Not giving in!

My new tattoo

I mentioned a few posts ago that I’m fighting depression. And that’s exactly what I’m doing – fighting!

My mood continues to want to pull down, but it hasn’t stayed there. I’m not walking in the deep dark yet. I’m still standing upright, and while I’d like to stay in bed each morning, I’m not. I’m getting up, getting dressed, and doing the tasks at hand.

This is good news! This is me fighting for mental health, not the mental illness of depression. This is me trying to live a rich and hope-filled life.

When my depression was at its worst, I would wake up under the dark cloud of depression. It was hard and heavy and lonely. I would struggle to find joy in anything, even my morning cup of coffee.

But this time around, it’s not as bad in the mornings. My mood deteriorates as the day progresses, but it doesn’t start down.

I’m not sure why it gets worse as the day wears on. I always notice it in the car, when I’m driving for any longer than 10 minutes. I think it may have to do with being alone. Don’t get me wrong; my satellite radio is tuned almost exclusively to the contemporary Christian music station. My playlists are full of wonderful worship songs by Dove Music Award winners. I know lyrics to hundreds of songs by favorite worship artists. But it almost makes it worse, as I find some of the songs reminding me of darker times.

Per my friend’s suggestion, I’m trying to figure out how to listen to one of my Kindle books as I drive, instead of music. Maybe the distraction of a story will keep me from ruminating.

It could be that I’m just getting tired as the hours stretch toward evening. Perhaps that lowers my resistance, and it’s easier to succumb to the pull of depression, the spiraling thoughts, the loneliness.

Each day at 5:45pm, I get a text message to check in on my mood. It’s too bad that it’s in the afternoon when I’m feeling my worst, but maybe that’s the most accurate time to evaluate. Usually, my mood runs at 7-8-9. Lately, it’s been 5, dipping to 4. I’ll be concerned if it goes down to 3.

I haven’t been to see the psych doc yet – I feel like I’m battling successfully without a med adjustment. But should I have several days in a row of a real low mood-score, I promise to call his office.

In the meantime, I’m still looking for a new therapist. I hope that talking to someone will help me manage the depressive symptoms, and I won’t need more meds.

Lies and My Latest Counseling Appointment…

I’ve met with this guy twice. This week was my second visit, and I cried through the whole session. I don’t think I’m going back, but my tears aren’t why.

My crying felt good, actually. There was an issue I wanted to discuss – a lie I have believed – that I needed help navigating. I knew going in on Wednesday that there might be tears. So why did I even bother with makeup?!

I’ve been blaming myself for several years for something that wasn’t my fault. And I’ve known it wasn’t my fault – in my head. But my emotions didn’t agree, and I couldn’t shake the accusation and corresponding guilt. So I knew this was what I wanted to discuss at my counseling appointment. I wanted help with seeing the lie – I’m to blame – and replacing it with truth – I did the best I could and it’s not my fault.

My counselor heard my request, and prayed with me. He asked God to reveal the truth to me about the situation, and to replace the lie with the truth. (See Wikipedia: Theophostic Counseling).

I cried. Tears streamed from my closed eyes as I prayed along. I felt my head knowledge move to my heart; it’s not my fault; I did the best I could; God loves me and them completely, and longs to pour blessings on us, if I will only let go of my desire to control the situation.

I cried as these truths finally sank in. And that is exactly what I had hoped for from the therapy session. To replace the lies I was believing with the truth I was having a hard time accepting.

And then the counselor said that he thought there was more – another underlying lie that I was believing. And I balked.

I know the lie – I knew it was a lie even before I saw the therapist. I just wanted his help to move the truth from my head to my heart. I don’t want to go diving for more lies. This was a specific situation. In general, I don’t want my every thought to be traced back to my childhood. Which was good, by the way!

I know that I benefit from talk therapy, especially when I’m experiencing a depressive episode (which I currently am). I need a therapist who will listen to all the thoughts I express, take them and reflect them back to me in a way that makes sense. Put reason and logic and order to what feel like random depressive thoughts. I want a therapist who will say, “Depression sucks,” and then help me make sense of my feelings, put them into context for me.

I need therapy to accompany my medicine, especially when I’m fighting depression like I am right now. And I’ve been at this long enough to know what I need from my therapist.

And this latest guy isn’t it. He helped me with the issue I needed, but that’s all.

I need to find someone else.

Again?

Yesterday, I took the PHQ-9, which is the short questionnaire that doctors and psych docs give to determine if depression is present. I scored a 6, which means mild.

