Depression at Night

dark darkness loneliness mystery
Photo by Engin Akyurt on Pexels.com

Depression always feels heavier at night. And I just wanna be alone.

I love my husband deeply, but right now, I want to crawl under the covers in a pitch-black bedroom by myself. I’m sorry, honey. No offense intended.

I don’t want to talk to anyone. I want to be alone with my thoughts and my mood. This is not a healthy choice, but it is an overwhelming desire.

Depression has a way of telling me that I’m all alone anyway, and pressuring me to feel it. This disease wants me to ruminate – to think dark thoughts over and over. Or to think no thoughts at all – to let my mind be blank. That’s not easy for me to do normally, but it’s pretty simple in my depressed state.

I would love to huddle in a space where no light gets in. To sit in silence and blackness. To be covered by a blanket of dark. To hear nothing but the echo of no sound. So that I can listen for my heartbeat – a reminder that I’m alive and fighting. Barely. But fighting nonetheless.

I’m drawn to the corner of a room, or the floor of a closet, or in the dark next to a large heavy piece of furniture, such as a dresser or bookshelf. I’d like to just sit there, with my knees pulled up to my chin and my arms wrapped around my legs. I’d be wearing my most comfortable clothes – soft sweats and fluffy socks. My eyes would slowly adjust to the small amount of light filtering in, but I’d be surrounded by the dark. It would be comforting.

Depression often brings its friend, anxiety. A hollowness behind my sternum, an emptiness in my stomach. My long-time therapist recently encouraged me to identify where in my body I’m feeling my emotions, as they are a whole-body experience. So anxiety is in the center of my body.

Depression is on my shoulders, pulling me down and forward. Like a thick pile of blankets would feel – heavy and warm.

Isolation is a very familiar feeling, comforting, enticing. I’ve felt it before, and I long for the peace it brings. But two things I know: it’s not a lasting peace. And I’m not truly alone – Jesus is with me.

The stillness that depression brings invariably turns to negative thinking, to self-accusation, to feelings of hopelessness. My mind goes from no thoughts to condemning thoughts to lonely thoughts.

And the presence of Jesus – the Light of the World – counters the darkness. He longs to comfort me in my isolation, to remind me that He will never leave me, and that nothing – not even the darkness – can separate me from His love.

I could ask the darkness to hide me, and the light around me to become night—but even in darkness I cannot hide from you. To you the night shines as bright as day. Darkness and light are the same to you. Psalm 139:11-12, NLT

**************

I realize this is a “dark” entry. It’s how I feel as I go to bed at night when I’m in the midst of a depressive episode. I felt this way, too, every day of my worst depression back in 2009.  Fortunately, these feelings don’t last all day long anymore!

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.

Passion

I’ve been thinking about passion lately. Not the kind I have for my husband, though thinking of that is good😉. No, I mean the kind of passion that motivates me, sparks me, keeps me awake at night in anticipation and planning.

I recently realized that there’s a big difference between liking my job and being passionate about it.

I had a job that I was passionate about for many years: my job at the Children’s Museum of La Crosse. I admit, though, after 11+ years, I was ready for the change that inevitably came because of our move from the state. I was ready to not be working. As much as I enjoyed the kids and field trips and exhibits, and I loved my co-workers, I was ready for a break. I could tell, towards the end of my tenure there, that my enthusiasm had waned a little. I suppose that’s normal.

I worked as a receptionist/administrative assistant for a year and a half, and I really enjoyed that job. It was rewarding to be the first face/voice for folks contacting the church, and typing out the prayers for the bulletin greatly enriched my life personally. There, too, I loved the people I worked with.

I like the job I have now, particularly lately, as I have some administrative responsibilities. I like working with my student and family, and subbing with other students keeps it fresh and new. And I like my coworkers, here, too. I like the job, but it’s not my passion.

For a while, I felt like I could only stay in the job if I was passionate about it. But I’m realizing that it’s enough to like it, to be good at it, to enjoy the encounters as they occur. And it’s okay that I find my passion other than in my work.

My passion – the spark in my life – is this peer-led support group for folks with mental illness, and their loved ones. Our Fresh Hope group starts in January, and we’re in the final phase of preparing for our first meeting. It’s exciting! For me, it feels like a burden that God has placed on my heart is finally taking flight. Like the dream He gave me is coming true. And while I feel inadequate for the job, I realize that I will be totally dependent on God’s power for any good thing that will result. Therefore, I’m expecting great things!

I have other passions. My kids, of course, and everything about them and their lives. Having deep friendships – that’s a passion, though a bit elusive still. I’m passionate about Jesus, and the way He’s worked in my life to enable me to share those lessons with others.

I’m not passionate about activities – not about exercising or reading or cooking or even knitting or blogging, though I enjoy those last two. My passion is about people, relationships, and connections.

When I think about the things that truly make me happy, they’re all about being with people. People I love. People I care about. People I’ve walked through life with. The people I work with at my job and where I volunteer, the folks who will come to the Fresh Hope group, the Fresh Hope Facilitator team, my family – these are my passions.

Jobs are good. Passions are life-giving. I’m fortunate to have both!

