There and back again


Change comes slowly, and is shy of being quantified. It took a lot of time, a lot of living, just to heal.

My depression is seasonal, but it was getting worse. I wasn’t getting back my zest for life in between. In the summer times I didn’t ponder taking my life, but I would always have been happy if my life were taken from me.

My doctor, who has been pronouncing me “stable” at periodic check-ups since that first one, likes to remind me nowadays, “You were way beyond SAD when I first saw you. You were severely depressed!” (Thank you very much.) Because my struggle is seasonal, we have to take things a year at a time. She allowed me to cut back my medication dosage by half last spring, and we’re now on schedule to come off entirely at Easter.

And in January 2013? Most days I have energy, hope, ideas. I feel good. But I’ve had gray days too, days when I am anxious or exhausted and the world does not look worth getting out of bed for. The struggle is not behind me.

I want to share with you some things that brought me out of darkness, but behind them all—Jesus has been good to me. I love Him so much, and I owe Him my life. He held me securely when my mind was sick and confused.

Gray feelings come to many people, for many reasons, but depression proper is rarely one-dimensional. There’s usually more going on than meets the eye. On the most basic level, my body was not getting enough light. But Jesus addressed many areas of my heart, used many things to draw me back to hope.

1. Medicine helped me.

It really did. It gave me the space and ability to heal. For what it’s worth, my doctor and my mentor agree that depression should be treated as both physical and emotional, not as one or the other.

2. Talking with a mentor helped me. A lot.

My darker emotions churned inside, and I didn’t know where to go with them. I thought I was good at processing things, but that was in my journal. I was not good at allowing others into my darkness, or at walking head-on into struggle rather than circumnavigating or jumping to quick fixes.

I think that one of Satan’s most vicious weapons is isolation, when we believe that we are quite alone and must be silent. I grew up blessed with a good family—a mom and dad with whom I could talk freely. Now I have a good man who listens to me well. But I had to learn to broaden that support base, to open my heart to others. When you talk to a spouse or a family member, they are on your team. They are biased, slightly bent in the same places you are. Meeting Jesus in community is one of the most life-changing things I know. I wrote more about that here.

Daniel Defoe says,

How frequently, in the course of our lives, the evil which in itself we seek most to shun, and which, when we are fallen into, is the most dreadful to us, is oftentimes the very means or door of our deliverance, by which alone we can we raised again from the affliction we are fallen into. (Robinson Crusoe)

For me, the evil was not depression. The evil was calling for help. The evil was admitting I didn’t have it all together. The evil was letting people in. And that “evil” became one of Jesus’ most effective tools in saving me.

3. Exploring truth helped me.

I believed some wrong things about Jesus and the world. Maybe it seems like a good thing to yearn for heaven so earnestly, or to have no fear of death. But I wanted heaven as an escape because I couldn’t handle life. And some fear is normal—a healthy safeguard that God puts in place. These days when I hear of a life cut short, I feel sad. Not jealous.

Jesus allowed me to take this slowly, but he has begun opening my eyes to His beauty and presence in the world. He is up to something. His victory is already assured—and I get to be a part of His work in changing this broken earth.

4. Learning to recognize my triggers helped me.

I mentioned holidays and shopping, so we try to watch carefully what we commit to over holiday seasons, and keep things simple. Sometimes in the winter I give my mom a grocery list, and send her out for me. But I have more subtle triggers too. Unsettled pain. Unresolved anger. I had to learn to feel when I was going there, and get some rest and help.

5. Creative outlet helped me.

I grow stuff now—lots of houseplants, summer veggies. I plan gifts. I spend time in nature. I write a lot—that alone has been revolutionary in helping me to process life. The path here will be different for each person. What do I love? What am I good at? I had to find ways to incorporate joy and purpose into my weeks with a few concrete habits.

6. Coming to terms with my depression helped me too.

  • Permitting myself to struggle—I’m a very human woman who faces ordeals I find hard to withstand. It’s okay to feel, and even to feel black. That doesn’t mean I have to go under.
  • Allowing time for healing
  • Getting the rest I need—i.e. in the winters: a lot
  • Working at learning the balance between getting out and doing things (to stay engaged and afloat), and saying no (when it’s simply too much)
  • Accepting that my bent toward depression is one of the things that makes me need Jesus and His people

I don’t know how to wrap up a story that hasn’t ended. But once again I thank you for your grace to me. If you or someone you love struggles with depression, keep in mind it will not look just like my story. Depression wears many faces, and each of them should be taken seriously…

The End.

The world is round and the place which may seem like the end may also be only the beginning. -Ivy Baker Priest

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11 years ago

Wow. Thank you, Shari. And thank you, Jesus.

11 years ago

Again, I have enjoyed reading your story. Its been a learning experience for me & I am so glad you have found relief!
I am wondering what have you found out about your son? Has he outgrown it, or how did all that turn out?

11 years ago

Dear Shari– your words were so real, and I could hear you sharing your heart! God bless you for spreading your encouragement to the rest of us. You’ve grown, blossomed into the lovely lady God created you to be. Isn’t that amazing that it took dark, hard things to bring it about?

