Coping with Depression
By Jeanette DeLoatche Phelps
I cannot tell you when the sun came up over the horizon in my life. I do not know the time or place when a smile returned to my face. All I know is that for the first time in two years I’ve felt hope. I now believe that I will make it. I am a woman in leadership who suffers from clinical depression.
I was called to ministry before it was fashionable for a woman. At the time, I didn’t know that I had a depressive disorder. It began to surface after my mother died. Six months after her death, I received my first ministry assignment that required a relocation to another place in Virginia where I hoped the lofty mountains and the majestic panorama would be the prescription I needed to get back into the swing of things. But nothing changed my melancholy mood.
It’s not uncommon to have a period of depression after experiencing dramatic changes. The death of my mother, relocating to a new area, and starting a new career were major changes. I was excited about my new job, but after a few weeks, I began to experience the downward spiral of depression. My dreary mood didn’t lessen as time passed. I felt sad, anxious, helpless, fatigued, and empty. Depression shook my world. The intensity of it was like fire that swept through my heart charring my self-esteem, singeing my thoughts, and diminishing my spirit to ashes.
There were long periods of excessive crying, sleeplessness, chronic joint pain, loss of appetite, and thoughts of death. Before my medical diagnosis, I felt as though my entire being had been shattered into thousands of pieces. There were days when my mood was so downcast that I didn’t believe that I was going to make it through the day. No matter how hard I tried to maintain some sense of balance and spirituality, I felt that the depression was stronger than my mind and my faith. Thereafter, it was a struggle for me to socialize and perform daily responsibilities. Some days I would move from the bed to the sofa and sleep off and on throughout the day. Then I would have what I describe as “marathon nights” when I couldn’t sleep. These on-going episodes affected my mind, body, and spirit. I was on the brink of emotional collapse. In spite of all of this, I didn’t abandon my duties in ministry.
Occasionally, I would do visitations, but I would come home completely exhausted. Almost a year had passed and I was still struggling with depression. In my depressed state, I didn’t feel that I was contributing anything positive to God or others. Soon I began to think that there was no reason for me to continue living. Thoughts of suicide repeatedly tormented me and finally I admitted that I wanted to die. I knew then that I needed professional help.
No one wants to disclose that they have depression, especially when you are in leadership. There is a prevalent stigma associated with depression and I didn’t want to be labeled mentally ill. Finally, my sister persuaded me to contact my physician. Doctors performed a series of tests that determined that I was clinically depressed. Afterwards, I was prescribed a combination of antidepressant medication and psychotherapy. When I talked with family members and close friends about my illness and the affect it had on me, I encountered negative reactions. I was repeatedly criticized for not having enough faith or allowing the enemy to steal my joy. I had well-meaning friends who quoted Scripture passages, prayed long grueling prayers, and laid hands on me trying to rebuke this “thing” from me. After several failed attempts to get positive support, I chose to remain silent about my illness.
I didn’t read my Bible on a daily basis because I wasn’t able to concentrate. I would listen to Christian TV and music hoping that something would be said to ignite some sense of joy. Then one morning when I was sitting in the living room, I heard a classic hymn on the radio. “When Jesus comes the tempter’s power is broken. When Jesus comes, He wipes all tears away. He takes the gloom and fills it with His glory. For all is changed when Jesus comes to stay.” While these words resonated in my heart, I felt warm tears flow down my face and suddenly felt an uplift in my soul. I started to believe that there was hope for me.
Although I began to feel better, I continued taking my medication. The antidepressants helped stabilize and manage my emotions. By the grace of God, I was able to receive thorough professional Christian counseling. The counselor helped me to discover how to problem solve, gain self-confidence, and resolve situations that were stressful. I was advised to change my eating habits and establish a better sleep routine.
I am now more informed about my depression and how to manage it. At every turning point, God’s love has been present. I know for certain that is has been by His power that I am able to say, “Today is a good day.” As I embrace my daily walk of faith, I am finally realizing that I must face life’s stressors as they come without any reservations.
Depression is a vicious and bewildering illness. It can come without warning and it’s capable of devastating you. Anyone who is experiencing depression needs a non-judgmental person they can trust for support. I have been very fortunate to have the support of a devoted sister who from the onset has unconditionally encouraged me through this difficult journey. Depression does not have to end your life. I am healing and each day my intent is to stay positive and trust in God’s faithfulness. Whenever I start to feel depressed I remember the hymn, “When Jesus Comes” and I know that all things are possible to those who believe.
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