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?!

Doyle’s River Falls Hike

My husband and I went hiking yesterday. I think this is the activity for this area – there are so many trails.  With the Shenandoah National Park, Appalachian Trail and Skyline Drive just minutes away, we can get to vistas and views any weekend.

We opted for a 3 mile round trip hike to the bottom of Doyle’s River waterfalls. Beautiful! There was a spring along the way, lovely flowers, a deer munching greens just off the trail. The light dappled between the leaves to the forest floor. After a bit, we were walking along the stream, and the sounds of the water over the rocks was almost dainty and musical. Except for boisterous groups of hikers running down the trail (we let them pass us), the woods had only woods-sounds.  The temperature was perfect, and there was a slight breeze. Ideal.

I should have known I’d be in trouble when on the way down, my legs began to shake as I had to step over big rocks. But I reasoned that walking down a steep hill wasn’t something my legs were used to, so of course I was working unfamiliar muscles. I didn’t really consider how incredibly steep this path was. I didn’t think about how out of practice I was – how many years it has been since I hiked a steep one like this.

We stood at the bottom of the Upper and Lower Falls and watched those who’d gone ahead of us scramble all over the wet rocks. They were barefoot and sure-footed, and squealing with delight at the cold water. There were hikers with wet dogs at the bottom – one dog got to the edge of the pool and just plopped down.  Another watched faithfully as his owner ate beef jerky, hoping for a morsel. My husband climbed down and dipped his hat in the clear water – a sure way to cool off from the descent.

The hike was 3 miles round-trip, but I think that is an absolute value, because I’m sure it was 1 mile in and 4 miles out. At least, that’s what it seemed like on the climb back up. Towards the middle of the hike, and the rest of the way up, I could take about 20 steps at a time and then had to rest.  I knew I was out of shape, but really….!

Round is a shape.

My problem wasn’t my legs, but my heart rate – I couldn’t keep it down.  So as I would hike up the hill, I would get about 15 feet and then have to stop to breathe deeply and get the oxygen to my head and muscles. A couple of times when we stopped, I actually “grayed around the edges” as I got dizzy. I prayed that God would help me not pass out!

I got discouraged a couple of times, and assumed that it must have been taking us several hours to hike up, but it was probably more like an hour. I don’t feel too badly about that! In fact, I’m only mildly embarrassed at the many stops I had to make. I’m proud of myself for doing it (what choice did I have?) and for taking my time so that I did it safely. And I’m grateful to my husband who supported me when I felt fuzzy, stopped me from going too fast, and shared all the water with me. He encouraged me every step – I mean every step in a few sections – of the climb back up.

Lessons learned:

  • If I want to live around here and enjoy the sights, I need to be able to get off-road and on-trail. Which means I need to be in better physical – aerobic – condition.
  • It’s great fun to share adventures with my husband. And he will always encourage me.
  • God climbed with me, and gave me the strength when I didn’t have any. It’s amazing the reserves He’ll pull from. (I think there’s a larger lesson there.)
  • Take more water. And snacks. (Man, that trail mix at the top of the climb tasted good!)

Peaceful Street Scene

This time of year, the roads in the local area are crowded with thousands of snowbirds who have come here for winter. There are cars everywhere!

Turning into a friend’s neighborhood, the peace that these trees bring to the empty street makes me sigh out loud with relief.

no traffic!
no traffic!

Too many people, too many traffic lights, too many cars, too many stores and restaurants – stop and go – too much noise. Around me and within me. My head can be just as busy as the roads – full of thoughts, ideas, ponderings, pressures all vying for the foremost of my attention.

And then I spend time with God, and it’s like turning off the main road and onto a quiet side street – peaceful, calm, a deep breath of cleansing air. Rest from the chaos of the world, from the chaos in my mind. His rest.

(Jesus to his disciples:) Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.” Mark 6:31

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  Matthew 11:28

 

Counting Sheep

( Thanks, Mary B!)

On Monday morning, my alarm went off at 7:20am. I hit the snooze button. Beep, beep, beep – I like that feeling of lazily opening one eye and peeking to see – sure enough, 9 minutes has gone by. Did I fall back asleep? Did I dream? Beep, beep, beep – sure enough, 9 minutes later.  And then instead of snooze, I rolled onto my back and started praying – “Thank you, God, for helping me to fall asleep last night. For reminding me of Your Presence and Comfort. For prompting me with Your Word, with verses I memorized as a child – Your Word hidden in my heart.”

Let me back up a few hours:

Sunday night was tough. I had a crying jag – second one in 2 1/2 months, lasted more than 2 hours.

It started with me thinking of my daughter who had visited us the week before – oh, we had such a great time! But then the thought “I live so far away from her” flitted across my mind and my eyes filled with tears. Then I considered the thought a little longer, and the tears rolled down my cheeks.

And I kept crying! Every time I thought I was done crying, I’d think of someone else I miss. The loneliness was overwhelming (I wrote about this in Just Start With Where You Areand the water works wouldn’t shut off. But I allowed myself – this is me working through grief, and it’s a process, tears included.

Finally, when I felt like I was all cried out – it’s exhausting work – I got ready for bed. Looking in the mirror as I brushed my teeth, I saw swollen eyes and a red nose – not a pretty picture! This just made me want to cry again (haha), so I grabbed a couple of tissues to put by my pillow, just in case. And sure enough, I laid down and the tears wet my pillow.

“That’s enough,” I told myself. “But God, what can I think about instead of loneliness, so I don’t keep crying?” I wanted to focus on gratitude, but my heart felt too heavy and I was too tired to shift my thoughts. Then I began reciting Psalm 23 to myself, focusing on each line individually and meditating on the verse.

v.1 The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want. He is my provider – gives me everything I need. He directs my steps, doesn’t leave me to wander too far off on my own. And He’s my Shepherd – I know His voice; I will follow Him where He leads.

v. 2 He makes me lie down in green pastures; He knows I need rest! 

v. 2 He leads me beside the still waters.  He knows I long for peace, and calm, and gentleness, and He can give me all those things. I started to feel myself relax, breathing slowing, muscles loosening, arms and legs sinking down into the mattress a little more.

v. 3 He restores my soul. Jesus is the only one who can refresh and restore me. I need Him to renew my heart and return me to our relationship. “I’m sorry, Lord, for not remembering that You are always with me. Please forgive my wanderings and restore me to a right relationship with You. Help me to trust You in the midst of my grief, and to know that you have placed me right where You want me.”

v. 3 He leads me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake. “Yes, Father, You are righteous.”

v.4 Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for You are with me. I thanked Him again for being with me through years of walking with depression. For his faithfulness even when I am not.

I don’t remember the rest – I was asleep. Psalm 23 only has six verses, but I only needed four of them to be able to relax and sleep!

I shared this story with a friend via email the next day, and l love her response: “Well, you were in the arms of the Shepherd, so it was like counting sheep?!?!?”