How to find handles when you’re losing your grip.
by JoAnn Reno Wray
Janice  opened the closet door, knelt, pushed shoes aside, and crawled into the farthest corner, shutting the door behind her. In the dark, she grabbed a stack of folded sweaters, pulled them on top of her body, and curled into a ball. Her sobs were muffled by the closet contents; but outside its door, her young children stood wide-eyed, wondering what was wrong with Mommy.
Mary  stood on the corner under the street light, blinking at the falling snow. Where was she, and how did she get there? It was pitch dark; her legs ached from walking, and she didn’t remember leaving home. All she recalled was the darkness that seemed to engulf her, driving her out the door.
Janice and Mary suffer from clinical depression, a treatable medical problem that involves physical and psychological effects lasting at least two weeks. Depression subtly invades a person’s life until the gloom seems unavoidable and normal. It distorts a person’s outlook.
According Dr. Philip Long at Internet Mental Health, depression is common, spanning all ethnicity, education, income, and marital status groups.”The lifetime risk for Major Depressive Disorder is 10% to 25% for women and from 5% to 12% for men.” The difference is due mainly to the effects of estrogen and the monthly cycles women deal with where hormones surge and then return to normal. For a large percentage of women, when menopause occurs, the lack of estrogen can contribute to a cascade effect of chemical imbalance, leading to depression.
Held in depression’s grip, a person centers on the sadness, feels unloved and unwanted, and often experiences emotional suffocation. Life goes out of focus, losing vibrancy and joy. But despite the inner darkness, a person can defeat depression.
The symptoms are many, including a deep sadness lasting two weeks or longer and a marked inability to function daily. Disabling physical signs include sleep disturbances and changes in appetite, energy, activity, and weight. On the psychological side, a person may be apathetic, given to morbid preoccupation with worthlessness. She may be suicidal or psychotic.
Often a depressed person describes feeling dispirited, hopeless, discouraged, “down in the dumps,” “blah,” or empty. He initially denies the sadness or complains of bodily aches and pains. Frequently, he suffers from an abnormal loss of interest or pleasure, resulting in lack of motivation that disrupts daily function. Sometimes a depressed person’s unusual irritability or an excessively critical attitude alienates loved ones.
Depression can have physical roots, such as low thyroid, low estrogen levels in women, or other hormonal imbalances. Blood tests can determine these. Generalized illnesses, such as kidney or liver disease, can precipitate depression, as can susceptibility to less sunlight during winter (Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD). In some, allergies can cause depression.
In certain individuals the problem stems from years of abuse or broken relationships. Even a long-held bitterness can grind a person down into a depressive state.
Hope and help
Can a person escape the prison of depression? The answer is yes, although the fight may be long and hard, requiring patience. Here are some steps you can take to defeat depression.
- Recognize depression for what it is: a disease. You can’t just pep-talk yourself out of it. We all need help.
- Find a skilled, compassionate doctor. The freedom many experience today came from the help of doctors and others.
- Find hope in the Bible. God loves you, imperfections and all. The heavy chains from many years melt when you accept this truth.
- Learn to talk about your emotions. As long as your feelings are bottled up, no one can understand the tensions and suffocation of depression or recognize you need help.
- Talk not only to doctors, friends, and family but also to God. God truly cares about you. In the book of Psalms King David often complained to God and shared his sad feelings. God always listened and answered.
According to Dr. C. Roy Woodruff, director of the American Association of Pastoral Counselors:
Depression does not result from a loss of faith, but rather is an experience of the faithful. The Old Testament is full of stories of prophets and spiritual leaders who became very depressed due to various causes other than loss of faith. The ability to cry out to God in despair, however, is a valuable resource of faith and helps facilitate healing and recovery, providing a source of light in the darkness, a glimmer of hope in felt helplessness.
- Don’t rule out medications. Taking a pill to correct a chemical imbalance is no worse than taking a pill to control glucose levels or blood pressure. Use the medication your doctor feels will help you most.
- Be willing. If all you can do is be willing to get help, then start there. Call local hospitals for referrals to clinics or doctors who specialize in mood disorders. Ask your family doctor for help. Check local churches for available counseling services. Many have counselors who can refer you to qualified, compassionate doctors to help you break free from depression’s chains.
