My abnormal psychology class was the one that made me decide to be a psychology major. It was taught my a great fellow named Dustin Wygant, with whom I bonded on the grounds of football, even though our rooting interests varied (he’s a Bengals fan, and I’m a Steelers fan.)
In abnormal, I was taught about the diathesis-stress model of mental illness, which essentially says that we may have the predisposition for a disease, and it may remain latent until it is triggered. Usually, a stress is a big life event: the death of a family member, loss of a job or perhaps more chronic things such as financial struggles, marital struggles, etc.
Before I proceed, let me make clear a couple of things that I want you to know before you read this: first off, I want to be respectful towards people who struggle with depression. This may be somewhat disingenuous, and I do not want it to be. Depression isn’t cool, it isn’t trendy, it’s not fun. There are people who struggle with depression more severely and intensely than I do. I’m fortunate enough to be stable most of the time, and I realize not everyone has that luxury.
Second, I want to make clear how my faith and depression can coexist. And, well – I don’t exactly know. That’s part of the struggle. Part of the struggle is that I wish everything were always perfect, I wish I always looked to my faith as the cognitive antidote to depressive emotions, but I don’t. I also know that I’ve managed to be around wonderful people who I consider part of my faith family who uplift and encourage me, and then I go home and still lose my head. I don’t know how it works.
I remember when I was a teenager – probably 18 or 19, or somewhere in there, and I texted a friend, saying, “I think I might be depressed.” They called me on the phone, and I can’t remember exactly what they said, but it felt at the time to be something to the effect of, “No, you’re not – Jesus loves you. You’ll be okay.”
That’s true – Jesus loved me then and I know Jesus loves me now, and I know Jesus has loved me through everything I’ve ever done, and everything I’ve ever been through.
But that didn’t help me a whole lot.
It’s kind of disingenuous to make that distinction for someone. And, it may be equally disingenuous to make that distinction for yourself, which is the risk I run at present. I’ve not been to a counselor, I’ve not been diagnosed with depression, or seasonal affective disorder, or anything to that effect. But I know enough about my normal disposition and the lows I’ve experienced to form a hypothesis that I struggle with depression from time to time.
Like this week.
Just a heads up: I’m going to make some honest confessions and talk about some real stuff that I felt and said. It may seem extreme, or it might not. To me, it seemed logical at the time, and that’s what scared me.
This Monday, I was doing just fine – I had gotten to work early, was working at full tilt, got stuff done, and I was looking forward to my Monday night tradition of going to one of my favorite restaurants with my friends after work. At the very end of my shift, I found out that everyone was either tired from work, trying to save money, or other various things, and none of the usual suspects would be going out tonight. I sunk. I took the news not with anger or frustration, just sadness. I felt as though all of my energy had been drained out of me – if there were a way of feeling emotionally what you feel physically after you lose a lot of blood, that would encapsulate it.
And then, on Tuesday, I woke up, got to work, did great, and then with fifteen minutes to go, I cleaned out a customer’s mug, but it turns out he had intentionally put something in it, and he indicated that it was expensive – after I had already dumped it out. I didn’t know what to do other than feel guilty. Cognitively, my brain was stuck on this idea that I didn’t deserve to shrug it off, because I had just cost this guy money. And, even though he said it was okay, why would he indicate that it was expensive? How was I supposed to feel okay about that?
I proceeded to go to the back and pretend to put away some boxes, but I felt all the emotion coming back to me – in the form of incredible guilt and anger towards myself. I told myself not to shed a tear, but I couldn’t help it. I cried. My boss tried to console me, the customer himself tried to console me (he’s a friend, not just a weird stranger) but I was inconsolable. I was upset, mad, and frustrated.
Later in the day I was fine, I came down to Berea to hang out with my little sister and we had a great time, and I got to see my parents and my dog, and I was happy. But then on the way home, driving down the interstate, I felt that drain again. And somehow, it felt a lot worse. My appetite disappeared. I was hungry but I didn’t want to eat. I was thinking about what I wanted to pick up on the way home but suddenly it felt meaningless. In the course of a few miles, I became a temporary nihilist.
