One Day’s Struggle Against the Dragon of Depression

July 15, 2017

Today is starting well. It is 5:30 and I’m ready to get up and start my day. But for the sakeImage result for dim light in darkness of Charity (my wife), I will read the news and check out the posts on Facebook until 8:00. Although my night was short, it was five hours of sound slumber without any PTSD dreams to disturb my sleep.

9:30 finds me in the shower getting reading for the day and anticipating brunch.

10:00. On the weekend, Charity almost always fixes a nice brunch on Saturdays. Today it’s pancakes and bacon. While I’m eating my breakfast a cloud of darkness descends and engulfs me in its blackness. I finish the meal with my head in my hands. My plans of putting baseboard down will have to wait.

Why am I suddenly sad? Every reserve of energy has evaporated like the morning mist does when introduced to the sun. My strength is failing as an abyss of sorrow overpowers me. Any will I had mustered for the task ahead, any determination and resolution, and any excitement and joy is being replaced with paralyzing fear and disabling weakness. Why is this happening? Is my tendency toward perfectionism causing me to question my ability? I have been undaunted about taking on projects that I previously had no experience doing. Why has my confidence left me now?

10:30 The night of restful sleep is consumed by my dragon of gloom until I am left chained to the desire for isolation and helpless against my eyelids forcing out the light.

2:00 Nearly four hours have passed. As I slump in my chair in various stages of sleep and wakefulness, my sleep is not deep enough to escape from Saturday’s normal house noises – our grandchildren playing, and Charity coming in to check on me and ask a question or two. Yet, my wakefulness is not enough to move beyond my four-legged dungeon. Only the call of nature makes the foreboding door open, but freedom is not within reach. A tether of sadness does not let me stray far.

2:30 Trying to chase away my dragon with numbing noise, I turn on the T.V. For a few moments as a story unfolds I climb upward, but with each commercial or the end of a story I fall off my ladder of escape. This repeats itself for the next eight hours.

4:00 Charity comes in again as she has done throughout the day. She comforts me with an engulfing hug, a tender and empathetic kiss, and a reassuring, “I love you.” Her kindness and supportive gestures are appreciated far beyond my ability to reciprocate. The bars of the dungeon are too strong and I remain trapped in the dragon’s lair.

Could it be a crisis of confidence? I wonder, looking for answers where there seems to be none. Has my fear of failure reduced me to inaction? Are my perfectionistic tendencies crippling my mind with a fog of mistakes? Bedtime releases me from the dungeon to walk two steps to my bed where the sense of gloom and sadness has me ensconced still.

10:00 As I prepare for the unknown night, the 25th day of my battle with the dragon comes to an end. It has won the day and gained ground. What will tomorrow bring – more defeat, a draw, or a little victory?

As I settle into the bed and pillow my head, I see a ray of light. It is the same Light that has always been there through nearly two decades of battle with the dragon.  It is sometimes so dull and faint the darkness threatens to shut Him out; sometimes bright, shining rays of hope into my despair.

Hebrews 6:18 reads, “This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast . . .” Hope is the best medicine for despair. If all of the things I treasure are suddenly gone and I still have a dose of hope, I can survive. I can thrive. Someone said, “There is nothing left but to bury a man when all hope is gone.” But, for the Light, however dim, I would be that man. Hope has kept me alive. It is when hope is fed that the shadow of death must give way.

A second thought entered my mind before I went to sleep. What can I learn from this depression episode? Here I confess my independence and the efforts to conquer my dragon by my own power. I need help – the help of God, my family, and my support network. When I humble myself and admit my weakness, that is when I grow in strength. May the lessons I learn be put to good use to help family, others, and myself.

11:00 Sleep joins my hope and willingness to learn, which together provides a peaceful slumber.  My last thought of the night is that tomorrow will be a better day.

May the LORD be with you.

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Depression: Reaching for the Dawn

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In my last two blogs, Depression: A Way Through, I discussed my journey through deep depression and the beginning steps I took to achieve stability. Here is a recap:

  • Admit that you have a problem.
  • Get on the right medications.
  • Go to professional counseling regularly.
  • Develop a support network.
  • Set achievable goals for yourself.

After you have conquered the above you may be ready to tackle some more steps that will help you reach for the light at the end your prolonged night.

  • Take care of your body

See to your hygiene. Sometimes I went days without showering, shaving, or brushing my teeth. If I had an appointment, I washed my hair at the sink to make it look like I had showered, brushed my teeth, put on clean clothes, and plenty of deodorant and cologne.

