Don't Go It Alone / Support Groups Work

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Besides just having a website, with Patched we also facilitate support groups for people struggling with depression.  In these groups we discuss a lot of the issues and strategies that are found in the articles on this website as well as some others that aren’t.  We are also able to do some beneficial activities like personality tests.  The information given in our group isn’t the only important thing, though.  Sure good info is important, but if that was everything we wouldn’t have groups at all, we would just keep promoting and expanding our website.  Restoration won't simply come through your brain though.  Another necessary factor is being with others that hear and know your struggle, and more than that can understand it.  There is such healing that can take place when we’re vulnerable and also fully understood.

The two most powerful words when we're in struggle: me too.   Brené Brown

This year's support group has been an interesting one because it's been even more up and down than normal. It's been a powerful reminder of just how difficult it is for people struggling with depression to go to a group.  There are some weeks where I have multiple people emailing me and telling me how much they need a group like ours, sometimes even promising to be there, but when it’s time for the group to start no one shows.  Those that do show all say the same thing… “I almost didn’t come” or “I started to turn around like 5 times on my way over here.”  It's so common.

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m not venting frustrations here.  I know exactly how difficult it is to go to a group when you’re depressed, and I want to bring those feelings to light so that hopefully they'll become less powerful.  When I was at my worst at the University of Florida, I started going to group counseling with 3 other guys.  It was led by two grad students.  I don’t remember exactly what their major was, but it’s pretty safe to say it was something having to do with mental health.  Anyways, I LOVED that group.  It was one of the few bright spots in my week, and one of the few times where I would leave something actually thinking clearly.

Unfortunately, I started going to there a little too late in the evolution of my depression, and I wasn’t able to curb its onslaught without going back home and focusing on my healing.  I remember, though, one weekend coming back up to Gainesville to get some stuff I had left and to see a few of my friends.  The day before I was to head up there, the leaders of the counseling group called me to tell me that everyone missed me and would love for me to come the following day so they could hear how I was doing.  I was really touched by this and knew that it would be extremely beneficial for me to go, so I promised them that I would be there. 

The next day came, and I made that two hour trip up to Gainesville in the morning.  The group was meeting on campus in the afternoon, and when the time came I just couldn’t bring myself to go.  I felt terrible about it too because they had only been awesome to me and I really cared for the leaders and liked the other guys in the group.  I had promised them I would be there too.  The worst part about it was that I wanted to go, and I knew that it would actually be good for me.  

Again, I’m seeing now how common this type of experience is among the depressed, and I’m reminded of how powerful depression is.  I bring it up so that we can expect these feelings to come and be ready to ignore them.  Not wanting to go to a meeting is normal even when you’re not depressed, but that’s amplified probably 10 times when you are depressed.  However, those that do press through and come are always SOOOOO appreciative.  Our group always ends with many thank you’s and genuine appreciation from anyone who came.  Again, not because we’re special but because it’s exactly what you need.  

The saying “misery loves company” gets a bad rap.  It’s always used to say that grumpy people just don’t want to see you happy.   There’s actually some profound truth to this saying, though, that isn’t negative.  When it comes to depression, misery actually needs company.  This is not something you can fight on your own.  You need people with you, and especially people that can say “me too” like the Brené Brown quote from earlier was talking about.  You find those people in support groups.  So next time you’re getting ready to go to one tell your feelings “I know what you’re gonna say, and I don’t want to hear it.”

Spiritual Depression: Its Causes and Cure

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The next book I would like to review is a classic.  It’s the incredibly potent Spiritual Depression: It’s Causes and Cure by Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones.  This is another easy one to review but not because it immediately stuck with me, rather I was so impressed and impacted by it that I’ve read it multiple times.  Let’s dive in.

Overview

More than any other book or ministry, the layout and strategy of Spiritual Depression has provided the general blueprint for the way we approach fighting depression here with Patched.  It seeks to address the spiritual needs of a person while still maintaining a balanced understanding of addressing the physical.  Also, his strategy is not to make sweeping statements about depression.  He highlights multiple different contributing factors and attempts to deal with each one individually.  While reading through his book there were some chapters that I found mildly helpful and others that screamed “This is for you!”  That's kind of what we envision happening on this website as well.  Not every article may be for you but some we hope will be exactly what you need to hear.  

Pros

The Author

Martyn Lloyd-Jones (1899 – 1981) was an admired leader in his day.  A fiery Welshman, he pastored the famous Westminster Church in London for 25 years.  Apparently he was an actual medical doctor too which is pretty impressive.  He’s one of those guys that has seen everything and never stopped serving people’s spiritual needs.  I respect any one that was born in the 1800's too :)  I consider him a rock solid source.

