Mental Wellness in Ministry #5: Recognizing Triggers and Traits

While most of the others on the choir tour bus played social games like Rook or MadGab, Cris and I did cross word puzzles. We delighted in the privacy and calm farther forward in the bus. We delighted in black and white boxes, lists of words, and puzzles that had solutions.

Cris is one of my smartest friends. The only dumb thing I ever remember her doing was marrying a man with the same name as herself (Chris). But since he ended up being a good man, I’ve let that pass.

Cris emailed me awhile ago. She shared that she also struggles with occasional bouts of depression, especially after big changes like moving or having a baby. She shared several helpful things that she has learned. Then, she shared this:

The most important thing for me though has been to simply accept this about myself.  I was hit hard a number of years ago (when we moved from the Caribbean to dreary Michigan in January, and Robin was 3 weeks old…talk about an awful winter!) I was overwhelmed with feelings of guilt–I should be strong enough to handle this…A good Christian shouldn’t be feeling this way, etc.  Since then I’ve learned to stop fighting and feeling ashamed of those down feelings–not to make excuses for myself, but not to be bogged down with guilt either.  Now when I start feeling depressed, I remind myself that my personality is prone to depression, that it’s a season or a stage, and spring will come again!  And I do what I can to deal with it and choose not to believe the lies that Satan loves to throw at me when I’m most vulnerable, like You’re a worthless, hopeless failure. I’ve learned a lot about how important it is to saturate my mind with truth and hold onto that even when my feelings are saying the opposite. 

Recognize Traits of Temperament that Make You More Inclined to Be Depressed

Cris is not saying, “This is who I am and so I’ll wallow in my misery.” She is saying she has come to understand traits about herself that make her more prone to depression. The book I mentioned last time, Slaying the Giant, contains a list of traits that can be associated with depression. These include sensitivity, deep introspection (like doing crossword puzzles when other people are socializing), and perfectionism. I would like to expand perfectionism to include creativity. In my experience, creativity walks hand in hand with depression.

Recognize Triggers

Again, Cris does not say she blames her problems on her circumstances. Instead, she has learned to predict triggers of depression. This awareness helps her more effectively fight her battles.

Cris mentioned babies. I did not realize until recently the tremendous strain that occurs for some people when they become caregivers.

In her own care giving, my aunt encountered a list of the stages of care giving. I think these apply mostly to people who are taking on a new kind of care giving that is supposed to be a ministry. First, the caregiver is a Zealot (I feel like a hero!). Next comes irritation (I’m so tired). Third comes withdrawal (I don’t want to think about this anymore) and fourth, the Zombie stage (I can’t think about anything anymore.) Although I knew care giving would be hard, I still went through all the stages. If I am called to take on something similar again, I will understand it better. According to last reports, my aunt has gotten to a manageable state with her situation.

Of course, besides new babies or other forms of care giving, any major change can be a trigger. Moving. Winter. Marriage. A great loss. A serious illness.

The Flip Side to The Depression-Prone Traits

There are a lot of things to say to a sensitive person who is an introspective perfectionist.

  • “Don’t take things so deeply.”
  • Why do you imagine such horrible things?
  • “Don’t think you have to be in control.”

These things are all true, in the right context. But in other contexts, we admire these traits.

  • In the right context, we admire “feeling deeply.” Poets and writers and artists and singers do just this. Sometimes, they are the only ones who can find the words to express what other people feel.
  • In the right context, we admire creativity. The same mind that allows someone to light up with a brilliant innovation crushes the spirit when things are not right. Someone who never gets depressed may not have the capability of “imagining such horrible things.”
  • In the right context, we even admire people who are control freaks and perfectionists. God has given us some things that he wants us to control. We admire people who get up and exercise on time every morning (unlike what I did this morning). The person who makes a weekly stop to visit a lonely person because they’ve planned ahead earns our respect. We admire people who know how to wash their car by hand every weekend, and those who have backup toothpaste and dishwasher detergent in their cabinet. Yet those same people can struggle harder with trusting God in the things that are outside of their control, which are many.

I have two more posts planned:

  • Intervention #6 – Seven Fun Non-Book Things That Helped Me
  • Intervention #7 – The Most Helpful Step of All

So what if you are the person in the back of the bus, playing games, and you see a couple of snobs up front quietly doing puzzles? 🙂 I will also try to incorporate how to help others suffering with depression in one or both of these last posts.

Thanks for sticking with me in this series.

Photo by Dragos Gontariu on Unsplash

5 thoughts on “Mental Wellness in Ministry #5: Recognizing Triggers and Traits”

  1. Having family members who struggle this helps me, more naturally Tigger by nature, understand my creative, prone to perfection loved ones. Thank you.

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