What Depression Means to Me: 41 and 28

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Gentle Reader,

When I began therapy nearly six months ago, I was given a version of the Burns Depression Checklist. Dr. Burns created the checklist in 1984 as a way to gauge the severity of a variety of symptoms found in those with clinical depression. When going through the checklist, the patient chooses one of four responses for each symptom: 0, Not at All; 1, Somewhat; 2, Moderately; 3, A lot; and 4, Extremely. Dr. Burns also developed an inventory for those suffering from generalized anxiety disorder and panic disorder using the same scale.

Initially, my numbers were extremely high. It was not unusual to see a score of 90+ when I finished the anxiety checklist each day – the realm of extreme anxiety or panic. I had no idea that I was that nervous and fearful until seeing those numbers in stark black ink. Talk about startling. I had grown accustomed to going through the day on constant red alert.

This extreme anxiety got most of the attention during those first appointments with my counselor. Together we developed personalized coping strategies, among them deep breathing exercises and Scripture cards. I’m embarrassed to admit that I haven’t availed myself of these resources as often as I should, but there has been significant progress. This week my highest score was 25, smack in the middle of moderate anxiety. Now, trust me, I know all about Philippians 4:6-7. I know I’m not supposed to be anxious for anything. When you’ve gone from feeling like you’re going to have a heart attack any second to some mild flutters in your chest, though, you take it for the win that it is.

High numbers on the depression checklist meant that I was also dealing with severe depression. This took me awhile to comprehend; I’d gone into therapy in an effort to manage my anxiety, not because I was depressed. It became quickly apparent that the anxiety was fueled by the depression, though. The symptoms of the one were so in-my-face apparent that they masked the other issues. Week after week I found myself looking at 41, 43, 40. All numbers closest to the highest possible score of 45.

I don’t do anything halfway, after all.

While I rejoice at the steps forward I’ve taken in the anxiety department, I’ve been frustrated at the much slower decline in the depression checklist scores. In September, at my lowest point, I easily scored 45+. Two months later, I’m looking at 28, 30, 29. All in the moderate depression range. Mentally and emotionally, I kick myself. I’ve been in counseling for half a year and on an antidepressant for most of that time. I’ve been given excellent resources. My counselor and psychiatrist actually care about my well-being. Why am I still so sad, so tired, so angry?

What a loser!

I was in the midst of berating myself today when God interrupted me. What He had to say was so revolutionary to me that I found myself holding my breath.

“Take the victory.”

That’s all He said. No burning bush, no lightning from the sky. No booming voice or choir of angels. Just a sure impression on my heart. Take the victory.

Being the human being that I am, I was off on another trail a few seconds later. There was laundry to be done, a dishwasher to be unloaded, a grocery list to be made. But all day I kept thinking, “Man, I really want to do Bible study.” Finally, I plopped down at my kitchen table and opened to the Gospel of Luke (my favorite).

Jesus did a lot of healing during His time on earth. The blind could see, the deaf could hear, the lame could walk and crushed hands were made whole. You never read of the woman who stopped bleeding after 12 years saying, “Yeah, that’s great Jesus….but I still have no money.” You don’t read about the blind being disappointed at what they saw. No. Each person who allowed Jesus to touch their lives, whether in physical or seemingly less noticeable ways, took the victory. They praised God for the mighty thing He had done.

It is indeed a MIGHTY work of God that I no longer want to kill myself. When those dark thoughts creep into my mind, I now have the ability to say, “No, that won’t solve anything.” Jesus’ fingerprints are all over that. Every time I write in my journal, “I just want to stay close to You; that’s the only safe place,” I see evidence of the Divine. Two months ago I was ready to throw it all away. Today, though I have more questions and fewer answers than ever before, I cling to the promise that I am here for a reason.

I was a 41. Now I’m a 28. That’s a victory.

I’ll take it.

My journey to faith. (15)

 For all the posts in the What Depression Means to Me series, go here.