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Remember the Reason for the Season

Christmas ornaments and lights on branches of a Christmas tree; the words, "Remember the reason for the season!" in the upper right corner.

It’s Christmas Eve today, and like most homes at this time of year, we have had our Christmas tree up for awhile. The colourful lights glowing, decorations hanging, and the angel watching over everything. The top section of our artificial tree is leaning some, because the part it’s stuck into has a piece broken off causing the top portion to not stand up straight. I’m reluctant to give up this tree and get a new one.

This tree belonged to my mom. And when I look at it, I think of her. Usually my thoughts are happy and pleasant, but in all honesty, sometimes I feel sad.

I have always struggled at Christmas with my emotions for as long as I can remember. I vacillate between feeling happy and cheerful, and depressed and discouraged.

I remember feeling depressed many times when I was young (though at the time I don’t think I was aware that was what I was experiencing) and telling my parents I didn’t want anything for Christmas, because I didn’t deserve it. There were times when I would plaster on a smile, because that is what we are supposed to do at Christmas. It’s a joyful time of year, after all!

In my adult years, I have struggled with the thoughts that present themselves in my mind when I hear others trying to help with comments of “Cheer up!” or “It could always be worse. There are others who are in far more serious situations.” And, while I know people mean well and are trying to be helpful, they really aren’t. Not when my depression has made an appearance. Sometimes I just have to ride it out.

There were lots of silent, hidden tears shed at Christmas in my past. But, I am thankful that the last few Christmases have been great – no tears, no feelings of not deserving, no depression.

In all honesty, there are a number of things that have helped me with this – my medication, having a loving husband who is very understanding and supportive, changing my attitudes and thoughts, and most of all, the love of a Saviour who was born to die and give me eternal life.

Christmas is not about the presents, the tree, the lights or decorations. Christmas is about celebrating the birth of the Messiah, Jesus. And if depression is something you deal with, particularly at Christmas, please don’t suffer in silence. You aren’t alone in this, and your struggle is real. Reach out to someone, take your meds (if you are on them; if not talk to your doctor), don’t isolate yourself. Reach out to the Lord; ultimately, He is the only one who can help you overcome this.

And, I pray that this Christmas, you can feel the joy that only He can give you.

Depression & Anxiety

If I Wasn’t On My Medication…

When depression has its nasty claws embedded deep into my very soul, it sucks the life right out of me. It leaves me not willing, or able, to enjoy anything, and it won’t let me do what I want.

I have a few hobbies that I really enjoy – knitting, spinning yarn, reading and some new recent hobbies (calligraphy/hand lettering, going to the driving range, and fishing) that I have picked up since my last bout of depression and anxiety.  When I am not in the midst of my illness, I am able to really enjoy life!

I recently heard from a friend of someone, a teenager, who said that he suffers with depression and doesn’t want to be on medication because being depressed helps him to see things as they really are, and to see that most people are pretty  delusional, especially in their thoughts or understanding of depression.  I haven’t had any conversations with this young man, but it makes me sad and angry to hear this.  THERE IS NOTHING WRONG WITH TAKING MEDICATION FOR DEPRESSION (OR ANXIETY)!  Mental illness is just that – an illness. And just like other illnesses that require medication to help, taking medication for a mental illness is done so that it helps people to live life in a normal way.  Depression is a chemical imbalance in the brain; all the cylinders aren’t firing properly.  Medication helps balance the chemicals.

If I’m not on my medication, I am not at my best. I have no desire to do anything, I want to sleep all the time, I find no humour in anything, life sucks; I’m just existing.  For me, and countless other sufferers, taking medication helps us to live and enjoy life.

I have been really having so much fun learning new hobbies – things I never thought I would enjoy – primarily the golf and fishing. I now get to experience these with my husband, son, and friends – and I have so much fun! I’ve also been really enjoying learning to do calligraphy/hand lettering for the past week or so (and while I’m not the best at this yet, I’m already seeing improvement). It’s been something I’ve wanted to do for a long time – and now I’m doing it.

