I have been re-visited by an old foe -depression, that is. I didn't really notice at first. It's funny how I only realise the extent of it, in hindsight.
I was diagnosed with clinical depression in November 1998 and began a course of anti-depressants. Things were going well -1999 was the year I began pursuing, and achieving, my dream of freelance writing. Soon the black days were a hazy memory. On January 7, 2000, my 33rd birthday, my doctor and I decided it was time for me to try "flying solo" again. So I started weaning myself off my medication gradually.
I took my last antidepressant on the 1st of March.
By Easter I was feeling rather stressed. Uh-oh, I thought. Could it be? But I was able to rationalise it, explain it away. I had a lot on my plate -writing assignments due; deadlines for my newsletter for Christian women; I was organising a stall for an Easter festival and also the school fete; I had a couple of speaking engagements to prepare for. To top it all off, I'd lost three loved ones quite suddenly since the beginning of the year. Even somebody without depression would be feeling less than their best!
So I decided to wait it out. I began clearing my diary and cutting back my workload -I wanted to have a break and see what happened. Hopefully once the stressful circumstances had disappeared, so too would the disturbing symptoms.
By 1 July 2000 I was back on medication. Why? Because the evidence overwhelmingly suggested that I was once again wrestling with depression, despite all my vows, prayers and good intentions. Here are just a few of the symptoms I was experiencing:
• I'd lost interest in food and had dropped 5 kilos (about half a stone or more).• My husband and I were beginning to squabble over trivial things.
• I didn't want to go out, phone friends or socialise. Everything just seemed too much of an effort.
• I started having difficulty concentrating. I was forever losing my train of thought in conversation, and I became quite forgetful.
• My aches and pains -headaches etc -returned.
• I didn't want to write. Amazing for me!
• I thought about death often. Even though I don't think I would ever commit suicide, I sure thought about it lots.
• I became anxious about little things, such as what I had to do that day, or about going to public places such as the shopping mall.
• My relationship with the Lord suffered and I found it really hard to pray. I was beating myself up about this, until one day I had a stunning revelation: when I have depression, all of my relationships suffer. Most of my friends think I have dropped off the face of the planet. It's not that I love them any less; it's just that depression makes me want to curl up quietly under my rock and stay there. And it's the same with my relationship with God. It's not that I love Him any less; it's just that I find myself unable to put into words what I am going through. I am always aware of Him and His presence, but not always so capable of "talking" to Him as such.
My doctor said I was "very sensible" to go back on the medication. It was quite a simple decision really. I realised that I don't have to live like this anymore! I'm not content to settle for second best. Now that I know what it's like to taste and enjoy food, I've been missing the experience of looking forward to and savouring a meal. I'm tired of being negative and tired all the time. I couldn't face the thought of living in the depths of depression and I knew medication would help me to find the way out.
Of course part of me resisted at first and wanted to do it in my own strength. But I was shocked by how quickly I slipped back and now feel I have lost the past three or four months.
I'm still waiting for the medication to kick in fully, but at least now I know there is a light at the end of the tunnel. It's only a matter of time.
Paula C. Whitehouse for A Scarlet Rope of Hope