What does a clinical depression really look like?
I think it might be hard for anyone reading my blog, to believe my depression was as bad as it was. It seems that way to me at times, too. which is why I’m so glad I journaled during some of my worst “blue-filled” periods.
Sometimes I go back and read my entries myself just to remind myself how far I’ve come and not to repeat any of the mistakes. I decided it might be good to include one of the less-intense entries. It might offer you some hope.
My depression was very real and I experienced many bouts. I think you will see from this post that I was already deciding, even if I didn’t know I was, that pills weren’t the complete answer. Even if they were part of the answer, there was much I could do myself.
You might find it very interesting to know that it was almost one year exactly from this date, that I did start to reduce my medication while actively attacking my depression. There is hope for if you’re willing to do the hard work.
Even today, I have a friend I will be spending some time with and I hope an opportunity arises so I can gently point out to her how she is contributing to her depression. I will tread carefully as I personally know how advice of this sort has to be given ever so carefully.
When you read this excerpt, please remember that these were written when I was feeling a great deal of emotional pain. The references to wigs, scars, and limps were certainly not meant to diminish these illnesses. I would never do that. But I felt invisible where my depression was concerned because I didn’t display any visible marks of my illness.
(I didn’t edit one word of this.)
I’ve been pretty much depression-free for a long time now. I was down to 10 mg of Paxil and I felt so liberated. But now, once again, I’m struggling to stay afloat till the increase of meds kicks in.
Oh, God, why? It’s been such a good year-hasn’t it? The Bible studies, my quiet times—all at a level I’ve not known before. This last year you’ve spoken to me, no shouted, so many truths and insights that at times my mind has wanted to say “Stop!” And through it all, your quiet command, “Write.”
This is so hard to go through this again. Nobody sees the pain. I have no visible scars. I’m not wearing a wig. I don’t limp. There’s no visible impairment to garner some sympathy. No one asks me how I’m feeling. Why would they? They don’t know anything is wrong. The increased dosage makes me feel terrible. I feel a heaviness in my chest that is almost unbearable. I feel anxious and antsy.
Depression is truly one of the loneliest illnesses. It’s seldom a topic of conversation. It’s seldom a prayer concern. No one wants to admit it. I’ve only seen it on the church prayer chain once in over twenty years.
And even if I were to talk about with anyone, I’m sure they’d have an opinion about how I should get over it. Somehow those who’ve never suffered depression seem to give the most inane advice. But these very same people would offer few opinions if it were cancer, diabetes, etc, because they’d realize they were woefully ignorant.
Why do people think they are experts when it comes to depression when they display their own poor mental health habits anyway in the form of overworking, overdrinking, overeating, not exercising, too much TV, gambling, drug use, etc.
The hardest part is the not knowing when it might raise its ugly head again. After years of dealing with this illness, you’d think I would be an expert. But I’m not and it still catches me off guard.
When it hits, it’s like I’m locked in a windowless room and everything of my former life is on the other side of the door but I can’t get the door open. No matter what I do, the door and my future remains shut away from me. I push and pull and wiggle the knob. Finally, I just give up and sit down in the corner with my face towards the wall, convinced I’ll be there the rest of my life. I feel totally powerless. I feel like a gaping, oozing wound in an already deceased body.
And then God steps in. How, I don’t know. He takes my little mustard seed of faith, concocts it into a salve and gently rubs it on my wound. He gently turns my head towards the door and I notice (Was it there right along?) a string’s width of light filtering through the bottom. The little sliver gives me hope. As I wait, the sliver of light appears more often.
This morning I was sitting in my garden, steeling myself for what I knew would be a struggle to keep my eyes on God. I sensed depression would be coming at me hard today. My garden is beautiful and the work of my own hands. I’ve planted everything that is here; made the brick patio and the concrete retaining wall. Mulch has been spread. Me. I’ve done it all. I usually feel pride in my garden. Today it was just “there.” A painful reminder of better days, days when I felt energetic and creative. Days when I enjoyed life.
I was journaling my thoughts when I heard a fluttering of tiny wings. On the fence next to me, where the insanely tall Joe Pye Weed jutted to the sky, was a tiny bird chirping loudly. Seeing birds in my garden is not unusual and I didn’t over spiritualize their meaning, at least not then. Another bird flew over and I watched as they cavorted and played with each other. Eventually they moved on to another part of the fence.
I thought of my husband and how he’s always sitting on the fence waiting for me to play. I’m not much fun right now, you see, and I know it’s hard on him to see me like this. But he sits waiting anyway. All the rest of the day I thought about those tiny winged messengers from heaven and felt some hope. This episode would eventually fade away. I would survive. I always did. Hubby and I would play again.
During depression, everything seems more significant to me. I pick up God’s reassurances in the smallest, serendipitous events I would ordinarily see as ordinary. My sensitivities to everything are heightened. That’s why it hurts so much.
I’m aware that while God is working overtime to keep me from slipping off the Rock, depression is working overtime to see that I do. The churning waters below beckon me and I struggle to keep my footing.
My highly sensitive antenna means I feel rejection and criticism in the most casual of remarks. If my children don’t call, it’s because they don’t care or if my husband is preoccupied, it’s because he doesn’t care. If there’s a weed in my garden it’s because I’m a lousy gardener. My self-esteem takes a nosedive in all areas. I want to withdraw from everyone and nurse my wounds. How pathetic am I?
But God has not left me to flounder. He’s given me a bag of coping tools and I pull them out as needed. Some always work if only for a short while and some work better than others depending on my symptoms. Some get thrown back in the bag because they’re not working at all this time. Others get unwrapped for the very first time.
I’m beginning to understand the part my pride plays in my depression. I hate taking anti-depressants. I hate it. For a long time, I felt ashamed. Every time I swallowed a pill, I felt like I was betraying God. And the worst part is, the pills don’t really work. I experience weird feelings. It’s all I can do to keep taking them. But for right now, medication is the help God has provided me along with His comfort and strength. I still want to quit taking them but I guess for now, God has other plans.
This was written over eighteen years ago. I’ve had some bad days, but never anything like what I wrote about then.
I hope this brings you hope.
God bless and have a good day.
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