Grieving vs Depression

I’m posting this because of its timeliness for me. My Aunt Peggy, my mom’s younger sister, died two weeks ago, and I’m grieving. She’s in heaven celebrating with Jesus, so I’m not without hope (I Thess 4:13). But that doesn’t fill the hole she left behind. And it reminds me of how close we were to losing my mom last year. I’m at that age where parents die, and it’s hard.

It’s important that I monitor myself to be sure my grief doesn’t turn to depression. The timeliness of this blog post has to have been God’s perfect timing.

Click here to read: Staying Stable While Grieving by Pastor Brad Hoefs

New Carpet, and Books

We’re getting new carpeting today. In the master bedroom and sitting room.

The previous owner must have kept her dog in the master, because there’s pet “damage.” You can smell a whiff of it when it’s humid outside, but most of the time it’s not a problem. Still, no amount of cleaning has gotten rid of it, so even though we really like the carpeting in there, it’s gotta go.

The other room – the sitting room – we call it the Beach Room because we’ve decorated it with our shells and pictures from our time in Florida – used to be our second guest bedroom. But when we got a new couch for the living room last year, we sold the bedroom furniture and put the old couch in the room. We sit in there and listen to music and read. It’s cozy, comfortable. But the carpet is cheetah.

Yep. Cheetah carpeting. Which doesn’t go with any of our beach decor! So it’s gotta go.

Cheetah 🐆 carpet!

This same cheetah carpet is in our massive master bedroom closet, along with a chandelier. In there, it’s so tacky that it’s adorable, and we love it!

So it stays in the closet but is replaced in the sitting room.

Yesterday, I removed all my books from the bookshelves so the carpet layers can move the furniture. It was a good way to pull out books to donate, and organize the ones I want to keep.

I’ve got a little library of sorts – books on depression, grief, and prayer seem to be the main topics. I want to build this collection – particularly the depression-themed books, as topics for my writings.

I also moved all my journals – I have almost 20 completed notebooks! I began faithfully writing – almost daily, sometimes several times per day – when depression started in 2008. I’m trying to figure out how to organize the content of them, so I can use them as resources in my writing.

Once the carpet is laid and the furniture moved back, I’ve decided to arrange the bookshelves a little differently. I have many books that I own and want to read. I need to quit downloading to my Kindle and read what I already own! I plan to put all those “to-be-read” books on one shelf and work my way through them. Or sort and donate, which might be a better way to go.

The carpet layers just called – they’ll be here soon!


Bye-bye cheetah! Finished product:

Where Does It Hurt?

I can feel my emotions in my body. This is true most of the time now, but especially if I’m in a depressive episode.

My shoulders are pulled up toward my ears, as if to hide my neck. I feel pressure and tension in my lower head, on the sides around my ears. So I push my shoulders down and back, and there’s a crunching sound, like my muscles are rolling logs down my bones, and they pop loudly. I turn my head to the side, feel another “pop” and the muscles in my neck stretch down down down along my spine, almost all the way to my waist. I slowly turn my head in the other direction and feel the stretch. There’s brief relief as I try to relax my shoulders, but putting them into a resting position brings them back up and forward.

My jaws ache. My teeth feel loose, and my bottom lip is tight. I’m frowning. I’m not gripping with the back teeth; instead my lower jaw is pulling forward until my bottom teeth hit the inside of my upper teeth, and they stay that way – straining up and tight. I feel them suddenly – I didn’t know I was clenching, and I relax my bite. I open my mouth as if to yawn, trying to relieve the pressure in my ears that has built up from gritting my teeth for who knows how long.  That hurts, too.

There’s pressure. Something is sitting on top of my stomach. Yet it’s inside, too, and my stomach churns and rolls over and feels like it’s being chewed on. And there’s fire burning in the pit of my stomach, with the flames licking upward into my rib cage and making it hard to breathe. I say, “My stomach hurts.” I feel like I want to retch. The back of my mouth tastes terrible, like I’m going to be sick. That steely taste that tells me my insides are coming up to my throat. Yet there’s nothing there. And I clench my jaw to hold nothing in.

