Thursday, November 4, 2010

Good news! You're depressed.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, Major Depressive Disorder effects nearly 14.8 million American Adults and is the leading disability in the U.S. for ages 15-44.

I have been feeling off for a few weeks. Finally I went to the doctor on Tuesday morning. OK, full-disclosure, I went to a psychiatrist. I've been to my family physician a few times since Polly's stroke, but I need more help then she could offer.

I struggle with depression. Major Depressive Disorder.

I don't talk about it a lot, partly because it comes and goes. There are plenty of times in my life when I'm doing fine. I function. I'm a riot, actually! People love me :). My biggest times of depression have typically been connected with birthing babies.

Also, I can't stand the commercials about depression. "Depression hurts, Cymbalta can help." And there's a scene with a lady slumped on the couch or a man outside looking off into the distance. Yea, that's how I want you to think of me.

But mostly I don't talk about it, even when I am struggling, because there is a major stigma attached to depression. Especially if you are a Christian. How can a person be sad if she has Jesus in her heart?

Well, I'm a Christian, a former missionary, a pastor's wife, an active member of my church family, a MOPS Coordinator, a Children's Ministry Director and I get depressed. I pray, I read scripture, I seek help. I eat protein. I try to exercise. I've taken medication and I've been to a therapist. And I still get depressed.

The Bible is full of depressed people. Have you read the Psalms lately?

"You're sad? Why? Why can't you get over it? What do you have to be sad about? You have a great husband, awesome kids, enough food, etc..." That's what I feel like people would say to me if they know.

But here's the thing. I don't try to get sad. In fact, I fight to feel OK. Sergei and I know my triggers. If I'm starting to feel low, I get up, go for a walk, take a shower, pray. And sometimes, I still get depressed. My typical mood line, my starting point, if you will, is lower then people who aren't depressed, even if I am well.

One of the things the doctor said to me Tuesday was this. "Gillian, you are sitting here smiling through this session. And the questions you answer score you quite high for Major Depressive Disorder."

"Why are you smiling?"

Well, here's why. I've learned how to pull through. I've learned to smile when I feel like crying. I've learned how to fake emotion (thank you very much Mr. Keech and the rest of the Watervliet Fine Arts Department). Part of it goes with the job. If you a spiritual leader than people want you to be solid. If you are a missionary, you probably can't lie in bed for two weeks. If you are a mom to kids with special needs, you can't ignore important doctor appointments because you don't have the energy to go.

I'm not alone. There are 14.8 million Americans struggling with depression today. And most of them probably feel guilty that they just can't magically feel better like I do. So I decided to come clean. Because today I am sad. Yesterday I was sad. I may be sad tomorrow. And it hurts more and is helping less (both myself and others) to keep quiet about it.

Annie Dillard has this wonderful quote about writing that I think fits in with this post beautifully.

“One of the few things I know about writing is this: spend it all. Shoot it, play it, lose it, all, right away, every time. Do not hoard what seems good for a later place in the book, or for another book; give it, give it all, give it now. The impulse to save something good for a better place later is the signal to spend it now. Something more will arise for later, something better. These things will fill from behind, from beneath, like water. Similarly, the impulse to keep to yourself what you have learned is not only shameful, it is destructive. Anything you do not give freely and abundantly becomes lost to you. You open your safe and find ashes.” The Writing Life, pages 78&79

That's kind of my philosophy for life. I should shoot it, play it, spend it all, right away, every time. I can pretend I'm alright. I can pretend I'm someone else. But I know better. God knows better. 1 Chronicles 28:9 says, "The Lord searches every mind and understands every plan and thought." So what good does it do to pretend I'm OK when I'm not? It just extinguishes whatever little energy I have left trying so hard to hide how I feel.

If I keep this to myself, then I extinguish God's purpose in it. I think he wants to use this for his good.

I truly believe that.

"The impulse to keep to yourself what you have learned is not only shameful, it is destructive. Anything you do not give freely and abundantly becomes lost to you. You open your safe and find ashes."

I am a Christian, a wife, a mother, a writer, a friend, a missionary, a church-goer, and I am also a person who struggles with depression.

I offer this unsavory, unpolished, raw part of myself to you. I have to believe there is purpose in it, something more useful than hoarding ashes.