Insight

On that same level, he shows why you should listen to him by displaying remarkable insight into the mostly spiritual but also physical causes of depression.  He doesn’t choose clichéd verses or nominally positive sayings to discuss.  He goes deep from the start and it’s really good.  There are some chapters that may not really apply to you, but I guarantee that there are others that will ring true.  He has kind of a hurt-so-good approach where he cuts straight to the issue, but he’s not cruel in any way.  It’s powerful and it works.

Thorough

The physician in him definitely comes out in the book.  He wants to fully discuss all causes, symptoms, and cures leaving no stone unturned.  When you’re ill though, physically or mentally, you want someone like this.  He doesn’t leave a lot of room for misinterpretation of what he’s saying either.  He covers all the angles including common traps that people fall into.

Cons

Old

He’s from another era and it comes across in his English.  Of course it’s perfectly understandable but it just slows down the reading.  Some of it is refreshingly classic, but if you were looking for insight into unplugging from today’s technological world you’re not going to find those types of discussions.  You trade off modern references and stories for an understanding of things that have caused depression for generations.

Heady

It’s incredibly rich reading.  It has depth and breadth, focusing on large issues of God’s love, our nature, good and evil, Jesus’ sacrifice, etc. without just passing over things with broad generalized statements.  Again, this is part of why the book is good, but, combined with the age of the book, it certainly slows down your reading.  Just be warned.

Not for everyone

Finally, I obviously love this book, but it’s for those that are seeking God in this struggle.  He makes no effort to put things in more generalized terms.  Also some biblical understanding is helpful.  If that’s just not where you’re at, and you’re not open to exploring than it’s probably not for you. 

Conclusion

My wife always teases me when she sees me reading this book.  “Reading it again, huh?”  Now that I’m really invested in trying to help people that are struggling with depression I constantly refer back to it.  There’s always a little piece of wisdom that I’m looking for that I can’t quite remember how he said it.  I wholeheartedly recommend this book, and if you do decide to read it I really hope that it helps you too.  Feel free to email me if you do read it.  Some of the writing really needs to be discussed with someone else.

Is Depression A Disease?

During the years I was battling with depression, from time to time I would hear people label it a disease.  I appreciated the grace they were offering me and everything, but I always thought they were mistaken.  I saw them as well-intentioned but probably just unwilling to deliver the hard truth to weak people.   I always felt like I just needed to be mentally stronger, get off my butt, and snap out of this.   It wasn’t like there was some rare bacteria in my brain or anything else quantifiable going on.  The blame, I felt certain, rested on my own shoulders.

Now that depression’s grip no longer holds my life, I tend to see things more clearly.  I understand that depression isn’t a disease in the technical sense, it’s more of a side effect of mental and emotional pain, but in the practical sense it really behaves like a disease and should be thought of as one.

Diseases have defining characteristics which mark them, and clinical depression has its signs and symptoms too like sadness, irritability, sleep changes, and difficulty thinking clearly.  Also, when you talk with people who are suffering from depression, you can plainly see its fingerprint.  Like a disease depression also attacks a specific part of you, namely your feelings and emotions. 

Just recently I asked a friend of mine, who is both struggling with depression and job-hunting, how an interview went.  He said that it went well but that he didn’t “feel like anything was worth trying for” and that he was going to go get drunk.  My friend is a bright, passionate guy with plenty of goals and possibilities for the future.  Right now, however, he’s entangled by depression, and he can’t feel positive emotions like hope and anticipation.  This may sound strange but there was no doubt in my mind that it wasn’t really him saying those words.  It was his depression.  It really is its own entity that needs to be isolated from the rest of its host (my attempt to use a technical term) in order to fight it.

Diseases also have specific cures.  There are vaccines and antibiotics that are used to fight them.  One main premise of this website and ministry is that there is a particular way out of depression.  There are certain things that your brain, body, and even soul need in order to come out of this condition.  Many of our articles and links are meant to guide you to these antidotes.  Some are also there to warn you of things that will only cause you to sink deeper into the pit (the anti-antidotes?).  For instance, if you try to simply out work depression or attempt to motivate yourself by internally berating your character, strength, work-ethic, etc., you will certainly end up worse in the long run.

So yes, I do feel that depression is a disease.  In some ways, it’s the most sinister of diseases.  It attacks positive emotions and the will to live, dance, laugh, and be free.  In the worst of cases, it can be deadly by actually manipulating someone into taking his or her life with their own hands.  I don’t like to talk about that either, but I think it’s important to remember how serious depression can be.  It’s heart-breaking to see people put off receiving help when there’s so much on the line. 

The good news is that there are cures and that it is temporary.  You can absolutely come out on the other side of this strong and free.  If you’re struggling with depression, I know it’s hard to feel it, but please believe me when I say it won’t last forever.

