I have a lot of feelings.
Updated: Sep 5, 2022
I broke up with my boyfriend of 8 months on Thanksgiving Day, 2012. It had been my longest lasting relationship at a time when most of my friends had been married and divorced once or twice. He said he returned the ring and threw away all my Christmas presents. I cried. I was so sad, but so relieved. I knew that we were a bad match, but I also realized I had really caused some pretty major problems for our relationship. I wanted to find someone to share my life with, but I felt like a mess.
For most of my adult life, I’ve worked two jobs. Usually a full-time job and a part time church job, or two part-time jobs while I went to graduate school. It’s a delicate balance of planning ahead, prioritizing, missing sleep and almost getting fired more than once for being late to work in the morning.
When I was in seminary, this combination of stress and fatigue lead me down a dark road. In 2008, things came to a head. The lead pastor sat me down and explained, things had to change or I had to go. Apparently, sleeping through staff meeting had not gone unnoticed. That was probably preferred, since the awake Sharon wasn’t so great to be around.
I decided to go. I figured, if it had come to putting me on probation, it might be time for me to take a break. During a year off from ministry, I got to know myself again. I realized all these things I thought were part of my character were actually just symptoms of exhaustion. I had wrecked myself. I’d been at the self-destruction so long, it felt like normal.
I was determined I would never go there again. I had learned my lesson. I would rest. I would take time off. I would be a better person.
Four years later, there I was again, getting cozy with my limit. Working full time at Home Depot and part time at the church, adding a boyfriend seemed like an excellent idea. Depression came rushing in like a long-lost companion I never wanted to see again.
I like me. I am passionate, driven, optimistic (most of the time) with a can-do attitude. I like that I can often bring out the best in the people around me. Those same things that make me, me, can easily lead me down this path of crying myself to sleep on the daily. Depression and her twin sister anxiety make my world very small. I suddenly can’t see anything but myself and everything that’s wrong. I’m smart enough to realize other people and their problems do exist. I know that my situation isn’t hopeless, but that doesn’t actually make me feel any bit better.
I’m sitting here remembering all the moments when my mind felt completely broken, as if I had become distant from even myself. Worst of all, I remember the casualties of my depression, roommates and friends that just couldn’t hang with me on the dark side. And I think of my poor husband, who really just doesn’t know what to do.
Every time I get through to the other side, when the feeling of craziness seems to subside, I determine I’ll do better and this won’t happen again. I know the signs and I know what to do before it gets really bad. I have a therapist. We talk, I feel better. I do self-care. I know that taking care of me is the most important thing. If I don’t take care of myself first, I can’t take care of anyone else.
But here I am again.
I did not see it coming. But now that the train has jumped the tracks, I can see where things took a turn.
Just to be clear, I recognize that depression is different for everyone, and my experience may or may not be the same as someone else with depression.
I’ve learned from a few of these episodes that I have two paths to recovery. One is to ask for help from my doctor, which I would say is the easiest route. The first time I took medicine for depression my doctor explained that stress gives you brain damage. For some people it’s crying, for others it's angry yelling. I’m mostly the crying type, with some minor yelling on the side. He said it’s kind of like when you break your arm. You can set the bone and it will heal on its own. Or you can put a cast on the broken arm to keep it stable to provide comfort while it heals. Antidepressants are like putting a cast on your brain. They provide relief while you recover. In my post seminary burn out, without medicine, it took me almost a year to feel like myself again. With medicine, it takes roughly a few days to a week.
I don’t want to take medicine. It makes me gain weight. I am currently the biggest I’ve ever been. Side note, if anyone has any advice on how to lose weight while feeding a kid with anorexia, I’d be open.
For the moment, I’m choosing option two. Healing without medicine. Although I may change my mind later. For the most part, I know what I need. Rest.
I cry often. It helps.
Three weeks ago, I decided I needed a break. I cashed in some points and booked a flight to Reno, NV. My mom has been taking care of me for a few days and it’s pretty nice.
I went to a workshop on happiness a few weeks ago. The lecturer said the most important thing in raising your baseline happiness level is to have nurturing relationships. I started to cry. I don’t have any. I mean, I know that’s not true but that’s how I felt. She also reminded me how helpful exercise can be in lifting mood, and it was the push I needed to get my ass out of bed and work out in the morning. It helps. For certain. I started looking for wellness podcasts. This morning I listened to a lady who wrote a book on self-care. She talked about how she works 12 and 14 hour days. The key to being able to do that, she said, is self-care. It helped me imagine how I might be able to manage my life better.
For Lent I gave up chocolate and picked up a gospel reading plan. This morning my reading was from Matthew, “Come to me, all you who are struggling hard and carrying heavy loads, and I will give you rest. Put on my yoke, and learn from me. I’m gentle and humble. And you will find rest for yourselves. My yoke is easy to bear, and my burden is light.”