Updated: Nov 2, 2018
Before I get into this post, I want to introduce you to a little every-other-week series I'll be doing. I'm labeling it "Growing Pains". I've asked a few women in my life to join me in sharing their stories about growing through the most painful parts of their lives. I'll tell you a little bit about each woman before their articles, so I hope you join with me in learning from them! I'm starting with a bit of my own story. I hope that through these struggles that we share, and the things that have helped us grow through them, you will find a little nugget of hope and encouragement to strengthen you along your own journey!
*Disclaimer* I have not been diagnosed with clinical depression or a related chronic condition. In this post, I am referring to my experience with the crippling effects of what I can only describe as depression.
Sometimes I'm tempted to hide. Okay, a lot. I tell my mom occasionally that my nickname, "Shelly" is so fitting because I love to crawl up into my shell and hide when I'm scared, hurt, or overwhelmed by the goings-on of the world.
Maybe you wouldn't think that about me, but it's truly my go-to. It wasn't always that way, but now...I call myself a high-functioning introvert. I'm not exactly sure if they have a name for it, and I'm still trying to figure out which number on the enneagram is the closest to my actual self, but maybe I'm just learning the truth about who I am.
I wasn't one to struggle with anxiety and depression as a child. I don't remember dry-heaving over a toilet bowl or shaking uncontrollably without being able to get myself under control–utterly helpless. That happened to me in my 30s. I had always been the smiling, bubbly type with little thought of what people were saying about me, and focused more on what I was doing to create the dreams and art of my imagination, and trying to help the world at large. Until it hit me. Depression. It was as if my world was caving in, I was losing control, and all I could do was hide. Logically, I couldn't figure out why. Why would I feel this way?
The truth was that I had everything. A loving husband. Three beautiful children. A supportive family. A group of friends, albeit my closest ones with whom I felt I might be able to be my most vulnerable self were thousands of miles away. But even they had never seen me this way. And suddenly, the things that didn't faze me much before, became the only things I could see.
What if people don't approve of me or my creations?
What if they think I'm not good at something?
They are probably all talking about us.
No one really cares.
Hiding is better–you can't get hurt if you don't expose your true self, right?
It's painful to even revisit the memories of the darkest days of my life. Surreal, even. As I look back, I remember the deep pain and helplessness of those days, yet I have been free from the deepest darkness for long enough to feel like maybe it wasn't that bad. But never so far removed that I will believe it.
I hope to always have the courage to be truthful about the depths of its grip in order to take precautions each and every day, so that I may not be overcome by its forces again. I feel like once you've been sucked into the pit of depression where the worst things about yourself scream so loudly that you can't hear the truth of the good within, that there's an ever-present pain gurgling beneath the surface, threatening to implode and clutch you once again. There's a constant struggle. But every morning, I have fresh hope because there's a new day to make a choice for truth.
If you are like I am and have been affected by the despair of depression, I want to give you three things that helped me get out of that pit, and continue to help me stay on the surface. Not always, but most days, and never as deeply as I once wallowed. If you are not a sufferer of this condition, but are a friend, family member, co-worker, or acquaintance of someone you can't quite understand, I want to give you a few tips about how people helped me when I was at my lowest.
TO THOSE IN THE DARKNESS: SPEAK UP
We are told to listen. And, of course, we should. We need to hear each other. Really hear. But if you are in a depressive state, the last thing you want to do is to admit it out loud. We assume that everything we are thinking, the people in our lives should be able to figure out, since they are part of the reason we hate ourselves. Because we think we are seeing ourselves through their eyes. It's painful, but you must say it. And it won't be received well at first, most likely. Find a friend who is safe. And say your struggles aloud. Call a hotline. Talk to someone.
What I learned about myself during the time of my 6-month depression was that for so many years–decades even–I convinced myself that talking about my negative thought was toxic criticism, and hadn't learned the art of being honest enough with people that we could actually grow together. That they could admit fault, and so could I, and we could do it in a way that would help one another. I had stored the negative thoughts away in a chasm so vast that the surface could no longer sustain my weight. Negativity isn't the enemy. Ignoring the negativity as if it's not there is. Confronting it on a healthy level is paramount to your well-being. Please, say something.
TO THE PEOPLE ABOVE THE PIT: STAY SILENT
I can't count the times that I had to speak to my helpless husband who held me and said, "I didn't know," or "I love you," and nothing more. Sometimes even those words irked me–because I wasn't ready to believe him. So he sat in silence. My biggest fear was that he would try to fix me. That I would get a lecture or a five-point sermon on how I was supposed to feel or get over it. Not that he always kept silent, but when I finally did open up the deepest wounds, there was thankfully a space where I could empty the mess without being judged. Not everyone is so lucky. In fact, most people don't know what to do with that and walk away angry, hurt, or exhausted by the one who is suffering. Please, try to be strong for us. If you don't have the answers or space to do it, find someone who will help you help your loved one. Don't give up on us. We're still in there somewhere, desperately trying to claw our way out.
TO THOSE IN THE DARKNESS: LISTEN UP
Well, wait a minute. If we're speaking up, how are we supposed to listen? This is tiring. There are phases. You won't be able to share all the years of build-up in one sitting. For me, it was a good 6-months, and the process is still daily. What I mean by this is find someone whose words soothe you. Maybe music. Because I was an active musician before, the music literally died for me during this time. I couldn't sing, play, or even listen to music. It was painful. But that drove me deeper–further into the valley of my sorrow. So when I decided that I was going to emerge, I listened. To music, to motivational talks, to sermons, to podcasts, anything positive I could find. I still do.
