I had my first brush with depression probably 15 years ago. At that time (before I had sinus surgery and began a serious approach to treating my year-round allergies) I had 4-6 sinus infections every year. I was teaching middle school choir and social studies, and it was late in the school year- concerts, field trips, talent shows, end-of-the-year wrap ups; and my children were 9, 11, and 13. At my church one of our dear men was dying with brain cancer. One of our high schoolers had been in a terrible auto accident and was in a coma (and later passed), and another member, the father of one of our good friends and missionary to Mexico, was suffering with prostate cancer. He taught one Wednesday night, and the one thing I remember him saying was that most of the times, our spiritual battles aren’t huge, dramatic affairs - mostly we are pecked to death by ducks. This spoke to me so vividly and I felt like it was EXACTLY where I was. It just seemed like everywhere I looked, there was one more thing to do, one more expectation I had to meet, and I didn’t think I had the emotional or physical stamina to do it.
I talked to him after the teaching about how guilty I felt, complaining about my life, while these other terrible things were going on in our church family. “My problems are small potatoes!” were the words I said to him. And he, in his wisdom, said, “But they’re still potatoes. Your problems are still problems.” I was struck by his compassion and understanding.
On the way home I began to cry and couldn’t stop. I just kept on and on; Mr X jumped into protector mode (thank you God for a husband who is not afraid to take care of me!) and told me I was staying home tomorrow. He called my principal and took care of things, and my assistant handled my choir classes so that all I had to do was show up for the concert the next night! I ended up taking off the rest of the week, returning the next Monday. Even then, I felt very fragile, like I might burst into tears at any moment. My assistant was my rock that I leaned on when I went back to work.
During those 5 days– my “mini nervous breakdown” as I call it– I went to the doctor for my sinus infection. (I had said, “I don’t have time to go to the doctor!”) TeeKay counseled me a lot. She assured me that the world can indeed function without my running it. And if I didn’t take care of myself I couldn’t do anything. I don’t know why that lesson is so hard for us women to learn! But I learned it.
Fast forward about 4 years. At school we changed campuses right before school started, and it was a huge, emotional ordeal. (One little sentence doesn’t begin to imply the amount of emotional stress that was involved. Which probably says a lot about my mindset about the time.) Then on September 2, my mother had her 3rd major stroke and was hospitalized, in a coma for a week, during which time my sister or I stayed there round the clock. (Here she is in her early 20s- isn’t she beautiful?) Finally, on the morning of September 9, while I was with her, she passed on to Heaven. My administration was so kind and generous, and encouraged me to take all the time I needed- I think I missed 8 or 9 days. So between these two events, I never felt like I got a good grip on the school year, but was trying to run in deep sand.
We buried her on Sept 11, 2000. On the 15th was Sunshine’s 13th birthday. I knew we needed to do something special for her important milestone, but I just couldn’t pull it off. I vividly remember sitting with a friend by her pool while Sunshine and the other kids swam, feeling like I was in a fog, or down a long tunnel, disconnected from the laughing children and everything else real. (I’m thankful for my friend, who had also lost her mother, and her counsel that I was NORMAL!) I had no energy; I felt lethargic and numb.
But finally, realizing that I couldn’t concentrate enough to read was the tipping point for me. At that point I got on a mild dose of antidepressant. Truly I don’t remember much about it, except that I felt better and after some amount of time- a year maybe?– I weaned off of it.
Since that time I’ve needed antidepressants seasonally, in the winter, a few times. The descent for me is very gradual, and the natural disinclination to take medication of any kind, and especially antidepressants, makes it hard to realize when you are in “the pit.” The last time was after we had had some major damage to our house from Hurricane Rita in 2005, and it was taking longer than I wanted to get the repairs done. At some point I had decided I wanted to just leave the house and move. But then I got to a point where I didn’t care if we moved or not. I didn’t care whether or not the repairs ever got done. I was tired of fooling with flower beds, and told Mr X that I was done with plants and flowers; I was going to throw away all my pots and plants.
Even in my state, I realized that those words coming out of my mouth were not “me”, so once again I called TeeKay and told her I didn’t really feel sad, but did she think I was depressed? And of course she said APATHY is one of the big indicators of depression.
So I swallowed my pride again, and got on my mild dose of antidepressant. Little by little things improved.
I try to be very aware of what stresses me out (too little sleep and down time) and what makes me happy (bright colors, flowers). I turn on lots of light when I’m feeling down and try to get in the sunshine. I at least THINK ABOUT exercising! But if all that doesn’t work next time, I’m calling Walgreens!
Psalms 42:11 Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God.