Thursday, August 02, 2007

The black dog

Recently I've been noticing how many RevGals and Pals have written eloquently of their battles with depression. What makes this such a common challenge in this group? It can't be just that women are more prone to clinical depression (although we are), because some of the people I'm thinking of are men.

Does it have to do with our personality types? There are lots of intuitive feeling introverts around here, but surely not all INFPs or INFJs are depressed. Is it a result of our ongoing battle to keep from being consumed by others' needs, and to acknowledge our own? I don't have any data on whether people who are attracted to the helping professions suffer from depression at a higher rate than others, but it wouldn't surprise me. For RevGals, is it related to the still-ongoing struggle to follow your vocation when some people are telling you that you're wrong and that your call is not valid?

Winston Churchill, who struggled mightily with depression, referred to it as "the black dog". I have felt its teeth, too.

By the grace of God, I've been in a fairly healthy place for several years now. There are still occasional days when I can see the black dog's shadow, or hear it sniffing at the bottom of the door, seeking its prey. But I am grateful that now I can sense it nearby before it is actually upon me, and that those days are few and far between. I am learning to ask myself what is oppressing me and what I need to do, or seek, or ask for, to relieve the oppression. I am thankful for the power of prayer, love, Wellbutrin, and the human experience I've gained through years spent on both sides of the couch.

Can we share with one another some of the things that help us climb out of this pit?


Jan said...

Zorra, I'm so glad you wrote about depression. And I, too, am an INFP. I think past history helps me, plus daily Prozac. I trust now that I will NOT be stuck in a pit--I used to fear that I'd fall into it again. Have never gone that deeply down for the past 8 years.

Princess of Everything (and then some) said...

Well I have made no secret the fact that I am on Lexapro. It has made things normal for me. I am still not in the place I want to be but things are getting better.

Three things help me: 1) my blog friends and my can touch friends that do not let me go
2) Creating. I honestly do not know what state I would be in if I lost the creativity. It helps me through so very much.
3) Doing good things for myself. WW is one of those things right now. The healthier I get the better I feel.

What do you do sweetie?

DogBlogger said...

I'm sort of like Mindy in making it no secret. And I think that's one of the things that helps me get through it. Not only that, but I also hope through not hiding it, I can be part of removing the stigma some still associate with it.

I do think there may be a correlation with the call to work in helping professions.

And, by the way, I'm an ENFJ, if I remember correctly. Definitely the E part.

Preacher Mom said...

INFP here. I have had my share of struggles. Usually just "the blues," but on a couple of occasions it has gone deeper than that. I am not currently on medication, although there are days when I think it might be a good idea to check into it.

Things that help me: reading my RGBP friends and seeing that I am not alone; a regular and rigorous exercise routine (which I do not currently have) that makes me huff and puff the poison out of my soul; arranging for caregivers for the kids so I can have some take care of me time; time, and believing that whatever is dragging me down will pass. I usually benefit from an hour or two in a quality book store, although my pocketbook usually suffers. Seems like a fair trade to me!

revabi said...

So glad you wrote this. I had forgotten that he called it the black dog. Yes I think we can share how we have dealt with the black dog, what has worked, what hasn't.

I am an ENFP though so not sure how that fits into the personality theory, except I have been isolated places and that has effected me, but I have learned how to cope and take better care of myself and to rely on my relationship with God more.

Mary Beth said...

INFP. On depression meds for 15+ years. I have a big pattern of depression & bipolar in my family so I actully fell pretty grateful and minimally affected.

Ya'll save me.

Leah Sophia said...

ENFJ here, with a serious familiar/genetic hx going back at least 4 generations of major depression, bipolar I and II, suicide and panic disorder. However, despite having had a mood-disorder equivalent of episodic migraines since the summer after 2nd grade (I was 7), my near-constant struggle has been with existential depression--I've no hx whatsoever of clinical mood disorder, for whatever it's worth. As a young undergrad I worked in a clinical setting as a case aide for a couple years and also have been a volunteer recreation therapist in a county psych unit, using art as a therapeutic modality. I feel blessed to have learned enough about clinical signs and symptoms to be able to inform others to some extent and also to recognize that popping pills would do me no good.

Quotidian Grace said...

You raise a fascinating question about the relationship between personality types and pre-disposition to depression. The brief Myers-Briggs style internet quiz that a lot of the RGBP bloggers are posting now shows most of them in the INFP and INFJ categories.

Every time I've taken one of these things, I come out as an ENTJ. I've never had a problem with clinical depression, either, despite the fact that my mother was incapacitated by it for most of her life. And her personality was very different from mine.

So I wonder if it is the difference in personality type that prevented me from having clinical depression since I should have had a genetic predisposition for it.

Singing Owl said...

