What it looks like: For me it looks like a lack of drive. I don't want to do anything. I don't want to go to work. I don't want to go to church. I don't want to get off the couch, not even to get up and go to bed at the end of the night. I don't want to cook for my family. I don't want to pray or read my bible or write in my journal. What depression looks like for me is not wanting to do anything.
What it sounds like: Yes, depression has a voice. Sometimes, maybe most of the time, it's a voice inside of my own head, but it's talking is incessant, and it has nothing good to say. It tells me that people don't care, that friends don't call or connect because they're not really my friends. In the midst of transition it comes with the subtext that says they've abandoned you. Other times it says they were never your friends and what you thought was a relationship wasn't even real. Both of these scenarios make me feel foolish. This voice also speaks words of rejection, constantly. It tells you people don't like you, it makes you wonder what the meaning behind people's words actually is. And this is when the voice of depression comes out of other mouths. Criticism equals rejection, even when it's constructive. And things like a slighted handshake, or a funny look scream judgment or insinuate some deeper meaning, even if it's only in my own head.
What it feels like: Do you remember the Peanuts character "Pigpen"? When I think about how depression feels for me, that's the best word picture I can come up with. That cloud of dirt that floats around Pigpen may dissipate, he might run quickly and you won't even see it until he slows down again, but it's still there. That's what depression feels like, it has good days and bad, and some days it looks like it's not even there, but it is, it's lingering, and as soon as I slow down, it catches up to me. Maybe that's why for me at least, waking up is the hardest. Still, lying in bed, I just don't want to move. I wish the day wouldn't start and that I didn't have to face it. It feels like pulling the covers over my head and going back to sleep would be the best possible plan for the day, with only short "field trips" to the refrigerator where I make bad eating choices and eat myself beyond capacity.
Good days: I'm fortunate, most of my days are good days simply because my life still takes precedence over my feelings, and I can't succumb to the desire to stay in bed in the morning. I'm a wife and a mom and I have a job. I have to get out of bed; there are children to taxi, bills to pay, work to be done. On the good days busyness keeps the cloud of depression just far enough behind me that it won't catch up until I slow down and the house grows quiet. People won't even question how I'm doing because I manage to keep the overwhelming feelings at bay. On the surface, things look OK. But the biggest threat those days are those few discerning people who see past the facade, the ones who look me straight in the eye and ask me how I'm doing. On the good days though, as soon as I catch my breath I can smile and laugh and tell them "everything's fine." I just have to move away quickly to make sure they don't press the matter.
The days in between: Those days that aren't great days but also aren't the worst filter themselves in between the two ends of the spectrum. Those are the days when I avoid the people who might ask how I am. Naps are an important part of those days, the harder the day, the longer the nap. I might eat too much or have an angry outburst, the voices are louder those days, the cloud is harder to run ahead of. Those days are like wading in the water at the beach, the waves push and pull at me constantly and sometimes knock me down. But I never fully lose sight of the "shore", but I am worn out by the end of the day.
Bad days: My life doesn't allow me to stay in bed, so instead my bad days are clothed in pajamas. The furthest I make it is to the couch in front of the TV, and Netflix and Facebook are my only companions. On those days if I dare to allow them when my family is home, my people tend to circulate quietly outside of my cloud. The kids play outside, the husband works in the yard-- they seem instinctively to know not to step too close to the vortex, maybe for fear they might be sucked into the cloud. I'm not sure that they recognize it for what it is, or can even put a name on it, but they know I'm in a "mood" and so giving me "space" seems to be their best option. On those days there aren't many angry outbursts because we're all just happier to keep our distance. The refrigerator as well is my faithful friend those days. There are dents in my couch from the days where I seem to grow there, so heavy and full I can barely stand up.
What depression isn't: It isn't a bad attitude or a choice. It isn't something that I can just power through and "get over," especially not in my own strength. "Fighting depression" is a bit of a false concept. Like the cloud that it feels like, "fighting it" feels like beating the air. I cannot fight a cloud. I remember before I ever experienced depression feeling judgmental towards people who talked about suffering from it. But for the record, I don't like that term, "suffering from it." I think a better description is "suffering in it." Depression is a lot like walking into a dark and unfamiliar room and being spun around until I'm completely disoriented and then being told to find my way out. But the problem is, the room is filled with obstacles, "furniture" I run into, and it hurts like hell. And the longer I wander around, the more beat up and damaged I feel, the more exhausted and disheartened I grow.