  1. Thank you for owning your brokenness so beautifully.

  2. this is a great post Gillian... and I so understand. :)

  3. We DO love you, just the way you are! I'm happy you are looking for ways to help find peace.

  4. Hi Gillian ~ WOW! What a Blessing to hear the truth about depression! I struggle with major Depression, as well. And, Yes..I am a Christian. I have been hurt by the reactions that some Christians have about depression. Many go away. I also always have a smile on my face..even when I feel terrible inside. It has been worse lately as I am dealing with cancer and new prognosis. I am SO sad! I really don't know what to do or how to get through this. Yesterday my oncologist said 3-6 months (he thinks more like 3 months). My heart is broken. My spirit is tired.
    Anyway..Thank You for being so real and truthful about your struggle! I'll Pray for you, Sweet Sister! Hugs ~ Jo

  5. What a wonderful post, Gillian. I've actually set on both sides of that conversation. It's not easy, but you've got great tools and resources. You'll find your way back to the sunlight! {hugs}

  6. As someone with OCD, I didn't realize that there was hope for me before I found the blogworld. And yet, there they were, all these women who were grownups, with husbands and children, who had OCD or Depression. It gave me hope and it led me to seek meds. It's so nice knowing you're not alone.

  7. Thumbs up, my friend! Very well said!

  8. Thank you, from the wife of a man suffering with an anxiety disorder. Thank you for speaking the words. Thank you for the encouragement you offer to those hurting, who are worried about the stigma attached to mental illness.
    Chris is very open about his struggles and I have heard from others that his openness has made it possible for them to seek help and to to speak the words that bring freedom.
    So I want to encourage you, too, God is working through your story and in your life. I am so proud to call you friend.

  9. Yes, we are all broken in one way or another, and will remain so until Jesus makes all things new. I smile to bless others, and am surprised when it is spontaneous and from the heart. I am afraid of medication because the side effects may not be worth the help. I can't imagine life without constant emotional pain of one sort or another, but my Savior is a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief. It is a marvel to me that deep, abiding joy and excruciating pain can co-exist, but it seems that it is possible to be at peace and filled with shed and unshed tears simultaneously. Annie Dillard is right!! Spend it all, now, for the glory of the Lord!!

  10. Hey there, I like your approach. Depression is not the end of the world, and if you don't keep it to yourself and ask for help - I'm sure you'll find a way to end it!

  11. Thanks Gillian. I struggle with depression and anxiety too... maybe "low grade" but still it is so hard to live with it and I really relate to what you are saying about the sapping of energy. I take an SSRI but I don't know if it helps much or not. I really appreciate your openness about this.
    Does this affect your faith in God's existence at times? Just wondered.

  12. Thank you so much for sharing. So many people are struggling. I have a friend that was having suicidal thoughts. She went to a natural doctor and she thought that sugar was making her depressed. Some people have a sensitivity to sugar. She took all sugar and high fructose corn syrup out of her life. No more suicidal thoughts and no more depression. I know there is not always a quick fix but I just wanted you to check all your options. You may have a sensitivity to a food and that maybe the trigger.

  13. Thank you for fighting the fight, and showing that people can still be triumphant even with depression from time to time.

  14. Thank you, Gillian, for being willing to share. Your beautifully written post is so timely... I've been working up the courage to drop the charade and make an appointment to see someone. Reading about your struggles and those of fellow commenters has made me feel much less isolated and a lot more hopeful. God Bless!

  15. I found your blog while doing a search for "missionaries with depression" or something like that. I'm leaving to be a missionary to Mexico in June, but sometimes the depression still threatens to overwhelm. I really relate to what you were saying about smiling to hide what was going on underneath. I do that too. I was having a rough time at church this morning, but the minute someone spoke to me, I was all smiles. Sometimes I wish I could just be real for a minute without worrying about how someone would react (I've had some bad experiences with being real).

  16. Gillian what the heck girl, my depression is really shitty right now too. I swear it must be in the season change or something. I pray a lot for me now I can pray for you too. We will survive this crappy time even though sometimes we don't want to. :D <--Thats my fake smile for you.
    Love (and prayers)
    Heidi I

  17. Thank you, Gillian for giving so freely. Knowing that we are not alone is huge step towards joy. I hope you are feeling better today.

  18. I appreciate your refreshing honesty. I have struggled all my life with depression. I fought going on medication until postpartum depression was consuming my very being. I felt the shame and stigma of the Christian community as well. But I am a much better wife, mother, daughter, daughter-in-law, sister, sister-in-law, friend, and teacher because of meds and therapy. NAMI (National Alliance for Mental Illness) is a wonderful support I have become involved with as well. My mother is bipolar, my husband suffers from depression, anxiety disorder, and PTSD, and my son has autism and mood disorder. God's grace is sufficient in our weakness! I am learning to boast in my weaknesses so that the power of Christ will be evidenced in my life. Again, thanks for sharing your struggles. You have encouraged me.


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