Do you ever get over depression?

I get asked this a bit. Usually by carers of someone with depression, but sometimes from people who are yet to recover. One went something like this.

One thing I am interested in knowing is you don’t talk about having depression anymore, you speak of it as if it were in the past. Do you ever get over it? Are you on medication? I never really asked you about the medication bit and I am leaning towards it because my girlfriend is on Zoloft and she says that she is a changed person.

It’s a good question – one that I’ve thought about for a while (I think it says a lot that I still think about depression). The answer went like this:

I would say I’ve recovered and no longer have depression but I don’t say I’m cured. Basically what I mean is I am not symptomatic anymore and I’m able to do the things I want in life without being impeded by depression.

I do still have a low level of anxiety quite a bit and have a low resistance to sadness so when I’m too busy or haven’t had much self time I tend to get sad. But other than that I’m happy most of the time.

I have changed though, so things aren’t back to the old “normal”. I do things slower. I do less and pace myself more. I am more intentional about self care. My brain doesn’t work as well. But on the upside I’m more patient, understanding, compassionate than before and value simpler things in life because I’m less ambitious. I’m more satisfied and I know myself and accept myself more.

I’m not on antidepressants anymore but they worked really well in controlling my anxiety. They really calmed me down and gave me the space to face my issues. They were important in my recovery. They have their downside (no sex drive and no feeling of happiness either) but on balance I found them useful. They work best for severe depression and anxiety and are line ball for moderate depression and anxiety. My long suffering wife says within 36 hours of me taking it she could talk to me again. Gold!

Recovery is a journey and depression is episodic so I’m not sure I’ll ever be free of it but can still lead a happy,  satisfying and rich life. I don’t regret having it. I only regret coming so close to dying before diagnosis which is why I do the work I’m doing today.

I’m on some kind of weed – St Johns Wort

I’m assuming St Johns wort is a weed. Why would any plant have the ignominy of being called a wort if it was anything other than a weed? In our country we have a noxious weed called Ragwort and a lot of effort goes into its eradication and control.

But I heard good things about St Johns wort and it’s viability as a treatment for depression, so I thought I’d give it a go. I thought that I’d be a bit of a guinea pig for y’all and let you know my thoughts. I don’t have severe depression anymore, but I still have a few of the symptoms. I get anxiety at times, still lack motivation in certain areas and can’t handle the kids in large doses and generally have limited emotional energy so I still budget it closely.

I haven’t been on prescription medication for about 12 months now. Prior to that I was taking Paroxetine which I found extremely effective. It worked fast (not the 2-4 weeks that doctors recommend), but almost overnight. Its big downside for me was the numbness and loss of libido.

In terms of numbness, I remember visiting a client who has bipolar disorder. He had been off medication for seven months and just run out of food in his house as his disorder had taken over. He resumed his medication that day. I asked how long it would take to kick in and he said in 48 hours, everything inside would go quiet. I hadn’t heard it expressed that way, but I knew exactly what he was saying. On antidepressants it’s like everything goes still, calm and quiet on the inside – numb in other words. The downside of this is you don’t experience any good feelings either – happiness, joy, excitement – meh.

As far as libido goes, I experienced a loss of interest in sex and found that even if I notionally thought it would be a good idea, couldn’t climax when I was on the prescribed amount. It was a little embarrassing like “well dear, I’m about puffed now, and I really don’t think anything’s going to happen, so I’ll be climbing off now”. So that was a big downer. I’m fairly red blooded and still relatively young and never had that happen before. I scrounged through the fine print and yep, there it was.

So back to the wort. I’d heard good things, and it was time to have a go. I’ve been taking it for about a month. I miss a day every now and then out of forgetfulness (I think this is common – if medication is effective and we “feel” ok, we’re likely to forget we have an illness!). I think it is more gentle and mild than the prescription SSRI I was taking, but the modus operandi is similar. It does make things a little more “quiet” and “numb” but not to the same extent as the Paroxetine. I think it has a similar effect on libido, but that’s probably not such a bad thing… it stops me bugging my wife so much.

There are conflicting studies, just as there are with prescription drugs. Many studies show placebos just as effective and prescription drugs, but St Johns Wort is showing to be “as effective” as prescription and more effective than placebos at treating mild or moderate depression (not recommended for severe). All the research just brings me back to my basic philosophy that each individual has to find what works for them. Note – you can’t take prescription anti depressants in conjunction with the wort. There’s loads of info out there, but I think this article from the Black Dog Institute is a good start.

I think I’ll keep taking it for a while. I’ve never been on the weed before, but maybe this is one weed that a little experimentation with may be useful.