I half-heartedly greeted my brother when I came home, brushed my teeth, and went to bed. And then I started weeping – pretty uncontrollably. I confessed out loud (to myself and God) that I felt like I felt like a failure – that I was always letting people down, coming up just short of what was needed of me, that I failed my friends, my parents, my dog, my ex-girlfriend, my old church, God, and on and on down the line. All the bad just sprung back up, and it didn’t stop for a while.
Then, with my head on my warm, tear-soaked pillow, I uttered words that I was surprisingly unalarmed by – “God, I don’t want to wake up.”
Fortunately, I did wake up (that’s one prayer I’m glad God didn’t say “yes” to,) I woke up and fought the need of getting out of bed – I didn’t want to go to work. Not again. Not this early. Not yet. I don’t want to give my whole day to work again. Then more negative thoughts:
“All you do is work. You wouldn’t have to work so much if you just planned your work better. it’s your own fault. But it’s not like you do anything outside of work, anyway. And you’re too lazy to do more than one thing in a day – you’re only productive on your own things when you’re not working at the shop. If you were smarter and more motivated, you’d be able to do some personal projects AND work projects in the same day.”
I absorbed the thought, I didn’t fight it directly, but I did the only thing I knew to do: get out of bed. It’s true – I didn’t want to go to the shop, so I just went next door to the Starbucks by my house and did some necessary work there.
I’ve heard it said that when you’re depressed, the best thing you can do is the only thing you can do, and the only thing you can do is the best thing you can do: just get up and do something.
See, when I’m depressed, I feel totally depraved. I feel absolutely worthless. I feel drained of energy, I feel drained of value, of motivation, and of ability. So the only way I know to combat that feeling is to actually do something. To accomplish something puts a little fuel in the tank, it gives me that little push that says, “you can do something.”
I wish that it went away so easily – I wish I felt 100% today. I don’t – but I think I at least have some sense of where this comes from and how it came about.
Depression is in my family. My aunt has it and so too, I think, does one of my cousins. Some researchers believe there’s a genetic/hereditary link. Could be the case. If it is, then I know where the predisposition comes from.
As for the triggers, well – where do you even start?
It honestly spirals.
It spirals from acknowledging the things that are hard: moving, breakups, work stress, financial stress, leaving people near and dear to you and trying to find new community, time management, etc
the cognitions about those hard things. So, for instance, it’s one thing to have to move. It’s stressful, sure. But then if you have a cognition that says, “well most people move without a lot of problems – people switch cities all of the time. Why is it so hard for you?” Suddenly, the pressure doubles – not only is there a stressful event, there’s social stress – stress for you to be “normal,” to be able to cope with the things that everyone has to cope with the way that everyone else copes with them.
It’s one thing to have a lot of work to do, and to vent it a little bit, but then you may have a comparative cognition – one that says, “well they manage all of their work just fine, and they still manage to have a normal life outside of it, why can’t you?” Same thing.
A lot of stress, at least for me, comes cognitively. It comes from thinking about what I’m thinking about. And, in a way I can’t explain, I can’t stop doing that. I’ve tried to stop. I’ve tried to let things go, and I will continue to try, but it’s a genuine struggle. It’s a genuine struggle to stop caring about what my co-workers think of me and my work ethic; it’s a genuine struggle to shrug it off when my social engagements fall through; it’s a genuine struggle to undertake personal hobbies in the midst of a busy work schedule. It just is.
I always hear it said to people with depression: it gets better. And it does, and it has, and it will continue to. And I expect a few pitfalls along the way. In the meantime, I’m grateful for my blog and whoever the heck out there that reads it, for being my therapist, because sometimes I just need to talk it out and share it with the world – even though the world doesn’t read it, it helps to know I’ve been as honest as I can.