Exercise. A study was published in the September/October 2000 issue of Psychosomatic Medicine. Lead author Dr. James A. Blumenthal of the department of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Duke University Medical Center, stated, “Findings suggest that a modest exercise program is an effective, robust treatment for patients with major depression. . . .The benefits of exercise are likely to endure particularly among those who adopt it as a regular, ongoing life activity.”
The study lasted four months and included three groups. One took an anti-depressant, another took an anti-depressant and exercised, and one only exercised with no added medication. The groups that exercised had significantly lower rates of depression. Even after six months, exercisers were far less likely to relapse into depression than those on medication only.
Eat right. Nutrition is important to the chemical balance of the brain. Too many sweets, overloading on carbohydrates, or too much caffeine can upset the delicate equilibrium God created. Be wise. Practice moderation in your eating habits.
Must you give sugar up totally? Probably not. But don’t make it your mainstay. A little caffeine is OK, but only a little. This may mean avoiding favorite soft drinks or coffee for a season to readjust. Read labels on foods, checking for words ending in -ose, which indicates a type of sugar. Reduce high salt levels found in prepackaged foods, since elevated sodium causes stress to the entire body. Cut back on fat, but don’t eliminate it. Your body needs some fat to function, so try substituting olive oil. Increase vegetables and fruits in your diet. We all need vitamins A, C, D, and other essential vitamins and minerals to function at our best.
Don’t skip meals and end up ravenous. Doing so produces dips in blood sugar and triggers depressed feelings. Keep healthy foods handy: yogurt, carrots, apples, sunflower seeds. Have a light snack every couple of hours.
Some find help in nutritional supplements, such as St. John’s Wort or Kava-Kava. A warning, though: Consult your physician and/or pharmacist if you’re on prescription drugs. Many cause unwanted, sometimes life-threatening, effects in combination with prescribed medications.
Get sufficient rest. We all experience sleeplessness, but prolonged periods of inadequate rest deplete restoration time for bodies and minds. We process the day’s activities in dreams, helping us see things in perspective, while sleeplessness leads to depression and slowed reflexes.
Most people require eight to nine hours minimum of restful, undisturbed sleep. Sometimes you aren’t resting even when asleep. Sleep apnea, a bad mattress, noisy atmosphere, stress on the job — all can disrupt sleep patterns.
Keep a journal, tracking the number of hours you sleep nightly. Rate your rest factor from one to ten, with ten being an excellent night’s sleep. If you’ve not slept well for a week, investigate the cause and find remedies. Loud snorers often suffer from sleep apnea for years without realizing it causes the person to stop breathing. Oxygen rates dip and deprive the brain of needed fuel. The result is constant tiredness and can lead to a depressed state of mind that escalates if not treated.
Find a solution to work-related stress. Put a board between the mattress and box spring to shore up a sagging mattress until a new one can be purchased. Wear earplugs to block unwanted noise. Establish a regular bed time. Be proactive in getting the rest you need.
Laugh! Even the Bible recommends this. Proverbs 17:22 says, “A cheerful heart is good a medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones” (NIV). Laughter is healing.
What makes you laugh? Comedies? Silly jokes? Find joy where you can. Reminisce about childhood pranks. Watch I Love Lucy reruns or funny movies. Log on the Internet, zoom over to the Reader’s Digest site, and peruse the anecdotes for 30 minutes.
Tap into spiritual sustenance
The Bible tells us “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble” (Psalm 46:1, NIV). He waits for us to cry out to Him.
Will you get better miraculously and suddenly? Maybe. God knows the right steps for your life. Most of the time, answers come a little here and a little there, using many resources and rebuilding you to a strong, vibrant life.
Find spiritual guidance at churches and Christian books, music, prayer, and daily Bible reading. It will transform your thinking until you are able to see yourself whole.
Dr. Woodruff offers encouragement to those dealing with depression:
Clinical depression today is one of the most treatable of mental/emotional/spiritual disorders. We are blessed with effective antidepressant drugs, which when combined with competent counseling and psychotherapy, can provide major improvement. Depression is one of the most spiritually related disorders in that it moves right into the soul as well as the mind. Therefore, integration of the spiritual dimension into the treatment process by a qualified professional maximizes the potential for lasting and meaningful recovery, resulting, as some have stated, as being “better than well,” having learned and grown through the experience of the depression. Certified Pastoral Counselors are qualified to provide this spiritual integration with professional care.
Reach out: A world of answers waits. Bring your world back into focus and see its vibrant colors again. Dare to defeat depression!
1. Names changed for privacy of individuals
About the Author