It was my junior year in college when I hit the lowest valley of depression. There wasn't a specific event that triggered it. I didn't experience any major tragedies in my life. For me, it was like a shadow that slowly grew and grew until it completely blocked out the light.
I remember one night in particular. I was tired beyond description, but unable to sleep. My breathing become slower and more labored. It felt like my body was reaching the end, the end of the path that my thoughts had tread over and over. My physical being, like my emotional one, was at the point of giving up. I remember thinking to myself that I may go to sleep and not wake up... and that was fine with me.
I recall driving to school in a daze and contemplating running into the guard rail at 65 miles an hour during workday traffic. I never actually reached the point where I would have followed through with a suicide attempt. But I was plagued with thoughts of self harm more often than I care to admit...
You would think that I would have recognized my depression in moments like this, but it never crossed my mind. The painting you see above is a self-portrait I completed during the time when I was most depressed. Looking at it now, it is so obvious what I was dealing with. But at the time, I couldn't see my depression even when it was so clear in my reflection. I thought everyone dealt with such thoughts every now and then. I believed I was normal, just a little more tired than most and thus more susceptible to feeling down.
I also distinctly remember the moment I realized that I was depressed. I was in a waiting room, waiting to have my blood sugar levels tested. My depression had grown so strong that it was manifesting in physical symptoms resembling diabetes. I was extremely fatigued all the time and frequently felt like I was going to pass out for no explicable reason... In that waiting room was large poster with a checklist much like this one (it may have even been this poster). I went through the checklist and I answered "some of the time," "most of the time," or "all the time" for every question. After adding up my score, the recommendation was that I seek help immediately. It was that moment that I started to accept the fact that I was severely depressed.
SUPPORTING A LOVED ONE WITH DEPRESSION
It's a little ironic that I was being tested for diabetes when I was actually suffering from depression. Because, in a way, the two are not so dissimilar. Depression is a life-long disease. I think everyone feels blue every now and again when things go wrong. However, the depression that stays with you in good times and bad (the type I battle), is an illness. With diabetes, there are some who can keep their blood sugar levels maintained through diet and exercise, while others have cases so severe that they require regular doses of insulin. Depression is much the same. There are those (such as myself) who can keep depression at bay with lifestyle choices. However, there are also many who can only do so with the help of medication.
I've heard judgements projected at people who "pop a pill to solve their problems." To those who have made such judgements or have lived with them, I return again to the diabetes analogy. Severe depression is as much physiological as psychological. You wouldn't tell someone with diabetes that they don't need medication and to tough it out, would you? Yet this happens all the time with depression, anxiety, bi-polar disorder, OCD, etc. Most of the time, the people who make these judgements aren't unfeeling - they just don't understand.
Depression is something to which you cannot truly relate unless you have experienced it yourself. So for just a minute, I'd like to share with those of you who have never suffered from depression some ways you can support those who do:
COPING WITH DEPRESSION
If you are someone who suffers from depression, this next section is for you. (Just as a reminder, I am speaking purely from personal experience here. If you are suffering from depression, I would highly suggest speaking to a psychologist or your primary care physician. Depression can be a very serious condition and is not something to be trifle with.)
I took anti-depressants for a short while before finding out I was pregnant with my oldest daughter and they helped immensely. Otherwise, I've relied solely on lifestyle choices to ward off depression. I would suggest trying lifestyle changes first and medication second if your aren't getting any relief (But again, if you find that you are severely depressed, then go straight to your doctor!). If your depression is mild and you want to try incorporating some lifestyle changes first, these are a few that have helped me:
MY STORY (CONTINUED)
So what happened to the college student sitting in the doctor's office at the end of her rope? Well, she's still here. It hasn't been an easy journey. I'd like to tell you that I immediately found help after discovering I was severely depressed, but unfortunately I battled it out a lot longer than needed. For a couple years after that, my happiness was based a lot on my circumstances. Things got better after I married Danny and we started our life together. But the depression never completely left me. I thought getting married would be my "happily ever after" and magically change everything. But it didn't cure me.
Less than a year into our marriage, I hit some stressful times at work and was derailed. I didn't have thoughts of self-harm like I did in college, but the depression was making me physically sick again. Only then, did I finally start taking my life back. I took medication for a short while and it allowed me to rest physically and mentally. But when I discovered that I was pregnant, I didn't want to risk taking medication. So I did some research on depression and ways to cope. I began journaling and trying to incorporate as many of the suggestions above into my life as I could, and they have helped immensely! It's been a long journey, but I am very content with where I am today. I am not "cured" of depression, and I don't think I ever will be. We all have our battles to face in this life, and this is mine. I still get blue every once in a while - mostly when I'm stressed. But I can praise God that I have not had a severe episode of depression in over 5 years!
