What to Do When You’re Depressed

Tonight was one of those nights I casually flipped through my Bible looking for something to speak to the crap in my heart. Usually, I can rely on David to put pen to paper for me, so I broke open the Psalms and started reading at random. About ten minutes into it, I found what I needed to ponder.

Psalm 13.

Allow me to mash the NIV, ESV, and Amplified versions together to propose the most impactful reading possible:

How long will You forget me, O Lord? Forever? How long will You hide Your face from me? How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and have sorrow in my heart day after day? How long will my enemy triumph over me? Consider and answer me, O Lord my God; lighten the eyes [of my faith to behold Your face in the pitchlike darkness], lest I sleep the sleep of death, and my enemy will say, “I have overcome him,” and my foes will rejoice when I fall. 

Cheery so far, no?

It’s important to point out that David is speaking like this to God. I know that seems pretty self-explanatory, but it’s worth mentioning because I have a hunch a lot of religious people and/or new believers don’t understand they have the freedom to be transparent with the Lord.

David is depressed, and he just can’t keep his overwhelming thoughts to himself anymore. Although he has tried to keep his thoughts sorted out and his emotions in check, verse 2 tells us he hasn’t been successful. He’s spinning his spiritual wheels, and he can’t take it anymore. So, to borrow an expression from my friend, David verbally vomits all over God.

Now, David is not blaming God for whatever challenging circumstances he has found himself in that are causing his depression. And David is not being disrespectful toward God by expressing his feelings, albeit passionately. Yes, we’re allowed and encouraged to be candid with the Lord, but we still must be mindful that He is God and we are not, and, therefore, He is due respect at all times.

David communicates his painful feelings of sorrow, neglect, and frustration, and then he asks the Lord to “lighten the eyes” of his faith to behold God’s face in the utter darkness of his depression. That’s an interestingly worded request.

David understands his feelings are not necessarily reflective of reality. He feels forgotten and abandoned by God, but he knows he isn’t. Why else would he continue to pray? If he truly believed God had left him, David wouldn’t be calling out to Him anymore.

As inaccurate as they may be, his feelings are still a powerful force that needs to be dealt with. So David asks God to refocus his heart. David asks for his faith to be refreshed and his spiritual eyes to be put back on God.

Why does David make this request of God? Perhaps because David knows he can’t accomplish this feat himself. In the throes of depression, David doesn’t have the strength nor the will power to “pull himself up by his boot straps” and “turn that frown upside down”.

He asks the Lord to “lighten his eyes” because he can’t possibly lighten them himself. If you’ve ever been around a depressed person, you know this is true. There is no light in their eyes – no hope or faith in God – and no amount of them wishing there was makes it so.

[Note: I am not saying depressed people are not people of faith. Don’t send me letters. Read this instead.]

David knows if God doesn’t correct his eyesight – restore hope to his soul by refocusing his vision on the Lord – he WILL be overcome. David is in a desperate place, and, in a very literal way, his life is at stake. I don’t know that we can go so far as to say David’s lament that he will “sleep the sleep of death” if God doesn’t rescue him from his depression is an indication that he may have been suicidal. But I don’t know that we can rule that out, either. Most of the commentaries like to think of this as a reference to spiritual death – David’s soul will be so utterly overwhelmed if the Lord doesn’t deliver him that he will be as good as dead. In either case, David’s life will be profoundly changed for the worse – either literally through physical death or spiritually through spiritual collapse.

Just when this psalm couldn’t get any graver, David pens this conclusion:

But I have trusted, leaned on, and been confident in Your mercy and loving-kindness; my heart shall rejoice and be in high spirits in Your salvation. I will sing the Lord’s praise, for he has been good to me.

Wait, what?

Where did that come from?

In verse 4 David is on the brink of spiritual annihilation, and in verse 5 he is skipping through fields of wildflowers with Pharrell’s “Happy” as his soundtrack.

This is about the point I want to shut my Bible and say, “I can’t even.” David and I had been tracking together just fine until now…

Just after he says he can’t pull himself up by his boot straps, he does? No, I don’t think this change of heart came from David’s can-do attitude. Remember, he just got done communicating he didn’t have what it took to overcome his thoughts and sorrow himself. He needed God in the worst way!

No, I think David’s sudden change of heart wasn’t of his own doing; I think it was a direct answer to David’s prayer in verse 4.

(I legitimately wonder how much time passed between David recording his plea with the Lord to deliver him from his depression in verse 4 and his inspirational self pep talk in verses 5 and 6. I’m thinking DAYS.)

The Lord answered David’s request to refocus his heart on God by empowering David to recall God’s trustworthiness, dependability, mercy, and unfailing loving-kindness, as well as by reminding David of his salvation and other blessings from the Lord. No matter how long it did or did not take for David’s tune to change, the Lord pulled him out of his depression by directing him to mediate on these things.

