Tag Archives: depression

Dealing with Depression

World Mental Health Day is October 10th. Obviously this post is late for that, but is published with the intent of bringing awareness to mental health issues.

Depression is something that you really don’t fully understand unless you have been through it yourself. Even observing it in a close friend or loved one still doesn’t give you a full appreciation for the condition in my opinion. So since I have had to deal with my share of depression over the past couple of years, and since I’m starting to feel better finally, I’ve decided to share my perspective on it.

To begin I want to distinguish and define what I am referring to with the term depression. What I’m describing here is not a synonym for the sin of acedia. While both of them have many of the same physical signs: apathy, laziness, despair, dejection, sleepiness, lack of motivation and desire, etc the causes are different. Acedia is a spiritual disease which affects behavior. Essentially acedia is Hell on the installment plan; that is, a person has decided to no longer follow God [for some reason] and by doing so is gradually rejecting God and gradually progressing towards Hell. Depression, as I’m referring to it here is a physical condition which affects behavior. It refers to a chemical imbalance in the body which affects the overall life of a person.

Now don’t get me wrong here, I think there is a definite spiritual dimension to depression. There are times when I am angry at God and think He has just abandoned me and left me to an awful life. There are periods when I don’t bother doing any sort of personal spiritual devotion or practice and I feel like I am wasting my time on Sunday mornings. There has been real damage done to me spiritually while going through this, and I suspect it will take me quite a while to repair it and get things back on track.

However, I want to be sure that I distinguish between the two because I think Christians have a tendency to spiritualize everything and I want to make it clear that what I am talking about has a physical cause, not a spiritual one. I recognize that there is a spiritual dimension to it, but I am not talking about a spiritual disease. Depression as I define it is not something you can just pray your way out of or try harder and be cured from. Depression as I define it is something where you are basically helpless until you get yourself physically back to health.

Causes and Symptoms

Depression has a myriad of causes and identifying and treating the correct one can take some time. In my case it has really ended up being a hormone imbalance which has been further exacerbated over the past few years by the stress of graduate studies, not sleeping well, and not being able to get the rest I needed post-seminary. Basically it was depression caused by severe burnout. The hormone imbalance itself is quite treatable and since having resumed Clomid finally I feel much better physically (don’t get me started on how terrible my experience with the healthcare system in Sarasota was). The rest and sleeping well has been harder to come by, but since putting out the fires that suddenly popped up when I got back and actually treating my hormone issues I have finally started to sleep better and I am finally getting rest.

The main symptom I noticed during my depression was that my mental acuity was gone. Everything I did took longer and was far more difficult than normal. I could stare for 30 minutes at my computer writing a paper and not type a single thing and have no idea where the time went. My thoughts never moved from my brain to my fingers. This is a big problem when you’re doing graduate level work; you need to be at 100% mentally to do this level of work.

There were other significant symptoms as well: lack of energy, no motivation, no desire, no pleasure in previously enjoyed activities. I actually tried to avoid people as much as possible so that I wouldn’t have to talk to them and interact with them. I didn’t want to do anything because nothing was fun or enjoyable and I knew it would just be a waste of time for me.

Supporting Yourself While Depressed

Over the course of my experiences with depression I’ve discovered several things that were helpful in dealing with the symptoms. This is of course just my list based on my personal experience and not a substitute for professional medical advice. There, you have a disclaimer.

Identify the cause. I think this is the most important step because it can help understand and make sense of what is happening to you. For me I knew that I had been pushing myself way too hard and that several things did work out the way that I expected to them to. Add this all up and it is a ton of stress to deal with. I also knew that my testosterone was off because I went to a doctor and had it tested. Overall I’ve found that knowing my life was very stressful in seminary (especially the final 2-3 years) along with being able to point to a biologically identifiable marker such as imbalanced hormones really took a lot of the unknown out of it for me. As a result my depression wasn’t some mysterious thing that came out of the blue, but something with identifiable and correctable causes. I think that knowing this really brought me a lot of peace about the situation.

