Ode to Depression


The last in the series from two years ago about the time when Micah was missing. There was a lot to learn there and I love sharing it even after two years, especially since it’s been a rough year and again I’m dealing with depression. I do think I’m getting better at it, continuing to eat well, sleep well and exercise. This time negotiating this without so much chocolate!

When I was a School Counselor at a middle school, kids came to me all the time, saying they were depressed. I’d say, “Congratulations, you’re doing your job!” After all, in the words of Bart Simpson, “Depressing a teenager is like shooting fish in a barrel.” Then I’d help them decide if their depression was teenage angst or something more. Either way I’d give my, “how to release endorphins” talk.
Endorphins are those brain chemicals our body releases to soothe and comfort us. There are some ways we can release them if we’re depressed. For instance, exercise: every minute past fifteen minutes of aerobic exercise releases endorphins! Simple eh? Here are other ways: Laughing, eating chocolate, sex (don’t worry, I didn’t mention this one to the middle school kids), petting a dog or cat, holding a baby and looking at something beautiful (which is why Brad Pitt will always sell tickets. I mean they tried to make him less attractive in Fury, but did it really work)?
If having friends over to eat chocolate and watch a comedy (hopefully starring Brad Pitt) doesn’t work, this may be a more serious depression. Of the two more serious kinds of depression, both are physiological but one is caused by circumstances and one is a chemical imbalance in the body. I’ve had circumstantial depression twice. The first time there were a lot of losses in my life over one summer: Four sets of close friends moved up north, we left our job and our church all at the same time. Of course, being a therapist, it took me waaayyyy too long to figure out I was depressed. Physician, heal thyself!

Help needed. Drowning man's hand in sea or ocean.
Help Needed

The second time my depression was triggered by the month of stress related to my son’s disappearance. A month after reconnecting with him, even though I knew he was safe, my body went into depression. The body can crash after a month of being amped up on adrenaline. Both times I became aware of my depression by noticing the symptoms: Loss of interest in things that normally interest me, increased (or loss of, though I’ve never experienced it) appetite, increase (or loss of) sleep, malaise and a withdrawing from social relationships.
“I think I’m depressed,” I said to myself with great insight as I lay in a fetal position on my bed, crying into my chocolate bar. So, I decided to be proactive and I gave myself this prescription: sleep more, expect less, cry often, bake, eat, and stay home. Then, if you don’t feel better after Christmas, go get some meds.
Thankfully, this worked for me and three weeks on this stringent program has allowed me to heal and want to leave my house once more. It’s a good thing because there is work to be done. I’m grateful for the downtime and feel that I’m healing and ready to get back to work. I only wish my pants weren’t so tight.

A Grief Observed…Mine

micah at occupy dc

Continuing to reminisce about how life was two years ago when Micah went missing. This is what I learned about grief.

Having my son missing for almost a month now has been the hardest thing I’ve ever gone through. I think the next closest was having my daughter in Sri Lanka after the Tsunami in a very dangerous situation, but at least then there was contact.
In the counseling world, they say that the person who won’t speak has the most power. I understand that in a new way now. Micah, for whatever reason, has chosen to keep us out of the loop of his grand adventure and the silence, as they say, “is deafening.”
So, I’m learning a lot about grief, and I thought I’d write it down so when Micah is older and has children of his own, and those kids do something really scary, I can send him a copy of this. That’s a parental prerogative right, to say, “Touché!”

1. Grief comes in waves: I knew this from when my dad died and I had to switch to waterproof mascara because I never knew when I’d be crying. Thankfully I gave up mascara altogether during Micah’s first deployment to Afghanistan. The grief now is always just below the surface. I’m not a good faker so when some poor innocent folks say, “how are you?” they tend to get more than they bargained for.
2. It is really hard, nearly impossible, not to let your mind go to the dark side. Focusing on the negative possibilities has been overwhelming. The list of bad things that could be happening to my son is unending. These thoughts can suck you down into the “depths of despair” as Anne of Green Gables would say.
3. Sometimes, I can get my eyes off the waves and onto Jesus. These are the good days when I remember that the name Micah means “There is no one like God.” I remember he was named after the prophet of Justice. Just because he’s trying to work out his heart for justice in a way that will harm him, doesn’t mean God can’t use this to build him into the man he was created to be.
4. I can swing from the above #2 to #3 and back to #2 in a heartbeat. Pity the fool who gets in my way. Some days I wake up mad and just can’t shake it. Some days I wake up sad and can’t shake that either. You know the “stages of grief?” Yeah, I’ve met them all, except acceptance. I only flirt with that one from a distance.
5. Hope springs eternal. My husband and I clutch our phones with manic fever awaiting good news.
6. Life happens; we are expected to do our jobs in the midst of this pain. This is both a blessing, as it gets our minds off our current troubles and a curse as we feel we are unable to give 100% to our jobs. We have other children that need our attention, time and love. We have family and friends that are hurting too. We try to stay present. Sometimes things fall by the wayside. When tragedy strikes we tend to pull inward into a protective shell. Friends get shut out. Social obligations get neglected. It happens. Hopefully, there is grace.
7. Sleep is elusive for those who grieve. I have trouble going to sleep. I’m exhausted all the time, but when I get in bed I’m either overwhelmed with sadness or my mind starts circling the ‘what ifs.’ That is why I’m writing this blog at 12:38am. David goes to sleep okay but never makes it through the night. He wakes up startled, heart, pounding as if there were an emergency. And there is; only it’s one we have no control over.
8. We must work hard to treat each other with kindness. David and I are working overtime to love each other well during this season of grief. I clean the house, he cleans the house. We hold each other and cry. We pray. When I’m angry he doesn’t take it personally. Having a partner in grief is really helpful.
9. Having the presence of God and a supportive community is really amazing during this time. We have been buoyed by the love and support we feel from our friends right now. I honestly cannot imagine doing this alone. My friend Bob has been searching the Bible for universal promises. So far he’s found only four. Two of them are: We will suffer and God will be with us. I’m sure glad those two go together.
10. God gives us emotional “manna,” right when we need it. He’s given us letters, songs, movies, phone calls, rainbows, pictures on websites of Micah and even a video. These little encouragements have been enough to keep us trusting Him when we would otherwise give up. The picture above is from the occupy rally in D.C. this week. He is in the green shirt. Yep, that’s my boy.
These are some of the things I’ve observed about grief so far. I’ll keep you posted. Are there any observations about grief you want to add?