Yours truly, the Guinea Pig.

Help! My wife is doing man things

It’s been a fairly good source of humor for me to realize that now my wife works full time, and I manage the home, how much she’s doing “man” things – the things I used to do when working a stressful job more than full time. She’s a small, very feminine, good looking girl, who’s girly in every way (her two main hobbies are shopping and eating out), so it’s amazing how she’s picked up all these allegedly “guy” habits.

She dumps keys, sunglasses, diaries, paperwork, junk mail, bills and wallets on the kitchen bench. I’m trying to prepare a meal. This kitchen just aint big enough for the two of us. That would tick me off so much I’d push it off the edge.

I cook, and she doesn’t wash the dishes. It’s a rare occasion that she ever gets to the washing up. I do the groceries, attend to the kids, the laundry, some cleaning (I get a cleaner once a fortnight), pay the bills – the whole shebang. The only thing I don’t do is fold her clothes and put them away. That’s her problem. If they pile up enough, I dump them on the bedroom floor and make a little mountain.

She leaves clothes, socks, jackets and shoes about the house in various places. She leaves her plate at the table, and if she does happen to clear it, it goes somewhere near the sink, but doesn’t ever get rinsed. Then it goes all hard….

She likes to be “fun parent”. They’re the ones that distract the kids when they’ve got a school bus to catch or it’s past their bedtime and “responsible parent” knows that it’s going to turn to muck if the kids get hyper right before bed time, or start crying if the bus is there and they haven’t packed their lunch.

She comes home when she comes home. I don’t get a phone call saying she’s working back late. I never really know when she’s coming home. Then, she’s so tired when she gets home from work all she wants to do is turn on her laptop and vegetate on facebook. She doesn’t want the kids to be talking to her, or me asking her to help out. After tea, all she wants to do is stare at the TV until she’s tired enough to go to bed.

She gets work text messages and phone calls into the night and on weekends. She works some weekends and some weeknights so the kids don’t see her. She’s stressed about work – yesterday she went for a massage and today is going for a remedial massage because her whole body is experiencing muscle spasms. She took pain killers to get to sleep last night. Work life balance? Hardly!

She’s doing all the things I used to do, so it’s a form of natural justice – I can’t complain. It is funny though because these are all things that have been attributed to stuff guys do. But they’re not. They’re what people do, who are using all their emotional and mental energies on their job.

I have come up with a few solutions to save me nagging.

I don’t expect her to do anything. Ever. If I ring her and ask her to pick up some milk from the supermarket on the way home, I don’t expect her to do it. She may well say she’s too tired. I keep powdered milk and grocery milk in the pantry (plan B and C).

I plan my time and budget my energy to get absolutely everything done, so I don’t have to rely on her. If she helps out, that’s a bonus – and often she does. She would do more if she had the energy – I know her heart is in the right place.

I bought a big tub and anything she leaves lying around, goes into the tub behind the kitchen counter. Now if she leaves clutter on the counter, a little nudge and bingo, they’re in the tub!

I try and make the home a calm, clutter free, tidy environment for when she comes home, so that it’s a rejuvenating place. I try and cook her meals she’ll enjoy.

The kids and I eat at 5.45pm whether she’s home or not, so I can still get the kids into bed at 7pm. If I wait for her, it will only make it harder for me and I’ll get frustrated with her and I don’t want to be.

Finally, I understand. I know exactly where she’s living. I’ve been there. I wonder if marriages would be better off, if both partners experienced stressful jobs (not at the same time hopefully) because then they would be more understanding and supportive rather than nagging about their partners’ bad “man-habits”.

Getting back to work

Recovery takes a long time, but getting back to work can be part of the process. People with depression have reported that taking time off work has in some cases been a negative experience because it cuts them off from social interaction, a sense of productivity and allows too much time for rumination.

I took four weeks annual leave in January 2009 hoping I would be well enough to return to ministry at the end of it, but by February, I wasn’t any better, so I was forced to resign. I took all of February and March off work and assumed the household responsibilities while my wife was settling into a full time job. I got all the routines going for shopping, cooking, cleaning, laundry and kids wake and sleep times. Then I started to think about getting back into the workforce.

As I mentioned in Things Pastors do to Recover, I began physically demanding work in a greenhouse at the toughest time of year, when all the plants are being torn out and new seedlings put in. My body took a few weeks to adjust, but working up a sweat was fantastic. I did this and electric fencing on a dairy about three to four days per week, always knocking off by around 3pm so I could be home for the kids.

