Depression can’t see how amazing my life is

I didn’t want to do anything except sit on my couch with the lights dim, the bed covers thrown around, and piles of clothes everywhere. Well, the bed covers and mountains of clothes isn’t that abnormal, but the apathy was. I’ve lost count of how many invitations from friends I’ve denied over the weeks and months. That’s not who I want to be. The problem is it actually IS me. I’m actually depressed.

In spite of the amazing life I’ve been blessed with, depression while working abroad for an amazing organization still affects me.

I’ve noticed with rising urgency and helplessness over the past couple weeks that this field service could have been different for me. My experience has been dulled and I’m slowly picking up on the one biggest detail I had control over that would have made a difference.

Starting today, I’m going to make one change to see what kind of effect it has on my week.

The way it started

I’ve been saying no as often as I can get away with it. I say no before I’ve even thought of a good reason why. More recently, I’ve been a bit more honest with my reply: “I just don’t feel like doing anything,” I’ll say. Most of this I attributed to my introverted tendencies (which I only realized a year ago), but now that the veils and shadows are lifting, I’m seeing it for what it is.

Depression is a word that seems to make other people feel uncomfortable. I wish it wasn’t like that because I’m not really ashamed of it, although I wish it was different. When I say “depression”, I mean the feeling of sadness or hopelessness that, although possibly triggered by a specific event, hangs around for no reason. It’s the lack of motivation to do anything that I usually enjoy, or the overwhelming sense that I can’t handle the routine tasks in a normal day. It’s the feeling of emptiness even when I’m sitting with my closest friends and should be having fun. It’s the strong urge to reject any invitation from a friend to do something together because I’d rather be alone.

Two weeks ago, I admitted to myself that things were out of hand and I couldn’t continue this way. I mentioned it to my doctor and we agreed on an action plan.

I want to encourage myself and others who are struggling with depression while travelling. You are not alone.
I know the big, bright world out there is wonderful, but I’m quite happy in my dark, cozy corner.

Yesterday morning I admitted to myself that my difficult experience this year may have been partly my fault.

(I am the first to say that you can’t ask someone suffering from depression to simply look for the positive and snap out of it. If it were that easy, I’d be excellent at that.)

Just say yes

Yesterday morning (Sunday) I intended on eating breakfast, lounging around with my books and the Internet until I went to work at 2 PM. Around 10 AM, Ruben asked me if I had plans before work. As I told him I wasn’t planning on doing anything, I heard the echo of my voice in my head. Saying “no” once again would only lead to more of the same. More boredom, more restlessness, more frustration with myself that I couldn’t snap out of my funk, more negativity.

I knew what I had to do. I needed to say yes. Yes to what? Yes to anything! I just needed to accept the invitation the day offered me. During the week I say I’ll go to the Sunday service in the hospital wards. I love being with the patients and the message is usually simple, profound and applicable. The weekend comes and I’m struck with that familiar apathy. I choose nothing. I sit in my dark room convincing myself that I’m engaging in “self-care”.

First yes: Church service in the hospital.

There is something that happens on Deck 3 every week no matter what I’m feeling.

Due to some unexpected weather patterns (aka Cyclone Fantala, Category 5, inching slowly toward us <500 km away) we had to tie down the empty ward where we usually have the service on the chance we sail to avoid the cyclone. That’s a whole other story.

Church was moved to B Ward, where all 10 of our little women recovering from fistula repairs lay in bed. All of the remaining interested patients in the hospital sat on stools around the beds and the hospital chaplaincy team led worship from one end. I sat on an empty bed and let my surroundings absorb into my consciousness.

There is singing in a foreign tongue. Men and women from all over the country are sitting together. The Bible is read in the musical, flowing tone of the local language. Foley catheters are hanging from the bed next to me. Absorbent blue bed pads peek out from beneath the bed sheets. All the patients are wearing our gray-blue faded hospital gowns. This was church.

If God whispered amongst the crowd on other Sundays, if acts of love were displayed among patients and nurses, if testimonies were shared reminding them of God’s faithfulness, if God’s presence was in the room at all any other Sunday…

I had missed it.

I choose when to say “yes” and when I choose “no” I miss what God is doing.

The message preached was about the veil that covers our eyes to the truth of Jesus and his message. The veil covers our eyes about the truth of God. The veil covers our eyes when there are beautiful things happening in every direction that we are too inward-focused to see.

The tragedy is that the veiled events occur in our midst yet we don’t see them. We miss out. I’ve been missing out for too long. It makes me sad.

So yesterday I decided I need to change. I’m still waiting for relief from this depression and I’m expecting it to keep gradually getting better over the next week or so. In the meantime, though, I’m not going to say no anymore. Any invitation I receive from my husband, or from a friend, or from my supervisor, within reason, will get an affirmative answer from me.

If you’re reading and you live with me on this steel ship we call home, feel free to keep me accountable with this by asking me how it’s been going or even inviting me to something!

I’m ready for this dark cloud to completely lift and I’m curious about how my week will go and how I’ll manage without my precious “No”.



5 comments on “Depression While Travelling: How Much Have I Missed?”

  1. I can completely relate to this post, and I congratulate you for your courage and openness to write about it. You never know who is reading and who you might be helping just by them reading your story. I wrote a post last month about people who inspire me, and one of those people are Kevin Breel, he is a depressed comedian and his TED talk, if you have not seen it is so motivating. We are affected by the stigma of this unseen illness and speaking up about it can change someone’s mindset. Here, have a look at the post, and if you have time, watch the link to the TED talk, it just might inspire you. I will be checking back to see how it’s going. 🙂 xoxoox

    • Thanks for reading Sheri and thanks for the link. I love TED talks! I will definitely check this out.

      It’s a good reminder for me when I feel I’m being too vulnerable that people are encouraged when we share our struggles. I can forget that, but sharing always reminds me that we are never truly alone.

  2. Wow, Ivanna. I think you just saved be from the beginning of a downward spiral. Although I have needed SOME alone-time to genuinely process my experiences overseas, I do feel like I may have been retreating too often (and possibly missing out on what God is doing in and around other peoples’ lives). Thank you for the challenge and encouragement. I seriously needed that little kick in the pants.

    • You’re welcome my dear! It’s a hard balance to find, but I’m just glad that I can see my denial now. I think that’s a good first step, right? I’ll be thinking of you as we walk this journey of living 🙂

  3. Hi Ivanna,

    Thank you for this. You write so beautifully and from the heart. A couple of years ago when i lost my dad suddenly, i became really sad and depressed and almost lost all interest in doing life. I’d go to work, do my best, go through the motions, i felt numb but i was good at putting on a facade. No one really knew because i didn’t want to burden anyone. But Jesus came to my rescue, i sought professional help and she helped me through the most challenging period of my life.

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