Facing Depression by Carol P. Christ


carol mitzi sarahThe suicide death of Robin Williams prompted me to reflect again on my own experience with depression and to share my story in the hope that it can help others.

In my twenties, thirties, and forties, I suffered severe intermittent depressions. My life in those days was a series of ups and downs. When I feel in love and was having good sex, I was in love with the world and could literally feel energy radiating from my body connecting it to the world. When I was dumped, the energy retreated, and I crawled into a dark hole of despair and self-pity from which there seemed to be no escape. In the in-between times, I carried on my life with neither the highs or the lows.

In recent days, a number of people have tried to describe what depression feels like. Here is what it felt like to me.

It was as if my mind had a single track on which were repeated a few deadly words: “No one loves me. No one will ever love me. I might as well die.” I could not erase the track or jump to another one. The words repeated themselves relentlessly in my mind.

Although I usually managed to get up and go to work during those times, these words were ever present: they would take over when my mind wandered on the bus or the subway and whenever I was alone. I could go through the motions of life, but I could not connect to the wellsprings of my creativity.

In the low times, I thought often about suicide. Indeed the words “I might as well die” encouraged them. Thoughts of my mother usually stopped me.

One time I decided to slit my wrists (slightly) to see if committing suicide would hurt. When I found that it didn’t, I immediately called two friends and asked them to take me to their home for the weekend.

When I was depressed, well-meaning friends told me that “this too will pass” and assured me that “you will find someone else.” I didn’t believe them. When I was in the place of depression those words did not help at all.

In therapy I learned that depression often masks enormous anger. Sometimes I screamed out my rage at my latest boyfriend in the confines of my apartment. But when the depression had taken hold, this did not help either.

I also tried all kinds of spells and divination to see “if our love was meant to be,” “to bring him back,” and “to find my true love.” None of this worked. (Readers of this blog who have wondered why I put little faith in divination and spells have their answer: not from lack of trying!)

Just as I was coming out of my last serious bout with depression, a friend who had suffered in similar ways told me that she had resorted to anti-depressant pills. She explained to me that the pills seemed to move her mind away from her depressing thoughts. When she felt stronger, she weaned herself off of them gradually. She said that she would go back to the pills if the depression came back. I was elated to learn that there was something that could work, and I filed this information in the back of my mind.

I don’t suffer from depression any more. Yes, life has its ups and downs, and I sometimes feel lonely or under-appreciated. I never did find “the right” man. But my disappointments no longer spiral down into depression and not wanting to live.

What happened?

It was like a miracle.

When my mother died, I felt the room fill with love. From that day to this I have never doubted that there is enough love to go around and that I am loved.

Thinking about the change that “happened” in my life, I can now say that I was suffering from an “error in thought.” I had equated “being loved” with finding my “true love.” In the process I was discounting all the many other forms of love in my life—including the love of my mother and grandmothers that had sustained my childhood years, and the love of friends, family, animals, plants, and the universe itself that continued to sustain it.

Soon after that, I realized that I had compounded my suffering with a major “error in theology.” When I bemoaned my inability to find “true love,” I was blaming the universe. I was blaming the divine power.

When, years earlier, I expressed my anger at God for not “saving” women from patriarchy, I heard the words: “In God is a woman like yourself. She shares your suffering.” These words inspired my journey to the Goddess.

cave woman climbingBut I needed to take another step.

I was still angry at the universe for not giving me what I wanted and thought I needed in my life. I was angry at Goddess because I thought She could make my life better and She was not doing it!

When I finally expressed my enormous anger to Her, I learned that I had been making the “theological error” of attributing omnipotence to Goddess. However She sympathized with my suffering, She did not have the power to “send my true love to me” when I poured out my heart to Her.

“The path you are on is not easy,” She said to me, “but I will be with you all the way.” Reflecting on those words, I understood that Her power is not omnipotence, but omnipresence, not power over, but power with.

So what advice would I give to those are in the throes of depression. (I am speaking here to those who suffer as I did from “garden variety” depression, not its more serious forms.)

• I would tell them that I understand how they are feeling. I would tell them that I understand how bad it really can feel. Not: “oh come on, it’s not that bad.”

• I would recommend getting in touch with the anger and sadness that underlies depression with the help of therapy, spirituality, family, and friends. A depressed person often feels that whatever underlies depression is too horrible to be faced. Yet there is nothing that cannot be faced “with help” from someone who can listen. However, this might have to wait until the depression has lifted.

• I would encourage exercise, singing, and dancing. Sometimes moving the body can also move the mind off the fixed track that leads to depression.

• I would suggest anti-depressant drugs not for the long-term, but for their short-term power to move the mind off a fixed track.

