So yesterday I posted about what it feels like to have depression and anxiety. Today, I’m going to continue talking about depression and anxiety by discussing what HAS and HAS NOT worked in my treatment.
I noted at the bottom of my post yesterday that I’m a bit of a naturalist, and I don’t like the idea of chemicals entering my body if I can possibly avoid it. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not anti-medicine, and medicine really works for some people. I went on an anti-anxiety medicine about 6 years ago, and it made me act INSANE. So I decided to pursue other natural methods when I realized that I had postpartum depression about 2 months after Ellie was born last year. This is a discussion of some of those other methods I’ve used and how they have worked for me.
What Didn’t Work
The first thing that I always go to in dealing with emotional problems is television. You guys, seriously, I love television. I love it so, so much. I love studying the characters of shows, I love giggling at the ridiculous things they get themselves into, and most of all, I love escaping the pain or numbness of my actual world by delving wholeheartedly into their fictional ones. Some of my favorite TV shows, all of which I’ve watched entire series (or acceptable portions of the series, hello, One Tree Hill seasons 7-9 no thanks) multiple times, all have interesting characters with way worse problems than mine. Or way sillier problems. Which, you know, I think is the whole point of TV. The problem is this, though: I’ve had to come to terms with the fact that I am addicted to television because it fills the void and gives me feelings when I have none. It is an actual addiction. I looked up symptoms of addiction, and I fit them.
Most of the symptoms of addiction that I found are related to substance abuse, but let’s assume that the substance is television instead of a drug or alcohol or medication. Some symptoms are:
-patient is unable to control the use of the substance, cannot stop taking it
-patient has physical and/or mood swings from withdrawal when not taking the substance, including cravings toward it, moodiness, bad temper, inability to focus on other tasks, feeling empty without it, frustrated about other things, angry, bitter, and resentful of anything that takes the patient away from the substance
-even if the patient knows that the substance is harming him or herself and/or his or her relationships, he or she still takes the substance
-patient makes social and/or recreational sacrifices in favor of using the substance
-patient feels the need for the substance in order to deal with problems
-an obsession with obtaining the substance
-the patient often knows that others notice and is embarrassed about the addiction, which results in secrecy and solitude while using the substance
I regularly do all of these things with TV shows. I sacrifice social and recreational time to secretly watch TV. I can’t stop myself from starting a new episode when one is over. I have mood swings and feel irritated when I want to watch the TV show but can’t because of other responsibilities. I find ways to watch the show while doing other tasks so that I don’t have to stop. I feel like I can’t deal with issues, so I escape by watching TV. I feel anxious when I don’t have Netflix available to me while waiting to do something. I know that I’m addicted to TV and I’m embarrassed at how bad it is, so I secretly watch the show when I’m away from others so they don’t know how often I’m watching it.
Fortunately, TV isn’t quite as damaging of an obsession as drugs and alcohol could be, and it is very unlikely that I’ll reach the point where I could overdose and literally die from watching too much TV, but that doesn’t mean that I’m not truly addicted to it. I read an article recently that discussed some research that points to the possibility that people with depression will often look for something to fill the emptiness they feel, so they are more likely to become addicted to things. While I’m not proud of my TV habit, I’m at least thankful that I didn’t look toward drugs and alcohol to fill that void (thanks, all those years of Red Ribbon Week!).
While it is a problem to sacrifice social relationships and time that needs to be spent on other things to binge watch a fictional television show, the real problem is that it doesn’t solve my depression issues. I escape for a while and feel better, but as soon as I stop watching TV and go on with my life, the empty weight comes back, and then I feel the need to watch TV to escape it again. It is a never ending cycle, and it doesn’t solve the problem.
If you are fighting depression and anxiety, is there something in your life that you are using to escape? It is probably not working. Consider that you might not be addicted to drugs or alcohol or an actual substance, but instead you might be addicted to something else. A game on your phone? TV, like me? Know from my experience that the false idols (that’s right, they are idols, because you are valuing them more than you value God’s calling for your life) are never going to fulfill you, and they are never going to make your depression and anxiety go away.
What Does Work
It’s going to sound super cliche, but God is what works. And that probably seems like a cop-out. And it probably seems really un-relatable and impractical. But seriously, a relationship with Christ is the answer. I’m going to talk about these in more detail in the final portion of my blog mini series, but I’m going to highlight them quickly here.
The answer to my depression – the tools and armor and weapons that have worked to fight my symptoms – are TRUTH and GRACE.
The best answer that I’ve found in dealing with depression has been getting down to the root of what is giving me the symptoms. For example, about 2 years ago, a friend of mine really upset me. I was very angry about what had happened, but I didn’t want to damage the relationship. My counselor and I talked about what had happened, and it was revealed to me that the root of the issue was that I felt disrespected by what had gone on. The truth was that I was upset because I felt like that friend didn’t value me or my ability to make responsible, adult decisions and valued herself more than me. Another time, I was having feelings of anxiety, and I couldn’t figure out why, but everything seemed overwhelming and my heart was nonstop racing. I traced back my train of thought until I remembered that I had briefly remembered a very scary and difficult thing that Husband and I had gone through several years before. When I figured out the truth of why I was having my anxiety, I was able to take control of it.
Again, I’m going to dive into this more tomorrow, but the biggest thing that helps in the Truth category is Scripture. Scripture is truth, and replacing whatever anxious or hopeless thoughts I’m having with Scripture works amazingly well. I’ll outline my train of Scripture thought tomorrow.
One of the big problems with my depression is that I feel unworthy, ugly, useless, pointless, and just not enough. And the truth is that I am those things. I am not worthy of all the blessings I have. I am proud and arrogant and full of myself. I think of myself first to the detriment of others. I can be hateful and rude. I think nasty, selfish, jealous things about other people all the time. I am truly depraved. This is called sin. And we all do it. And we’re all unworthy.
A lot of times I hear people say, “Don’t feel unworthy. You are enough.” This always frustrated me. I would think, But the whole point is that I am NOT enough! So saying that doesn’t help! Then I realized the truth of grace (oh snap, that’s putting both my weapons together!). The truth is that I really am unworthy. But God is the King of Grace. He loves me anyway. He wants to be with me even though I can be so nasty and selfish and proud and sinful and depraved. So he found a way for justice to be served by sacrificing his perfect, sinless, totally worthy Son in my place. Grace is that I got the gift that Jesus actually deserved. So the truth is not that I am enough. The truth is that Christ is enough. And that’s what Grace is. Oh boy, how beautiful. How incredibly, wonderfully, terribly beautiful.
When the Holy Spirit helps me to pair the truth of Scripture – the reality of who I am and the beauty of who God sees when he looks at me (that’s Jesus, y’all! He sees me like I’m his perfect, spotless Son!) with the amazing Grace that I just don’t deserve, my emptiness is filled with hope. And that renews my mind.
“Do not be conformed any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing, and perfect will.” Romans 12:2
I think we so often look at this verse and think about changing from being bad, sinful Christians to good, doing-the-right-thing Christians. But I think this verse is so much more than that! The pattern of this world is emptiness and self-service. When my mind is renewed in God’s truth and grace, I can see what God has for me – I can see his good, pleasing, and perfect will in my life. I can see the good in my depression. I can see that going through this has given me a unique opportunity to share the experience with others and help them find His solution, too. And if I have to go through fire and get really burned in order to help other burn victims, then so be it.
Glory be to God.