Moses answered the people, “Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you today. The Egyptians you see today you will never see again. The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.”
~Exodus 14:13-14 (NIV)
I suffer from depression. This isn’t something I used to talk about. It’s nothing I’m ashamed of, because I’m still here. But it’s definitely something misunderstood. And most people are afraid and embarrassed about it, whether it’s happened to them or someone they love.
I’m still here. Which means I’m strong enough to get through that one-more-moment that I needed to get through. But what about the next time? Will I be strong enough then?
Being strong hurts. It hurts not having someone else to lean on, to help pick up the pieces of a fractured heart, or scream happiness with. It hurts to be the one, and not have the one.
Do you ever think about the percentage of creative people who deal with depression and other “disorders”? I believe it’s because we feel things much deeper than average people. Artists of any media are particularly susceptible to opening ourselves up to a life that wounds us to the core. Feeling terrible is better than not feeling at all, and feeling it at such a depth makes the creativity that much more powerful.
When I’m affected by the chasms and peaks of life, I see it more broadly than I can express, except through emotion. I find beauty in hurts and puzzles in rays of sunshine.
I feel more deeply and am more confused by the beauties of this life than I can ever begin to explain. I don’t search for the darkness, but neither am I always afraid of it.
I’ve struggled through some horrendous moments and I’m lucky to be alive. I don’t share the details of my story with a lot of people, because I never know how they’ll react.
There’s a certain vulnerability with letting someone have the keys to your destruction, and trusting them enough to not use it against you.
That’s not my saying. I stole that gem of wisdom from my writing mentor.
In the context of a good book, the characters need to be flawed and need to struggle with each other. In the context of life, it’s a lot more complicated, and a lot more unsettling, and doesn’t always wrap up neatly.
Mostly, life is good and I’m okay. But now and then, something, or a collection of somethings, will trigger that stress in me and try as I might, I can’t always “put on a happy face”.
Depression has its own set of rules that unless you’ve been there, you can’t possibly navigate. Well-meaning people have tried to control or change me. They don’t realize it’s not as simple as that.
I’m not discounting the benefits of avoiding triggers and trying to make things better. But depression is an internal event.
Here are just a few gems from people who haven’t been there:
- “If you just stopped thinking about it, you’d be happier.”
- “Get some rest. Things will be better in the morning.”
- “Have you tried vitamins?”
- “Doctors don’t know everything. You should see someone else.”
- “Medications only make it worse.”
- “You need a change of scenery. Why don’t you get out for the day or take a weekend vacation?”
- And what I find to be the most hurtful: “You just don’t have enough faith.”
There’s also the struggle to identify a cause. Many times, my depression is provoked by something nameless. It’s a constant presence, in the shadowy corners, just waiting to be recognized. It’s its own thing, caused by nothing and solved by nothing else.
The best a person with depression can sometimes hope for is just to breathe through the moment.
I say again, I’m lucky. Through years of hard work, self observance, and a decent group of friends to support me, I’ve learned to identify my triggers and my solutions.
I’ve learned to monitor my body. If I’m not eating healthy enough or sleeping enough, that can make my thoughts a little less clear. Which makes it hard to filter out the negative thoughts.
I know the difference between having a glass of wine with dinner, and going out to a bar so I don’t have to stay home alone. Self-medicating isn’t just about medicines. It can also be food, TV, thought patterns . . . whatever a person uses to feel better.
I’ve learned that the most important thing I can do is reach out. It’s also the hardest. My depression embarrasses me. I’m a typically joyful, outgoing person. I love nothing more than to be surrounded by people whether it’s church, fellow writers, or even my favorite clients from the day job.
I also don’t like to bring other people down. I don’t want to explain myself or disappoint my friends. I don’t want to hear someone’s outside opinion of what I’m doing wrong. So I keep to myself. Or I hide it behind the fake smiles and the hugs and the I’m-Doing-Fine’s.
And I keep hiding. Until it’s bigger than I can handle. Until something’s gotta give.
“Stop forcing a catastrophe where there’s not even a storm.”
I’m lucky to have friends who have known me long enough to realize my triggers before I sometimes do. Friends who can talk me down from the ledge when I didn’t know I’d even stepped out. And I’m lucky those friends were there for me this weekend.
I wasn’t in physical danger, but I was certainly not in a good place. What I thought was just fatigue and anxiety had combined with, as they pointed out, the exorbitant amount of stress from the last few months until I stopped fighting the triggers. I began barking at people with an unfiltered vocabulary. I broke promises. I was ready to fight almost everyone in my path. And I didn’t care.
Depression can garble thoughts. What I think is right in the moment, isn’t. Who I think is against me, isn’t. But I can’t recognize what’s right, or I don’t want to admit the embarrassment of misunderstanding. Even if it’s fleeting. Even if it’s undeserved. Apologizing for being irrational is a painful and humiliating experience. So I don’t.
I just can’t seem to get this life-thing right. So the depression grows. And I keep it to myself.
My depression comes with its own trust issues. It’s hard to know who to talk to, who to tell what to, and who to listen to. Do they really understand me? Do they have my best interests at heart? Or do they want to “help” me to feel superior about themselves? They’ve not been here, they’ve not had these thoughts. How can they possibly understand.
I tried to read my Bible for that whisper of hope and direction. I just heard the words “Be still.” Which I couldn’t do. I mean, I’m depressed, right? Which means I’m anxious. My legs are bouncing while I’m sitting. Or I’m up, pacing the floor. Or sitting on the bench practicing my steady breathing and hoping not to hyperventilate.
If one more person asks how I’m doing then keeps walking instead of waiting for a real answer, I’m gonna lose it.
I didn’t want to lose it. I had to find a way to fight this. I had to find a way to get back to being me. But I’m afraid to talk to anyone because this is different than who I was ten or twenty years ago. They won’t see that. They’ll just see this and think same ol’ same ol’.
And then I found it. Exodus 14:13-14. Moses answered the people, “Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you today. The Egyptians you see today you will never see again. The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.”
Just as God led Moses to the Red Sea, He led me to my shore. He parted the stormy waters so that whatever was threatening them in their future vanished, and He promised that what was troubling them in their past would remain in their past. He didn’t promise them a perfect tomorrow. He just promised them a way out for now.
Stop. Take a breath. You asked for my help, and I’m here. Now. In this moment.
And in that moment, with my trusted friends, I was able to securely reach out and know, it’s gonna be okay. They’re not judging me based on past moments. They’re not judging me at all.
They’re just reaching back.
December 8, 2014
My depression is something I will always have to live with. Most of the times, it’s dormant, hidden, controlled. When it isn’t, I have to learn it’s okay to stop fighting myself and others. I don’t always have to keep this a secret.
And I don’t have to be ashamed.
This weekend I realized I have too much to say. I’ve been quiet for too long. It’s time to be authentic and reach out, so others can reach back.
Tonight I feel just a little less lonely. And I think I’m gonna sleep better than I have for a while.
And Frankly, My Dear . . . that’s all she wrote!
You may also enjoy reading:
Before You Pray
It’s Complicated, Part Two: Christianity