Last week I read this article and sent myself an email reminder to write a blog about depression. So of course I forgot. And then today I was thinking about what I want next week to look like, what I want January to look like, and I started thinking about how I want to interact with my friends right now in light of the depression that's creeping in.
I was diagnosed with major depression in college. It was probably two years of feeling like life was not worth living, of feeling like there was no hope. Getting better and feeling more normal was a long, gradual process. As I look at the past two years, I can see a pattern emerging. Spring turns into summer and I'm enjoying life. I'm involved in activities, I'm seeing my friends on a regular basis, and things are good. Fall rolls around, and I love the cooler weather, the beautiful foliage, the golden sunlight. Once winter starts to set in, though, especially around the time we set our clocks back, I start to love life a little less. It's gradual and in dribs and drabs, but a bad day here and there becomes a bad week, and then I seem to have a bad month or so before spring hits.*
Everyone has good days and bad days. That roller coaster of emotion is just part of being human. When depression starts to set in, it's different. Where once I would wake up in the morning feeling emotionally recharged after a bad day, depression keeps the negative emotions rolling from one day to the next. I don't bounce back very quickly from emotionally difficult or draining situations. I have a much harder time joking with friends, having light conversation. Everything feels heavier. I will probably enjoy myself at events and when I'm with my friends, but often the happiness is gone by the time I reach my car. I feel like crying a lot more for no reason, and even though I can usually hold it in I'll get choked up more frequently. Sometimes my car is the only place I can let it out.
One of the biggest ways depression affects me is how it hits my faith. I constantly wrestle with my faith, whether I am in a season of health or a season of depression. I question, I doubt, I get angry, I long for neat and tidy answers that I can understand. When I am depressed, the joy goes out of my faith. I go through the motions because I know I can't base my faith entirely on my emotions.** I show up at church, I volunteer, I try to still be there for others. Leading is doable but difficult. I walk a very fine line between faking it and being genuine but not negative. It is hard. One thing I have said before is that I cannot hope for myself when it feels like this. I have to rely on my friends to hope and believe for me. That being said, here are things that are helpful for me when depression is dragging me down:***
1. Don't constantly quote scripture or talk about how everything will get better. Some people will disagree, but I find it insincere and grating. I don't need a friend to pull me out of my depression. I need a friend to walk through it with me. For me, that means letting me talk when I need to or not talking at all. I will be less likely to open up if I feel like I'm going to be brushed aside and fed a cliche (no matter how true the cliche may be).
2. Ask how I'm doing (but only if you really want to know). I hate trying to figure out how to be pleasant around people when I'm not doing well. People constantly ask, "How's it going?" but don't want to know if the answer isn't, "Good." I have yet to find a good way to answer vaguely that things could be better without making the entire conversation awkward, and I just hate being insincere and saying everything's fine when it's actually the opposite.
3. Pray for me, but not necessarily with me. I know that prayer is helpful, even when it doesn't feel like it. Sometimes all prayer is to me is knowing that my friends think I'm important enough to bring me up to God. I've found that when I'm feeling really depressed, it is hard and sometimes even painful to hear people speak hope over me. It really depends on the day and setting.
4. Spend time with me doing little things. I'm never one for huge events. It's just not my style. When I'm depressed, my desire to withdraw and become a hermit increases exponentially. A few weeks ago I spend an afternoon with a friend doing nothing. We watched movies, ate snacks, talked, and we made wearing sweatpants a requirement. That is the kind of thing that recharges me. I love going to dinner or coffee one on one, or just watching TV and doing nothing. Low-key things are best, especially since depressions saps my energy even lower than normal.
I don't often talk details about depression. We don't talk much about how we feel in my family, and when it comes to my friends I don't want to be the person who is always dragging things down and becoming a burden. It's tough to find a balance of leaning on friends but not pulling them under. I know that depression comes and goes, and it's just going to be part of my life. I hope that people continue to become educated about mental illness so that there won't be a stigma about it. So many people think they know what it's like and they just don't. If we could just love each other and accept that people need to get help in different ways, that would be a huge step forward.****
*It's so obvious as I write this that I probably have SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder). My therapist has been encouraging me for the last few winters to invest in a lightbox. Might be time to start saving up. Also, my cousin Rachel typically footnotes her blogs, and I realized that since I tend to be a lengthy aside person, I should totally do it, too.
**I hear repeatedly that faith cannot be based on emotion. I don't entirely agree. I think our emotions are tied to our belief, and if our emotions are constantly being dragged down, it can be really hard to believe things that are opposite of how you feel. I don't think there's any simple answer for how to deal with "desert" times.
***Everyone is different. With all the different personality types and different stages of life, of course depression will look very different for people. This is based on me, personally.
****Some people need medication to feel better. Some people need extensive therapy. No two people are going to respond to treatment the same way, so it's important not to pressure people away from help they need. I've been in regular counseling since late 2007, and it's helped tremendously. I've tried a bunch of different medications, and while none of them worked for me, I know people who felt better just weeks after starting meds.