Girl School for Grownups

Like having a big sister, but better because I can't boss you around!

My depression story, part 3

I don’t really know how to wrap up my thoughts about depression. Before I started writing, I had an idea of writing 3 posts and I’m pretty sure I had some thoughts about what each post would cover. Now? I feel uncertain and very unqualified.

(inhale, hold, exhale, hold, repeat)

(breath retention is a technique I learned in yoga classes and it’s very calming and centering. yes, i did just stop and intentionally breathe. maybe it will help.)

Perhaps dealing with depression is something like what i just experienced. I didn’t know what to write, and the temptation to just step away and not write anything was huge. But then I remembered something that sometimes helps, and even though it didn’t seem like it would work, I tried it. That really is how it feels when I have my own personal rain cloud following me — as though it will never get better and nothing I do can change it. But that’s a lie. Here are some truths:

Everything changes. The good and the bad.

Everything matters. Even small actions can yield big results.

(just took a break to read my old weblog. i was hoping to find a free verse poem called “recovery in 5 parts” or something like that. instead started reading what i’d written. felt a lot of self-compassion, which is a very good thing. if you want to read from my previous blog, you can check it out here.)

Found the poem. Thanks Google. Will there be a part 4 to these posts? Dunno. For now I leave you with a thought and a poem.

The thought: My yoga teacher, Megan, says this at the end of her classes “Remember, if you are breathing in and out, there is more right with you than there is wrong with you.” Together, let’s say it: amen.

The poem:

Life in Five Short Chapters

CHAPTER 1

I walk down the street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I fall in.
I am lost. I am helpless. It isn’t my fault.
It takes forever to find a way out.

CHAPTER 2

I walk down the street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I pretend I don’t see it. I fall in again.
I can’t believe I am in the same place.
But it isn’t my fault.
It takes a long time to get out.

CHAPTER 3

I walk down the street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I see it there, and still I fall in.
It’s a habit.
But my eyes are open and I know where I am.
It is my fault and I get out immediately.

CHAPTER 4

I walk down the street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I walk around it.

CHAPTER 5

I walk down a different street.

By Portia Nelson

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My depression story, part 1

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Why do I write about depression so much? I think because I feel an urgency to put a face (my face, which is usually smiling) to this misunderstood disease. If this makes me the poster child (can a 50something be a child? I think not.), makes me the poster woman (ick), ok I’m going with poster chick. If this makes me the poster chick for depression, it’s a title I would be proud to claim.

Depression runs in my family. So does creativity, a wicked sense of humor, and no sense of direction. Not all tendencies are fully expressed in all of my relatives, although that sense of humor shows up more often than not.

It never occurred to me that I was depressed. As a teen I had the normal ups and downs that characterize adolescence. In my 20s my friends knew that at times I would disappear from their lives. (I still showed up to work, but couldn’t find the whatever-it-takes to return phone calls or go out with people.) But eventually I came back. I had kids in my early 30s and still didn’t know that the periods when I just couldn’t get them out of the house or the times when my husband would come home and take one look at my face and say “You are going out running!” (I was beyond grateful for the chance at some endorphins and some time alone) were anything but the normal challenges of having an infant and a two-year-old.

In my late 30s (deep breath) something happened that plummeted me into darkness I’ve never known. The specifics of what happened aren’t the point and that’s all I want to say about that. But I felt like I’d fallen and just couldn’t get up. I went to a counselor and she recommended an anti-depressant. I would have done anything at this time to find a way out of the dark. So I agreed to try it.

My husband was concerned about me taking medication and not at all sure it was a good idea. For one thing, he’s very sensitive to anything he takes so he does his best to avoid pills. And with our Biblically-based Christian faith, his question was “What if how you’re feeling is what God wants you to experience?” I understood his question as well as his concerns, but I also knew what it felt like to be me, and I was hanging on by my fingernails. And my mantra, my lifeline, became this thought:

I will do WHATEVER IT TAKES to be the wife and the mother that God created me to be.

