Conversations With Healthy People #1: The Amusing, ‘Really?’

It’s days like today when I’m struggling to summon the energy to be a ‘functioning human being’ that I remember an honest and genuine conversation I had with one of my teenagers during Bible study a few months ago.

I recall this conversation to remind myself of God’s grace, strength and sustaining power that gets me through each day. It’s an encouragement to continue being honest about life, even when it’s painful and sucky. I must confess, it amuses me (greatly) and makes me giggle a little on the inside.

I also find comfort knowing that I can come back and read it whenever I need to.

We were discussing how God uses suffering to deepen our relationship with Him, better understand faith, build His Kingdom and bring Jesus glory. For the sake of application, I briefly mentioned that these truths give me hope, even though I am in pain every day…

…another interruption (but a welcomed one)…

“So, you’re really in pain?”
“Yes.”

“All the time?”
“Uh, huh.”

“You don’t look like you’re in pain.”
“I know.”

“Wait! You were in pain on Friday night?”
“Correct.”

“Are you saying that you’re actually in pain, right now?”
“You’ve got it.”

“…Like, now-now? Standing there?”
“Yup…”

and then he slumped back into his chair with a sympathetic bewilderment written on his face. I think he started to understand, which I am grateful for, even if it was just a little.

This wasn’t the first time I’ve had this conversation, and it probably won’t be the last. So, I’ll continue to embrace the small opportunities to encourage open and honest dialogue. Conversations that develop empathy and grace to spur one another on to rely on God and persevere in suffering for the sake of God’s kingdom.

2 Timothy 2:10 (NLT) “So I am willing to endure anything if it will bring salvation and eternal glory in Christ Jesus to those God has chosen.”

 

Six Reasons Why I May Be Happiest Depressed Person You’ve Ever Met

When I start getting to know new people, and we move from acquaintance to friend, I’m pretty open about my life. The chronic pain is hard to hide as it is, but I also mention that I have depression, and if they ask, I don’t hesitate to say it’s been around for a loooooooooong time.

As I’ve settled in a new city, with a new job and meeting new people, I’ve been told multiple times that I’m the ‘happiest depressed person’ they’ve ever met, which amuses me, greatly. I don’t really understand what ‘happiness’ feels like, yet I seem to project it. After some reflection, I think I’ve worked out why.

  1. When you’ve had an illness for 16 years and have received consistent treated for most of that time, you learn how to manage it. I can CBT myself like no one’s business. I never miss a dose of medication and every couple of years get reviewed by a psychiatrist. I regularly see my psychologist and check in with my GP monthly. I’ve taught myself how to get out of bed, even when I don’t have the energy. I’ve learnt how to smile when joy has faded.  Listening to other people is a welcomed distraction, and I can listen to my body by making healthy choices, even when I don’t feel like it.
  2. Some days are better than others, but the practice of gratitude and acceptance helps me make the most of the good days which makes the bad days a little bit easier.
  3. I have built an incredible support network – a team made up of family, friends, work colleagues and professionals. When the depression overwhelms me with loneliness, I’m rarely actually isolated. When the depression has me hating on myself, people are quick to show me their love.
  4. I’ve found healing and acceptance in sharing my story, bringing awareness and supporting others in their mental illness. It gives a sense of purpose, a weapon to fight against overwhelming hopelessness and helplessness. Being open and honest also demonstrates that there is no shame in having a Mental Illness.
  5. I grew up in a family where depression was understood. I have never felt the stigma society holds around mental illness which makes acceptance and openness easier.
  6. I trust in a faithful Creator and have the perfect Counsellor living inside of me. I have hope in a new, perfect creation and faith in a God who is loving, holy and just. These truths bring me joy that stops an often futile ‘pursuit of happiness’ and enables me to rest in spiritual peace (sometimes my emotions are just a little slow to catch up with spiritual truths).

But please don’t be mistaken…

I still battle with depression. I still have days where I cry all morning. I still have mornings where it takes all my energy reserves just to get out of bed. I still experience overwhelming with sadness. I still need patience, empathy, love, support, to take medication and participate in psychotherapy.

