Friday, December 12, 2014

Bringing in the Light

Note: let me state again that depression is NOT something that you can simply choose to ignore, fight, walk away from, change your mind about, etc. In the darkest times that I was depressed, it was hard enough just dealing with day to day challenges. I doubt I would have had enough reserves left to try to do something else, and I may have been even more depressed by my helplessness to do so. In other words, please don't tell your depressed friends to just try XY and Z to feel better! If you're depressed or think you might be depressed, please think about talking to a professional to get the help you need.

The last post was a little harder to write than what I expected. For the most part in the last couple of years, I would say that I am affected by certain tendencies toward depression, and there have been moods and situations that have led to me feeling somewhat depressed (though except a couple of very brief moments, not the full-on, weight, darkness and disconnection of a true depression), but I wouldn't say that I've been depressed. I am so thankful to say that I have not felt that feeling of being worthless or fatally flawed in years. Yet, there is still that slight echo there, and it's a little difficult to purposely expose a perceived flaw like that. (Depression is not really a flaw any more than any other illness, but as I said, the echoes remain.) It's also hard to figure out how to describe something so ephemeral yet that has such weight, something that has a lot of commonalities for a lot of people, but is still very different in each individual's experience.

This post is different. I'm excited to write this post. I have had some amazing experiences directly related to dealing with some of these tendencies and moods, and I can't wait to share them with you. These are some of the things that help me out at times like the holidays where I'm feeling a little extra kicked around, or with the way this year has gone, dealing with some of the not so great things that life throws your way sometimes.

One of my favorite things that happened this year started a couple of months before my birthday. I don't remember what triggered it, but suddenly I was feeling that gut wrenching feeling that you get when you realize that you're staring down another birthday and there is absolutely no change in the circumstances that you don't like, in my case singleness and childlessness. It hurt. There was a time in my life where I would have either wrapped myself up in the bitterness ("This sucks! Why me?", etc) or I would have tried to talk myself out of the sadness ("There are so many people in life that are so much worse off; suck it up!")

This year, I started by accepting it. Family is a beautiful thing, and it's legitimate to hurt if you don't have one. I accepted that it hurt, that it was okay to hurt about something like that, and that my birthday might not be all unicorns and rainbows because those emotions tend to crop up where they will. Then, by the grace of God, another thought occurred to me. I can't change my singleness; I can't change whatever feelings I may feel on that day, but what can I do? As I've said before, I often define what I can't do so that I can accept it and let it go, and then try to figure out what I can do. In this case, I decided that I couldn't fill the gaps in my life, but I could celebrate what was in my life. In what I really think was a nudging of the Holy Spirit, I decided that I wanted to do that in a tangible way, and what is in my life is a lot of awesome people. So I ordered some cards and started writing to people about what they meant to me. I'm telling you, 2 cards in, and I was not feeling depressed at all. It was a project that lasted a while (I was very hit or miss about working on it), but I managed to get most of them out and on their way by my birthday; many people received them on my birthday. Here's why I think that it was a Holy Spirit thing: I could not believe the responses that I got. Everyone appreciated it, of course, but I got A LOT of responses from people who seemed to need to hear those words at that time at least as much as I needed to say them. It was such a sweet, sweet thing to see how God could bring such a great thing out of a moment of depression. (I wish I could have gotten cards to those of you reading, too! Thanks for being a part of my life!)

During the holidays, I've already told you about some of it. I am very blessed to have a little O.D.D. (oppositional defiant disorder). Let me tell you, it's a good thing if you also tend towards depression. As some of the holidays have started their thing, I have been recognizing the depression starting to whisper its lies. Like the time my house was a mess (okay, it often is). Normally I don't care because I was doing something fun, so it's worth it, or I do care and I want to fix it. But this time, I didn't care because I heard that voice, "What does it matter, anyway?"  As soon as I recognized that dark voice, I was all, "Oh, hell, no!" And I cleaned the house.  Guess what? It did matter. When things were less messy, I felt less overwhelmed and less of that ennui.

Same thing with the Christmas tree, as I've already said. It was rough putting up, but I have so been enjoying it every evening, partly because you can't help but love the sparkles and lights and partly because I get a great feeling of accomplishment from conquering it.