You and I can take a page out of David’s book when we’re flat on our backs emotionally. We can be honest with the Lord – passionately and transparently, yet respectfully honest – about how we’re feeling when we’re down. And we can fervently ask the Lord to “lighten our eyes” and refocus our hearts on Him. And then – and this is my favorite part – we can wait for the Lord to lift us from our sadness by empowering us like He did David to think truthful, helpful thoughts.

We don’t have to get ourselves together. Frankly, often we can’t. But God can. He did it for David time and time again (see Psalms 42, 43, and 55 for more examples), and He can do it for us too. Ask.

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How to Survive Depression as a Christian

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.

 

Thoughts for the Anxious Christian

Anxiety is a broad term for a lot of different psychological and physiological responses. And people use it in a myriad of ways.

Psychologically speaking, some people say they are anxious when they are mildly worried about something. Others don’t consider passing worry to be anxiety until it becomes obsessively debilitating worry – worry that’s often irrational or over the top.

Still others reserve the word anxious for when their bodies are responding to the fear in their minds – increased heart rates, feeling hot, feeling claustrophobic, feeling unable to breathe, feeling like your having a heart attack, stomachaches. When physical anxiety is at it’s worst, most people call that experience a panic attack.

The nice thing (if there is one) about anxiety is that the Bible speaks to it in more than one place. To be honest with you, I’ve always read verses about anxiety from the stand point of mild worry. But the Lord has me in a season where anxiety means more than that to me, so I am looking afresh at the “anxiety verses”. Just because I’ve limited their meaning in the past to mild worry doesn’t mean that’s the only way God intended them to be interpreted.

On that note, I read this today:

6 Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. 7 Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. 8 Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. 9 Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings. 10 And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. 11 To him be the power for ever and ever. Amen. (1Pe 5:6-11)

Verse 6: “Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time.” 
  • We should submit to the idea that our anxiety (however we experience it: mild worry, obsessive worry, depression, panic attacks, debilitating anxiety disorders, etc.) is God’s doing (either directly or indirectly); He is in control. He knows what’s best, and, as hard as it is, He has deemed this best for us right now.
  • He will deliver us from this suffering at the proper time. (The NIV isn’t a great translation here; thankfully, vs. 10 clarifies Peter’s meaning.)
Verse 7: “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.”
  • We are to continually place our anxiety on Him, not keep it ourselves. Whether it’s worrisome thoughts or physical anxiety, we should consciously give those things to God. We can do this through prayer: “Lord, I don’t want to worry about ____. I don’t want to be afraid of ____. I don’t want to feel ____. You take these things.”
  • I have a hunch that if God tells us to cast our anxiety on Him, it’s because He is willing to take it from us. In other words, it will be a fruitful exercise. I can’t prove this. So don’t go hanging your hat on it.
  • He cares for us! As alone as we may feel in the midst of anxiety, we are not. And because He cares about us, He wants our anxiety. He wants to free us from all levels of worry, just as we long to ease our childrens’ worried minds and take their physical pain from them.   
Verse 8: “Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.”
  • Satan wants to devour us in the midst of our experiencing anxiety. This is an opportune time for him. I don’t know that he can cause our anxious symptoms (particularly physiological responses), but I am certain he tries to exacerbate them by drumming up our fears concerning them.
  • We need to say to Satan, “I will not be the one you devour!” in the midst of our anxious episodes.
  • We are not picked on by Satan because we are weak or less than; I believe we are targeted because we unashamedly identify ourselves with Jesus. We should consider Satan’s attacks an honor and not feel ashamed in anyway that we are experiencing them (1 Peter 4:12-19).
Verse 9: “Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings.”
  • We can resist Satan by declaring truth out loud, “God is good. He only allows that which is in my best interest. I refuse to believe otherwise. He is in total control, and I am safe with Him.” (Psalm 107:1, Romans 8:28, Proverbs 19:21, Psalm 4:8)
  • We are not alone! Believers all over the world and all over our own churches are experiencing the same kinds of anxiety in all its forms. As a side note, Satan seeks to divide and conquer us by isolating us. The more we share our stories with each other, the braver we all become to get the help we need to overcome our anxiety, especially the more debilitating forms.
Verse 10: “And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.”
  • We will suffer, but not forever; only for a little while.
  • We are personally called and chosen by God, and He Himself will restore us from this season of suffering. And when He restores us to emotional health, He will make us strong, firm and steadfast. There is no mincing words here; this is a promise
Verse 11: “To him be the power for ever and ever. Amen.”
  • It is by His power and as a testament to His power that these things will come to pass.
  • Amen is an expression of absolute confidence that it will be so. Peter is confident. We can be confident.
Whether you struggle with “normal” worrying from time to time or more intense anxiety, reread this passage of scripture the next time you feel concerned. There is power in the Word. I’d even encourage you to read it out loud. In some situations, doing so will be enough to quell the anxiety and empower you to cast all your anxiety on the Lord. Other situations warrant additional action steps. Either way, incorporating scripture will undoubtedly help us.