It was a Wednesday morning in the dead of winter. It was my sixth winter in Indiana and I could not remember a winter that felt more bleak. This winter was actually the best one I'd seen in Hoosier Country as far as the weather goes. The snow was practically nonexistent this year... however, neither was the sun. I could not remember another time in my entire life when I went weeks upon weeks living in a cloudy, foggy daze and not seeing the sun for what felt like months. I had been fighting depression for about a month and I honestly didn't know if it was the lack of sun or the hopeless situation I found myself wallowing in. I'm sure a combination of both. But let's be honest, whether it's seasonal depression or just depression in general, it's never fun and it always has the ability to overtake you when you least expect it.
On this particular Wednesday morning I had a full day scheduled on my calendar. Meetings to go to and people to care for. I needed to be in the office by 9am. My alarm went off and I woke up in a hazy state of mind. I opened my eyes and hopelessness began to take over my entire body. I had never felt like this before. I wasn't sure what to make of it. The idea of getting out of bed seemed like a task that was so heavy and daunting, that I honestly didn't know if I could do it. Eventually I pushed myself to get up and start getting ready. I remember trying to get my makeup on and make myself look like everything was okay. When in reality, all I felt was numbness. Depression has the ability to make us feel as though we're prisoners in our own bodies. Something inside of me wanted to fight for joy, but everything I was experiencing kept me locked inside of my own downward spiral of emotions.
At some point between putting on foundation and brushing on mascara, I made the decision to cancel all of my obligations that day. I texted my boss and told him I wasn't feeling well and needed to stay home. I felt so guilty because even though I had fought depression on and off for years, I had never let it overcome me to the point of calling off work - of impeding my responsibilities. The guilt only added to the hopelessness I was already feeling. So I did the only thing I knew to do.... I crawled back into bed and pulled the comforter up around me close. I prayed and let the tears roll down my face. And I drifted off to sleep.
That Wednesday was kind of rock bottom for me. During the days that followed, I knew I had to do something to try to move toward finding joy again. I didn't know how I would crawl my way out of the deep hole of depression, but I began to prayerfully consider what it would take to allow my joy to return - and not just allow it, but to wholeheartedly pursue it. I began to ask myself, "What makes me happy?" When you're in the middle of depression, it seems like nothing will make you happy - even the things that have brought you happiness in the past. But I was determined that I would begin to practice the things that had brought me joy in the past, and even if they didn't immediately bring me happiness, I would continue to practice them in belief and hope that my joy would return.
So I did what any good, millennial white girl would do. I drove to Starbucks and ordered a Vinti Iced Coffee with Cinnamon Dolce and a splash of cream. In summertime, this is my drink. It's what I order when I have the windows rolled down and I'm blasting Tim McGraw on back country roads in my Honda Accord, which is also a millennial white girl thing according to my boss. It's what I drive thru to pick up an hour before our Youth Ministry summer events, to get me hyped up for Kiddie Pool Kickball. This is what I order anytime I feel like tasting a little bit of heaven. It's what helps me feel like all is right in the world, even when chaos is surrounding me.
But here's the thing. I didn't just order this sweet iced goodness once or twice that winter. I literally drove to Starbucks Every.Single.Day. and paid $3.19 for this little piece of joy. Now, coughing up $20 a week in coffee is not something I would ever be okay with doing normally. In fact, I struggled with feeling guilty for doing it most of the winter. However, I made an agreement with myself while I was struggling with depression for this season: I will give myself permission to do things that help me feel alive again... Even if they come at a cost. Sometimes, when we're in the middle of fighting for joy, we have to give ourselves permission to do things we wouldn't normally do. To spend a little more than we normally would. To take a little bit more "me" time - away from the chaos - than we normally would. To be a little more selfish than we would normally be. When you give yourself permission to do things that help you come alive again, you're extending yourself the grace you need to keep on living. One of my mottos during this season was, "Give yourself grace, Stephanie." Any time I began feeling guilty about not doing enough or doing too much, I was reminded to give myself grace.
