Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Optimism, Christianity and Depression (Oh my!)

This entry is a long time coming. (Even as I type, I don't know that I'll be able to hit the "post" button.)

First, please click here and read the article written by Stephanie Gallman. I'll wait.

I could have written (most of) that article. While there are significant differences in our lives*, the core truth of the article remains: my doctor has diagnosed me with depression. I hate typing that. Somewhere inside of me there is a voice telling me that I "shouldn't" be depressed, that I "shouldn't" be sad, that depression is a choice/weakness/laziness/whatever. There's also a voice telling me that no one really wants to hear about another person with depression. Isn't the world depressing enough without me bringing everyone down more?

And the part about anxiety? I'm a Christian. I'm very active in our church. I know that I would get quite a few well meaning friends/acquaintances sending me Philippians 4:6 "Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God." Yes, I can read those words and I can meditate over them and they do help somewhat. But . . . they don't stop it. They don't take it away. The anxiety will stay until it decides to go on its own or it is helped out the door with medication.

Stephanie Gallman talks about how some people offer their own solutions such as engaging in a hobby or reading a book. Depression saps you of your enthusiasm and some days of your passion. I love music, but it's a chore to even turn on Pandora when I'm in a dip. I always feel better when I do, but it's hard. In the past when I have shared my struggle with a few here or there, I'm met with "Read your Bible more" or "Pray more - this is spiritual warfare" and other comments in that vein. I do acknowledge that reading God's word helps. It can take the edge off. I also believe in spiritual warfare and that prayer helps. But sometimes when I'm in a dip, reading the Bible is frustrating. I try to read passages that talk about prayers being answered like Matthew 7:7 "Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you." But all I can focus on is that I haven't heard any answer other than "no" or "not now". (Or I assume those are the answers. Most of the time I just feel silence.) It's these times that I usually go to Psalms. I think David might have gone through just a bit of depression, too. I especially identify with Psalm 142:7 "Bring my soul out of prison, So that I may give thanks to Your name; The righteous will surround me, For You will deal bountifully with me." It acknowledges how depression can feel like a prison or a trap, but it ends with hope - that (eventually) He will deliver me from the prison and bless me.

However, and this is a BIG one, I am not capable of bringing myself out of a dip. I can't talk my way out of it, I can't think my way out of it, and I can't pray my way out of it. I have to either wait it out, or take some form of medication.

My doctor is a Christian. He and his wife used to attend church with us. I know he walks the walk. And he is all about trying non-drug things - tools that God has given us to help - like nutrition, prayer, friends and counselors before writing a prescription. We tried all of those, and it wasn't enough. My doctor asked if I had a broken leg, would I pray to make it better or would I seek medical attention? I would go and get the bone set. I would get professional help to get MY BODY WELL. I would probably ask God to bless me with quick and complete healing, but I wouldn't sit there with my leg at a funky angle not letting anyone touch me and just pray that God would take over. God has given us physicians. He has allowed us to discover medicines and treatments and diagnoses that help us to heal. Yes, He is capable of miracles, but He's pretty much given us what we need through ordinary measures. As for me, my body does not make enough serotonin so I need to take something to boost the production. I am on a low dose of anti-depressant and I have a prescription for an anti-anxiety that I can take if the anxiety gets overwhelming. I've only taken the latter a handful of times, praise God. But the times I've taken it, I've been glad I've had it available.

I have identified some triggers - of course finances are a main one (owning your own business is not as glamorous as it seems), but I think I'm kind of used to that one now. God is always providing for us, sometimes at the last minute, but we are still above water. I'm learning patience in that arena. However, I've noticed lately that if I feel that I'm either being misunderstood or ignored, my heart will start to race and I'll feel that tightening in my chest and my hands will start to shake. The incident can be as mild as Buddy not coming to dinner when I call him or as big as someone telling me a choice I made was wrong but not trying to understand why I made the choice (and would do it again - okay, that's a whole 'nother blog post and it's centered around the Muppets!). It can trigger a dip that can last a few hours (the dinner thing) or a week or more (the Muppets - got you intrigued now, don't I?)**.

So why am I writing this blog post? I've hinted about my struggle here and in some locked posts to close friends, but nothing like this - nothing revealing how low I really get. And I've never cross-posted so that Twitter and Facebook friends can read it. Even as I type and edit this, I don't know that I'll publish it for more than a few to see.

I want people to understand who I am and how I work (or don't work). I want them to know that when I don't return a phone call I'm not ignoring them, I'm just not able to function beyond basics at that particular time. Thank God for texts and e-mail or during a dip I wouldn't be able to communicate at all! (And sometimes I can't even manage that.) I want people to know about my struggle, but . . . I don't want people to feel sorry for me, to withdraw from me, to feel weird around me, etc. I don't want this knowledge to affect the way people treat me. I don't want people to walk on eggshells around me and I don't want well meaning people (hi, Mom) to constantly worry or constantly ask how I'm doing with their head cocked to the side and in a singsong voice. I don't want to be treated differently. I just want to be understood. (Hmmmm. Back to that trigger.)