 

The Noonday Demon

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The first book up for review is The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression by Andrew Solomon.  I’m choosing to start with this one not because I think it’s the first book someone should read but because it was so well-written that it easily stuck with me.  I don’t need to pick up a copy from the library to flip through in order to remember what was said.  I actually downloaded the audiobook and as soon as I began playing it I recognized Andrew’s voice.  I had already heard him give a TED talk on depression that I thoroughly enjoyed.  So you can definitely count me as a fan of Andrew’s.  That isn’t to say that I agree with everything that he says but as you’ll see in the review I find him authentic and balanced in his views which are two traits that I really value.  Well, without further ado, here are my top pros and cons for The Noonday Demon...

Pros

1)      Authentic.  The main strength of this book is the powerful portrayal he gives of an enduring battle with depression.  It’s not his goal to sugar coat the struggle or to falsely prop up his readers.  He gives an accurate and honest account of his feelings during his depressive episodes and pulls no punches with his stories.   It can make the book hard to read at times, but I ended up really appreciating his candor. 

2)      Balanced.  I don’t know why, but I kept expecting him to go off on a rant against some opposite view point to his own.  The fact that he never did speaks of his character and earned him a lot of credibility with me.  He’s pro-medication but gave a good synopsis of the various drawbacks.  He’s clear about the political party he favors, but he didn’t take shots at the other side.  Probably most important for me, though, was his handling of faith.  It’s a sensitive area for me because a lot of my push is to show people that God is our ally in this fight.  He isn’t really a man of faith, but he was very respectful towards its role in overcoming depression, even saying something along the lines of how he thinks it’s a great idea for people to pursue.

3)      Well-written.  I know this is more stylistic, but it's still important.  It’s really difficult to get through a book, especially a book on depression, if it’s poorly written.  The book flows and it’s clear that he’s a writer.  It’s also rich.  He says more in his 688 pages than many books that are twice as long. 

Cons

1)      Weighty. It’s not necessarily an up-lifting book.  That’s no knock against it, like I said I really appreciated his candor, but it does narrow the audience.  If you are currently in the throes of depression, it’s not a book that I would recommend for you.  It may actually cause you to go deeper.  It’s more for the severely depressed that are at a point in their fight that they’re able to reflect.  It can be uplifting to know that someone else has walked in your shoes, but even still should only be read while outside of a depressive episode.

2)      Not for the faint of heart.  I guess this ties into number one, but not only are these stories not uplifting they might be difficult to handle for some.  He gives a detailed account of trying to contract AIDS as a kind of slow suicide attempt.  He also tells a heart-breaking story of euthanasia when his mother was terminally ill.  It's real life but just be ready for it.

Main lessons learned

There are numerous nuggets of wisdom in this book, but I think the overarching lesson for me was that treatment for depression depends on severity.  Some people try to simplify things and say that improving the basics (diet, exercise, and sleep) are enough to overcome depression.  The basics are really powerful, but they aren’t powerful enough on their own for the severely depressed.  When I read books and articles that oversimplify the struggle and give various success stories, I often think that the issue is we’re not talking about the same type of person.  The more mildly depressed may just need small changes, but this book is about the severely depressed and they have to be treated differently.

Conclusion

Overall, it’s outstanding.  It’s the most quotable book on depression that I’ve read.  His thoughts are so on-point and well put that I could use them in almost any depression related article I wanted to write.  Again, the only caveat is to wait until you’re feeling at least ok before you read this book.  It’s not really about cures even though he gives helpful advice.  It’s more about understanding and not feeling alone.   In the end, I’m thankful for this book.  If you decide to read it, I think you can expect to come out of it with much more knowledge than you had before.

This is my first of hopefully many book reviews.  The first 7 or 8 will be books that I read a while ago, so I’m going to discuss them in general terms.  I probably won’t be able to pull many quotes.  I’ll read future books more with the idea of writing a review about them in order to give a better synopsis.  My goal is to give you some good places to start in your reading and try to keep you away from unhelpful or even harmful books. 

Simplifying Your Goals

I began my teaching career with absolutely no experience. I hadn’t completed a single education class in college or an internship. One of my local high schools simply needed a teacher and I needed a job. Luckily I had the right degree, and miraculously I was hired. Little did I know I was in for the shock of my life. It was utter chaos. My naive hopes of eager students gazing at me wide-eyed while I expanded their minds were quickly dashed. Every class was the same. I would have some kids sleeping, some on their phone, some shouting across the room, and others throwing things. There was cursing, crude drawings, consistent "I hate you and your class" comments, and only a rare few students actually did what I asked.

