The Seesaw of Depression and Anxiety

(Fifth in a series on taking steps away from depression.)

I used to think of depression and anxiety as two unrelated problems.

But I realized, at some point, that depression often followed a time of anxiety. Then I made the connection that anxiety often set in as I was emerging from a time of depression.

Since then, I’ve been trying to figure out whether they just take turns, depending on what’s going on in your life, or if they actually trigger one another.

There is a Connection

I’m convinced, at least in my own case, that anxiety wears me down to depression. When many tasks of life are seen as a big hurdle, triggering shortness of breath, a sense of dread, a feeling of incompetence, a fear of rejection, trouble focusing – that drains me to a point where I feel so down I want to quit stuff.

One study described in the Journal of Anxiety Disorders states that anxiety and depression are often highly correlated with each other, and that depression can follow anxiety years later. People with lifetime anxiety had lifetime depression 73 per cent of the time, and people with both had worse illness and functioning than those with only one.

This article also pointed out that past depression predicts future avoidance, and avoidance predicts anxiety. A huge study of over 6000 adolescents over 14 years demonstrated that avoidance behaviors occurred in between times of anxiety and depression a significant percentage of the time.

Avoiding Makes it Worse

We kind of know that intuitively, don’t we? If my 13-year-old self chickened out and skipped a party because of social anxiety, I had to deal with a residue of shame, a sense of failure, loneliness and hopelessness that soon added up to depression.

On the other hand, if I went to the party, chances are I would have some positive experiences there in addition to all the awkwardness, and I would feel prouder of myself afterwards.

I would probably also learn a few things, whether or not I was aware of it, that would make me a little more hip to how I should behave at a party, which would make the next experience less scary.

Conquer a Little at a Time

So it goes. If we can gradually expose ourselves to what makes us anxious, our window of fear gets smaller.

I used to be terrified of getting onstage and saying or doing any little thing. Now I’m only scared if I’m performing at a big convention with video screens. The setting is usually a lot smaller than that, so having succeeded at the convention, I no longer dread a crowd of 200.

That’s how we anxious types need to march through life. The worse thing that happens is that we aim too high and we fail at something. So we learn, and we take our challenges in smaller chunks.

And when depression starts to take us down, we don’t avoid that reality either. We take care of ourselves and get as much help as we need, so the downward spiral changes direction.

It seems that often our greatest anxieties are attached to our giftedness. It’s so frustrating to see a marvellous athlete quit just because she failed in one competition. Or a wonderful musician stop playing because his performance anxiety wore him down to exhaustion.

Don’t Give Up!

Please don’t give up on yourself. Don’t let yourself get too busy, or make yourself a slave to others’ expectations, but don’t quit either.

Then you can get off the anxiety/depression seesaw and just focus on one thing at a time.

It’s so rewarding to get to a place where you can function in your strengths, and even get a handle on a few weaknesses, only to discover that they no longer stress you out.

For the previous post, press here.

Isolation Doesn’t Work

(Third in a series on steps away from depression. For the last post, press here.)

Sometimes isolating feels like all we can do.

Sometimes everything else is too hard, so we hole up in a safe, comfy place and shut the world out. Our best friends become chocolate, or cats, or beer, or some memory of someone who’s gone.

We’re not alone in feeling alone. A Cigna survey found that forty per cent of the 20,000 adults they interviewed feel isolated. Some isolation has been forced by the pandemic, but this article focuses on our choice to isolate because life out there is too overwhelming and we can’t face it.

Isolating can be helpful for a few hours, or maybe even a few days in a crisis, but too much isolation makes us sadder and crazier. Here’s why:

We Need People, Even if We Don’t Like Them

It may seem easier at first, but isolation leads to loneliness, which has been found to be as damaging to physical and mental health as smoking, drinking or obesity. Chronic loneliness is associated with highter rates of depression, anxiety and many physical health problems. So it’s a vicious cycle: depression driving us to isolate, isolation leading to loneliness, loneliness making us more ill and depressed. It’s a stuck place that we have to find a way to bust out of.

People Give Us Structure

We need a schedule that connects us to the world, especially if we’re introverted. Many have observed during covid that a whole day in the house alone results in an empty feeling by evening. Since the pandemic started, alcohol and other drug use rates have gone through the roof.

Making sure to plan at least one outing to connect with people, even if it’s just to go to the store and ask the checkout person how they’re doing, is really important. If going out is hard right now, make it a short trip and promise yourself a reward when you get home. (Not a noon cocktail though.)

Everyone has their own ideal balance for time out with people and time alone. I could do most of my work from home, but have been much happier since scheduling two days a week in the office of the church where I work. It lifts my spirits to get out of sweat pants, hit the road and have people to talk with on and off throughout the day.

