I thought about this post in church this morning. Not sure why.
I was diagnosed with clinical depression at 41. I know I had brief episodes of depression from my teens on up, but they never lasted long and I didn’t know enough to know how I was feeling was not normal. Everyone said it was just a part of growing up. So in my 40s it was kind of a relief to have a diagnosis and a course of treatment. What I chose to do was a combination of anti-depressants (Lexapro) and therapy. I wanted the therapy because I did not intend to take pills forever and I explained that to my therapist.
I went to a Christian therapist because I really felt that was the best for me. I liked that our sessions ended in prayer and I felt she understood me and wasn’t just sitting in a chair nodding and taking notes. I felt like she was vested in my wholeness.
I shared what I was going through with a group of friends and everyone was really supportive. However, one of the women gave me a book – the title was something like Happiness is a Choice. While I do believe the general idea – I can choose to be happy, bitter, angry or mean – this is in regards to circumstances. Depression, however, is a chemical imbalance brought on by circumstances, genetics or health (this is a quick, surface definition). I have all three to contend with. I cannot choose not to be depressed. What I can do is learn about my diagnosis and make decisions that help me stay on top of my health. I now make better food choices, take my supplements and exercise regularly. These are the things that keep my levels where they need to be. I have friends to act as my advocates, looking out for me, asking the hard questions.
The common misunderstanding is that the opposite of depression is happy. For the most part I appeared perfectly happy until the crash point of my depression and then all of a sudden I could not function. Well, not all of a sudden – I had some seemingly random physical ailments, I was forgetful and often confused, I was dizzy a lot. Most people do not know I am one of the millions being treated for depression because I am optimistic and hopeful, in other words, happy. The presence of happiness does not overcome the presence of clinical depression. I think the opposite of depression is fullness.
When I am in a depression I am emotionally empty and have nothing to give to others. I have very little discretion. I am not reliable. I need to rely on someone else, someone I trust to make some decisions for me because I will isolate myself for days and not get anything done. I no longer have my best interests in mind. Having someone tell me to think positive! Smile! Eat dessert first! is not at all helpful. The fact that I am an optimistic person who always maintains hope, even if it’s the teensiest little shred, is what keeps me from driving my car into a brick wall at 80mph. I’m fairly certain that teeny bit of hope is actually the Holy Spirit – it’s like an inner lantern warming me and reminding me that there’s a light within. Don’t come at me with blustery cliches to help me “get over it” if you don’t understand how depression works. Offer love, care, food, prayer, laughter, whatever, but unless you’re that person in the inner circle who I’ve selected as my advocate, keep your advice to yourself. Please.