Accepting that I have a chronic mental illness doesn’t mean I have a defeatest attitude. I eagerly await the day I no longer have to deal with depression, acknowledging it may not happen in this lifetime.

You can’t compare me to other people you know with depression as everyone is on their own journey. Let’s be real, most people haven’t spent (approximately) 64% of their life learning the skills needed to be a high functioning. Instead, encourage them to seek appropriate, professional treatment; help them find mutual support; show them love through compassionate empathy and remind them that hope and healing from depression is possible.

Winterfest 2016

Winterfest is over, God in His goodness sustained me through the week in a way far greater than I could have ever imagined.

As Winterfest approached at the end of term two, I confess, I started to freak out. I know the physical drain/impact a Holiday Kids Program can have on my body – this wasn’t my first rodeo… but last Thursday God gave me what I call a gentle ‘slap’ from the Holy Spirit. How self centred I was to think that a week of telling kids about Jesus had anything to do with me. How arrogant I was to feel like my health could hinder God’s work. How faithless it is to enter a week of mission, relying on my own strength (or lack thereof). My prayer quickly changed – if I was going to get through this week and if God wanted to use me, it was up to Him to sustain me.

In 2 Corinthians 12:9, God says to Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” My response? Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.

God is faithful. I may be in agony now, but I made it through the week because of His faithfulness. I am grateful for the reminder that every step I make is based on God’s sovereign power and for His glory!

Now to rest my weary and achey body with all things pink, Annie, tea, my onesie, fluffy dressing gown, Netflix, a massive sleep in, “everyday I’m shuffling” on repeat in my head every time I walk (or more accurately, my attempt to walk that resembles a slow hobble), and the joy and peace that comes from knowing I was able to be part of the proclamation of the gospel this week.

What ‘in Sickness and in Health’ Really Means

First published on The Mighty.

If you’re thinking about marriage – you may be engaged, talking about engagement or fanaticising about marrying that beautiful man. Whatever your status is, seriously ask yourself, are you really ready to say “I do.”

After writing a letter to my newly divorced self I realised, at 20 years old, my fiancé had no idea what he was committing to. When he looked into my eyes, shaking with nerves and excitement as he said “I do,” he actually didn’t understand what “in sickness and in health” meant.

I was pretty healthy! I was studying full time and had two jobs. Yes, he knew about my struggle with depression and had cared for me through many chest and sinus infections. Even though he knew all that when he put a ring on it, he was not prepared for Chronic Pain, Endometriosis and PCOS. Really, who is?

When we married in November 2010 we were both pretty healthy. Sadly, the chronic pain from endometriosis had well and truly set in during my January period. We had barely been married two months and his promise to love me in sickness and health was already being tested.

What does in sickness and in health mean?

Sure, you’re both healthy now. You can run, go for strolls on the beach, have a 10 pin bowling date, have painless sex and ready to stick by your partner for better and worse. But…

Are you willing to take an income hit when if they can’t work full time?

Are you willing to use days off to drive your partner to the doctors?

Are you willing to accept potential infertility?

Are you willing to see a marriage counsellor to help you process the grief and changes together?

Are you willing to see a sex therapist, even if it is super embarrassing and awkward?

Are you willing to deal with your grief?

Are you willing suck up your pride, seek your own support and see a counsellor yourself to help you accept, process and manage your own feelings of loss, disappointment, resentment, anger, bitterness and unfairness?

Are you willing to use your leave to help care for your partner if they need surgery?

Are you willing to watch the person you love the most in this world suffer physical and mental pain?

Are you willing to advocate for your partner when they have lost hope and when no one else will?

Are you willing to learn about the illness with your partner?

Are you willing to do ask your friends and family for support?

Are you willing to try new activities, ones that you can do together, things you wouldn’t have tried until your options were limited?

Are you going to stick around and choose to love that person every day until ‘death do us part,’ even if you hate the illness?

It is true that you never know how you will react in a situation until you’re in it. But if you can’t answer yes to many of these questions, maybe it’s something to think about.

 

One Way: Jesus

…you’re the only one that I could live for. In troubled times it’s you I seek, because you’re the only one I need. I look to you and you are always there.

