My first-grade playground featured three large concrete “tunnels.” I didn’t know this at the time, but they were sections of (unused) sewer pipes sunk into the ground part-way (so as not to roll). Two were round and one was oval, and the largest had a large enough diameter for us to stand straight up inside.
The tunnels provided a cool retreat from the extreme desert sun and the perfect place for whispering secrets. During recess, we clustered inside to trade candy, walk ourselves up the insides, and hide from boys. Or we clambered onto the tops to survey the playground and hang upside-down off the ends to spy on the kids inside.
The largest tunnel was too tall for most of us to climb unassisted. We would back up, run towards it as fast as we could, and jump-scrabble our way up. I usually slid right back down. So I’d call out, “Will someone give me a boost?”
A friend would run over, interlace their fingers, and hold their handmade step next to the tunnel. I would put my foot in their hands and climb up. If the climber was really short, we would push them upwards with our hands while those already on top would pull them up by the arms.
Sometimes, recovering from depression is like trying to climb to the top of that largest playground tunnel. Sometimes you cannot get up without a boost.
In a recent post, I wrote that for me, taking an anti-depressant has been an essential tool in recovering from depression. I want to share a little more about this today as I certainly had some misunderstandings and misconceptions about their role.
Treating and recovering from depression takes a lot of work. Some are able to take it on alone or with the help of a wise counselor. Others find just facing a day insurmountable, let alone taking on hard work of recovery. You can know you need to do something but be unable to start doing it.
An anti-depressant can give you the leg up you need as you scramble to climb out of the darkness. It can help you muster up the gumption to get out of bed, make breakfast, and wash up the dishes after. It can lessen the sadness enough for you to look up and look around and start communicating with your family again.
They are similar to the steroid injection given to an adult suffering from strep throat to jump-start their recovery and provide more immediate relief from the pain and swelling. Or to a shot of antibiotics given to jolt an infection into retreat, followed by a 10-day round of oral antibiotics to finish the infection off.
By themselves, anti-depressants cannot completely treat depression. But they can be an essential part of the healing process.
Depression Defies Stereotypes
Depression usually brings friends along, or they bring it along. Often they are polar opposites: insomnia, chronic fatigue, joint pain, headaches, tears, anger, doubt, silence, outbursts, inability to concentrate. It can be hard to tell which came first, the depression or its friends. Poor physical health can both cause and result from depression. Same with poor emotional health. Depression can certainly affect your spiritual health, triggering hard questions and even anger at God when the darkness persists. And those who wrestle with hard questions and incorrect understanding of spiritual matters can find themselves sinking into a depression, especially if they find unsatisfactory answers…. or none at all. We often need help solving the puzzle of which issues are effects and which ones are causes.
Depression also varies in severity with the person and with the day. It isn’t necessarily a perpetual black mood. Down days may follow average days. Sometimes you can go through the motions of a typical day, sometimes you can’t get out of bed. Emotions wildly fluctuate from sobbing to uncontrollable laughter to anger and back again, without warning.
Progress isn’t steady, either. You climb high enough to see some light, learn to smile again, begin to wonder if you’ve actually gotten past it, and then you slide backwards again. Those are the moments I have to look all the way down and see just how far I’ve come.
If you know that you need some help, there are some simple things you can do. I recommend making an appointment with your general physician and looking for a counselor. These people can help you determine what’s going on, which are root issues that need to be resolved, and which are effects that will straighten out when you begin addressing those root issues.
Your doctor can help you identify any lifestyle changes that may help you begin to heal. You may be surprised at how much better you feel by improving your diet, going to bed earlier or taking a sleep aid (prescription or otherwise) to get sufficient rest, exercising, quitting smoking, reducing or eliminating drinking, buildling a less-stressful schedule by learning to say “no,” taking vitamins, or cutting out caffeine.
But even doing all of that, it may not be enough. Or, you might be unable to do it at all. You doctor can also help you find an anti-depressant if you need one to help you move forward
Your counselor will help you find the emotional and spiritual issues you need to address. They can help you rebuild damaged relationships. Depression ripples across your relationships with friends and family, causing tension and breaking down communication.
Finding a Counselor
It is important to find a counselor who understands and supports the faith you practice, has the experience and understanding to help you find real answers to your questions, and understands the complexity of depression. The Christian Counseling and Education Foundation has an excellent page of questions and tips for finding a counselor. Many hospice centers can provide you with names, as can hospital chaplains.
If you are a Christian, the National Association of Nouthetic Counselors has a list of certified Biblical counselors searchable by zip code.
I’ve also found comfort in the psalms of David. He weeps into his psalms as he brings his grief before God. And it encourages me to see “the man after God’s own heart” doing battle against the darkness. The darkness can and does plague Christians too, even those called the giants of the faith.
How have you found help? Who or what has given you a boost when you needed one?