The year of 2016 was unimaginably difficult. For most people who struggle with clinical depression, the journey is already tough and lonely beyond words can describe. For a mother with four children who utterly depend on her for everything without outside help, fighting depression is a whole new level of crazy.
Many people with this ailment can't even get out of bed on bad days and they have to miss work often. However, that has never been an option for me. I have no choice but to drag myself up to meet the needs of my children no matter what kind of hell I was going through. Children are not concerned about the suffering of their caregiver, just that they are not getting what they want. I couldn't even cut myself some slack regarding my chores and routine even if it killed me.
"Where is our tea break, mummy?"
"When are you ever going to play with us?"
"You keep forgetting to sign my homework!"
"I want mummy to do this for me! NOW!"
Those were the only things said to me most of the time while I was in the throes of psychological anguish. I would have committed suicide a thousand times if not for the loving grace of God.
I researched madly on how to combat the mental illness and started making lifestyle changes. I became much more intentional in putting on Christian music and worshipping the Lord while doing chores or when I get terribly troubled. Counselling in church and therapy sessions at the hospital helped during critical periods. I bought an exercise machine which I tried my best to use if my children allowed me any time at all to do so. I started to drink fruit juices everyday. I avoided junk food like the plague and took supplements. I made sure I down at least 2 litres of water everyday. I began to monitor my weight because significant changes might alter my body chemistry. I removed my emotional triggers.
Unfortunately, my no. 3 kid was one major trigger for me and so off she went to my mother-in-law's place to live for a month, giving me time to recuperate. Alas, some friends of mine were more worried about the emotional scars she'll probably have and that she'd grow up to be a delinquent because she might feel abandoned by me. They told me scary stories about the damage the poor child would experience and it would be too late to fix it afterwards. My question was: What about my sanity? Am I far less important than my child? Is sending me on a guilt trip while I was struggling with ending my life a necessary thing to do?
The stigma of depression is still very much ingrained in our society. When I post happy things on Facebook, there are so many likes and comments. But when I reveal my difficulties, only a handful of kind souls responded. Some more poignant posts were even left ignored completely.
Depression is by itself an extremely lonely sickness. For a homemaker like me, it was far more so. Precious few people, if anyone at all, bothered to visit me during my down times for the past one year. That is so extremely sad especially since adult company was what I needed most. My husband, being the sole breadwinner of the family, could not afford to be with me during working hours and he had to help out with the kids when he was home to give me my much needed break. Who could I talk to except God?
I am simply so grateful that God had gradually pulled me out of the darkness. I am far more fortunate than most fellow sufferers because at least I have a supportive, understanding husband and a deeply-rooted relationship with my Lord to ground me in. If not, I would have jumped down from my balcony window before the eyes of my four immature, inherently selfish children. The only thing that stopped from doing that was: What would God say?
It is ugly to talk about depression. There is no sugar-coating it if we are to be honest. If you have anyone you know who is suffering from it, please take a look at my following suggestions:
Don't try to give advice
Not everything can be fixed. The sufferer is far more desperate to be healed that anyone else. Chances are, the advice you want to give has already been explored or given by someone else. It is simply gruesomely tedious to keep answering the same questions again and again.
Give the gift of company
There is no lonelier path than to fight with demons by oneself. Visit them, bring them out of the house and talk about common hobbies. Share about life experiences that is beyond the depressed person's circle, which is very likely an extremely small one due to the nature of the illness. Sometimes, it is very helpful to just break the cyclical pattern of negative inner thoughts. If he/she doesn't want to talk, just be there. Your presence may very well be a life-saver, literally.
Don't take it personally
You can't expect a depression sufferer to NOT talk negatively. What the person says is not to spite or hurt you but just an expression of the broken inner world that he/she is experiencing. There is no need to correct every wrong thing spoken unless the person is an imbecile who knows not right from wrong. Just lend a patient listening ear. After the poison has been released, there is then room for the good stuff.
There is no time frame for healing
As with most debilitating illnesses, there is no such thing as the person must get better after a certain amount of time has passed. It can be better managed and he/she can resume functionality but any number of emotional triggers can sent the person toward the downward spiral back to square one. As a loved one, you can only be accepting of the condition and refrain from judging. Someone wrote before that a depressed person should be given a medal for every time he/she gets out of bed in the morning!
Not everyone suffering from depression is the same
As much as many symptoms and coping methods are similar across the board, depression can be as varied as autism or ADHD. There is a broad spectrum and each personality responds differently and have different circumstances. Treat the patient with respect. Ask what you can do to help instead of insisting on "helping" the way you think is best. You might just push the person closer to the edge. Mental illness is far more tricky than physical illness.