According to a 12 month study published by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), over eight percent of the female population and nearly five percent of the male population of the United States had a depressive episode in 2014. Among that population over 65% were diagnosed as severe. Depression is the fifth leading cause of disability in the U.S.A.
It has been a year and nine months since my last severe depressive episode. This is my longest stretch of relative stability since becoming clinically depressed in 1999. Although I am no expert I would like to share with you some of the things that have helped me along my journey.
In part one of my last blog I addressed the following issues:
- Admit that you have a problem.
- Get on the right medications.
- Go to professional counseling regularly.
This week I conclude with two more steps for finding your way through depression.
- Develop a support network.
Start with your family and friends – the positive, compassionate, understanding, and helpful ones. The ones you can trust to listen to your pain without offering a lot of advice, just a healthy dose of caring and listening. You do not need a toxic person in your support network and that may disqualify some of your family and friends.
Include your psychiatrist, counselor, and depression group(s). I have my counselor’s personal cell phone number and that brings great comfort to know I can turn to her when I am feeling particularly low or in crisis. Some of the members of the groups I attend have also exchanged contact information.
Reach out to your pastor(s), priest(s), or other faith based leaders. Invite them to become a part of your support network. Attend a small Bible class or spiritual growth group where you feel comfortable enough to share your story and know you will be loved. Join a depression group online or on Facebook that is condemnation free. Celebrate Recovery has a mental health component in some areas.
A support system will help you to get out and connect with people rather than isolating for lengthy periods of time. It helps you to be more open instead of mysterious and secretive. You will find understanding without disapproval. And, you will get helpful hints from people who are living with depression.
- Set achievable goals for yourself.
In much of the literature I have read, it encourages the person with depression to stay active. Continue your regular activities, try new activities, go to a movie or out to dinner, get out to a museum or library, attend a ballgame or take up a hobby; the literature says. This may be good advice for those with mild or moderate depression, but it just piles on the guilt for those of us who have severe depression. Yes, there will be a time for all that as you move toward your goals, but not right now. Some days it took all the energy I had just to get out of the bed in order to go to the bathroom.
After getting out of the hospital in May of 2014, I started attending a men’s depression group. Every week we were to fill out an accountability sheet which included our goals for the next week. I wrote down the same three goals for at least four months – get up by 7:00 AM, journal, and walk every day. I did not attain a single goal in those four months. Making my doctor’s, counseling, and group appointments was all I could do. Looking back, that was quite an accomplishment.
By September I quit trying to achieve those three goals and decided that getting out of bed at a reasonable hour (before noon) was where I would start. Having accomplished that, I started setting time goals. I started with 9:00 AM and slowly decreased the time by 15 minute increments. It took me past December to get down to 7:00 AM.
On my way to achieving my first goal, I decided to add journaling. It took me two months before I went to the dollar store and purchased a journal. By then I was ready to write – two or three times a week at first, then daily. Both are still daily habits.
Setting high, unrealistic goals for yourself only bring on more condemnation and feelings of failure. Trying to rush to achieve each goal causes frustration and a sense of being overwhelmed. You do not need more of those thoughts; God only knows how many you already have. Ask a friend or family member to prompt you toward your goals. It sure helped me to have an older brother swing open the bedroom door and say, “It’s time to get up.” I always did.
Fighting severe depression is a journey of inches. Courage, faith, and determination, although these may be in very short supply, are needed to move forward. Chuck Swindoll titled one of his books, Three Steps Forward and Two Steps Back, and that is often the way you will advance, but advancing you are. Be patient. Do not expect too much of yourself. Give yourself time.
Depression is not who you are, it is an illness you have. You are not a “failure.” You do not have a “character flaw.” You have not “sinned.” (Yes, these things may contribute to depression.) You have a mood disorder, perhaps known or unknown in origin, but in almost all cases improvable.
Seeing my way through depression is an ongoing endeavor. It may be for you, too. I offer this prayer for those of us who are walking this path.
O Holy Father of great compassion and mercy as shown through Your Son, Jesus, who healed the anguished mental illness and insanity of the men living among the tombs, be gracious to we who fight this beast called depression that threatens to devour us. Our LORD and our God, strengthen us in our work to cope with this illness. Turn our sadness into joy, emptiness into fulfillment, fatigue into energy, worthlessness into value, guilt and condemnation into acceptance, fear into courage, and helplessness into hope. Drive away the thoughts of death and suicide and cause us to embrace life. Walk this trail with us in a way that glorifies Your name. In the strong name of Jesus our Savior, who is worthy of all our praise and thanksgiving, we pray. Amen.