Menopause arrived early and chronic depression became my wake-up buddy. Almost daily. I learned how to deal with the occasional blues earlier in life. Hiking or cycling always worked wonders. Creativity helped dispel the gray fog, whether planting flowers, or trying a new recipe, or knitting a gift. And of course, drafting gratitude lists and looking for ways to reach out to someone else in need—all these things helped me manage situational depression.
But this was different. Instead of bouncing out of bed, I sludged awake with a definite lack of hope. Nothing energized me. There was no desire for the things that normally lit me up. I just wanted to sleep, long and deep. But that was rarely an option.
Usually by mid-morning, noon at the latest, I was able to beat it. But if depression was really defeated, then why did it show up again the next morning?
I finally mentioned it to my doctor who suggested a mild anti-depressant. But I balked. Tough women don’t take anti-depressants. No unnecessary drugs for me.
Removing the Stigma Behind Menopause and Depression
The almost-daily depression continued for twelve years and accompanied me into the hard place of financial setback, a live-in parent slipping further into Alzheimer’s, and my husband’s terminal cancer diagnosis. (Some people are slow learners.) And then a close friend pointed out that there was no stigma attached to treatment for physical health issues. “Your husband, for example,” she said. “Is there any shame in his agreeing to cancer treatment?”
Well, since you put it that way …
“So, how is consenting to treatment for ongoing depression any different?”
At my next annual check-up, I asked my physician in a resigned voice, “Would it be all right if you prescribed an anti-depressant?”
She agreed. And then she explained something she hadn’t told me earlier, perhaps not wanting to influence my decision: “If what’s causing your depression is an imbalance of hormones, then what you’re doing to combat it—getting outdoors, gratitude lists, volunteerism—isn’t going to cure it.”
Remarkably, in short order, the low-dose prescription discovered the normal me. It didn’t numb me. It didn’t make me giddy or restless. It simply brought normal back within my reach. And oh, what a gift to be my normal, creative, morning-person self again.
A couple years ago, after my husband passed away, I was going through an energetic season of decluttering when I decided to wean myself off the anti-depressant because I’d been feeling normal for so long. One less thing to clutter my life. But within a few weeks, I recognized the lackluster feeling, morning after morning. “You won’t believe what I did,” I whimpered to my doctor. She put me back on the anti-depressant and within a few weeks, I was my normal self again.
Depression and anxiety are brawny adversaries when we’re dealing with hard-hitting news, like, spread-of-cancer news, spouse-walking-out news, or loss-of-job news. Whether a shorter season of situational depression—triggered by grief, for example—or chronic depression, both can be managed effectively with the appropriate medication.
Author and pastor Erwin McManus wrote, “The moment you open yourself up and say, ‘I’m struggling with depression, or I’m struggling with anxiety, or I’m having panic attacks,’ just give you a verse to memorize and tell you to pray about it. Just trust Jesus.”
While those are definitely good things to do—trusting, praying, memorizing the words inspired by God—seeking medical help is also a good thing to do, as in the case of my husband with cancer.
McManus goes on to say, “Struggling with your inner world is not a sign of lack of faith. … It’s a sign that you are human. And if you step into this battle it doesn’t make you a coward. It actually makes you a warrior because it’s the most courageous thing you do: to go to war for your soul.”
Here is a question to ponder for those non-chronic times when the gray fog occasionally swirls around us: Can we lean into it and go about the business of our day, showing up for our families, showing up at work, pulling out paint brushes, lacing up hiking boots, connecting with friends, adding to gratitude lists, reaching out to someone in need?
Yes, waking up and staying wretchedly blue is different from waking up and doing something about the wretched blues.
Conversely, if our depression is ongoing, can we accept that this could be a longer-than-normal season of sorrow due to life circumstances? Or that it might be a result of hormonal imbalance? And could we consider medical treatment?
Yes. And without any shame.
Are you battling depression? We hope you find this podcast helpful: What Are the Unexpected Gifts of Depression? With Melissa Maimone – 095