Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Depression, pull up a chair!

I've been struggling with depression really bad the last few months. It comes in waves, but when it hits it's worse than the normal waves that I've grown accustomed to over the years. These ones have been harsh, severe, completely overwhelming, and sometimes debilitating. I have been attributing it to going back to college, what with the extra stress that accompanies deadlines and extra responsibilities, especially when I haven't been used to this routine. I struggled with depression when I was going to college 12 years ago so I figured I must've hit a negative trigger when I started up again. Like resetting my memory button to remind myself, "Oh yeah, college was stressful and you were depressed so let's welcome back all those same feelings again!"  Boo.

I went and spoke with a therapist recently about all my woes and worries and got a lot off my chest. It felt good! After our second session, however, I felt like he broke up with me. I felt like he was telling me I was doing just fine and all I need to do is keep reminding myself of this truth: I am fine. I am fine. I am fine! I struggle from time to time but I am fine! 

I walked away feeling satisfied but also a little dejected that he thought I was better off than I felt inside. Overall,  It's probably better that I stopped going because it costs big money, but I wanted to be the one to decide when I was done and I felt like he decided for me.

Anyways, back to my depression.

The first time I remember feeling deeply, severely depressed was in high school when my parent's got divorced. I've scoured my journals along with the deep memories of my past I can't recall feeling depressed or anxious until the years following this traumatic event. 
This is where I have come to accept the reality of my depression without feeling guilt or blame. I no longer want to feel guilty for my personal struggles and frustrations with depression. They do not make me a weak or incompetent person. Nor do I want to continuously blame the cause of their existence. Many psychologists believe that certain people are more prone to pessimism, negative thoughts, and depression but these tendencies aren't prevalent until a catalyst brings them into play. I'm pretty sure that this catalyst for me was my parent's divorce. 

In recent readings for my Health and Wellness class it says that there are no simple answers to why people become depressed yet there are some possible factors to how depression develops. 

Heredity is one possible answer. Depressive disorders like Persistent Depression Disorder  can be passed down through simple genetics. 
Another factor is Background and Personality."People who have certain psychological backgrounds or personality characteristics appear to be more vulnerable to depression. Many specialists believe that some depressive disorders can be traced to a troubled childhood or  low self-esteem. Also people who consistently view themselves and the world with pessimism, or who become easily overwhelmed by stress tend to be more prone to depression." 
Then there are biochemical factors: "Some types of depression may result from abnormal chemical activity within the brain. These chemicals play a role in the transmission of electrical impulses from one nerve cell (neuron) to another. These chemical messengers, called neurotransmitters, set in motion the complex interactions that control moods, feelings, and behaviors."
Then there's physical illnessPeople who have chronic medical illnesses are at high risk of psychiatric illness, especially depression. 
Last there's the factor of Environment—"Environment can also contribute to the onset of a depression. Research has shown that stressful life events, especially those involving a loss or threatened loss, often precede episodes of depressive illness. Examples include the death of a loved one, a divorce, the loss of a job, a move to a new home, physical illness, the breakup of an important relationship, or financial problems." (AAP 1999)

Sometimes I get really down on myself because I don't understand why I have to deal with anxiety and depressive thoughts. In general I've always considered myself a really positive and upbeat individual. I remember being a really happy child with a busy, active, bright, and beautiful life. I remember loving everything and always looking forward to whatever adventures came my way. I felt comfort and security in the warm cocoon of my family. I often recall feeling so happy I could burst!

That's why it's hard for me when I start to feel so negative in my mind. It's hard for me when these sad, angry, resentful, or depressing feelings creep into my mind because that's not the way I want to be and I don't really think I am that person, yet looking back on the past 20 years or so I've been that person more often than I've wanted. 
I was taught to always look on the bright side of life. I often remember my Grandma Lois saying,
"I am happy when it snows, I am happy when it rains, and I am happy when the sun comes out! It's good to be happy in whatever situation you're in." 
This is always how I wanted my thoughts to be, too, yet it so often isn't. For me,  the snow and cold make me feel trapped and melancholy. My depression gets worse in the winter. I love summertime but it's really sad when it ends.... Summertime is the only season where I feel consistently okay.
I don't think it's realistic to feel happy ALL the time, but it seems that so often my happiness is dependent on everything going just the way I need it to, all around me. Loss of control is synonymous with loss of my happiness. When too much stress or out-of-control-feelings come into my life I get on a downward spiral where I just can't cope and everyone and everything around me seems hopeless and miserable, too. Then there's the crying for no reason. This mostly happens in the winter when I'm feeling suffocated in the cold weather.

 So what if my parent's divorce was the catalyst that brought my struggles with depression into play? Does this mean I wouldn't be dealing with this crap if my life path turned out differently? Does this mean that my negative mind wouldn't be triggered with despair when stress becomes too unmanageable in my life? Would I be freed from remembering over and over of the trauma I experienced during those years in high school or would it be something else?