My chest hurts. It’s like there’s a hole in the center of my body where I think my heart should be. Which is strange, since if my heart is missing, then how can I feel this pain? And at the same time that there’s a hole, there’s also this incredible pressure, like a boulder resting on my chest. It’s so hard to take a deep breath, and it hurts when I try. I can’t get air all the way in. The insides around the center of my chest are jiggling like Jello; they won’t stay still. The fluttering moves down toward my lungs – my ribs are full of this writhing.

At a massage a few weeks ago, the therapist pushed on my calf muscle and my thoughts were flooded with anger and sadness and grief. Caught me completely by surprise. The therapist felt it, too. “Did something just change? Was that you or me?” I told her about my emotional response to her touch, and she told me that many people carry emotion in their legs. It just had never happened to me before.

These are ways that my body holds emotions. Anger. Anxiety. Fear. Grief. Sadness. It hurts! I can feel it, not just in my head, or in my thoughts, but in my body itself. Depression has often been very physical.

On all these occasions, where I can actually physically feel my emotions, the best approach for me has been to breathe. I tell myself:

Focus on taking a breath. Just stop thinking about anything for a second. Put my thoughts on breathing in. Feel the air come in through my nose. See my chest and stomach and shoulders and arms move, feel my head tilt slightly. Don’t think, just watch my body. Hold my breath, just for a few seconds, then loudly exhale. Make all the air leave my lungs. Do it again. Deep breath – feel it, watch it. Hold it – count to four. Don’t think. Just count to four. Now as I breathe out, with my lips making the shape of an “O” and loudly through my mouth, count to six. Make all the air come out. Push it with my diaphragm, with my stomach muscles. Do it again. Breathe in for four – count to four as I take a deep breath through my nose. Hold it – count to four. Breathe out, counting to six. Listen to the sound of the air leaving my lungs, coming out of my mouth.

Breathe in through my nose for a count of four. Hold my breath for four. Making an “O” shape with my mouth, breathe out loudly for a count of six. Repeat as needed until calm enough to think.

There. Better.


Depression’s lies, part 2

The depression lies have been really loud these past few days.

Right now, depression is saying:

  • I’m unimportant.
  • I’m invisible.
  • I’m forgotten.

But Truth Says

I am important – so much so that Christ died for me.

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8)

I am not invisible – God sees me. (El Roi – the God who sees)

Thereafter, Hagar used another name to refer to the Lord, who had spoken to her. She said, “You are the God who sees me.”[Hebrew: El-roi] She also said, “Have I truly seen the One who sees me?” So that well was named Beer-lahai-roi (which means “well of the Living One who sees me”). It can still be found between Kadesh and Bered. (Genesis 16:13-14)

I am not forgotten – I am engraved in the palms of His hands.

Yet Jerusalem[Hebrew: Zion] says, “The Lord has deserted us; the Lord has forgotten us.”  “Never! Can a mother forget her nursing child? Can she feel no love for the child she has borne.  But even if that were possible, I would not forget you!  See, I have written your name on the palms of my hands.”  (Isaiah 49:14-16a)

So how to make the truth louder than the lies? Sometimes depression’s voices can drown out the truth. I need to remind myself constantly to see me how God sees me – through Jesus’ sacrifice.

Still working through grief and loneliness. And those things just take time.

Pharmacological Brain Chemistry and Depression Relapse

It started about a week ago, perhaps even two. I can’t really tell from my journal entries.

At first, I wrote the feelings off to grief and loneliness. But the “blue” feeling – the sadness – intensified. Then some hopelessness started. “This is too hard to fight,” I heard myself tell myself. “Just give in to the familiarity of it.”

