I heard you.
In the depths of my grief.
Your voice reached the furrows of my curled heart.
I heard you
In the coils of my foggy sorrow
I heard your voice, breaking, waiting for me
Please. Don’t stop talking.
I’ll find my way back.
– Sidney Hughes
Today, there seems to be several resources for us to use when defining depression. We now know it is a clinical issue. We know that there are certain levels of chemicals in the brain that need to be in balance for an individual to feel at ease, clear minded, capable, happy. We know that there are medications that need to be prescribed when these chemicals are not in balance. Loads of events – trauma, change, growth, illness, etc – can precipitate imbalances and cause depression. Depression can be long term or temporary. We know that talk therapy is a clinically proven method of helping those with depression. But what does it mean to be depressed? And what are practical solutions to use in every day?
Depression is a state of mind and a state of being I struggle with constantly. There are some deep rooted lies I’ve allowed to set in about my depression. Perhaps you’ve heard them too. Depression isn’t real. Depression is a lack of prayer. Depression needs to be kept secret. All of these are sorely untrue. Depression is real, unfortunately but veritably. It’s discussed thoroughly in the Word, we know it’s not a lack of faith or trust. It’s the result of a fallen world, a world where we are struggling against flesh to be in communion with Christ. And, just as with other struggles, it needs to be exposed.
Depression is not contagious – I’m always worried that it is. I’m afraid that if I open up just a little about my own struggle, it will surge out of me and infect others. That’s a misconception. Others are probably more equipped to help me than I am to help myself. Just as we don’t encourage people to suffer their physical ailments in silence we shouldn’t encourage people to suffer ashamedly with their mental illnesses in solitude. So, this is me sharing and exposing a bit of my own fight with my depression.
The beast looks different every day, and every hour the same. Its dark tentacles wind up around my chest and pull tight, forcing the air out of my lungs. I gasp and breathe in only icy stillness. My eyes fill with unexpected tears while I try, I try, I try to refocus my thoughts. I’m at work. I’m at home, I’m at the kitchen table having a conversation with my brother-in-law about Spongebob. There’s no need to cry. There’s no need to feel this crushing weight beneath my diaphragm. There’s no need for my feet to be numb, my shoulders heavy, or my appetite gone. But they are.
My constant companion. The shadow sits beneath my ears. Some mornings it greets me before I open my eyes, sitting on my stomach it prowls, waiting for me to drag a languid, tired body out of bed. Other days it tauntingly waits, under the rug, behind the bathroom door, to pounce all at once, just when I thought today would be light and good and free.
They have many metaphors for depression – clouds, darkness, shadows, weights, numbness. I don’t think the people in charge of these terms know that depression is all of these bundled up in a messy package deal. And the absolute worst part is that it is, most often, utterly invisible for everyone else. I can feel the fog. I can feel the crushing weight gripping my intestines, slowly turning my insides into stone. I can feel the crumbling ground beneath my feet that will give way to a deathless abyss if I don’t keep running, keep working, keep talking, keep moving. I can feel that desperation racing inside of me to outmaneuver the shadows – but you can’t. And that makes it ever so difficult for people living with depression to explain it. It’s not a hopeless state, it’s not a faithless state – it’s just a state, a reality, a fact.
In living with depression I’ve discovered a few methods to keep myself afloat. These are all, of course, blessings from the Lord, for without Him I would have no hope, no reason at all to keep moving forward. Yet with Him, I have Hope Eternal, and I trust that this world He has created is beautiful, it is to be explored and enjoyed while we are on it. That’s what I try to do with my days.
I work nights as a nurse. I don’t think working nights is a good idea if you have depression and I also wouldn’t recommend being a nurse. Stressful, long hours dealing with death and depraved humanity do not go hand in hand with healing. Alas, it is what I do for now, and it is where the Lord is teaching me much.
