A New Approach to A Lifelong Battle With Depression

I’ve dealt with depression and anxiety my entire life.

As I’ve grown up, and gotten healthier (emotionally, physically, spiritually), I’ve had fewer and fewer seasons of depression. Even when the seasons come, they tend to last weeks, rather than months or years. But recently I dipped into one of my familiar seasons once again and caught myself thinking what I always think:

Here we go again.

I tend to think of depression like this: like getting caught in a riptide—the best thing to do is just let your body go limp and wait for the wave to spit you out when it’s finished. Fighting for the surface of the water would be pointless and impossible. You don’t know which way is up.

This is the worst part about depression, if you ask me.

It’s not that it makes your brain cloudy, or steals your interest in all of your favorite things. I mean, it sucks that it makes you gain weight and takes away all your energy and forces you into bed at weird times of the day to take naps.

But the worst part about depression is the “here we go again” feeling. It’s the part I never recognize as awful while I’m in it, but when I’m on the other side, I’m all like, “What the hell was that? And why on earth did I feel so powerless to stop it?

I was talking to a friend about my depression this most recent time around, and she asked me a question I found to be helpful. She asked:

What if you don’t have to do this forever?

If she were to ask me that when I was in a season of depression, it probably wouldn’t have felt as helpful as it did. There’s nothing more insulting than being caught in a riptide and having someone yell to you, from the shoreline, “swim!” But her timing was good. The “ride” was over and I was laying on the shore, coughing up water and praying I never had to go through that again.

I was vulnerable enough to take any advice I could get.

So I let myself think about her question, and what I realized was this: I had always assumed my battle with depression would be lifelong.

I figured it was a part of me.

It was part of how I was made, how I was built.

Of course, there is all kinds of research that would back me up in that claim. Brain chemistry plays a role in depression and some personalities are more prone to it than others. But what struck me in that moment was that my belief that depression was just “a part of me” was leading me to deal with depression in a really specific way.

Actually, it was leading me to not deal with it.

Why would you deal with a problem you can’t fix?

My idea about depression was leaving me at the mercy of depression, allowing it to come and take over my life whenever it saw fit.

So I decided to get pissed.

After all, this is the thing I can’t do when I’m depressed. I can’t get angry or up in arms about anything. Maybe if I stayed mad at depression—mad that it had stolen so many years from me, mad that it had tricked me into thinking I couldn’t be different—maybe then I had a shot at getting rid of it.

Maybe then I would find healing was possible—like the man who reached his crippled hand out to Jesus (“Do you want to be well?”)

Maybe then I would reach out, myself.

I don’t expect that it’s going to be get better overnight.

Nothing ever does. Life isn’t perfect, and every good thing takes work. I’ll probably get depressed again. But I’m choosing to believe depression isn’t part of me, it’s not attached to me, it’s not an unsolvable problem that I’ll deal with for the rest of my life. I’m choosing to believe there is hope.

If for no other reason than it helps me to feel like myself.

Disclaimer: I am not a trained therapist. I’m simply sharing from my experience. Depression can be difficult and dangerous. If your depression is a threat to your health, please seek the help of a professional.

15 comments on “A New Approach to A Lifelong Battle With Depression

  1. Ally, once again, thank you for opening up and being vulnerable… especially about depression, which can feel shameful and be kind of weird (and, well, depressing) to talk about.

    Reading this was interesting because I think I see it the same way a lot of times. “This is a part of me, so get used to it.” But maybe I have integrated it a little too much into my reality. Almost in a defeatist kind of way.

    I think one of the things I’m learning is… to recognize the patterns leading up to those moments. If I can learn where I usually get caught up in the tide, where I usually tend to start feeling helpless, then maybe I can prevent it. Find myself a pair of floaties or a life-preserver, so to speak?

