Depression and Answered Prayer

I’ve struggled with depression for over ten years. I think I’ve had more than a dozen different depressive episodes, some much worse than others. In my hopeful moments, I begged God to not waste my pain, to allow me to use it to help others. But mostly, I couldn’t see anything good in my suffering.

For those of us who struggle with mental health, it’s very isolating. There’s still so much stigma surrounding mental illness: people don’t understand it. How could I be a Christian, let alone a leader and Bible Study teacher, and still be tormented by these feelings of uselessness and hopelessness? What kind of witness was I to my friends and coworkers? A failure! I felt very alone, even at church.

I didn’t want church friends to know – I didn’t want to be judged as sinful. I didn’t want work friends to know – I didn’t want to be judged as weak. But as the illness progressed, it became more and more obvious that I was unable to do my jobs. Others had to start picking up the pieces I dropped. Not to mention the days I didn’t have the strength to go to work or Bible Study at all, so I’d call in “sick.” I always felt horrible, knowing they would have to scramble to cover my responsibilities as well as their own. But I couldn’t help it. I was unable to leave the security of my bed and the safety of my home. I couldn’t face glaring lights, traffic, or people.

I didn’t know how God was going to redeem this, make anything good come from my pain. And as I got deeper into the illness, it became harder and harder to hide from the people around me.

So I thought God might work through awareness, as my friends saw me struggle. Perhaps I could give them a glimpse, an understanding, of what depression is and does. Maybe that was how God would use my pain for others’ benefit. Maybe, by being ill and unable to hide it, I could reduce stigma. “See? It can happen to anyone!”

In the darkest times, though, I didn’t care if others understood, or what God might do with my struggles. I was simply trying to survive, to hang on through another day of excruciating mental pain and feelings of anxiety and hopelessness, with physical manifestations of weariness, head and body aches and stomach pain. I dreaded going to bed because it just meant another day of the same tomorrow. Unless perhaps I wouldn’t wake up…the thought was appealing. I begged God for the Second Coming – the only way in which I could see my pain ending. That or death, which I was too afraid to try, though I thought of it often.

Depression is that way, trying to get me to think that no one understands, no one cares, and it will never end. In the very darkest times, I even wondered where God was, and felt like He’d abandoned me in my dark cave of negative self-worth.

But God had not abandoned me. Jesus was right by my side, and He wasn’t tapping His foot and telling me to “hurry up and get better.” He was sitting alongside me in my pain, comforting me and reminding me that He loves me so much. He was crucified for me, and for the pain of depression. He had died on the cross to give me eternal Hope. And as I sl-ow-ly emerged from the darkness of depression, God gave me the opportunity to serve Him with my illness.

Fresh Hope is a peer-led support group for people with a mental health challenge – and their loved ones. Just this week, I was part of a team which started a Fresh Hope Group at our church. The organization is about creating a community where we learn to live a rich, faith-filled life, in spite of having a mental health challenge. It’s for anyone who struggles with mental illness – depression, anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder, bipolar, PTSD, schizo-affective disorder – and for anyone who loves someone who is hurting in this way.

“And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.” Romans 8:28, NLT.  He’s doing that for me through this Fresh Hope Ministry – working all my pain from depression for my good and for others.  In Fresh Hope, we’ll encourage each other, and comfort one another with the same comfort we’ve received from God (see II Corinthians 1:3-4).

I have suffered, and therefore have the privilege of understanding. Of having gone through the valley of the shadow of death, and emerging on the other side. I can relate to the hurting who come to the group. God is using my illness to help others. And further healing me in the process.

Rough Day

Here’s the thing about living in the shadow of depression. It’s always there, lurking, waiting to take over.  Some days, I have to fight hard to not give up any ground.

I’ve been in a funk for a week or two, but today is worse. Lots of tears. Feeling unwanted, unimportant, unnecessary, unneeded. Very alone.  These are lies from the enemy, but they still feel true. I have to remind myself, again, that I am loved and cherished and valued by Jesus. Feelings are just feelings, not truth. God’s Word is truth, and He declares me His beloved child.

I’ve written the funk off to:

a) upcoming winter, including longer cold days

b) less sunshine

c) husband gone on 10-day business trip

d) hormones

But I’m afraid I’m spiraling again. Or could descend into depression if I’m not careful. I see my psych doc this week, so you can be sure I’ll tell him.

I tried a therapist here a few times – just didn’t click with her.

I’ve joined a couple of ladies’ groups. One through our church – I’m the youngest by 15+ years. Was hoping to find something more my age. But they’re all very nice, and I enjoy the conversation. The other group is sort of a Bible Study/book club. A friend and I are the outsiders to this group that seems to know each other pretty well. Hard to “break in.” But in both cases, I’m trying to reach out and connect.

Work is fine, though my already part-time hours are diminishing. It’s ok – I’m working to give myself something to do. I was hoping to connect with co-workers, but the job doesn’t really lend itself to that. Still, I like my students, and think I’m helping them.

I know that I have the power to make changes in my life – add volunteering or regular exercise – I also know that I’ve said these things before. I could pick up my knitting, but I made a mistake in the scarf I started and don’t know how to fix it. So the project stays in my knitting bag, where it’s been for several months. Even though part of me wants to knit again.

The problem is that I don’t have the desire to change. Apathy has a-hold of me. It’s easier to stay in my isolation, my long lonely days, than it is to try another new thing. So days like today, where I only have one late afternoon commitment, can drone on.

Brief sunshine, then the sun disappeared behind the clouds again. Literally and figuratively.

Getting better 

I’ve been on my increased dosage of new meds for one week, but I think I’m seeing a difference. I think they’re working! I went from tears to apathy to caring a little bit. I’d say that’s improvement.

