I SAT IN my office, tears gathering in my eyes. "Not again," I said aloud to myself. "Not here." I blinked back the wetness in my eyes and tried to focus on my computer project. No luck. More tears. With a deep breath I headed for the ladies room, trying to keep my composure until I was safe within the privacy of a stall. Once inside I let the tears spill, dabbing them carefully with toilet paper. Sadness welled up from deep inside, snuffing out my normally upbeat personality. Why can't I keep my emotions under control? I wondered in frustration and embarrassment.
This scenario had become all too familiar in the last several months. I'd be enjoying a perfectly fine day only to be unexpectedly overtaken by sadness or hopelessness. Some days I even awoke feeling sad. These emotions usually overwhelmed me when I was alone—in my car, in my office, in my bed as I tried to fall asleep. While I'd always been an emotional person, this was different. I couldn't find any apparent cause for these emotions—which only made me feel worse. After all, I had a good job, dear friends, a nice apartment, a wonderful church. Nothing seemed wrong. Why was I crying so frequently?
WHEN THE CRYING first started, I tried some practical remedies. I drove around in the sunshine during my lunch hour, listening to fun '50s music or uplifting Christian songs. When I read dehydration could lead to sluggishness, I began drinking more water. I tried to eat balanced meals when I learned certain vitamin or protein deficiencies could affect moods. And I cried out to God to restore my usual joy in life. Yet no matter what I tried, my sadness persisted.
Finally, when I explained my chronic sadness to my mother over the phone, Mom begged me to do whatever I needed to do to get better.
I made an appointment with a Christian counselor I'd seen a few years before to help me with a strained relationship. As I sat on my counselor's couch, I revealed how I'd leave the office under the auspices of "running errands" only to drive around crying through my lunch hour. Sure, there was stress at work. Sure, there were days when being single was a drag. Sure, we were having a dreary spring. But I'd never responded to these kinds of stressors this way before.
I'd be enjoying a perfectly fine day,
then be overtaken by
sadness or hopelessness.
When my counselor first mentioned the word depression, it sounded so serious. Wasn't that something people who were alcoholic or suicidal suffered from? I wasn't that bad off! But I had to admit, some of its symptoms fit: hopelessness, crying, feeling emotionally empty and lonely.
My counselor explained that sometimes depression is caused by circumstances, such as the death of a loved one, and sometimes it's the result of a chemical imbalance, usually low serotonin levels. Since she'd worked with me in the recent past and figured out through the course of our conversation that there seemed to be no other extenuating circumstances, she suggested we treat the problem medically. She assured me it sounded like a mild case of depression and suggested an herbal over-the-counter antidepressant, St. John's Wort, which I could buy at the local health food store. I'd need to take it for at least a month to see if it worked. Since the pills had few side effects, I figured I had nothing to lose—except, hopefully, my depression.
I CONTINUED TO PRAY, chat with close friends and family members about the problem, care for myself, and meet with my counselor. Several months later, I felt a bit better, but not much. I flew to visit my family one weekend and felt the nagging sadness even in the comfort of "home." As we sat in the airport chatting before my plane was to take off, big tears rolled down my face. Strangers noticed me crying, but I didn't care. This wasn't sadness to leave, this was really—I began to admit to myself—depression. My wall of denial came down as I realized my counselor was right. I dried my face with a Burger King napkin as my parents stared at me in anguished helplessness. "Promise us you'll see about getting more help," my mom said before I left. I did.
At my next appointment with my counselor, I mentioned my crying spell in the airport and my continued feelings of depression. She suggested a prescription antidepressant, such as Prozac, about which I'd need to speak to my medical doctor. I made an appointment that week.
When I told my nurse I was visiting the doctor to see about being put on a prescription antidepressant, my face grew red and hot. The nurse scribbled something on my chart, smiled at me, and told me my doctor would be right in. As she left the room, tears welled up in my eyes. It was embarrassing to admit this aloud to someone, even a health-care professional. I took a few deep breaths, prayed for strength to explain myself clearly without "losing it," and blinked back my tears. After a brief conversation with my doctor in which she suggested a blood test to rule out any other medical problems, I walked out of her office with a prescription for Prozac.
I put away the remainder of my St. John's Wort, and began taking the small two-colored pills. In my weak emotional state, I couldn't seem to get beyond praying, "Help me, God!" While I knew God loved me, that he—the Great Physician—knew what was wrong with me and could heal me emotionally, God still felt far away and painfully silent.
SLOWLY, however, as the days went by, I began recognizing his fingerprints. Didn't I have a supportive family? A trusted Christian counselor? And as I shopped, chatted, and lazed in the sun with a close friend while on vacation in California, I felt my joy returning. My trip was truly a gift from God—but I feared returning to my normal routine. With more prayers and a sad good-bye, I headed back home.
I returned to my normal routine by strategically propping up photos of sandy beaches and lush rolling hills around my bedroom and office to cheer me on. I trudged back to work, volunteer meetings, the gym—and slowly realized I was feeling better. About three weeks after I'd returned from vacation, it dawned on me I was back to my "old self"—happy and hopeful. The Prozac was working! No more tears, no more sadness, no more emotional lethargy.
But I continued to pamper myself a little, realizing I may have been running myself ragged with a too-full schedule. I dropped a few things out of my schedule and moved my target bedtime up an hour. On sunny days I made sure to go outside and enjoy the scenery, even if it was just for a stroll or a peek at my friend's garden. I read for pleasure and became more faithful to do my morning quiet time. I realized how easy it had been for me to care for others over the years and how little time I'd invested in caring for myself—a detrimental mistake. Now, I treat each joyful day as a gift and fully relish God's blessings.
I don't know what the future holds. But I intend to keep praying, leaning on trusted friends, and savoring the good days. I'm more honest with people now, sharing my mistakes and flaws, letting others see the "real me." I've learned being a godly woman isn't about perfection, but about knowing my strengths and weaknesses and entrusting them all to God. I find myself telling more friends about my Christian counseling and mild depression. As I share, I'm amazed at how many women reveal they've been struggling with this problem in silence. These are the people with whom I hope I'm candid. Maybe together—with honesty and God's help—we can find a whole new brand of joy.
Copyright © 1999 by the author or Christianity Today/Today's Christian Woman magazine.