• After the depression has lifted, I would ask if “errors in thought” led to the conclusion that life is not worth living. I would urge them to open new tracks in their minds that lead to different conclusions—while they are healthy enough and strong enough to do so. Repeating a mantra like, “my true love is me,” “life is worth living,” or “life is a gift” just might help.

• I would also ask them to examine their “theology”–even if they think they don’t have one. Feelings that “God” could make things right, but in “this particular case” chooses not to, are one of the pathways to depression.

• I would urge them to be open to miracles.

Carol is looking forward to the fall Goddess Pilgrimage to Crete–$150 discount for the next two women to sign up for the fall 2014 tour–www.goddessariadne.org.  Carol can be heard in a recent interviews on Voices of the Sacred Feminine, Goddess Alive Radio, and Voices of Women.  Carol is a founding voice in feminism and religion and Goddess spirituality. Her books include She Who Changes and Rebirth of the Goddess and with Judith Plaskow, the widely-used anthologies Womanspirit Rising and Weaving the Visions.  Follow Carol on GoddessCrete on Twitter.

 



Categories: Feminism and Religion, Feminist Theology, General, God-talk, Goddess

Tags: , , , , , ,

40 replies

  1. If you tried to create a profile of someone at high risk of committing suicide, one likely example would look like this: A middle-aged or older white male toward the end of a successful career, who suffers from a serious medical problem as well as chronic depression and substance abuse, who recently completed treatment for either or both of those psychological conditions and who is going through a difficult period, personally or professionally.

    In short, that person would look a lot like Robin Williams, the 63-year-old actor and comedian who, authorities said Tuesday, hanged himself with a belt in the bedroom of his San Francisco Bay area home a day earlier.

    An emerging area of interest for many mental health experts is the impact of feelings that the person who attempts suicide has begun to feel he is a burden to his family and friends, who, he believes, would be better off without him.

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  2. Thank you for sharing your story Carol…this is so often a taboo topic, it needs to be spoken about more. xxx

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  3. Thanks for sharing so deeply. I have no answers at all. Life is tough for everybody, in one way or another. But the photo, Carol, with your dogs — again it speaks and reminds me that loving a pet can very definitely help to relieve depression. All we need do is hug them, and feed them, and they love us in return, unconditionally, without judgments.

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    • Indeed they do, When I was crying on my bed in those days, my little poodle x used to lick my tears away and cry herself. I had to stop crying in order to comfort her. Bless her little spirit.

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  4. Great article, Carol! Thanks for sharing. It helped me and I’m sure it will help many.
    Love & blessings.

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  5. Thank you…single mom for 5 years, I just lost my job, struggling financially and emotionally. I am just coming back from a bout with suicide ideation, not fun. This is a message I needed to hear. Many blessings. I enjoy your blog!

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  6. ” In the process I was discounting all the many other forms of love in my life—including the love of my mother and grandmothers that had sustained my childhood years, and the love of friends, family, animals, plants, and the universe itself that continued to sustain it.”

    Carol, thank you for sharing so openly about your experience with depression. In the quote above, you did not include yourself. We need to love ourselves in order to love another. The love of those other living things is important, but you need to love you. I am sure you do, but for the sake of your readers who may need help, they need to realize that. In working with depressed people, self loathing was often evident. Our peace and satisfaction has to come from within.

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    • Thanks Kathleen, I think another mantra of depression is “I am no good, I am bad, I am worthless,” etc. That was not my mantra. I always viewed myself as more sinned against than sinning–rightly or wrongly.

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  7. Thanks, Carol, for writing this essay. Those theological “errors in thought” had me depressed for years. Understanding that concept took time. Shaking the power that I allowed religious institutions to hold over me eventually set me on a life-giving path.

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  8. I have suffered from major depression since I was around 6 years old. I wouldn’t be alive today without the use of antidepressants. (Not that I value my life so highly, but I have a daughter and mother who need me.). Let there be no shame in using antidepressants.

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    • I agree tigerlille: let there be no shame. Shame too often keeps people from receiving the care they need or that would make their lives livable– and there is far too much shame revolving around medication.
      I do not take medication now; but I had a good friend in college who had serious clinical depression and needed her medication. I remember watching her struggle with the wrong medications, and saw how her life changed when she was taking what she needed.

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  9. Thank you and bless you. I have struggled with depression and anxiety my whole life — resulting in more than one psychiatric hospitalization. Although medication is a must for me and is enormously helpful, I have found that dance, music, and a goddess centered spiritual practice have sustained me through the darkest times.