The doctors will say that a person won’t see any progress with meds for 4-6 weeks, but I know I often respond more quickly. I think I’ve seen improvement in just 7 days. My husband thinks so too.

I’ve had a busy week with work and the start of Bible study, and I managed it all well. I “put myself out there” at Bible study, initiating some conversations and welcoming others. I went to a friend’s Open House. I had another friend over for breakfast and socializing. I struck up a conversation with a stranger. I’m reaching out, and that’s a definite improvement over the isolation that depression brings.

I don’t see my new therapist for another week and a half, but I scheduled a distance-therapy session with my old therapist for Monday. I’m really looking forward to that. And there’s another improvement – looking forward to something.

When I’m in the midst of depression, it feels like it “will always be this way.” And that’s a very familiar feeling, like a comfortable sweater which I can wrap around me and cozy into. There’s no real desire to get better, because the illness feels familiar, and it’s easy. Getting better requires an effort. And effort takes energy, which I don’t have when I’m depressed. It takes energy to get out of bed, to shower, to care about the day. It takes lots of energy to engage in conversation, to be interested in what another person is sharing. It’s easier to isolate, to stay home in silence. To listen to sad music or nothing at all. To sleep and hide away from the day and its demands. To refuse invitations, to be alone. Those are all features of depression in my life.

But it’s worth the effort. It’s good to reach out, toward wellness. I’m a more complete person when I’m mentally healthy. I’m more interesting, and certainly more interested in others. I care about them, which is my real nature. Depression steals the real me away, and makes it seem like it’s ok. But it’s better to be the real me, to be invested in others, to pray for them and care about them and want to be with them.

I’m thanking God for these small improvements, knowing they will lead to bigger ones. Thanking God for medications. For my psych doctor who cares and keeps track of me. For friends who reach out to me even when I’m less than myself. For my husband who stands with me through mental illness and health. To Jesus, for understanding and loving me anyway.

New versus old

I met with a therapist today, on the recommendation of my psych doc. It was just intake, so it’s hard to judge how we’ll get along.

I miss my old therapist. The one who knows me better than I know myself. I want to talk to him and have him explain the thoughts in my head that I don’t understand, the thoughts that I don’t even realize I’m having. The thoughts that come with depression but I don’t recognize. I was with him for eight years – to say he understands me is a gross understatement.

I miss my other therapist – the woman who loved Jesus and let that flow from her onto me. The counselor who always gave Godly counsel, who pointed me to Christ each time we met. I only worked with her for a year, but she, too, was a huge help as I went through the transition of moving to Florida, and then a depressive episode.

I don’t want to start over with someone new. I don’t want to go through this depression with a stranger.

I had a phone call from a friend today, and she gave good advice to not compare. Not compare what I have here with what I had before. We were talking about churches, but the same probably applies to everything in my current life. I need to live in the present, and simply be grateful for the past, instead of constantly measuring everything by what used to be.

That’s so hard to do. I don’t have much in the way of friends here – one, really – though I’ve lived here for over a year now. I didn’t connect with women in Bible Study last Spring, but I’m going to try it again. Not having a church home is very distressing – leaves a huge hole in my life. I haven’t been in any kind of leadership role for over two years now – I really miss facilitating a small group.

So I look back at my friendships with longing. I miss my old churches. My old jobs. My old activity level. I don’t need to be going a thousand miles an hour, but anything is better than hours alone, which is what I face now.

I feel like these posts keep saying the same thing, so I can tell I’m processing this idea of living mindfully. Fully invested in here and now. So so hard to do!

Something to look foward to

I had an epiphany yesterday: I have very little that I am looking forward to.

This is a rude realization – it reeks of hopelessness and hints at depression. It leaves me feeling empty and sad.

And I see that it needs to be remedied.

I’m not talking about planning a vacation, or what museums to explore on the weekends. It’s not about looking forward to a trip, even a trip to see my kids.

What I crave is people. Interactions with others. Social relationships. Fellowship, as discussed in today’s sermon, where you give yourself to others, and they give themselves to you. I miss the opportunity to be in ministry, to be in leadership. To serve others. To be with others.

My job is not filling the need I had hoped – to connect with co-workers and to forge relationships. Instead, I work with an individual, do the paperwork, and go home. Very little to no interaction with anyone other than my student. Not what I was looking for in a job.

I could turn my attention to volunteering. Perhaps I should register with the local hospital, and find some hours that fill my days with people.

I am enjoying my Bible Study and look forward to Thursdays,  I also look expectantly to lunch dates, or chiropractic appointments, or anything else that gets me out of the house during the otherwise long days.

I need to find hope in my day-to-day. To have things that make getting out of bed worth it. I admit that I stay in bed many mornings because I have nothing I need to get up for.

What if I joined a gym? Would I look forward to walking on the treadmill, next to others walking too? I know I appreciated and even looked forward to my physical therapy – maybe it would be the same. Maybe I would even make a friend or two.

How can I become more eager to get out of bed to meet with Jesus? My Bible Study helps with that, definitely. I am excited to see what God will teach me. But how do I translate that to daily living? To jumping out of bed so that I can meet with God in my quiet time? Is that enough to bolt me from my bed every morning? I reluctantly admit that it is not, at least not yet. Maybe that is an area where I am growing.

And as I keep saying, these things – relationships – take time.

So I’ll be excited to do my daily Bible Study. I’ll anticipate lunch with a friend. I’ll look into volunteering. And I’ll pray for God to bring me the enthusiasm to get going each day, to expect what and who He has for me.  Perhaps those friendships are coming, and can be something to look forward to!