These are the lies that depression whispers in my ear. And because they feel like my own thoughts, they are really hard to recognize and fight off. In fact, I’ve never seen them for myself – it’s always been someone else who has observed and pointed out my symptoms to me. But this time, I told a friend. And I told my therapist. Not at our appointment – no, that was too hard. But when I laid it all out in an email – my feelings and thoughts – she said I’d better come back in. I did, and I was honest this time. And she’s going to help me in this journey, no matter where it might go.

I already know my triggers for a potential depressive episode – have been watching for them closely, and even though I knew I had several active ones, I thought I had them managed.

Enter new trigger: my husband had to travel, first for personal reasons, then work.  Contiguous trips, so gone for 7 days. Please don’t misunderstand, it’s not his fault that I’m sitting on the precipice of another depressive episode. His absence may have intensified my feelings of aloneness, but they are not the cause. They might have been a trigger, and since I was already trying to juggle the others, I assumed that my walk towards depression’s cliff was affected by his absence.

Way back background:  Several years ago, my previous psych doc, family doc, therapist and I discovered that my brain chemistry is very sensitive. A small change in medication can have a huge impact on my emotional well-being, and the wrong med can be downright dangerous, as evidenced by a hospital stay in the psych ward. All due to a bad reaction to the wrong meds. I call it my pharmacological meltdown.

More recent background:  I saw a new family doc three weeks ago. While at that introductory visit, I told him that I had experienced a few minutes of vertigo the week prior. I’d never had it before, so figured it was worth mentioning. After answering some questions and the basic check-up tests (ears, heart, lungs), he prescribed a nasal med to clear up fluid in my middle ear – said it was probably allergies, and since I’m new to the area and not sure what I’m allergic to, I should take this every day until I get through all the seasons – by then we should know when allergies are at their worst for me. He had my chart, I’d told him all about my meds, including antidepressants. But I’m a brand new patient; he doesn’t know me.

When I filled the prescription, I asked the pharmacist about the medication, especially in regards to what I was already taking. His description of potential side effects seemed almost flippant to me. But I’m new here; he doesn’t know me.

The week after my first appointment with my new regular doctor, I had my second appointment with my new psychiatrist. Because of my sensitivities to medication, I have a psych doc manage them, not a G.P.  I mentioned to him that I had been put on this nasal spray; he said there shouldn’t be any concerns, it shouldn’t affect my meds. But I’m a new patient; he doesn’t know me.

And then, last week, I had this sudden descent toward darkness. Why? I’ve been doing well for the three months since we moved; what would make the fourth month any different?

Well, lots of things could cause this mood change. So many upheavals:  the emotional roller coaster of the past year and a half, the change and loss and grief of moving across the country – leaving behind my kids, my good friends and my emotional support team. But what if there was something more?

I wondered if this nasal med could be affecting my mood. I emailed my  previous psych doc, and his first response was that there shouldn’t be a problem. But then he emailed again – the hospital pharmacist had done some more digging, and found studies that showed a very small percentage of folks on this med had an increase in depressive symptoms. Could that be true for me? Maybe, says the doc.

So I immediately stopped the nasal spray. I have no idea how long it will take to know if that solves the problem. Or perhaps I’m already on the slippery slope toward the dark chasm of another depressive episode. I have no idea.

But I do know these things. Take them as advice if they apply to you:

  1. I told a friend what I was thinking and feeling. She helped me see that I needed help.
  2. I was (eventually) honest with my therapist.
  3. Though I find it very hard to ask for help, I sent an email to praying friends and asked them to pray for me.
  4. I must be my own health care advocate, especially when it come to my mental health. I told all those medical personnel that I have very strong reactions to brain meds, but maybe I need to say it louder.
  5. I was watching for my triggers – those things that can lead into depression for me. I knew I was vulnerable, given all the recent changes in my life, so I was attentive.
  6. Maybe most importantly, I remember that I’ve been here before. God has seen me through many depressive episodes, many hiccups and bumps in the road, many setbacks, many times I was afraid depression was returning and I was relapsing. He was faithful through it all. He is faithful – it’s part of who He is – and He will help me now.