In March of this year (after 12 months of purely physical work), I tentatively applied for a job working as an education officer in a mental health support group with a national not-for-profit charity. This has obviously been more in line with the work I used to do, but again, not too demanding because it’s only two days per week. I decided to apply for the job, because it utilized my strengths and experience. I figure that if I work in my strengths in an area that I’m passionate about, then it shouldn’t be draining. After my three month contract ran out, they created a new position for me and since then, I’ve been offered more days, but have refused.

So, I pick tomatoes on Mondays, then work in the Family Mental Health Support Service team for two days per week. I’ve found three days, to be the maximum I can work and still get everything around the house done without losing it. On the occasions I’ve had to work another day, it takes me to the edge of my capacity and I start to get irritable and short-tempered, and I run out of head-space.

So getting back to work has been a long cautious process, but I’m enjoying what I do and I think that’s a key. I’ve been fairly picky about what I’ve done, because my health and recovery is such a high priority. The better I get, the more engaged I am with my family and the more I look beyond myself. I’ve found I can balance my energy levels with work and home after some experimentation, but have noticed that I need to have at least one day each week with no-one around me at all.

I’d love to hear about how you got back to work and how that worked in with your recovery.

Half Time

My wife gave me “Half Time” by Bob Buford for my birthday. He owned a large cable TV company and was extremely wealthy when his only son died swimming across the Rio Grande forcing him into what he describes as half time. It’s the break between the first half of our lives and the second half.

It’s a great read. Bob has devoted his second half to helping unearth and release what he calls “latent energy” in churches.

I’m picking up some great things, but unfortunately a bit despondent right now so they’re just ideas for now. But here’s a great quote on his observation of how the church can work against discovering your “one thing” and moving from a “success” mindset to a “significance” mindset.

“The irony… is that the church has become one of those masters under which many first-halfers feel hopelessly indentured. The joy that ought to come from serving others in Christ’s name is missing because so much of what we do for the church is done out of a spirit of obligation and involves doing work that is far removed from our core competencies. And that is because, as first halfers, we have not yet discovered who we are, what we really enjoy doing, and how even the most undesirable task can be a freeing, exhilarating experience if it arises out of our core being.

For most people, church work is not like a hot-fudge sundae but is like broccoli and spinach your mother made you eat as a child”

I’m still not functioning at my best

Over the last few days i’ve been thinking about a few things relating to wellness if you like. Kinda a collection of random thoughts…

One thought related to something another senior pastor and I dialogued recently about on Facebook regarding depression. He asked what the difference is between feeling down and depression and also suggested that God takes us through suffering so it is natural for a Christian to have “down moments”. My reply to that was to point out that although he’s right (suffering does build our character and our emotions track accordingly), depression is actually a medical, diagnosable condition with key indicators. I cut and pasted these

I haven’t been great emotionally lately either. I’ve discovered that I really am an introvert – I mean really introverted, from an energy perspective. I really need a significant quantity of time alone. If I don’t get it, I simply get depleted and my emotions fray. Since my wife has been overseas for the last two weeks, I’ve had two small kids talking to me and incessantly asking “why”. I haven’t handled that well. I just don’t want to be around them… and that’s not great for a dad to be feeling.

I’ve also been struggling to find motivation for anything. Struggling to initiate anything… don’t want to go out, don’t want to do anything but mindless things like TV and facebook. Just can’t seem to face the things that I actually want to do. Then all the things I want/need to do seems to pile up and I get frustrated and a sense of overload because they’re not getting done….

Today I remembered what anxiety was like. Not sure if I described it on this site…. my memory is a bit shot and the mind is not as sharp as it used to be (please tell me if I keep repeating myself). It was a sense of foreboding, a feeling of impending disaster. It’s the feeling you have right before an exam, a job or performance interview, an important presentation. It’s a nervous dread. It seems to make adrenaline surge all the time even though there’s no danger. I wonder what that does to one’s body over a long period…

Another One Bites The Dust

Recently I met with a friend I’ve had on Facebook for a while and managed to catch up with him while visiting his city… He’s a great guy, I think we have a lot in common. We spent a few hours over lunch sharing experiences. To be honest, I did feel a little bit sick in the pit of my stomach when he shared his story because it was a bit close to home for me.

This former pastor is a really intelligent, educated, inspiring, cutting-edge young man with a young family, and loads of leadership and gifting. He was installed by the guys from  Soul Survivor when they were in his country.

Recently he messaged me his story… here it is.

