Monday, October 24, 2011

Mrs. Johnson Goes to Washington, Part 3: The Therapy

About a year ago, I blogged about perspective HERE and then finished it up HERE.  At the time, I didn’t really understand what was happening in my world.  I had figured enough out to know that I was dealing with depression, but I felt a little--okay, a lot--like Alice waking up in Wonderland, saying, “It would be so nice if something made sense for a change.”
A lot of the confusion stemmed from the fact that this world was completely and utterly new to me.  Not one bit of it felt comfortable or known.  In fact, my view of depression was formed by commercials for medication and a couple times through Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar.  My understanding could have been described as “textbook”--depression is a mental illness.  I kept telling myself, well, clearly I’m not mentally ill.  Depression was something that happened to weak people, crazy people, and certainly not people who are overachieving type-As, who have it together all the time.  At the time, depression meant falling apart, losing your grip on reality, and being worthless.  
Because I had so many misconceptions about how depression works, I told myself to stop being dramatic.  Get a grip.  So what if I could check nearly every box on the “symptoms of depression” checklist?  A deep part of me, the part that’s held together by pride and determination, said, “This isn’t DEPRESSION.  You’re just sad.”
Consequently, a lot of this confusion stemmed from the depression itself.  I am not one to use metaphors to describe concepts as huge as say God or love or, in this case, depression because rather than accurately describing the concept, metaphors are often inadequate.  However, I understand why people fall back on metaphors when they can’t think of a succinct way to describe something.
So forgive the inadequacy, but this is as close as I can get.  Depression feels like I’m riding a stationary bike, while perspective sits on a pedestal four feet away.  No matter how hard I reach, my arms aren’t long enough to touch perspective.  In the meantime, I lose sight of the fact that I’m trying to gain perspective because I’m just trying to keep the pedals moving.  The cycle is this: see perspective, fail to reach perspective, forget about perspective.  Repeat.  It’s exhausting.
Not long ago, a friend of mine posted this on Facebook:
It made me so angry.  Angry.  I’m not an angry person.  Really.  But this made me shaking mad.  I wanted to scream, “YOU OBVIOUSLY DON’T UNDERSTAND DEPRESSION THEN!”  Did she do something wrong?  Absolutely not.  And I totally get the sentiment.  But depression is a problem that I would never pick back up from the pile.  In a normal, healthy state, there isn’t a problem I couldn’t face.  I am a generally optimistic person, and I have a tremendous support system of family and friends.  In a depressed state, none of that matters.  It’s like walking around in a pair of sunglasses--no matter how hard I try, everything is tinted a darker shade.
After attempting to deal with depression on my own for about a year through various coping mechanisms, I finally found Nancy.  The military offers FREE counseling to all members and dependents.  As a key spouse for our squadron, I was armed with this information to share with other spouses but had never had the need to explore this option for myself.  When we moved to WA, I decided it was time.
Here is what depression looks like from the other side.  You know that stationary bike I’ve been pedaling?  Yeah, it’s not going anywhere.  And you know how you gain perspective?  You get off the damn bike and walk over to it.
In the depths of depression, this option never occurred to me.  On the other side, I have moments all the time when I’m like, “How did I not see this?  How did this not make sense before?”
But that’s the thing about depression.  It wraps everything in a dark, moving cloud.  You have bright moments when things make complete sense.  On good days, there are bursts of energy, bursts of insight, bursts of positivity.  But most days, for me at least, I went through the motions of living--after all, I still have children to care for, a husband to love, and friends and family who depend on me for all sorts of things--but I was living without any sense peace, joy, or purpose, three things that hold a lot of weight in my world.  (One of my biggest misconceptions was that people suffering from depression didn’t function well at all, when in fact, I was functioning in a way that most people would consider “productive,” but I knew without a shadow of doubt that something was just not right.)
I have lived my life in a way that seeks peace and joy at all times.  I have found that if what I am doing--whether it’s working, raising my children, or developing relationships with other people--is full of peace and joy, I feel a sense of purpose, a sense of fulfillment.  Any time I don’t find peace and joy in something, I know it’s time to let go.  Peace and joy are related to but encompass so much more than happiness.  It is (dare I say) easy to weather life’s storms when I am safely anchored to peace and joy. (Oh no! I fear the metaphors may be taking over.)
I have been seeing Nancy for three months now.  (Scott and I go together to work on our seven-year-itchy problems, too, and Scott has now decided he wants to go to therapy for the rest of his life.  He just loves talking.)  She has helped me identify some of the triggers that brought on the depression, and maybe more importantly, she’s helped me give a name to some of the “stuff” that has been going on in my head.
As part of my homework, I read David Burns’ book, Feeling Good, and I would suggest this user-friendly book to anyone who thinks they might be dealing with any level of depression.
I know people deal with these sorts of things differently.  I have friends who would not even tell their closest friends, let alone blog about experiencing depression.  Unfortunately, there is still a significant stigma attached, and there are many who won’t talk about it or get help because of fear or embarrassment.  I get that.  I really do. 
 Even though this post will probably take me less than an hour to type when all is said and done, hours of thought have gone into it.  Believe me--I have asked myself all kinds of questions.  Do I really want to be this vulnerable?  What will people think?  Will this cause people to tread lightly around me?  Look down on me?  Think less of me?  Pity me?  Will this affect my husband’s career?  What about those Christian friends of mine who say Jesus is the answer--what will they think when I tell them I love and trust God to carry my burdens, but this depression is still real?
I’ve asked all these questions, and I’ve settled on this: I can only travel this road the way I know how, and that is to be completely transparent about my struggle.  (I don’t mean to imply that if you need to keep this issue close to you, you are doing something wrong.  I just know this is what I need to do.)  When people talk about qualities they value in others, words like integrity, dependability, and trustworthiness are the first things that come up.  But you know what I value most in people?  Authenticity.  We all do stupid things.  We all make mistakes.  We let each other down.  We fail.  Because we are human.  But I have an infinite amount of forgiveness to extend to anyone who will own up to his or her humanity for the sake of being real with each other.
This is me right now, and if I’m to be my authentic self, I have to share this.  And to be completely honest, I’ve been living with my decision to put this out there for a couple of weeks now, and where once there was anxiety and fear, I feel nothing but peace and joy.  Consequently, I am confident that adding my voice to this conversation has monumental purpose.
If any of this struck a chord with you, but you’re new to this world, too, check out this questionnaire.  (Then, find a copy of Burns' book and read it!)
Also, here is something I ran across this week when this post was still in my head that’s worth reading especially if you are part of a faith community that ignores issues like depression.
Thanks for reading!  If you are totally bummed out now, try reading THIS or THIS.  It’s always a good to leave on a high note.


  1. I've been a Christian for 40 years but fell into a deep depression at the age of 45. I needed to learn to think differently. Feeling Good is a great book to help with that. The books that have helped me most though have been written by a Christian evangelist Joyce Meyer. Battlefield of the Mind opened my eyes with a blinding light that changed my life. God bless you and your family and thank you for sharing your depression on your blog.

  2. Thank you for opening up and adding your voice to the chorus. It's true that there is still a stigma against depression and that stigma often adds to the isolation felt by those who are battling depression. By sharing your struggle you help others feel less alone and help to remove the idea that depressed people are non functioning, or don't love God "enough."

    I've struggled with depression in the past and one of the best things I did was see a counsellor who helped me legitimize my feelings, work through what I was dealing with and put it in perspective so I could move forward and smile again.

    Recognizing when we need help and asking for it is one of the smartest, and most self aware things we can do.

    I'm glad Nancy is a good fit for you and that things are looking up for you now. Take the time you need and continue to find your peace.