This post was originally published November 2010. I had spent years trying to put on a good face, hide any issues I might have because it could be a “bad witness” to the redemption of Christ. This was one of the first times I talked openly about depression, and shortly after that got into counseling for the first time. 2011 ended up being a huge year of growth for me.
There are several dark years in my Teens. Years where I didn’t want to get up out of bed, where I had a hard time smiling, where I thought about suicide and planned how I could end my pain forever. At some point, I discovered several food sensitivities as well as low thyroid and was able to make some improvements in my health. With less physical pain in my life I was able to cope with my depression a little better, but it was still a struggle. I was under a lot of pressure, there were a lot of rules. I was not allowed to decide anything for myself, my life’s path felt pre-determined, I had to pretend to be who my parents wanted me to be.
When I fell in love and got married I was sure that depression was gone forever. I was so happy! I loved my new husband with all my heart. I was moving out, freedom was mine! I would have a place to call my own, a place to be who I really was. Life was good. We got pregnant on our honeymoon and I was ecstatic. I was fulfilling my purpose in life!
Then a few short months in, we lost that baby. And the depression came raging back. For several months I gained weight. I slept most of the day. I cried. A few months later we were cautiously expecting again, but then lost that baby at only 6 weeks along.
A year later our first born baby Ms Action arrived and my heart started to heal, surely now depression was gone for good.
But no, despite all my dreams coming true, husband, home, babies of my own, the depression was always lurking under the surface and at times overwhelming me. I kept trying to find reason for it, a cure had to be around somewhere. I must be doing something wrong.
If only I could get my act together. When I was able to keep up the housework, when I was able to be the perfect wife and fulfill all his desires before he even had to ask, when I was able to stand up for myself to my family, when my kids were well behaved and started sleeping better, when I was the loving attentive mom I wanted to be all day every day… Then surely the depression would go away, I just had to figure out how to get my life in order and that darkness would be gone for good.
After a move out of the country and the birth of our 3rd child I was depressed again. Of course I didn’t tell anyone, like usual I kept it all inside. It was like a flaw I had to hide. After all, the depression was my own fault, if I just figured out how to get everything in order and relied more on the spirit, then I wouldn’t be depressed. And I had everything I’d ever wanted, a loving husband I adored, babies that were the joy of my heart, how dare I be depressed? I had no right to be so ungrateful!
But now, my husband had been married to me four years, and it was getting harder and harder to hide stuff from him. This time around, he could tell that something was wrong. And he confronted me on it. He looked it up on the Internet and told me that maybe my depression had flared up again because I was Post-Partum. When I protested that I was “fine” he read me the symptoms, and said that he wanted to do what it took to help me get better. And then he reassured me that he loved me. Even if I was depressed for the rest of our lives, he loved me just the way I was.
I was blown away. He didn’t think I was selfish or ungrateful. He didn’t base his love for me on how happy I was. He just loved me, and he wanted to be there for me. And so began an interesting journey.
After acknowledging my depression for the first time since my teens, I stopped trying to justify it. I stopped coming up with reasons why I was down, things to explain away how I was feeling. I was depressed, and that was OK. It was OK to admit it and start to figure out how to get help.
I read about one lady’s struggle with addiction and I was shocked by how much I resonated with it. Someone recovering from an alcohol addiction identifies as an alcoholic, not because they are still drinking, but because they recognize that it is a struggle that never goes away. Why was I protesting my own struggle so hard? Maybe living with depression was similar to living with an addiction in some ways, maybe there was no magic day where I would be completely healed and 100% happy and joyful all the time. Maybe depression would be something that was always be a part of my life in some way?
The thought was terrifying and liberating at the same time.
Terrifying, because I had always seen depression as something wrong with me, something I had to conquer completely in order to be a valuable person. Liberating,because I could recognize for the first time that it was OK to have struggles and that maybe there was something I could do about it.
I know I have further to go. I hope to get into some counselling very soon. And for the first time in my life I am even open to medication if it came to that. But I have already made strides in the right direction. Here are some of the ways that I have tackled my depression over the last couple of months.