Photo taken in Melbourne was I was scouring the streets for street art, 2015.

#Jesus #oneway #grace #faith #love #john146

We’re All In This Together

I received some snail mail yesterday – an actual letter of the fun kind. It was such a joy to find it in my letter box, open and read it! A dear friend, a sister in Christ and chronic illness sent it from Sydney. We bonded during my gluten, dairy, and soy free diet trial; she was such an encouragement and had wealth of knowledge to make it a bit easier. When I opened the letter, I found “Chronic Illness Achievement” magnets. I was reminded that despite the pain, fatigue and headspins, I got out of bed, was kind and gentle with myself and I survived the day! It’s made this current, trifecta of a flare up just a little bit easier.

There are so many things about having an illness that is so hard, sucky and unfair. Yesterday I was reminded of one of the blessings – the community, solidarity, friendship and mutual support that can only come from shared experiences. It sucks that we have to go through the trails that we do, but at least we aren’t alone.

Sometimes I feel like I’m a member of some exclusive clubs:

When you can relate to people who also feel alone and misunderstood, no words can describe the relief and gratitude. While I was attending pain clinic, I made some beautiful friends whoes lives had been impacted in a similar way to me. One of the most significant and helpful parts of the program were these relationships. While I was in Lismore, I participated in a 12 step program where I found mutual support and understanding from others with mental illness. I made more more progress after 12 months of mutual help then I did with six years of one on one therapy. And last month I organised a met up with three other women who have Endo and living in Brisbane – we spent nearly 3 hours sharing our struggles and most of that time we were in laughter as we told our horror stories that no one else understands. Some of my closest friendships grew because we share pain, emotional and physical and had experienced the life-altering impacts it had on our lives.

I need to thank a zillion people for being on my support team – but this is my thank you to the many friends who have been able to encourage and support me as we have learnt to live with chronic illnesses. Thank you for being honest and vulnerable. Thank you for sharing and listening. Thank you for supporting me and letting me help you. Thank you for showing me I wasn’t alone when my feelings were telling me otherwise. Thank you for praying with me and for me. Thank you for your kind words and genuinely checking in when you were barely functioning yourself. Thank you for teaching me self-care and compassion. Thank you for pointing me to Jesus so that I could rely on God, rather than my weaknesses. Thank you for being a mirror so that I could see reality more clearly.

Remember, we are not alone and to believe that you are completely isolated is a lie from the enemy. You have me and have millions of others who, even though their individual experiences may be different, understand. They want to support you the way others have supported them and social media has made connecting and networking with people so much easier – especially the days you struggle to get out of bed!

My prayer is that you will find the courage, energy, and spoons needed to meet others who ‘get it and are also trying to manage their illnesses one step at a time. Feel free to send me a message – I’m an extrovert, so I love conversations and if I’m not well enough to chat today, I will tomorrow.

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…and even though we may not be able to physically dance like the wildcats, we’re all in this together.

To My Newly Separated Self After My Illness Led to Divorce

Writing this was emotional and cathartic. Not yet had the guts to post this on personal pages – maybe one day.

To My Newly Separated Self After My Illness Led to Divorce

Two and a half years later, I’ve written the letter I wish I could have read when my marriage ended because of my chronic illnesses.

To my newly separated self,

It’s over. It’s actually over. The person you loved the most has gone. Your best friend abandoned you. The person who made you a lifelong promise of commitment “for better and for worse… in sickness and in health” in front of your friends and family has walked away. No more cuddles, no more sweet texts, no more dinner dates… just — gone.

Yes, it is unfair, and it is scary. I know you’re heartbroken, hurting, ashamed and grieving. I can still remember feeling as if my heart was being ripped out through my stomach. I know you’re hurt, scared of judgment and being alone…

… but please give yourself space to grieve. You had already lost so much, your body, your mind, your dreams for the future and now your partner. Loss of any kind is difficult to deal with, so allow yourself to grieve. Cry, binge on Netflix, burn your photos, buy some new clothes, change your hair, eat liters of ice cream, absorb yourself in a book or visit your best mate — do whatever you need to do to process the reality that the relationship is over. The only wrong way to mourn is to deny yourself of the right and necessity to grieve.

