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.

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!

Wanted: Christian Counselor

I’m in need of a Christian therapist.

It’s been over two months since my final appointment with my therapist in Virginia. Since then, I’ve been busy making the move to Colorado and finding grocery stores, the Post Office and the library. I’ve met women at Moms In Prayer and a knitting club. I’ve gone out with new friends for drinks and visited with my son and his girlfriend. So I’ve kept busy.

I’m doing pretty well in making contacts. I’ve found the person to cut my hair. I have a doctor’s appointment at the end of this month, and I’ll get a referral for a psychiatrist to manage my meds with me. I have the names of audiologists for my hearing aids. I don’t need a dentist for five more months, and there’s no need for an optometrist. But I need a mental health therapist.

I’m worried that my depression will return within the next few months. I want to get to know him/her before such a thing happens. I felt a little funky yesterday, and it made me realize that I need someone to talk to, who will help me with these feelings and anticipations.

I know that I really benefit from having a mental health counselor to help me process my thoughts and emotions. It’s great to share with my husband and friends, but I really thrive if I have the professional on my team. And I want this person to see me mentally healthy, not just in crisis.

It’s important to me that s/he have a personal faith in Christ, as that is a huge part of who I am. I often need help differentiating between depression and spiritual battles, so someone who understands who Jesus is to me is critical.

I’ve got the name of one person, and she’s in my medical network. So perhaps I should just schedule with her, and see if we’re a good fit. I gotta start somewhere!

How to talk about mental illness in the church

I wish people in the church would talk more about mental health. Depression and anxiety and other mental illnesses continue to plague 1 in 5 people. 1 in 5! That means statistically, someone just down the row at Sunday morning service is fighting for their mental health. With a number that high, it’s hard to believe that stigma still surrounds the issue of mental health.

When I was struggling with depression, I found it very hard to be honest about my disease at church. “How are you?” someone would ask as they passed me in the hallway. “Fine,” was the easy answer. But what if I had said, “I’m having a tough time.” Well, that puts pressure on the other person to stop and listen. And I don’t want to interrupt them as they hurry to pick up their kids from Sunday School. Besides, I have Jesus as my Savior, so I should be fine, right?

Here’s the twisted thinking of a Christian depressive:  I’m in this all alone; No one can help me; I can’t tell anyone because they don’t have time to listen and I don’t want to burden to them; I’m a Christian so I shouldn’t be depressed; I have Jesus and all the blessings of heaven, so what do I have to be sad about? Maybe this is due to sin in my life; Where is God? Is He even here?

The truth is, I have Jesus, yes, but that doesn’t change the fact that I live in a broken world, and I am going to face troubles (“In this world you will have trouble…”) That includes mental health issues, like depression or anxiety or bipolar disorder. While my disease is mostly invisible (like heart trouble or diabetes) and there is no outward sign of illness, like a cast for a broken bone, the pain is very real and often very deep. And very isolating.

To share about my mental illness took the tenacity of several friends, who kept asking if I was ok. They noticed that something about my mood was off. I wasn’t as cheerful and upbeat as usual, and close friends began to notice the changes in my personality. Additionally, I had been talking with a counselor, and it became easier for me to admit out loud that I wasn’t okay.

Still, it took time.  I didn’t tell everybody, just those who kept asking. And it took a level of trust on my part, that the friends I told would understand and wouldn’t judge me as being a failure as a Christian. That they would see I was hurting, even as I was trying to trust the Lord for my healing.

And I have good friends. They were patient with me, and let me share as I was able to be more open.  They didn’t judge, and they accepted that I was struggling with depression and it didn’t mean I was a bad Christian; I had an illness.

I think it also helps if the discussion of mental health in the church comes from the voice in the pulpit. It helps me to hear the church leadership say that it’s okay, God loves me in the middle of my mess, and I am not condemned due to my mental illness.

It’s also great if the church offers mental health support, like the peer group Fresh Hope. This support group encourages folks who struggle with mental health issues to live a healthy life in Christ, in spite of the mental health challenge. This group enabled me to talk about my struggles with others who understood. We encouraged each other to remember the hope we have in Christ, and we shared our burdens and steps toward wellness.

So to talk about mental health in church, it takes:

  • time – for the person struggling to be able to share
  • time – for the listener to dedicate to understanding
  • honesty – for the one with the illness to be able to vulnerable and open
  • trust – for confidentiality and kindness and acceptance
  • openness – from the church leadership to talk about mental health issues
  • support groups – to encourage and support others who struggle

Let’s talk about mental illness at church. Let’s offer encouragement and support to those struggling. Let’s show the world that we’re not about judgment – we’re about living well in Christ, in spite of having a mental health concern.

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:33 NIV