This is the third of this series about my time with depression. It was inspired by the Piece of Mind Exhibition which is trying to raise awareness of mental health and well-being. It will take place on the 24th in St Andrews‘ Victory Memorial Hall.
My aim is not to talk about how hard my time was, to gain attention, pity and spread sadness. My aim is and always was to describe what I went through in order to help clear up a few assumptions about depression. I want to describe the medical parts, the irrational parts, the hindsight I can enjoy now about what was happening to me. I have learnt a lot and hope my honesty can help others who might be suffering themselves, or be close to someone who is and need some information about what’s going on inside. My story is not the same as everyone else. Everyone is different. My story might hold a few clues to something which for a long time has held a stigma and misunderstanding. I am also exhibiting a piece and so at the bottom you will find details about my progress.
I came off the pills mid-way through February. It simply something suggested by my doctor, we hadn’t spoken much about it but she was right in that nothing horrific had happened recently and any stress was pretty normal everyday stress. Even so it caught me off guard, I just hadn’t thought about it for a while and taking them before bed each night had just become routine. It wasn’t that I wanted to be on the pills, it’s just that I had become use to their presence. By that I don’t mean I’d got used to the effect of them, I couldn’t really tell what the effect was, but they were just part of life. I suffered from depression, the pills helped me cope, it was just part of my life. I was at the doctors for a completely different (slightly stressful) reason which I won’t go into now, so for her to suggest coming off them was a surprise. I simply thought it was a null issue, I don’t like thinking that now, but it’s the way it was.
Worry of relapse. My biggest worry that night, while reminding myself (for once) not to take my pill, was of relapse. I was thankful that my life had calmed a little, that I was OK and not silently curled up on my bed unable to speak. I was thankful that I didn’t have to fight with myself to go out, or socialize, or do something I would actually enjoy. I was thankful simply for the normality I was experiencing, that I could be more myself, the self of before, than I had been in a long time, and I was thankful that the weight, the heaviness, the darkness, could no longer be felt clinging to my brain whispering evil to me. It is strange to think that I was anxious and worried by the idea I could become worried, anxious and low again.. seems a bit self-defeating really, a bit like a self-prophesy which would just have me chasing my tail. It was strange but I think somehow understandable. When people are scared by a horror film, the reason they don’t watch it again is that in some ways they are scared of being scared again, they are scared of the effect the film might have on them. I was a bit like that for a few days, watching myself to catch any shadows of the past, just incase I was slipping back into old ways.
One morning sitting in church, I had some very familiar feelings. Again I understood the irrationality first. I had smiled at someone and been ignored (understandably – they were busy and getting ready for the worship time) and although my reason told me not to take it personally, everything was fine, I started to weep. I felt tense, a delicate, as if the chance of anyone touching me or speaking to me was too much and I’d fold. My husband saw that I didn’t seem to be OK and we sat down. I tried to explain, tried to shake it off, and tried to hide the pressure of tears in my eyes behind a hat I was wearing and my hair infront of my face. It had been something so small, and I knew it, and I knew the truth but my body seemed to be reading different instructions. My face was going read, my eyes were puffy, and my heart was beating fast. I really wanted to run away out the door and not come back, ever. That wasn’t an option for a lot of reasons, but I (the other part of me) didn’t want to. I was here for a reason, I had friends here, I had chosen to be here. I just felt exhausted, and fragile, and like I really didn’t need this today. I finally understood the “waking up on the wrong side of the bed” because that’s what it felt like. I had just woken up wrong, woken up with something bad in my head, and it was deciding to play games with me. The worry of relapse came back to me, of course, and so a few of the tears were of complete terror. I never wanted to go back to that, I didn’t want to be depressed, alone, anxious, and scared, I didn’t want to feel the weight in my head and I didn’t want the darkness to encompass all I had worked so hard to get back in my life. I wanted a life, not a shadow of one. After a little while, a few well hidden tears, a little worship time, and resting my mind – just sitting down for a bit, I was OK. It was still going to feel like a long day but it wouldn’t be a disaster. I wouldn’t be a disaster.
