Depression’s Persistent Attacks

A woman's hand reaches out to the shadow hand of her depression, which has come back for her again.
While you may have beaten depression once or twice, don't drop your guard. This dark monster can slide back into your life if you're not looking, especially if you don't know how to best manage it.

Estimated reading time: 7 minutes

Every time you think you’re free of depression, it rears its ugly head again. Why? Are you doing something wrong in handling your depression? Unfortunately, depression can often act as a chronic disease in many people. While you may have beaten depression once or twice, don’t drop your guard. This dark monster can slide back into your life if you’re not looking, especially if you don’t know how to best manage it.

Paul Asay, author of Beauty in the Browns, offers his insight into depression and his experience of depression’s persistent attacks throughout his life, even when things seemed to be going well in his life.

The Deception of Depression

Depression lies a lot.

Who cares? depression tells us. Who cares about you? Why should you care about anyone?

Finding a reason to care is like finding a set of spikes on that icy hill. And when Colin came around —when I had a wife and a son who were depending on me — I found that reason to care.

For years, I’d been crushed by sin and shame. I felt the weight of my worthlessness — that I had forsaken the lessons of my parents and turned my back on my God. For me, an unexpected pregnancy was a worst-case scenario — the annihilation of the facade, the exposure of the self I so rigorously protected. The walls of my Jericho had fallen with a trumpet blast.

Free from Depression’s Lies

But freedom comes with the loss of a lie. And even as bad as I felt, I wasn’t pretending anymore. And as the weeks went on, part of me began to see I wasn’t just dying to one sort of life; I was being born into another. I was forced into a place of not just wishing for a bright future, but also building one — not just for myself, but for others as well. I didn’t have the luxury of unmoored misery anymore. I needed to cowboy up.

And when the wedding was over, I experienced something I’d not truly felt for years: hope.

A few weeks later, I woke up at 3 a.m., groggy but excited. Wendy and I drove up I-25 from Colorado Springs to the farmhouse near Longmont, where Wendy’s family lived. Her dad and I loaded her stuff in the car — the belongings with which we’d fill our new apartment in Hastings.

Our apartment.

We pulled away and headed east, where the gray sky was just beginning to glow with the coming dawn. In the quiet of that morning, as we held hands in the car, I was as happy as I’d ever been.

Of course by now you know something else came along for the ride too.

Excerpt from Beauty in the Browns by Paul Asay (pages 82-83).

Why Does Depression Always Come Back?

Depression shares a lot in common with horror-movie sequels. Just when you think you’re on your way to a happily-ever-after sort of life, it can come back. Not always, but sometimes. Experts say that of the people who suffer from depression, about half will suffer at least one relapse in their lives. And for those who suffer from two or three serious depressive episodes, the chances rise that their depression will think that it’s the mental-illness equivalent of Michael Myers: It’ll likely be back to harass some more, or at least try. Some people, due to a complex and imperfectly understood stew of biology and circumstance and who knows what else, are prone to depression. Experts say that, for some people who make the trip to mental illness, it’s less of a one-time ticket to Depressionville and more a lifetime punch card. “In many cases, depression is a chronic or recurring disease, and as such, it is best managed like a chronic illness,” writes doctors Jurgen Unutzer and Mijung Park for Primary Care in 2012.

Like those subpar horror sequels, depressive recurrences get progressively harder to wade through. And unlike a movie, you can’t just stand up and leave.

Close up of a young, pensive Asian woman listening to someone talking to her on her phone

Talk to a Counselor

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Tools for Handling Depression Have Improved

For those who’ve suffered through acute depression, that thought can be, well, pretty depressing. You struggle through the sadness, the sense of worthlessness, the sleeplessness, the numbness and come out of the experience alive, wiser, and stronger. But when it attacks a second, a third, an eighth time, it can push many to despair. And as I mentioned in the previous chapter, while there’s often a trigger or trauma that you can point to following your first depressive episode, subsequent ones can come without much reason at all. You can feel as though you’ll never be “normal.” And the threat of continued or repeated abnormality can be devastating.

“Dearest, I feel certain that I’m going mad again,” wrote author Virginia Woolf (whom modern scholars believe suffered from manic-depression) in her suicide note. “I feel we can’t go through another of those terrible times.”

Woolf died in 1941, when the treatment of mental illness was, if not in its infancy, at least in clinical preschool. And while we still have much to learn about what mental illness even is, let alone how to treat it, I’d like to think that people who might’ve despaired in Woolf’s day could’ve been saved today.

But depression isn’t like polio, vanquished with a vaccine. Even with all the tools of modern science and psychology in our reach, even with our formidable array of treatment options, depression haunts us still. And while we can often get rid of it once and for all, sometimes it hides in the cellar of our minds, waiting and watching.

Babies Are a Lot, but Mine Helped Me

Colins’ coming seemed to cure my depression. Yes, I was scared to death about being a father. And when he finally came into the world, I felt like the hospital was being incredibly irresponsible in kicking us out after just a day without so much as an instruction manual. Lego set sometimes come with instruction books as thick as your thumb, and here, the doctors were trusting us with a living being offering only a flimsy little pamphlet? What is this, IKEA? And we’re supposed to be managing with this squirming, squalling thing for eighteen to twenty-two years?! Someone needs to look into this parenting thing a little bit deeper.

But I didn’t have much time to think about it at all. I had way too many diapers to change and classes to take and résumés to write and pureed turnips to stuff in the little guy’s face. Every day was a whirlwind of crises and plans, little domestic joys and minor panic attacks. And in Hastings — still in college —by the time we put Colin down for the night, I was too exhausted to be depressed. Sure, I lost sleep — but only because our baby was a howling child of the night — up and ready to go at 8 p.m., ready to sleep by 2 or 3 a.m. (We called him our little vampire baby.) The suicidal ideation I experienced throughout much of college disappeared almost completely — and stayed dormant for years.

Is My Life Finally Together?

The situations that seemed to trigger the (still as-of-yet undiagnosed) depression and anxiety in me didn’t seem to be triggers anymore. Wendy and I moved from Hastings back to Colorado Springs and hopped from apartment to apartment to house to house, and I was just fine. Family life proved to be pretty great — so much so that Wendy and I decided to have another baby, this time on purpose. Our daughter, Emily, came along, and while she might’ve technically been louder than Colin, she slept through the night better.

I was living the life mostly seen in 1950s family shows: I had a wife, two kids, and a dog. Only difference was Wendy had a job, too, and it always paid more than mine did. I felt normal. Moreover, I felt happy.

And then … I wasn’t.

Excerpt from Beauty in the Browns by Paul Asay (pages 86-88).

Adapted from Beauty in the Browns, published by Tyndale House Publishers. © 2021 by Paul Asay.

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