by Lynn Murphy
Dysthymia: persistent, mild depression. Synonyms include melancholy, sorrow, dispirited, heavy-heartedness, pessimism, desolation, discouragement, despair, and hopelessness.
In my experience, dysthymia feels like hope is draining out of me drop by drop. It means feeling too tired to engage in life because even the smallest task requires more energy than I have. I am merely going through the motions of living, too tired to care, without interests or creativity. Even when it is a beautiful, sunny fall day, the colors seem muted and I can’t grasp the loveliness of it all.
It is hard for me to pinpoint when I began feeling this way although I remember a few times when the bottom seemed to drop out of my world. The first time occurred eighteen years ago when my husband informed me that the Army was stationing him in Korea for a one-year unaccompanied tour leaving me alone with 3 small children.
More recently, ten years ago, my life radically shifted when my fifth child was born with Down syndrome. For the most part, I think the downward spirals of life are a result of wave after unrelenting wave of difficulties and changes – cross-country moves, parenting challenges, a period of unemployment, major unexpected expenses, marital discord, inability to sleep, medical issues, lack of connection, fluctuating hormones, and even the weather.
For many years, I refused to consider taking medication as an option. Since I had concluded depression was a trial God was using to build my faith, I did not want to prevent Him from refining me in whatever way He deemed best. Wasn’t this similar to Paul’s thorn in his flesh keeping me humble and dependent upon the Lord? I wanted God to heal me without medication, so I could share how God gave me victory over this lifelong struggle. As I waited, I prayed and asked for God to remove this cloud that hovered, descending darker upon me each day. I think it was the silence of God which was most difficult to endure.
Each morning as my eyes opened, a sense of dread fell upon me. After struggling for over 5 years just to get out of bed and through each day, I recognized that depression was having a huge impact on my family. I did not want them to be negatively affected by my suffering. Only after my husband and a near-stranger suggested I needed help did I reluctantly broach the subject with my doctor. When I requested a prescription for an anti-depressant, my doctor agreed. The only reason I can attribute to waiting so long before seeking professional help was because I had hoped the answer I wanted from God would be right around the corner.
Within a week of beginning the medication, I felt relief. Things were better. My sleep patterns improved, and my thinking became clearer. However, I also felt guilty because perhaps I had taken the easy way out, the way of someone who is weak in her faith. I started to second guess my decision, wondering again if God wanted to use this suffering to somehow bring about his purposes.
Sometimes I feel judged. Perhaps it was the way I was raised to believe people who struggle with mental health issues are merely seeking attention and should just “snap out of it.” (Anyone who has experienced these feelings realizes the futility of that advice. If only it were as easy as flipping a light switch.) I have also heard people, who are believers, talking in disparaging tones about someone they know who has sought professional help or uses anti-depressants to address the problem. It seems the person who struggles is blamed for causing or at least contributing to their condition.
Interestingly, I do not hear the same disapproval in the general public. We live in an age when medication is available to relieve pain. Is it unspiritual to receive Novocain before I get a filling, to request an epidural while in labor, to take an Advil for a headache or Prilosec for heartburn? Why do some people question treating low serotonin levels, yet find it perfectly acceptable to take medication for low thyroid function?
Recently, I have stopped wrestling with my decision and have felt grateful that medicine does help. I have the desire to try new things like taking a painting class and participating in a mission trip. I trust God that for the time being this is His solution and believe He can make it clear to me if He wants to re-direct my path in any way.
As I look back, I realize anti-depressants are only one component the Lord has used in my healing process. Identifying and challenging the lies I have believed has been another aspect. I was able to recognize and confess my anger toward God for allowing so many difficulties to happen and not allowing me to perceive any good which He was working out in my life. For several years, I met with a Christian counselor who enabled me to get unstuck from my old ways of thinking about myself and depression. To develop deeper relationships, I have participated in several small groups at my church. To fill my mind with truth, I spend time in God’s Word, rest in His presence, and maintain a journal to remind myself of the many things for which I am grateful.
On those days which are still hard, I grasp onto the words from Isaiah 42:3, “A bruised reed He will not break and a dimly burning wick He will not extinguish.” His tender-heart to hurting people is a great comfort to me. As I will wait for the Lord to renew my strength, I long for the day when He will appear to make all things new. Even though I have not experienced immediate healing, I will persevere in the grace and strength He gives knowing my marvelous testimony is Jesus Himself, who is the perfectly sufficient One.
Even though Lynn Murphy considers her life ordinary, she recognizes she is child of an EXTRAORDINARY GOD! She says, “I consider my primary purpose to love the Lord with all my heart, soul, mind and strength. I enjoy Precepts Bible studies, hiking, and reading. When time permits, I paint watercolor cards to send my friends and organize my thoughts into essays which I hope will enable others to abide in Jesus and persevere in faith.” You can read more of Lynn’s writing at www.poiema2016.wordpress.com.
Cover photo by Heather Emond on Unsplash
The “bruised reed” Scripture is one of my favorites. Perhaps because I’ve also struggled with depression and been that bruised reed. I can relate to many of your feelings. On my part, for a long time, I believed my testimony had to be perfect, to say, “God healed me of my depression and I never suffered from it again. I never needed medication for it again.” That’s not my reality. That’s okay. We have a ministry of encouragement to the many others who struggle from it.
Thanks for your refreshingly honest post!
From my experience, people are more encouraged by those of us still walking through difficulties than those who have found a solution. Recently, I have appreciated the acceptance I have received when I share the burdens that I once bore alone.
Thank you for writing this, Lynn. I’ve been on antidepressants before and I think I’m needing to be on one again. This may be the nudge I’ve been needing to go see my Dr. Hugs! 😃
Thanks so much for this honest post. I really appreciate your vulnerability.
It seems the more I share, the more I find I am not alone in my struggles
It’s sad that in the Christian world, it is still unacceptable to take something for depression. I find most people do not understand anything about mental illness, whether it be imbalanced hormones from pregnancy or postpartum. Though I suffer winter and lack of sun, I do not take anything. I tried once, but it was apparently the wrong drug. It was at the premenopausal stage of my life. I’m glad you have come to terms with this. Thanks for sharing.
I identified so much with what you shared. I have battled low feelings and many of the other symptoms of dysthymia for a majority of my life, like since I was five or six. I’m getting my master’s in Christian counseling right now and we studied this a semester ago. It caught my attention then but not enough to push me to do anything about it. I too have struggled with taking SSRI’s or anti-depressants because they can wreak havoc on the body. However, as I read your piece, I had a moment of clarity and knew I had to take the chance. You opened my eyes to see that not only has this affected my family and everyone in my life, but it’s left me paralyzed and in a state of arrested development. I may just need them long enough to make some changes, because as you mentioned, meds are not enough, but I don’t think I can do it without the push from the meds. My professor likes to say that meds can be like a plug that stops the boat from sinking. As long as water is still getting in, it’s pointless to try to get the water out of the boat. Once the plug stops the leak, then the boat can be assessed for repair. I think that’s a terrific analogy for the benefit of medicine.
Thank you so much for sharing this.