The Lord is…

…my rock, my fortress and my savior; 2 Samuel 22:2b

…a shelter for the oppressed, a refuge in times of trouble. Psalm 9:9

…always with me. I will not be shaken, for he is right beside me. Psalm 16:8b

…my rock, my fortress, and my savior; my God is my rock, in whom I find protection. He is my shield, the power that saves me, and my place of safety. Psalm 18:2

…my shepherd, I have all that I need. He lets me rest in green meadows; he leads me beside peaceful streams. He renews my strength. He guides me along right paths, bringing honor to his name. Even when I walk through the dark valley of death, I will not be afraid, for you are close beside me. Your rod and your staff protect and comfort me. You prepare a feast for me in the presence of my enemies. You honor me by anointing my head with oil. My cup overflows with blessings. Surely your goodness and unfailing love will pursue me all the days of my life, and I will live in the house of the Lord forever. Psalm 23

…my light and my salvation – so why should I be afraid? The Lord is my fortress, protecting me from danger, so why should I tremble? Psalm 27:1

…my strength and shield. I trust him with all my heart. He helps me, and my heart is filled with joy…Psalm 28:7

…close to the brokenhearted; he rescues those whose spirits are crushed. Psalm 34:18

…my fortress; my God is the mighty rock where I hide. Psalm 92:22

…a great God, a great King above all gods. Psalm 95:3

…God! He made us, and we are his. We are his people, the sheep of his pasture. Psalm 100:3

…good. His unfailing love continues forever, and his faithfulness continues to each generation. Psalm 100:5

…compassionate and merciful, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love. Psalm 103:8

…for me, so I will have no fear. What can mere people do to me? Psalm 118:6

…my strength and my song; he has given me victory. Psalm 118:14

…close to all who call on him, yes, to all who call on him in truth. Psalm 145:18

…righteous in everything he does; he is filled with kindness. Psalm 147:15

…your security. He will keep your foot from being caught in a trap. Proverbs 3:26

…a faithful God. Blessed are those who wait for his help. Isaiah 30:18b

…the everlasting God, the Creator of all the earth. He never grows weak or weary. No one can measure the depths of his understanding. Isaiah 40:28

…good. His faithful love endures forever!… Jeremiah 33:11b

…my inheritance; therefore I will hope in him! The Lord is good to those who depend on him, to those who search for him. Lamentations 3:24-25

…good, a strong refuge when trouble comes. He is close to those who trust in him. Nahum 1:7

…is living among you. He is a mighty savior. He will take delight in you with gladness. With his love, he will calm all your fears. He will rejoice over you with joyful songs. Zephaniah 3:17

…the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. 2 Corinthians 3:17

…faithful; he will strengthen you and guard you from the evil one. 2 Thessalonians 3:3

…full of tenderness and mercy. James 5:11b

In the midst of my depression, it can be hard to see anything other than my deep dark despair. But if I can raise my eyes long enough to look at Jesus, to see that He is with me, that He has never left me, if I can see who the Lord is, I am encouraged and lifted from the pit. Even if it’s only for a short time, I am lighter and refreshed.


all Scripture from YouVersion App, version 8.0.8, New Living Translation

10 Days and counting…and gratitude

So it’s been 10 days since the doctor’s appointment and I don’t feel any better. The depression is not lighter.

I realize that 7-10 Days is kind of arbitrary. Feeling the effects of a change in meds can take longer. But I had really hoped…

I wasn’t planning to go to my small group today – was going to text the leader and say I wasn’t coming. But then one of my daily devotionals talked about fellowship. And since I had just asked God to make it clear if it was okay that I skip, I felt like He answered me directly – “Go!” So I went.

And I was blessed for going. We spent time in worship – just listening to praise songs and entering prayer and the Presence of the Lord. I always have my journal, and I wrote down some of the words to the worship songs, as well as praise to some names of God. Redeemer. King of kings. Lord. Holy God. Father. Creator. God of All. Protector. Provider.

I’m glad I went. I realized – again – that I’m not the only one struggling with loneliness. And Jesus knows my feelings, and I can feel Him draw near to me to comfort me.

He knows I’m not better after 10 days of the increased meds. But He loves me in the middle of my mess. He is acquainted with sorrow. He’s not surprised by my sadness. He sits with me in my isolation. He tells me that He is with me – I am not alone.

And as my therapist reminded me the other day, I am more than my depression symptoms. I may not feel like it, but I am greater than my depression.

I am working on thanksgiving. Having a grateful heart. It seems to me that gratitude will build contentment, which will fight bitterness. I want a thankful heart. One of gratitude for my daily blessings, large and small. I’m writing them down, to make them concrete. I desire to fight depression with gratitude. Oh Lord God, help me to make it so!

🎶 Give thanks, with a grateful heart.

Give thanks, to the Holy One.

Give thanks, because He’s given Jesus Christ, His Son.

And now, let the weak say “I am strong.”

Let the poor say “I am rich,

because of what the Lord has done, for us.” 🎶

So it’s been 10 days. And it may be 10 more. Or longer. Until the depression lifts. But in the meantime, I will continue to praise and thank God for His blessings. Friends who know me and love me anyway. A husband who supports me always. My kids. My work. My home. Medications. Moments of sunshine. New friends who want to get to know me better. My Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, the Lover of My Soul, the Giver of Grace. May He receive all the glory. Amen.