Sunday, August 3, 2014

Insights into Depression

So I went to church today. Not an unusual event for a Sunday morning; I'm a fairly regular church attender. But the fact that I went today is kind of big. Because I am in the middle of a "flare up" in my depression. That sounds weird, I know. Flare ups are what people with MS or fibromyalgia have, right? Autoimmune disorder type of a thing. But people with chronic illness of any kind, including depression and other mental illnesses, can have them too. Or maybe I should call them flare downs. Or low energy.

I've dedicated myself to being open to talking about my depression, not because I feel so special or anything, but because I want others out there to know they are not alone, that what they are feeling is part of a disease. Sometimes knowing that makes a lot of difference. I don't pretend to speak for a people with mental illness or even all people with depression. I think it's a bit different for everyone.

I've written on this blog several times about depression, so if you want to know more, feel free to read those posts. But what compels me to write today is the realization--for the umpteenth time--that clinical depression, for me anyway, never goes away. It is here 24 hours a day, every day. Even though I take meds, try to eat healthy, try to exercise moderately, get lots of sleep, and try to keep the stress to a minimum, I will never be free of this disease. Sure, the meds keep me functional and temper the depression so it doesn't overwhelm me. And all those other things help. Talking helps. Crying sometimes helps. What helps most is for me to allow it to be what it is and not wish for it to be something different. And to be in nature.

What I want the world to know is this: I am happy, despite my depression. I'm not depressed because I'm not happy. It's not that life has given me a raw deal and it makes me depressed. Nothing bad--seriously bad--is happening to me that is causing my depression. It's just as much a part of me as my green eyes or which toes are longer. During my flare downs, I want to withdraw from the world. Maybe it's a self-protection thing, like if I don't interact with others, you won't be able to notice that I'm not quite myself. Or maybe it's just a desire to be within my own self and not have to explain stuff to others. For sure, there is a hefty dose of feelings of unworthiness and self-deprecation. Even self-loathing. When I am in a downturn, I tend to be grouchy with everyone, and I know it, and I hate that. I don't really want to be that person around others.

Which is why going to church today was a big deal. I wanted to be curled up in my bed, away from the world, separate in myself. One of the scriptures today said that God sees each of us as her masterpiece. That's a feel good thing. I believe it. I feel it. But does it make the depression go away? No. Therefore, the only conclusion I can come to is that I am a masterpiece, and part of that masterpiece is my depression. My dear, long-suffering, patient husband affirms that he loves me, all of me, depression and all. That is certainly comforting. I know love is unconditional. And I'm even pretty good at loving myself unconditionally--most of the time.

Believe me, if it were possible to intellectualize oneself out of this disease, I would have done that by now. I can perform all manner of self-talk and other methods to lift myself up. But it doesn't make the depression go away. I know most of those who spend time around me see a smiling, laughing person who loves being with my friends and family. Which is true. That doesn't mean the depression has left. It just means I'm having a good day. And, thankfully, I often have more good days than down days.

On down days, it takes every ounce of strength, courage, and sheer stubbornness to do something as routine as get dressed and go to church. Even though I know I will be lifted up. Even though I know love will surround me. Even though the music and words soothe my soul.

Is there a point here? I don't know. I don't want pity. I don't want sympathy, even. I want acceptance and understanding. I want people to see mental illness as a disease that is managed to greater or lesser degrees, but a disease nonetheless. A disease that cannot be fought and overcome, but must be accepted and lived with each and every day. And I want people with this disease to know that  it can be part of a happy and productive life, that the struggle is worth it, that even a down day, our existence is still a masterpiece.