The main reason I'm hesitant about sharing my depression is that in the past, people I've loved and trusted have accused me of being too dramatic or of being a hypochondriac to get attention. Looking back on those particular times, I realize now that I was truly depressed and trying to get help, but was . . . misunderstood. I tried to express how deeply the pain went, but was "too dramatic". I exhibited physical symptoms (I've learned that depression can manifest itself as physical as well as emotional) and yet had no fever or no infection - therefore I was a hypochondriac. In their defense, I don't think that at the time those people understood what depression is or how it manifests itself. I surely didn't. I thought that I was being too dramatic and blowing things out of proportion and seeking attention. So I shut up. Which made it worse. Sigh. Vicious cycle. (Even now, during each dip my inner voice will silence me by saying, "Snap out of it. You're just being dramatic and self-centered." Hence my hesitation at clicking the "Publish Post" button.)

Through all of this, just like Stephanie Gallman, I'm an optimist. I like to see the good in people and in situations. (Sometimes almost to a fault.) I can say, and (mostly) believe that things will get better. I know that my dips are temporary. And I'm blessed that the majority of the time I'm able to function during a dip. I still see humor in some things and I can even Tweet one liners during a dip! I'm working hard to identify my triggers and to be more proactive in preventing or shortening a dip. I have a select few people to whom I reach out. I'm learning to force myself to be more active during those times. It seems that getting out and accomplishing something, anything helps - even if it's just getting the mail. I'm trying not to be afraid to take a Xanax when I feel I need it. I'm researching diet and nutrition to see how I can boost my moods in a natural way. I have researched aroma therapy (I have a vial of essential oil in my purse) and herbal teas (look in my pantry - and in my garden). I'm working up to getting into an exercise routine. (The problem I've had with exercise is that whenever I have started to work out, my mind starts working overtime and I finish just as stressed out as I am when I start - if I do finish at all.) I'm working on it.

I'm working on it.

Who knows if I will ever conquer it. But I'm working on it.

Now if you will excuse me, I'm off to listen to Erasure and sing at the top of my lungs. That, too, helps. (But I think that it has the opposite effect on Princess.)

*I have never Hula Hooped at Wal-Mart. But I do make it a point to jump on the bed every time we check in to a hotel.

**When I write the Muppet post, I'll come back and link here.


Stephanie said...

So very proud of you. Thank you for sharing. I hope you continue jumping on beds and singing to the top of your lungs.

Red Leigh Cooper said...

These kinds of posts are hard, but you never know who you might help in the long run inadvertantly with them, so major kuddos to you! : ) I watch Celebrity Apprentice (don't judge...) and one of the little girls Lou Ferigno was helping with his won money said, "Whether you can see it or not, we all got something." I really liked that. I'm like you; I don't want anyone to feel sorry for me with my back issues. You wouldn't even know anything was wrong to look at me, but we all have something....I understand... : )

Karen said...

Your problem is more common than you think, Milaka. I take an antidepressant. It doesn't take away the high and low feelings, it just keeps them from being SO HIGH and SO LOW. But like you I am completely thankful for each day and will continue to be an optimist. I will pray for God's comfort and healing for you as I pray it for me. :) You're on the right path -- stick with it. Proud of you and love you!

Melissa Tyler said...

I'm glad you posted that, and proud of you for doing something so difficult as sharing.

I have absolutely no trouble seeing depression as being a function of brain chemicals. When my period's starting up, or heck, if I'm just overloaded on pollen, my brain works differently. It's like I'm a different person, and there's no "willing" myself to be the person I normally am.

I'm grateful that you're on the path to recovery. Best thoughts winging your way. ((hugs))

gina m said...

You know you have my support, but let me add my voice to these that applaud you for speaking out. It's a difficult thing, especially as a Christian, to confront depression head-on. You know my story, and you know that I'm still on medication and probably always will be. I still periodically struggle with the idea that as a Believer, I should be strong enough to battle this. It is the knowledge that this is a chemical imbalance, not a spiritual one that keeps me going.

The other thing that I remember is that my joy in Christ is not dependent on happiness. It's deeper than that, and much more permanent. My joy survives the dips and the valleys. When I'm not happy, I know my joy is still there.

Love you, M.

Sarah said...

I came across your blog today. I am a Christian who was diagnosed with depression almost three years ago. I can relate to so much of what you've written. The truth is you will always meet the 'just prayer harder' Christians, they are not being deliberately hurtful they just don't understand. I found the most useful thing for me was to stop listening to what other people were saying and try to find God's still small voice. When my Christian friends were telling me I wasn't working hard enough, He was saying just rest in me. Depression is an illness, a horrible one at that, but an illness like any other. Be patient with yourself, take it one step at a time and you will make it through :) It's hard work but it's worth it. I applaud you for your courage, honesty and bravery. God bless.