If there’s an image that perfectly captures the onslaught of a depressive episode, it’s the Battle of Helms Deep from the Two Towers (The Lord of the Rings.) Peering through the gloom and driving rain, there are terrifying enemies as far as the eye can see. You feel hopeless, outnumbered, defeated. Bottomless fear.
“No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear." - CS Lewis
Depression feels like fear. When I'm depressed, I fear being around people, because I'll have to act normal, and I know I can't do it. I fear my feelings, because they're telling me that I am worthless, my whole life is a lie, and I have let everyone down. I fear how helpless I am against the encroaching darkness.
When you fall into a deep depression, life doesn’t make sense any more. Depression says: “You will not find meaning in what you’re doing.” There is no longer a larger story. The ground collapses beneath you and you realize your house was built on sand.
Friends and family may offer helpful suggestions like “you need to read your Bible more, prayer more, serve more. Snap out of it and stop thinking about yourself so much.”
It's like telling someone who is in a hurricane they need to open their umbrella, or telling someone who fell in a deep hole “you’ve got to pull yourself out.”
People don't mean to be unkind. They're trying to be helpful. I, who know so well what it is like to be held fast in the claws of depression, have given that same advice - "pray more, read your bible, think positive, get outside, be grateful." Because I forgot how helpless you feel when you’re depressed.
“If you really want to help someone who is struggling with depression or anxiety, learn to listen with intention…the simple act of just listening will greatly help someone on their journey to find healing.” - Dr. Caroline Leaf
Nobody wants to be depressed. No one chooses to become depressed or stay depressed. Depression is complicated to diagnose and treat because it has elements of physical, mental, emotional and spiritual malaise.
This is key: take action when you’re feeling okay. If you are prone to depression, or have noticed a recurring cycle, whether it is seasonal affective disorder or triggered by something else, you need to do something about it when you are feeling normal. When you’re up, you tell yourself “that’s not going to happen to me again. That was just a phase.” So you don’t do anything to prevent the inevitable recurrence.
Then when the hammer of depression inevitably falls, it’s too late. You’re so sandbagged by feelings of worthlessness and despair, that you can’t do anything, and nothing makes sense.
You may need medication, and there is absolutely no shame in that. Please see your doctor or a mental health professional and get a diagnosis. This is your survival we’re talking about. But there are other important things you can do to both stave off depression, and alleviate it if it happens.
#1 Talk to somebody – “A burden shared is a burden halved.” This is hard, because when you’re deeply depressed, you feel like no one cares about you. But it is essential. Talk to somebody you trust, who you know won’t judge you or give you advice, but just listen. Talk to someone before you get depressed. You can find many wonderful counselors on Psychology Today.
#2: Self care - put on your oxygen mask before you try to help anyone else. A healthy regimen can make depressive episodes (especially S.A.D.) less likely, and can lessen the severity of episodes. To the best of your ability, keep eating healthy and hydrating. Do some nice things for yourself, like watching your favorite movies or getting a pedicure. Prayer can be really hard, but even if you just cry out to God, “help me!” that is enough. Martin Luther was so depressed all he could do is pray “I am yours Jesus, save me!”
#3 Get outside - get some sun in your eyeballs. Better still, take a walk. The simple act of walking and connecting with nature will revive your brain and your spirit, and help you regain equilibrium.
#4 Maybe the most important thing you can do: acknowledge that everything is not about you. This will be a blow to your pride; but it’s also a huge relief to recognize that you don’t hold the world on your shoulders. Figure out what you are really and truly responsible for, and let everything else go.
Like I said, I’m not going to tell you to read your Bible more. But there is comfort for the depressed in the pages of scripture. Start with Psalm 130:
A song of ascents.
Out of the depths I cry to you, Lord;
Lord, hear my voice.
Let your ears be attentive to my cry for mercy.
If you, Lord, kept a record of sins,
Lord, who could stand?
But with you there is forgiveness,
so that we can, with reverence, serve you.
I wait for the Lord, my whole being waits,
and in his word I put my hope.
I wait for the Lord more than watchmen wait for the morning,
More than watchmen wait for the morning
Do you have any suggestions for those of us who go through seasonal depression? We would love to hear from you. Or if there is any way we can pray for you, please email email@example.com or connect with us on social media.
We are all in this together. God loves you and so do we.
Marie and Kathleen, Your Kaikaina Sisters