I continued watching my back for a long time, just to make sure, but the heaviness didn’t reemerge.
One thing that a wise friend of mine had said to my husband (the first time off the pills) was to be careful about the 6 week mark. When he told me I wasn’t in the best mood anyway so this made me feel like a time bomb or some child who could at any moment run into the road whilst playing. But that wisdom helped us understand the medical parts of the pills. By 6 weeks any residual chemicals added by the medication will have been flushed out. At that point you can tell whether you brain has healed itself, whether it wants to walk down the same path you do, whether it can cope with the everyday stresses you need it to. Waiting for the 6 week point was difficult but when we got there I felt relief, and a week after that I felt more relief, and so it continued.
Now I feel like I might be really past it. We (me and the pinkish grey mass inside my skull) are OK. We may have hard times, and it’s still a journey, but I’m OK, I can cope. It is definitely still a journey because I’m still learning to build up the hours I can socialize without feeling rubbish at the end of the night. I’m still learning how to take on the right amount of activity so I don’t drive myself into the ground of exhaustion and risk my health. I’m still learning how to relearn skills such as dealing with time pressures, and work stress, and spontaneous adventure risk-taking. That’s not all a bad thing, but it’s something that will take time and effort and willpower. It’s a progressive journey not a finishing point.
One of the things I wanted to finish with here was my walk with God through all this. I have heard just about everything in relation to depression and Christianity. You can find Christians who simply don’t understand how anyone can be depressed. There are many reasons for this view: surely God makes everything better? God can heal so your depression should just be prayed away/you’re just not praying hard enough/not got enough faith. God tells you not to worry so don’t and it’ll go away. There are then views that no Christian should take medication because you’re then not relying on God enough. There are people who simply think you’re being emotional, overly dramatic, silly, or attention-seeking. Most of these made me angry before I was depressed, during just made me feel worse, and now just make me pity those people whose friends suggest such drivel.
Here are a few things you need to know if you are suffering with depression, or are generally just not in a good place.
Firstly, the “prosperity gospel” has a lot of things wrong with it and Jesus certainly never claimed that everything in life was going to be rosy/great/easy. Anyone who tells you that is lying: the disciples who evangelised after Jesus’ death had pretty crappy lives and more often than not got brutally executed (some more than once)! Jesus suffered too and promises the hope of good things to come, good things in your eternal life with Him, and comfort from the storm. There’d be nothing to comfort if things didn’t suck sometimes.
Secondly, God can heal. I believe that wholeheartedly and I prayed for my own depression to be healed. That doesn’t mean He will every time, and that doesn’t make Him bad, it doesn’t mean He’s not listening. My God is one that cries with me, and like Jesus, sometimes the situations we have to bear can’t be taken off us. I am not God, I don’t know His reasons. What I can say is that not having enough faith or praying enough is a horrible thing to say to someone who is already struggling. Rather than condemning them how about a pray or continuous prayer for them.
Thirdly, God does say not to worry, but it was never meant to be a commandment. What parent yells an order to stop feeling awful? You Father wants to comfort you, He is close whispering comfort, asking you to trust Him, crying for you and reminding you that He’s there for you. It’s not something for you to worry about not doing (worrying about worrying is a little silly), it’s something meant to help.