I have to remind myself daily that truth is not as pushy as lies.
And listening to someone speak those words over me is way more believable than trying to convince myself of it. Start to listen to truth and positivity. Make a decision that you'll let someone's voice help you, and try to listen to the good.
TO THE PEOPLE ABOVE THE PIT: SAY SOMETHING
I know, it seems like I'm contradicting myself at every turn. The truth is, that's what we're battling. Truth vs.lies. Say something–say nothing–do it–don't do it. There's a time and a phase where each of these things is appropriate. Learn your person.
I can't emphasize that enough. LEARN YOUR PERSON.
I am no counselor or trained professional. I am a girl who got help. I am a constant student of the human experience, determined to never go through something without learning from it, and sometimes I fail. But what I know to be true about overcoming obstacles like depression and anxiety is that you must learn the individual you are trying to help. It's tiring, taxing, and confusing. But, oh so worth it. Because when you finally know what to say just when they need it most, or maybe find the person who knows how to say it when you don't, a magical healing takes place. Please, put the work in. And say something when you can. You don't have to agree, fully understand, or be right. You just have to speak love, love, love. And find the right moment when we're able to hear it as such.
TO THOSE IN THE DARKNESS: GO SOMEWHERE BRIGHT–LITERALLY
In the shell, I am safe. And the world might seem like a very scary place. But the big, wide world is also the only space that can give me the breath which seems to be in short supply when I'm in the pit of depression. After performing at a "normal" level during your workday or fulfilling your daily obligations, don't hide. I know you might not have the energy to do much of this at first. Go shopping in a busy mall. Say hello to at least one person–making eye contact, and smile. Breathe love in, and breathe love out. Again, please don't hide. Start to see the good in people, and you'll see how quickly you can dull the sounds of self-hatred. You'll begin to see the person that you were created to be. Baby steps. Step outside, the sun feels nice.
TO THE PEOPLE ABOVE THE PIT: STAY PUT
Please stay with us. Sometimes we'll tell you not to hang around. That we need to be alone. And we will, at times. But don't leave us alone. Sit with us. Be with us. Help us know that you aren't going anywhere. Even when it makes us sad or angry. If you don't give up, we'll reach our hand at our last attempt to grab the top of the surface, and we'll let you pull us up out of the hole we're in. I can't promise that if you do your part, we'll do ours. I hope that to be true. But it does take both sides. Get help, and please try to stick it out. There's a beautiful bond on the other side. If your person doesn't have the strength to ask you to stay, I'm asking for them. Please.
Those are just a few pointers that I can clearly see have led me and my people to where we are today. To that "old Shelly" who has mostly returned to the girl she was before the grip of anguish was upon her. But it takes work to come to a place of mutual love and respect coupled with constant awareness. Before I go, I want to speak as a parent.
TO THE PARENTS OF OUR SUFFERING CHILDREN: PLEASE TALK TO THEM
To the dismay of my children at times, I have learned a lot through my process and it boils down to communication. I am not an expert with this. I only wish I were! I am still learning and trying not to miss cues. But I have nothing that is off-limits with my kids.
My own kids are nearly 21, 18, and 16 years old. All of whom suffer from a form of anxiety, being prone to depression. I don't always see the cues. I don't always understand. They don't always agree with me, nor I with them. But one thing they WILL always know is that they can talk to us about everything. We as parents talk (probably more than we should–I'm still trying to let go of my "mother" hat sometimes), and they talk, and it can be exhausting. But it's never EVER okay to assume. Ever. That's only gotten us heaps of heartache and hurt.
I am a firm believer in instruction before consequence while they are still in our home. Never assume "they should know better". Did we say "this choice right here is better" with our actual words? Letting them know our expectations? If not, we cannot assume that they know. Let. Them. Know.
WARNING: this does cause actual stress and pressure on a high-performing individual which can lead to anxiety and depression!
So then what?
Prove to them that they are loved when expectations aren't met. How? Grace. I don't know how to balance all of this well except to defer to the previous point about learning your person. LEARN YOUR CHILD. The depression and suicide rates are so alarming that we can not afford to miss this. I am not a "do whatever you want" mom, so I understand that there's a fine line between guiding your child to become a responsible adult and not stifling the beautiful, creative soul within. So, talk to them while they're young, talk to them when they are teens, and talk to them when they are adults. Don't let them off the hook because "they'll grow out of it". You may not have to say anything other than "I'll fight for you", "I'll be here for you", or "I believe in you" as they go through the darkest times in their adolescence. And it may make them angry. But BE THERE. Hunker down. Stay put. You can get through it together.
I know this paragraph simplifies a vastly complex subject, so please don't take this as comprehensive. I know it's not. If you take nothing else away from this whole thing, please just learn yourself and your people. Nurture and love yourself and them. Extend grace. Breathe love in, breathe love out.
A FEW RECOMMENDED RESOURCES:
Faith-based resources on the phases of your child. Phase
A BBC documentary film. The Truth About Depression
Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-8255
Suicide Prevention Lifeline 5 Actions Steps for us to follow when trying to help someone in a suicidal state.
Love Does by Bob Goff
GOOGLE. But for real. Google the stuff you don't know and read, learn, and be dissatisfied with anything but finding ways to help yourself or loved ones. The information is out there for us. We can do this together, friends.