How long, O Lord will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and every day have sorrow in my heart?
Depression is a thick, heavy sweater that I have worn since my teenage years. Over time it has gotten a bit looser, only slightly less constricting, but nonetheless uncomfortable. It continues to suffocate me during the warmest parts of the year and drag me to an icy void in the coldest parts. It is a rabid dog that feeds off my insecurities, failures, and shortcomings. During the most difficult days, simply getting dressed and taking a shower is a victory. I get bonus points if I put on make-up, go outside, or do a load of laundry.
After my daughter was born I suffered from severe post-partum depression. I became a statistic when I joined the one woman out of every 1,000 who hallucinates after giving birth. For the second time in my life I took a prescribed antidepressant and went to weekly counseling sessions. Eventually the voices went away and I began to emerge from the dark cloud I had been enshrouded in. Sometime after Lina’s third birthday I had a long talk with God and my husband. I told them how I was no longer happy being on medication and I did not like how it made me feel. It was not the drug itself that I had a problem with. What I didn’t like was the feeling of not knowing who I am without this medicine. Somehow, the antidepressant had come to define me. I decided that there had to be a better way. I threw the pills in the garbage and became proactive in my approach to winning the war with the crazies. I have since armed myself with research, positive people, and good music. I now live with depression but not in it.
I have also spoken to many others who have fought this battle. While our stories are vastly different, all of us understand the familiar gut wrenching blackness. We have camped out in the dessert of loneliness and drank the bitter cup of self-hatred. Despite our painful path to recovery, all of us have developed our own strategies for digging our way to freedom from the enemy’s greedy clutches. As different as we are, we share a common bond. We refuse to be a slave to this illness.
“...Depression is sometimes an invitation for those spiritual thieves to come in and destroy our abilities to think, function, and interact. God desires to give us abundant life…It is Jesus’ desire to gather us to a safe place and help us to live that life of joy in spite of the physical circumstances which may or may not have induced a state of diminished capacity.” –Debbie Maselli
According to the American Medical Association, (A.M.A.) artists and writers are more prone to suffer from depression than other groups. This would explain why six out of the seven people who volunteered for this study are writers. What I found astonishing was that more than one of my subjects admitted that the quality of their writing actually improved while they were at least mildly depressed. How could this be? A.M. A. suggests that there could be a link between creative genius and depression.
“…One study compared 30 members of the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop with a group of nonwriters. Depressive illness was far more common among the writers- about 80 percent had either depression or mania compared with 30 percent of the nonwriters. A separate study of leading British writers found that more than one third of the participants had been treated for depressive illness.” –American Medical Association Essential Guide to Depression (1998) pg 17
While depression and creativity are apparently conjoined twins, are they simultaneous by choice or by chemical makeup? Evidence suggests that a number of factors cause depression. Genetics can certainly play a role as well as situations beyond our control. The death of a spouse, physical or sexual abuse, and job loss can all trigger depression. Yet, all of us agree. Depression itself is not a choice. Choosing to stay depressed is.
Licensed Pastoral Counselor Kay Martinez believes that we can choose to be different. We can choose to walk away from God during our depression or we can choose to bring our pain to Him and allow Him to heal us through the tools He has given.When the icy water threatens to drown me, the first thing I do is turn on my favorite praise music. Lately I’ve been listening to Watermark because lead singer, Christy Nockles has a very comforting, soothing voice.
Although I would not recommend doing this all the time, retail therapy is a truly guilty pleasure. I also force myself to socialize and be around people. At every opportunity I look for ways to help others. Recently some dear friends lost their home in a three-alarm fire. Despite the tragedy, it brought me some much needed relief from the funk I was living in. Suddenly I was useful, productive, and above all, not thinking about my own problems.
Sometimes antidepressant medication is necessary but Kay cautions against using it for longer than twelve months. (Excluding those who suffer from mania or forms of mania) If the user persists in taking the meds beyond the suggested time frame, they take a chance of prolonging their mental healing and may become stoic.
“When I eat a well balanced and healthy diet…I function better. I also practice yoga to help me relax. Please note that I do not endorse the false religions associated with popular yoga. I use the deep breathing and poses to help me relax and my mind stays firmly fixed on Jesus and being thankful for all He’s done for me…”
The idea is to allow oneself to heal and to feel the God-given emotions that are in us. If we medicate for prolonged periods of time and withdraw from the Lord, we will not recover and we will not deal with the root issue that is causing the depression in the first place.
