The first time I tasted and survived a depressive episode in 2011, I thought it was but one glitch in an otherwise emotionally healthy life. And then in the winter of 2012, it returned, and this time worse in manifold ways. Eight months later, I emerged stronger than before, declaring to myself and the world that I didn't fear a relapse. But the truth was, I didn't really believe it would come back. It was a vague possibility in my head, but nothing more.
But it did return the following spring. Again, and this is highly likely due to inadequate treatment and self-care, this one was also worse than its predecessor. I was woefully unprepared. I hadn't even had a chance to attempt to conceptualize what that might look like. Before I knew it, I was reduced to a human ball of invisible, destructive thoughts -- sometimes sobbing, sometimes suicidal, other times both.
I am now well, and am beginning to grasp what it means that this is going to be a recurring theme in my life. As I pour my refreshed energy and extended wake time into the passions God has placed on my heart, I remain aware that I cannot lay claim to my present capacities indefinitely.
What do I do with this awareness? I don't know what the "best practices" are (feel free to share any advice with me), but I'll probably have many tries to figure this out anyway. But typically, my approach these days have been to "seize every moment." I try not to sleep beyond what's necessary for my health; I try not to say no to an invitation to a meal/coffee/conversation/adventure; I try not to reject the appeal of someone in need. I also assess the gifts and talents God has bestowed on me (for example, my voice, my writing, and then those drawing skills that seemingly came out of nowhere) and consider how I can use them to bless others. I reflect on the special passions He has planted in me, such as my love for children, the youth, and the developmentally disabled, and consider how they ought to inform my vocational decisions.
On a more proactive, self-protection side, I've been making good on this hypothesis: that if I took advantage of the times when I'm not depressed to learn more about depression (from reading books and articles, and talking to experts including my own health care providers), I will eventually become better at handling depressive episodes when they do return. These on top of responsibly staying on medication and being disciplined about self-care, of course.
Now, and you're probably already thinking this: though I write this from the perspective of someone diagnosed with "recurrent major depressive disorder," these musings are relevant to any living human. Our good days are numbered, our days in general are numbered. We don't know what tragedy might befall us, and when it might. We don't know what we might lose tomorrow. And then there are also the things we can reasonably expect: the changes that will come with old age, and of course, the fact that we will all die.
Maybe these aren't things we often think about, and I might even be coming off as if I were still in the thick of depression. It's also often said that to think about the end of life prevents us from living our lives, but I patently disagree. I believe there are few things more important to how we live our lives than contemplating the temporality, and fragility, of life on this side of eternity. Accepting the vanity of our present pursuits is the beginning of discovering our true purpose, and the true meaning of our lives.
It's getting easier, these days, to acknowledge our mortality on a mere theoretical level, without really allowing it to simmer in our daily deeds and interactions. Perhaps because modern society has gotten so good at marginalizing death and suffering. Those things are hidden away in hospitals and hospices. Even the things that aren't hidden from plain sight -- like the plight of the homeless, and our brothers and sisters languishing daily under systemic injustice and oppression -- we've somehow been trained to phase them out of our interior lives. Because it's more convenient (not to mention more lucrative for corporations) that we are kept distracted by illusions of invincibility and the pursuits of temporary pleasures.
But fight that. I invite you think reflect on these realities more often than you might be used to. I speak not from a preacher's podium, but from someone who's been brought so low she had no choice but contemplate these unpleasant reality checks. This is not to rain on anybody's parade, because the contemplation of "unpleasant" truths is necessary bitter medicine to a pride that needs humbling, a temper that needs taming, a coldness that needs thawing, an indifference that needs shattering, and a soul that needs healing.
I have come to trust in the Great Physician who administers this medicine, and I trust Him with my entire life and being.
Swallow the bitterness in faith, and then we can begin to taste the goodness of life in its fullness. I'm still catching new glimpses of it each day. A life where I am not the center, where I can delight in giving more than I do receiving, where I can truly delight in the joys of others without envy (for the most part), where I rejoice simply in knowing that I am a beloved child of God, where I look forward to an eternity in my final home.
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Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.