Two weeks ago somebody threw a blanket over me. A big one – like North Dakota. And a heavy one – like a Mac truck. And it was wet and itchy and dark and smelly. As it covered my eyes, I couldn’t see the light and beauty around me. As it covered my ears, I couldn’t hear joy or laughter or singing. As it covered my mouth, I couldn’t express what I was feeling, experiencing or needing. Like Linus from the Peanuts, this blanket had followed me around for many years. It had never truly been far from my sight. My blanket even had a name. It was called “Depression”.
Depression and I go back so far that I can’t even recall when we first became introduced. He was just always there from my very earliest ability to remember. I recall my mother describing me as “moody”. Things were either very, very good with me or very, very bad. There were no in betweens. As the years went by, however, the very, very goods seemed to become less and less and the very, very bads seemed to become worse. My teenage years were among the worst, and if not for two caring and sensitive teachers, I may not have made it past my senior year of high school. I hit bottom again in my late 20’s after I lost my first husband. A very dark time.
Like many of us, I grew up in a time and circumstance where depression was not spoken of, and when it was, it was often misunderstood. You were frequently labeled as “moody” or having a “bad attitude”. And in many Christian circles, you lacked faith or were just being sinful. Of course, these labels just piled on the guilt making you feel worse about yourself and even more depressed. It wasn’t until my early to mid-30’s that I was finally diagnosed as being chemically depressed, learned what that meant and began to get properly treated.
Thankfully, my depression has been well controlled for many years now. Episodes like this are few and far between. I have not needed any kind of medication for well over 10 years. When I do have episodes, they tend to be much less intense than they use to be, and I’ve learned the steps I need to take to control them and to pull myself out of them.
So, why am I telling you this? Well, first of all, I set this up as a place to be open and transparent. A long time ago, after going through a very difficult situation, God gave me a verse. 2 Cor. 1: 4 “who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.” And with that verse I made a promise that anything I went through in my life would be an open book for God to use to help anyone else who may be going through a similar situation. Ha ha! Be careful what you tell God you’ll do because He’s walked me through A LOT of deep waters that I now have to share with people! But, that’s okay!
Second, I’m sharing this because I know there are many others out there who struggle with a “blanket” of their own. Sometimes we just don’t know how to take it off. Sometimes we just want someone to know we have a blanket. And sometimes we just want to know someone else has a blanket, too.
I am not a professional, and I cannot offer professional advice. But, I can share with you what works for me when that darkness starts looming. Though I still have to fight every day to keep that blanket tucked away where it belongs, these simple steps are often what save me from getting lost beneath it.
FIRST, I have to acknowledge that the depression is there. It’s easy to live in denial and brush off the feelings. Especially, if like me, you’ve felt you’ve had it “under control” for so long, or you’re a person who’s use to being in control. But, you can’t put a blanket away if you don’t even believe it’s out!
SECOND, Phone a friend! Or email or text or visit or whatever it takes. One of the first things I did was message one of my best friends. She also happens to suffer from depression. So, she gets it. Not only will she pray for me, but she’ll let me whine and sound like Eeyore when I need to without running for the hills. You need to not only have someone praying, but have someone you’re accountable to, someone you can be open and real with, who’ll keep an eye on you so you don’t sink too deep. If you don’t have a friend like this, phone a pastor or professional counselor! This is important!
THIRD, Get social! This is the last thing you want to do, but you need to make yourself do it! My daughter called to shop, I made sure I went! I forced myself to church and forced myself to the gym! Being alone just allows wallowing and nothing feeds depression more. Get your mind off of yourself and onto other people.
FOURTH, Get moving! You heard me – get off your tush and move! Every time I forced myself to the gym, I came home feeling about 100x’s better. Don’t ask me the science, but they’ve proven that exercise releases happy hormones into your body and it’s true! So take a walk, go for swim, run up and down your steps, dance around your kitchen, jump on a trampoline, put on your old Richard Simmons DVDs – just get moving!
FIFTH, Find your “happy place”! Think of 2 or 3 things that you really enjoy doing. Reading? Drawing? Listening to particular music? Dancing? Playing with your dog? What are those sure-fire things that put a smile on your face? Make sure you do AT LEAST one of those things every day. I had my radio going constantly in my kitchen with my personal “happy music” playing and it wouldn’t take long before I’d find it lifting my spirits and I’d be dancing around the kitchen. Or I’d make a trip to the pet store and spend an hour playing with adoption puppies. (I defy you not to smile when you play with a puppy!) Whatever works for you, find time for it every day.
SIXTH, Prayer and Promises! Lots of prayer, and claiming God’s promises from His Word! Did you know lots of people in the Bible suffered from depression? This is not a new thing. This is not an “un-Christian” thing. Look them up. Find them. See how they looked to God through their depression, and how He used them in spite of their depression! (examples: Abraham, Jonah, Job, Elijah, Jeremiah, David)
and finally, SEVENTH, Fake it until you Make it! Normally, I don’t tell people to be “fake”. I’m all about being real. But, for me, I have found that if I “fake” a happy, joyful face long enough, eventually I’m not “faking” it anymore. So, I fake it! I MAKE myself be happy around people. I MAKE myself be joyful. And, bit by bit, my emotions catch up with my face! I’m re-teaching myself to be happy, because, in a way, part of me has forgotten how. So, I re-train myself – “This is how you do it. Smile here. Laugh there. ” And, suddenly, my brain remembers, “Oh, yeah, this is what joy feels like!”
If you have a friend or family member who suffers with depression, let me pass on a few words of advice. First of all, they don’t WANT to be this way. It’s not a choice they’re making. Please, be patient. Second, don’t forget about them. I know their tendency is to pull away and seclude themselves, but don’t let them. Don’t stop calling. Don’t stop inviting. And, lastly, if you notice someone missing for awhile – not showing up at their usual place, not in church for several weeks, not on Facebook for awhile – this could be a sign of someone beginning to withdrawal into depression. Don’t be afraid to text, email or phone just to say you’re thinking of them. You never know the difference that could make in someone’s life.
Finally, there are times when the blanket is so heavy that only medications can lift that first corner. There are times when the darkness is so dark that you or a friend/family member may need immediate professional intervention to be safe. If this is you or someone you know, please seek professional help immediately. For more information about depression you can visit the National Institute of Mental Health at this site: http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/depression-what-you-need-to-know-12-2015/index.shtml