See a doctor and a therapist. You need help to get through depression. A doctor can provide the help you need physically and prescribe the correct medication to get you feeling better. A therapist can help you work through all the emotions and feelings you are experiencing. You really need this combination of care and not just one or the other. Depression might be physical in origin, but it affects you emotionally and spiritually also, so you need to make sure you take care of yourself in all of these areas.

Eat and supplement correctly. This is something that I think might not get enough attention when it comes to treating depression. To be sure I don’t think you can cure depression with a healthy diet and supplements alone, but I do think they can be a tremendous help. You can exercise your Google muscles and find out what a healthy diet is if you don’t know, so I won’t get into that here. What I will get into here though are the supplements that I found to helpful during my bouts with depression:

  • Probiotics. I found the Garden of Life brand worked the best for me, but RenewLife worked pretty well also. I started taking them because I noticed my bowel movements were, shall we say, unpleasant and runny. I also felt like I hadn’t eaten even though I was eating regularly. I took this in the morning before breakfast and then had a Greek yogurt for lunch which had more probiotics in it. I’ve been able to drop the supplement since starting Clomid, but I still eat the Greek yogurt for lunch.
  • Creatine. This is primarily used by athletes, but I found it was helpful during depression also. One of the problems I had was feeling physically weak, and creatine basically is supposed to make you stronger (that’s the overly simplified version anyway), so I figured I would try it to see if it would work. It did. From my understanding it is actually a pretty safe supplement and can be used for several months at least. It might not work for you, but it is worth a shot I think. Since starting Clomid though I’ve been able to stop taking this as well.
  • Multivitamin, B-Complex, Fish Oil. I took all these to make sure that I was getting all the nutrients I needed and to help with stress. Nothing special about these, but make sure you are getting quality versions of them. I found Nature Made vitamins work pretty well personally.
  • Magnesium. I’ve found Magnesium to be helpful with energy. Even though I generally eat foods that have magnesium in them I found a supplement in addition to them to be helpful. There has been some speculation that there is a link between magnesium deficiency and depression, so I decided to try it and see if it would work for me. It did. I took it at lunch separate from my multi, B-complex, and fish oil supplements because calcium can apparently interfere with its absorption.

I found these supplements helped tremendously during my depression. They didn’t make me feel “normal” or anything, but they at least made me functional so that I could get out of the house and do at least a few things. It really took Clomid for me to start feeling better and closer to normal. I still take the multivitamin, b-complex, fish oil, and magnesium supplements though because I do weightlifting 4x a week find them to be beneficial while expending so much energy.

Treat yo’ self. This is last on my list, but I think it is the most important. When you are dealing with depression you need to take care of yourself first and not worry about others. So do what makes you happy. I like video games, so I played a lot of video games. Other people might like painting, or walking, or photography, or any number of other things. I found that the way to counter all the negative thoughts and feelings I was having was to have fun so I could start having happy and positive thoughts and feelings. It didn’t happen overnight, and it hasn’t eliminated all the negative thoughts, but at least now the good and pleasant thoughts are outweighing the negative thoughts.

Supporting Someone Who is Depressed

Depression is not only hard on the person experiencing it, but also on those who are close to them.  Here is one list of things to do. And here is another. Here is mine:

Recognize that they can’t just ‘get over it’ or ‘snap out of it.’ The tough-love approach will not work. Depression is not simply a mental state. It is a mental state caused by a chemical imbalance. It requires medication and professional medical care. Exercise might help a little, it did for me, but it didn’t cure my depression. There is nothing a depressed person can do about their state and trying to ‘motivate’ them out of it will only be harmful.

Recognize that what you are seeing is not who that person really is. When you are depressed you think all sorts of crazy things about all sorts of people and situations that are most likely highly inaccurate. In my experience I found that I was unable to view a situation accurately from a wholistic perspective, but instead generally misinterpreted people’s body language, words, and actions to mean that they didn’t like me. I wanted to think otherwise, but I just wasn’t capable. Little things that would ordinarily go unnoticed by me, or at least not bother me, really got under my skin and irritated me.

