I’ve decided to be very forthright and open in today’s article in hopes that it truly does help someone else who is struggling with depression. I often hear people say “I don’t know how you do all that you do.” I smile and thank them for their gracious compliment, but the truth of it is, I do what I do while being challenged by a significant obstacle—depression.
I realize that in this kind of forum I’m only going to be able to scratch the surface on this topic, but I firmly believe that it has not been appropriately addressed in real-life terms, and is an especially absent topic in the arena of preparedness.
First of all, allow me to dispel some myths of depression.
Depression isn’t a mood; it’s a disease. It’s a breakdown in the chemical functions of the body that impair communications from the brain to the rest of the body. The impairment of proper brain charges and chemicals is much like someone having low blood sugar, high insulin levels, a heart murmur, or a person in need of blood thinners, etc. In other words, it’s about a deficiency in the body.
Depression isn’t about “woe is me, I want to end my life,” although many forms of depression can get that serious. There are many levels of depression. Some levels of depression are the lowest of the low and considered “manic.” Other forms manifest themselves when a person eats poorly or doesn’t get enough rest. Still other forms manifest themselves on a low level throughout a person’s life or on a higher level when a great deal of decision making is thrust upon them. (it feels more like an anxiety though at that point, rather than what some people would typically associate as “depression.”)
Feeling grief or being unresponsive due to a severe tragedy in a person’s life isn’t depression. It’s responding naturally to life--although some people do have a physiological change in their chemical make-up in response to such an instance and succumb to depression as a result. It’s actually very similar to someone being injured in a car accident. Instead, a person’s heart, brain, chemical balance, etc. is injured in a collision with grief.
Contrary to assumptions, depression isn’t always about a feeling of low or sadness. Sometimes it’s feeling a serious lack of energy to do anything proactive. Sometimes the chemical imbalance demands a great deal of sleep.
Depression isn’t something that a person can just “snap out of.” You can no easier get a person to “snap out of depression” than you can get a paralyzed person to get up out of their wheelchair and walk as the result of a superhuman will.
Some who struggle with depression appear to the outsiders to be wallowing in their victimization status or their “Eeyore moods.” What many folks don’t realize is that the depressed person literally can’t see it. Getting them to “snap out of it” when they are in that state is like trying to get a blind person to see clearly. The vision of a seriously depressed person is physiologically skewed and does not represent full faculties when their brain or hormone functions aren't working properly. A person suffering from serious depression simply does not see the world as it really is. They have chemical blinders, much like a person whose mental capacity is altered by drugs.
Another misconception that I really wish people understood for their own benefit is that depression is NOT triggered by the actions of someone else or a particular experience. Too many folks take blame upon themselves for the heavy level of depression experienced by a loved one in their life. While a great deal of stress or a mean-hearted act of someone else may not be helpful to someone who struggles with depression, it’s never solely responsible for the depression. Think about it. Any person who doesn’t deal with depression is naturally affected by stresses of the day, right? But what happens in response to life with a person who has depression is based primarily on how the body responds to the instance—chemicals and electrical charges and all.
Sometimes the chemical and brain signals are insufficient to appropriately deal with a situation. But just because someone has depression doesn’t give an edict of authority to the rest of the world to change and accommodate the person who struggles with depression either. Just because I may struggle with depression doesn’t give me the right to alter someone else’s behavior. To put it another way, my car running out of gas on the way to your house isn’t about you living 500 miles away. It’s about how much gas I have in my car. I have a dear girlfriend who is married to a man who struggles with depression. She can love him; she can be accommodating to a point, but that doesn’t mean that she should allow his disability to define her worth and virtue as a wife. In other words, when dealing with a person who has depression, it really is NOT about you, it’s them.
How to help a loved one who is dealing with depression
So, if you or a loved one struggle with depression, what can be done so that the disease itself doesn’t preclude you from surviving everyday now, as well as serious trials in the future? The answer is specific to the person with depression at any level, but it also has some commonalities with someone who suffers from diabetes, heart or kidney problems. There is only so much you can do to be prepared, but there are a whole LOT of “so much you can do” actions to take. And then simply let what will be, be, from there.