Know that your spouse wasn’t rejecting you, they were trying to escape the illness. I don’t say this to justify the broken promises, nor devalue your pain. I say it to discourage self-blame, self-hate guilt and shame, because it is not your fault. You didn’t get to choose to be healthy, but your spouse chose not to love you unconditionally or honor their commitment.

Please don’t isolate yourself — you are not alone. Many relationships in which one partner has a chronic illness break down. It feels easier to stay in bed and not face the world, but there are people in your life who care about you and want to offer support. Yes, yes, some people will always be ignorant, but many will surprise you, and you can learn to ignore the ignorance. Besides, those who have dismissed your illness in the past may finally understand how it has infiltrated every part of your life.

Allow others to show you compassion and how valuable you are. It will help fight against and disprove the lies that you are unlovable, worthless, damaged goods or alone. It will reflect how resilient you have become. When people reach out, don’t send them away and when people feel far away, ask for support.

Learn to accept and forgive. Unfortunately, we live in a broken world inhabited with broken people that have broken relationships. This sad reality means forgiveness is necessary, unless you desire to grow bitter. The spiritual and emotional freedom that comes from forgiveness will help you accept your new life and grieve. Forgiveness, freedom and acceptance are far better than being consumed by hatred.

So don’t lose hope. Instead, share your pain, fears, tears, tissues, Netflix subscription, and tubs Ben and Jerry’s. Remember to say to yourself, “I have a restored relationship with the powerful creator of the universe, and his faith gives me tangible hope. I am loved and resilient. It’s OK to grieve. I can forgive and persevere.”

Besides, now that you’re single, you no longer have to consider someone else in most decisions you make or shave your legs every week. You can eat the food you want, spend more time with friends, choose the TV channel and work toward regaining your independence. 

Know that you have the strength to grieve your previous life and accept this new one. Keep trucking on.

With care, compassion, empathy and love,

Your divorced self.

P.S. I don’t recommend looking at wedding photos too much — it’s not a fun time!

How To Support Someone With a Chronic Illness: Listen

If you love someone with a Chronic Illness, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed, confused and hopeless. What can you possibly do to help them? It can seem impossible, especially when it’s a struggle for the unwell person to understand and comprehend what would help his/herself.

Last month I had a few friends join me to watch a special screening of a documentary called “Endo What?” After the movie two of them asked, “what can I say to, or do for someone who tells me, ‘I have Endo?’ How can I support them?” I confess, hesitated before I could reply because everyone is different and has individual needs.

Even when I look at myself, there is a stark contrast; what I need today is very different to what I needed two, four and even eight years ago. The only way to find out what someone needs is to listen to him or her. You may find that listening and believing what you hear is more than enough.

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At the moment, I am pretty stable. I am managing the symptoms well and have reached an emotional state of acceptance. The most supportive act someone could do for me today is to listen to my rants. I want to create awareness and help others to empathize compassionately with the next ‘Endo Sister’ they meet. I want them to recognize the signs and symptoms, so if they know someone who is suffering, they won’t conclude that they’re just “faking it” and instead, encourage them to look into Endo themselves. If you know more than ten women, you know someone with Endo, and many remain suffering, in the dark, undiagnosed.

Alex in 2005 and early 2011 needed someone to listen to my experiencing and validate the pain, not just assume I was overreacting or faking it. In 2010, I couldn’t drive, cook or clean and those close to me quickly knew I needed help with those tasks.

Two to four years ago, Alex needed someone to listen and hug me as I cried. I needed people to hear about the pain and acknowledge the strength it took to get out of bed every day.

18- 24 months ago I needed someone to listen and see how hopeless and suicidal I was. Those who listened understood I was desperate. They knew I just needed to hear someone say, ‘I’m here for you, and we will keep trying different treatments until you get better.’

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By truly listening to someone you can begin to understand what is at the core of the sorrow and frustration, and thus offer better support. This is called “active listening.” By focusing on your friend, avoiding distractions, being non-judgmental, reflecting and clarifying what you’ve heard them say and asking open questions are a few simple active listening skills. Active listening is the beginning of exercising empathy and compassion.

