Grieving vs Depression

I’m posting this because of its timeliness for me. My Aunt Peggy, my mom’s younger sister, died two weeks ago, and I’m grieving. She’s in heaven celebrating with Jesus, so I’m not without hope (I Thess 4:13). But that doesn’t fill the hole she left behind. And it reminds me of how close we were to losing my mom last year. I’m at that age where parents die, and it’s hard.

It’s important that I monitor myself to be sure my grief doesn’t turn to depression. The timeliness of this blog post has to have been God’s perfect timing.

Click here to read: Staying Stable While Grieving by Pastor Brad Hoefs

Memories

The funny thing about memories is they can’t be trusted. Images burned into the brain may not be real. Details can be lost.

I was recently writing about a mental health day I took, early on in my depression. I wrote about how luxurious the cool sheets felt as I woke up. I remembered the sun streaming in the front windows. I recalled listening to praise music, writing lyrics down in my journal. I had a vivid memory of turning up the music and turning myself around, with my arms raised above my head in praise to God as tears warmed my cheeks. I made a lovely dinner for my husband and me. It was a gentle memory, full of joy and light.

But when I opened my journal to that day, my writings revealed that my memories were wrong, distorted.

I actually woke with anxiety. The morning was rainy, and matched my depressed mood. I watched a movie in an effort to make myself cry. I drove to the local state park and sat in the rain, listening to the melancholic sound of drops on the windshield and dozing to sad music. I’d forgotten all about the sad morning.

The worship part is true. I did push the coffee table out of the way and dance to praise music. I did write lyrics in my journal. And I did make dinner, but for the kids and me – my husband was out of town.

I think the memory is the way God wants it. He doesn’t want me to dwell on the negative, so He helped me remember the worship part of the day

On many occasions, God called the Israelites to remember. To build monuments to recall His faithfulness, provision, and grace. To worship Him fully, with heart and soul and mind. Maybe that’s what He was doing for me. Maybe that’s why what I remembered was the worship, the praise to God for His love and care.

I like the memory.

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!

Email to an old therapist

I’m not sure if I’m going to send this email. I don’t want to bug you. But I started to write it last night as I was going to bed, and it stuck with me until morning. So here it is. 
We move across the country in five days. I’m still excited, and have peace of mind about the decision to move. That’s what we always pray – for God’s sense of peace in our decisions. And we have that. 
I didn’t think I’d feel anything about leaving VA. But I’ve had an impact here – in bringing and starting and leading the Fresh Hope group (support group for those with mental health challenges and those who love someone like that – freshhope.us), and in my volunteering at the Daily Living Center (adult daycare). Both groups gave me farewells this week – they said very affirming and humbling things. I’m really going to miss the friendships and the leadership opportunities that they afforded, as well as the relationship aspects. I’ve said goodbyes to friends at church – did I even know I had friends at church?!
We’re going to a farewell dinner tonight – with people my husband used to work with, and my two other friends here. They’re not long relationships like I had in WI, but friends nonetheless. Which is more than I’ll have when I get to CO. I know some people there, so it won’t be a completely blank slate. But the pressure is on me and me alone to make friends – there’s no job or kids to provide an introduction into a new situation. 
You know me and change – I always find it hard. And I’ve had to move so many times in my adult life. Each move has begun with a mild depression, except the one that started my entire journey with depression – that one was deep and dark and long. That move, which should have been simple since I was moving back to a place I had lived before, was the impetus for years of the battle with depression. Of course, if it hadn’t been for that, I never would have met you. And you counseled me through all those years to a healthier me, for which I am forever thankful.
Seems my thoughts always turn toward you, and the safe place of your office, sitting slouched on your couch, when my mood is down. And despite my excitement for the move, my mood was down last night and this morning. 
I’ve really liked my most recent therapist – she understood me quickly, though we didn’t go through depression together. I’ve said goodbye to her, but she’s offered to counsel me if I need her before I find someone out there. Until her, I feel like I’ve never really had anyone besides you, so this is new. Maybe it means I won’t call you in distress, if I have distress. Will I have distress? I’m trying not to assume so. 
Anyway, I wanted to touch base, as I always do when I’m facing change. So maybe I’ll hit send after all.