First of all, the key to surviving depression is accepting it. It’s real. It’s not going to just go away, and any person who has depression MUST deal with it as such. When it comes to dealing with periodic bouts of depression (in my case it's usually the wiped out and I don't feel like doing ANYTHING), I feel like dealing with it is just as serious as dealing with a firearm. I use a firearm regularly, but I have the ultimate of respect for its power. I instinctively keep my finger off of the trigger unless I’m in a safe environment or a necessary environment to use it. The same bodes true with depression. I do NOT mess around with it. I don’t treat it as an inconvenient gnat. I’m not casual with it. I take care of it head on just like I would if I had diabetes. What I mean by that is that one of the most dangerous things people can do is to ignore their depression. Such persons must be spoken to when they are not suffering a bout of depression and be brought to realize that this can be a killer disease. Worse, it can not only kill someone physically, but it can zap the life, confidence, and worth out of all of those around you that you love. That’s the worst kind of death, in my opinion. I believe that professional assistance should be sought out for ANY level of depression. It may not be at a level which requires medication, but it should be watched just as aggressively as a cancerous lump.
Secondly, do as much as you can do NATURALLY to help battle the depression as possible. This is where I really get to apply some control over this disability and so can many others. As I’ve often said, Preparedness isn’t about being ready for an emergency. It’s about being independent from your vulnerabilities and conquering them. Even those with a physical limitation can do a great deal to be independent in spite of that challenge. When it comes to depression, taking proactive steps to conquer it has a compounded positive impact because not only do I benefit from the independence and peace that such actions take, I also benefit physically in my minimizing the effect of the disease. Just as many paraplegics refuse to be a burden on those around them, persons who struggle with depression will also benefit substantially from taking on this responsibility as well.
Every time I drink water, for example, I know that I’m taking control of my depression head on. Every time I make a healthier food choice or avoid harmful foods I am taking charge of my depression and how it affects those I love. Every time I work out, I am showing the depression who’s really the boss. *grin* Every time I push myself towards a proactive work effort I’m “pushing past the pain”, so to speak, much like physical therapy.
(As a side note, proper water hydration, excellent nutrition, and physical activity are ALL significant aids in battling depression but they do need to be consistent.)
Next, I treat depression with respect. When I feel it coming on significantly, I do not ignore it. I let my husband know, “hey, it’s coming on and I’m going to just go lie down.” He’s been educated enough to know that it isn’t about him or what he did or didn’t do. He knows it just comes about sometimes. Sometimes it’s more like this kind of conversation: “Honey, I’ve got a bout of depression coming on and I still have this to do to get ready for a class. Can you help me?” It’s no different in my household than if I were to say “Hey, Honey. I just threw my back out; can you lift this for me?” I don’t hide it from my husband, but I also don’t worry him excessively because he knows that I treat it head on and listen to what’s going on in my body and pay attention. Doing this has actually given me ability many times to censor myself or my actions in the event that I do feel a bout coming on. It’s almost like a head game. I can realize that I’m about to respond one way to a scenario, recognize it as being driven by my disability, and instead, proactively choose to deal with the scenario by my own agency and not that of my disability. It’s because of this that I sometimes jokingly refer to my depression as that stupid hump on my back that gets in my way sometimes. “It’s alive!,” I sometimes kid, pointing to the imaginary hump on my back, when I realize that I just did something depression driven. While I respect depression, I refuse to be overcome by it, or be less than I’m created to be as a result of it. I know an 89 year old man that still gets on his stationary bike at 4:00 a.m. to work out. I know amazing Special Olympics children who thrive beyond many non-impaired persons of privilege. I know mothers who went through horrible abuse at the hands of their husbands and who still set the example for me as the epitome of motherhood. And so when it comes to depression, I’ve taken on the attitude of “there are no victims, only volunteers.” It’s not always the magic fairy dust that works, but it puts me in an independent state in spite of the obstacle, and that’s what preparedness is all about.
Lastly, I firmly believe in the power of the Atonement for healing all of our ailments. I know that He suffered not just for our sins, but our pains, griefs, and illnesses as well. Thus I am certain that if I will “wrestle with the Spirit” on a consistent basis that I too will have claim on the efficacy of His atonement to heal what I cannot with all of my best intentions. I know that the Balm of Gilead is real. I cannot expect to do 5,000 sit-ups in one day to get a 6-pack of abs. The price has to be paid over time for such a result, with consistent behavior. This is yet another reason why I’m certain that spiritual preparedness is the number one priority of preparedness. Everything else we may work on can be at the mercy of our effectiveness in that one aspect. Regular, fervent prayer, meditation, scripture study—and ensuring that my other activities don’t negate the affect of these actions—is just as important to my depression management as is the medical and nutritional aspects.
And that, my friends, is how I recommend overcoming ANY physical impairment in favor of preparedness today and in the future.
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