Gillian Marchenko…Re-engaging into life after a depressive episode

ID-10071979Depression is what I call “an active illness.’ When a person with mental illness is able, she has to participate in her recovery – kind of like alcoholics need to go through the program so as not to fall off the wagon again. I’ve been on the path to healing for a few years with the help of a therapist, medication, community, attempts at healthy choices habits, and relying on the strength and closeness of Jesus.

Still LifeBut if I can be honest, re-engaging into my life after a particularly difficult episode proves more difficult then the actual depression. In my newly released book Still Life; A Memoir of Living Fully with Depression with InterVarsity Press, I call re-engagement ‘Freddy Krueger frightening.” In my times of non-functioning I become a shell of a woman. I don’t feel. Sometimes I don’t remember whole days. But when the darkness ceases, and I climb out of the pit of an episode and back onto solid ground beneath my feet, the grueling labor of the effort of acclimation to return to life deep depression is actually easier. I know these thoughts are untrue. I know my family needs me. I know it is far better to live than to fantasize about death. But there it is. Re-engaging into life requires so much exhausting work that it is easy to decide that my mental illness episodes are easier than life. I’m confused and tired in re-entry. I don’t know how to participate in my family, friendships, and in basic human interaction. Once again… re-engaging into life after a depressive episode is ‘Freddy Krueger frightening.”

Here’s an excerpt from Still Life where I use the metaphor of frozen emotions and the agony of thawing in an attempt to feel and live again.

It stings to thaw. The tingling and burning sensation that started in the clinical trial office (when I was diagnosed with major depressive disorder) means anxiety, a flourish of low self-esteem and buckets of guilt. Allowing myself to thaw, I find, takes way more guts than staying frozen. Frozen means no emotion. Frozen means lost days and weeks. Frozen means standing still, not thinking about others or myself. But now, the more I know, the more I work the program, the more I heal, the more I thaw. I drip emotion. I realize the toll my problems take on people around me that I love. And it hurts.

Still Life, Page 127

I explain some of this earlier in the book:

As I work the program, my ingrained behaviors shock me. So many days were spent in bed. Now I stand, walk around, hug my kids, interact with Sergei and attempt to open myself back up to feeling. I find myself checking in with, well, myself. Do I need to go to bed? Should I go to bed? I’ve been up and standing for a long time—I should be in bed, right? It’s what I know. Things used to get difficult and I’d slither away. It became as natural as brushing my teeth. But standing? living? That’s foreign.

Still Life, Page 113

This is why understanding that depression is an ‘active illness’ is important. One who suffers  must be brave enough to continue to re-engage in her life. She must pay attention to and utilize the tools she’s acquired to make attempts to re-learn how to interact with others, to pay attention to emotions whether good or bad, and to believe that healing, even if it is just for a day, is more important than an illness.

Life is meant to be lived. It is not meant to be a black hole that causes a person to forget chunks of her life and to continue to force loved ones to suffer from the affects of the person who is depressed.

Re-engagement, although painful, is essential to the healing process. That doesn’t mean it isn’t difficult. It just means a person has to be honest with herself and choose life over the pit of depression, even if the pit has become easier and comfortable.

I have not experienced freedom in re-engagement. Sometimes I attempt it and do well. Sometimes I go back to bed. But the point for me, and for all of us, is to keep trying.


Gillian2014-26-Edit-1For Gillian Marchenko, “dealing with depression” means learning to accept and treat it as a physical illness. In Still Life she describes her journey through various therapies and medications to find a way to live with depression. She faces down the guilt of a wife and mother of four, two with special needs. How can she care for her family when she can’t even get out of bed? Her story is real and raw, not one of quick fixes. But hope remains as she discovers that living with depression is still life.

Still Life is available here in paperback and e-book from IVP Press. The Kindle edition is available at Amazon.

About Dr. G

Dr. Stephen Grcevich serves as President and Founder of Key Ministry, a non-profit organization providing free training, consultation, resources and support to help churches serve families of children with disabilities. Dr. Grcevich is a graduate of Northeastern Ohio Medical University (NEOMED), trained in General Psychiatry at the Cleveland Clinic Foundation and in Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at University Hospitals of Cleveland/Case Western Reserve University. He is a faculty member in Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at two medical schools, leads a group practice in suburban Cleveland (Family Center by the Falls), and continues to be involved in research evaluating the safety and effectiveness of medications prescribed to children for ADHD, anxiety and depression. He is a past recipient of the Exemplary Psychiatrist Award from the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). Dr. Grcevich was recently recognized by Sharecare as one of the top ten online influencers in children’s mental health. His blog for Key Ministry, was ranked fourth among the top 100 children's ministry blogs in 2015 by Ministry to Children.
This entry was posted in Advocacy, Depression, Hidden Disabilities, Key Ministry, Mental Health and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Gillian Marchenko…Re-engaging into life after a depressive episode

  1. Mary says:

    Great post! It hit home. Re-engagement for a SAHM with chronic illness and kids with special needs has a lot of practical difficulties when attending church. Reacclimatise to sunshine and bright lights alone… Church is the only place I’m surrounded by a lot of people and expected to talk since I’m typically extroverted–but when you barely speak for two months you get out of practice! This was what I needed to hear.

    Liked by 1 person

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