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  10. Thank you for your words of wisdom and experience, Carol. Abandonment depression is often at the root of mood disorders and when we stop abandoning ourselves and learn to truly love ourselves and the precious life we have been given, we find our way out. Many times the only way out is through. Blessings to you and all who find their way to the other side of this pain by choosing life. And blessings to Robin Williams and all who choose death.

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    • “Blessings to you and all who find their way to the other side of this pain by choosing life. And blessings to Robin Williams and all who choose death.” YES. The latter is seldom spoken, the choice rarely honored. We need to help all those in need *without* imposing judgment around the end result. Blessings to all.

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      • Thank you for making an important point. I cried when I read about Robin’s manner of death, that such a good man should have felt such despair and self hatred. May your suffering have ended Robin, may you be at peace.

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  11. Excellent, truthful blog. When we get depressed (and I have been, tool) it sometimes helps to know we’re not alone in the sense that other people have felt, now feel, and will in the future feel the same way.

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  12. Joining the chorus of heartfelt thanks! I love what you distilled from your experience and offer so concisely and compassionately to others at the end of your post. Thanks for your kindness and wisdom.

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  13. Thank you, Carol for sharing your experiences so openly. I have fought depression since I was 12. I’m now 63. There have been good years and bad years. Creative years and years when just staying alive was all I could do. In my childhood I recall overhearing adult conversations about an aunt. They whispered that she was committed. They asked each other what is wrong with her, she has everything. Later, when I began to look like the aunt and also suffer from depression I began to be whispered about. As an adult, middle aged, I became very close to another aunt who had committed herself for two months. She had suffered depression her whole life and had kept it a secret from all but her husband and children so as to avoid the whispers. It is wonderful that we have come so far- that there are forums where we share our experiences so openly. A health crisis two years ago, a bad marriage of many years, and a difficult adult daughter have plunged me back into the abyss where I struggle at this time to once again see daylight. Recently, a friend who was describing her teenaged granddaughter who is in therapy described her as “an empty vessel who needs others to fill her up.” At 63 that was a lightbulb moment. It perfectly described all my years of suffering! I am an empty vessel who needs others to fill me up. I now understand what self love is all about. Finally. I am working, reading, talking, and meditating in the hope of finding enough love in the universe to fill myself. Some of us stay alive for others when in reality we must learn to live for ourselves. Love and blessings to all of you.

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  14. “The path you are on is not easy,” She said to me, “but I will be with you all the way.” Reflecting on those words, I understood that Her power is not omnipotence, but omnipresence, not power over, but power with.” You so clearly expressed something I experience but haven’t been able to find the words for Carol. Thank you for all this very personal and wise post.

    I went through a bout of depression in the 1970’s and was seriously planning suicide. My problem with that was I couldn’t think of a way to do it that would be final, painless, and would not seen to be self-inflicted because that is so painful for those left behind who loved me. Fortunately, I went to a marvelous GP for another matter (isn’t it interesting that while planning suicide, I was taking care of my general health!) and blurted out my depression to him at the end of our visit. I told him of all the stresses I had been under. He gave me an injection that lifted the blackness within a minute or two. Then did blood tests and prescribed a low dose of hormone therapy for a few months. Finding some relief from the blackness allowed me to deal with the underlying causes, some of which you mention.

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  15. Those are very encouraging words.. I am sure everyone has been through a low phase in their lives when nothing seems to go right…your experience is a motivator to not give up.

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  16. Excellent article! Carol, thank you for sharing this part of your story, I can tell you really understand chronic depression and the feeling of not being loved. I have suffered from bouts of depression all my life, stemming not so much from lack of my true love (though there have been episodes of that too) but from other life issues. I’ve been told by therapists and others who know, that I must be a strong woman or I would have folded under some of these issues, but I never felt strong. I always felt weak, helpless, and hopeless. I still fight depression, it’s always there, lurking in my inner self. I just do whatever I can to fight it, to keep another serious bout at bay, as long as I can. I’ve been to therapy so much that I know what to do to help myself, and I try to do those things. Right now, thankfully, I am not depressed.

    And I agree wholeheartedly with your view of medication: use it to get better then gradually get yourself off of it, if you can. Sometimes, some people, need medication for much longer due to chemical imbalances etc. Some can be helped by a short term use of the meds. I also agree with others here who said that we need to learn to love ourselves, and recognize that love. I’m working on that one all the time!

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  17. Thank you for your honest disclosure. These days I am still working on that page, about whether (or in fact, how) divination and supplication work. I was following through this and my reading linked your quest(ion) with this answer “I will be with you all the way”.

    This past few weeks we have been praying hard for our new baby only to learn he has a 1 in 2200 manifestation of this tracheomalacia. So periodically he just stops being able to breath and turns blue.

