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!