I would be missing out on all of these great things (and more) if I wasn’t on my medication. I’m very thankful for it.  If you think medication might help you, please talk to your doctor; and honestly consider it.  You might find out just how thankful you are for it as well.

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I’m Learning To Thank God For This

I’ve been taking my anti-depressant for nearly three months now. And I will say, they are really helping.  I don’t want to have to take this medication, but I know I have to.

As a Christian, I have gone back and forth in whether or not I believe that I should take antidepressants or just trust God to help me through and heal me from the depression and anxiety.  As well, for so long there has been a stigma against taking anti-depressants.  People tend to think that if you take them, you are not trusting God or you are weak. It’s not the case for either.

I have a chemical imbalance in my brain. And while I do believe that God can heal me from this if He chooses, I also believe that He created scientists who discovered a medication that can help me live a more balanced life.  Medication isn’t from the devil. It’s a tool that can be used positively to help me, and people like me, function the way we were meant to.

I thank God for  His hand in all of this. I thank Him for creating medicine (He is the great physician and healer, after all), for creating science, for creating the people who were responsible for the discovery of a medication that can help so many people live the lives God called us to live.

When I was in the midst of my depression, I had a hard time trusting that God was there, and a hard time believing that He would help me through it all. I couldn’t see clearly for the fog that clouded my eyes and my judgement. But, the Lord was there with me.  He has been with me every step of the way through this. He was with me when it was so hard to get out of bed each day, when it was difficult to think or function as a “normal” human being. He was with me when I had meltdowns, when I felt like I was going crazy. He never left my side.  And He still hasn’t.  God is still with me, and has never left my side.  His word tells us that He will never leave us nor forsake us.  And I believe that to be true.

I am very thankful that I am now able to function so much better. I am very thankful for the Lord, and for the medication that I can take to help me.  I’m very thankful for a community of supporters who have been with me along this difficult journey, who have lifted me up, prayed for me, let me cry, and now they are there to rejoice with me for overcoming the battle. And I’m especially thankful for my husband who has been there for me, who has helped me to see that there was (and is) a light at the end of the tunnel. He was and is my biggest supporter, and he never once left my side (even when I feared my depression would drive him away).  He never once stopped loving me through the pain, the fear and the darkness. He held my hand, gently reminded me that it wouldn’t last forever, held me when I felt like I was falling apart, and constantly prayed over me. I have so much to be thankful for!

I’ll likely have to take medication for depression and/or anxiety for the rest of my life. And while I do have days where I wish I didn’t have to be on antidepressants, I’m learning that it’s OK that I need them in order to balance out the chemicals in my brain so that I can be a “normal” human being.  I’m learning to accept that anti-depressants will have to be a part of my life now. And I’m learning to thank God for this.

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In A Much Better Place

These past eleven days I have been on vacation. A much-needed vacation. A much welcomed vacation.  A wonderful time spent with my husband (and a day that included my step-son).

Because of my depression and anxiety, working on average of 45-50 hours per week, and being involved in a few ministries at church, I ended up becoming burnt out. As I said, this vacation became a much-needed and welcomed event in my life.

While on vacation, I had to have blood work done. Something I had put off for a couple of weeks since last visiting my doctor and getting a prescription renewal for anti-depressants.  I couldn’t get the time off work until my vacation, so I got up early and went in to see the vampires.  The results came quickly, and the next day I was back at my doctor’s office to get the results.

My doctor told me what I had assumed – my B12 is way down.  No wonder I’ve been feeling so tired!  She also told me that my vitamin D is also way down and I need to start taking supplements to help bring that up, and I also need to start eating more red meat.  I will also have to go in to get B12 shots every couple of weeks (to start, then it should be monthly).

It’s nice to have some answers regarding my health. It also helps to know the steps to take in order to overcome this situation.

It’s the same with the depression and anxiety.  I need a plan in order to overcome that as well.  I’m learning to take steps (sometimes they are only baby steps, but they are steps none the less) in order to help with these illnesses.