    When I hold him, I just want him to stay on this earth with us. I told him once, I know it is selfish but could you would you just stay?

    Now we are preparing for a major surgical intervention and a new 3-D thing-a-ma-jig which has made a difference between life and death for a few babies of late. And while I am grateful this option is available, I am still depleted by the effort to pray my way to NO surgical intervention.

    So I go back to the drawing board of my “theological” framework and try once more to make sense of it. Only to arrive again at the place where both the rational understanding and the miraculous (even occasionally, often in fact) mi-understanding are all part of the sacred design.

    Instead of answers, I am just going to go with the flow of divine presence and thus learn myself to be more present, even as I travel through the universe of ideas about how it really works.

    I say all this here and not something about the depression part of it–since I know from first hand experience how that can really be complex–but because I still believe that the faith of even a mustard seed can carry us through all kinds of storms but sometimes we mistake that seed for speck of dust and instead blow it away ourselves.

    May all of life return in its abundance to the places of sacred openings.. how ever they manifest

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    • I love Marjorie Suchocki’s In Divine Presence, a book on prayer with attention to her prayers to God as a loved one was dying. She too understands the Divine Power as omnipresent but not omnipotent and reflects on the meaning of prayer to a God who is not omnipotent.

      I wish your dear new baby well in all of his struggles and my heart goes out to his Gram and his Mom and Daddy.

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    • PS I do experience the Divine Presence in my life. She is always there to hear me and to “hear the cries of the world” as well as to experience our joy. I do believe She inspires us to love and care about others and the world more deeply and more widely. I still do pray for “help” from time to time, but what I pray for is the courage and insight to find a way, the best way I can, through whatever it is I am suffering at the time. And I still feel sad from time to time that I have not found and “the universe” has not “provided me with what I wanted” –a true love and partner in life. I think I need to “pray about that” and find a way to get over and beyond a lingering “bitterness” and sense of “injustice” on that subject. I do know that others have suffered far worse fates in their lives!

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  18. Thank you for your post Carol. Like many of us responding here, I have definitely dealt with depression, and since I was in high school. My mantra was “you are so hurtful to people,” so I walked around trying to be perfect and make sure I didn’t hurt anyone even in minor ways, and would obsess over one misplaced word and be in agony when I actually did something hurtful. With the help of a loving therapist, I finally figured out that I believed that ‘hurtful’ was who I was– or that being myself was actually hurtful… Well, that was a wake up call in a big way.
    I have better strategies for coping with depression now, though, I still definitely struggle with this on and off.
    I think posts like yours are very important, and definitely tell other people who struggle with depression that they are not alone.

    A note on Robin Williams’ (RIP) death– It is also important to remember that suicide acts like a trigger. Another person’s suicide can evoke our own feelings of despair and self-destruction in powerful ways. Which is also why I think posts like yours are important in the wake of the death of such a public figure who was admired by so many.

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  19. Carol, I think we all share a deep sense of gratitude to you for allowing us to talk about such a common feeling. I didn’t think I knew anyone else who had felt depression, and here I discover that many of the wise, caring, active, intelligent women that I admire in this blog have felt it. I tracked down St. John’s Wort, but I’ve been too ashamed to even tell my doctor that I take it, and she is an exceptional physician who wouldn’t judge me. To the world I am a laughing, smiling, joyful person, and it just seems easier to keep that facade intact. I keep telling myself that “this too will pass”, and perhaps one day it will. In the interim, I do thank you. Bless you for your courage.

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  20. Carol, my Sagittarius sister, thank you so much for sharing your truth, your beauty, your light. Love you to the moon Goddess and back.

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  21. Carol thank you so much for sharing your experience with depression, and thus creating space for others to think about and write about this issue. I’ve always admired your wisdom and honesty and never so much as now! I’ve been depressed when I was facing horrible person situations, and counseling helped, but I know many women who have needed medication, and some need it long term. I also want to mention that anyone dealing with depression should be tested for thyroid problems, because a dear relative of mine tried to commit suicide and luckily the doctor on duty was an endocrinologist who discovered she had a goiter and had an very overactive thyroid. Once that was treated her depression lifted. Blessings to you, Carol, and to all who have shared!

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  22. Hi Carol this is a wonderful article I am sure you will inspire many with your strength and courage.

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  23. Thanks to all of you who have opened your hearts here. And may we all find healing and hope and love for the lives we have.