Learn about depression and the signs of suicide. The more you understand about depression and its effects the better the position you are in to be able to empathize with someone who is dealing with it. I was never suicidal in my depression, but I certainly understand why some do arrive at that place; you are just so absolutely miserable that you do not want to live.

Try small gestures. Depression isn’t just a lack of motivation or desire for career or life ambitions, it’s a lack of desire to do anything, including basic hygiene, cooking, cleaning, etc. A small gesture such as a meal, or cleaning their rooms, or even a haircut could go a long way and tell that person that they are still loved and not forgotten about.

Be patient. It takes time to get out of depression and it takes time to heal from the effects. I have found that even though the feelings of hopelessness and worthlessness are gone the experience and thoughts surrounding them still remain floating around in my heading just waiting to be triggered by some event and come flooding back in. So just be patient with them and let them take their time.

End the Stigma

For some reason there seems to be some sort of stigma surrounding depression and discussing it, and this needs to end. Essentially depression is due to an organ malfunction, and that organ is your brain. There is no stigma surrounding heart failure, or liver failure, or kidney failure, but for some reason when your brain is malfunctioning no one wants to talk about it or knows what to do about it. So hopefully this post will contribute in some small way to ending this stigma and educating people about depression.

When Failure Isn’t Your Fault Part 2: Why I Still Have Faith

In my previous post I related some of the feelings and frustrations related to not having achieved any version of “success” in my life. In this post I will continue that discussion into how my faith has been affected by those failures.

I think the largest and most significant emotion that I have felt during the past 2 years has been betrayal. Some of this betrayal has come from others, but their betrayal doesn’t really bother me a whole lot anymore. What bothers me a whole lot more is feeling betrayed by God. I can handle people betraying me. It doesn’t feel good, but I can handle it. But what do you do when it seems like God has betrayed you? What do you do when you believe in an all-sovereign God who loves you and wants the best for you, but in reality your life feels like nothing more than a series of crushed hopes and dreams?

I don’t believe that anything that happened to me during seminary was beyond God’s ability to prevent or redeem. From my health issues to the actions of others to whatever. All of it was within His power to prevent. And if He wasn’t willing to prevent it I believe it was within His power to redeem and use for good. Well it has been 1 year since I graduated and 2 years since everything started crashing and burning for me and I’m still waiting for this entire mess to be redeemed. I’m still waiting for the smallest semblance of “success.” Still waiting to not feel ashamed about my lack of accomplishment in my life. To not feel ashamed about being 33 (almost 34) and living with my parents. To not be in an area that feels suffocating to me and seems to hold no future (like seriously, I do not like SWFL). To not feel like I wasted 6 good years of my life and a hefty chunk of change on an endeavor that so far has turned out to be mostly a waste of both time and money.

So why go on believing? Why not just curse God and die? Well, because everything I’ve described so far are just feelings and I do not believe that feelings determine reality. Just because you feel like God has abandoned you doesn’t mean that He has. One of the more useful experiences I had in seminary was being chronically exhausted. I was able to experience just how much different reality felt when I was I exhausted compared to when I was well rested. I learned and experience just how fickle feelings are and how quickly they can change from one moment to the next.

God is not a feeling for me. God is a reality for me. Just because I feel like God has abandoned me doesn’t mean that He has. Reality is independent of our feelings. Furthermore, Jesus Himself, literally God incarnate, also felt the same way:

And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

Matthew 27.46 (quoting Psalm 22.1; also cited in Mark 15.34)

For me it is a comfort to read these words. To know that Jesus felt abandoned by God, and that I as a follower of Christ feel the same way tells me that I am doing something right. It tells me that what I need to do is endure and persevere. If God can redeem someone from death then He is certainly capable of redeeming my situation also. But waiting for that redemption is hard. Very hard.