My journey with depression
The last few months, depression has got a lot of publicity. Here in Australia, depression among men is something you hear about. There is an organization called beyond blue that helps men with depression. Recently a politician came out and told his story with depression. Then I met with a former pastor who suffers from depression. These things caused me to think about about my experience with depression, so I thought I would write about it…

I have never been prone to being depressed… fact, I was always the sort of person who was pretty happy go lucky and if anything, I would get angry, not depressed. Throughout my years at work in the IT industry, there were stressful times but I would never use the word depressed to describe how I felt.

In 2005 I went into full time ministry and took on the role of pastor in the church where I grew up in. I went into minstry with hope and a sense of adventure. It was as if this is what I have been preparing for my whole life. The church was going through a bad patch and we were in a sort of crisi mode. Still, I had faith and a lot of energy. I had a vision to bring change and to see a church that was full of grace and love.

Maybe I was foolish. But I felt that God had called me to this. About a year into the role, it became apparent that a lot of people, especially the leaders, were not comfortable with the changes that were happening. I also had a shift in my perspective and theology. A lot of things that we were doing did not make sense to me and I was challenging a lot of the mindsets of people. The leaders who had asked me to come and lead had initially said that they wanted change too, but it became apparent that at the heart of things, they were not ready for it (some of my previous postings refer to these things).

A lot of my energy was wasted on silly debates like whether I should wear short sleeves to church, I was too informal over the “pulpit”…etc As a side note, is the fucking “pulpit” even biblical? This just resulted in me having bouts of feeling “down”. It started with me feeling down most sunday evenings. Initially I played this down to mere tiredness. And maybe there as some of that. Usually by mid day Monday, I would start feeling better.

BUt as time wore on, the feeling would stay longer. Even extend till Tuesday evening. Then it got worse. I begun to have thoughts of death…of killing myself. That was the only way out of where I was. The depression also started to happen on Friday’s as opposed to sundays. It was then a whole week thing.

At this stage, a good friend recommended me to see a counselor. This guy specialised in treating pastors and full time ministers who are burnt out. I had a hard time accpeting I was burnt out cause I had only been in full time role for a year. But the counselor heped me see that my burn out had begun earlier when I was serving in a voluntary capacity. In a follow up session with my wife, he basically said that we had gone through a traumatic exprience and his recommendation was that we not be in ministry at all.

It was a shock and a relief at the same time. But when I went to the elders with this news, they just did not believe it and asked for a written analysis. I saw that the church could not cope with this and out of a sense of duty, I persevered and went on serving in the church. The insight and help of my counselor helped me cope with depression for while. I also had a few friends around who helped me.

But after a few months, the depression was back again, this time worse. Instead of just being down, I would react with anger…..I was angry at the staff, at the people in church and at my family. Another friend highly recommended that I take time off work. I said ok and that I would look at taking a break in a few months as we had things coming up in church…but 3 different people all said that I would not last that long…so I took a month off work when the church was about to have a camp. I just could not bring myself to be at a camp where people had expectations on me. Again the leaders did not understand and did not take it well. But this time, I just did it anyway.

God did a work in my life in that month off. I learned to be a child again. Learned to accept God’s love and favor as a gift. Learned to enjoy life again. I came back with a renewed hope and vision. I started to teach on the things I had learned….on who God is, on authenticity and vulnerability. A lot of people responded well….but there were also others who did not. Bottom line, the core leaders wanted a different sort of church. Our perspectives and theology were so different. They did not see it. They kept insisting that we wanted the same things…….but we did not. A few months later, I had anther major disagreement with the leaders over how we treated our staff. I did not react angrily as I had in the past. I appealed to them calmly. But after that I realised that I just did not have the energy to go on. After all I had been through and what God had done in me, I still could not hack it. I resigned from ministry. I was heartbroken to do it, but I felt I had to.

Today, more than a year after I resigned, I do not really struggle with depression anymore. Perhaps a lot of it was down to the work related in the church. Maybe God had also healed me to a certain extent. But I have been scarred by my time in ministry. I now work in the IT line again. Have moved countries to get away from the church……..but my sense of confidence and faith has taken a great battering. My self esteem is very low. And I still have a lot of unresolved anger…….especially at the church system….and the people who propagate the system. I find myself at times having such a sense of hopelessness. Someone commented that I still have the energy to work full time…..yes, and for that I am grateful. But a lot of it is driven by the need to care for my family. In so many ways I was not ready to be back in full time employment. But I took it as a means of escaping the church situation back home. Will I ever recover? Will I ever have a sense of faith and hope and joy again? Will I ever return to church????? I dont know for sure…..but for now, it does not feel as if it will happen. I am just another pastor who has been beaten by the church system