Life Musings

One step away: battling depression

Tonight a young woman was brought into our tiny ER in Ecuador by her husband who claimed she had a headache. The patient herself wouldn´t speak. As we tried to engage her with questions to illicit a response we were met with a blank stare and silent tears. Her eyes were vacant, as if she had disappeared and we were only seeing the shell that remained. I noticed another family member holding a new baby, about a month and a half old (hers) and Postpartum Depression immediately came to mind.

You see, I recognized her lifelessness and despair as someone who has been cured of cancer shudders at the memory of their former disease, always knowing the remission might not last, fearing the moment when the tumor may rear its ugly head again. Depression, like cancer, runs in my family. We are a family of strong, independent women, but too many of us have known the debilitating effects of anxiety coupled with despondency.

I remember my mother joking one day on the way to church, ¨If one more person asks me how I am, I´m going to say ´I´m depressed, how are you?!´¨ We laughed until we cried, not knowing how else to alleviate the weight of her sadness. My sister too, has battled this illness. Her fight with despair brought us to an emergency room on a cold fall night as she desperately sought help from taking her own life.

¨One step away…¨ I never really understood this disease until I was overwhelmed by its power my Junior year in college. I had always been somewhat frustrated by people who claimed they were depressed. I thought to myself, ¨Pull yourself up by your bootstraps and get on with it!¨And then IT got me back. For me it was not just one thing that triggered this period of darkness, rather circumstances and an array of little things that just kept adding up. I slowly started detaching from myself and my environment. I remember excusing myself from a study group to ¨study alone¨ terrified that I wouldn´t be able to maintain the pretense of being normal or okay anymore, worried that at any moment I would start screaming or crying uncontrollably in front of my peers.

I started feeling like I was merely watching myself go through the motions without being connected to my body. I had to negotiate with myself to accomplish basic tasks like getting dressed and brushing my teeth. Nothing seemed important. I started taking sleeping pills and ignoring my friends. I stopped believing in God.

Soon, I began to think of ways of escaping the pain I was experiencing. Sleep offered relief but was only temporary, and even then my dreams were often too vivid and real. Ending my life began to seem like the only way to obtain peace from my internal suffering. I began to entertain ideas of how I would go, wondering but not really caring how my friends and family would react. My lack of energy and fear that I wouldn´t be successful in my attempt kept me from following through.

Slowly but surely, I started to emerge from this heaviness that threatened my life. I started admitting that I needed help. First, I told my sister (who thankfully didn´t freak out) and she kindly listened as I confessed I was suicidal. I surrounded myself with people I didn´t have to pretend in front of, who accepted me for the mess I was and let me be exactly that. I got counseling, many months of it. I learned what self-care was and how to start doing it. I started saying no.

It has been almost six years since my first bout with severe depression. My recovery did not take place over a period of months, rather every year I have found more glimpses of hope, more reasons to celebrate this life that I have been given. I still have days that I struggle to get out of bed, days where the routine seems monotonous and futile. Depression seems to always be lurking around the corner or hiding under my bed waiting for an opportune moment, a time of vulnerability or uncertainty to strike again.

Like anyone who is in remission from a serious disease, I will always have to guard myself against a possible relapse. It´s nights like tonight watching this young mother fight her own battle that I am reminded of how easily it could be me. How it was me.

I am reminded of how illness is really just one step away from wellness. I am humbled by a God who loves me and shepherds me through the valley of the shadow of death, who sees this young mother and knows intimately her pain and sorrow. I am thankful for the tools and resources I`ve gained that have made me stronger against the deceit of despair. I am grateful for the power of healing and the power of prayer. Truthfully, I would not still be here without the love and support of those who care about me and without God´s grace.

As we see others in the midst of fighting their own battles with depression and anxiety, may we encourage and support them in every way possible. This is not a fight that can be won individually, rather it is a community effort that helps to destroy this enemy. There is help to those who seek it. The journey to recovery is not easy or short but it is possible. I pray that we may find comfort in each other´s stories, in the honest acknowledgement of our own weakness and shortcomings. I pray that the word failure may start to diminish its hold over us as we accept our own humanness. I hope that we will allow ourselves to make mistakes and to admit that we are all in need of grace.

We cannot know what the future may bring  or the purpose of illness in our lives but we can be confident that God holds us in His hands when He says, ¨For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.¨ (Jeremiah 29:11 ESV) I pray for those who are still walking through the valley, and for those that have received healing I pray that they will continue to walk in victory over the darkness and into the Light. We are never alone.  (Taken in March of 2008 while still in the midst of my struggle with suicide and depression).

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