Have a beautiful day, friends. To be continued…

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Depression hurts everyone

Yesterday a friend was telling me about his sister’s struggle with depression. And it took me back to when I was first diagnosed and the fight to come to acceptance with it. Robin William’s recent suicide has helped in bringing the issue to light, and even though there’s a lot more awareness now than ever before, there is still work to be done.

NOTE: What I’m writing in my own personal experience. I can’t presume to know what’s right for anyone else. If you are depressed please consider seeing your doctor or a counselor or just telling someone, anyone.

  1. You can’t reason with biochemistry. Depression is a hormonal, biochemical issue, not a lack of gratitude issue. Just as you can’t reason away having to pee, you can’t reason away the grey sadness that is depression. Some of my darkest times have been as I enumerate all the reasons I should be thrilled with my amazing life, and yet can’t climb out of the sad.
  2. Depression is not a moral issue. This goes hand in hand with #1 but it deserves its own number because it’s so pervasive. Thoughts that start with “if I was just stronger” or “if I just had more faith” or “if I was a better person” have no place with the depression conversation. The logic is flawed. My beloved niece was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in December of 2008. Her body does not make insulin. Without insulin she would not survive. And nobody would EVER dare utter those kinds of words about her condition.
  3. Find the smallest step you can take towards feeling better. Sometimes depression feels like I’m standing in a 12″ hole and everyone else is standing on level ground. If I jump and keep jumping, I can be at the same level, but it’s fucking exhausting. The exhaustion and malaise of depression can make even logical normal suggestions of how to feel better — Call a friend! Go out to lunch! Get to the gym! — impossible. But sometimes the key to feeling better is taking the teeny tiniest step towards hope, towards happiness, towards the light. Honestly, eating a salad and drinking some water can be the tiny fingerhold that’s needed to start moving towards life.
  4. Anything that makes you more yourself is good. So let’s talk medication. I’m on an anti-depressant and have been for over 10 years. At first I hated taking medicine. It made me feel defective and like a second-class citizen. But it worked, not as a happy pill but more like a safety net so that my lows didn’t feel terminal. So I’d start feeling better, and then I would think “I think I’ve got this!” and I would stop the medicine and things would be ok for a while and they they wouldn’t be ok and pretty soon I’d be right back where I started. I’ve repeated this many times, probably for the first 5 or 6 years. What I would tell myself from long ago is this: anything that makes you more alive and more yourself is a good thing. And there are no brownie points for making life harder than it has to be. Life is hard enough without making it harder in a way that can be changed. (I would also tell the me from back then that it would all be ok.)
  5. Depression hurts everyone. It can be easy to put off treatment for depression because you tell yourself that you’re not hurting anyone. And if you’re getting your work done and keeping showered and dressed and doing life, there’s evidence to support this thought. But we are all put into the world to be fully alive and fully ourselves. And being any less that who we were created to be robs those we love of our enthusiastic participation in life. I don’t say this as a criticism, because in the same breath I will tell you that at all points in my life I’ve been doing the very best I could do at that time. But hiding behind the thought that it’s not a big deal because it’s only me — well, that untrue and so very unnecessary.

What can I do to help someone who’s depressed? Hmmmmmm, that’s a tricky question. Because how do you help someone who in many cases is just wanting to be left alone? I can think of a few things that would have touched my oh-so-sad heart.

  • Saying “I know it’s hard right now, but trust me when I tell you it won’t stay this way forever.”
  • Saying “I love you just as you are.”
  • Considering the HALT (hungry, angry, lonely, tired) principle and offering food or suggesting a nap.
  • Saying, “I love you just as you are.”

Years ago I told Tim that I was going to tell people about my depression experience, but I didn’t want to become the poster child for depression. Today I would be honored to be just that (maybe with a photo from 10 years ago or so, or if photography invents a “younger and thinner” button). There is no shame in depression. The shame is if it never gets addressed.

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