I’ve probably read about 30 articles on depression and suicide since Monday night. From the well-known writers and publications to the amateur bloggers, it seems every writer has an opinion on the subject, and most are saying the same thing: depression and suicide are complicated, and those who aren’t familiar with them need to learn a thing or two… quick.
I’ve never cared to be a social commentator – at least not on the internet, because, let’s face it, a medium devoid of facial expressions and inflections can turn good intentions into culture wars (and do so, more often than not) at the speed of Wi-Fi. No, thank you.
No, my shtick is to speak from my personal experience in the hopes that you will see yourself somewhere in my story and be motivated to step a smidge closer to Jesus Christ as a result. So I’ll stick with that purpose.
Now that my preface is out of the way, on to the point of this article: how to survive depression as a Christian.
Hello. My name is Kelly, and since I was 12 years old (which was 19 years ago, if you must know), I’ve shared my head space with an unwanted “house” guest: depression (dysthymia and double depression, to be exact).
It took me 7 years and a few good friends to agree to talk to a counselor about it and to go see a doctor that could prescribe medication.
Since I was 19 years old, I’ve taken most of the antidepressants you’ve heard of as well as those you haven’t. I’ve seen a multitude of counselors and physicians and a psychiatrist. My house guest has come and gone with no rhyme or reason, but he never goes far… at most, he steps out on the porch of my mind for a cigarette break, and then he’s right back at it again, disheveling the rooms of my brain.
I became a Christian when I was 16, which may seem like a misplaced detail at this juncture of my story, but, I assure you, it’s not.
I was depressed before I became a Christian; I was depressed after I became a Christian. And no amount of spiritual maturing on my part changes the fact that I continue to wrestle depression for control of my “home”.
So what do I do about it?
As a Christian who has depression and is still alive, I suppose I’ve learned a few things about how to survive this illness. The things I’m going to suggest work for me, and by “work” I do NOT mean they pull me out of my depression. There are no silver bullets for chronic depression. I simply mean these tactics help me endure the dark hours and days and weeks until the light chooses to dawn again.
- Go to a Christian psychologist or counselor. I know, going to a “shrink” makes you feel like you’re only validating that you are crazy. You aren’t crazy; you’re depressed. And talking to someone actually takes more strength and humility (both good Christian virtues) than staying home all day in your pajamas, sullenly wishing Taco Bell delivered. (Not that I’ve done that… today…) Not only will talking to someone with some training help you feel understood and less alone, working with a professional who understands the truth about our souls as well as our brains gives you an essential added dynamic to unraveling and surviving depression as a Christian. Non-Christians don’t correctly understand God, and we are made in God’s image, so it follows non-Christians cannot correctly (and/or fully) understand human nature. It’s true, Christian therapists are limited, too (they are finite and fallible, after all), but they are much more likely to understand more accurately a larger portion of the puzzle that is the human mind/spirit combination than non-Christian therapists, in my opinion.
- If your type of depression warrants it, take medication. Hear me, Christian. You are not a second class person nor a second class believer if you happen to need an antidepressant to help your brain function correctly! I spent 7 years in misery because I was too embarrassed to admit I might need medication. A loving friend finally convinced me to see a medical doctor by explaining chemical depression is no different than diabetes – they both require synthetic medicine, and neither need is shameful. Your counselor can tell you if she thinks you may need medication. If there is any reason to believe you might benefit from an antidepressant, go see a psychiatrist. I cannot emphasize this point enough. I wasted too many years (10!) relying on my general practitioner and OBGYN for my meds. They know a lot about…other things…but brain chemistry is not their specialty. I know, the side effects are annoying. I know, you’ve tried a lot of medications, and none seem to work. I know, some can be expensive. Take them anyway. My counselor told me it can take 6 months to a year, on average, to find the best medication at the best dosage IF you’re willing to work faithfully with a psychiatrist. Invest that time and money. Honestly, life isn’t going to feel worth living if you don’t, but it might if you do.
