Depression and the servant conspiracy

4/24/2017  By Thirty Percenters

April 24, 2017 

Every month, Thirty Percenters will feature a post from an employee contributor on a health topic of their choice. I felt it was only fair to go first, since I've asked others to contribute in future months. While this is not an easy post for me to share, I hope it can help someone who struggles with depression. -Jan Powell, KVH Contributor*

Note: April 2017 opened with World Health Day's focus on depression and ends with Volunteer Week. 

From WebMD: PET scans of the brain showing different activity levels in a person with depression, compared to a person without depression.

There's no other way to put it: I was a mess. The perpetually gray skies of Seattle, chain smoking, alcohol binging, bad-boy boyfriends, negative branding (tattoos, piercings, whatever-color hair - years before these things became normalized), and a tendency to isolate made for a funky soup of bad habits and worse luck.

Combine that with my genetic makeup and it was inevitable - I came down with a hard case of PAD (panic and anxiety disorder). It cost me my job, my apartment, my friends, my lifestyle - and in many ways this was a good thing. But at the time, I was too busy checking my pulse and feverishly praying to make it through the night to notice.

So, I did what a lot of young folks do - moved back in with my parents, until I could knock this depression thing in the head and get back to life as I preferred to live it.

Nine years later, I was still living at home. Not my plan, but it wound up being some of the best years of my life. Instead of being isolated or in an unhealthy relationship, I was blessed to be in close quarters with 2 people who loved me unconditionally. And I had the time and space and grace to search for the help I needed.

Not everyone is so lucky. And I realized that. But as I visited a number of doctors, counselors, and pastors, to a person they put the same item on the top of my to-do list:

Start doing something for someone else.

It began to feel like a conspiracy. There's no magical elixir for depression - or anxiety for that matter. Why would serving someone else help me overcome a battle that existed entirely within me?

But I couldn't ignore that repeated advice. And so slowly, surely, I began to put my toe back in the long-forgotten waters of volunteering.

Guess what? It helped. In today's vernacular - it helped bigly.

I discovered what so many others had long knew - the more you focus on yourself, the more prone you are to worry, to be sad, to be dissatisfied, to lose yourself in negative emotions. Serving others didn't cure my depression - that came with a far better soup of counseling, prayer, healthy relationships, education and medication. But it opened up my heart and mind to the world around me and showed me ways that I could use what I'd been through, what I was still going through, to show compassion and understanding for others who were struggling.

Now I live under the far-sunnier skies of Ellensburg. I work for an organization that focuses on helping people heal. I have opportunities to serve, in my church and in my community. My life is pretty sweet. So when I found myself relapsing a decade after coming off of all medications and putting PAD in my rearview mirror, I was frustrated and angry. Yes, it had been a year of turmoil. I'd also lost a loved one suddenly to a heart condition. But I had been living a clean and healthy life - I didn't see why depression would return. Alas, as WebMD would say, I am 'biologically prone', and under certain stressors the condition is more easily triggered.

So here I am today, back on medication, but no longer living under a shadow of fear. Depression has become a medical condition, not a mental one. And I continue to take that advice, given by so many experts, to look for ways to serve others. As a Christian, it is part of my faith journey to grow as a servant. And so I am grateful to depression for helping me see my needs for relationship, and for purpose.

This week, our nation recognizes the importance of volunteers. It's just a fancy name for servants. Whatever your situation is today, I encourage you to consider ways that you, too, can join the Servant Conspiracy. I promise you, it will be a life-altering change you'll never regret.

*Opinions expressed by KVH Contributors are their own. Managed by Kittitas Valley Healthcare, Thirty Percenters does not provide medical advice. For medical advice, please see your healthcare professional.