It’s Not All About Us

Going to church, playing a sport or going to the gym, joining others for hobbies or volunteer work – all these things are key to reminding us that the world out there is big and full of possibilities. If we can’t go out for ourselves, let’s do it for the others we go to be with. It’s not all about us. Helping someone else almost instantly lifts our mood.

I often don’t feel like getting up on Sunday, donning a mask and going to church. But the music, the encouraging words, the connections with friends, being part of a community that serves people – all of that results in a sense of well-being that makes the coming week easier to face.

Homework: Look back over your last week. How much of your time was with people, and how much alone? Are you happy with the balance? Someone home all day with kids may crave alone time. Others, especially people who live alone, need to be intentional about inviting friends over and getting out into the world. What are three things you can do next week to keep the balance right for you?

Anything helpful to add? Comment below

Children are So Quotable

Third in a Series on Why I Wrote “Christmas on Pleasant Hill”

Christmas is magical and kids are adorable, so when I wanted to write a book and split profits with our local pre-school, what better than a book of Christmas short stories with plenty of children?

“Christmas on Pleasant Hill” isn’t a children’s book – a few of the stories, like “The Refuge” and “The Painting”, are more suited to teenagers and adults, but eight of the twelve stories do feature children.

From a three year old trying to figure out why he can’t see Jesus, to high schoolers angsting over a school dance, the stories give a compassionate snapshot of family life in its different stages, highlighting the sweetness and humor.

Only some of the stories are based on true incidents, but all of them involve real people. If the story wasn’t based on an incident that really happened, I used people in the neighborhood as inspiration, and imagined how they might interact with one another.

In “Kyle Helps Santa” I thought of the cute, sociable kid around the corner in the big house, and what might happen if he met one of my favorite students in our church’s tutoring program – a sweet, brave, loyal little boy named Andre. I love it when racial and socioeconomic worlds collide and people are richer for it.

Likewise in “Why the Bells Rang”, I riffed on an ancient Christmas legend using a man, an older student, and a little boy I knew from church. It may not have actually happened, but it could have….

“Christmas on Pleasant Hill” is available on Amazon. Half the profits go to 3Cs Nursery School.

Bringing Christmas Home

Second in a series on why I wrote, “Christmas on Pleasant Hill”

It seems like Christmas stories are usually set in other times or places than where we live.

I wanted to write a book where the magic was in my front yard, among my neighbors, at my church.

“Christmas on Pleasant Hill” is a book of 12 family Christmas stories set in a Cincinnati neighborhood. Some of them happened. The rest of them could have happened. A few of them may even have happened to my own family!

More than any other gift, we all need to feel the nearness and goodness of God. Everything we pour our time into in December – buying gifts, decorating, cooking, performing in concerts and plays, reading the old stories to our children – it’s all in the effort to give each other love and delight, to affirm that life is worth living and there is a good Creator in the midst of it.

We, as much as the characters in these stories, need to be reminded of these truths. Some are worn down from the exhaustion of trying to build a life out of poverty. Some are overwhelmed with the hard work of parenting. Some are broken by addiction, disability or someone else’s cruelty. All of them are ready for God to show up.

And God does show up, in many unexpected ways, right in the middle of everyday life. “Christmas on Pleasant Hill” shines a light on those moments, right where we live.

“Christmas on Pleasant Hill” is available from Amazon.

10 Reasons I Wrote “Someone They Can Trust”

10. It Showed Up in My Head

I tend to look back and have some insight into why I chose to write a book. In the drafting phase, though, I’m far less aware, less conscious. People, situations and issues just show up in my imagination.

They’re kind of irresistible – beckoning me like an open door to a walled garden.

The other nine reasons I wrote this book are all good reasons, but I don’t think many novelists just crank out books for logical reasons.

There are many logical reasons not to write a novel – they take a super long time, they’re hard to get published and even with healthy sales, you wouldn’t want to calculate your hourly pay. Probably about as much as someone who knit a scarf getting eight bucks for it at a craft show.  

We kind of do it for love – we knitters and novelists and artists of all kinds. Many of us feel like that’s what we were made to do and that’s the gift we can give people.

To have someone enjoy it – that’s compensation too.

10 Reasons I Wrote “Someone They Can Trust” cont.

9. Not All Christians are Mean, Stupid or Sappy…

I watched a fantastic movie last night, “The Guernsey Potato Peel Pie Society”, but one of its characters made me flinch with a familiar irritation.