- Get a little help from your friends. I know, relationships are difficult and exhausting when you’re depressed. I know, you don’t feel like you have any friends. I know, you’re scared to show your frailty to anyone. But you must – not to everyone, just 2 or 3 folks that are safe to be transparent with. Surround yourself with a handful of people that are willing and able to remind you they love you just as much (if not more) when you are at your lowest as they do when you are at your best – people who will simply be with you physically and/or emotionally when you need to feel less alone. Pick people you know will pray for you, not just people who will say they will but don’t. Pick people who speak God’s grace to you when you speak self-condemning thoughts to them. Pick people who acknowledge you feel like there is no hope and there will be no end to the darkness while they simultaneously remind you, ever so gently, that light will come again. Pick people you know you can text or call any time and they will inevitably respond with a listening ear and an empathetic spirit. Pick people who don’t succumb to the societal pressure that makes them feel like they need to “fix” you but instead focus on the task of making you feel loved.
- Keep communication open with God. I know, you don’t feel like He hears you. I know, you’re angry with Him at times. I know, the scriptures aren’t comforting when you read them. I know, the commands to “be joyful always” only serve as catalysts to heap condemnation on yourself. Tell Him all of this. Whatever you’re feeling about Him, about the words you’re reading from the Bible, be straight up with God. He is listening, even though we may not sense Him responding (Psalm 34:15). If you don’t know what to read, go to the Psalms. And not the happy Psalms, but the depressing Psalms (ex. 42, 43, 55). It’s yet another way to feel less alone when you read people in the Bible felt depressed, too, and most of the depressing Psalms end with the depressed person praising God, an example we could learn from. And don’t let Satan grow those feelings of condemnation in your mind! Jesus understands how depression limits our ability to be joyful always. Frankly, even optimists with perfect brain chemistry can’t uphold the commands to rejoice all the time. We’re all on an even playing field with this one: try, and let Jesus’ grace cover the shortfall.
- Rest. Depression is tough. It sucks the energy right out of you. So say no to all the good church (and life) activities that others want you to do. I know, they need someone to work in the nursery. I know, they need someone to pass out the fliers. I know, they need someone to greet at the door. Save the limited energy you have for one or two church things that really contribute to your mental health instead of detract from it (might I suggest attending a Bible study?). Hear me, though. I am NOT saying retreat. If you drop out of everything at church and hole up in your house, you’re not “resting”, you’re “retreating”, and you’re going to sink deeper into depression than you ever have before because that’s what happens when you’re alone all the time. You don’t have to go be Mr. or Ms. Socialite, but force yourself to attend something once a week and to speak to at least one person beyond, “Good morning.” Then go home and take a nap. Even if it’s only 11 AM. You’ve done well.
And that’s about it. These are the things I do as a Christian both to keep depression at bay as well as to endure depression when it descends upon me. Sometimes they work. Sometimes they don’t. There are no silver bullets.
My psychiatrist would tell me I also need to add eating better and exercising 30 minutes 5 times per week to my list, both of which would be Christianly ways to survive depression on account of the whole we ought to take good care of our bodies thing (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). But those are really hard things to do when you’re depressed. So I’m still eating Taco Bell on my couch on a regular basis.
My pastor suggested he anoint me with oil and pray for healing per the directive in James 5:14. I haven’t done it yet, but I plan to, and I invite you to try it, too, even if you’re uncomfortable with it. He’s done this for me twice in the past in regards to different health issues, and both issues resolved, albeit several months after the fact. I don’t know that the anointing and prayer had anything to do with it, but I don’t know that they didn’t either. So it’s worth a shot, in my book.
If you’ve read this far, it’s likely you’re either a depressed Christian yourself or you are close to someone who is. Drop me a line in the contact box below, and I will pray for you. I will stop everything and pray for you. Also, if you’ve discovered anything else that helps you survive depression, share it in the comments section to help others.