Sometimes we need a hug. Sometimes we need to grieve, cry and vent. Sometimes we need a good distraction, and sometimes we need to laugh. Other times we need practical help, for example, by being a taxi service, chef or offer room service. Often we can’t verbalize or even identify our needs are, but if you listen to us, you can help us reflect on our foggy and disjointed thoughts so we can start to understand ourselves.

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I believe this applies to any Chronic Illness. I would give the same answer to someone who asked for advice on how to support someone with PCOS, Chronic Pain or Mental Illness. The only way you can begin to help someone genuinely and effectively is to listen first.

If you ask the right questions and pay attention to what the person is communicating you will probably find they’re been trying to tell you what they need for a very long time. Unfortunately, medication, pain and other symptoms can mince our words, which require a bit more attention and reflection to get to the bottom of what is being said.

You can’t just assume that because your friend Jane Doe is having one experience, your cousin, Jillian is having the same experience. We all have different symptoms, comforts, effective distraction methods and relievers. Our functionality is as different as the severity of symptoms. The one thing we all have in common is the need to be loved, connected, wanted, valued, cared for and supported.

So the next time you’re feeling confused or overwhelmed by a loved ones illness. Stop. Ask. Listen. Reflect. Repeat. If you genuinely hear what’s being said and clarify: you can’t really go wrong, and at the very least, they will feel valued and validated through listening.

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The Why of Bloging

This post was originally posted as “The Why”  page on WordPress

Since I’ve started writing more regularly, I’ve been asking myself, Why?

Why Blog? Why share my life? Why talk about super personal stuff? Why do I want people to read my stories? Why publish my thoughts online for anyone to read? Why bother?

The writer of Ecclesiastes sums it up perfectly in verse two, “Meaningless! Meaningless!” says the Teacher.“Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless.”

Without God, everything is meaningless. Without a greater plan and purpose, my life is in vain. This truth has greater weight within the context of the suffering and pain I’ve experienced daily for over 15 years, courtesy of Severs Disease, Chronic Depression, Anxiety, PCOS, Endometriosis, Regional Complex Pain Syndrome and various forms/degrees of abuse. My goal in blogging is not to play the victim, nor is it to insight a pitiful ‘woe is Alex’ response – it is simply to help me comprehend and convey my reality – my life.

Surely, there is a purpose. Surely, these icky circumstances can be used for good. Surely, this pain isn’t going to end merely with just being eaten by worms. Surely there is something bigger at play. There just has to be.

One of my beautiful friends recently said to me, “although I don’t have the same beliefs, I truly believe you would be dead if it weren’t for your faith in God.” She is right. If this is all for nothing, if it is all in vain, why endure this pain any longer than I have to?

Faith.

Romans 8:28-30 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many
brothers. 
And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.

I believe this is not ‘it’. I believe in the ultimate glorification of Jesus, my Lord, and Saviour. I believe my creator can use any and all situations for good. I have hope, tangible hope that the choices I make today on earth have eternal consequences and hope that ‘this’ isn’t all there is. I eagerly look forward to the day my soul will rest with my creator, and I will be perfectly healed. There will be no more sickness, no more sadness, no more selfishness and ultimately, no more sin.

My fundamental goal in life is to use what God has given me to bring glory to Him. ‘What God has given me’ includes spiritual gifts and blessings, talents, passions, revelation, wisdom, and life experience. My desire is to use these as gifts as tools to help build God’s Kingdom, but it has taken a long time to see my life experience as a good thing.

I want to share my story because it’s a story of hope. In an individualistic society, we can be surrounded by hundreds of people and still feel alone. This feeling is often compounded when isolation increases due to chronic illness. I want you to know you are not alone. There are other people who ‘get it’ and you shouldn’t be afraid, to be honest. Most people live in ignorance, but if you can be encouraged to be truthful, there is a strong chance understanding can lead to empathy.

As Christians we are called to love – love God and love each other. God, throughout most of Biblical history, has told His people to show compassion and look after the sick and vulnerable. I truly believe that genuinely listening to someone evolves into compassionate understanding and awareness which then leads to supporting and loving that person.

