DEPRESSION IS DEFINITELY a hot topic. When we ran "Making Peace with My Emotions" in our March/April '99 issue, we received a phenomenal response from readerslike youwho've battled depression.
Since then we've done more research and discovered that one in four women will struggle with depression during her lifetime. That means at least one woman in your Bible study, your neighborhood, your circle of friendsor maybe even youwill wrestle with the energy loss, poor concentration, altered appetite and sleep, hopelessness, anxiety, and sometimes even suicidal tendencies associated with this debilitating condition.
Depression, an imbalance of certain chemicals in the brain, can be brought on by genetic factors or external triggers such as a major loss or disappointment, prolonged chronic illness, and certain prescription medications. While the causes are numerous, so are the treatment options. Through counseling, support groups, antidepressants, prayer, and changes in nutrition, sleep, and exercise, most people find hope and healing.
In 1996, the Director General of the World Health Organization estimated that roughly 340 million people worldwide battle mood disorders. Despite the widespread nature of depression, there's still a stigma attached to those who suffer from itor choose to seek help. Unfortunately this stigma keeps many people from seeking assistance. Yet as more and more women come forward to openly discuss their struggles with depression, others are freed to end their silent suffering and seek the help they so desperately need.
The following is the story of one such woman who had the guts to reach out for help when her life fell apartand who now shares her story in hopes of helping others.
HAVE YOU EVER HAD one of those days when it takes tremendous effort just to drag your body out of bed? I had "one of those days" that lasted months before I determined something was drastically wrong with me.
At first, I told myself I had good cause to be blue. When my marriage of 18 years dissolved in a painful battle, I felt emotionally drained. The disruption in our home caused my children to react negatively both at home and at school. Then my job, usually an island of peace in a chaotic, roiling ocean, added stress because my workplace was moved to a new location that added an hour-long commute to my day. My life was a shambles!
As I dragged myself through each day, I felt as though I were walking through quicksand. Naptime after work became a critical part of my day. But I knew I was in deep trouble when I needed to lie down between showering and getting dressed for work in the morning!
I felt overcome by hopelessness and despair, and often found myself wide awake at 3:00 a.m., worrying about my future. In addition, my eating habits changed drasticallyI had to force myself to eat. I also discovered several stupid mistakes I'd made while writing checks. For instance, I'd write the correct amount on the top, the wrong amount in the middle, then forget to sign the check. Or I'd forget to mail a bill altogether. I was bouncing checks for the first time in my life.
What's wrong with me? I repeatedly wondered. Am I losing my mind?
My sister helped me climb out of this muddle by mailing me a book entitled Happiness Is a Choice, by Minirth and Meier (Baker). Because she'd suffered a biologically based depression a few years before, she recognized my pain, doubt, and despair. After taking the book's quick depression inventory, I discovered a partial answer to my strange symptoms. I wasn't crazyI was depressed! I needed to see a doctor.
One of the toughest calls I've ever made was for an evaluation to see a psychiatrist at a local Christian clinic. I remember my panic and breathlessness as I talked with the receptionist to set the appointment. Later that week, I forced myself to keep the appointment. After taking inventory of the life stresses and symptoms I was experiencing, the psychiatrist recommended a small dosage of the antidepressant medication Prozac.
My life didn't change overnight. But the chemicals my brain lacked gradually built up to the point where I felt normal. While the stresses of being a single working mother were still there, I now felt more able to handle them without deadly despair.
Since experiencing clinical depression, I've discovered many other women suffer from the same condition. In fact, The National Institute of Mental Health reports 10 percent of all adults will experience some symptoms of a depression at least once in their lifetime. In America, that means more than 19 million people will experience depression.
I've also learned depression is treatable. I used to have the misconception it could be cured solely with perseverance, optimism, and prayer. But recent medical research reveals there are real, measurable reasons why people become depressed. Researchers have learned that when there's an insufficient level of the neurotransmitter serotonin, through the frontal lobes of the brain, depressive symptoms appear (neurotransmitters are chemicals that allow cells to communicate with each other in the brain). A chemically based depression can last for months, years, orwithout treatmenta lifetime. Several studies also have shown a family depression connection. Since my sister had experienced clinical depression, that made me a prime candidate for a bout with depression as well.
Not everyone experiences the same symptoms I had, or needs the same treatment. Some people may have trouble keeping themselves presentable, cry uncontrollably, exhibit extreme anxiety, fear, or worry. Often clinical depression is masked by other behaviors such as alcoholism or drug use.
I'm glad I live in an age in which there is widespread knowledge about depression and several known treatment options. Many women in previous generations suffered depressive episodes without any hope. I had an aunt who suffered a severe postpartum depression and eventually took her own life a few days before she was scheduled to be hospitalized. This tragedy doesn't need to happen today, yet sadly, a large number of women remain untreated.
The key is finding the right counselors to help you determine the best way out of the pit of depression. Being depressed doesn't necessarily mean being bedridden with inertia. During my bout, I still worked, cared for my children, and performed as I was required. However, I lost all joy in life and I was tired all the time. My concentration for the smallest tasks disappeared, and my appetite was nonexistent. Life was flatter than flat.
Many things combined to help me climb out of that deep pit. One step out included medicine, counseling, and a steadfast faith in God's love. I clung to several verses in Psalms during this time. I found a friend in the psalmist David, with his honest, gut-wrenching outpourings of despair. One example is his plea: "Why are you in despair, O my soul? And why have you become disturbed within me? Hope in God, for I shall again praise him for the help of his presence" (Ps. 42:5, NASB). Even when God seemed far away, I discovered I was unable to leave his loving care.
Since treatment, my life's taken on new peacefulness. I've developed a newfound faith in God's goodness and grace, despite my circumstances. I've traveled a long way since the deep despair of the early months after my divorce. Yet, even while in the throes of despair and hopelessness, I was supported by God's great love. The words the apostle Paul wrote in Romans 8:37-39 became true for me: "In all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord."
If you or someone you know is living in the pits, don't wait to be treated. And remember, even when you can't feel him, God's waiting to help you through your sorrow and pain. He did it for meand will do it for you, too.
CHERYL K. EWINGS is a freelance writer living in the Chicago area.
1999 by the author or Christianity Today/Today's Christian Woman magazine. Click here for reprint information on Today's Christian Woman.