When you know your “good days” are numbered

The first time I tasted a depressive episode in 2011, I didn’t think it was anything more a one-time glitch in an otherwise emotionally healthy life. And then in the winter of 2012, it returned, and this time worse in manifold ways. Eight months later, I emerged stronger than before, declaring to myself and the world that I wouldn’t fear a relapse. But the truth was, I didn’t really believe it would come back. It was a vague possibility in my head, but nothing more.

No prizes for guessing this one, but it did return the following spring. Again, and this is highly likely due to inadequate treatment and self-care, this one was also worse than its predecessor. I hadn’t even had a chance to attempt to conceptualize what that might even look like. Before I knew it, I was reduced to a human ball of invisible, destructive thoughts — sometimes sobbing, sometimes suicidal, other times both.

I am now well, and am beginning to grasp what it means that this is going to be a recurring theme in my life. As I pour my refreshed energy and extended wake time into the passions God has placed on my heart, I am also aware that I cannot lay claim to my present capacities indefinitely.

What do I do with this awareness? I don’t know what the “best practices” are (feel free to share any advice with me), but I’ll probably have many tries to figure this out anyway. But typically, my approach these days have been to “seize every moment”. I try not to sleep beyond what’s necessary for my health, I try not to say no to an invitation to a meal/coffee/conversation/adventure, I try not to reject the appeal of someone in need. I also assess the gifts and talents God has bestowed on me (for example, my voice, my writing, and then those drawing skills that seemingly came out of nowhere) and consider how I can use them to bless others. I reflect on the special passions He has planted in me, such as my love for children, the youth, and the developmentally disabled, and consider how they ought to inform my vocational decisions.

On a more proactive, self-protection side, I’ve been making good on this hypothesis: that if I took advantage of the times when I’m not depressed to learn more about depression (from reading books and articles, and talking to experts including my own healthcare providers), I will eventually become better at handling depressive episodes when they do return. These on top of responsibly staying on medication and being disciplined about self-care, of course.

Now, and you’re probably already thinking this: though I write this from the perspective of someone diagnosed with “recurrent major depressive disorder”, these musings are relevant to any living human.  Our good days are numbered, our days in general are numbered. We don’t know what tragedy might befall us, and when it might. We don’t know what we might lose tomorrow. And then there are also the things we can reasonably expect: the changes that will come with old age, and of course, the fact that we will all die.

Maybe these aren’t things we often think about, and I might even be coming off as if I were still in the thick of depression. It’s also often said that to think about the end of life prevents us from living our lives, but I patently disagree. I believe there are few things more important to how we live our lives than contemplating the temporality, and fragility, of life on this side of eternity. Accepting the vanity of our present pursuits is the beginning of discovering our true purpose, and the true meaning of our lives.

It’s getting easier, these days, to acknowledge our mortality on a mere theoretical level, without really allowing it to sink in in our daily deeds and interactions. Perhaps because modern society has gotten so good at marginalizing death and suffering. Those things are hidden away in hospitals and hospices. Even the things that aren’t hidden from plain sight — like the plight of the homeless, and our brothers and sisters languishing daily under systemic injustice and oppression — we’ve somehow been trained to phase them out of our interior lives. Because it’s more convenient (not to mention more lucrative for corporations) that we are kept distracted by illusions of invincibility and the pursuits of temporary pleasures.

But fight that. I invite you think reflect on these realities more often than you might be used to. I speak not from a preacher’s podium, but from someone who’s been brought so low she had no choice but contemplate these unpleasant reality checks. This is not to rain on anybody’s parade, because the contemplation of “unpleasant” truths is necessary bitter medicine to a pride that needs humbling, a temper that needs taming, a coldness that needs thawing, an indifference that needs shattering, and a soul that needs healing.

I have come to trust in the Great Physician who administers this medicine, and I trust Him with my entire life and being.

Swallow the bitterness in faith, and then we can begin to taste the goodness of life in its fullness. I’m still catching new glimpses of it each day. A life where I am not the center, where I can delight in giving more than I do receiving, where I can truly delight in the joys of others without envy (for the most part), where I rejoice simply in knowing that I am a beloved child of God, where I look forward to an eternity in my final destination.

If I can help somebody as I pass along,
If I can cheer somebody with a word or song,
If I can show somebody he is travelling wrong,
Then my living shall not be in vain.

If I can do my duty as a Christian really ought,
If I can bring back beauty to a world up wrought,
If I can spread love’s message as the Master taught,
Then my living shall not be in vain.

(From “If I Can Help Somebody”, arranged by Ray Liebau.)

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Congratulations on making it to the end of the “heaviest” post I have written in a while. Leave a comment with your thoughts — I would love to hear from any perspective! 🙂 You can also find this blog on Facebook.

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15 thoughts on “When you know your “good days” are numbered”

  1. If your good days are numbered, then your bad days can be, too. I would never make light of your situation, yet it seems as though you are already finding some good in it. Suffering often helps us to appreciate others’ situations better, and it makes it possible for us to reach out to others in genuine sympathy. Best of luck on your journey. Learn much and stay strong.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I don’t think you’re making light of my situation in the slightest. 🙂 Thank you for your insight and words of encouragement! I definitely, resoundingly agree that I’ve benefited from the suffering that God has seen me through.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m agnostic… but I agree with this entire post. I’m just coming out of the ‘fog’ of a depressive episode myself and have been contemplating how it is indeed going to be a lifelong battle…but it is heartwarming and hope – bringing to know I’m not alone and that someone else out there is fighting too. Thank you for this post.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Great post and so insightful. I have found that we learn things also in the midst of the worst of it. There are deep places we can only reach then. One of the things I have learned is to remember that I should be patient, because it will pass; and that no matter how convincing it seems to despair, I must look at the reality of blessings around me, and choose to believe they are really good. I have found that in the depth of depression, my God shows himself kindest.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Been through some depressive cycles too. No gems of wisdom here, except to strive for joy IN God, who He is and what He does and has done, etc, in the midst of the bleak valley. Thankyou for your post. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Jesus asked, “Who has added a single day to his life by worrying?” (I’m paraphrasing as I’m too lazy to look it up…) So, yes, make the most of each day as it presents itself. It’s not that you shouldn’t have some sort of plan in place for the next time the Depression Monster rears its ugly head. Know which doctor to call, keep up with meds, etc… But allowing anxiety about it to take over your life is no better than denying that it can happen again.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I love your writing, and your humble expressions of love for, and faith in the Everlasting God (Isaiah 40:28-31) I am praying for you. You remind me of my son. He was teaching special education in DC, however he burned out. Although he was reared by parents that follow Jesus, he has chosen not to follow him. I would appreciate your praying for him.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I agree that knowing our days are numberd allows hs to more fully live. I myself have had health challenges, and some scary monets whihc forced me to face some really inconvenient truths. Stay with it, and keep your faith. God’s love is stronger than anything. My mom recently spoke to a friend who obliterated her precancerous cells through prayer. Her faith is stronger than her ills. People thought she would die several years ago, but shes still kicking. Like you, she’s taken up a life of service. The woman is a walking miracle. Best of luck, and thanks for sharing this with us.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I think we should always love others more than ourselves. When we are depressed we should love those around us even more fiercely. If they are going to help us then they deserve the greatest of love, even if we hate ourselves. When those around you show you love, reciprocate. I know this hard, but friendship saved my life and I think this is important.

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