I'm an INFP as well, and on Lexapro, but don't know if this will be a long-term med for me or not. And I can't find the info right now, but clergy are much more likely to struggle with depression than others. I wrote an article about it not long ago. As to what to do? Boundaries! Understanding that I cannot fix everyone (I still want to) and that not everyone will understand me or like me or listen to me or allow me to help them. I struggle with boundaries at times, and learning to rest and recoup is a MUST for me. Also time physically absent from my town. Something happens when I am not there. Even on my day off I am not "off" if I'm at home in the way I am if I skedaddle someplace where people don't know where I am.

zorra said...

Thank you all so much for your comments. I have been thinking that personality type, per se, probably doesn't make one more prone to depression (correlation doesn't imply causation, after all). Of course, some personality types (e.g., INFP, the "therapist's profile") are more often drawn to the helping professions than some others are, and like Dogblogger I do suspect that those of us in such professions are especially vulnerable.

And I think Singing Owl hit the nail on the head when she brought up boundaries! When I talked about asking myself what is oppressing me and what I need to do about it, part of what I meant was that a lot of times I realize there is a boundary violation, or an attempted boundary violation, going on, and a situation in which I need to find a way to be appropriately assertive and stand my ground (once I figure out what my ground is).

Other things that help me are as mundane as exercise, eating well, and finding someone I can trust to listen to me for a while. I am sure many of you can relate when I say that, so many many people expect me to listen to their problems (and I do), but there are very few people in my life who I can count on to listen to mine. And one of my best listeners recently left.

Medication was very helpful when I was at my lowest point. I've been off it for three years now and don't feel the need to go back on it. But it can be a life saver--literally.

Thanks so much, y'all. You are great.

the reverend mommy said...

Thanks for this post.
I've been thinking a lot about this recently, as well. I try to "will" myself out of it, but I know from long experience that someone to talk to is THE most important thing in either an acute depressive state or long-term clinical depression.

I'm a borderline E/I -- almost equal amounts. E/INFJ. I'm noticing the NF bit really is almost universal.

boundaries -- absolutely. I get the blues whenever 1) my boundaries are violated or 2) I violate other's boundaries.

I wonder sometimes how much of depression is about being "in control" -- how much is unmet needs and expectations -- how much is chemical imbalance.

You have me thinking.

Cathy said...

I left a pretty long comment and I don't think it showed up - and I closed the window out.

ENFP - take prozac and probably always will. Repeat episodes of depression :( - family history.
I hate I lost the post...

cpclergymama said...

INFJ here. THanks you for the post and the questions and discussion it raised. I too find reading revgalpals helpful as well as creative projects like my newest passion, sewing. I also need down time and about the only way to get it here is to emerse myself in the tub with a good book. (The closest thing to heaven on earth in my humble opinion)
I have delt with the black dog and migraines since I was 5 years old. (Also the same age I was called into ministry, hmmmm) I was on depacote for a while but went off because of possiblity of liver damage, not attractive in a teen, and because of the feeling of being the "light" version of myself. Not light as in happy, light as in couldn't think seriously about anything, stoped reading, stoped writing, stoped all creativity. I'm currently on a very low dose of DHEA, tons o' vitamins, and Armor Thyroid meds. The change has been amazing. Its not that I've stoped any downs or blues, but I now at least feel as if I have the reserves to deal with them without a month on the couch, mine or a therapists!
Thank you again Zorra

St. Casserole said...

Black dog is right. I forgot Mr. Churchill called his depression this.

I'm an ENFP although I'd like a bit more t and j sometime along the way.

I fight depression, the situational kind, most years. I survive with prayer, art, talk and support from family/friends. Cats help, too.

Thanks for asking.

RevDari said...

ISFJ here and on meds. Have been medicated since '93 should have been long before that, but no one suggested it, medical people I mean.

The black dog is tough at times. I wonder if the connection between clergy and other helping professions and depression has to do with being sensitive and compassionate? I feel other's pain quite literally at times and I imagine some of you do as well. It is challenging and hard to remain upbeat and happy when you feel the suffering of others all around you. Perhaps this too is a boundary issue. I don't want to become insensitive to others though.

I was concerned as I was discerning my vocation that I was somehow disqualified for the minstry because I was on depression meds. The career counselor the presbytery required all candidates to meet with told me not to worry that most people in seminary would be on meds!! Think about that!

Thanks for posting this topic.

SpookyRach said...

INFP, I think.

I avoid depression by being hopelessly shallow.


Songbird said...

zorra, thanks for raising this. I've had episodes of depression, including a major postpartum event in 1995 that really didn't lift completely for three or four years. That was the only time this ENFP took meds, and the crisis point included a hospitalization. What worked for me was simplifying. I had to learn not to take on as much and to build up again gradually. Exercise was probably the thing that finally got the dog off my back, as I eventually established a routine. Depression and anxiety have been twins for me, and exercise provided a necessary grounding force.
I haven't taken meds for many years, although I wondered last year, in the bloom of a long stretch of anxiety, whether I might need them. But I weathered it, with the help of a good therapist.
So: good therapist, better self-care in general, knowing my limits. Most of the time I am not successful at all three...