How Living With Untreated Depression is Like Driving on a Flat Tire
One morning a few weeks ago as I headed out to meet a friend at our local coffee shop, I noticed that my car seemed really loud inside.
Really loud. Hmm.
I kept driving.
Then I changed lanes and when I ran over the reflector bumps in the middle of the road, it was super-super loud.
I kept driving.
Wondering why the car was so loud. Driving a little slower, in case it was going to blow up or something.
Then I tried running over the bumps with the other wheels, and it wasn’t loud. So then I started thinking that maybe I had a flat tire.
Yup. I’m sorry to say it, but it’s true: I kept driving.
All the way to the coffee shop. Then I got out of the car, looked at the tires, and sure enough, one of them was flat as a pancake.
Whereupon I did what I always do when something mechanical or technical malfunctions: I called Andy. And he did what he always does: he came and fixed it.
I would say “no questions asked” because he never makes me feel bad about fixing whatever it is I’ve broken.
But actually he did have questions like, “When did the noise start?” and “Exactly how far did you drive on this tire?” Those were legit questions, trying to ascertain the possible extent of the damage.
My answers, unfortunately, were pretty vague, because I just sort of didn’t know. I don’t pay much attention to the mechanical and technical things in my life. Maintenance doesn’t cross my mind. I just roll along, expecting everything to work.
I was rolling along in life, when some bothersome symptoms of untreated depression began to appear. I had repetitive nightmares. I would wake up in the night with racing thoughts, and have trouble falling asleep again. I was unhappy and tearful and down about myself and other people and life in general.
There was a lot of emotional noise, but I didn’t know what it meant.
So I kept going.
Until the day I just literally could not function any longer. In fact, I may have been just the teensiest, tiniest bit psychotic every now and again.
It was only afterward, when I looked back with the wisdom of hindsight, that I realized how long I’d been driving on an emotional flat tire of untreated depression.
I don’t know that we deliberately set out to ignore the emotional symptoms of life and make ourselves completely crazy, but sometimes it just works out that way.
First of all, we may not really understand what’s going on. When I started waking up in the middle of the night and not being able to go back to sleep, I had absolutely no idea that I was experiencing the most common type of insomnia associated with anxiety and untreated depression. That had never happened to me before. I didn’t know what it was.
And then, who wants to pull over and change a flat? Not me, friends and neighbors. I have places to go, people to see. As long as that sucker will move forward, I’ll drive it. The reality is, when we stop to work on our emotional stuff, it can make a mess of our plans. It can be really complicated. Really. Really really really complicated.
Besides all that, some of us have gotten the idea that having emotions other than joy and peace means that we aren’t very spiritual, so it’s pretty hard to admit that anything at all might be wrong.
Sometimes when we’ve tried to talk about what’s wrong, people have said things like, “Cast all your care on the Lord, because He cares for you” and “Take every thought captive” and “The joy of the Lord is our strength.”
And we retreat into our alone and broken selves, because we’ve tried that. For a while now. It just doesn’t seem to be that simple, but everybody says it is, so we just don’t know what to do.
So here’s the question: how do we STOP AND CHANGE THE TIRE, HOW DO WE TAKE CARE OF OUR UNTREATED DEPRESSION?
Sometimes it’s a medical issue, and we need meds.
- Honestly evaluate your functioning. If you’re struggling to do what you’re supposed to do every day, then it might be time to look for medical help. I know it’s hard to go there. Meds do have side effects, and sometimes it does take time to get the right meds working in the right way. And sure, Jesus can heal you without meds. But most of us these days would take antibiotics for pneumonia, and say “Thank God” when the fever lifts. If you’re not functioning well, if you’re not able to sleep or eat like normal, if your moods are seriously out of whack, and especially if you’ve got thoughts of suicide, please talk to your doctor. Modern medicine is a gift and can really help untreated depression. Take it as needed.
Sometimes it’s a social issue, and we need to make changes in our world.
- Most of us have a front door on our house, rather than a big open space where anything and anybody can run in and out at any time. A lockable door is a normal part of a house. Sometimes, however, we have a hard time believing that it’s an equally good idea to get some boundaries against the emotional chaos that wants to intrude. Unhealthy stuff sneaks in over time, and other people get used to us being like we are. Change can be tough. And it can be so, so, so good.
Sometimes it’s a psychological/spiritual issue, and we need to process through gunk from the past that informs how we think and feel and believe today.
- Some of us believe that there are rules for acceptability: we have to achieve great heights, make others happy, be wonderfully nice, be successful in ministry, be thin, be the perfect parent. We don’t actually live in Love, believing deep down that It Is Finished. We have to keep going and going, and life is just one long, exhausting performance. That’s a lie. But there is truth. And it can set us crazy-free.
A whole bunch of times, it’s all three–medical, social, and psychological/spiritual–all mixed up together that’s playing a role in the untreated depression.
Changing that flat tire can be a whole lot of work. Like Westley says in The Princess Bride: “Life is pain, Princess, and anyone who says otherwise is selling something.”
But I want to tell you that it’s worth the work. And I want you to know that there is help for your untreated depression and anxiety. God has not left us here alone to struggle through things by ourselves.
There are doctors.
There are friends.
There are therapists.
Most of all, there is Love and there is rest for our souls, when we’ll stop and let Love help us.
For more on Kay’s personal battle with depression, check out her book As Soon As I Fell: A Memoir.