Whether it’s on a work night or one of my days off I find comfort in routine. It’s vital for me to have some sort of routine to force myself out of bed. My natural bent in life is to live the artist’s lifestyle. I think, in another time, I would have fit in quite well with the Bohemian Revolution referenced in Moulin Rouge. A life whittled away with poems, books, mid afternoon drinks, and a thorough disregard for social norms of work and schedules is tantalizing. So, in order to not spiral into a lackluster drip, I have to find routine.
My favored habit is making coffee. I know, I know. Caffeine is evil and probably precipitates depression. Well, driving precipitates car accidents but we still have to get places so I’ll take my chances with the cup of joe. I adore making coffee. It’s a coveted process I find comforting, mesmerizing, and gratifying. I fell in love with coffee in high school when I was given my first French press. It was a single serve. I would use our local Kenyan ground coffee, my dorms’ very sketchy water kettle, and make a single thermos of delicious, black gold each morning. It was my reward after a morning run. It steeled my spirit for the brutality of high school classes. It was a ritual, and has been ever since.
When I’m with my husband he makes coffee in a percolator. Then he goes to work and I pull out the French press. Even though I’ve already downed a serving of espresso, I must make more coffee. I pour the grounds into the glass container, a full sized French Press. My mother gave it to me before I went to university and every time I use it I think of her – thinking of my mother reminds me of the comfort and safety found in my parents, found in home. The beast loosens its grip.
I boil the water. I always stretch while I listen to the bubbles build. I lay my hands on the floor and remind myself that my body is agile. It works. It breathes. The blood is pumping, the muscles are exchanging ions, salt and water are making the necessary shifts all around to keep every organ in working order. This reminds me I am capable and I am blessed. The beast loosens its grip.
The kettle dings. Boiled water pounds against the metal canister. I wait for it to settle. With one hand gripping the kettle’s handle I remember other cups of coffee I’ve made. I remember coffee I’ve shared over fires on mountain tops. Coffee I’ve shared with English teachers, mentors, friends. Coffee I’ve shared out of thermos mugs with hand colored pictures – ones to remind me of family. I remember coffee I’ve made as a barista, with careful instructions, a beautiful system designed to curate a tangible experience. Warmth, exotic, taste. As these memories pass swiftly through my mind, each one I had while living with depression, each one a testament that life with depression can be full and creative. The beast loosens its grip.
I pour the water onto the grounds, watch the beads dance over the swirling water, the oils glisten and settle. Then I wait. Sometimes I’m rushing to work so I hurry to throw on my clothes, dry my hair, pack my bag. Other times I run back to bed and dive back under the covers, hoping their warmth is still inviting. Rest is coveted. I either take it for granted and rest lazily or I flood myself with guilt for having the time and resources to rest. It’s a gift, given by the Lord, to be enjoyed. I’m reminded of the freedom to enjoy this rest while my coffee steeps. The beast loosens its grip.
By the time my coffee is finished and I’m pouring the deep brown drink into a favorite mug I’ve thought of at least ten things to be thankful for. Intentional gratitude is my most used weapon against depression. Being thankful reminds me that I am alive and there is much to be alive for. Gratitude helps me to keep moving forward, through each overwhelming day. My disproportionate love of coffee gives me a reason to get out of bed, it gives me a reason to stand in the kitchen, but it is gratitude – sheer thankfulness – that gives me a reason to stay awake, to keep moving, to keep living.
I cannot tell you how to fight your depression. I can’t tell you how to comfort your spouse or sibling who’s struggling. You know them, I don’t. I can only share what has been an immense help to me – routine, a single task to keep me moving, a reminder to give thanks, and close, safe friends. Maybe those will help you, maybe they won’t. But I would encourage you to find your coffee making moments. Find the minute of the day where you are doing the one thing you want to be awake for. The one, maybe small, maybe menial, maybe immense task that loosens the beast’s grip and allows you to be in control once again.
“The night is dark but I am not forsaken; for by my side, the Savior He will stay. I labor on in weakness and rejoicing; for in my need His power is displayed. To this I hold- my shepherd will defend me; through the deepest valley, He will lead. Oh, the night has been won, and I shall overcome! Yet not I, but through Christ in me.”
– Yet Not I But Through Christ in Me, Johnny Robinson