anxiety coping

Depression is No Secret to Keep

3:41 PMHeather

"Getting personal. A year ago, I was finally getting some relief from depression as I began meds. I never could have imagined how much healing God could bring, much less in this time frame. Keep pressing through. Wilderness journeys in my life always lead to new things by the grace of God."

When I posted this on my FaceBook status on July 26th, it was because I felt a sudden prompt to share an update on my journey with depression.

I didn't expect to hear from so many in dark and hidden struggles. 
I heard from people in hushed tones, through messenger or texts. Like a secret handshake between people belonging to same struggle. 

But depression isn't a secret to keep. I had no idea when I posted this status that a college friend was losing a battle with a depression that would soon overtake her.

I had no idea that a group message in the wake of her death this week would bring so many to open up about their own "secrets"  of depression.

I write today to share transparently what my depression has looked like and the coping skills I'm learning along the way. My hope is sharing will ease loneliness and isolation to those in the same grips. I want to open a dialogue so that we can release the shame of depression. 

This is the face of my depression, from April 2018. This was during a family trip, prior to seeking treatment. This was a good day, but the storms were still swirling.

Everyone's journey is different. I can't compare mine to anyone else's. My depression began slowly, with a combination of circumstances that left me feeling melancholy. I initially wrote it off as a season of life.  

I could smile and function and pretend things were okay. My tears were private and not too frequent. As a social worker myself, I thought I would just get through it. In hindsight, here is where the downward spiral actually began and when I should have sought help.

I began to struggle to enter certain group settings, particularly when people from whom I felt a sense of rejection were present. 

Attending these regular events and rhythms began to require that I brace myself, talking myself into the event for hours ahead of it. Eventually, I could hardly enter at all. I avoided eye contact, and felt so emotionally fragile that I took deep breaths, mentally counting down until I could quickly depart. 

On more than one occasion, I walked in and right out so no one would see me in tears. I dropped out of some things and stayed home more often.

In settings where I felt "safe" no one might know the hold that the social anxiety could have. I was holding it together, or so I convinced myself. 

I could be fine for the most part on most days, but the tiniest thing would tip the scales for me and I would unravel. These tipping points were benign. It made no sense that I would break into tears or feel the need to withdraw to my own room alone because of the smallest things.

One such tipping point was the last straw. Though I had contemplated it for months more than I should have, I finally caved and made an appointment with my doctor.

No, in fact, he stated firmly, it is not normal to always feel as if you are chasing away a black cloud... even when you feel you do successfully most of the time. He asked lots of questions, and then affirmed I was having symptoms of depression, complicated by hormone changes.

We discussed medication options, and I began to take Lexipro in July 2018. By September, we had pretty well landed on a proper dosage. 

Though I had one major panic attack in November, I'm one of the lucky ones. Because for me, it was a quick process to find a med that worked. Only as I began to feel like myself did I realize how much I had not been myself and for how long. It was senseless that I had tried to ignore it for so long.

For so many, the struggle for good mental health is far more complex and complicated. Like an untreatable cancer, healing or cure doesn't come for all. This was the case with my friend whose intense mental health struggles led to her death. 

No matter where you fall on the spectrum of mental health, I want to share what I'm learning about coping strategies and the need to prioritize them.

1. Time in Scripture and Prayer. My faith centers, grounds, and instructs every aspect of my life. The removal of some relationships and ministries forced my hand, and I rather reluctantly began to sit with my Bible and prayer journal for long stretches. 

Time with God does not cure my depression. But it absolutely equips me for each day's struggles. On the days I go without this time, I feel a difference. I need uninterrupted time to read and pray and start my day slowly. This is a luxury I can afford in this season, and I need to give myself permission for this important habit to walk into each day.

I'm learning how to schedule my calendar so that this can happen. I'm also learning to not feel apologetic for a daily rhythm that I need or indulgent for guarding this absolute for myself. This has meant saying no to some things and arranging my work schedule to accommodate it, even releasing some job responsibilities and pay. 

2. Learning balance and triggers. Once upon a time, I worked a high demand job that required 24/7 on call and constant redirection and juggling. Continually responding to sudden crisis was part of the position. 

I can't. I just can't do this right now. For me, when things unravel and my hand is forced with interruptions and redirections, it triggers anxiety and can lead to panic. 

Crowded calendars and crowded spaces are also triggers. Right now, I need margins for down time and to be mindful of situations where huge crowds are present. 

I'm learning how to have grace on myself to consider my emotional bandwidth. Sometimes, I have to be a big girl and get myself together, so perhaps the next day I'm careful to have a quieter evening. Other times, I have to be okay with saying no, whether it's understood or not.

3. Help.  Ask for help AND be the help. We find purpose and fulfillment when we help others. We also find strength when others walk along side us. While community is essential and God's design as the body of Christ -- to mourn with those who mourn and rejoice with those who rejoice -- it requires vulnerability and availability.

It's not optional, despite the inherent issues of relying on and serving broken people in a broken world. Asking for help requires that we've learned our limits and we feel no guilt by asking others to walk along side us. We can't ask them to be our "fix." We cannot expect others to be our solution and salvation. Only God can bear the weight of the world. But, we can consider tangible requests, like help with car pool, meals, or company when needed.

We have to have reasonable expectations of our friends and family, and rely on reputable and Biblically based professionals and mental health resources for the heavy lifting and therapy. 

We also need to be watchful of those in our lives. Be attentive. Be available. Be willing to walk through the mud and muck and though you cannot cure or heal depression and anxiety for someone, you can be present. And not being alone in it goes a long way.

These days, I feel like a different person than a year ago. I try to not take that for granted, being quick to notice when I see milestones and miracles like leading a small group in Bible study. A year ago, I couldn't have faced that type of setting. As I feel the light breaking through the fog, I have new compassion for those chasing away the black clouds.

I write today to put a voice and face to this thing we try to hide and keep secret. Living in shame only fuels the whole cycle. I pray my scars bring hope to the wounds of others. 

You are not alone. Let's not let depression be a secret we try to keep.

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