This is the time of year that many people struggle with feelings of being overwhelmed or having a sadness that they cannot explain and that will not leave them. They might wake up feeling something is wrong or have unusual fears.
This will not be a seminar on depression as much as a summary, but I am not a stranger to this dark enemy. My walk with it began in 1989. I was a busy pastor's wife with an extremely happy and productive life. I had always been full of enthusiasm for life and full of joy. I also had a life filled with stress, high expectations and the usual problems that all of us have in life.
I had never sat down and made a list of just how high my stress level was, but later when I was wondering how I had got so deep into the valley of depression I did make a list and it was a surprise to see 17 major issues (that I could think of) going on in my life.
After going through my wilderness years I understand so much more about the physical side of depression. I wish I had known then what I do now and had been better educated. It would have cost my family a lot less than it did. However, I can't go back in time and the Lord allowed me to walk the valley with Him and learn. I have decided to be a very vocal voice in our arena of ministry so that some other young wife and mother might come through it with less scars and regrets.
When I use the word depression I am using it to cover a large area--it would include any and all of what we use for emotional brokenness. I do not know all the proper medical terms. I do know the anguish I went through and the pain I suffered from people not understanding that being emotionally broken is just as painful as being physically broken.
As I've studied my Bible and the many passages that describe what we call emotional or mental illness I am amazed when I hear glib statements like "faith and fear cannot walk together" or "That would be solved if they would just get right with the Lord." Psalms 56:3 tells us "What time I am afraid, I will trust in thee." Apparently David had faith and fear at the same time. Job, David, Elijah and Paul all had times when they despaired even of life they were so overwhelmed. Historically, many mighty men and women of God have walked this valley and come through it giving God the glory.
Learning to live with being emotionally vulnerable is like learning to manage asthma (or any other chronic medical condition). You must learn what triggers it and what will keep it in control.
Here's some lessons that I've learned that have kept me stable for several years now:
I. Drop the mask, but get your counsel from those who understand and can truly help. Don't try to hide that you're not well. Admit it to yourself and get a complete physical and talk to your doctor. I spent five years trying to just get well spiritually so I wouldn't be depressed. Within six weeks of taking medication (thanks to a wise family doctor) I was beginning to come out of a depression that had gotten so severe I couldn't function any longer. Refusing medication was a result of listening to well-meaning people who gave terrible advice.
A person who is dying will grasp at any straw to live and that's the point I was to. I believed anything I was told that might help, but none of it helped, in fact, it made me worse.
If you had cancer you wouldn't walk around taking a survey on what to do about it and trying every home remedy. You would want to find people that knew about cancer and had a reasonable success rate.
Refuse to listen to those who tell you just to "pick yourself up by your boot straps", "get hold of yourself", or "quit being so selfish". They are not your allies in the treatment of depression. I believe there are probably people who truly loved a depressed person and thought they were giving them the truth that actually had a part in their depression becoming worse or even they're becoming suicidal. If you've never experienced the agony of clinical depression don't give advice unless it is "let's get you some help" or "I will be here for you; we will get through this."
Somehow being emotionally ill has a stigma attached to it that makes us shrink back from admitting that we are a Christian and we are depressed--severely and dangerously depressed.
Trying to hide it will not help, and self help is also not a good idea. Once I made the comment to my doctor that I didn't need his help on my emotional illness, that once I got the spiritual side worked out that would take care of itself.
He very wisely said, "That's true, you might have some spiritual things that need dealt with. Right now you're not thinking clearly enough to do that, so why don't you let me get you some medical help where you can think a little clearer so you can deal with the spiritual issues you need to deal with." I knew he was telling me the truth--I was too confused and ill to even think clearly and it was time to get some help.
If you were having an appendicitis about to rupture would you tell your doctor you needed time to think about it before you let them do surgery? Do we pray and pray asking the Lord to give us wisdom on rather we should get eyeglasses when our eyes fail? Do we refuse blood pressure medicine or insulin if we need them? No, we realize that living in a world of sin that our bodies are going to decline and die and we're happy to take anything to improve the quality of life in a sinful, decaying body. However, when we have a breakdown in our emotions or mental health we instantly think it is a sin to reach out for medical help.
