This entry is Part 3 of a series on mental health and #metoo. Last week I told a little bit of my story, and invited you to tell yours. Then, because of the response to that post, I wrote about Anxiety and how we as followers of Christ can live in triumph over it (or at least fight it off better than we sometimes do). If you haven’t at least read the post on Anxiety, go back and read it, as the principles in that post apply to this one as well.
Peanut butter & jelly. Kittens & puppies. Salt & pepper. Socks & shoes. Bread & wine.
So many of the things we enjoy in life or use every day come in pairs. Sure, you can have one without the other, and at times, that’s appropriate, but more often than not, there’s a good reason two things are rarely thought of without the other.
Unfortunately for many people – myself included – there is another pair in our lives, but this pair we would be better off without…
I think I’ve been struggling with depression since I was between 5 and 7 years old. The first time I remember thinking I’d be better off dead, I was still in elementary school. The first time I made a half-hearted attempt to end my life, I was a freshman in high school. In my case, the anxiety came later, but for you, it may have been the other way around. Regardless, depression and anxiety go hand-in-hand so often, that pharmaceutical companies have developed single drugs that fight both illnesses, in spite of the fact that they occur and manifest themselves in nearly opposite ways.
Depression brings with it a heavy darkness like no other, suffocating us with the weight of sadness, hopelessness, and, after a while, helplessness. Where anxiety is passively active, depression is actively passive. Anxiety sits below the surface, that constant gnawing in the stomach and irrational fear of the what if, urging us ever on toward action, even when we don’t know what action to take.
Depression, on the other hand, just sits there, pushing in against our lungs, keeping us in bed, on the couch, staring but not seeing, preventing us from enjoying anything at all. And like anxiety, depression has its own script. Rather than plaguing us with “what ifs” and “you should bes”, depression’s script is filled with “why bothers” and “who careses”.
But depression is not of God. You already know that. While it may lead you at times to blame God for any number of things you think are causing you to be depressed, deep down, you already know where depression comes from: Hell.
Remember, Jesus said that Satan came to “steal, kill, and destroy” (see John 10:10). That sounds like a pretty good description of depression to me! So if depression isn’t from God, and is from our enemy, what are some ways we can combat it and live into the abundant life Jesus came to give us? In addition to what we talked about when we addressed anxiety, give these a try:
Change Your Focus: So often, we fall into those paralyzing states of depression because we’ve allowed our minds to focus on wrong things for too long, leaving them unchecked and free to destroy any glimmer of hope we may have mustered recently. In his letter to the Philippians, Paul gives some advice that is endlessly helpful for us whose brains tend to work against us and wear us down: Think positive thoughts.
Ok, I know that sounds awfully trite and a lot like what you’ve heard over and over again. But God, through Paul, is calling us to a higher level of thought: “Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable – if there is any moral excellence and if there is anything praiseworthy – dwell on these things.” (Philippians 4:8, CSV)
Think about some of the most common thoughts you have either daily, or especially when you’re in the midst of a depressed episode. Are your common thoughts filled with the truth as revealed in God’s Word? Are those thoughts pure or lovely or praiseworthy? I’d be willing to bet they’re not because those aren’t the kinds of thoughts that come naturally, and they’re certainly not the kinds of thoughts your enemy wants you to think!
This takes practice. This takes intentionality. But if you lean on the Holy Spirit living in you, take your thoughts captive and make them obedient to Christ (see 2 Corinthians 10:5), and choose to actively and regularly focus your thoughts on those things that are from God, you really will begin to notice a change in your thought patterns which can pull your heart and mind out of the pit more quickly each time!
Stick to a Schedule: With the exception of the rare (and these need to be rare!!) Mental Health Day, one of the most helpful ways to combat depression is to create a daily routine and stick to it!
- Get up around the same time every morning. (That means wake up well before noon, just in case you were wondering.)
- Take a shower. Brush your teeth. If your children will allow it, put on makeup from time to time.
- Eat a healthy breakfast.
- Spend time with Jesus. Ask the Holy Spirit to teach you, guide you, and challenge you as you spend time in God’s Word and in prayer. Pray for others, express gratitude and praise. Even in your prayers, focus your mind on what is true, what is honorable, etc. Here’s something really important I’ve learned: A good sign your depression has turned into an idol is if it monopolizes most of your prayers. So change the focus of your prayers to worship, thanks, and intercession for others. God knows what you need, and when the time is right, He will provide and heal.
- Go to work or school, take the kids to the park, or find somewhere to volunteer. In other words, get out of the house for a bit!
- Exercise, even if it’s just going for a walk or doing some Pilates.
- Eat a healthy lunch.
- Make intentional contact with another (adult) human being. If you’re at work or school, ask someone you see how they are, and then listen. Don’t let them off with “fine” – really ask, and don’t interrupt with your own thoughts and stories. If you’re at home, call a friend, especially if you really, really, don’t want to. Engage the cashier at Target in conversation, and if you’re brave enough, ask how you can pray for them. (And then do it!)
- Limit your Social Media time. Social media is one of the quickest ways to move from having a good day to being depressed. Everyone’s life will look better than yours in the pictures and posts you see and those thoughts will consume you. (Remember thinking about what’s true? Here’s a great place to practice that one…) Get off your phone or your computer and go read a book or blow bubbles with your kids or something. Or, get your work done. Something, anything, other than looking at the polished exteriors of other people’s inwardly messy lives.
- Eat a healthy dinner. (Are you detecting a pattern here? Good, because the food we eat can absolutely affect our mood!)
- Take some time at the end of the day to review: What good things happened? In what ways did you succeed? What are 5 things you can be thankful for? Write these things down. A day will come when you’ll need the review. (Another option is to regularly practice the spiritual discipline of Examen.
- Do something you enjoy. Have a scoop of ice cream. (Note: An entire carton is not “a scoop”. You know that.) Watch a movie with a friend or loved one. Take a hot bath or shower. Snuggle up in a blanket with a good book.
- Go to bed on time. It will make following your schedule that much easier tomorrow.
Depression can feel unbeatable sometimes.
It can feel like it’s suffocating you.
It can tempt you to end your life because nothing is worth the pain you’re feeling.
Remember, at the cross of Jesus Christ, depression lost its grip on you. When Jesus burst out of that grave, sin, death, and every other evil thing shattered, and we are no longer bound by these things. We are free to live lives of abundant joy, of hope, of excitement because those are the lives God created us to live. We are no longer slaves to sin, sickness, and death. We live in the victory Jesus has won for us!
What has helped you overcome or at least fight off your depression and suicidal thoughts?