313. Coping with Depression

About a week ago, an acquaintance was asked how she planned to spend her evening. She replied, “Oh, I’ll go home,” and added in an undertone, “I’ll probably curl up and cry my eyes out.”

I assumed my acquaintance—I’ll call her Socrates—was being sarcastic, yet her tone was very matter-of-fact. “Will you really?” I inquired.

This was not a polite question. All the same, it led to a frank conversation about depression and the ways we try to deal with it. Socrates apparently cries a lot. I would never have guessed. She’s considerate, friendly, and helpful; she never seems depressed. As she talked about her struggles, I felt a sobering sadness.

I can’t pretend to understand her perfectly after one brief conversation, but I’m certain of at least one thing: Socrates is a very brave person. She fights her private battle with a courage that fooled me into thinking she was quite happy. She smiles, storing up her tears.

Socrates reminded me that depression is a common struggle. Most of us have hidden problems of some kind, whether depression, self-loathing, addiction, self-destructive impulses, broken relationships, or other issues. We all try to cope in different ways. Socrates cries. I write, drink too much coffee, and spend hours or days being antisocial and unproductive.

Trying to cope

Look, I’m really depressed. I can’t deal with people right now. Go away! Begone! Go read some other blog!

I don’t like depression, but what I really hate is not knowing how to deal with it.

My depression comes and goes. When I’m not depressed, it seems like a mere nuisance. In fact, in these brighter times, I feel slightly guilty talking or writing about it. I feel like I’m exaggerating a small problem.

Then depression creeps over me, darkening my life slowly and imperceptibly. (The process is so gradual that I sometimes feel depressed for days before realizing it.) Depression robs me of the ability to enjoy and appreciate good things. It sucks the hope and meaning out of life, leaving the universe a dismal, empty place.

Fortunately, my bouts with depression are neither frequent nor injurious, and seldom last more than a week or two—thank God! In the end, no matter how dark my depression, God carries me through it.

All the same, I wish I were better at coping. I want to be more self-aware in recognizing the symptoms of depression. I remind myself that what I do matters more than what I feel. I try not to blame myself, but to recognize depression as a sickness. Like Socrates, I smile and keep my struggles to myself.

As I look back on the battles I never won, I can’t shake a sense of regret. I feel guilty for being unproductive and unsociable. I rue time wasted, opportunities lost, and blessings unappreciated.

Depression really sucks.

Why am I writing all this? I have two reasons.

First, I know I’m not the only one who doesn’t win these battles. There are many people like me and Socrates. I want the readers fighting their own private battles to know they’re not alone.

Second, I have more to say. This is the darker half of a two-part discussion. I’ll end these reflections on a brighter note next time. Come back on Friday for the conclusion!

4 thoughts on “313. Coping with Depression

  1. I’m lucky enough to not have a problem with depression. I’ve been told that I have every reason to be depressed (since I lost my mother to breast cancer, my father was murdered, and my grandfather died just before I left for college) but I just don’t get sad or depressed. I think it’s due to my attitude of not caring. Or maybe I’m just good at coping with loss. Whichever it is, I’m glad it works for me.
    My aunt suffers from depression, and I just can’t understand it sometimes. My mind can’t wrap itself around the idea of being sad for seemingly no reason. But I respect those going through it and do what I can to help.

    • I’m glad depression isn’t among your other heartaches. It seems you’ve suffered enough without it!

      Not everyone understands depression, and that’s perfectly fine. It is enough for those who don’t know depression to show patience toward those who do.

  2. You mentioned previously (or perhaps “in the future” since I’m reading this blog backward from January 2015) a connection to Ecclesiastes. I’d say this might be a fitting time to gesture you towards Ecc. 3 and the first 8 or so verses. In this is Solomon’s famous “A season for everything” writing.

    Regret is a cruel and miserable thing. It haunts us long after the actual events we regret have passed by, and truly often even after we’ve healed from whatever scars were originally there. Instead it pulls at the nearly complete scab, tearing off bits of skin until blood flows from old wounds once more. And then we regret the regret, and the cycle begins again.

    And yet, isn’t the great point of the sacrifice of Christ that it frees us from what we have done? It takes the burden away, so we can go into the world and do the good works we’re called to instead of being crushed. And crushed we would be, if all our failures and faults were continually added to our load. In a way when we hold on to regrets we devalue the price that’s been paid for our salvation. We say “Nothing can take THIS away, I must carry it forever.” Learning from past experiences is why we’re here, but suffering for them even after the time for suffering has past ignores the gift we’ve been given.

    I have suffered from depression in my life, and I no doubt will again. One thing that has helped me greatly is the appreciation I now have for everything God has given me. And when I say everything, I mean everything. The joy, the depression, a loving wife, an alcoholic father, my many successes, my larger number of failures. One of my favorite verses of all time is James 1:2-4 (though it has only become a favorite as I’ve gotten older)

    “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”

    It’s a hard verse to live out, especially in the dark times. So, for me, when I’m in the light times I hold fast to this truth, so that when the dark returns (and it will) I know it will be doing something. And not just any something, something great. The greatest thing anything can possibly do: Making me complete. Making me into the being I was born to be.

    Suddenly the depression takes on a new form. It ceases to be “bad” and instead I can see it for what it is, and what it can do. And it takes a great weight off it. That doesn’t mean it stops feeling like crap while you’re going through it, it just lightens the load and reminds you that it will do what it’s supposed to and then be done.

    And it allows for regret to evaporate. Because instead I know that the “lost time” was not lost, it was doing something. Was it doing something fun? Well, maybe not. Would I rather be out with friends and filled with joy? Hmm, that’s a tougher question. Because then I go back to Ecclesiastes, and know that there is a season for friends and joy, and a season for being alone and suffering. And each of those seasons is doing what it needs to do to take me one step further than I was yesterday. So what “I’d rather” is that God take control and do whatever he thinks is best for me, because boy does he know more than I do. It’s not even close.

    It’s a hard road, and a hard life. Existing is rough and exhausting. And yet, it has purpose. And even better than that, it ends and we are made perfect so that we can gain everything and never fear it controlling us. It’s why we’re here, and it’s why it’s hard. So that later, it can be perfect and we can be completed.

    Trust me, it’s worth it.

    I don’t know if this has been helpful at all, but I figured I’d share the thoughts. If nothing else, you have someone here who will gladly listen when the dark times come, so don’t ever hesitate to send me a note if you need a giraffe to help pull you out of the mud. (There I go breaking the timeline again and using knowledge from “the future!”)

    • Thank you for sharing your thoughts, prognostications of future blog posts, and gracious offer to be a giraffe. (That is the strangest sentence I’ve written in… well, minutes.) Seriously, though, thanks.

      Depression is particularly frustrating to me because it seems meaningless. It’s hard for me to see good in it. All I see are opportunities missed, time lost, and misery with no apparent purpose. I believe there is often meaning in bad circumstances, but I hardly ever see it. I’m thankful to say depression has been far less of a struggle in the past year or so, but it’s still there, and I suppose it will never go away altogether. My greatest consolation is probably my dad. For decades, he has faced depression, doubt, and insecurity, yet continues to be a cheerful, humble, helpful person. He shows me it can be done. I also try to remind myself of how ridiculously blessed I am in nearly every other area of my life. It’s awfully ungrateful for me to obsess over depression, or any other problem, when my life is full of loving people and cups of coffee and Legend of Zelda games.

      I’m glad you’ve found purpose, and thus, hope, in your own bouts with depression and other troubles. And if you, in turn, ever need a giraffe (or some other large African mammal) to pull you out the mud, please feel free to toss an email or message my way!

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