I am a firm believer in the power of positive thinking. When we say something negative we call it into existence, almost daring it to manifest in whatever form we choose. My most difficult days are the ones spent combating the insults inside my head. I find myself constantly arguing and deflecting Satan’s hateful arrows with nuggets of truth from God’s Word. At the end of the day, I am flat out exhausted but overall pleased with my efforts. I fought when I could have floundered. I chose to deny the enemy any freedom in making me feel inferior. Interviewee, Peter agrees. He attributes his success in beating depression to Dr. Claire Weekes and her book, ‘Self Help for Your Nerves.’ He explains how the book focuses on changing our underlying thinking processes, and shows in detail how the mind works and uses fear against us.
While the A.M.A. appears to be mum about turning to God for treatment, they do suggest that a depressed person should get out and have fun. They advise against being alone with the negative thoughts and instead surrounding oneself with positive influences. They also add that simply being aware of the barrage of self-hatred that generally accompanies depression can be a step in the right direction. When you are aware that you’re beating yourself up, you can take an active approach to putting a stop to it. For some, all it takes is a good snack to chase away the doldrums.
“I eat a package of Nutter Butter Peanut Butter Sandwich Cookies and that makes me feel better…I (also) write. That gives me an outlet for my despair. A lot of my writing starts out being very negative but ends with a statement of faith that all is well with my soul…I have noticed that my view of almost everything is different from others. I was once told by a psychiatrist that if ten people were assigned the same task, I would be the one that would find a fresh, new solution because of the way I think…”
Most of us who have suffered from depression have had little success in relating to those who have not. Writer Shari believes that most people either think depression is not a valid problem or that it’s something you can’t do anything about. Gerald can relate. “Pity is the first cousin to being unsympathetic. By that definition my family has been unsympathetic.”
It is difficult to make others understand what we’re going through and how this illness affects every aspect of our lives. Depressed people are expected to “snap out of it” or “get over it”. Our loved ones are often at a total loss as to how to coexist with us when we are in a rut and feel powerless to help. I have found that the greatest gift I can give my husband is my honesty. Even if my words do not make sense to him, it is enough that I am sharing them and allowing him to be a part of the healing process. Sometimes just opening up creates a bridge that would not have been there otherwise. Shutting down and retreating inward does nothing for my marriage or my family. They do not have to “get it”. They just have to be here and love me while I am in it.
“My husband would like to support me. He doesn’t quite know what to do or how to help because he has not ever experienced this. Even though he is paying for counseling and not worried about the cost, I think it’s a relief to him that he doesn’t have to have all the answers.”—Debbie Maselli
If there was a positive aspect to fighting this illness, it would be the amazing opportunities we, as sufferers have to help others. We are in a unique place that allows us to recognize when a brother or sister is fighting the same war. Our failures and triumphs can be a comfort for depression’s latest victim. Because we have been there, we understand in ways others do not. We might not share the same experiences, but we feel the same pain. Because we have been willing to climb the rocky terrain, we can offer courage and hope to those who are just beginning or are in the midst of their journey. Depression might be an endless uphill climb, but as believers in Christ, we are never alone in our struggles.
“I have been able to encourage, support and guide others who have suffered from depression. Had I not been through it myself, I would not understand the depths of their troubles, nor know how to relate to them on a meaningful level. I know this sounds crazy, but I am actually glad I went through it now. I have come out of it with a deeper faith in Jesus, and a strength of character that I was lacking previously.” –Peter Stone
The thing that continues to stand out in my mind is that I actually have a choice about how this illness will affect my life. I have the freedom to escape from the darkness before it cripples me. The hateful clutches of depression might drag me, unwillingly into the frozen lake. But I have learned that I do not have to stay there and I can continue living my life, regardless of what my body is telling me. Ironically, this is the freedom that keeps me out of the darkness.
The Steps to Freedom in Christ by Neil Anderson
The Battlefield of the Mind by Joyce Meyer
Self Help for Your Nerves by Claire Weekes
The Wounded Heart by Dan Allender
This is a very good and needful article. So many people will not even admit they go through periods of depression. Sometimes depression can sneak up on you and you suddenly think 'what is wrong with me?' Other times you don't even want to get out of bed, much less do anything else. Reading the Word of God (even if you do not want to) and eating a nutritional diet and avoid keeping yourself isolated helps. You very eloquently mentioned all these causes and I hope many read this and accept the help. As you said "worship music" is a great healing tool. I am not a doctor, but I have lived a few years on this planet and experienced ups and downs, to the basement all the way to the penthouse so to speak and many stops in between. Again, thanks for sharing this information...it is very needed. GOD BLESS YOU