Am I Alone? Part 3 – Friends Struggling with Depression

desert, am i alone?

Since my blog post about my struggle with depression and circumstantial infertility, I’ve had many people reach out to me. Several are either in similar circumstances or have struggled with infertility in the past (either circumstantial or biological). Some were in the opposite position – became parents before they were ready. Others resonated with my struggle with depression.

I think people are responding so strongly because I’m talking about things so many people are thinking but are afraid to discuss openly. I’ve realized recently that I really love talking about those things which most people are thinking about but afraid to discuss openly and when I do, they love to talk about it. If we feel alone, we don’t want to say anything to prevent further isolation, but if we know we can’t be alone in what we’re experiencing, why not let people know, “Hey! Me too!”

As this was the most feedback I’ve ever gotten from my blog, I decided to compile some of my thoughts based on those who responded in this three part blog series.

Part 1 – Friends Waiting to Be a Mom

Part 2 – Friends Who Became Moms Before Me

Part 3 – Friends Struggling with Depression

Why Understanding Depression Matters

More than 1 in 13 Americans over the age of 12 suffer from depression, so it’s no surprise that I know several people who related to that part of my original blog post.

Depression is a mood disorder that makes you feel painfully sad all the time – even laughing hurts. You lose interest in everything and have trouble doing normal daily activities. It’s not just feeling blue – you can’t just come out of it. Like most depressive people, I’ve learned to cope with the symptoms and can improve how I feel but I’m rarely ever just happy. Then, when something goes wrong, I have a hard time bouncing back.

Getting Over Depression

So, when I’m already feeling anxious about my life and then I find out my 26 year old friend is pregnant, you can expect me to hole up for a while. I can’t just “get over it.” “Getting over it” takes time, a lot of support from the people closest to me, and my intentionality in asking for help when I need it.

Different things will trigger depression for different people at different times of their life. At one point it was the loss of a close friendship. Most recently, it’s been my struggle with waiting to become a mom.

People either completely do not understand this struggle or they understand it all to well. It should not, then, been my surprise to see an email from my grandfather, Rue L. Cromwell, a high-achieving psychiatry professor, in my inbox a couple days after my blog post. (Yes, my 86 year old grandfather is in the know on Facebook and follows my blog). I found his response quite helpful and encouraging and, with his permission, I would like to share it with you.

“I read your blog on depression. Oh so familiar. I want to share some suggestions. I have done a lot of research on depression. I have had many people in psychotherapy with me who had issues of depression to resolve.  And, I daresay, you do not reach 86 without having had some times in life when you have been the victim of what is called depression and what is identical to the mood you describe when getting up in the morning. I have been a client in psychotherapy myself, taken antidepressants, and Saint John’s Wort. It has been decades since I have been bothered with the problem.

“Before making a specific suggestion let me comment on the diagnostic label ‘depression.’ It is an unfortunate term in that it implies to some that one should see the problem solely in terms of your mood state. Some of the research I did indicated that the symptoms and signs could better be sorted out if the disorder were referred to as alienation. Feeling alienated from others is usually a more distinct descriptor than depressed mood. Also, as I shall suggest below, what we call depression can better be seen and understood as an information processing disorder than a disorder in mood. Other people will understand you if you use the term depression, but for you to understand the disorder it is sometimes better to leave it behind.

“A first distinction to make is whether your depression is situational or is an enduring proneness to mood breakdown. If situational, then becoming financially stable, having the baby, or otherwise dealing with the preoccupation would solve the problem. Alternatively, I would consider carefully the possibility you are prone to this problem. In the future some other experience would sink your mood. Episode after episode. It is often beneficial to assume the latter view.

“As a clinical psychologist, the quick answer of choice is psychotherapy and antidepressant drugs. But that answer is not enough. Psychotherapy is both time-intensive and cost-intensive. Antidepressants are focused on specific neurotransmitters and can have annoying side effects, like constipation.”

Grandpa Rue, as I call him, then provided a short tutorial on neurotransmitters taken from his book Being Human: Human Being (2010) and then an explanation of how a simple supplement, Saint John’s Wort, has shown to be a good alternative to antidepressant drugs. It was quite interesting and helpful to me, though I realize it may not be to all, so you can read it here at your leisure.

While I don’t expect everyone to be as knowledgable and helpful as a seasoned psychologist, in some of my darkest moments, I’ve had people tell me many things that are the furthest thing from helpful…

“Just try harder.”

You can try all you want, but when you are struggling with depression, “trying” isn’t going to get you anywhere. In fact, in my experience, “trying” just makes things worse faster. Instead, learning practical steps to cope – community support and leaning on God’s word – and having someone in your life who can help you move toward those steps are far more useful.

“Don’t dwell on it.”

That’s the problem with depression. Darkness overwhelms you and it just won’t leave. It’s not something you asked to be there. It just is. However, if you are my friend and you really want to help, you can find something that will cheer me up and give me a momentary break from the darkness. Bring me a cup of my favorite coffee or send me an encouraging text.

“Just trust in God’s plan.”

I’m pretty sure God’s plan does not involve painful depression. God does not plan ill for us. However, He can bring us mercy and grace when evil overcomes us. Instead of saying, “Just trust in God’s plan,” maybe you can say, “How can I pray for you?” Or, even better, “Can I pray for you right now?”

I did start taking Saint John’s Wort upon my grandfather’s suggestion. As my depression tends to come and go based on triggers that come and go, it’s been interesting to see how this has affected my life. Years ago when I was on anti-depressants, I often felt like I just couldn’t feel. Sometimes I just need to cry in order to feel human again and anti-depressants sort of took that from me. I noticed the other day that I was feeling very sad (of course, I had just found out another friend of mine is pregnant) but it didn’t dive into that “I can’t really function right now” kind of sadness. I felt really sad, but my sadness didn’t take as much control over me.

If you are struggling from depression, I urge you to reach out. Talk to someone you trust. Get into a community who can support you when you are down. Pick up the Bible and cry out alongside the Psalms, seeking God for grace and mercy.

As always, if you aren’t sure who to reach out to, find a good church to connect to in your community or contact me.

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