When someone private shares something personal, it’s a big deal. So for me, this is a big deal. If it were up to me, I wouldn’t share this at all. But there are so many people out there that are in the same boat that I’m in and if sharing my story helps even one of them, then it’s worth it. So here goes…
After graduating from college, I decided to work as an assistant preschool teacher on a 6-month stint in Hawaii. I guess you could call it a dream job. When I wasn’t teaching adorable Japanese, Filipino, Chinese, Caucasian and Hawaiian 4-year-olds, I was snorkeling in Hanauma Bay, hiking Diamond Head, vacationing in Maui, sightseeing in Kaui and soaking up every ounce of sunshine I possibly could.
But something was wrong.
The Hawaii Kai Church community had welcomed me with open arms, so I spent plenty of time with some great friends I’d made. I was living in paradise, surrounded by palm trees and beaches. But I felt like I’d slipped into some nebulous black hole. I would start crying and find it hard to stop. I trudged to work as if it were a prison. And I kept telling myself the same thing over and over again, “Snap out of it!”
Only I couldn’t.
This sounds like the kind of thing you would hear from someone who wasn’t a Christian. Something was missing in their life. They found Jesus, accepted Him as their Savior and they finally felt complete. But I was already a Christian. I had Jesus in my life. So what was wrong with me?
What I didn’t know then, but discovered a few years later was that my body wasn’t producing enough serotonin, the hormone that makes us feel like getting out of bed every day. The black raincloud over my head was not of my own making. I could be living in paradise, swimming in the Pacific (which I had been) and still wake up every morning feeling as if I had 50-lb. weights shackled to my body.
Although one in six Americans take antidepressants or other psychiatric drugs, depression still has a stigma attached to it. There’s this idea that we should have it all together, keep our ducks in a row and a smile on our face. If we are depressed, it’s because we’re self-absorbed and we’re not looking at the positive things in life. So we need to just snap out of it. But there is no snapping out of anything when your brain chemistry is unbalanced.
Ironically, I had no idea that I was depressed. I just thought I was in a funk and couldn’t get out. But thankfully, I came across the book ‘Healing Anxiety and Depression’ by Daniel Amen, that compared brain scans of people with depression to brain scans of people without depression. Up until this point, a person received a diagnosis of depression only after lying on a psychiatrist’s couch and blathering on and on. That seemed so subjective to me. But this book provided brain-imaging science that proved the connection between the brain and behavior.
It also shed some light on some of my behaviors. For example, I used to say ‘No’ to just about anything that was suggested to me. ‘Do you want a sandwich for lunch?’ No. ‘Can we go run some errands?’ No. ‘Would you like to see a movie?” No.
In my head, I could have wanted whatever was being offered to me. But before I realized it, I heard myself saying, “No.” Why did I do this? I thought I was just being obstinate and stubborn. But apparently, this behavior can be indicative of a type of depression.
This book was a Godsend and prompted me to seek help. When I was first told I needed antidepressants, it depressed me. When I found out I needed to stay on them, it depressed me. All my life, I’ve been a ‘pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps’ kind of girl. I kept thinking this was something I should be able to shake, like a bad cold that needed extra Vitamin C, zinc and rest. But balancing brain chemistry and fending off a bug are two very different things.
One professional explained to me that depression is the body’s normal reaction to something tragic happening in a person’s life, like losing a loved one, getting a divorce or losing a job. It takes time, but eventually, they recover from the trauma and begin feeling like themselves again. However, there are people who never really bounce back, who are never able to feel normal again. At least not without some sort of intervention like antidepressants to jumpstart the body’s serotonin production and restore it to balanced levels.
I have never been a spotlight seeker, so admitting that I struggle with depression is like wearing a big “D” on my chest. So why am I sharing this? Because depression is the unwelcome, ever-present guest at a caregiver’s table. You aren’t just fighting a disease. You’re fighting depression too. Sometimes it’s enough to just make up your mind to focus on the positive every day. But other times, you need help.
Maybe you’re not a caregiver but you’re struggling with depression. You’ve carved out time for yourself to do the things you enjoy. You’ve surrounded yourself with positive friends that love you and lift you up. You’re getting plenty of sleep and eating things that are good for your body. But it isn’t enough. You’re still depressed and you’ve tried to shake it but you can’t.
Can I give you some advice? Get help. Even if the thought of getting help depresses you, get help. I do not regret for one second seeking help years ago when I was falling into a black hole. Getting help changed my life. For the better.
It can do the same for you.
To learn more about depression or for hotline numbers, click here.