Major Depressive Disorder affects approximately 17.3 million American adults annually, or about 7.1% of the U.S. population (National Institute of Mental Health “Major Depression,” 2017). Depression is much more than just being sad, disappointed, or having a bad day. It is a feeling of overwhelming hopelessness and pain. It’s like going out to start your car in the middle of a Wyoming winter and it just won’t start; you have no oomph, no “want to,” no energy, and you feel it to the very core of your being.
I understand this feeling. I understand the pain. And I want you to know, as someone who truly relates all too well, that there is HOPE. I view depression as something that can only be combatted with a holistic approach. It isn’t just about the psychological aspect, it’s also about the spirit and the body. I would like to share some things that have helped me on my journey with depression, with the hope they might help you as well.
At the core of Major Depressive Disorder is the mind. There is a chemical imbalance or an array of misfirings that can lead to MDD. This is why someone suggesting an easy fix - like doing activities you enjoy, listening to happy music, or even Christian music - doesn’t work. Sometimes medicine can help with this, but for me, medication made me dull. Granted, I didn’t feel as sad anymore, but I also didn’t feel anything. For some people, medicine is the exact solution they need, and I’m not at all opposed to that, but for me, medicine wasn't the best option.
Several years ago, I went to a psychologist who studied how food affects the brain. I know this may seem like a hippie solution, and at first, I thought so too. But this was a game changer for me. Through some tests and research, I found out my body was sensitive to gluten and sugar. It turns out I wasn’t eating enough of the foods that help the brain function at its highest potential. For someone who didn’t want to take medicine, this was the solution I needed. It is a struggle, because to say I love sugar is truly an understatement. But the difference I began to notice was absolutely worth denying my sweet tooth! Changing what I ate didn’t magically make the depression go away, but the changes in my diet, combined with therapy, made it more manageable. My suggestion is to find what will work for you. Maybe it is medicine to help regulate the imbalance. Maybe it's a change to your diet. Maybe it's a combination of the two. But whatever it is, discovering what your brain needs is a key part to finding hope and getting your “want to” back.
When your desire to do just about anything starts to dwindle, it is hard to get your body to cooperate with you. It may make it harder to think of working out, enjoying hobbies, going to work, cooking, or simply getting out of bed. This feeling of losing all your “want to” is called anhedonia. I think of anhedonia as the anaconda of depression, it squeezes out every inch of wanting to be around others and the enjoyment you get from activities that usually bring you life. It is one thing to feel hopeless, and it is another thing to feel hopeless and all alone. The tricky part is that there is no clear way to treat anhedonia. So what do you do when you can’t kill an anaconda? You have to outsmart it. They say that if an anaconda is squeezing you, bite its tail if you can, the smallest and thinnest part of its body.
So, let’s start small! One thing I use to fight the tightening grip of anhedonia is exercise. This can look different for everyone, but even if it is stretching for 5 min after laying in bed for an hour longer than you intended, it loosens the grip of the anaconda little by little. This is difficult when you have no desire to do anything, but once you figure out how to make the mind portion of MDD more manageable, it becomes easier to tame the anaconda, and make our bodies behave. Another way I purposefully add “want to” back into my everyday life is my dog. I am not married and I don’t have kids, but my dog is one of the most precious things in my life and he relies on me to give him water, feed him, and let him outside. In a sense, he grounds me and gives me something to live for other than myself. Find the things that ground you, and as hard as it may be, make your body move, even if it is 5 minutes of stretching, walking the dog, or taking the kids to school. Sometimes you have to fight to get your “want to” back.
At Reclaiming Hope we believe that all issues of the mind have a psychological and a spiritual component. For me, God hasn’t chosen to miraculously heal my depression, and it still rears its ugly head in my life. Even though I haven’t been able to pray my depression away, I do know that prayer and spending time with my Healer are crucial aspects of fighting MDD. God made me. He formed my brain, and He knows every single misfire and imbalance. I believe He has the power to heal. But even if He doesn’t, I trust there is a reason. When I am struggling, some of my favorite passages to read in scripture come from the book of Psalms. The Psalms aren’t always lighthearted; in fact it is a book filled with pain, sorrow, and even anger. But in those raw emotions, we also find truth and hope. Perhaps it is the realness of the Psalmists that minister so powerfully to us as they pour out their complaints and questions, and then find themselves back at the truth of God's goodness and faithfulness.
Psalm 43:5 - Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.
Psalm 40:1-3 - I waited patiently for the LORD; he inclined to me and heard my cry. He drew me up from the pit of destruction, out of the miry bog, and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure. He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God. Many will see and fear, and put their trust in the LORD.
Psalm 6:6-9 - I am weary with my moaning; every night I flood my bed with tears; I drench my couch with my weeping. My eye wastes away because of grief; it grows weak because of all my foes. Depart from me, all you workers of evil, for the LORD has heard the sound of my weeping. The LORD has heard my plea; the LORD accepts my prayer.
Openly talking with God, expressing the pain, questions, doubts, and worry, is so important when battling MDD. God may not choose to heal you completely from the grips of depression, but He will steady you, give you focus, hope and comfort. Most importantly, He will hear your cry and He will be with you.
I pray some of these thoughts can help you as they have helped me! Everyone’s mind, body, and spiritual life are different, so I urge you to explore each of those areas and find things that work for you. There is HOPE, even through the darkness of depression.