Fourthly, depression is a medical diagnosis for a neurological issue. It is a broken leg of the brain. It is not just being emotional, it is chemicals in your mind going a little wrong. It’s like trying to make a cake and it going flat. It’s not going to rise if you just will it to, the chemistry was wrong. If you break your leg you go to a doctor and they give you pain killers and a cast. Having depression needs a doctor just as much. I wholeheartedly believe God uses doctors and nurses, those people who care enough to go to university for a long time to be able to help in the best way possible, to heal us and help us and care for us. It is not something someone can fake, and often people in that situation just want things to go back to normal. Counselling is often a part of care, and I would not encourage everyone go on medication. But it’s an option and condemning your brothers and sisters for asking for help isn’t a good way to care for someone already in distress. Jesus in Gethsemane was in mental turmoil. His disciples were terrified and sad at a number of times. There are many examples in the Bible of depression, pain, suffering, and emotional trauma. We need to accept it and help people deal with it. Pray for them, point them towards a doctor, keep talking and comforting them, and ask God to do the same.
God was a help to me and through my depression has taught me a lot about compassion, the suffering God, love and pain. Do I wish it had not been put on me? Of course I do. Do I think I learnt something about life and God and the world through it. Oh yes. Ultimately, it wasn’t my choice and I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. But when I gave my life to God, that included in the awful crappy moments, not just the high points.
I hope my series has been useful. If anyone wants to ask questions about any of it please do get in touch. It can be completely confidential and anonymous and I will try to help or just listen, whatever you need.
Here are a few things that I would suggest if you feel like you are getting gradually depressed, or having suicidal thoughts. They may not all be useful but some of them definitely helped me.
- Talk to someone you trust. Sit them down and make them listen the entire way through. Even if they don’t understand (which they likely won’t) they will be able to sit, listen, and at least know for future reference that you’re not in a good place.
- Go to the doctor and be 100% honest. This can be really scary, and the connotations tend to make you think they’ll stick you on medication and said you to some psychiatrist who will make you more freaked out than before. It’s untrue and you are still in control of your life. They are there to help. If you get a crappy doctor, find another one.
- Find somewhere you feel safe, calm, and that you can enjoy time by yourself rather than feeling alone. This probably means it shouldn’t be your bedroom because you want it to be somewhere special you can go to chill out, not somewhere you hide. Go there when you are stressed and just try to think of the positives. I know that’s hard!
- Watch your diet and exercise. Try to get out in the fresh air, make sure you at least walk regularly, if not head to the gym. Fatty foods although might be comforting are known to worsen your mood, and if you’re anything like me fatty foods come with guilt. Eat well, with people preferably, and it may well help stave off those bad moods and low points.
- Keep a diary. If you can write down everything you’re thinking and feeling it may well help to point out where you can look after yourself better and free your mind of those annoying little thoughts that are dragging you down.
- Remember: if this is depression it is NOT YOU FAULT. It is in fact nobody’s fault and although situations, grief, and relationships can have an effect, it’s often only a tiny part of what is going on. Try not to blame yourself, call yourself stupid, crazy, or anything else negative. It doesn’t help, and it’s not true. Just like falling and breaking your wrist is unfortunate, it’s hardly like only stupid people break bones.
Piece of Mind: Progress
Having decided on an everyday scene to emphasise the fact that most of the time it was normally, it was often little things that would flick the switch. I would go to class, the library, see friends, etc perfectly normally. Things would be going on inside that no-one could tell from outside or without me saying that something was wrong. It is not something you can point out. I picked a scene in St Andrews, outside the Church in the very centre, as God had a big part of my life throughout my time with depression. It should give a decent contrast to the surreal scene of war inside my head.
I have been using watercolour, but decided nearer the end to leave some of the pencil detail in. It looks a little rough but I think it works in a strange way. I’ve cut down the sheet of paper to a more reasonable size which is good and hopefully the fact that I don’t have a frame won’t be too much of an issue for the exhibition. Below you will find my photographs of the piece in progress and finally finished. I’m still not sure if I’m happy with it, but I’m not sure I’m ever going to be. It was a hard time of my life and finding one image for that isn’t necessarily going to happen easily. I am very tempted to add a smaller cartoon drawing. Something upbeat and expressive. We’ll see. If you want to see the finished piece please do come along to the exhibition! If you can’t then watch out for the post I will be writing about the event as a whole!