issues and loved ones – and we talked and encouraged one another. More importantly, we reminded each other of the hope we have in Jesus – hope that allows us to live well in spite of a mental health diagnosis.
  3. I wrote a WRAP – a plan that outlines my triggers, my indicators, my “plan of attack” if depression should resurface.
  4. I told my husband and friends if I was feeling low for more than a couple of days. Just saying it out loud helped.
  5. I prayed for strength. And my family and friends prayed for me too.
  6. I stayed in God’s Word each day. The Bible is full of the hope we have in Christ and how much God loves us.
  7. I talked to a therapist regularly. I know myself well enough to recognize that I really benefit from talk therapy. In fact, I’m without a therapist right now, due to just having moved here a couple of months ago, and I can tell by my mood that I really need to talk to a counselor.
  8. I got out my gratitude journal again, and resumed recording those things for which I’m thankful. Studies show that counting blessings is effective in fighting depression.

I’m celebrating this victory, and hope you’ll join me!

Wanted: Christian Counselor

I’m in need of a Christian therapist.

It’s been over two months since my final appointment with my therapist in Virginia. Since then, I’ve been busy making the move to Colorado and finding grocery stores, the Post Office and the library. I’ve met women at Moms In Prayer and a knitting club. I’ve gone out with new friends for drinks and visited with my son and his girlfriend. So I’ve kept busy.

I’m doing pretty well in making contacts. I’ve found the person to cut my hair. I have a doctor’s appointment at the end of this month, and I’ll get a referral for a psychiatrist to manage my meds with me. I have the names of audiologists for my hearing aids. I don’t need a dentist for five more months, and there’s no need for an optometrist. But I need a mental health therapist.

I’m worried that my depression will return within the next few months. I want to get to know him/her before such a thing happens. I felt a little funky yesterday, and it made me realize that I need someone to talk to, who will help me with these feelings and anticipations.

I know that I really benefit from having a mental health counselor to help me process my thoughts and emotions. It’s great to share with my husband and friends, but I really thrive if I have the professional on my team. And I want this person to see me mentally healthy, not just in crisis.

It’s important to me that s/he have a personal faith in Christ, as that is a huge part of who I am. I often need help differentiating between depression and spiritual battles, so someone who understands who Jesus is to me is critical.

I’ve got the name of one person, and she’s in my medical network. So perhaps I should just schedule with her, and see if we’re a good fit. I gotta start somewhere!

How to talk about mental illness in the church

I wish people in the church would talk more about mental health. Depression and anxiety and other mental illnesses continue to plague 1 in 5 people. 1 in 5! That means statistically, someone just down the row at Sunday morning service is fighting for their mental health. With a number that high, it’s hard to believe that stigma still surrounds the issue of mental health.

When I was struggling with depression, I found it very hard to be honest about my disease at church. “How are you?” someone would ask as they passed me in the hallway. “Fine,” was the easy answer. But what if I had said, “I’m having a tough time.” Well, that puts pressure on the other person to stop and listen. And I don’t want to interrupt them as they hurry to pick up their kids from Sunday School. Besides, I have Jesus as my Savior, so I should be fine, right?

Here’s the twisted thinking of a Christian depressive:  I’m in this all alone; No one can help me; I can’t tell anyone because they don’t have time to listen and I don’t want to burden to them; I’m a Christian so I shouldn’t be depressed; I have Jesus and all the blessings of heaven, so what do I have to be sad about? Maybe this is due to sin in my life; Where is God? Is He even here?

The truth is, I have Jesus, yes, but that doesn’t change the fact that I live in a broken world, and I am going to face troubles (“In this world you will have trouble…”) That includes mental health issues, like depression or anxiety or bipolar disorder. While my disease is mostly invisible (like heart trouble or diabetes) and there is no outward sign of illness, like a cast for a broken bone, the pain is very real and often very deep. And very isolating.

To share about my mental illness took the tenacity of several friends, who kept asking if I was ok. They noticed that something about my mood was off. I wasn’t as cheerful and upbeat as usual, and close friends began to notice the changes in my personality. Additionally, I had been talking with a counselor, and it became easier for me to admit out loud that I wasn’t okay.

Still, it took time.  I didn’t tell everybody, just those who kept asking. And it took a level of trust on my part, that the friends I told would understand and wouldn’t judge me as being a failure as a Christian. That they would see I was hurting, even as I was trying to trust the Lord for my healing.

And I have good friends. They were patient with me, and let me share as I was able to be more open.  They didn’t judge, and they accepted that I was struggling with depression and it didn’t mean I was a bad Christian; I had an illness.

I think it also helps if the discussion of mental health in the church comes from the voice in the pulpit. It helps me to hear the church leadership say that it’s okay, God loves me in the middle of my mess, and I am not condemned due to my mental illness.

It’s also great if the church offers mental health support, like the peer group Fresh Hope. This support group encourages folks who struggle with mental health issues to live a healthy life in Christ, in spite of the mental health challenge. This group enabled me to talk about my struggles with others who understood. We encouraged each other to remember the hope we have in Christ, and we shared our burdens and steps toward wellness.

So to talk about mental health in church, it takes:

  • time – for the person struggling to be able to share
  • time – for the listener to dedicate to understanding
  • honesty – for the one with the illness to be able to vulnerable and open
  • trust – for confidentiality and kindness and acceptance
  • openness – from the church leadership to talk about mental health issues
  • support groups – to encourage and support others who struggle

Let’s talk about mental illness at church. Let’s offer encouragement and support to those struggling. Let’s show the world that we’re not about judgment – we’re about living well in Christ, in spite of having a mental health concern.

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:33 NIV

Anticipation

Expectancy. Looking forward. These words connote a positive contemplation. But what if the anticipation isn’t positive? Does that make it “dread?”

We’ve lived here in Colorado Springs now for just over a month. And as I’ve said before, we seem to have settled in quickly. I’m pretty sure we’ve found our church already, and I’ve signed up for Women’s Bible Study, which starts mid-January: a great way to meet women my age. I’m participating in a weekly prayer group of moms who gather to pray for their kids (Moms In Prayer), and that’s very rewarding – with the exception of a time while I was living in Virginia, I’ve been involved in this international ministry for 22 years! One of the women from that group has introduced me to some knitting clubs in the area – I’ll go next week. Finally, we met a couple through a mutual friend, and have gotten together with them several times: new friends!

So what am I dreading?

Well, I know my pattern. After 4-5 months of living in my new location, I descend into depression. At least, that’s the way it’s always been before. So as I look to the next several months, I’m concerned for my mental health.

I know this time could be an exception. I’m on a good combination of medicines. I’m reaching out to form new relationships. I’m hoping to get established with a therapist while I’m mentally healthy, so I’m prepared in case depression happens. I have access to past therapists if I need them. So I’m ready.

But it’s there. A little bit of dread. Of worry. Last time, those closest to me, and I myself, missed the early warning signs. So perhaps this anticipation is good – it has me alert and attentive.

“Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done.” Philippians‬ ‭4:6‬ ‭NLT‬‬

So that’s what I’ll do. I’ll pray about my concerns, and trust God that He’ll be with me, as He has been every other time.