Dealing with December Depression
By Betsy Kelleher
I started this column in my head as I walked our dog in November. I was depressed, and I hoped a long walk out in an open field would help. I didn’t feel like riding my horse alone—that’s how bad it was. But after Ribbons and I came back from our walk, I decided to share some of my thoughts. I know I’m not the only one who feels sad this time of year.
Knowing the cause of one’s depression helps only so much. I knew most of the why in my own case. While working intensely on my next book, a memoir of what God has done in my life, I’ve had to relive memories that brought tears. Last December, I had three sons. Now I have two.
When we learned how limited Bob’s time was, the whole family got together at short notice over the weekend of New Years Eve—in spite of the obstacles of bad weather, train connections and airplane schedules. We called it our Christmas miracle—the precious last time we would all be together. We crowded into Bob’s bedroom, thirteen of us, and we teased his daughters about their boyfriends, and we shared memories and laughed together. We planned another family vacation, knowing it was a delusion of hope. God moved Bob from his earthly home to his heavenly mansion on February 24th, one month before his 50th birthday.
Since we all live so far apart, we won’t be together this first Christmas without Bob, this time when family is so important. Each of us will be dealing with the holidays and the loss in our own way. And even a deep faith in God doesn’t prevent grief. But although we sometimes get stuck in the stages of grief, I believe that He understands our pain and even our anger. I have sensed the comfort of His love. We had a blessed last time together and then we shared a beautiful memorial service. Although we struggle with the need to move on, that’s what we must do.
At times, I’ve found myself just sitting there, doing nothing, too tired to care about cleaning house or riding a horse. Depression drains energy. But it really helps to just do something, any little thing, just to get moving. Maybe it’s good that I have to go to the barn every day, to do chores and to talk to my mare, even if I don’t ride. Life goes on. Take another step forward. Just keep moving. But don’t look down; look UP, to the One who gives us the strength and hope we need. A lovely wall plaque reminds me, I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help (Psalm 121:1, King James Version).
Something new always helps, right? I am planning to have a new countertop, sink and faucet installed in my kitchen. My husband bought a new washer and dryer, which forced me to clean out the laundry area. I am determined to clean house, to get rid of clutter, and to be thankful for what God is doing in my life. I am thankful for the assurance that Bob is now basking in the light of God’s love, free of cancer and pain. God has a plan for my life, however, just as He had a plan for Bob. Figuratively speaking, its time to get back on that horse and keep riding my own ride.
When you feel sadly alone, reach out to someone who will be positive and affirming. We need connection with others. What helps you get back up when you are down? A walk with the dog? A ride on your horse? A visit with a friend? Do it. Take time to think of others, to help someone with a greater need. You’ll be surprised how much that will help you. There are people not far away who have lost everything in a sudden tornado, and are just glad to be alive. Even though Thanksgiving is over, take time to count your blessings—every day, year round. One thing I admired in my folks was a spirit of thankfulness, which I plainly saw even when we had very little.
Above all, an intimate relationship with our Creator is the ultimate connection. God has a way of putting something in front of us when we need it. It isn’t always a Scripture verse; it might be a colorful leaf freshly fallen from its half-naked tree, or a quote from some Facebook website. While sorting papers in my office, I found this quote by Alice Walker, from a website called The Ruby Gateway.
“Some periods of our growth are so confusing that we don’t even recognize that growth is happening. We may feel hostile or angry or weepy and hysterical, or we may feel depressed. It would never occur to us, unless we stumbled on a book or a person who explained to us, that we were in fact in the process of change, of actually becoming larger, spiritually, than we were before. Whenever we grow, we tend to feel it, as a young seed must feel the weight and inertia of the earth as it seeks to break out of its shell on its way to becoming a plant. Often the feeling is anything but pleasant. But what is most unpleasant is the not knowing what is happening. Those long periods when something inside ourselves seems to be waiting, holding its breath, unsure about what the next step should be, eventually become the periods we wait for, for it is in those periods that we realize that we are being prepared for the next phase of our life and that, in all probability, a new level of the personality is about to be revealed.”
Alice Walker is an African-American writer and Pulitzer prize-winning author of The Color Purple. I saw this quote on Facebook and printed it off to add to my pile of words that have touched me. I did a search for The Ruby Gateway. It is a website with lovely photos overlaid with words of inspiration, headlined by these words: “Accessing inner wisdom to guide you on life’s path, removing limiting beliefs to reveal the true beauty within, so you can let your light shine…” I saw no mention of God, mostly references to the higher self or soul of our being. I’m only making an observation, not criticizing. We all need inspirational thoughts. Thank God for the way He uses them in our lives!
I wonder if depression might be a “grace covering” for those spiritual growth spurts that Alice Walker was talking about. I say this because when the depression passes, and I find space to take a deep breath and see beyond it, I often find something new in my life—perhaps a new understanding, or a new peace, a new determination or a stronger faith. But something has been born anew out of the labor of my struggle. It had a purpose after all.
Bob’s death just before Easter will forever enhance my appreciation for God’s gift of eternal life. And now, Christmas reminds me that Jesus came to provide that gift. As we celebrate the birth of our Savior, may we welcome His Spirit to live within us. May any feelings of sadness and loss during this happy season be lifted to a new level of joy. May we have eyes to see in the new year ahead—the hope of new beginnings.
Whatever troubles you are experiencing, whatever depressing thoughts you now have, just take one more step. Keep going one day at a time, and don’t give up. Keep your focus upward, on the One who leads you forward. And don’t let go of His hand. He will lead you Home.
(Originally published in the December 2013 issue of the Illinois Horse Network)