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Depression & Relapse

Depression is a dark and cloudy cell. I almost called it a cage, but a cage lets the light in. The cell, if one is lucky (or unlucky) has one small window in the door. It does not allow outside light to glow through it. Only more of the same bleak, colorless "florescentized" light.

I could lift my head, diminishing the angst, but even that takes too much effort. I could try to leave my cell, but the cell surrounds me wherever I go. The one I love attempts to put food through the tiny window, but there is no desire, no hunger.

I still have a bit of fight in me. I bounce off the cement walls with no hope of escape. And then lie still with my hands over my head, pulling in, pulling in, swallowing myself, anesthetized against the hope that could be a lifeline.

This is what depression feels like.

Did you know that over 25% of people in the US suffer from depression at one time or another in their lives? Some of that depression is situational or related to medication side effects. Other times, it is due to a permanent brain chemical imbalance that might have been inherited. It could even be seasonal.

Whatever causes it, it is not fun. It robs life of joy. It steals motivation. It corrodes our self esteem. And it makes God seem very distant.

We are very fortunate that between medication, therapists and acknowledging God’s love, we can be stable for quite some time. However, that does not mean that there will not be relapses, especially if you have inherited this disease.

How can you deal with a relapse? Here are some things that I have found very beneficial.

First of all, life seems overwhelming. Rather than try anything to avoid the internal pain, do ONE thing that makes you feel better (a hot shower, a favorite movie with a bowl of popcorn, a walk around the block on a sunny day, riding a bicycle, running,etc.) There might be a time when you are just aching to nap and nap, and maybe that’s just what you need, but you can’t stay there.

Once you have done that one thing, sit down and take a bit of time out. It is vital that you not blame yourself or fall into the “nothing-is-good” mode. Even and especially when you don’t feel like it, make a list of things that ARE good, however small they are and look for blessings.

Take stock of your commitments. We never know when the depression will sneak up on us, and we have to make adjustments. Is there any commitment you can move to the back burner for now to give yourself space to heal?

You care. You care about people you have made commitments to. You care about what it will look like when you have to cancel or reschedule. Will you be seen as undependable? Most illnesses are unpredictable, and this is one time not to judge yourself, even if others seem to. At some point, you have to allow God to control all of this. Your job is to care for yourself in a healthy way until you can get back on the horse.

Think about what might have led up to the depression. Did it happen gradually or did it explode one day into your life unexpectedly? Look for triggers. Try to keep a mood journal. I made the mistake of keeping it and then not keeping it because I was doing so well. And then the depression hit, and I’m not sure what triggered it initially. I do know that I went cold turkey off of pain medication after knee surgery (don’t ever do this) because the side effects were becoming painful and unbearable. It would have made more sense to work with my physician and do a gradual weaning.

Is there a support person in your life who will listen and not try to fix you? (Just know that depression will test any relationship, especially a marriage!) Some of us have those people in our lives who do not need to fix us. Others do not, and probably need to check in with a therapist. By the way, seeing a therapist is something that you are supposed to do if you are on any mood-altering medication!

If you have a dog, you are very fortunate. You can use the dog as a therapy animal…you will get kisses, a head on your thigh, and he will listen (especially if you give treats) and never try to fix anything. He can’t. And no one else can either.

Try to recall a time when you were not depressed and remind yourself that that will return. This is only for a season, and you will get better. You might need a dosage change. Talk to your psychiatrist. You may just need time to unload the things that are burdening you and rest in God’s unconditional love. God’s love is a given. God doesn’t run away when you are depressed, even if you can’t feel God’s presence. Remind yourself of that. “Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes with the morning.” (Psalm 30:5b)

Continue self-care as long as you can. Take a week (or two) off work. If you feel comfortable doing so, share with your manager what is going on, but there has to be a healthy level of trust between you. Unfortunately, discussing mental health issues is sometimes STILL not a good idea! You would think that with all of the very successful people who have opened up about depression and bi-polar disorder, people would be more accepting! Try to juggle your work responsibilities by either working from home where you have more flexibility or seek support from another colleague.

One word of caution, if you should ever feel the slightest bit suicidal, get help immediately! Never allow suicidal thoughts to turn into suicidal actions.

When you are beginning to feel better, do not necessarily go back to business as usual. You may need to make some adjustments in your life to balance out your input and take-away. Maybe it means dropping a relationship that is toxic. Maybe it means doing more things that give you joy and less “have-to’s” or "shoulds." Maybe you need to slow things down so that you will have more space to enjoy who you are, where you are. Not everything has to be done all of the time. Sometimes you just need to get out of your head for a while and do something physical: clean the house, plant some flowers, help a neighbor, listen to happy music. God’s big, beautiful world is waiting there for you to enjoy! Don’t let busyness rob you of those things that contribute to a healthy state of mind. And don’t allow depression to have the final say!


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