There has been a tidal wave of discussion about depression following the suicide of Robin Williams. I am concerned by some of what I see washing up in the internet shallows. I am not a doctor, psychiatrist, or a counselor, or a theologian or an expert in any sense. I can only share my own journey.
There are two view points that particularly concern me. One is that depression can be cured if we just believe the right things, have enough faith. The other is that depression is a disease that leaves us without any control.
In my experience, depression is complex. There are physical and spiritual and psychological and social elements. Some precursors to depression for me involve:
1) not enough sleep, not eating well (both can lead to low serotonin levels).
2) Consumption of alcohol or narcotic pain meds. Not that I don’t enjoy an occasional drink, or have surgery without anesthesia, but I know that these can leave me really low. Some pain medicines interfere with the uptake of neurotransmitters.
3) Hormonal imbalance, particularly surrounding pregnancy and birth. There is a reason God gave special promises of deliverance and gentle leading to those who were with young.
4) Prolonged periods of stress (physical or emotional). Vitamin deficiency and adrenal fatigue would go with this too.
5) Small traumas that bring to mind greater traumas.
When I am depressed, it is hard to believe the right things about God. Godly sorrow is replaced by something sinister and overwhelming. I know what the voice of Jesus says, but there are other voices screaming louder. Some signs I have learned to recognize that I am on that path:
1) getting caught up in a performance based spirituality.
2) not allowing myself to receive the grace that has been given
3) avoiding relationship with God or others because I am caught up in my own unworthiness and sin.
4) hyper- anything . “A man who fears the Lord avoids all extremes”.
5) responding to feelings of condemnation by running away from God rather then toward Him.
What does depression feel like for me?
Shame. Constant reminder of my own lack and sin and failure and stupidity without a sense that my Comforter is near. It feels like walking by faith and not sight, because everything around me is dark. Sometimes it doesn’t feel like anything, only numb. Sometimes it is physically painful. Sometimes it is nights awake till 2 am remembering every stupid thing I have ever done. Sometimes it is opening my Bible and finding only condemnation.
What brings me out?
1) Sleep. Rest. Eating well. Addressing medical issues. Taking my vitamins. Exercise. There have been times I have gone to bed questioning the value of my own continued existence, and enough rest was all it took to get my rational mind was functioning again.
2) Getting out of bed and doing what my rational mind tells me is right even though I feel like crap and that I am probably getting it wrong every second I am doing it and I just want to sleep.
3) Extending grace to others. Even though in dark times, it is hard to “feel” God’s comfort to me, I know it is there. Sometimes extending comfort to someone else is all it takes to remind me.
4) Prayer. My perception may be skewed, but these lies are coming from somewhere. Depression is a time to cry out to the Comforter for help. Prayer has often pulled me up from the deepest pits. In running to the Comforter on my own behalf, I often find the strength to carry others before Him as well.
5) Breastfeeding. Oxytocin is awesome. Helps with post partum depression and anxiety. Sex is great too. As is cuddling with loved ones.
6) Letting people in. Relationships. Writing. Setting the lies in the light and watching them turn to dust.
7) Meds. For me, more of a seasonal thing. Something has happened, there was an intense period of prolonged stress. I’ve done the things I know to do and I just am not pulling out from it. Meds help. I don’t like taking them, but I know that there is a point where I need to be a functioning human being while my body sets about restoring equilibrium.
8) Consistent routine. This is only possible for me when I am not depressed. My downward spiral starts when I get too far from my routine. I know that in general, consistent spiritual discipline and exercise help me not get quite so low. When I renew my mind with scripture in the times my perception isn’t skewed, it gives me something to hold on to when it is.
This is just my journey. My perspective.