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  24. Thank you for sharing this, Carol. I’ve been amazed at the number of FAR readers who have also experienced depression. I have also suffered from it, and actually studied psychology and became a psychotherapist because of my own struggles. Three years of intensive psychoanalysis helped me to realize that I had to be the “driver of the bus” of my life, and my efforts to help others actually taught me a lot about how to handle my own feelings of despair. It’s hard to encourage someone else to “hang on” and “learn to love themselves” if one isn’t doing it herself. Although I’ve been married twice, raised two children, and have had several same-sex relationships, I, too, have never really felt connected to a “soul mate.” I have come to believe that our culture and social structure lead us to expect too much from a partner. Many marriages survive because one person sacrifices more than the other. I think that some people are able to sustain a one-on-one relationship with a significant other, but that it is much more common for those relationships to founder, due to expectations that the other will satisfy longings that have nothing to do with them. After learning about the Mosuo culture in China, I realized that their custom of separating love and sex makes a lot of sense. Family members in the Mosuo culture, who are related by blood through the mothers (mother, grandmother, daughter/son, brother/sister, uncle/aunt), tend to care about each other because of their shared history and genes. In other societies, our efforts to connect romantic love and sex to a long-term monogamous relationship is fraught with difficulties, and often results in feelings of boredom, alienation, and a feeling of being trapped, as well as anger that is rooted in frustrated expectations. Let’s face it: the only person who will ever love you unconditionally is your mother! Personally, I think most “romantic” relationships are based on lust. The Mosuo people have all the sex they want, but no romantic expectations, jealousy, or divorce. They also do not have rape or murder. The children produced from sexual unions are raised by the mother’s family. There is none of the stress produced by our patriarchal “nuclear” family, which tends to isolate us. I wonder whether we would experience the feeling of “no one will ever love me” if we lived like the Mosuo people. For more information, read A Society without Fathers or Husbands: The Na of China by Cai Hua and Asti Hustvedt (Jul 25, 2008).

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    • Yes you are right about all of that. And in addition lust is a kind of narcotic that actually changes the chemicals in the brain, producing that well-known euphoria–oh mother nature!

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  25. Thanks, Carol, for this post. As a body/mind, my bouts of depression have often been connected with back pain (although once it was a need for thyroxin, as Linda Costelloe mentions above). As a result, I would change one of your suggestions: take antidepressants for as long as you need them, because, in my experience, sometimes it’s long-term, not short-term. Otherwise, once again, women who need medicine for a medical condition feel like they have failed. I know it was really difficult for me to accept that I needed an antidepressant and I put it off for longer than I needed to, because of the shame attached to it.

    My most recent depression came after the end of radiation for breast cancer. Fortunately, I saw my medical oncologist early in this period, and he told me that this happens to many cancer survivors. I expected just the opposite, so this depression threw me for a loop. Similar to your experience after your mother’s death, my feelings changed after a few weeks. Instead of feeling that I had to prove myself (with a negative “mantra” that maybe I wasn’t good enough, smart enough, loving enough, etc.), my new thought has been: “I’m alive. And I’m happy to be alive.” Somehow that’s enough now, just the joy of living. I don’t have to DO anything, accomplish anything, to feel okay. Yes, “life is a gift!”

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    • Yes, would we shame someone with diabetes into getting off insulin?

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    • Dear Nancy, I too am a breast cancer survivor, 2 – 1/2 years cancer free. After my bilateral mastectomy I was astounded to find myself in a deep depression. I had just had life saving surgery. I was supposed to be happy for my second chance. And mentally, I was so thankful. But emotionally, I was a mess. My hospital and their affiliates offered everything for my physical well being, but nothing for my mental health. When I inquired, I was directed to their meditation class. I was already doing that. I am still surprised that mental health care is not offered as a matter of course to women in this situation. Goddess knows there are plenty of us. I have begun to be more myself just in the last couple of months. Best wishes for your continued recovery. Anina

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  26. Good point Nancy about long-term use of anti-depressants sometimes being the best choice. Take care.

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  27. Thank you to Carol and everyone who has written here. What an amazing group of people :) I’ve suffered from depression on and off since the age of 16. I’ve taken medication in the past and would take it again if I felt the need. I have recently ended a 10-year relationship and moved 100 miles back to my family’s home town. With all the changes and the fear aroused by being single again at 47 I expected another emotional crash but so far I have managed to keep my head above water. I have my first session with a new counsellor tomorrow and plan to get help and support for as long as I need it. I have recently discovered some wonderful music by Jennifer Berezan – her album “She Carries Me” is inspiring and comforting me at the moment. Blessed be.

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  28. Hi….thanks carol, living in depressions is like living in a hell. I been going through since 2004, taking antidepression meds. Only God knows what we are going through. Have faith in Him and beliving in miracles to happen one day. Tq

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