When Failure Is Not Your Fault

It seems popular these days to advise people that if they fail it is all their fault and that they need to take ownership of their failure and learn and grow from it. While I think this is certainly the case most of the time, as Captain Picard reminds us above, it is not the only scenario for failure. Sometimes we do everything correct and we still fail. Or sometimes the circumstances of our situation are such that no matter what we do we will never succeed. Perhaps we are aware of these circumstances, but perhaps we are not. It doesn’t really matter in the end because we will not be able to overcome them.

I believe that it is better for failure to be your fault rather than to fail because success was impossible. If your failure was because of something you did or didn’t do, then that means success was likely within your control. You can analyze and reflect on your failure, correct your mistakes, and succeed (or at least improve) the next time. It might not feel good to admit that you failed, but long term it is better to have failed and learned and grown from it.

It is far worse though, I think, to fail simply because the circumstances would not allow you to succeed. To be sure you can still reflect on such failures and learn what you could have done better. But knowing that success was ultimately impossible and that there was nothing that you could do to change that is a different kind of hurt. It’s a hurt that leaves you feeling helpless and hopeless. Whatever things you might realize in hindsight that you could have done better are overshadowed by the feelings of despondency that come with realizing success was never an option.

I feel like my life has been a series of this 2nd type of failure. I feel that even though I have reflected on and learned what I could have done better or improved, that ultimately success was impossible.

Now before I go any further, allow me to explain what “success” in life is for me. At different points in my life I have had different versions of success. At one point success for me was having a family and being wealthy enough so that money wasn’t a limiting factor in pursuing opportunities. Then as time progressed I stopped caring about wealth and just wanted sufficient income to support my family. Then some more time passed and I stopped caring about having kids. Then still more time passed I stopped caring about having a wife. Now I am at the point where for me success is simply being able to support myself and move out of my parent’s house. While the devolution of my vision of success is likely significant it really doesn’t matter for the purposes of this article because at no point in my life have I achieved any of these versions. And furthermore, being able to support myself is a fundamental requirement for all these versions anyway.

So is it possible for someone to try for 15 years and not even achieve the most basic level of success of any version of success he has ever had? Oh yes. It is quite possible.

I graduated High School in 2004. I decided that I wanted to do computer network management, so I enrolled in a program for training in that. I graduated that program with an Associate’s at the end of 2007. Oh yes. Do you remember what happened in 2008? I do. I remember quite well. It was The Recession. Now Florida, where I was living at the time, was one of the hardest hit states by The Recession. In fact we were competing with California and Michigan for the highest unemployment rate. Not exactly something that you want to win. So the economy that I graduated into was one of the worst in U.S. history. And as you might expect I wasn’t able to really even get this career off the ground because there were literally no jobs around, not even in the tech industry in my area.

So with my first attempt at success having failed because of something I could do nothing about I figured I would get a Bachelor’s degree. The only job I had found was at a call center, which I hated but it was money, and since I was considering seminary and needed a Bachelor’s for that anyway I figured it was a good next move. So I enrolled in a web development program at a local University. Unfortunately that program ended up being completely worthless, but between grants and scholarships I didn’t spend any money on tuition there anyway. Not to mention that it really failed to instill any passion for web development in me because it made the practice so convoluted and unclear.

So having failed a 2nd time because of a University’s terrible curriculum I decided to make a 3rd attempt at success. After all, 3rd time’s a charm right?

No. No it isn’t.

Initially I was very excited to have been accepted to DTS. At this point I am 8 years or so out of high school and I still have yet to really start a career due to so many things going wrong. So when I got in it felt like something finally went right and I was for once excited and optimistic about the future. In hindsight though it seems I only got in so that I could fail again. Some of you are aware of the many health related issues that I dealt in seminary (if not they are documented on this site elsewhere) and how no matter what I tried or did I simply could not get things under control. Ultimately these issues cost me most, if not every, opportunity I had post-seminary.

So now I feel like I have failed a 3rd time for reasons that I ultimately had no control over.

And now I am just tired. Tired of failing for reasons I can’t control. And quite honestly I don’t feel like trying anymore. Even when I do get the motivation and the energy to start working towards “success” again it isn’t long before the ghost of past failures shows up and starts whispering to me, “this attempt will also end in failure and there is nothing you can do to change that outcome.”

