Monday, October 21, 2013

The Road of Life Moves On...But We're Not Alone...

This road has been an interesting one over the past few months.  As a pastor, I have been to countless training sessions about the warning signs of depression, as well as how to help folks struggling with this unwelcome intrusion in their lives.  What I did not know was the vast breadth of how depression affects so many different people.  This blog has opened the doors to countless conversations with both friends, and absolute strangers, about the impact of depression on each one of them.  Most were stories about themselves, but there were also stories of spouses and children interlaced among these conversations.  There are so many different types of depression.  For some, it is a mortal battle of epic proportions...where each day is a fight to stay alive.  For others, it is a constant feeling of helplessness, and even a loss of hope.  There are obviously people at various points in between these examples...MANY people.  These people are all around us...striving to attain some sense of "normalcy" in their lives.  I pray for them...

While doctors have been helpful, my struggle with depression has been eased by several factors.  The first, and foremost, is my relationship with Jesus Christ.  He never left my side...even on really tough days.  Even in the midst of despair, I could sense His presence...His peace...   The support and encouragement by my family, church staff, and friends have been invaluable.  Encouraging words, stories (even some of them that were obviously painful for them to tell), have been amazing.  Through a friend in the state Baptist convention, I met an amazing man of God that has made it his vocation to help struggling pastors, who is also a former youth pastor.  His advice, willingness to listen, and expertise have been so helpful.  It has been wonderful to begin to understand things that I need to change in my own life in order to feel "normal" again.  Many of the things that I struggle with are related to things that I have experienced in life...particularly in church ministry.  Unpacking old hurt and things that I have buried, emotionally speaking, have been so helpful.  When I can share those with someone who understands, and can give objective advice, it is very freeing.

The last, and hugely important factors is....SLEEP.  Seriously, I cannot emphasize how important this one has been for me.  Those that know me well, know that I have always been a night owl, and a bit of an insomniac.  For years, I've lived on 4-5 hours of sleep a night.  Yes, nearly every night.  Now, I've gone through stages where I slept more than that, but on the average....that has been me for at least the past 10 years.  When I get tired, I am more emotional...and not in a good way.  I have a tendency to feel more anxious and stressed...for obvious reasons.  So, I made the decision a few weeks ago to force myself to sleep more.  Now, I don't go to bed at 8:00 PM...that'll never happen.  However, instead of 2:00 AM, I started dialing it back a bit at a time.  At first, I would take some Tylenol PM to ease myself into a "sleepy" state, but soon found that I could go to bed earlier without the sleep aids.  I'm still up late most nights, but am averaging between 12:00 - 1:00 AM...  Not exactly a massive improvement (on average), but there have been several nights that I have been in bed by 11:00 PM.  More sleep has been a step in the right direction.  Mentally and spiritually, I have felt much more renewed each day.  I'm still working on it!

I said last time that I had made the decision to remove medication from my treatment.  I have now been off of all medication for 2 weeks, and am very glad that I made this decision.  The medication I had been taking was causing some odd side effects...enough that it was more of a hinderance than a help to me.  Please understand that I am not advocating that everyone drop medication from treatment.  That is a personal decision that is best made by you and your doctor.

I thank God for improvement...  Of course there are still tough days (and nights), but progress is improvement.  During all of this, I have taken great comfort in the words of Scripture.  Especially the words of David in Psalms.  Psalm 51:12 says this, "Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and make me willing to obey you."  Psalm 28:6 - 7 says "Praise the Lord! For he has heard my cry for mercy.  The Lord is my strength and shield.  I trust him with all my heart.  He helps me, and my heart is filled with joy.  I burst out in songs of thanksgiving."  David's struggles came from many directions.  Some were products of his own actions, but many were not.  I just thank the Lord for words like these that we can take comfort in.  His presence is always with each of you...hang in there!  Praying that His comfort finds you today... no matter where you are in life!

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

The Next Step..

I have refrained from posting to this blog over the past couple of weeks.  I was concerned that my posts were too dark, and did not want to sound like a total "negative nelly."  That, and I really wanted to write about milestone moments in my life, not just random postings about the same thing.  Of course, some of you may be thinking that the "down and depressed" subject matter all sounds the same after the first post.  I totally understand that.  However, many of you have expressed your absolute understanding of these posts, mainly because you were/are in that same point in your life.  Depression is a strong opponent, and the support of others can be a wonderful ally!

I have now been on Wellbutrin for 6 weeks.  I have always hated taking medication, but I was willing to try it this time in order to get past some very dark days.  One of the problems with any type of mood altering drug is that it does what it's supposed to...it alters moods.  Sometimes that is a good thing, but it can also have a very "numbing" effect on your mind and body.  A sense of apathy, or the general "blahs" are not uncommon.  Plus, there are a multitude of physical side effects to these medications.  Loss of sleep, restlessness, dry mouth, stomach cramps (and other wonderful things), and the list goes on and on.  Many of you told me your stories about these medications, and I have experienced many of these side effects.  So much so, that I have begun to question whether taking these meds are worth the "other stuff" that comes with it.  I personally have decided to wean myself off of this medication, and see how things are in my "natural" state.  Will keep you posted on how it goes.

My counseling has been going well.  We meet via Skype, so that keeps me from having to drive somewhere for an appointment.  My counselor is a former youth pastor, so he totally gets where I'm coming from.  The first few sessions have been foundational stuff... history, past problems, current problems, etc.  We are now working through a workbook that has been quite helpful so far.  Making some progress there, for sure.

I am not "over" my depression, nor do I know that I will ever be completely done with it.  However, I am glad to see some light again.  I pray for those of you out there dealing with the same issues.  I pray that you realize and know that you are not alone, that Jesus is always with you...no matter what.  I pray for those of you wrestling with decisions regarding medication or counseling...that you will make wise and informed choices.  Most of all, I pray that God will provide you with friends and family that will lift you up, that will listen, that will love you through even the most difficult days.  Take heart...God says that He will "...Never leave you or forsake you."