Sunday, September 29, 2013

Makeover Monday: Mental Health

I've never thought of myself as a depressed person.

Oh, sure, there was that time in middle school when John Carpenter broke my heart and I made a mix tape of just one song that I played over and over again while I sobbed in despair. And there were a few moments in college where I sat in the bathtub all day or hid in my room to avoid final papers. But I would consider those isolated incidents...or, at least, momentary hormonal overreactions (sometimes I can be a bit...dramatic).

Two years ago, I finally realized that I have seasonal affective disorder (S.A.D. - what a terrible acronym) but I managed that with Vitamin D supplements. The same year, we were called to start a church in New York City and conceived Esme. Enter whirlwind of pregnancy, birth, and preparations to move our family to the craziest city on earth.

Then earlier this year, I noticed that I was irritated all the time. Little things that really shouldn't bother me started getting under my skin alot. It took all my energy to drag myself out of bed each morning and I felt like I was in total survival mode every day. I felt exhausted and overwhelmed about everything.  There was absolutely no joy.

At first, I attributed this to the insanely long Minnesota winter (summer may have come - and gone - in July). A few friends were going through some very difficult personal situations, and I found myself thinking about and praying for them in the middle of the night, not being able to sleep as I wondered what could be done for them. Then, it occurred to me that I might be experiencing postpartum depression.  

I met with a therapist friend, who gave me a simple emotional health assessment. My results came out mildly depressed, and, as we talked, I felt she summed up my state accurately by noting that I was functioning fine but not thriving. In other words, I wasn't over/undereating, avoiding responsibilities, or withdrawing from my life, but I was simply managing my sadness without restoring joy. She suggested that I meet with my family doctor to discuss trying an anti-depressant.

Here, I should note two very important points. First, I tend to be extremely anti-drug in my lifestyle. I don't take Ibuprofin when I have a headache. I gave birth at home. Twice. So, my hesitation in considering anti-depressants is NOT because I think they're wrong or wacko or anything. It's my own personal wariness about drugs in general and how they affect my body. Which is where point #2 comes in - THANK GOD for the best doctor ever. I LOVE our doctor and trust her implicitly.

I made an appointment for my annual check-up, and, as usual, we spent quite alot of time talking about life. I shared with her my concerns about depression and asked her opinion. She pointed out the extreme life stresses that have been taking shape over the last couple of years - not to mention what lies ahead - and recommended that I start a low dose of a daily anti-depressant.

Now, because she knows me well and my feelings about drugs, she instantly pulled out this massive book that explained every possible side effect, how this specific drug worked, and any potential concerns about breastfeeding. We also discussed how long I should try it and how I would know if it was "working". Needless to say, this conversation was exceedingly helpful in assuaging my concerns and I decided to give it a try.

As of May 1, I have been taking 10mg a day of Citalopram. Not a "happy pill", this drug simply slows down the breakdown of my body's natural release of serotonin. It took about 4 weeks (as my doc had explained) for me to notice that I was no longer irrationally irritated or unusually overwhelmed. I experience all my normal moods, feel annoyed when my 4 year old whines or my baby wants to be held while I'm making dinner, but I no longer feel consumed by these emotions. I feel like myself.

I also feel like I have a better understanding of depression, thanks to my friend and my doctor. The word depression can conjure some negative or dramatic images when, in reality, the range of symptoms varies from the (relatively minor) irritation I was experiencing to a deeper sense of despair or anxiety. Family history, spiritual health, and sense of community also contribute to our mental and emotional states. Depression looks different in everyone, but it is real and it can be treated. 

Depression can also point us to God. It is an illness, a product of our weak bodies trying to live in a broken world. It shows me how much I need the real God, the one who heals me where I need it most, in my soul. He is the one who sustains me, brings me joy, and gives me a purpose far greater than my mind can imagine.  And depression gives me hope for the day when Jesus will make all things new, when no mourning, crying, nor pain will have any hold over me.

Even if you don't live with depression, you probably know someone who does. What have you learned about depression that has helped you better understand its effects or has pointed you more towards Jesus? What other resources can you recommend to encourage those with depression?

1 comment:

  1. This is a wonderful write-up on depression. It's a taboo subject especially in a church setting. "You're not trusting in God." "Take these issues to the cross and trust that Christ can heal you." "What aren't you understanding in the Gospel?" I've heard these questions as I've struggled with anxiety and fighting for joy in the year after Ambrose was born. Seeing how many in The Church handle mental illness intensified when my dad committed suicide in March. I was so sad that he heard these questions rather than felt support. He felt ashamed that he had these dark feelings, and in a moment of despair saw no way out. I never would have described my dad as a depressed man--he was always so happy--but depression is very real and varies among people. Thanks Nicole so much for opening the door for discussion. I admire you!