Have you ever experienced times in your life where you felt depressed? Perhaps it’s the melancholy mood from a rainy day or a situational depression after the loss of a loved one. Or, perhaps, you are one of the millions of people who have a predisposition to fall into waves of depression due to Bi-Polar Disorder, Seasonal Affect Disorder, or a myriad of other “mental health” disorders. That “mental health” term kicks us in the gut like no other, which is why we suffer in silence. Our depression becomes our dirty little secret that we hide behind our fake smile, our upbeat Facebook posts and our ability to put the “beast” in a box for short periods of time (if we’re lucky). As long as we put on a happy face, we feel normal. Unfortunately, the feeling doesn’t last.
WE ARE NOT NORMAL. For whatever reason, our brain is temporarily churning out thoughts, feelings and emotions that eventually affect our bodies, our relationships and our vocations. Just like the continuous ticker tape would print out stock trades, this continual churning of thoughts eventually wraps itself around us, starting with our heads, then moving down over our chest – squeezing the air out of us. Before we know it, our hands, arms, and legs are wrapped, preventing us from moving – moving to find joy in our daily living. Depression is real. Depression is debilitating. Depression is insidious.
Last time I wrote about anxiety and depression, I was overwhelmed by the amount of people who privately reached out to me, sharing their stories. What was most surprising, was the amount of people who have children suffering with depression. Some of these kids have experienced thoughts of suicide and even suicide attempts. The parents, in an attempt to protect the privacy of their children, feel painfully alone in their journey. They don’t know where to go. They don’t know who to trust.
The holiday season is upon us – and for many, they can be painful reminders of loss. Current and past loss. Once you lose a loved one around the holidays, you can’t help but associate that loss with your holiday every year. Losing a job around the holidays can rock your world, creating a fear of never having financial security. Losing a relationship reminds us that love and loss don’t discriminate.
Whatever the cause for your depression – be cognizant of the reality of what the holidays bring. Mostly the fact that you won’t know until they’re upon you. You could breeze through unscathed, or feel the crippling weight of anxiety, sadness and resentment. Through the years, I’ve had it both ways. I’ve experienced such joyous holidays it seemed surreal, and others where the painful memories felt as though I could reach out and touch them. Whatever the case, some things to remember:
- Love yourself – no matter how you’re feeling. Remember, feelings are neither right or wrong.
- Set realistic expectations for yourself – it’s OK to make decisions to spend your holidays differently, so long as it helps you cope in a healthy way.
- Find ways to move yourself in a positive direction – Spending time in a hobby, taking time to pamper yourself and focusing on others are all healthy things.
- Steer away from self-sabotaging behaviors – Drinking alcohol to numb the pain, listening to depressing music and closing yourself off from loved ones are all unhealthy things.
- Celebrate the things you’re doing right – Sometimes getting showered and dressed is a victory. Take time to make your bed when you get out of it so you already have a “win” for your day.
- Focus on the good – celebrate every good thing about your life.
- Don’t live in the past – The things that created the difficulty with the holidays are all swirling in your mind, and when you’re depressed, you’re more likely to go back and relive it all. DON’T DO IT. JUST DON’T DO IT.
If you know someone prone to depression, don’t be afraid to check in on them. When you do, know that they WILL lie to you about how they’re feeling. Not because they typically lie – but because it’s part of their coping mechanism. Bringing others down makes them feel worse, so they “cope” by becoming a master of of their emotions, with an uncanny ability to believe they’re OK for short periods of time. Don’t ask how I know this … wink wink.
Don’t stop checking in and don’t give up on them. Two years ago, when my anxiety was at it’s worst, I was relying on Xanax to calm my nerves, which caused major depression. I had a friend bold enough to tell me she thought I needed to see a doctor (which I did). I ended up on daily medication that calmed the anxiety, and it changed my life. I can now manage the “situational” dips of depression relatively well.
That being said, I’m pretty smart and I recognize over the last month, I haven’t been coping with life too well.
Today I choose to share this because I know it will help someone. SOMEONE is so close to giving up, they can barely hang on. SOMEONE wants to crawl in a whole until the Christmas commercials are over. SOMEONE has no desire to get out of bed, let alone be a parent, a spouse, or a friend to anyone.
How do I know? Because I’ve been that someone – I recognize the symptoms – and today I choose to fight it with all I have. It’s a battle I’ve fought for many years and I’m no longer ashamed to admit I suffer from anxiety and depression.
Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S., affecting 40 million adults in the United States age 18 and older, or 18% of the population. (Source: National Institute of Mental Health) Anxiety disorders are highly treatable, yet only about one-third of those suffering receive treatment.
I am grateful I know the reasons for my anxiety and depression at this moment, because in the past it has crept in for no apparent reason. For those of you suffering with no idea why, I implore you to seek help. Don’t be ashamed. Don’t be afraid. Trust me when I tell you there is light on the other side.
Depression affects over 19 million people and there are 121 suicides each day in the United States, making it the 10th leading cause of death. Men are 3 1/2 times more likely to die by suicide.
This is serious. This is real. This is totally unacceptable. ALL BECAUSE we’ve placed such a stigma on people who simply have a chemical imbalance in their brain.
THIS IS TOTAL BULLSHIT and needs to STOP.
Help be the change. Understand it yourself so you can help educate others. Each and every one of you know someone RIGHT now who is suffering needlessly. You see them in your mind. You see their empty eyes. In some cases, it haunts you at night. You don’t have to be afraid to help them. Be the friend BOLD enough to do what my friend did for me.
I write this today, not so anyone worries about ME. I’m GOOD. I’ve got this – and if I didn’t, I’d be getting the help I need because I’m confident it works. It’s not my first rodeo and writing this was my last therapeutic step to getting myself centered back into a healthy space.
I write this today for those who aren’t good. For those who don’t “have it”. I’m sharing my own journey and struggles because I have been given a gift to communicate with others in a way that touches them. I know God is using me every single day. If I wasn’t given this struggle, it would never occur to me to share it with others – let alone give me the understanding of how to do so. For that, I’m incredibly honored and grateful.
I know HE has a plan for it all. But for today … I chose to wear this necklace and I chose to write this post. The post that made my palms sweat – like many do. The post that stripped away some of the shame I’ve held so tight for so many years. The shame every one of the 40+ million people feel as they navigate any type of chemical imbalance in their brain. It’s all a sad, screwed up situation that we, as a society, have not only created, but continue to feed.
Today I chose the honest, awkward, uncomfortable post that God put on my heart to share. He tends to nudge me just when I don’t think I can give any more. He can be sneaky that way and once he pushes me full force out of the nest, I begin to soar again.
Here’s to soaring …
Jeremiah 29:11: I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.
“Be brave, be kind, be bold, be fierce, be YOU.”