I’ve felt it for a little over a week. The downward pull towards feeling flat. So far, it’s just been moments each day, not all day every day. It’s actually depression if the symptoms are over the course of two weeks. So maybe I overestimated and my score is less than 6. But even 4 indicates mild depression. And the fact that I took the quiz in the first place is a red flag to me that I’m concerned about my mental health. I’m noticing that something is “off.”

In church this morning, I was wondering “Why?” I’m doing all the right things. I’ve been replacing negative thoughts with God’s truth. I know I’m deeply loved. I’m using my blue-light lamp. I’m writing daily in my gratitude journal. I’m in God’s Word every morning. I’m trying to make healthy food choices, mostly. So what caused this change? Why would it come back?

Maybe it’s that time of year – mid-winter. Even in VA, with warmer weather and more sunshine than in the Midwest, it’s still clearly winter, with all the naked trees and cold winds.

I just read an article that says that January 24th is the hardest day of the year. That’s right around the time I admitted to my husband and best friend that I was struggling.

My first psych doc told me that February is a very hard mental health month. Maybe I’m anticipating that. February has traditionally been a tough month for me. So maybe it’s “mental muscle memory.”

But for whatever reason, I’m fighting depression again. It’s not bad, not yet anyway. I promise not to wait too long, to call my psych doc if it continues. But he’ll just up one of my meds, which I don’t want to do!

I see a new therapist in two days, a Christian counselor. Maybe he’ll be able to help.

In the meantime, I’ll be honest with my husband about how I’m feeling. I’ll keep doing what I’m supposed to be doing to fight it off. I’ll work up the courage to ask others to pray for me, combatting my own feelings of stigma and failure that I didn’t keep it away. I’ll remind myself that I didn’t fail – it’s just something I have to deal with, my cross to bear.

“This, too, shall pass.”

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.

Christmas when Depressed

I’ve read several posts lately, encouraging folks who are struggling with depression in ways to manage this season. I began to think of one of the Christmases when I was depressed, probably the worst one. I’m going to look through my journal from that time, and see what steps I took to manage my emotions then.

I had just recently been released from a short stay in the psych ward (December 6-10). My parents live in NE, my sister in MO, and we were in WI at the time. So my family hadn’t seen me, and only knew how I was doing based on what my husband was sharing with them. But God had known that we would need to be together, so my sister invited us to come to her house for the holidays. Quite frankly, I couldn’t imagine Christmas at our house – I assumed it would be as miserable as I was feeling. I didn’t know how I would manage the drive (I ended up sleeping most of the way in the backseat of the van), but it really appealed to me to be someplace other than my home for the holiday. Besides, my parents would be there, too, and they’d all get to see first-hand how I was doing. I hoped that would bring them some peace.

I distinctly remember taking a lot of naps. Like one in the morning and another one in the afternoon! I needed rest – sleep – not just a break. But I needed respite, too, from the commotion of three families in one house, so I escaped to the bedroom a few times just to get some silence. I had an anti- anxiety pill that I was taking to help alleviate the shaking hands. Shoot, my whole body was shaking as I was adjusting to new medications, so I regularly had to excuse myself and go take my meds.

I remember after a nap, sitting on the couch in my sister’s living room, a room away from the TV. It was quieter there, more peaceful. My mom sat with me on the couch and I shared a little of what I remembered from the hospital. My voice trembled as I told her of the surroundings, the activities, the doctor.

I know we watched TV, but I recall finding it hard to concentrate. Several times, I got up and moved to the kitchen, where I could hear the TV but not see the bright lights from it. I sat at the kitchen table and drank a soda, and tried to focus on the conversation with my sister.

My husband helped shield me a lot, and kept an eye on me and my mood and energy levels. He probably made excuses for me when I had to leave the room. I’m grateful to him for running interference for me.

The trauma of me being in the hospital subsided for my kids a bit as they were distracted by their younger cousins, and reading entertaining books. It was good for them to be away from our home that year.

As always, my sister took care of delicious meals – she is an excellent cook – and my brother-in-law did all the dishes. I don’t remember doing any work of any sort – not that I was capable of it, anyway.

We didn’t stay long – just a couple of days. I know my family would have liked us to stay longer, but I could only manage a few days before I needed to get back to the safety of my own bed.

My journal reveals that by the time we went home, I was only taking one anti-anxiety pill a day. Seems like the family visit was just what I needed.

So my suggestions for how to handle depression this season, from my own personal experience? To the best of your ability, surround yourself with people who love you. But don’t be afraid to take a break from them – give yourself a time-out when you need one. Nap if you have to. Eat well. Rest. Take your meds as prescribed. Don’t be over-stimulated. Don’t overcommit. Give yourself permission to a slower, quieter pace.

It takes time, but it will get better. Even in deep depression, there are moments of lightness. Enjoy those.

And did I mention taking a nap?!