As I said yesterday, I could write a huge exhortation on the subject of depression. I feel very passionately about it, having had to live with it for so long without the people around me having any understanding. Even now, some 10 years after I was diagnosed, I still struggle with family and friends who don’t understand. Although I have seen a huge shift in societal views of “mental illness,” day to day living can still be a struggle. I’ll try to keep it as short as possible.
The first thing to know is the signs of depression. According to WebMD, this is a list of symptoms:
- Difficulty concentrating, remembering details, and making decisions
- Fatigue and decreased energy
- Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, and/or helplessness
- Feelings of hopelessness and/or pessimism
- Insomnia, early-morning wakefulness, or excessive sleeping
- Irritability, restlessness
- Loss of interest in activities or hobbies once pleasurable, including sex
- Overeating or appetite loss
- Persistent aches or pains, headaches, cramps, or digestive problems that do not ease even with treatment
- Persistent sad, anxious, or “empty” feelings
- Thoughts of suicide, suicide attempts
There are 11 symptoms listed here. I can tell you unequivocally that I have had every single one at one time or another, but usually all at the same time. This is not just “the blues” that come and go in some people. This is prolonged symptoms that never seem to ease up. Even on medication, I still struggle with many of these symptoms, most notably fatigue, feelings of guilt/worthlessness/helplessness, feelings of hopelessness, difficulty concentrating and remembering details. The medication helps in that I’m able to stop myself from going too deep into those feelings, but it’s still a daily struggle.
Another symptom that is often not talked about is isolationism. Isolation is different than introversion. An introvert is a person who is energized by being alone and is drained by being around people. An isolationist is a person who completely withdraws from contact with people. I am most definitely an introvert, although I haven’t always been. However, in my full depression, I am an isolationist. I won’t call people. I won’t see people. I don’t want to chat online. I just want to be left alone to wallow in my depression. This is a very dangerous thing because when left to my own uncontrollable thoughts, I contemplate suicide. In all honesty, there are only 2 reasons why I am still here today – my children and my parents. If not for the overwhelming sense of guilt that I had of leaving my children without a mother and leaving my parents in a place where they would have to clean up my mess, I may have actually tried to kill myself. Believe me, I have thought of a hundred and one ways to do it. Is that hard to hear? I apologize for my bluntness, but it’s the reality of depression.
Which leads me to the suicide hotlines…I have heard more times on the news and read in more places that if you are in trouble, you should call the suicide hotline. Apparently this works for a lot of people and the work that these hotlines do is obviously important. So, don’t get me wrong when I say that this does not work for everyone – it wouldn’t have for me, anyway. When I am in that state of complete meltdown, feeling that uncontrollable worthlessness and helplessness, feeling unbearably hopeless, there is not a stone’s chance in hell that I would ever pick up a phone and tell a complete stranger. The shame and guilt that I feel when I have reached that point are much too much to overcome to pick up a phone.
What I can say is that there are often many signs that come from me before I reach that point that, had a friend or family member been able to recognize it, may have kept me from getting to that point in the first place. I certainly am not blaming my illness on anyone else here. What I am saying is that if you are reading this, it is for one of two reasons: you are suffering from depression and looking to be comforted knowing that someone else feels the same, or you love someone who suffers from depression. If you love someone, please look for the signs before is spirals to that incredibly painful point of suicidal thoughts.
This leads me to my “well-meaning” friends… I have many friends of many religious faiths, and some of none at all. I’m going to try and be delicate here, but if you have read anything that I write, or know me at all, you know that I am a “say it like it is” kind of girl. I apologize in advance if I offend you. It is not my intention.
It seems to me that many of my well-meaning friends, most of them Christians, have said things to me like “You just need to let go and let God.” Or “You really need to pray about that.” Or “Let me pray for you.” Or “The scriptures say…” Just to clarify, I am a Christian, so I do appreciate that these friends are at least trying to help in some way. However, I just want to throw this out as a warning. Be careful when you throw your Christianisms around. The Christian world, at least at the church that I was involved in, has a whole vocabulary of things that they say that society as a whole does not appreciate or understand. I could get into this more, but it’s off topic, so I won’t.
What I will say is this: when I was at my very lowest point in my life, my most vulnerable point, the point where I most needed help, well-meaning Christian friends said some of these things to me. In that state of mind, I took it to mean that my faith was not strong enough. I took it to mean that I obviously did not trust God enough. I took it to mean that I obviously do not know or understand the scriptures. And I can tell you that nothing could be further from the truth! I believe that God works in wondrous and mysterious ways. I believe that God put that doctor I spoke of yesterday into my path to help me. I believe that God gave man medical knowledge to help people like me.
In my case, admittedly, I am probably hypersensitive in the area of faith (another long store for another time). However, I have heard this same sentiment echoed in others who suffer from depression. So I beg you, my faithful friends, please be sensitive when speaking to someone about their struggles. It is my opinion that saying something like “You just need to let go and let God” is equivalent to saying “I’m judging you because I don’t think you are trusting God enough.” And you know what the Bible has to say about those who judge others (Matt 7:1-3).
It is my hope and my prayer that the things that I have shared over the last 2 days help in some way. Although I may have, in the past, referenced my depression, or spoken about it in passing, I have never so publicly put my struggles out there for the world to see. Depression is a wicked struggle that the world has treated abhorrently until very recently. My hope is that you, the reader, will either be comforted by what you’ve read, or will be able to comfort someone who feels the same as I have in my past.