Force yourself to take a shower at least every other day and brush your teeth at least once daily. Put on clean clothes, even if it is only fresh pajamas. You will feel so much better and be able to tolerate your body more until the next shower, not to mention the people around you will appreciate it too.

  • Regulate your sleep

Depression may cause you to sleep more or less. I have experienced both in separate episodes.  Sometimes I slept 12, 14, or more hours a day. At other times it was three, four hours at best. Keep yourself on a regular schedule of going to bed and getting up if you can. Avoid the things that may make you sleep less – naps, caffeine, and nicotine. Be aware of the things that cause you to sleep more – alcohol, synthetic and natural opioids, and benzodiazepines. If you suspect you have hypersomnia consult your doctor.

  • Eat healthy and with moderation

Depression can affect your appetite. You may each too much or too little. My family doctor cautioned me about my weight gain. I told her, “Food is the only thing in my life right now that doesn’t talk back.” I gained weight topping out at 280 pounds. During a separate depressive episode I lost 60 pounds (and purposely lost 20 more).

Moderation is the key. Eat your vegetables, fruits, and whole grains. Get protein, but limit the fat. Keep hydrated. Cut back on caffeine, sugar, processed food, junk food, and fast food. I have tried eating organic and natural with fish and fowl, but I have not found a diet specifically for depression. There are some mood positive foods, but stay away from the gimmicks and supplements that profess to “cure” you. There are no food or supplement cures.

  • Let in the light

Open up the curtains. Sit on the porch or in the yard. Turn on the lights. Some studies have indicated that a black light while you sleep may help.

  • Exercise

Studies show that exercise can enhance your mood and help you sleep. I do not like to exercise; I do not see the point of walking without a destination, but I do stay active. Washing down walls, painting, mowing the yard and trimming the bushes, doing laundry, cleaning house, washing windows both inside and out, washing the outside of the house, washing the car, light remodeling, and building things have all kept me moving. With my experience aside, regular exercise will enhance your mood.

  • Recognize your triggers

Stress is my greatest issue. It is impossible to eliminate all stress, but it can be managed. Name your stressors: work, relationship(s), bills, loss, change, etc. Make a plan to address each one until it becomes manageable. You may have to reduce your hours at work or transfer to a less stressful position, even if it means a cut in pay. You may need marital or family counseling to work through relational issues. End or moderate toxic relationships. Address co-dependency. Learn some relaxation techniques. You get the picture. Do not tackle the whole, it will be overwhelming, take small bites. Practice the serenity prayer, “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, Courage to change the things I can, And wisdom to know the difference.” (Reinhold Niebuhr)

Perfectionism is another of my triggers. I hold myself to an impossible standard for my work, actions, and thoughts. It takes me a long time to complete a project because I want it perfect. When it is done all I can see are the flaws and I am embarrassed to show it to anyone else. One pastor told me I was a “frustrated perfectionist.” There were many things I would not try because I could see no way to make them perfect. My wife and counselor both tell me I am very hard on myself. At this writing I am struggling with forgiving those who have hurt me in my past. I expect myself to have no bitterness, rancor, or grudge. Instead I want peace and to only recall the good times. Is it too high of a standard? I do not know, but that is my expectation of myself.

Unresolved issues from your past or present contribute to depression. Physical, sexual, mental, or emotional abuse holds you down. Violence in any form, dysfunctional family life, and traumatic experiences (especially those where you thought you might die) impede healing. Work with a therapist to face, overcome, or cope with these issues.

  • Give back

I find that helping someone else is one of the most therapeutic things I can do for myself. The 12th step of Alcoholic Anonymous is, “Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics and to practice these principles in all our affairs.” Telling your story and how you have learned to overcome or cope with your depression may be of great benefit to someone else. “Carrying the message,” that depression does not have to trap you or define you, to others edifies them and encourages you.

Educate yourself about your depression.  Learning more will make you an informed consumer about yourself and your treatment.

Replace negative thoughts of hopelessness and worthlessness with their positive opposites. (This takes time and almost always requires therapy.)

Do not make any “big” decisions. For those you cannot avoid, get help from your support network to guide you in taking the right step.

Give yourself time to feel better, especially if you have severe depression. Improvement is gradual, not immediate. There will be setbacks, but do not let the dark days stop you from reaching for the dawn. You can do it, God being your helper.