Now I don’t think that my situation is typical, but I think it does happen. And maybe someone reading this is in a similar situation and needs to know that sometimes failure isn’t your fault. Sometimes the circumstances of your situation are such that you were never going to succeed no matter what you did. Unfortunately though I have no advice or “solution” for when you when run out of motivation and just want to give up. All I can say is that I am right there with you. But if you figure something out, please let me know.

4 Years of Seminary: The Struggle is Real – Spiritual

Christ is the light of the world, whoever follows him will not walk in darkness, but have the light of lifeBefore reading this please read the first part of this series here since it provides essential background information for properly understanding this post.

It’s hard to make generalities about something like depression, so I’ll just speak from own experience in this post. In my worst moments I feel like burning the world to the ground, and in my best moments I just feel apathetic towards everything because I feel powerless to do anything to change my situation.

In the beginning, before I knew what was going on [around summer 2014], it was mostly just anger. A whole lot of anger. Angry at God. Angry at others. Angry at the world. I think perhaps the only notable thing I have not been angry at is myself, but everything else there’s a good chance I have been angry at it at some point. I prayed a lot of angry prayers and wrote a lot of angry journal entries during this time. It’s hard to pray when you’re angry. It’s hard to really do any sort of spiritual exercise when you’re angry. I tried to and found it to be a completely pointless and fruitless activity, and so for a period of time I just stopped. No praying, no devotions, no nothing. I went to church on Sunday [and didn’t grasp anything that was going on], but that was it.

Well during this time I was driving home from work one day and I was angry. And on this particular day I happened to be angry at God and decided to voice my displeasure to Him. When I had finished my tirade I heard a response almost immediately: go see a doctor. So I did and eventually was diagnosed with hypogonadism. When I finally started treatment for it in the beginning of 2015 I felt better, had more energy, a lot less anger, and resumed praying and devotions. It helped me to see that all the anger and frustration I had previously were mainly a result of a hormone imbalance. I was completely buried in work at this point and this prevented me from really being able to reorder myself spiritually to the extent I would have liked, but I at least felt the desire to serve God return, which had been noticeably absent previously.

This second time around though there isn’t much anger present, it’s mostly just hopelessness and sadness. I tend to believe that this is the lot God has given me in life: to suffer in depression and sadness and never be able to do anything of worth or have anything good happen to me. I have to say that hopelessness and sadness have been far tougher for me to battle than anger was because they kill much of my love and desire for God.

They also make it hard for me to discern what’s real and what’s not. Are the feelings of hopelessness and powerlessness real? Is this really the life God has given me to live, one that’s sad, miserable, and lonely? Is it really not going to get any better for me? Or are the few moments when I feel my desire and love for God return real? Am I really still willing to follow Christ and go wherever He calls me to serve Him? I don’t know. And when I think I have it figured out my thoughts and feelings change and I’m confused once again. 

I’m also tired and worn out from battling and struggling with this over the past 2 years. Most of the time I feel like my faith has been thoroughly gutted and all that remains is a bare frame, which itself sometimes gets a little shaky, though it never falls. But I suppose this very fact, that despite all this my faith has not fallen, is enough evidence that God is with me during this time and will see me through it.

I wish I could end this post with some great story about how God brought something good out of this season of my life, or a list [alliterated of course] of things I learned, or just something positive in general, but I can’t because I’m still in this season. In a few years perhaps I will no longer be in this situation and will be able to see the effects it has had, but not today.

Health Update
I’ve had 2 injections now of the increased dose and overall I don’t notice much difference. They said I won’t really notice anything until between the 3rd and 4th injections and I get the 3rd on 8/30, one day after my semester starts. I’m not very optimistic based on my experience thus far with injections, but who knows, maybe I will feel better.

 

 

4 Years of Seminary: The Struggle is Real – Health

Part 2 of this post is here.