I fought the good fight though. I felt like maybe my calling was to be a teacher, and I really didn’t want to lose this job. I tried my best to whip everybody into shape with a little "Lift your head up Karina! Watch your mouth Harrison! Where is your book Trevon? Go get it! Keep it down, people! I can’t hear myself think!" I was fighting 50 battles at the same time and not winning any of them for more than a few minutes. It was exhausting and so discouraging. I was sorely tempted to quit. The scope and quantity of the problems plus a keen awareness of the sheer energy it would take to tackle each one left me feeling paralyzed.

I finally saw things turn for the better when I decided to choose just one thing I wanted to change and focus on making that one thing happen. I started with the sleeping. Maybe I couldn’t stop every f-bomb or paper airplane, but this was a real class and not nap time. I made sure that no one slept in my class, ever, and I could feel a small change overall because of it. Since students noticed I took sleeping seriously they tightened up ever so slightly in other areas too. There was still cursing, flying objects, and a general sense of apathy towards my teaching, but they were one notch less than before.

After a few weeks, when I felt like I was consistently winning the sleeping battle so that it wasn’t really an issue any more, I moved on to the phones. It’s not like I didn’t care about kids drawing on their desks or cursing, I just wasn’t going to die on that hill. I was, however, going to die on that cell phone hill with the numbered bushes. If someone cursed in my class, I would let them know that it wasn’t ok and that it needed to stop. It generally didn’t, but at least my students knew where I stood. If someone used a cell phone on the other hand, I was taking that cell phone to the office, writing referrals, talking to kids after class, and calling home, whatever it took to get them to stop using their cell phone during my instructional time. I continued in this manner for the rest of the year. It wasn’t perfect, sometimes I slacked off and had to go back and regain ground already won, plus I’ve never fully figured out how to keep kids from talking across the room, but it really helped me to make significant progress in the classroom and get through that first year.

I tell you all this because I think that there are a lot of parallels to the fight against depression. For many of us all of the issues we have to deal with are swirling through our heads and can leave us feeling paralyzed, unable to fight against any of them. When we do gather up the strength for battle, we take too many of our issues on at once and are left exhausted and defeated without having gained any significant ground. Even the four fundamentals can seem overwhelming. Everyone knows they should exercise and eat better it’s just incredibly difficult when you’re depressed. Sustainable change starts with choosing one need, and focusing on getting into a healthy, although probably still not perfect, place in that area. Choose the first hill where you’re going to take your stand. "No matter what, I will eat a salad for dinner tonight!"

If your basics are not strong, I would highly recommend starting there. I will give you my recommended order, but this isn’t prescriptive. You know yourself and your habits, so feel free to personalize your strategy of course. To me, the easiest thing to start with is just lowering your stress. You don’t have to add anything to your life so it doesn’t take a lot of time or energy. The beauty of lowering your stress is that it will actually create time and energy so that you can be successful at the other basics. Like we said in the stress article, find things to cut out of your day so that you can have the space to focus on your health. Try to run less errands and avoid unnecessary meetings. Do what you can to come home from work earlier. If you have the means or good family and friends, see if others can help you with house and yard work. Anything that can lessen the load on your shoulders is invaluable. Again don’t forget to express your incredible appreciation for any help.

In the sleep article, I said that it was probably the most important thing for your mental health, and I still feel that way. It’s just very difficult to start sleeping better. Everyone would have a great night’s sleep every evening if it was easy. So after lowering your stress, I would highly recommend focusing on exercise. Exercise gives you a natural brain and energy boost, relieves stress, and helps you sleep. That’s a powerful trifecta. After reducing your daily activities so that you now have time to exercise, simplify your thought process and make exercise the only goal for your day. Let that be the thing that you measure your day by. If you exercised today, it was a successful day. Everything else you do is icing. If it’s getting late and you haven’t done the dishes, returned an email, or exercised. Just exercise and go to bed feeling great about what you accomplished that day. Get to the others when you have time. You can basically stop there and you’re in an excellent place to fight depression. With lower stress and consistent exercise, you should see your sleep improving too. If you need to, try to follow these natural sleeping tips.

I've left food for last because I have fears that you might overly focus on food which will actually do more harm than good. Food is one of the fundamentals because what you eat does indeed affect your mood and energy levels, however there is so much unhealthy self-criticism associated with food and body image that I want you to be careful. The purpose of focusing on what you eat in fighting depression is mainly so that bad food won't keep you from the other positive steps you need to take. For instance, if you eat poorly one night it will be even harder to conjure the energy to workout. Eating healthy on the other hand can help you feel ready for the day. Avoid mixing in societal pressures for how slim your waist line needs to be, though. That's not what you need right now, or ever really.

So those are my tips for simplifying your goals especially if you're feeling overwhelmed. This is one of my first blog posts so I'm not sure how the commenting and replying thing is going to go but please leave a comment with your thoughts if you would like to. I will try to respond to any thoughts directed my way. General comments are also welcome. Take care.