I’m feeling overwhelmed. I’m not, but it feels like it. I don’t need anyone to give me grief or tell me I shouldn’t act/feel/think this way because I’m my own worst critic. I don’t have it bad. I have an abundance of good. The biggest culprit behind my overwhelm right now is being smack in the middle of moving from one home to the next, but I should be grateful and shouldn’t be complaining, right? Just like the kind older woman from church told me years ago when I gave a her a brief peek into my anxious mind, “Just look at your blessings!” There may not be logic to my swirling feelings, but this is depression. Although I’m not sure why, I’d like to give you a glimpse into what depression looks like on me; a 42-year-old privileged mother who should be thriving. It may even look like I am on the outside, but the swirling is on the inside.
Because I have had many, many years of mental health counseling, I’ve picked up a few phrases or explanations for how depression works. It’s one thing to know the buzz words and quite another to apply them in real life. I often deal with a lot of Cognitive Distortions. Maybe you do, too. Most of the time I don’t catch them, but sometimes I do. Just the other day I very loudly noticed one of these distortions in action and it allowed me to recognize that maybe my depression was “inflamed”, if you will. Mental illnesses are generally chronic and when life hits with an increase in stress, the symptoms can become exacerbated. In a nutshell, I feel like a failure in most areas. This comes in the internal critique that I’m lazy. It comes in the form of thoughts like, I’m not a good mother. Some of my friends didn’t invite me to hang out with them because I’m a burden. I can’t keep up with basic things in the house. This person thinks I’m annoying. That family member thinks I’m complaining too much. They don’t want to spend time with me. How come they didn’t call me? I don’t know how to be myself. I spoke out about something and now have done irreversible damage to that relationship. God is disappointed in me. I’ll never get better at this.
As I type that list and the phrases kept flooding, I burst into tears because of how awful they sound and yet how true they feel. This is depression. These are cognitive distortions. If you’re not familiar with what that means, here is a list I stumbled upon that I found helpful and clear. In addition to picking up on that negative banter that was becoming a regular script, I’ve noticed how much more tired I feel. I’ve been crying more often. I even had a “classic” sign of crawling into my bed one morning this week and sleeping rather than being productive like I should have. I recently reduced my anti-depressant medication (with my doctor’s approval) and this may be a solid sign that I may need to go back up to where I was. Is that disappointing? A bit. The side effects (weight gain, lethargy and an increase in heat-sensitivity aka sweaty!) aren’t my favorite, but I do know that my well-being is more important.
Besides considering my medication dosage, what else can I do about it? Thankfully, I’ve had a lot of “experience” with this so I’m a tiny bit better equipped, but it’s still not easy. Another buzz word from therapy is Behavioral Activation. This is basically doing the things you know you should do, but really don’t want to do. It’s moving forward; one step at a time. It’s really the only way to find more freedom or ease of symptoms, but it won’t feel good right away. It may not feel good for some time. It may be as simple as getting out of bed and walking to the mailbox each day or for me right now, it’s getting up with my alarm or purposely listening to a podcast that I like. I need to and want to be kind to myself. Right now I may feel frustrated or angry with myself, but I can practice being kind. The biggest key I have in my toolbox is PRACTICING. I am going to choose to practice making space for quiet in my day and for setting small goals. I’m also going to ask for help. I’m going to pray and PRACTICE reminding myself of how God truly feels about me; whether I feel like it’s true or not.
If you have experienced anything like this or love someone that does and you don’t know what to say or do, begin by asking for help. Try to be consistent. Practice being kind to yourself. This life is filled with so many emotions and experiences. Just because you may be more sensitive to those things doesn’t mean you are wrong or broken. Our minds just need more tending to; just like a diabetic or quadriplegic need more physical tending. We are worth it. As I heard this morning in church worship, if I’m not dead, then God’s not done. We are still breathing and I’m here right alongside you.