Depression is a daunting topic to cover, but often daunting tasks are the most worthwhile. There are many different reasons that depression can enter a person’s life, but I only fully understand the reason it entered my life—chronic pain and the lack of control over my own body. I am not what people would consider the classic face of depression, so this is vulnerable to disclose. I am inviting you behind the smiles and laughter that permeate my social interactions. I believe vulnerability leads to understanding, so I welcome you into the deeper folds of my life, after the parties have ended and I am home, face to face with the sadness that a fun event carries the price of pain and exhaustion.
Mental health runs parallel to physical and spiritual health. When one takes a dive, the others often feel the dip. My own journey with grief and sadness started in my early twenties. I started noticing that something was wrong with my body in college, with unusual injuries (I broke my foot taking a step in tennis practice), trouble fighting off viruses, and a tiredness that went beyond what I felt was probably normal for most people. However, there is a huge difference between disappointment, grief, and sadness, and the overwhelming hopelessness that comes with depression.
Depression is often a chemical battle. When areas of the brain have endured stress for too long, the chemicals are no longer working as they should, or are fully depleted. I first experienced this feeling of unique hopelessness when my nerve pain became unendurable in the spring of 2014. I have written about this period of my husband and I’s life before as the lowest of lows. My husband had an aggressive jaw tumor, my nerves in my chest were compressed to the point of burning sensations streaming through my chest and arms, and on the bad days, into the side of my face and eye. My neurosurgeon, convinced I had a connective tissue disease, sent me for myriad labs, where I endured the worst part of any illness—the unknown. Unable to keep myself from imagining the possibilities of each illness I was being tested for, I struggled to see clearly. I had to give up the normalcy of full-time work and casual gatherings where I couldn’t lie down or sit in a recliner. During the worst part of this journey, I had to give up all of these things without being able to tell friends and family why because I didn’t have a diagnosis.
I polled some of my friends within my chronic illness network about the toll chronic illness and pain takes on their mental health. The responses were beautifully candid, and hauntingly accurate. One woman described depression as a crushing reality that leaves her feeling isolated from the understanding of family, friends, and doctors. She described this isolated journey as feeling like a “liquid mirror with no reflection.” Another friend stated that the journey to diagnosis feels like she’s “vacillating between coming to terms with what [she’s] learning and questioning [her own] sanity.”
Every person’s journey is different, and as another friend put it—“healing isn’t linear.” However, I am happy to say that I have turned a corner with my perspective on my new life with disability through: medication, the support of family and friends, and understanding God a little bit better. Part of the depression battle I have fought came from the feeling that I was a burden on those who love me, and that I wasn’t contributing to the world in the big way I had always hoped. My deepest joy is to serve those in need, and I have often found myself on the receiving end instead.
My husband recently, in a loving way mentioned, “have you ever thought that your feeling of inadequacy might actually be pride? Have you ever thought that God gave you the life you are living right now for a purpose, and who are you to say that purpose isn’t enough?” Wow. Talk about a light bulb moment. The service I do now may not be grandiose, but that’s not was loving God and others well is about. It’s about taking the opportunities you have, within your means and ability, and allowing God to work through just that. What a freeing feeling.
I have realized that the feelings associated with depression lessen when I take the time to get outside of myself and do something for someone else. I have had to cater my service to others to my new abilities. I can’t generally volunteer for something scheduled regularly since I never know how I will be feeling, so I take the time on my good days to send cards in the mail, send an encouraging text, pray for the people in my life who are struggling, or take meals or care packages to friends in need. And when I am low, I have been so blessed to be on the receiving end of all of these things. This is what makes life meaningful and worth any mental or physical battle we go through. We’re meant to live with and for others.
1 Corinthians 13:13- Now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.