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