Dealing with depression

When I was younger my kids used to tell me I would never retire because I was too much of a workaholic. Little did we know how prophetic their words were. I’ve retired from two careers, and I’m working. I don’t know if I’m a workaholic or not. I just like being busy. As much as I enjoy fishing and golf I don’t think I could stand not working at least part of the time.

However, I also know what happens when one overdoes it. Back in the mid-1980s I was working full time in a factory, serving as a bivocational pastor of a small church and attending Bible college. This went on for four years. A few months after I graduated from the school I began to struggle emotionally. It finally became bad enough I went to my doctor who diagnosed me with depression. A couple of weeks later I saw a counselor who confirmed his diagnosis. For the next year I was on medication and weekly sessions with the counselor to overcome the depression.

My schedule had brought about the depression. I had gone too long trying to do too much. I neglected my own self-care to the point that my body had to shut down to protect itself. It was a terrible year that I never want to repeat.

Although the statistics vary studies show that 16-18 million people in America struggle with depression each year. Many of them never seek assistance which sometimes causes them to battle this horrible disease for years. It robs them of the joy of living and sometimes even their lives. There are many causes for depression which we can not address here.

When I preach in local churches and lead leadership conferences I sometimes reference my battle with depression. Without fail, someone will come to me afterwards thanking me for my candor. Sometimes they felt they were the only ones who felt that way, and as I describe how I overcame depression it gives them hope they can as well.

The things you need to do to overcome depression will depend on what triggered it, but there are some steps that are probably common for everyone who wants to defeat this enemy.

  1. Recognize that it is a disease and no different than any other disease you might get. Being depressed is not a reflection on you as a person so you should not feel shame for being depressed. You would go to the doctor if you had pneumonia. You should seek medical help for depression as well.
  2. Along with medical help you might benefit from counseling to see if there are some issues in your life that need to be addressed. The combination of medical treatment and counseling helped me tremendously. I discovered some things about myself I did not know that have helped me maintain better balance in my life.
  3. Invite trusted people to walk with you through this. My wife helped me deal with some of my worst days and was a major source of encouragement during my recovery.
  4. Slow down and allow yourself to heal. Depression often comes when we’ve overextended ourselves so it makes sense to slow down during the healing process. This isn’t easy for us Type-A personalities but it is necessary.
  5. Admit that you are depressed. Not wanting to admit it may be a primary reason many people never seek treatment. That’s why it’s important to not let your depression define who you are any more than you would allow the flu to define you.
  6. Do not stop treatment too soon. I needed to withdraw from my medication over a period of time. When I and those who were treating me thought it was appropriate my doctor set me on a schedule to withdraw from the medication over several weeks. The same was true of the counseling. My counseling changed the last month I went from treating the depression to helping me understand how to avoid future episodes. If I had just abruptly stopped the medicine or the counseling my recovery might not have been as successful.

Successful people recognize that self-care is one of the keys to long term success. Avoiding depression is best, but if you do become depressed addressing it quickly will speed up the healing.

 

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