I just read all 5 of your last posts in one sitting (because I’m in the middle of studying right now), and one phrase that resonates with me towards the beginning, was when you asked “Should Christians struggle with depression?” and how it becomes immaterial because so many do. If we’d all just get over this thing of having to be perfect, or expecting all around us to be… we could all grow more, love each other more, and, I believe, experience Jesus and grace more.

You’ve shared so succinctly in this last post about what helped you! So glad things are clearer. I believe, if I’d have a list of triggers I would be boosted in a few areas. I know I’ve figured out some for a couple of my struggles. Maybe if I wrote more in my journal, I could figure myself out… 🙂

Much love, sis!

Audrey R
11 years ago

I really enjoyed your story and thoughts. I feel a lot better right now than I have a lot of times in the past couple years, but there are setbacks, and there is no guarantee that I won’t fall back into deep depression. It scares me, but I am learning to be okay with it. The last two winters, I took antidepressants for a few months, and both times, it seemed like The Answer, The Missing Piece, but after 2-3 months, they’d lose effectiveness and the side effects would kick in, and I’d have to go off them. It’s discouraging to try things and not have them work, but one thing I have resolved is that even if I can’t beat this monster completely, I will.not.give.up.trying.

What seems to help most (for me) is to take vitamins and supplements. I absolutely hate swallowing pills, but when I am faithful at making sure I get the things my body needs, it helps a lot. I follow (not exactly, but close) the recommendations in The Mood Cure by Julia Ross for daily vitamins and then specific supplements for my particular mood problems. If anyone else is like I am and prescription antidepressants didn’t work properly, this is a fascinating book. It’s a more natural way to go, as well. Two of my current supplements are St. John’s Wort, which really seems to be helping (maybe even better than the 5 HTP I was trying earlier), which are recommended for the dark cloud kind of feeling. And also, True Focus by NOW Foods which contains L-Tyrosine and L-Phenylalanine, among other things, to help me stay more alert and be able to concentrate better.

Exercise can help, as well, but certain kinds have made me feel worse in the past. Getting outside helps, but I have not been doing that much lately. Being with people helps IF my two-year-old behaves and my stress levels stay within reason. But too much social activity can overwhelm me. So I have to find a balance between being a homebody and being on the go constantly.

I don’t even know why I wrote all this. I guess just in case anyone is interested. Shari, I really like your points on coming to terms with depression. So good.

11 years ago

It’s awesome to hear from ladies who understand depression! I was also touched by the comments from people who have never experienced it–the grace and wanting to understand. Perhaps sympathy flows not only from people who have experienced exactly the same thing, but also from people who have lived life well, whatever their particular set of circumstances. Thanks so much for sharing your heart, Shari! I wish you could come over to my house for tea, but Kansas is pretty far away. 🙂

I also have been wondering how Reagan is doing. My son just started therapy, and is slowly making progress!

11 years ago

Shari- it’s been touching to read your story in writing. I rejoice with you in the healing and restoration that Jesus is bringing to you. It is beautiful.

I couldn’t agree more with you on point #2. Even though I do not struggle with deep depression, as a human being I have felt the attacks of Satan through the “you’re alone” lie. It takes so much grace, strength and humility to allow your community to bring Jesus to you. I’m still learning.

I love you, Mrs. Courageous!

Joanna Yoder
11 years ago

I appreciate your courage & honesty in this series. I look back now at my time of deepest depression, and shudder as I realize all the things I did wrong. The biggest mistake was keeping my blackness to myself. I did journal some, but not much…and the little that I wrote during that time frightens me even now. The good thing is, my husband is now much more aware of what I was dealing with, and will know much better how to get help for me if I ever go there again.

Yesterday, I looked at the 10-day weather forecast for our area, Shari, and I nearly despaired. Only one day of possible sunshine?? Yikes! I increased my intake of Vitamin D this morning, turned on more lights, and am working on setting a few goals to help me get through each day. Pregnancy hormones are definitely not going to make the next 2 months easy, but with God’s help I WILL make it through!

11 years ago

I’m just curious, is this something that will eventually go away, perhaps over years and as hormones change, etc., or do people tend to have it throughout their lives? This has been so fascinating to me because even though people may not give a name to their suffering, i.e. SAD, depression, etc., I’d say most everyone has experienced things similar at least to some degree.

You are so strong and such a great light. I was talking about these posts yesterday at work (at the library) to some co-workers and how interesting and educational they’ve been. People can look and seem completely normal on the outside and suffering so much on the inside. You’re in my prayers and part of my prayer is that someone can gain some help by reading these posts. ♥

Shari Zook
11 years ago
Reply to  BethR

That’s a good question, Beth. I think if I moved to a southern clime where winter is sunny, I would likely not struggle with it… I expect that as long as I live where winters are gray, I will deal with it at some level. At the same time, I hope that time and growth make it easier.

11 years ago

“I think that one of Satan’s most vicious weapons is isolation, when we believe that we are quite alone and must be silent. “–this strikes me to the core…isolation, I struggle with this a lot right now. Not sure what to do about it.