    But I definitely think that there are things we can do and this post reminds me of that. It’s so hard to see it in that moment, when you’re caught up, but there are other ways of experiencing it, for sure. Thank you! 🙂

    • Fighting as we speak, but getting there second by second, minute by minute,……this blog post made me think even more & boosted every singular part of my being……so thank you ladies for sharing & together (in some strange way) we can let the prisoner go out & look forward to a brighter future…..it is what it is & that’s OK (or not), but at least we’re still here & keeping the Spirit alive…..once again: big THANK YOU! 🙂

  2. Thank-you for sharing your personal feelings relative to your depression. And thank-you for attaching the disclaimer!
    I have lived for almost 50 years with someone who, for the last 30 at least, is experiencing full-blown clinical depression. For perhaps the first 30 years life was a continual search for remedies…Christian counsellors, healing meetings and conferences, diet solutions, allergy testing, and endless prayer, Scripture memorization on healing and faith. For us the solution…if that is the right word…came after a suicide attempt and complete, stay in bed forever collapse that led to a medical mental program with Christian therapy (called Rapha, now no longer running). Discovering there were serious chemical problems in the brain and that there were some chemical remedies was a breakthrough. Once that took effect it became possible to start work on life reorganization and thinking changes that were necessary. Even then the belief was that the ‘neds’ would only be necessary until the life changes made them unnecessary. Not so! A relapse a year later as the medicine was stopped proved that.
    The cyclic effect you describe still applies…we imagine it is the current medication ‘pooping out’ and needing to be replaced with another. Our one-spiritual-size-fits-all acquaintances cannot understand any of this and ascribe it to lack of faith, prayer or some other discipline…which of course is of no help in the crisis as you yourself can understand. While we would happily embrace a miraculous cure, I have to say we have bought into the medical model and, in the normal course of life, no more expect this to end this side of Heaven than one would expect type 1 diabetes to go away in time.
    If there is any advice I could offer to those surrounding depressed persons, it is to deal kindly with them and try to recognize the difference between feeling down on an overcast rainy day and the deeper pit of true depression. Don’t criticize those who find medication their first step to recovery.

  3. Allison, I get you. Been there. Done that. And you really nailed it with your wave description.
    Thanks for talking openly about this. So many believers refuse to acknowledge that there are still some of us who suffer with this in the Church. I agree with you, there is healing available. And we need to believe in it. But, we also need to trust that God allows certain things in our lives for a reason. We may never know or understand that. But we can trust that He is always good, and He always loves us. That is what I cling to, even when I’m caught in the undertow.

  4. Thank you for posting such a real and raw insight. There is hope for those of us facing depression. The more we “come out” the less of a stigma there will be for those fighting depression and mental illness. As for your disclaimer, I would encourage anyone to seek help even if your depression is not a threat to your health.

  5. I do understand what you are saying with this (at least I think that I do). However, something that I struggle with, and that I have struggled with more or less for the past 18 years is how we treat mental illness, and why it is SO different than physical illness.

    You mention the person with the crippled hand. If there was a person with a physical illness, would you expect the same from them? There are *degrees*. There are things that are within our control and things that are not. We can always ask for healing for *anything*, but are we failures if we don’t receive?

    I’ve tried over and over to “suck it up” and fight it through prayer and willpower. It makes me a bit angry that people with diabetes or heart conditions, or other physical disabilities are given more sympathy. They are allowed to speak openly, and without people questioning their strength or faith. They can take medications and go to rehab, and it isn’t presumed (by most people of faith) that they shouldn’t go to a doctor of take medication if they are *true* believers, that they should just pray and maybe do a laying on of hands.

    I think that it is absolutely terrific if a person has a temporary illness or very manageable level of depression or other mental/ emotional illness, and are able to go through without specific medical treatment and be healed. I rejoice in that. People who have high cholesterol or diabetes don’t all have the same underlying causes, and if people are able to leave those problems behind them through diet and healthy living choices, I rejoice just as much.

