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?!

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!

Solitude2

Solitude – important time to be alone, to be silent, to listen.8866088E-FF7B-4AFC-887B-01ABDBDACD31

The Path to Solitude

Across gravel drive, across gravel road,
Up second drive to
Grass freshly mowed.

Blue sky above, green hill to climb,
White puffy clouds,
The hike is sublime.

Top of the hill, fields on both sides –
Ragweed and wildflowers
And tall grasses to hide.

Trees to the right, dark up ahead.
Temperature drops;
No hat on my head.

Shade of the rock steals the heat of the sun.
Keep walking on,
See and hear no one.

The path just got muddy; think I’ll turn around.
Walk back to the grass and
Sit on the ground.

An effort at mindfulness, be quiet, be still.
Be here in this moment
As I sit on this hill.

Focus, breathe, count to four, start again.
But what is that noise?
Close your eyes, now open.

Sit still and listen, it’s close to me.
Look around slowly, it’s the
Sound of this tree!

The wind blows and bark flaps, that’s what I hear.
The aspen is peeling on
This tree that is near.

Notice the ant army as they march down their hole.
Does the leader shout orders so they know
Where to go?

A feeling of peace as I rest in the sun.
A short nap; I awake.
This walk has been fun.

Writing201 Poetry: map (topic), ode (poetic firm), metaphor (literary device)