I hesitated to write about this because I would do just about anything to take away my own depression and don’t like that it is part of my life. I have learned, though, that not making eye contact with this illness doesn’t make it go away. I know that February can be a hard month for many; winter has lost its charm and the weather is often gray and rainy. I hope some of you find this post to be helpful….
A few years ago, a friend called me and said, “I think I’m struggling with postpartum depression and I know you’ve been there.” I was so glad she reached out to me, but I wasn’t sure postpartum was what she was dealing with. Her youngest child was four years old. It sounded like she just had depression.
There are a lot of us who could only acknowledge our struggles with depression when it was linked to having a baby. Somehow, it seemed less shameful then. I wish there wasn’t so much shame around depression and other mental illnesses. I wish the shame didn’t come from both the inside and the outside.
Every once in a while, a friend of a friend who has been touched by depression will call me and say, “I hear you’ve struggled with depression, even though you are a minister.” I suppose that my being a clergy person who struggles with this illness makes them feel less like they’ve done something wrong. I don’t love being a poster girl for depression, but I hate even more the idea of someone struggling alone with this.
Depression doesn’t feel the same for everyone. I heard the comedian Sarah Silverman say in an interview that depression feels like she suddenly has the flu. It’s that sudden and debilitating. Rachel Maddow has said that she can sense her depression returning when her thinking becomes foggy and she can’t concentrate on what she is reading. She sometimes has to postpone having authors on her show because she can’t absorb their books. I’ve heard other people describe depression as ”all the color draining away.”
For me, depression feels like I’m wearing a really heavy suit of armor. Sometimes, it comes on slowly, with a chunk of metal being added here and there and sometimes it happens all at once. I wake up and know that I have the same responsibilities as I always do, but I will have to complete my day while lugging some very heavy armor around.
Here’s the thing about depression: it’s hard not to blame yourself. Even though I would never blame my children for having learning disabilities, I blame my own brain for having faulty chemistry.
For a really long time, I would try to talk myself out of what was clearly happening to me. “You have a great life: you are very loved. You have a wonderful husband and lovely children; you have loyal friends and long legs.” All of this is true. It is also true that I have depression. These truths are not mutually exclusive.
For the first few times that depression boomeranged back into my life, I hoped it was a fluke or a result of a relationship ending or a job change or some other external circumstance.
Now that I’ve been struggling with depression for a few decades, I know from my own personal experience that the heaviness will soon lift. I know, because I’ve been there before, that I won’t always feel this heavy and sad.
I think that is why depression is especially scary in teenagers and young adults; they don’t have reason to believe that they will eventually feel better. They also don’t know that they are showing tremendous strength by just getting through their day.
When my medicine is working and my depression seems managed, I sometimes forget that I have it. What’s more foolish is that I forget that not everyone has it. When I get down on myself, it’s often because I assume everyone is better at carrying around armor than I am.
I have to remind myself that not everyone is carrying this around.
Over the years, I’ve figured out that sometimes it just happens to me for reasons I don’t understand. This is just how I’m wired. Instead of blaming myself for being weak or for not trying hard enough, I’ve developed some coping strategies to get me to the other side.
I know that it helps me to exercise most days, to keep taking my anti-depressants, to check in with my therapist, to sleep and eat like a reasonable adult. I pray my way through my days. I remember that I am trying to keep my head above water and that treading water isn’t the ideal time to pick up heavy stuff; I avoid dark literature and Holocaust movies.
Since I’ve been in my 40s, I’ve given myself permission to avoid people who act as my personal Kryptonite; they are on my no-fly list.
As an introvert, I really crave time alone. When I’m struggling, though, I have a tendency to withdraw completely. A few years ago, a therapist suggested that I meet a
friend for coffee or lunch or a walk every single week. These should be friends that are kind and encouraging and trustworthy. This is a habit that is helpful to me all year long. Friends and family can’t cure this illness, but they can definitely give you strength and comfort.
If you are nodding your head as you read this, please know that you are not alone. Please know that this illness is real, even if no one can actually see it. Please know that you are brave. Please know that your sorrow will lift and your brain will clear. Please know that you will get better.