Feeling depressed also makes me want to isolate myself. I want to hide in my house and nurse my and keep them from infecting the rest of the world. At least, that's what that lying shadow of depression would have me believe. My ODD reaction to the lie was that I was going to talk about it. So I wrote a blog post, and your compassionate responses soothed the wounds immediately; so glad I didn't just let them fester! Not only that, but I purposely chose to get in touch with certain people that I knew would understand, and that had been there. A couple of times it happened that they had been struggling as well, and the conversation helped us both.

There are those times that things are just out of your control. Sometimes, you just have to get through it, but sometimes it's interesting the way God can use someone in a small way that they probably had no idea meant so much. An example is that one of the things that I use to help with depression is working out. Endorphins help a lot. Last week when I got hit by a cold, I couldn't go work out, and I panicked a little, because I knew I was in a vulnerable spot. I didn't want to skip one of the things that can make such a big difference for me. What happened that morning is that I woke up early to get ready and realized right away that I couldn't work out. My first thought was that I needed to stay home, my second thought was that I needed to text a couple of people that I work out with so they wouldn't worry, but that I would wait until a little more reasonable hour of the morning. My third thought was to go ahead a throw a small fit (which I did) because I had been struggling anyway and now I couldn't even work out, so I was frustrated and a little panicked. After my fit, I fell back to sleep and didn't text my friends as early as I should have. I woke up when my phone went off with a text, "Where are you? We're concerned!!" Just like that, my depression lifted. Because someone told me that I was missed, and that I mattered, without having any idea how much I needed to hear it. So I told her I was sorry I didn't text sooner (kind of a lie, because the way it happened meant a lot to me; though I am sorry that she was worried) and thanked God that He could take care of it without me having to do anything but fall asleep.

Whether you've ever had actual depression or whether you've simply been saddened by situations and circumstances, etc, what are some of the things that you do address the emotions?


  1. Thank you for writing so openly about this topic! I suffered from depression in college, and actually had to drop out my junior year and move home. On top of the depression, I felt like a failure. Your description of depression in your last post was spot on, and took me back to what those couple of dark years felt like. Now that I am on the other side, and only suffer slightly during these winter months with little sunlight, I can see clearly all the lies I "heard" during that time. What helped me get past the depression, and what helps me in those times when I feel sadness creeping in, is structure and self-discipline. Making myself exercise, pray, eat carefully, and meet small goals daily, keeps me focused and gives me small wins that help me overcome the darkness. Like you said, depression isn't something you can just choose to get over, but having a support system and putting one foot in front of the other can do wonders.

  2. My apologies for the late reading of this series. Work has been a bear this week. This is such a great post, I am going to go back and read the earlier ones. So so sos so glad you shared your awesome idea of writing cards to others for your birthday. Love that idea. I agree, as someone who has struggled with depression in the past, the echos tend to remain. Sometimes they flair up for a week or so, but then fade away. What a great story about hearing from your friends, when you couldn't work out. Sometimes we need to be "reached out to"!!! Depression can be so isolating and dehibilitating, so I am so glad you are bringing it into the light.

  3. I love these posts, although I am so sorry you had to go through this. I agree with having self discipline when the symptoms creep up again. I am someone who feels guilty very easily and if I am in a routine of daily Mass, exercise, prayer and eating right I will feel guilty for not sticking with it. I also do well with structure and accountability so if someone is going to ask me about what I did that day I have my structured things already in place so there is no room for wallowing too much. I think I need a little more O.D.D in my life, which I am working on too. I think it's healthy to have some degree of defiance instead of compliance to help you get up and fight whatever battle you need to.

  4. While I don't love the fact that you feel / are depressed, I am so thankful that you shared this! I like your O.D.D. and can use some of it myself. The holidays are a hard time. I remember not wanting to put my Christmas tree up either as it was hard to be happy when I was missing what I desired most - but you are an inspiration in choosing to be happy!
    I wrote a card telling my grandma how much she meant to me and was glad to have sent it to her, as she passed away several months later. I know your family and friends must have been thrilled to hear how much they mean to you!