I also rejoice because I am able to truly empathize with those who have the same struggle that I do. That being said, I'd like to offer a final word of encouragement...
If you struggle with depression, know that you are not alone. Don't be ashamed of who you are. Don't believe the lie that you are broken or worthless. You are uniquely and wonderfully made by the creator of the universe, and He loves you. You were designed with a great purpose in mind, so don't give up! Your breakthrough is just around the corner!
I am praying that the God of all hope and joy send a special blessing your way today and that you will know that you are loved.
Waiting is so hard.
Danny has been looking for a job for almost a year and a half now and it has been quite a faith building journey. He is currently employed, but it is in a temporary position as a post-doc. We knew it was just a step towards a permanent position, but the transition has lasted longer than we had anticipated.
Everyday for almost a year, I've kept my phone close at hand waiting for good news. And everyday, Danny keeps working hard believing and trusting that The Lord will provide us not just AN opportunity, but THE opportunity that will be the best for our family and will bring Him glory.
Every night when we tuck Caitlin in, we sing her favorite songs - "God is so Good," "He Answers Prayer," and "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star." We thank God for all that he has blessed us with, especially our family, and thank Him that He loves us and has great plans in store for us. Then we pray and ask that he would "open the right door" and provide the right job for our family.
This has been our routine for a long time. I would be lying if I didn't say that we both have rough days. I get impatient and long to be settled. Danny gets rejection letters from positions that he was excited about. We pray for God to close the doors that we shouldn't walk through, but it's still tough to hear them slam.
However, over this past year, I have learned how to be "content in all things" (Philippians 4:11-12). I have my moments when I feel downcast, but I can relate to King David when he says, "Why are you cast down, O my soul? And why should you moan and be disquieted within me? Hope in God and wait expectantly for Him, for I shall yet praise Him, my Help and my God" (Psalm 42:5).
So we keep on praising Him. We believe that he wants to bless us and is working behind the scenes to line up the perfect opportunity. But we also work to keep what is truly important the focus of our lives. For, if not vigilant, we'll always be looking ahead to the next big thing and miss all the joy and wonder of the moment.
May The Lord bless you with many joyful and wondrous moments today!
A few months ago, I noticed Caitlin's eyes were doing something strange. She would look forward and, while her right eye remained straight, her left eye would drift inward. At first I thought she had picked a new ability to move one eye but not the other. As the day continued, however, I realized that wasn't the case. Thanks to a google search, we determined that it was very likely that she had accomodative esotropia (lazy eye). We decided to set up a doctor's appointment as soon as possible.
God was gracious to open the door for us to get her to an ophthalmologist at Children's Hospital the very next day. We were so grateful for this as the next available appointment was three weeks later. Having to wait so long to have her seen by a doctor while knowing something is wrong would have been excruciating.
We had the appointment and our theory was confirmed. Caitlin did have accomodative esotropia, but we caught it early enough that the doctor felt glasses alone might correct the problem. We may not even need to do eye patching. We just had to keep our very active three year old in glasses full-time. That was good news, but we were still worried...
What if she refused to wear her glasses? What if she needed corrective eye surgery one day? What if we hadn't discovered this and she had gone blind in her left eye? Worries, worries, and more worries.
As all these thoughts are running through my mind I ask the doctor a question. Caitlin had just had her eyes dilated and the effects wouldn't wear off for another 24 hours. I asked if having her eyes dilated was going to bother Caitlin the next day. Her answer forever altered my perception on worry.
She said, "We can either choose to worry, or choose to have fun. Kids will always choose to have fun."
I thought that maybe this is what it means to have faith like a child. Trusting God whole-heartedly and taking him at his word when He says He loves us. Believing that He will take care of us (Matthew 6:25-27). Choosing, not to worry, but to enjoy life.
Most of the time, I act way too grown-up. I can relate to Picasso's when he says,
“It took me four years to paint like Raphael, but a lifetime to paint like a child.”
Some have called me an "old soul" and my family has joked that I was "born an adult." When I was a teenager, I took pride in this - glad that I was mature for my age. But as an adult, I realize that I think too hard and worry too much.
Now I endeavor to be like a child. My kids teach me what true joy looks like, and I want to be more like them. Like Picasso, I feel it may take me a lifetime to get there. But I want to grow younger everyday.
Here you will find my thoughts on life and religion. I pray this will be a space where you will not only be encouraged, but would become an active participant as well.