Getting on my medication was the first step.  It’s starting to kick in, and now I have more good days than bad. I’m thankful for that.  I’ve also been more honest with others in how I’ve been feeling. I’m slowly letting others in, letting them see the real me, letting them see my pain, and not worrying that they won’t like the “real,” me, the broken me.  And, I’ve also been asking for more prayer. That’s very important, too.

I’ve been more vocal in talking about my anxiety as well. That’s my next step. Giving voice to what is causing my anxiety takes away the power it can hold over me.  Talking about the struggle brings it to the light where the fear can be stripped away and the people I trust can remind me to breathe, can help me remember I’m in a safe place surrounded by safe people, and I’m going to be OK.

Another step is to learn more about anxiety and depression, to become more aware of what triggers these attacks for me, and what I might need to do to avoid the situations (or what I need to do to face them).  Knowledge is a powerful thing.

One of the biggest steps is to learn to turn this all over to God, to give it to Him, to trust that He’s in control of the situation.  He is the only One who can help me recover from these illnesses. He is the only one who can heal me – if He chooses.  And if He doesn’t, that’s OK.  I know He still loves me and will help me through it all.

As well, prayer is playing significant part in this journey.  By talking to others, being honest about how I’ve been feeling, they are able to pray for me – especially when I’ve felt so “weak” and unable to pray for myself.  I’m thankful for these prayers.  I’m thankful for these people in my life who care about me, who love me.

I’m still not completely recovered from this. The depression and anxiety still affect me, still hit without warning. But, I’ve come a long way already. With the help of God, my medication, taking the steps I need to on this journey, prayers from my friends and family, and this much-needed vacation, I am in a much better place than I have been. And I look forward to the bad days becoming fewer and fewer as I start getting better and better.

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Today Was A Better Day

The bulk of this week was not great for me. Not only have I been dealing with my depression and anxiety, but Sunday afternoon family members shared some terrible news with us. It devastated me. And I found myself spiralling downward quickly.

Both Monday and Tuesday I had what I can only describe as breakdowns while trying to get ready for work. I couldn’t seem to function. I stood in the bathroom, attempting to get into the shower; all I could do was stand there, sobbing uncontrollably. All I wanted to do was crawl back into bed, cover my head, and disappear for awhile.  I didn’t want to face the world.

My husband was there for me. He held me, hugged me, told me it was OK to cry. He prayed for me. And he encouraged me. He reminded me that I’m not alone, that he is going to be with me through this, and that it will get better. I love him dearly for that (amongst other things).

Today, though, I woke up and I managed to get through the day without feeling hopeless, without feeling like my world was imploding. Today I was able to smile, to laugh, to feel almost myself again.

I’m not saying that I am over this, that the depression is gone, that my meds have suddenly kicked in and everything is hunky dory.  But, today was better. Today I made it through 15 hours without crying.

I have had many people praying for me, encouraging me to lean on the Lord. I’ve prayed. I’ve asked for strength. I’ve tried to not focus on little upsets that have happened today. And I made it through.

Today was a better day.

I know there are still going to be down days ahead, but I also know I’m not alone in this. I know Jesus is walking with me. He’s here for me, to give me strength, to dry my tears, to give me support as I walk along through the darkness, to light my way.

And for that, I am thankful.

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I Caught A Glimpse of the Light…

My husband tells me it will get better, that right now I can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel, but I will.  He tells me it’s still there, hiding beneath the grey clouds that loom over me on what seems like a daily basis.

I catch glimmers of that light, now and then.  It’s mostly a pin prick that expands and contracts at varying intervals throughout the day – mostly when my mind is on something else.

Driving home from work, my husband shone some of that light on me. He told me that a friend of ours had lifted me up in a beautiful prayer this morning. He told me how another friend of his shared that I had made him feel welcome and accepted when we had met, that I make others feel welcome and accepted, too. My husband shared this with me to help me see that there is light, to help me see that I make a difference, that I matter – things I haven’t been able to see in myself or to accept in recent months.

