On Dealing with Depression

Roving editor Tib Sherrill responds to a reader's query about her fight against depression.

By Elizabeth Sherrill

Q: Dear Mrs. Sherrill,

I almost wrote "Dear Elizabeth" because reading your articles over the years I feel like I know you... I have a question and you don't have to answer if you don't want to.

I'm sorry if this is too personal. But after you told about your depression in Guideposts and how you got over it, you didn't say if it ever came back. My question is, did you ever have depression again or did it just disappear?

Peggy W.

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A: Of course we should call each other by our first names–there are no last names in heaven

No, my own struggle with depression has not "disappeared," though it's never come back in such an incapacitating form.

That dull gray mist still settles over me from time to time, obscuring light and meaning, making it hard to smile, impossible to get the smile down inside. But the grayness no longer terrifies me, and I think there are three reasons for this. 

First, I name it. When the early symptoms appear–a feeling that nothing has value, a despair about the whole muddled business of living–I recognize them and give them a label: "This is depression."

The pattern's so familiar by now it's like encountering someone I know. "Oh-oh, here comes that old uninvited house guest." Can I slam the door before he gets in? I can try.

I call a friend. Read a psalm. Pray. Do something for someone else. And techniques like these work fine in fending off ordinary blues. When it's depression, though, I've learned simply to live through it, reminding it that...

Second, it won't last. The mist can't shroud the sun forever. That was the terror of my earlier illness, the conviction that the misery would go on forever. I'd never be well, never be able to walk about cheerily like the people I watched from my attic window, beings from another planet with plans and purpose. 

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But that was a lie. I did rejoin the planet after a while, and the wait gets shorter each time, because my unwelcome guest can no longer fool me into thinking he's come to stay. 

And Third, I talk about it. Not with everyone, of course. Someone who drags around broadcasting his gloom scares help away. Even friends after a while pull away, confirming his conviction that he's unloved. Maybe I'm not the actress I think I am, but I flatter myself that I keep my depression out of sight. 

But to two or three tried and trusted friends–and how privileged I am that one of them is my husband!–I do talk. What I talk about are the feelings. I don't try to account for them, or do amateur "analyzing." I just describe them.

These good listeners don't refute my self-negating statements. ("Why, look at all the good things in your life!") Or make light of them. ("You'll feel better after a good night's sleep.") Or offer cures. ("Have you tried St. John's wort?") They just let me talk. 

And putting words to the feelings, hearing my own voice describe them aloud to someone else, gets them to some degree outside my own head where they're careening around creating a ruckus, to a place where I can look at them critically. 

I read an article recently about the clinical depression that afflicted Abraham Lincoln throughout his life. Yet from suicidal impulses so strong he didn't dare carry a knife in his pocket, came identification with the sufferings of others, and commitment to a cause greater than himself.

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To think that even depression can serve a purpose–lead to understanding, perhaps, or tolerance, or compassion–only confirms my trust that nothing at all, in God's ecology, is wasted. 


Read Elizabeth Sherrill's story about her struggles with depression.


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Your Comments (10)

Thank you so much for your story. I had a similar experience as an eight year old when my sister left for college "out of the blue". She was practically my second mother as ten years older than I and very helpful to my farmwife mother. I had periods that I would cry and my mother would ask why - - I answered: "I don't know why". But after that I had problems with any good bye experiences with close family. As a young mother (50 years ago) I began to figure out the cause.
This I have had all forgotten when trying to deal with my daughter-in-law's depression. This article really gave me a clue as to how I may direct her thoughts. Would appreciate any help you may offer. I have e-mailed the article to my son in Dallas, as well as I know they have the current magazine as a Christmas subscription from me. Thanks again!!!
I can relate to all the comments given below.
Perfection and pride seem to become stumbling blocks!!

I want to thank Elizabeth for sharing her story "The Saddest Feeling". I have felt so lonely and depressed my whole life. It is so overwhelming at times. I also struggle with hating my standoffish ways and comparing myself with outgoing, bubbly people. To hear Dr. Wright's words is balm to the soul--that I am right now loved and worthy of esteem as I ever shall be, already infinitely loved and respected. God bless you, Elizabeth! We will have such a joyful party in Heaven!

I am 64 years old and have always struggled with depression. I was raised in a wonderful Christian home and have always believed that God loved me and I would chide myself for feeling depressed for no reason. Reading the Psalms did show me that David I think suffered from depression. My husband had a strong Faith and was always there encouraging me and praying for me. He died 2 1/2 years ago and it has been the hardest thing to keep living without him. My sister gave me this months issue of Guideposts and told me the story "The Saddest Feeling" reminded her of me and she thought I would like it. What an encouragement Elizabeth's struggle with depression was to me. I have more hope for future joy than I have had since my husband died. Thank You Guideposts.

This is the first I've ever heard of or read from the guideposts. My grandmother gave it to me the other night during halftime of a very exciting basketball game we were watching together. The stories within caught my heart so that I didn't pay too much attention to the second half of the game. Grandma handed it to me and said that she thought of me when she read your story. I always think there is not a single soul who knows how I feel and what I'm going through, but I felt like this story was as if it were written by me. Its reassuring to hear that there is hope. Thank you for sharing!

I have followed your depression series for years. I'm a sufferer, and I am a member of a self help group that has helped me to accept myself as an average person, and not a perfect one. Thank you for letting us in on your most intimate feelings

I read your story today, "Overcoming Depression" and cried. Someone else who feels as I do! I highlighted the "acceptance of myself" parts and accept(ing) God's evaluation instead of my own. I am praying I get this knowledge in my head to knowing in my heart and spirit (even though I have been a Christian, and on antidepressants, for years)I am infinitely loved this very minute

Thank you Elizabeth for sharing your story, I suffer from depression and have for many years. It is difficult to talk about and at times feel so alone. It has given me hope that I am not alone in this struggle.

I am feeling very alone right now too, as Elizabeth's story gave us courage to voice, you (we) are NOT alone

I would like to e-mail Elizabeth Sherrill or at least talk with her about my ongoing depression and what God has shown me. I wanted to thank her for diving into my head and coming up with all of my emotions. How can I do this?

You may wish to contact Ms. Sherrill via her website, Joy: http://www.elizabethsherrill.com/