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!

Not much to say

“They” say that women use 30,000 words in a day, while men use only 10,000. This sets up quite a difference of communication patterns between the sexes!

I used to talk a lot. It was an ongoing joke that the moment my husband shut off the lamp for sleep, I’d want to talk, tell him about my day, ask deep philosophical questions. Sometimes, he’d even turn the light back on in hopes I’d wind down!

But since my experiences with depression, I am much more quiet. I’m content to listen to conversations going on around me, and don’t feel the need to chime in at every opportunity. I’m happy to observe – I don’t need to contribute every thought I have.

It’s been a noticeable change. Several friends – especially those I don’t see regularly – will ask me if I’m ok. They’ve commented that I seem so quiet. Even my husband will ask me if everything is alright if I don’t say anything for a while.

I think the change is due to several factors:

Firstly, I think I’m a better listener than I used to be. I’m content to hear about others’ successes and troubles. I’m much quicker to pick up on subtext – those behind-the-scene  feelings. My therapist once told me that I’d find myself able to spot depression in others, since I’ve been through it myself. I think this is true – I sense a person’s unspoken sadness or struggle. So I find myself listening instead of talking.

Secondly, I simply have less to say. There’s just not much going on in my day-to-day to share. My hours are pretty quiet, and often silent. If I have lots of thoughts, I try to write them in my journal, so I don’t seem to have the need to verbally share like I used to.

Lastly, I’m more content with silence. That’s a benefit I gained from depression – being still. I pray, I journal, I don’t need noise to fill every moment. In fact, I usually look forward to my down-time, the peace that comes with silence.

On the Myers-Briggs test, I used to be an extreme Extrovert, which means I get my batteries charged from being around other people as opposed to being alone. But since depression, I’ve moved from the far extreme to closer to the Introvert, where my energy comes from my personal down-time. On the continuum, I’m still an E, but much closer to an I than before. I still need people, connection and community, to recharge my energy, but I’m more content being alone than I used to be.

This past week really tested that observation. My Tuesday small group was cancelled due to weather. I had to cancel my therapy appointment – where I talk most of the hour – due to illness. So my week was much quieter than normal. I still had my students/work, but that’s not socializing or even real conversation. By Friday, I was feeling the silence as loneliness, and I was crying because of it. I felt so alone – way past enjoying the silence. Instead, I was craving that connection and community I mentioned earlier. I journaled pages about feeling lonely. I cried out to God, and reminded myself that He was with me – I wasn’t completely alone. Still, it took me several hours to adjust to a week’s worth of quiet.

Then my husband got home from his business trip, and let me “talk his ear off.” And I felt so much better!

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.

Depression is like…

A snake. Hiding in the grass, ready to strike when I’m not alert. Or even if I’m watching for it, it bites me. And I’m surprised. Why am I surprised?

A dark cloud. Bringing shadows to my everyday. Everything looks gray. Sounds are muffled. My focus is inward and downcast, and I can’t see the sun.

An old frenemy. Familiar in its symptoms, luring me into a false sense of security. I’ve been here before. It’s so subtle that I don’t even feel it creep into my life. It somehow feels comfortable.

A heavy blanket. Pulling me downward. I feel like I’m hunched over, under the weight, the heaviness, of loneliness and hopelessness. I want to crawl under the blanket and not come out.

An anchor. Gripping the depths of the deep and pulling me under. I can’t get enough air in my lungs. I might drown.

A liar. Telling me I’m all alone. I’m worthless. I will always feel this way. These are not truths, but they feel real.

A deep well.  I try to climb up but the walls are slippery and I can’t get a good grip. Medicine and therapy and time will help me reach a ledge, but the climb out is slow.

Every transition in my life brings the possibility of another depressive episode. I was alert, I thought, but it still caught me by surprise.  I’m mad at myself about that. I thought I was on guard.

When will I learn that depression lurks in my life, waiting to sneak in and take over? How many times must I go through this before I can beat it?

That’s the thing. I don’t think I’ll ever beat it. I’ll always have it, waiting on the fringes of my life to jump in and make a mess of me. So I need to learn to roll with it, get help when I need it, and live fully when I’m in remission.

And I need to remember to pray. God knows what I’m going through. He’s with me in the depths. He loves me even in my mess. He could choose to heal me today, or He can use this in my life to help others.

Father God, help me to be content with Your plan for depression in my life. Help me to be a light to others. To speak out. To fight with Your strength. To seek help. To bring You my pain and sadness, and let You heal me as You choose.

 

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!