Facing Depression

“Lisa, I think you are depressed and should go on anti-depressants.”  Those words stung my pride.  With tears trickling down my cheeks, I replied, “Really?”  Yes. Really.

Five and a half years ago my husband died of a brain tumor.  I applied myself and worked hard in counseling to grow through the pain and loss.  The pathway of grief took me through lonely dark valleys and over exhilarating mountaintops.  Never did I feel like I did now, though, listening to my counselor tell me I need to consider anti-depressants.

It seems the stigma against psychological illness continues to be quite strong and I find myself resisting that diagnosis.  At the same time, I thought of several friends who have taken anti-depressants for years and are wonderful, competent, inspiring individuals.

Turning to a trusted friend over lunch, I asked if she had ever taken anti-depressants.  She hadn’t, but she had experienced depression.  She decided against taking medication, keeping with her overall lifestyle choices.  Listening as she shared some of the ways she coped and grew through the depression, ideas began to formulate in my mind.

Beginning my own research, I turned to google.  One of the first websites I came across appeared to discuss the pros and cons of medication for depression in a surprisingly objective manner.  One thing was clear from the author:  medication will not cure the underlying causes of depression.

Identifying the underlying causes of my depression seemed to be fairly simple.  Telling my counselor several experiences from my past marriage, I said, “There are circumstances in my present situation that I would like to (and sometimes do) blame for why I have been feeling so angry and sad and helpless, but I know it goes deeper than that and here is where my mind and memory keep taking me.”  I could neatly describe the events from my past that were triggering the depression.  The trouble was I didn’t know what to do from there.  I felt completely stuck.

So, as a good therapist will do, he talked me through a bit of the past, asking questions directed at exploring how the experiences of 5-10 years ago were creeping into my relationship with my fiancé and creating chaos in my heart and mind.  While I didn’t come to any epiphanies or walk away from that session enlightened and healed, I began to truly connect the dots between my past and present.  Removing my present circumstances from the equation created space to view myself and my pain from a new perspective.

My fiancé had been out of town for several days while all this was going on.  When he returned we began to talk in earnest about the implications of my depression, the possible need for medication to help me through this, and my past.  While the life experiences associated with my first marriage and subsequent loss of Eric have been part of our conversations from the beginning, I had never shared the details of the chapters that seemed to be imprisoning me in pain now.  They were difficult memories and I wasn’t even sure how to talk about them or what the benefit would be.

John graciously began to tell me about his journey surrounding the general theme of my pain and past.  Hearing him speak so candidly was empowering and I soon found myself telling him about places in my life I have never shared with anyone.  When I eventually finished, his response strengthened my heart.  “I had no idea all you went through.  I understand so much better why you react the way you do to the challenges we have been facing.”  Those words were validating and healing, particularly as we were now months into a situation that had wreaked havoc in our relationship in a way that was surprising and confusing to both of us.

In the days following, I’m amazed that the world doesn’t feel quite as heavy on my shoulders.  A smile comes so much easier to my face.  Even laughter fills the space of my apartment, and surprises me.  To wake up and feel excited about the day feels like a stranger has invaded my head.  The stranger is also familiar, though, and it brings me hope of brighter days.  Hope that life can be good again.  Hope that the fog I have been living in isn’t permanent.

Depression is a reality for many.  For some, it comes and goes in cycles.  For others, it sets in for months and even years with no reprieve.  While I can look back at brief pages in my life and identify depression, this has been, by far, the deepest and longest.  I am unsure of how the future will develop.  What I am increasingly sure about is that I do not have to remain in the fog of depression.

Before going the route of taking anti-depressants, I am researching alternative paths to an emotionally healthier lifestyle, as this fits with the way I approach life.  Making lifestyle changes is not easy, but it can make a significant impact in depression.   Together with working consistently with my counselor, I’m asking God to provide strength and courage to take one step at time toward the life I want to live and I believe He designed me to live.

Here are some of the resources I have come across to help implement practical strategies to combat depression:

Understanding Depression: Signs, symptoms, causes and help

Dealing with Depression: Self-help and coping tips

Exercise Tips for Exercise-haters

Emotional Intelligence: Raising your EQ

Anti-depressants: What you need to know about depression medication

Depression Treatment: Therapy, medication, and life-style changes that can help

Posted on by Lisa M Hope Tilstra in Articles

About Lisa M Hope Tilstra

I just got married and I live on a boat! :)

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