Depression—The Triggers that Surprise

I have battled depression for many decades, and most of that time I was not even aware of it. During that time, to even consider what was happening as depression was considered a sign of weakness—and that could not happen! As I sank deeper into depression, though, the more I fought against that possibility the deeper the hole became. My desire to avoid that, eventually led me to work 18 hours/day, then 20 hours/day, then 22 hours/day. Two hours sleep is not healthy—for anyone. For one battling the unknown depression, it was disastrous. Ultimately, following a dramatic two year slide my body, my mind, and even my spirit rebelled, and gave up.

When you reach absolute bottom, it is not a pleasant place to be. I could neither read nor write. I couldn’t concentrate. And I couldn’t bear to be with other people. I was lonely, yet wanted to be left alone. Lamentations 3:17-20 captured where I was:

My soul has been rejected from peace; I have forgotten happiness. So I say, “My strength has perished, and so has my hope from the LORD.”
Remember my affliction and my wandering, the wormwood and bitterness. Surely my soul remembers and is bowed down within me.

I received professional help and medicine—notice, I received, I couldn’t even take the initiative to get help on my own. Over the next two years of recovery, as my body and mind rested, I was led to discover and even recognize what had happened to me. But my ultimate help came from God. Again in Lamentations 3:21-24

This I recall to my mind, therefore I have hope.
The LORD’s lovingkindnesses indeed never cease, for His compassions never fail.
They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness.
“The LORD is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I have hope in Him.”

In my mind, I did not want to go back to the darkness that slowly strangled me. God’s promises and deliverance were my new home for comfort and peace. And yet…

The Triggers that Surprise

At times I was caught … by that downward slide! What was happening? I thought I have moved beyond this experience. It can’t be happening again! I don’t want it, I can’t stand it one more time!

It took time, but finally I began to recognize that there were triggers around me that caused such a backward slide into depression. The triggers can be events (holiday, birthday, etc.), meeting certain people (who may have had no role in the original depression), or even time of year.

For me, the big trigger was the time of year. Every year from late January to early March, I sense this looming darkness in my spirit. It’s not something that charged into me, but a slow squeezing effect. And that brought back the memories and fears of the worst days of the depression and collapse.

Through this process, I realized that I was going back to the longer hours, if my body would permit it (thankfully, it would not). My approach changed from focusing on more work to focusing on protecting my heart—not an easy thing to do in weakness. During this 6-7 week period, I had to be careful about how much sleep I needed. I found that after the breakdown, sleep was easier for me. I couldn’t physically keep up the hours. And that was good.

Spiritually, I rediscovered how critical the Lord’s Supper was to me. Also, I had to specifically concentrate on maintaining daily Scripture reading, and prayer. For some people, this seems so obvious, “Well, duh!” But recovering from depression meant for me a daily battle, and not always successful. And as difficult as it was at times, I needed to be around people. Their fellowship, even when almost no one knew about my background and what I was experiencing, was critical for my stability. I didn’t even need to talk, just to be around people was important.

It has been 14 years,a and the trigger of winter still rises every year. It is not as intense as it had been in the first 3-4 years. But it is there; the battle has begun anew in the last two weeks.

There are other triggers. Occasionally I will hear a song that brings back the depression in all its ugliness. Other times, it will be a smell that evokes memories. Even glimpses of photos will take me back 50 years… and the battle of depression, unknown at the time, comes upon me.

Once again I am drawn back to Lamentations 3:1-24

This I recall to my mind, therefore I have hope.
The LORD’s lovingkindnesses indeed never cease, for His compassions never fail.
They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness.
“The LORD is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I have hope in Him.”

About exegete77

disciple of Jesus Christ, husband, father, grandfather, great-grandfather, teacher, and theologian
This entry was posted in Meditatio, Oratio, Personal Reflection, Tentatio and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

22 Responses to Depression—The Triggers that Surprise

  1. Mary Johnson says:

    Winter is truly a bear that my husband and myself struggle with each year. I make a point to go outside in the sunlight at lunch breaks every day. Get it on my face. The other thing we did was to plan ahead for these months and have things to do that we could look forward to. We’re seeing the grandkids next month, and will have some time at the river with a nice fire blazing.

