I’m not new to depression. I went through about five years of it from 2007 on and each year it got worse and worse until I finally got over my fear of the stigma of antidepressants and asked my doctor for help. I was very blessed. My medicine worked almost right away. And for about a year before I started dating my husband I got better and better. After Andy and I started dating I decided to see how I would do without the medicine (with the sanction of a medical professional.) I was thrilled to find that I was fine! Maybe the joy of falling in love played a big part of that, maybe my brain chemicals had fallen back into place while on the medicine – maybe both. But for about two years, I was able to function fairly normally.
After I had my son, who didn’t sleep through the night until he was two, I started to feel that old darkness trying to creep back at times as sleep deprivation took its toll. But it wasn’t until I had my daughter last year that it came back full force.
It started off with a bang. My first night home I had a massive panic attack. I remember pacing the floor trying to convince myself that I wasn’t suffocating. I knew I was breathing fine, and yet when I would lie down I was instantly overwhelmed with the fear that I couldn’t breathe. Later my exhaustion and panic turned into violent shivering. I didn’t sleep that night. My sweet, gentle husband after he heard the story made me promise that I would wake him up from then on if I ever again had such a terrible night.
The panic attacks continued for a week, but as they died down, depression took their place. The same old, horrible depression that used to torment me with thoughts of self-harm, with hopeless days, irritable days, weepy days.
But this time I was more prepared. This time I knew my enemy and I had tools to help defend myself. This time, I was a veteran fighter. That’s why I’m writing this. I’d like to share some of what I’ve learned in hopes that it will help someone else, in hopes that YOU won’t have to suffer through five years of depression to figure out how to deal. Here are the most important things I usually share with friends who are suffering through depression:
- DO NOT try to do this alone. Go get help. See a doctor. See a counselor. Talk to your spouse, your family, your closest friend, a pastor. Find a support group. Seeking help is not weakness, it’s wisdom. My husband and my parents (especially my husband and mom) know about my struggles and I’ve trained myself to let them know when I’m having a bad day so someone other than me knows what’s going on. I also started taking medication again.
- When you’re having a black day, be as gentle with yourself as possible. I usually describe a spell of depression as having an emotional migraine. If I had a migraine, I would be only doing what is absolutely essential to care for myself and my family and leaving the rest for another day. It’s okay to let those dishes soak a while longer!
- Learn that the depression is not YOU, nor is it showing you an accurate picture. Depression is like this pathological liar that is trying to take up residence in your head and make you believe things that on your good days you know aren’t true. It will beat on your brain with thoughts like, “It’ll never get better,” “Your kids deserve better than you,” “Everyone would be better off without you.” Those are LIES. DO NOT LET DEPRESSION DEFINE YOUR REALITY. Depression never, ever shows you things as they truly are.
- It’s okay that you’re struggling with depression. It’s not okay to give in to it. Don’t misunderstand me. I am fully and thoroughly aware “fighting back” sounds like something impossible. But fighting back does not mean you have to force yourself to act like a coffee-infused cheerleader when you just want to curl up into a ball and cry. It can mean texting your best friend to let her know you’re not okay today. It can mean exerting yourself enough to pack up your babies and spend the day at your mom’s because you don’t trust yourself to be alone (my usual method). It can mean making an appointment with a professional who can help. It can mean saying in response to the lies, “I am NOT giving up.” It can mean asking those you trust to pray and check on you frequently.
Your life is not useless, purposeless, or over. The verse I have clung to is Psalms 118:17: “I will not die; instead, I will live to tell what the Lord has done.”
Don’t give up, Mama. Please, please don’t give up. You can do it.