An Ordinary Post by an Ordinary Gal: the Third and Final Post in this Series
Warning: it is the intention of this series to deal head-on with the crippling effects of selfishness, envy and depression. If you yourself are more consistently prone to selflessness, joy and optimism, you may want to just move on.
Well, it is time to pull up our collective socks and talk depression.
I have to because I’ve said that I would, and because—this may go down as the biggest “No Kidding!” moment in the history of this blog—I’ve been known to be prone to depression.
Believe it or not, I take this seriously!
And this is why, having suffered the first real bout of it since the inception of this journal, I need to write about it.
So here goes.
I am one of the weird ones who suffers from depression not after the baby gets here but before. It has come and gone in varying degrees throughout my pregnancies and at times, required treatment.
I have never suffered from harmful behavior or suicidal tendencies, thanks be to God, just an overwhelming sense of worthlessness.
Which is an extremely yucky feeling, let me tell you.
And if you’ve never suffered from depression, you just don’t get it. But if you have? You totally do.
Clear as mud?
I am going to be completely honest with you here. I have to be. And if I can help just one person through the mental torture of her depression—of the sort that I went through this past Saturday—it will have been worth it.
Depression, in my opinion, stems from an extremely disordered sense of self. You no longer consider who you are in the light of God but rather, who you are in the light of…nothing. There is total darkness, and near despair.
Forget about doing the dishes. Forget about reading a story to the kids. (Or if you do, you don’t do the voices. Sigh.) You really are rendered quite helpless.
You cry a lot.
You just sit there a lot.
You feel pathetic.
So. What brings about this mental torture? For me, it is almost always the same progression: selfishness, envy, (of all that you feel you’re lacking), sadness, depression.
The trigger can be anything, really: a slight that you feel you were given, a lack of attention, fatigue. (Hormones, too, can play their part, as well as a certain chemical predisposition. I’ll address that in a minute.)
Instead of working to resolve one’s problem, however, by talking (and listening!) to your husband, by phoning a friend or a family member, by praying or by resting, you dwell on your (perceived) problems and exacerbate them.
You really do. You take the original problem and you start to add to it exponentially. Every past grievance is remembered, rehashed, and regurgitated. Why, for example, haven’t my friends been phoning me? (That one goes both ways, of course.) And why haven’t my sisters been in touch? Why isn’t my husband attending to my every sigh right now? He mustn’t love me. Why am I homeschooling? I can’t teach. Why am I a mother? I can’t parent.
And so on.
Such is the way of the dark one and of the sadness he imposes.
On Saturday I tried to counter the waves of negativity by singing loud cheerful rounds of “Nobody loves me! Everybody hates me! I think I’ll go eat worms!”
…to no avail. In the end I just needed time, I guess, as well as a good night’s sleep, an awesome Holy Hour, and the grace of the Mass the following morning.
Given that it only took one day, I slipped in and out of this particular instance with relative ease. Let me assure you, however: if the feelings do NOT go away, you should seek treatment.
Because, according to the website PSYCOM.net, “Depression is not something you can just ‘snap out of.’ It’s caused by an imbalance of brain chemicals, along with other factors. Like any serious medical condition, depression needs to be treated.”
Now, without being in any way an expert on the subject, I will say that in addition to the chemical imbalance listed above, I think there are certain other factors that predispose certain individuals to depression. They include:
· A family history of depression
· A personal history of substance abuse
· A lack of prayer
· A lack of grace
What’s funny (every pun intended) and very helpful for me to consider is that the depression I’ve personally experienced has gotten to be more and more sporadic with every new baby that comes. First, there’s just a ton more love and laughter in the family. Hugs and kisses are very therapeutic.
Also, I think that in a way I’m just “too busy to be depressed,” as my mother used to say. (Of course, it annoyed me at the time of her having said so. Such is so often the case with one’s mother and her wisdom!)
But it’s true. The busier we are, the less time we have to dwell on all our problems.
In the words of one of my very favorite saints, Fr. Josemaría Escrivà:
Sadness and uneasiness grow in proportion to the time you waste. When you feel a holy impatience to use every minute you will be filled with joy and peace, because you will not be thinking about yourself (Furrow, 510).
Ironically, the wasting of time hits a depressed person from both sides. It gives them more time to dwell on their problems while at the same time it generates even more problems: dirty dishes and laundry, neglected children, unprepared meals, etc.
So having said all this, what do I actually do when the depression descends despite my best intentions?
I turn to the following:
· Acts of charity
· Acts of humility (i.e. saying you’re sorry)
· Prayer (as much as possible)
· Reception of the sacraments (as much as possible)
· Medication (to the extent that it is necessary. I ask my doctor.)
· An awesome husband
· Exercise (It’s a serotonin thing.)
· Talking through it
Above all, and this is something that is drilled home every time I follow the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, in times of desolation and darkness, I never make a change.
This is not to say that a change isn’t what is needed because it might be. I just wait to make it until once again I’m at peace.
(On an interesting side note, in recent times of sadness I am always tempted to hit the “Delete It” button on my blog. Because, of course, my blog is “worthless.”)
I repeat, in times of desolation, never make a change! You must use what St. Ignatius calls the “Discernment of Spirits.” An abbreviated version would be this: God induces consolation and fills the soul with peace. The devil induces desolation, and fills the soul with darkness.
I highly recommend reading this document, but for now I’ll just quote the following: “Whenever the devil is tempting a soul, he earnestly desires that his wiles and seductions be received and kept secret. As long as a person keeps the temptations to himself, the devil can easily overcome his resistance and lead him into sin.”
I am certain that this can be applied to one’s depression because the absolutely hardest thing to do when I’m depressed is to admit it.
In times of darkness, turn the light on! Tell your husband, tell a friend, talk to a priest. (And if you’re a truly hopeless extrovert like myself, blog about it!) Do not struggle through this on your own because that is the dark one’s goal, specifically, to isolate you from all that’s most important: your family, your friends, your spouse and of course, your happiness.
Is all of this easy to do, when gripped by depression? Emphatically I say no! The decision to act on one’s depression—to will against it and actively fight it—is probably the single hardest step you’ll have to take.
It’s also the most crucial.
Some of us prone to depression.
It’s what we do with it that gets us through it!
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