Get educated. My body doesn't seem to be able to rebuild seritonin easily. My doctor has taught me to get sunshine this time of the year. Light in the eye is essential. (There's an entire Bible study here if you want to do it!) Walking is also essential because it helps the endorphins to kick in. Eating certain foods (like turkey) is helpful. So is the right medicine if it is needed.
I had to take medications for several years. I am a strong advocate for medication when it is needed--along with learning management techniques. Learning the management techniques is what allowed me to need less and less medicine and finally to be completely medicine free. (Although I would take it again if needed.)
II. Find your triggers. About twice each year I make a list of my "triggers". I list everything I can think of that burdens me or wearies me. I go through that list and ask if it is even a real problem and then I ask myself if there is any way I can be a solution to that problem.
If it is something I truly need to deal with I try to decide how I can change it and break it down into small manageable goals. If it is something I am not personally responsible for I turn it into a prayer request. I also make a list of what I feel guilty about and ask myself if it is real guilt (put on me by the Holy Spirit) or if it something Satan (or even my flesh) is trying to make me feel guilty about.
If I wake up and have that heavy feeling it is usually triggered by a dream or thought. I call those thoughts my "downward spiral" thoughts. I have learned that if I keep focusing on those thoughts I'm going to ruin my day(s) and the day(s) of those I love. So I take them to the Lord and ask Him to put the blood over them. (which He instantly does) They might leave for a few moments and then come back. Again, I take them to the Lord and tell Him I know it isn't pleasing to Him to think of things that destroy me and my family and ask Him to put the blood over them because I want no part of them. (which He instantly does) I've had battles that lasted hours and even days, but little by little when I faithfully refuse to dwell on those things that would destroy me and my family the thoughts come less and less.
III. Unload the burdens. God's prescription for Elijah was rest and food being delivered to him. If you're depressed you are sick. It's time to get down to bare bones basic living. Stay in your Bible, stay on your knees, stay in church. However, drop anything and all extras out of your life.
That doesn't mean turn into a recluse or drop all spiritual activity and keep up the mind-boggling pace everywhere else. It means living a simple life. Simple food, simple chores, simple lifestyle.
God has a plan for each of us that is outlined in the word of God. Find out what you're doing that isn't your job and drop that first. God has our roles clearly outlined--don't drop that. If you're carrying a role that isn't yours--get rid of that.
It is healing to declutter your life. If every time you walk through a room something in that room weighs you down--remove it. If you have relationships you're maintaining just because of what people think and they're not good for you--remove them.
I have learned to live my life by a fairly rigid schedule and to use lists. For me, that is therapeutic--it keeps life in control. My personality requires that so I don't become overwhelmed. I have to prioritize everything and give chores a day. If I dust on Thursday's I can deal with seeing dust on Wednesday.
I am an idea person. I have lots and lots of ideas and I love making them come alive. However, the Lord has had to teach me to take my ideas to Him and ask Him, "Here's my ideas. Which ones are mine and which are Yours?" You can't do everything you think of without wearing yourself out. He only gives you the grace and strength for the ones that are His!
Now this is only scratching the surface. Let me say loudly and clearly that if you are depressed you need to get medical/professional help. It is not something to play around with. God is the only One who truly knows what is wrong and what the answer is. I'm so thankful that as a Christian we can cry out to Him and know He hears and cares. He promises that He does---that makes it so.
However, He also gives help through human instruments and there are many shipwrecks and fatalities in this area because of well-meaning misguided instruction. Read your Bible and mark the words that describe emotional or mental pain. Start in the book of Psalms. Find the meanings of the word "oppressed", "overwhelmed", and "troubled". How David understood being broken emotionally and troubled mentally.
I pray that this short summary might be a light for someone who is struggling and cannot bear the thought of another day in the agony of depression. Don't lose hope--you can come out of this wilderness and better and stronger person.
As I began coming out of my valley this is the verse the Lord gave me--"Who is this that cometh up from the wilderness, leaning upon her beloved." (Song of Solomon 8:5a) It is my prayer that my Beloved will use this post to bring others out of the valley of depression with a new love for the One we can lean on and receive strength from.