    I’m grateful to have never suffered from a protracted depression, but I know from family members and friends who have gone through it, it’s a horrific place to be. For those who are on the outside, it seems that nothing you can do will help those you love and care for. I’m happy you found a way through and out. That was no small feat.

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    • exegete77 says:

      Thanks for your comments, Mary. The fact that you understand when family members face the depths of depressions speaks volumes about your sensitivity on this. It is difficult as one who suffers from depression to open up to someone. Your family is blessed to have you available to be that listening ear.

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  2. Angie Raddatz says:

    My struggle is worst from August-October. Of the 15 times I’ve been hospitalized, 14 have been during this time of year. I even have trouble during the so-called good times, because I always know they will end and the bad times will return. I’ve stopped asking why this happens to me. It’s been part of my life for 27 years now. God still holds my heart and somewhere there is a piece of joy in there. I am always grateful for normal moments. Just a tiny glimmer of respite. It is enough to keep me going. God knows what I need.

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    • exegete77 says:

      Angie, my heart goes out to you. I lived for 49 years before I saw what had plagued me for more than 30 years. I continue to pray for you, because sometimes the road is long and difficult. But as we both have shared, our God is right there through the toughest days.

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      • Angie Raddatz says:

        Thanks so much, Rich. It is so good that you have brought this subject to light.

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  3. Ashley H. says:

    Yes, I know exactly what you speak of here, Rich. Especially not being able to concentrate or reach out for help. The book, “Christians Get Depressed Too” was an especially helpful resource after the fact to process. I keep a much closer eye on my emotional health now. Winter is hard for me too. I like the ideas Mary mentioned above to help with winter. Thank you for sharing such a personal topic. I truly believe that we should unlock the shame associated with this topic by bringing it to light. No one is immune.

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    • exegete77 says:

      I fought the shame factor for the past 14 years… a difficult hurdle. But as I have slowly opened up, I have discovered many others who suffered silently because they thought no one understood… Best of all, God understands. My prayers are for you, Ashley.

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  4. Emily Cook says:

    Thank you for this post Rich. As you know I relate in many ways.

    One thing that surprised me: I never realized that over-working (keeping oneself too busy) could be a symptom… but as I consider myself, I see that is in me. Sometimes I try to fight depression with exercise, which is a good idea, but then I feel a temptation to take that to an extreme- like I could literally run far and fast enough to run AWAY from depression!

    When I feel that pull of the pit again, like you I also try to carve out extra time for taking care of myself- mental, spiritual, and physical self- and to receive, as you have said so well, the help that i need in those areas. (meds, writing therapy, extra time in Scripture, etc)

    And the Lord’s Supper- I second your sentiment. Sometimes it can be the one thing that gets right down into the pit with me. God is with me- loves me- even here!

    I hope to see more posts on this topic🙂

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    • exegete77 says:

      Thanks, Emily. For me the real problem is overwork, because I could generally accomplish everything I tried… That just fueled my need to work even more. “Hard work solves a lot of problems.” I lived that life, and it nearly destroyed me. Don’t get me wrong, I still work hard, but it is not the means to an end that cannot be solved that way. If you know what I mean…😀

      And, yes, there are more posts in the heart waiting to come out…

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  5. John Malchow says:

    Pr. Rich, I have friends in AK, as well as my self who have sun light deprivation problems this time of year. A friend who lives in Fairbanks said a full wave florescent lite about half hour a day helps along with vitamins, seems to help me. It is amazing how light, in all forms, help us against the darkness. John M.

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    • exegete77 says:

      Howdy, John. I have heard about and know people who have that problem. It doesn’t seem to be so, in my case. And my full blown descent into crash-and-burn mode took place from April-July. But others have contacted me off-line and noted the same as you suggest; so tanning beds in the winter seem to work for them… Now, for me, a light skinned Irish old codger… even tanning beds come with dangers.🙂

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  6. As a fellow pastor who wrestles with depression and anxiety, I appreciate your candidness. It’s difficult for pastors to admit struggling with depression (or ANY Mental Illness) because it’s often seen as a “faith” issue. Too many televangelists/shysters tell you that if you had strong faith, you wouldn’t have these problems. My main issue has been perfectionism. Everything, from sermons to Meetings, had to be perfect. If things didn’t run right, I figured it was my fault. I try to focus on the vitally important stuff and allow the rest to be dealt with when I can.

