Sunday, June 22, 2008

Depression- A Symptom of a Bigger Problem

By Christine Thackeray

Have you ever had an earth-shattering impression to do something that you just ignored? I've had many but this week one of those impressions reawakened and I'm not going to let it fall away this time. I'm going to wrap my arms around it and get it done.

About a year after the birth of my fifth child I went crazy. I had had a couple of early term miscarriages and my hormones were totally out of whack. I could feel it. I was laughing and crying at the same time every day all day for no apparent reason and I basically couldn't function. It was not pretty. One day I called my doctor's group frantic and asked for an immediate appointment. They sent me to their new nurse practitioner who in retrospect should have her license revoked. (I LOVE some nurse practitioners- it was just this woman.) When I told her my problem and that I felt like my hormones weren't readjusting, she told me the answer to everything was anti-depressants and that there were no side effects whatsoever. She said it was the best medicine ever created, and all I needed in order to take this secret to joy was a pregnancy test.

Well, I failed. I was barely pregnant (by two days) so I got an appointment with my normal doctor who told me that my hormones weren't adjusting properly and gave me some progesterone cream to help. Within a few weeks I was back to my semi-normal self and it felt great. That same year I had a visiting teaching companion who had a mean husband and a son on drugs. She separated with him and was trying her hardest to save this wayward son while singly raising four other demanding children but the oldest was becoming more and more violent. It was tearing her apart, as it would any mother. One day she came over to my house with a huge smile on her face. She had been to see a new doctor who told her that her only problem was that she was depressed and gave her medication. I remember her smiling and saying how wonderful her life was going to be now that she was not sad anymore. Her son was still in jail, her husband was still refusing to divorce her because while they were only separated he didn't have to pay child support, she still had no job and four other difficult children. It is right that she should still capture joy in her relationship with the Lord, in her personal accomplishments and in her role as a mother but it is OK for her to be justifiably upset, sad and fearful about her situation- it is called being normal.

I met another woman that I adored. As a young mother she struggled with feelings of inadequacy and perfectionism. On the advice of her physician she began taking a low dose of antidepressants and they helped take the edge off. She goes off them in the spring summer and goes back in the cold months and has been very grateful for a medicine that has allowed her to keep her emotions and mental stability in check. Another friend after suffering childhood abuse has found great relief with medication, while making use of a light box for seasonal issues and a careful diet to offset blood sugar-induced mood swings. She has built a stable foundation and has been able to function despite the neurological scarring of a difficult childhood.

Through these experiences and others I felt so strongly that depression be not better understood but better EXPLAINED. Normal, healthy people should and do feel depressed when they encounter huge obstacles. Depression like elation, anxiety, excitement, concern, fear and contentment are normal emotional states all humans will encounter in their lifetime. If you are in a tough marriage, if you have a child who is rebellious, if you have lost a friend or relative to death, if you are under constant pressure, a normal reaction is for your body to shut down so that you can recover. This shutting down can be different for different people but the lack of will or joy, the inability to make decisions and the desire to isolate or withdraw are typical. Sometimes the sadness can be so extreme that a person wants to cease to exist or to hurt themselves just to feel something. If these thoughts persist, it is imperative they seek professional help. But for the others who find themselves in this abyss, medication is only one option and won't fix the other stressors or triggers causing the depression. Like putting a band-aid over a splinter, the offending matter will only fester until it must be dealt with eventually.

On the other hand, genetically some people are neurologically fragile, some are scarred by abuse and others have experienced depression so many times from external sources that even after those stressors are relieved, their minds repeat this state of emotion on its own. There are also over seventeen true medical conditions that imitate depression.

Each person may find a different answer for coping with their individual struggle. Though their answers may be very different, one thing I truly believe is the path to finding those answers is the same. If they seek with the Spirit, they will find the doctor or the article or the principle that will help them. But really that is the easy part. The true struggle begins after you've figured out the cure, because for most mental health issues, the remedy is a process, not an event. Whether it is changing bad habits, shifting negative scripting either in a relationship or in their own head, creating barriers that keep you safe on the path to healing, breaking the chains of addictions, diet, exercise, medication or herbal supplements, all of them take time to implement and relief only comes with consistency, which stands at the complete opposite corner of reality than the depressed psyche. It's hard stuff but it is so worth it because when you are on task, you can tell you are your best self.

After all this, I guess the bottom line is I really want to organize and prepare a clear premise for dealing with depression through gospel principles. So when we face depression, we are empowered. We need to seek to figure out the source of our feelings and then assess if it is something we can cope with by means of diet, exercise or increased positive experiences in our life or do we need more help through counselling or medication.

I look forward to Sandra's relationship insights, working with feelings and thoughts from the inside out but I also think we need to keep our eyes open from the outside in and figure out what these experiences can teach us We also need to discover how we can increase our ability to be healed by using the gifts of the gospel of Christ because I believe that is what it is for.


Karlene said...

I like your phrase, "genetically, some people are neurologically fragile." After learning about and dealing with depression for nearly 30 years, I feel that is the category I fall in. Sometimes I use herbs to deal with it; sometimes I need medication.

One of the best things that has helped me stay out of the deepest depression is using the 12 steps and a book called, "He Did Deliver Me from Bondage" by Colleen C. Harrison. The steps brought me closer to Christ and that helps the depression a lot, even though I sometimes also need the medication.

Sandra said...

There is a link in the sidebar to "He Did Deliver Me From Bondage"

I know that for me, meds are not the answer. My depression is situational and not chemical. But I agree- sometimes my brain has been in this cycle for so long that it forgets how to be normal. I need to get enough sleep, healthy fod and take time for me to just relax and be. Then I can cope better.