CHRISTIAN LIFE & GROWTH
Mental Health and Transitions
By T. Jaden Ozwell
This is a series about the impact personality disorders, depression, and anxiety have on the life transitions of twenty-somethings and beyond. The fourth and final article will address how mental illness has affected me spiritually.
Part 1: Introduction and Personality Discorders
Part 3: Anxiety Disorders
Part 4: The Church
Have you ever been to the Emergency Room and been asked to rate your pain? Have you ever felt pain at a "ten"? Well, imagine feeling the highest rate of pain you ever have, but as an emotion. That's a big part of depression.
Depression has been described to me as "sadness at a 'ten' leading to hopelessness." Although it misses many of the finer points of depression, that is the most succinct description I've heard to date. If I were to explain my own experience of depression, it would be something like, "lack of desire, hope, and drive for anything, including getting better, and having next to no energy." That is my depression at its worst. Before I reach that point, I have a deep longing for something to be different, but no drive or mental/emotional capacity to actually initiate change.
I have been depressed for many years, starting in my teens. Somewhere along the line I was "officially" diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder, which basically means I have deep depression for long periods of time, and have been that way for a long time. There have been better months and worse years along the way, and the day-to-day fluctuates quite a bit as well.
When it comes to transitions, depression can be particularly difficult because of how it affects decision-making. When you don't really have much hope or drive, it is hard to do things for yourself. You have to make yourself make decisions.
Moving is especially overwhelming and exhausting. The more depressed I am, the more every little thing becomes a decision that I have to force myself into. So deciding to hang pictures isn't just that — it's deciding to hang each picture, and each decision about where it should go, and then how high on the wall it should be, and if I should use a nail or a 3M hook. Each of those little things exhaust an already depleted energy level. So, I still don't have many things hung in my living space.
Unpacking boxes holds the same problem. Deciding to open the box, deciding to pull something out, and then deciding where that thing should go, over and over, takes everything I've got.
Now, it isn't always that bad, because I have "good" days too. And on those days I can get some things accomplished in a relatively normal manner. But those "good" days have to be spent very carefully, so once I've unpacked the necessities, it is very hard to convince myself to do more unpacking instead of working or dishes or laundry or some other important task.
Depression can look many different ways, because people have very different personalities behind their depression. Some people become flat, where they can't feel anything in particular; some can only feel sadness; some can feel happy on occasion, it's just that it doesn't happen very often. Over the years, I have experienced all of these, and learned that functioning within any of them takes a lot of re-learning life. It means knowing when you really do just need to sleep for twelve hours, and when you just have to use all your willpower to take a shower so you can go to work.
For those of you who have depressed loved ones, or if you have someone struggling with depression in your friend group or church, here are a few things that might be helpful:
1. Know that the depressed person is not incapable. Most people with severe depression are still holding jobs and taking care of life. Some things fall through the cracks, like daily duties and (for me) laundry. But mainly, you will likely see the depressed person doing normal life. That does not mean they are not depressed, it means they are struggling through something difficult and somehow making it.
2. Provide an open ear that has no expectations. Depression often comes with a big side of loneliness because it is so exhausting to be around people and "put on a good face." If you can see past the occasionally unwashed hair and pile of laundry to a hurting, lonely person, and give them some support, you are already doing more than you can know.
3. Be careful not to sound judgmental. The depressed person is well aware that they "shouldn't" feel like this. But they do. No matter what happens, their brain chemistry is telling them "SADNESS" like a big blinking sign, no matter what good may or may not be happening. Medications can help. Therapy can help. But it doesn't work right away, and in the midst of it, the last thing a depressed person needs is someone judging them for feeling sad.
4. Be wary of suicidal tendencies. Deep depression often comes with suicidal thoughts, so be aware and ready to ask hard questions if you suspect a person may be thinking in that direction. But be gentle — suicidality is complex and usually extant because of deeply painful emotions.
Depression makes you slow down, want to stop doing things, and inhibits decision-making. In a hard-driving world that expects you to go-go-go, it is a difficult thing to live with, and especially to go through transitions with. But a couple friends who are understanding and supportive, and a church who will accept them where they are, can make a lot of difference.
If you are suicidal or you suspect someone you know is, please call the Suicide Hotline at 1-800-273-8255. For international numbers, see here.
Image Credit: Michael Dorokhov; "Sad girl..."; Creative Commons
Tags: Christian-Life | Depression | Hardships | Health-Wellness | Personal-Life
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Published on 4-20-15