    Trust me, it took me a long time to come to terms with the fact that bipolar disorder is something that I will most likely have to battle my entire life. Are there non-medical (meaning both counseling and meds) things that I can and should do- absolutely. However, do I need to feel an overwhelming shame? I hope not. I’m slowly getting better about not letting it define me- which was a main point of your article, it’s just that my was of not letting it define me looks differently. It looks like accepting the things that I need to do, and prayerfully seeking to grow as the person that I am called to be.

  6. Allison,

    Thanks so much for sharing this. I too have dealt with anxiety and depression at times. Your message is right on, FIGHT! Read books, see a counselor… there are many,many ways to fight.

    One thing I wanted to mention that is very important is that by CHOOSING to fight you show great courage. Bravery and courage are not defined by doing something that is easy, it’s choosing to do something anyway when your scared to death or simply cannot come to grips with the effort needed / feeling overwhelmed, but again do it anyway.

    Well done! Keep fighting!

  7. I love your perspectives on the rich and raw parts of life. I agree with all that you shared about depression and other times I take a slightly different stance. Other times I find myself embracing it as a friend. Offers reminders of my humanity and frailty. Keeps me at a place where I can “comfort others with the comfort that I have been given” as Paul would say! Not that I dwell in it like pity or a paralyzingly growth stunter! But feeling the deepest sadness and despair allows me to fully experience the highest joys and triumphs. So I fight that it defnes me but embrace that it’s the “thorn in my flesh” that drives me. I’m actually working on a blog detailing some of this.

  8. Wow. Thanks for your open and raw feelings and words. You really cut yourself wide open. That’s why I love your posts. Keep up the great work.

  9. I never knew that depression is actually one of the major symptoms of allergies, food and chemicals or whatever. My brother has always struggled with this too and he has several allergies to dust, certain foods, fragrances.

    The more I read about allergies, the more I see this. I do recall reading you had some food issues so I would really investigate what is affecting your brain chemistry that could be resolved more easily, hopefully, than you thought!!
    My prayers are for you – you have such a terrific brain and your very inspiring writing proves it! You also have heart – a winning combination!!

  10. Thankyou for being so honest and open about depression, I have been reading your posts for a while along with Joshua Becker and The minimalists. As my family has had its battles with these issues and people suffering with depression seem to me reaching epidemic proportions , my own theory is that modern day living is to blame rather than a chemical embalance in the brain, or maybe causing the embalance and this kind of material way of life seems to be passed down from generation to generation . Goverments seem to be so obsessed with getting the economy moving and ecouraging people to spend and get the “high”fom buying new stuff, they forget about the countrys well being and health , and the buzz then moves to drugs and drink. Just seems to me that that it is a constant merry go round we are all on as human beingsand wecant get off that ” i need a kick or buzz” roundabout. Thanks for some good reading.
    Kind Regards
    Adrian ( UK reader)

  11. “What if you don’t have to do this forever?” It was like a kick in the gut when I read that. I’m a pastor, and life long battler with the D-word. I’ve been in one of those seasons recently, and letting that question linger in my brain brings relief. It reminds me of the temporary and transitory nature of all things in this life. It’s HOPE in the midst of what is sometimes a very dark darkness.

    Thank you, Ally V! God bless you and keep you!

  12. I have struggled with serious depression for much of my adult life. It’s likely that it was also present in my youth and teens, but while it was being experienced by me, and seen through the eyes of family and friends, it remained as ambiguous as the “600 lb. gorilla in the room” until I sought help, and a formal diagnosis appeared. I am currently going through a familiar trough now, but I have learned enough to reach out for help, and surround myself with people that I know won’t abandon me.
    Thank you for your honesty and humanity. Your post reaffirms that there are voices of hope and community despite the lenses of depression that do everything to deny hope and leave us feeling overly isolated. God bless, and keep writing! Curt

  13. I really like the way you look at depression Allison. Letting it overtake you when you know you will come out of it unscathed is very brave and has to take a lot of nerve. Many people tend to struggle with it and let it get worse over time.

  14. As for your disclaimer, I would encourage anyone to seek help even if your depression is not a threat to your health.

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