I caught a glimpse of that light at the end of the tunnel this evening. I know it’s there, even if I haven’t been able to see it much lately.

Today, I felt the clouds lift a little. They’re starting to settle around me one more, but at least I know the light is there, that it will shine again, that the clouds will drift away, and the depression and anxiety will loosen its gnarly grip on me.

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I Was Ashamed To Admit I Suffered With Depression

Mental illness is not fun. I know this for a fact, because I suffer from it.  I suffer from depression.

Depression and I go way back. I’m not sure exactly when it first became apparent to me, but looking back, I recall being held in its bony clutches when I was in my early 20s.  For many years I don’t think I was really aware that this is what I was dealing with, but then I read an article that had a list of 10 indicators that a person might be suffering with depression, out of which I had 9.

For many years, I was ashamed to admit I suffered with depression. I don’t even think my family was aware I was dealing with it.  There has been such a stigma in the past regarding depression and all mental illnesses really. I was afraid of what my family and friends would think about me if they knew.  I remember once joking with my mom that I should go see a psychiatrist or something, and she got a little upset and said that I shouldn’t, because they would only blame her and dad (it seemed at the time that blaming the parents for their kids’ issues was the “in” thing to do – you have a hard time dealing with an issue, it must be because your parents abused you in some way!).  I felt hopeless; I felt alone and like I had no one to turn to, because I didn’t want them blaming my parents.  My depression had nothing to do with them or how they raised me. In fact, they did a pretty darn good job at raising me and my two brothers!  I felt like nobody else I knew would understand or imagine just how terrible I felt. In fact, I’m pretty sure I thought that nobody else I knew could ever be dealing with something like this!

During my late 20s, after realising I was battling depression, I went to my doctor and was prescribed an anti-depressant.  I took it for about a year, and because I didn’t have any benefits at work, I couldn’t afford to pay for the medication.  I stopped taking it and I felt that I was doing alright, but naturally, it came back.  For many years after, I continued to suffer this spiral effect of being OK and then not being OK, because of not having a drug plan and not being able to afford the medication, and also because I was ashamed to ask anyone to help me with it.

Fast forward to a few years ago. I got to a point in my life where my depression was hitting me big time – when my mother was diagnosed with terminal cancer.  After talking to my fiancé (who is now my husband), we decided I needed to go on antidepressants again. I began taking them, and of course, they worked. Until I stopped taking them.

In my thinking, I tried to reason that I couldn’t afford this medication because of not working or not having a drug plan.  Every time I stop, I do OK for a while (sometimes it can be a long while) but I always end up at a point where it’s not OK anymore and I need to go back on the meds.  As I said, it’s a spiral effect.  Just recently I started taking my anti-depressant again and I’m waiting for it to kick in (it takes awhile).  My husband and I have decided that this is something that we need to prioritize because my mental health is worth it.

I am learning that I need to be on medication for my depression because nothing else works.  Depression is not something that you can “snap out of.” Depression is not “the blues.”  Depression is a legitimate illness.  And while in recent years awareness of mental illness and the stigmas associated with it has been quite predominate in the news, it’s still not completely accepted.  We still have a long way to go.

Do I still have fears that people will judge me or think I’m making this up or blame someone or something for causing me to be this way? Yes, I do. But I am also learning that having a mental illness is OK. It doesn’t make me a bad person. It doesn’t make me weird.  It doesn’t make me any less of a person.  Society still has a long way to go with regards to accepting mental illness and those who have it, but we can get there.

I would like to end by asking that if you don’t know a lot about mental illness, please do some research. Don’t judge people who suffer with it, don’t tell them to “just get over it” or “snap out of it.”  It doesn’t work that way.  I ask that you be more accepting, that you understand that mental illness is legitimate and so many suffer from it – often in silence.  I ask that you be caring. Be kind. Be a friend. Be a support. Be understanding when I just don’t feel like getting out of bed or when I all I feel like doing is crying – even when I don’t know why. Be there. That’s all I ask.