Your story has blessed me thank you for opening a window into your heart ok more like a door.

11 years ago

Shari, thank you so much for your openness and vulnerability in sharing your story! Your points today feel very helpful. I applaud your courage and am excited at the work Jesus is doing in you and the way you are blessing others in that! Thank you.

11 years ago

Thank you, Shari for writing this series! My struggle with depression started about 5 years ago and reading your story in the middle of another down time has given me some much-needed hope.

11 years ago

God bless you Shari!!
I love your encouragement to be honest and real with our struggles!! and to be willing to seek help!!! There is such beauty in sharing our hearts deepest sorrows/darkness as well as the hopes and joys!!
I also struggled with depression in my teens/early 20’s. It is no fun!! I lived with the black cloud of fear, would I end my life like some other people in the liberal Mennonite church did?!!
May your journey be full of Jesus’ presence!! He came for the lost, the last and the least!!! Wishing you and yours a good rest of the winter!!!

11 years ago

Thanks for sharing this series, Shari. Especially liked this from today’s post: “Accepting that my bent toward depression is one of the things that makes me need Jesus and His people.” Hope the rest of your winter goes well, and God Bless!

11 years ago

Thank you for this well-written series. Opening up is difficult. I am learning to recognize the pride that keeps me isolated.
Do you have any tips on finding a mentor in a place other than the FB community where it’s the accepted lifestyle?

Shari Zook
11 years ago
Reply to  Vivian


Another good question!

Sometimes the word “mentor” can scare off both the giver and receiver, as though someone now has to provide all the answers. Can you find another way to frame it? “I’m looking for someone to pray with me,” or “I need an older sister to give me some pointers on x.” It may also help to find as safe and informal a way to meet as possible. “May I stop by your house and talk a bit after dropping my kids off at school?” or “I have some questions I’d love to ask you; do you want to come over some afternoon and bake cookies together?”

For me, it helped to meet with someone once and see how things went… And then, to be specific with her about what I was seeking. Do I want her to offer advice? Do I want her just to listen? To pray? Do I want her to check up with me? How often do I want to meet?

If you live in a community where it’s not the “accepted lifestyle,” your new mentor may make a lot of mistakes. She may not ask the right questions, and she may be uncomfortable with a formal role. Go easy at first, and give her space to learn with you; she can still teach you things along the way.

Asking a good woman if you can stop by her house once a month is usually a compliment to her, as far as I can tell…

Is this helpful at all? More questions?

11 years ago
Reply to  Shari Zook

Thank you.
Helpful, yes.
Wise words pointing me in good paths, and points to ponder.
God bless you today!

Alvin S
11 years ago

This is a powerful story. I found it quite fascinating. You are a very brave person for sharing it publicly… I would like to say more, but frankly, I’m still contemplating and processing.

I recently came across this quote: “Life is not a problem to be solved, but a mystery to be lived.” That is helpful to me in some of my own struggles and dark moments.

W. Zook
11 years ago

A cup of coffee and a chat is what I am saying. (I am just across the mountain from UVA.)

11 years ago

I have been here to comment at least 3 times and got distracted.
This series made me cry and laugh and nod. And now I am smiling.
It was just GOOD all around.
Do you dream, like I, of a house on the Caribbean where you can escape to avoid about 4 grey months of every year? I wonder if the amount of greyness in Guys Mills would compare to the many hours of darkness here in northern Alberta? The sun shines a lot here, but it doesn’t last nearly long enough each day. And then there are winters like this one, with many days of snow and overcast skies. And COLD. Bitterness.
I so appreciated these posts, and especially this last one. I am with you in knowing I am so much better, but hovering too close for comfort many days. And I love these steps out of blackness. I’ve thought of writing in detail about my experience, but now I don’t need to. I can just direct people to your blog. 🙂 Thank you.

Ruth Anna
11 years ago

Shari, thanks for writing! I’ve been reading your blog for a few months now and I love it! Yes, hearing about depression from other people is so good for me. I too can identify with the black blackness…but I am so thankful for meds… (even though I have a love/hate relationship with them sometimes.)…and God’s healing touch!

GrandmaKitty Brown
11 years ago

Several things said here by you, Shari, and others, really grabbed me:
One is that we think we have to be perfect. I was raised being told that even my best grades in school were not good enough… that i had the potential to do better. I was also raised Catholic, and there’s a lot of pressure there, too. Then we joined the Mennonite church, and that’s where the sense of “never gonna measure up” really began to overwhelm me. (There’s a lot to that story that i’m not sharing here, and i DO NOT MEAN TO PUT DOWN THE MENNONITES in anything i say.)
Another thing is the strong feeling that we can NEVER let anyone know we have struggles. What would they think?? What kind of example would we be then?? So we put on our “just fine” mask and live a life of make-believe.
And a third thing is the long, gray winters in Guys Mills. Yesterday we bought a house near Cooperstown. Those winters will now be mine, too. Bob and i have discussed how it may affect me. We shall see. But reading your blog has given me courage, Shari. You have no idea how much i respect you for this.

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