This is the motivation to be as honest as I possibly can because I know I am not alone. I know too many women who want their horrible periods to be validated. I know too many people who isolate themselves due to depression. I know too many individuals who struggle to get out of bed because they’re in great pain. If you can understand someone’s illness even a smidgen more, you demonstrate love to them.

Imagine being able to tell someone ‘you matter to me because you matter to God’ by simply listening to them. Imagine being the first person to express ‘I believe your pain is real, I know you’re not faking it.’ Imagine being able to show people what Jesus is like by being more aware of how to support someone in a practical and helpful way. Unfortunately, we cannot read minds, which is why educating yourself and learning how people are affected by adversity can show true empathy, compassion, and love. I know when I hear someone mention an illness they have I want to find out as much information as I can. I feel like I can better support them if I understand them, even if it’s just a little bit.

2 Corinthians 12:9 – But he [The Lord] said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.

I am weak. I am flawed. I have blemishes. I am far from perfect. I had the opportunity to have my blog, The Five Stages of Endometriosis shared by a few different groups. One of them was Endo Active, who, even after their edit left this part in, “I’ve always been extremely grateful to have such a wonderful and supportive family, both earthly and spiritual. God has sustained, challenged and strengthened me. I praise Him every day for giving me His Spirit, Jesus sacrifice, and Gods love. I give thanks for some tangible hope as I eagerly await the perfect and restored body I’ll have in the New Creation.” Had I not openly shared my story and my life in such a raw and honest way, I would have not had the opportunity to proclaim Christ, my true hope. When I [admit my faults, my failings, my struggle and] decrease, He increases.

‘Destined’ to be Depressed

The Problem with Dysthymia (or Persistent/Chronic Depressive Disorder)

Dysthymia isn’t a word most people hear, even for those with a chronic depression diagnosis. According to the DSM-V, Dysthymia (or PDD/Persistent Depressive Disorder) is a mood disorder where you experience a low-level depression that lasts for at least two years.

If you’re like me, depression is normal. When I reached high school and started to make genuine friends, I was shocked to learn that deep down, most people didn’t want to die. I was amazed that most other people didn’t cringe at the thought of spending another 40, 50, 60 years stuck in your body, living with yourself. But not only was that not normal; it wasn’t healthy.

Depression runs in my family, on both sides, so I knew I had depression. Unfortunately 15 years ago, no one would diagnose or medicate a teenager, let alone a child. But as an adult, I’ve tried every treatment for depression under the sun and when nothing seems to ‘fix you,’ it’s easy to start thinking ‘maybe I was destined to be depressed.’

The problem with Dysthymia is…

 …that it is exhausting and relentless.

Medication and psychotherapy improve symptoms but doesn’t relieve them. You don’t get a chance to ‘relapse’ because you were never really in recovery. Hopelessness is hard to fight against when depression is relentless and its core is pessimism, sorrow, apathy, agitation, emptiness, lethargy and self-hatred. Compound that with never getting a break. That hobby you love can only placate you for a few hours (at the most). That movie will only distract you for minutes.

It feels like no matter how hard you try, there is no escape route. Imagine the person who annoys you the most, that person whose company only agitates and shatters you. Imagine never being able to get a minute away from that person, because it’s you.

Getting out of bed often feels like I’ve exerted the same amount of energy as you would at a gym session. The motivation to make healthy choices and maintain personal hygiene is arduous. The mental and emotional preparation needed to participate in activities just wipes me out. It never ends. It is exhausting.

…that it has nothing to do with life circumstances.

It was day 2 of my honeymoon when I texted my mum, “I love my job, I love what I am studying and I’ve just married the man I love, but I am still depressed.”

I was shocked as I sent it. Why can’t I just be ‘happy’?

When you have dysthymia, you can’t honestly answer ‘good’ when someone asks how you are, even if your circumstances are ‘good’ and stress-free. This only compounds the hopelessness, adds to the sadness and intensifies to the guilt. You can see the good things happening around you. You can appreciate the beautiful people in your life. You want to enjoy the things everyone else does… but you can’t. 