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    • exegete77 says:

      Thanks for your comments, Jeff. Yes, that whole “faith” is troubling, because it is performance based, when at that very moment, the person who is depressed cannot perform. That is why the critical factor is not MY faith, but the subject of faith, namely Jesus Christ and Him crucified. Oh, and I have struggled with perfectionism, too… Often I would try something, but if it didn’t turn out right, I wouldn’t ever go back to it, and I would never tell anyone about it.

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  7. lifeinlimits says:

    Rich, over the last few years, I have also noticed a tendency toward depression during January to March. I’m a Florida girl, still, after nearly 20 years of living elsewhere, but the winter is especially difficult for me as well and the sunless factor merely makes it worse.🙂 Thank you for the beautiful scriptures and for reminding me to be aware and to cling to the Lifter of our Heads.

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    • exegete77 says:

      Thanks for stopping by, Audra. Blessings to you and your family. I am beginning to discover how wide this issue of depression can be. Many people have either emailed or spoken in person about their fear that they were the only ones who suffered…A silent plague in the church…

      Yes, ultimately the Scriptures become the foundation for not only a new beginning, but also clinging to when depression lurks.

      BTW, I have several other posts in this series that I will address other aspects of depression from a Biblical perspective, and how that works in real life.

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  8. Sharon Carruesco says:

    I know those feelings. How may I pray for you?

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    • exegete77 says:

      … that I focus on that which is most important.

      Sharon, thanks for your concern and care. BTW, I am addressing that specific topic as I am writing the next in this series.

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  9. amy says:

    O Lord, Jesus Christ, thank you for your servant Rich and for beckoning his heart to share in such a personal topic. Thank you for restoring his soul and granting him an awareness of this tool of our enemy. Bless him to keep his eyes fixed upon Thee, to nurture and protect the temple of Your Holy Spirit, so that he may continue to touch others for the Kingdom of Heaven. In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen. †

    Rich, you have my prayers and deepest sympathy. I am acquainted with depression as it runs in our family and I know the feelings of helplessness both in myself and in watching other family members suffer with it – what an ugly beast it is!

    I like the verses you shared from Lamentations, as they certainly hit the nail on the head with regard to the darkness of depression. A strange comfort in knowing others visit the pit, too. For my own part, I find help through outdoor exercise, the companionship of my pets, writing and praying in purity. By that, I mean to pray when I don’t want to…when I’m downcast and in the void or angry… by making myself pray those dry prayers and offer to God my pain as a sacrifice. My prayer that my pain will not be in vain.

    With my love and enjoyment of aromatherapy, it’s interesting to me that you mentioned the sense of smell as a trigger for depression. There is a powerful memory attached to our olfactory sense, in what can be a healing pathway. One that I believe is underutilized in our culture. For example, within one of my programs on prayer to a ladies group, I offered the suggestion of using a scented candle during prayer times (the same one each time). The effect may be twofold: one, there is the physical act of lighting the candle, or bringing light into the room, symbolizing the Light of Christ and how darkness can never overcome Him. Second, the scent emanating from the melting wax will create a ‘scent memory’ (assuming you use the same scent every time) that may become associated with times of peace, of prayer and time spent with God. And so, in this way, scent can become a powerful tool of healing.

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    • exegete77 says:

      Thanks, Amy for the prayer. It means a lot. Also, your comment about the difficulty of prayer seems very much on target. Sometimes it feels like pulling teeth.

      Interesting comments about aromatherapy. As I reflect about when we met four years ago, I now remember that you talked about your interest and use of it. Gives me pause to think about it in this context. If only my allergies were not so bad…

      Blessings, and thanks for your friendship in the Lord.

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  10. Pingback: Depression and Memory | "believe, teach, and confess"

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  12. Jenni says:

    Thank you for writing this, Rich. I’ve fought Major Depressive Disorder since I was about 10 – 12 years old. I first rec’d treatment when I was 27 years old. The MDD is here everyday. I’ve prayed to God to take this away from me. He has given it to me for a reason. I’m still trying to figure out why.

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