Hobby Lobby also became a place that helped me feel slightly more alive while I was in the depths of depression. I know what you're thinking. Typical millennial white girl! Whatever. Judge me. As much as Iced Coffee is my drink, Hobby lobby is my place. I love perusing the seasonal decorations year round and I love walking through all of the motivational signs and I love imagining how I can decorate my imaginary home one day. Hobby Lobby has always been a place that brings me joy whenever I walk in its doors. So when I was in the depths of depression, I decided I needed to make another decision to try to wholeheartedly pursue joy. I didn't feel like getting out on most days. In fact, most days when I wasn't working I spent my time laying on my couch, watching tv. I didn't want to be around people whatsoever. I didn't want to talk on the phone. I basically wanted the world to leave me alone while I was a hermit in my two bedroom apartment. But when I decided to wholeheartedly pursue joy again, I decided I would take baby steps to enter myself back into the world. This didn't mean that I made dinner dates and movie dates with friends. To be honest, I wasn't ready for all of that. What it did mean was that I made myself get up off of my couch periodically and go to Hobby Lobby. I made myself be around strangers. So even though I was technically there alone, I wasn't alone.
Sometimes, when we're in the midst of depression, trying to put ourselves back in community is counterproductive because it can be too overwhelming. I went back to my motto of, "Give yourself grace, Stephanie." And I gave myself permission to enter into community in my own time. I didn't try to do what everyone else expected me to do. I just listened to what I needed day in and day out. And I tried to make wise choices about how I spent my time.
Speaking of Hobby Lobby, on one of my trips there, when I was in the thick of the depression, I saw a sign that simply said, "Choose Joy." I've never had much qualms with this phrase before, but the moment I saw this sign on this particular day, I immediately got angry. I think I almost broke down in the middle of the isle because in my mind, all I could think was, "Choose joy? Really?! Choose joy?? You have no idea how much I wish I could choose joy right now. You have no idea how much I wish I could choose to pull myself out of this right now. Choose joy. Thanks for that." While I know that chewing Hobby Lobby out in my head was irrational, I could not help but become emotional when I thought about how simple we make this idea out to be. Choose joy. It's simple. Choose to not be depressed. Choose to not feel what you're feeling. Choose joy.
I want to speak directly to you if you are fighting depression right now.... Your feelings are valid, friend. I don't know why or how or what you've been through that has gotten you to this place. I don't know if it's chemical or if it's situational or if it's hereditary. But what I know from experience is that it is more complicated than just choosing joy. It is hard and it is grueling and it might be the hardest thing you'll do in your life. Sometimes you'll feel like giving up. Some days you'll feel like throwing in the towel. I implore you... Don't. Your life is valuable and beautiful and we need you in this world. Joy is coming in the morning. Believe it. Hang on to it.
While I believe relief from depression is way more complicated than just "Choosing Joy," there is some truth to it, at least in my experience. My pastor preached about his battle with depression on the tail end of my intense season with it, and on that day he said, "You have to close the door to your depression. You have to leave the door closed." During this season there were so many times that I felt I had beaten it. There were so many days when I would be on Cloud 9, living in the fullness of joy. But every single time I thought I was out of the woods, something would happen. And I really do believe I chose to enter back into depression. I had left the door to depression open. Or at least cracked. I didn't close the door.
At some point, friend, you've got to close the door on your depression. And yes, I realize that there are so many variables in every unique situation. But I think more often than not, we allow ourselves to be sucked back into it. We give consent to the dark forces of this world to take us back to the depths, when Jesus is reaching out his hand, ready to pull us out and ready to shut that door fully. At least that was my experience. Once I said to Father God, "I am ready to shut the door to my depression," I was able to move forward in the joy I had longed for. It didn't happen immediately. There were (and still are) so many days when I have to fight. But once I made the decision to not allow myself to linger there anymore - and once I accepted the free help of Jesus... I was able to find freedom.
I am praying for you - whoever you are. There's a reason you clicked on this link. There's a reason you read this all the way through. I am going to God on your behalf right now. There is hope. There is joy. There is freedom. Please leave a comment with your email if you'd like to chat about your situation. I will be in touch.
Hi! My name is Stephanie, and I'm the girl behind this blog! I'm a pastor and a writer and a lover of all things chocolate. As you browse the content on this page, I hope you find yourself encouraged and smiling. At some moments, perhaps you would even shed a tear or two. Most importantly, I pray you find hope in whatever season you're walking through. We are in this journey together, and my calling is to encourage you along the way!