…the preference to die.

How ungrateful! You should be thankful you are alive. Life is a precious gift. There are plenty of people who have it worse. Your life isn’t that bad.

All of these things are true. Logically I understand it, but emotionally? I just can’t. I’m not suicidal; I won’t kill myself, nor do I have the plan to do so – but all I want is to escape myself and for the depression to end. If a bus ran over me, I’d be okay with it. If someone told me that I had 24 hours to live, I think I would dance. Often the thought of living another ten years is overwhelming, let alone 50 or 60.

Expressing these thoughts and feelings can mean future, legitimate suicidal ideations appear fake or a cry for attention (rather than genuine help). To say, “I wish I were dead,” is not a lie. Unfortunately, most people cannot distinguish genuinely suicidal thoughts from a less extreme preference to die.

…it’s so easy to hide.

When you’ve been depressed so long, it’s not only normal for you, but normal for those around you. People may not realise you’re depressed because that’s ‘just how you are,’ and it’s easier to be labelled a pessimist. If the symptoms are normal and treatments haven’t seemed to work, I think most people are less likely to seek extra help and support. If there appear to be no red flags to, well, flag – why bother, why waste my time and the doctors? It’s can be easier just to keep trotting away, as you have been, pretending everything is okay.

…the high rate of comorbidity.

 Due to the chronic nature of dysthymia, it rarely stays at that ‘lower-level’ – enter Double Depression. Depression (Major Depressive Disorder) is episodic – it has a beginning and an end. Many who receive effective treatment only experience depression once and others relapse, but it ends. I believe this is why, in Australia, only ten sessions with a psychologist is covered under Medicare. Ten is often enough.

…treatment is as long term as the disease.

I’ve been taking medication since 2008, and I am likely to be taking it until the day I die. I have seen a string of counsellors, psychologists, psychiatrists and other mental health professionals since 1998. I will probably have to for the rest of my life.

Because our brains have the ability to adapt constantly, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is one of the most effective forms of treatment for all forms of depression. CBT is about thought monitoring: consciously catching, challenging and changing your thoughts. Over time, the way your brain processes information changes, your feelings follow and eventually this becomes the norm – welcome to recovery.

Thought monitoring is exhausting, but for me, it never ends. Despite nearly 20 years of CBT, my brain hasn’t quite been able to make it natural. So, if I want to manage my mood and maintain some control, I have to CONSTANTLY assess and monitor my thoughts so that I can challenge them. It’s the only way not to spiral into a dark pit when stress rears its ugly head. It’s the only way I can try to shorten and minimise the frequency and intensity of an episode of Double Depression.

Not only this, but long term depression can also trigger other health issues, like anxiety, side-effects from medication, chronic pain, chronic fatigue, tension headaches, IBS, TMJD, addiction, obesity and insomnia. Persistent depression is rarely ‘just’ dysthymia.

The good news is that you’re not alone.

Unfortunately, mental illness is common – 1 in 5 Australians will experience a mental illness in any given year. The good news is, this means that awareness is increasing and mutual support is easier to find. It means that everyday stigma decreases and a treatment becomes more accessible. Find comfort in the fact that you are not alone.

With the right support networks – GP, psychiatrist, psychologist, family and friends – I have become more aware of my mood and have finally learnt to manage it. Double depression is decreasing, as the depressive episodes get shorter. I’m learning to practice self-compassion, rather than guilt. Every day, it gets a little bit easier to exercise and convert my unhelpful thoughts to helpful thoughts. Hope shouts a little louder than hopelessness. The deeper my relationship with God becomes, my capacity to fully trust Him and have genuine hope for complete healing increases.

Exercise, forcing yourself out of bed every day, taking your medication regularly, contributing to your community, meeting with friends, prayer, participating in therapy and leisure activities are just a few thing prescribed to treat depression. Be patient and persevere – healing and developing healthy habits takes time. Be honest about how you’re feeling and coping with life. Follow the guidance and advice of health care professionals. Find people who understand and will show you compassion when you can’t show it to yourself.

If I can learn to manage it, so can you.