One of my favorite things to do, even though I haven’t done it in several years, is bowhunt for deer. It’s not necessarily the hunt, nor is it primarily the excitement of success and the resulting venison, although that is a DELICIOUS benefit. Rather, what I love about bowhunting is something much more ethereal and internal.
I’m not going to give a full hunting tutorial here, but I would usually time my hunts to follow nights of little or no moon. If you want to know why, ask a hunter. This philosophy results in me sometimes hiking two miles or more to my hunting spot in an inky blackness that my eyes just don’t fully adjust to. Even after I reach my destination, if I’ve timed it like I prefer, I still have a couple of hours before sunrise. In those times, when I’m sitting in a tree blind or a ground blind waiting for dawn, I have an uneasiness that stems from the unknown. However, even though I can’t physically see, I always know that I know that I KNOW that the sun WILL come up. It does every single day, and there’s comfort in knowing that the pitch blackness is only temporary.
Fast-forward to today, and here I sit reflecting on the last two+ years of my life. I can honestly say that time has been the lowest and darkest in my life; emotionally, spiritually and psychologically. I’m not going to bore you with the sordid details, but let me state conclusively: DEPRESSION IS REAL. It’s not just someone being dramatic or crying for attention (although those are sometimes symptoms). It’s a real, diagnosable disease that will absolutely crush your soul, and it will not go away on its own.
For a little background, I have always had self-image issues. As far back as I can remember, I’ve been comparing myself to others and deeming myself woefully short. I fixate on my flaws and weaknesses, and have gradually throughout my life grown more and more critical and hateful of myself. I have no idea why, but I’ve always been unable to accept any good that anyone says about me or to me and dismiss it as empty courtesy. I can’t see these good traits in myself, so I can’t fathom or accept the fact that others do.
As I entered my early 40s, all this self-doubt and negative self-dialogue simply took over. The very flaws and weaknesses that I have had my whole life, I still had as a middle-aged man. The fact that I’ve been unable to “fix” these things about myself just cascaded into desperation and an even deeper hatred of myself. I started withdrawing from everyone in my life, including my family, because my demons simply wouldn’t allow me to enjoy anything anymore. Unlike those mornings in my deer blind, I could see no end to the darkness I was in. I had no idea when, or even IF, the sun would come up. I honestly think that one has to experience this themselves to fully understand just how lonely and hopeless that place is. While some roll their eyes at this dramatic description, others know from experience that the drama is very REAL.
Lest I dwell on the negative, I’ll say that today I’m doing better. Therapy, anti-depressants (which I’m now off of, thank God), the support of my family and true friends, and my finding of spiritual fulfillment in my new church home have all worked to get me back off the ledge and have allowed me to venture out some into the light of day. I’ve been able to somewhat objectively examine my life and begin to try to get a healthy perspective again. I’ve still got a long way to go, and I still have days when I retreat back into my shell, but my stay in the shell seems to be shorter these days.
As I’ve thought about this time in my life, I have come up with some observations concerning my thoughts and the reactions of those around me. Let me be clear: I am not, nor do I claim to be, a counselor. I have no idea if my observations are clinically correct or advisable. These are simply my take-away thoughts on what I’ve been going through, and I’m still pondering these as I continue to work through the process.
Here they are:
- Depression is a real disease. – It’s not simply moodiness, selfishness nor negativity. It has bonafide physiological causes, and one cannot simply wish themselves out of it.
- Keep your opinions and/or cliche adages to yourself. – If someone you love or care about is depressed, no amount of you giving your opinion, telling them to “buck up”, nor homespun lore is going to help. If they could fix it themselves, they would. Trust me.
- Take your “tough love” and shove it up your keister. – “Brutal honesty” isn’t even close to helpful. We have quite enough negativity going on inside our heads without your attempted shock treatment.
- We do not need others to continually point out our flaws. – I cannot say this enough. People suffering from depression more than likely also suffer from self-loathing, and are keenly aware of their flaws and faults. Actually, they fixate on them. ALL. THE. TIME. So, they don’t need their “friends” continually pointing them out, even in a playful or kidding manner. Just don’t do it. Please.
- Spiritual fulfillment is CRUCIAL. – In my experience, I was unable to even begin to improve until I found fulfillment and peace in my worship and relationship with God.
- It’s not about you, and it’s not personal. – When someone you care about is depressed, they will probably withdraw from everything and everyone, including you. Don’t get your feelings hurt, don’t assume that you’re the only one they’ve distanced themselves from, and DEAR GOD, DO NOT try to make them feel guilty about “not being a good friend”.
- Above all, love. – If you have a loved one that is depressed, they don’t need therapy, advise or “wisdom” from you. They need love. They need kindness. They need understanding. Be sensitive to their situation, and if you can’t offer these things to them, just give them space. To be honest, your absence is better than awkwardness or derision.
So that’s my take on the most recent season of my life. I’m still struggling, but praise God I’m making improvement. I’m learning to discern what (and who) triggers my lows, and I’m determined to surround myself with positive influences. This has been the hardest battle I’ve ever fought, and the battle rages on. Will this be something that I have to proactively stay on top of the rest of my life? Who knows… But I have learned that those who truly love and care for me, and more importantly my God, are rooting for me. I owe it to them, and to myself, to give it my all. And maybe, just maybe, that sun will come up every day after all. – B