I don't know. I don't have all the answers. Perhaps something else would've triggered it along the way. Life is full of ups and downs. 
Or maybe It's hereditary. Are there family members who struggle like I do? Nobody really wants to talk about it. 
Or maybe it's biochemical. I experienced depression in my pregnancies and post-partum depression which I attributed to the changes in my hormones and abnormal brain activity. I've been on anti-depressant medication since Jonah was 2, to take the sharp edge off of my downer feelings and to stop crying everyday. I've wanted to get off it and sometimes I do, but then I go back to it again.
 Or maybe it's my personality. Perhaps I'm just prone to sad feelings because that's who I am. I've always had a tender heart full of empathy and love towards others. My emotions get the best of me at times. I cry easily. Perhaps these things go hand in hand with feeling depressed. 

So whatever the source of my ongoing struggles with depression, it doesn't really matter anymore because it dawned on me today in a very real and powerful awakening of sorts (and that's why I'm writing this all down) that my struggle with depression isn't going to go away. It's part of me now. My own personal disease. I suppose I've been focusing so much on trying to get rid of it forever that I've been running myself exhausted into the ground. 

Today I am pulling up a chair for depression and facing the fact that it's here to stay.

Sure I've got my long list of healthy coping strategies and my positive thinking exercises and the occasional check-ins with a therapist and the self-help books I read, and some medication that takes the edge off and all those things are helpful and wonderful and help me to get past the hard parts....
But this is where I've realized why this has continued to be such a struggle for me--because it's never going to go away and I need to stop fighting it and just accept it.
On occasion it's going to leave then it's going to come back then it's going to come in waves then it's going to come in storms and sometimes it's going to wipe me out completely but then it's going to be gentle and calm and allow me the peace and happiness I need and then it's going to come back again. Daily. Monthly. Weekly. I don't know.
I am fine. I am fine. I am fine! 

Although this news feels like it could be drowning me, it's actually very liberating. Perhaps it is like a person who has injured their leg and finally realizing they're never going to walk normal again no matter how much physical therapy they go to! The end of the struggle could feel rather cathartic, although depressing at the same time.

No matter how hard they try to walk the same walk, it's just not going to happen because life is different now. This is the new normal and now it's time to accept it and learn to walk differently. No matter how much I want my depression to go away for good I'm just going to have to continue to walk differently with the legs that I have. 

What hit me last night was that there are certain things I cannot do because of my depression even though I want to believe I can. I'll try over and over again and convince myself it'll be okay until I find myself suffering the brutal consequences. And then there's certain things I have to do to take care of myself that I can't ignore even when I want to. 

I guess just like any illness, there's prescribed medications except it's not very cut and dry--I've had to figure out for myself through years and years of trial and error what works for me and what doesn't. For instance if I go even one week without some form of high-impact physical exercise I dip into a deep hole of hopelessness and misery. I have to exercise. Working out is one of my medicines, my coping mechanisms, my healthy strategies for staying sane. I also have to eat a consistent healthy diet, have alone time for myself, get outside in nature, talk with a close friend, read my scriptures and pray with my Father in Heaven, get enough Vitamin D and sunshine, cut back on responsibilities, have a clean and tidy house (clutter makes my brain feel cluttered), and spend relaxing time alone with my husband. 

It's really hard to get these needs met as a mother of 4 little boys who is busy all the time! Many of these needs get ignored for my children's needs, which is the natural by-product of being a mama because spending time with my wonderful children also brings me joy, but depression seeps in when I don't take care of myself along the way. I guess that's where I left off with the therapist: we both acknowledged that I know what to do to take care of myself-I just have to keep doing it.

I have faith that God has a plan for me even when I feel like I'm drowning. I know He's there and I know He's blessing my life all along the way. I made a list the other night of all the things I am worrying about and it ended up being two pages long, then I asked Christ to please take these burdens from me. Please take all my worries and make them better and make me feel better.... 

Then I waited for all my worries to go away-to magically disappear into Christ's hands. I know of the miracles of Christ. I have felt His miraculous hand in my life over and over again so I waited......and guess what? My problems didn't disappear of course, but instead I received clarity like I'd never had before about my depression. I awakened to a realization that my  depression is something that isn't going to go away and my worries won't magically go away, but He will guide me and walk beside me and help lift my worries from me as I continue to have faith in His plan for my life. Especially as I continue to accept who I am and accept  the trials I've been though that have shaped my life into what it is today. 
I have had to learn to walk differently than I ever imagined, but I am walking with Christ so I know I'll be fine. He takes my burdens from me in just the ways that I need.

My dear friend Wendy sent this painting to me by Korean artist YoungSung Kim a couple weeks ago. It is hanging in our living room and I love it so much. It is Christ reaching down into the water to lift Peter up when he started sinking into the lake. Peter tried to walk on the water towards the Lord but got afraid and cried out, "Lord Save Me!" as he started to sink. Christ stretched out His hand and lifted him up immediately. I like to imagine Christ is holding his hand down to me, ready to catch me at any moment. I love this so much and am so grateful she sent it to me. I love the colors, I love His smile, and I love that she thought of ME when she found it. Thank you, Wendy, for sending me this gift at such a perfect time. I can feel Christ lifting me up and I can feel His love through friends like you.

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