Last week, in “If Mama Ain’t Happy,” we discussed how our moods affect everyone around us. I touched briefly on my own experience with depression, and this week we want to explore that a little bit further. According to the CDC, about 1 in 10 adults in the U.S. suffer from depression. This means that, even if you are not personally struggling through it, there is a great chance that someone you care very much about is suffering. They may even be suffering in silence because of the stigma that surrounds mental health issues like depression, bipolar, and anxiety.
This has always been a blog about marriage, not mental health, so you may wonder why we are diving into these rough waters. The simple truth is that we always want to be open about things that affect marriages, and people who suffer from depression have a higher likelihood of getting divorced than people who don’t, especially when the depression is untreated. We know, however, that it doesn’t have to be this way.
When I began to think about the devastating connection between depression and broken marriages, and my own risk for divorce, my mind went to a couple I know who has been married thirty years longer than Tony and I. This couple is full of fun and wisdom, they are generous, and living life with a purpose. They have also battled depression and are beating the odds and staying married.
It is my pleasure to introduce you to Carmen Meeks and allow her to share her own story today.
Lost in the Fog
When Michelle asked me if I would be willing to write about my experience with depression, I immediately said yes. If I can offer a few words of hope to someone who is currently feeling hopeless, I want to do so. I am living proof that there is hope and healing available for those who struggle with the debilitating disease that is depression.
My season of depression came on slowly. It crept over me like a Seattle fog. Slowly, steadily, almost imperceptibly. I really had no idea what was happening to me until I was in the thick of it and couldn’t see my way out. At the time, I didn’t know the symptoms of depression, I just felt them: fuzzy thinking, irritability, fatigue, extreme sadness, hopelessness. Physically, I felt heavy– like I was sinking. Mentally, I felt clouded– like I had lost the capacity to make a decision. Emotionally, I felt nothing– I was flat-lined.
Unfortunately, my husband became the victim of my depression. I blamed him for how I was feeling. Wasn’t he supposed to make me happy? My two dysfunctional coping mechanisms were anger and withdrawal. Attack and retreat. I can’t imagine how frustrating this must have been for him, but somehow he stuck with me. And I can’t imagine how hard this must have been on my two children. There was a period of time during their young adult years when their mom was physically present, but emotionally absent.
I came face-to-face with my illness when I was driving down a wet road on a rainy day and saw a car swerve toward me. I had already experienced times when my heartbeat would accelerate over small events, but this time it skyrocketed in reaction to the perceived danger. It was beating so fast that I could literally hear it in my ears and feel my mind shutting down. The other car corrected their trajectory and no collision occurred, but I was already a mess. I pulled over to the side of the road and burst into tears. I was afraid to try to drive home. I knew something was wrong with me, but had no idea what it was or what to do about it.
A few days later, my husband and I got into our car to head to a friend’s home for dinner. That’s when I exploded. I told him I was unhappy with our life and our marriage and something had to change. It was ugly and messy, but it was also the first step toward healing. Rather than running for the hills, my husband helped us locate a competent Christian counselor. We went there together.
My healing did not happen overnight. It did not happen in weeks. It did not happen in months. I walked out of my depression, one day at a time, over a period of two years. Though our budget was tight, we paid for professional therapy month after month. I tried several different medications until I found one that worked for me. We stayed connected with close friends who encouraged us in our journey. I not only needed physical and emotional help, we needed to reinvent our marriage— and we did. We listened to our counselor and changed bad patterns in our relationship. It was hard, but it was good.
Almost twenty years have passed since I found myself crying on the side of the road. I still live with a tendency toward depression and always will. My dad struggled with it, as did his dad. But now I know how to recognize when the fog is creeping in and how to take action. I am vigilant and self-aware. I no longer expect my husband to be responsible for my happiness. I know how to take responsibility for my own feelings. I’m not perfect, but I am better.
The symptoms of depression are available at our fingertips. Simply Google “depression” and you will access a wealth of information. But knowing the symptoms is not enough. If you are lost in the fog, you probably need help to take your first steps toward healing.
Here are some of those steps:
Tell a wise, trusted, action-oriented friend.
In the midst of my fog, I had neither the wisdom, nor the desire, nor the capacity to take action to help myself. I thank God that my husband took my hand and joined me on my journey toward healing.
Find a wise, competent psychiatrist.
For me, it was also important that this psychiatrist was Christ-centered. I needed holistic healing– body, soul and spirit. That included a full medical workup and medication for the treatment of depression. I also needed the grace and wisdom and practical advice found in the Bible to give me hope as well as practical life skills that I continue to implement in my relationships today.
Be patient with the process, and never stop growing.
You won’t conquer your problems overnight. I am still a work in progress, but I am much more self-aware and able to own my issues rather than blame others for my struggles. I know my moods, my physical weaknesses, and my points of vulnerability. I know where to go for help. I know what makes me happy: spending time with my family, a long walk on the beach, quiet time at home, a hike in the woods, sharing a good meal with great friends, traveling to discover new places on this amazing planet.
Most importantly, ask Jesus to help you.
I put my faith in Jesus as a teenager. I still remember the weight I felt lifted from my heart when I asked him to forgive my sins and lead my life. Later, as a twenty-something, I stood in front of my pastor and promised to love my husband “for better or for worse.” The worst time of my life was my season of depression. Even though I cried out to Jesus during this struggle, he did not heal me instantly. But he did heal me eventually– with help from skilled professionals and therapeutic medicines and with the support of my husband. I see God’s handprint in all of these details.
This psalm is a reflection of my journey. I pray it is an encouragement to you.
Carmen and her husband Mike have been married for 36 years. They pastor EastLake Church in Chula Vista, California, where everyone is welcome regardless of their stories, questions, doubts, or struggles. They have two grown children, Heather and Ryan, as well as 7 grandchildren. Mike and Carmen, along with Tony and I, have committed to living transparently, especially when it comes to the issue of depression, so that others might find the hope and healing they need to conquer this otherwise silent destroyer of lives and marriages. The odds may be against us, but there is hope for each and every one of us, no matter what we face, to #staymarried.
P.S. We’ve shared about our experience with depression in Tony’s post, Living with My Partner’s Baggage. As we mentioned before, even if you are not personally struggling with depression, there is a 1 in 10 chance that someone you know is. Please consider sharing this post and help us fight the stigma and silent suffering of this crippling disease by bringing it out into the open for discussion.
Photo Credit: Seattle | Fog in the Morning by Stephanie Williams Photography