I’m honest about how I feel today. I used to feel so alone, like I had to hide my depression. Depression was a sign of failure and spiritual weakness. If I told myself it wasn’t there, I didn’t have to admit that anything needed to be worked on. Now I don’t hide anymore. I don’t give the patent answer “I’m fine”. I try to be honest about what my feelings are.
Kicking Perfectionism. Perfectionism has played a huge role in my depression. I had a long list of things that I felt I was failing at, and that list was always accusing me, making me feel worthless. I still slip up and start to compare myself to others and tell myself that I should be doing more than I am, but I’m getting better and better at spotting it and stopping the cycle before it starts.
I’m not looking for a magic cure anymore, I’m OK even if I’m not 100% happy all the time. If I had a day that I felt overwhelmed and just wanted to crawl back into bed, I was filled with fear. What if this was the start of a down cycle? What if tomorrow or next week was even worse? Was I ever going to get better? Now I remind myself (or ask my husband to remind me!) that even though today is a really down day, that doesn’t mean that tomorrow will be bad. And even if it is, that’s OK. I’m actively working on this issue, and I’m happy if I can improve my ratio of up days vs. down days.
I take care of myself. I used to tell myself that I wasn’t worth taking care of. Until I got rid of the failure in my life I didn’t deserve anything. Now I try to take care of my body and my mind.
I try to be real, honest, authentic. I’m not trying to maintain the illusion anymore. I’m not the type of person that showers every morning and puts on makeup. I’m not the kind of person whose house is always in order and never has days where I spend too much time on the Internet. I stopped spanking my kids because I hated the person it changed me into. I continue to have my doubts about God and Christianity. I can get lost for hours in a good book. I love to bake. I tend to get emotional about other people’s pain. I have no idea if I will ever have it all together, but I do know that I will never stop trying. I know that I love my husband and my kids beyond words. I know that I don’t have to be anyone but myself.
I’m learning to forgive myself. I will make mistakes. I am not perfect. A slip up does not mean I am doomed, I can apologize. I can try again. I can change.
I don’t listen to what I don’t need to hear. This means I don’t buy everything that blog commentators or relatives on facebook say about me. I don’t believe everything that my mom and dad tell me anymore. I limit my reading to what builds me up, and that includes blogs and even twitter accounts. I don’t read the Christian books/blogs/articles that tell me that I am a failure because I struggle with depression. I don’t read the books/blogs/articles that tell me what I have to do to be a “good” Christian and please God. I don’t read the books/blogs/articles that tell me that my kids will all end up in jail if I don’t use corporal punishment and homeschool them. If I find my self dragged down by something, I force myself to put it away.
I’m sorting through all the lies I was told about myself, and letting myself be angry about it. Acknowledging what has happened to me so that I can heal and grow from it instead of pretending everything was fine. This has been complicated, because I believed for a long time that anger was a sin, and that God defined forgiving as forgetting. I thought that it was wrong to think differently from my “elders”, people older and wiser in the faith than I, and that it was better for me to do what I was told than to ask questions for myself. I was conditioned to think that talking about mistakes of the past meant that I was “bitter” and “unforgiving” and “unteachable”. So I continued to believe that women were created to be the slave of men, that children were evil and manipulative and needed sin spanked out of them, that sin or weakness in anyone’s life was a sign of failure and lack of true relationship with God. And I believed everything that I had been told about myself as a child, above all that I was lazy and selfish. I let other people define me.
I try not to do things I don’t want to do. Maybe my mom thinks I should stay at a wedding reception with my 3 babies until 11:00 PM? That doesn’t mean I have too. The pastor’s wife is “supposed” to have several families over for dinner each month? I don’t have too. Now I try to go with my gut and listen to the opinions of who really matters to me, like my husband and children.
***This blogpost is not meant to be a “step by step” rulebook for getting out of depression, this is simply my journey. This is me, writing about my discoveries about myself and learning to set myself free from my chains.***