She was a Christian who read her Bible all the time. She was also mean, judgemental, self-righteous, prim, petty and vindictive – basically the antithesis of how Jesus acted. You just don’t often see a sane, appealing Christian character who can speak in whole sentences on mainstream media produced this century.

Often people who follow Jesus are depicted as villains or fools, on screen and in contemporary books.

I just finished writing a novel, “Someone They Can Trust,” that depicts real people who say they’re following Jesus, and almost all of them are really following Jesus. They’re likable, authentic and say amusing things. They show how a relationship with God is fleshed out in real situations.

I’m not saying there aren’t some ignorant and hateful people who say they’re Christians. I just know from experience that there are many mature and loving people in our churches. That’s important for everyone to know. That’s why I wrote this book.

10 Reasons I Wrote “Someone They Can Trust”:

8. We Have to Live with Alzeimer’s

Alzheimer’s Disease is a public health problem of staggering proportions, and a personal tragedy for a good chunk of our population. (Around six million people have it in the United States.)

Even if we weren’t dealing with a pandemic, increasing poverty, unemployment, and a childcare crisis – the prevalence of Alzheimer’s is a loud call to band together and live more communally. Dementia can wreck a family. It’s that hard to deal with.

There is a character in my manuscript, “Someone They Can Trust” who has Alzheimer’s, and the story shows how a loving community can make life livable for the victims of the disease and for their caregivers.

One of three protagonists in the book is the main caregiver for her beloved Grandmother, who is found to have Alzheimer’s early in the story.

The character’s journey is not only about a descent from a devout and useful life; it’s a story about life going on and being full of graceful, sweet moments even in the midst of the disease. Those are what we can learn to create for each other.

That’s why I wrote this book.

10 Reasons I Wrote “Someone They Can Trust”

7. God Likes Good Art

God is obviously a good designer, as the varied gorgeousness of Earth testifies.

I’m assuming God also likes good art to be part of our worship gatherings, since his instructions to the Hebrews for building their first temple were specific to the last detail and He had artisans in mind to do the work.

In my latest manuscript, “Someone They Can Trust”, one of the main characters is an artist, and her love for God is both inspired by beauty, and returned with skillful, beautiful painting.

Another character is a worship minister who uses the arts to the best of his ability in planning powerful worship experiences. He also uses the arts as a way of reaching out to the community with invitations to a fabulous gathering, based on something I saw Charlie and Ruth Jones do in Greensboro, N.C. a few years ago. (https://www.joyfulcommunity.com/grub)

Every month they opened their downtown home to 20 to 30 people for a wonderful meal, followed by an open stage for local artists.. I had never seen a more diverse group of people enjoying themselves together more.

My theater company, “Friends of the Groom” joined them, performed some sketches, and were delighted and renewed by the great food, spoken word and music.

Good art and hospitality are a powerful combination. I wanted to show how they build strong community. That’s why I wrote this book.

.

10 Reasons I Wrote, “Someone They Can Trust”:

5. I Love This Place – Sometimes

I have a love-hate relationship with my neighborhood, which is also the setting for my new novel. We moved here to be near downtown, be near our church, and be present in an urban neighborhood that was struggling. We figured that at the very least, we could help by paying city taxes and keeping up a pretty old house.

The neighborhood is multi-racial and has housing stock ranging from crumbling little apartments to premier mansions. I love its huge trees, surrounding woods, elegant architecture and the outstanding kindness of many of its residents. I hate the poverty, the garbage on the streets, the emptiness in the eyes of young people hanging out on corners.

The novel I just finished, “Someone They Can Trust” is set in this neighborhood, with characters attending a church there that is grappling with the brokenness of the community. It’s good to know that God shows up and does wonderful things even in tough places. That’s why I wrote this book.

10 Reasons I Wrote, “Someone They Can Trust”:

4. Diverse Churches Needed

In the novel I just finished, “Someone They Can Trust”, black people and white people go to church together, pray together and study the Bible together.

This shouldn’t be a big deal, given that the Bible presents a vision of God’s kingdom welcoming every single people group, but the U.S.A. has an abysmal record regarding racial equity, and our churches are mostly segregated.

The black church has been a place of refuge and safety for generations of African Americans, so it’s understandable if they want their churches to stay segregated.

There are many reasons why white churches are segregated – they may reflect the reality of all-white surroundings, they may not know how to go about being welcoming to people of color even if they want to, or they may contain outright racists. Or all of the above.

Despite these wrenching realities, the bigger reality is that God’s Spirit of love is always working to break down barriers of race, class, age, belief and education. This novel shows a church allowing that to happen. We need to be able to replicate churches that are safe for people of color, which are also attended by white people. That’s why I wrote this book.