What depression is: It's a battle. Physical, emotional and spiritual. Sometimes where the battlefront lands varies. I have had days, sometimes several in a row, where taking a shower is too much. Overeating can be practically suicidal, eating myself into oblivion, wanting to say no, knowing it's wrong (and making matter worse), but taking another bite or ten anyway. I'm not a crier, even in the worst of depression tears rarely come; but for me, sometimes it's the overwhelming desire to let out tears that just aren't there that becomes a battlefield for me. It feels like maybe there would be relief in a good cry, but the cry never comes. Anger, hostility, over-sensitivity, rejection, loneliness, isolation all show themselves on the emotional battlefield, but the list is even longer than that. And the spiritual battle, that perhaps is the worst of it, because sometimes it isn't just a battle, it's actual warfare. Sometimes the voice inside my head isn't just my own, sometimes it's the voice of a very real spiritual enemy.
The bible says that Satan comes to steal, kill and destroy, and depression is a perfect tool to accomplish those things. Sometimes he masks his voice as my own mental thought. The accuser robs of abundant life-- he tells lies that say this is it, life won't ever get any better. He points at the (innocent) actions of others and twists them, accusing them of not being your friend or on your side, saying that they don't care about you, that they never cared about you. Sometimes his voice is an occasional whisper, sometimes it is relentless. Sometimes it is constant and sometimes he waits for his moment, my moment of weakness and he shouts. "Drive your car off that ledge." "Slam into that wall." Suicidal thoughts, they do come in the midst of depression. For me that has always tended to be the moment when my enemy "shows his hand," and I recognize or re-recognize that I'm in a fight, and it's time to get up out of the corner where I'm cowering and fight back. That's usually the moment when I stand up to my bully by calling on my Dad. But I'm also pretty banged up by then. But I know I'm one of the fortunate ones in this regard, because too many people "fighting depression" actually find this crossroads to be a passageway to an even darker place. I'm fortunate, I don't think I've ever gotten sucked into the worst of the darkness, but that room that I do visit, that I sometimes wander aimlessly in, it's hard enough, scary enough, bad enough.
What's the answer: That dark disorienting place, the one where I hurt myself as I roam around looking for the way out, what is the solution? Where is the exit? I don't believe it's medication, at least not for me. Medicating myself doesn't work (with food, or busyness) and I don't believe that actual medication is a better plan either-- I don't actually deal with the situation, nothing actually changes when I am medicated. The medicine just makes it so I don't care so much that I'm in the room, it provides a false sense of "light". So how do I (or anyone else) get out of the room? The fact is, I don't think we can get out of the room on our own. At least I know I can't. I can't just "pull myself up by the bootstraps" and press through. I think the truth is we have to be led out. Someone else has to either call out to us, and let us follow their voice, or even better, Someone who can see in the darkness needs to come and take us by the hand and lead us out. Lead me out.
I think truthfully there is really only One who can do that. Only One sees the darkness as though it were light. Jesus alone can come in and rescue. Yes I know there are those who will disagree with me. There are those who have found medication and therapy to be effective. But if I TRULY want OUT of the room, i believe I have to let Him lead me out, not just take a little something that makes me not care about being in the room, or talk to someone who makes it feel more acceptable to be in the room. (I'm not saying there is never a time for medication or therapy, I actually believe strongly in biblical counseling I'm just saying it's a process, and not a solution.) Jesus alone is the solution.
Today in church we were singing a song during worship, and there is a line that says. "You are Light, You are Light when the darkness closes in..." It pierced the darkness I've been battling lately. It's not that it was something I didn't know, but it's something that in the midst of the darkness and disorientation, I often find myself forgetting. It was a timely reminder. Honestly, I think it was the Lord's voice calling out to me towards the door. "Walk towards Me," He said. He is Light. He can see in the midst of the darkness even when I cannot. And the beautiful thing about Him calling out? If I just step one faith-filled step toward His voice, I will quickly find His hand there for me to grab hold.
Why am I telling this to the world: I believe that depression is one of those "secret sins" among Christians. I think it's a lot more common than people realize, or care to admit. There are a lot of "glass half full" believers (God bless them,the rest of us need them desperately) but sometimes there is something to be said to admitting the glass is half empty, and sometimes even completely empty... on occasion the glass is crushed and the water is all over the floor. And the "half-full" crowd has the capacity for seeing a silver lining when others of us find ourselves sucked into that pigpen cloud unable to see the lining at all. Being a believer does not exempt us from pain or struggle. It does not exempt us from depression. I am not exempt. I also know, I am not alone. So the reason I am sharing is in hope that someone else might feel a little less alone if they are facing battles like mine. If you are facing a battle like this one, I'm not alone, and neither are you. And if you listen closely you just might hear the same voice I heard this morning in worship.
"You are Light, You are Light, when the darkness closes in..."
Listen closely, "I am Light, I am Light... take My hand, I will lead you out."
Jesus is calling you toward His voice, toward the door. Take a step of faith, reach out. I believe you will find His hand reaching out to you, grab it tightly, and He will lead you out. It may not happen in an instant but He is trustworthy, and if you hold tightly to Him, he will lead you out of the dark place that overwhelms your soul.