Around this time 4 years ago I left my hometown of Sarasota, FL to move to Dallas to attend DTS. I haven’t spoken much here about what has transpired over these past 4 years, but I feel that now is a good and appropriate time to do so.

Picture of a hot dog on sandwich with a caption claiming that it is a struggle to eat a hot dog on sandwich bread

This is not a real struggle…

Health Struggles
My own health issues have been the biggest struggle for me in seminary so far. In January of ’15 I was diagnosed with hypogonadism [low testosterone], but the symptoms had been present for most of my life, and particularly in the year prior to the diagnosis, though I was unaware of it at the time. Basically what this causes for me is depression. Not in the narrow sense of an overwhelming sadness, but in the broader sense of including loss of interest in previously enjoyed hobbies/activities, decreased energy, difficulty concentrating, sleep issues [for me waking up early, like 3-4am early], and being easily irritable [see here for depression symptoms, and here for subtle signs of depression]. The only things I felt that I could do well were eating, drinking, and breathing; even walking could be challenging depending on how far I was going.

But despite being diagnosed at the beginning of the spring ’15 semester it was a month or so into the semester until I was able to actually start treatment for this. My insurance had to approve it first, which took 2 weeks, but then I was allergic to the first one we tried, so we had to get a different one approved, which took another 2 weeks, but thankfully I wasn’t allergic to the second one [Androgel].

Well during this month long wait or so I got absolutely nothing done coursework wise, which put me quite behind. Once the treatment started working though I had more energy than I ever had before and was able to get most of it done without the need for extensions [except for Greek!].

During the summer though I didn’t feel rested, which I attributed to not sleeping well. So I bought some blackout curtains to block all the light that came into my room at night [which is considerable] and a new mattress. Well it worked for a while, but I soon fell back into the depression I was in earlier in the year and when the fall ’15 semester started I was pretty incapable of doing any sort of work. So I talked to my doctor and he increased the dosage I was on. I felt much better on this new dosage and was finally able to get work done. Unfortunately I was again about a month behind, but this time there was no way I would be able to catch up with the course load I had, which included two language courses. I had to ask every professor I had that semester for extensions on assignments, and thankfully they all granted them to me.

While I managed to get most of my work done before the fall ’15 semester ended I still needed a course extension for Greek and had to work continuously over the winter break to get all the work done before the spring ’16 semester started. And I did get it all done, but I was completely exhausted when the new semester started and I had several assignments due right at the start of that semester that I had to pull all-nighters to complete. I think I pulled about 3 in the first month of the semester.

I also had to switch insurance at the beginning of this year [previously was through my employer and my hours dropped below benefits eligibility] and my new insurance didn’t cover the treatment I was on, so I had to switch to injections [cypionate] in February. Overall the injections haven’t worked. I had my levels checked at the end of July and they were back to around where they were in January ’15.*

So I started the spring ’16 semester completely exhausted and had to further exhaust myself with all-nighters at the beginning and then had to change my testosterone therapy to something that didn’t work. So I once again had to ask my professors for extensions on assignments, and once again needed a course extension [though for eschatology this time!]. But once I handed in my last assignment [which was on June 31]  I slipped back into depression almost immediately the next day and have basically stayed there ever since.

So to briefly summarize all this, the only point in time over the last 2 years or so that I have not been depressed is when I’ve been so overwhelmed with work that I had to put all of my energy and effort into getting that done.

Conclusion
My dosage has been increased and I received the first injection of the new dosage on August 2nd. I felt noticeably better afterwards, but nowhere near how I felt when I was on the higher dosage of Androgel. I am hopeful that going forward my levels will be where they should be and I will not be falling behind in my courses anymore, but right now I am 100% not ready to start this next semester.

The experience of the past 2 years definitely had an impact on me spiritually, and I am planning on discussing that experience in the next post.

*What happened here was when I switched they checked my levels after about 3-4 injections and saw that they were higher than my baseline. I told them that I felt worse than I did previously, but they didn’t want to increase my dosage just yet at that point. The dosage was increased on August 1st.