Posted on Leave a comment

Lessons Learned in the Dark of Depression

For over 25 years, I have gone in and out of the throes of depression. During my worst episodes, I seriously considered ending my life. Thankfully, every time I wanted to give up, God rescued me out of the pit of despair and helped me see His love and light. Even though I would have preferred to not go through the darkness for so long, and though I had wanted to give up so many times, I am thankful that God taught me so many valuable life lessons that I now strive to apply to my life.

 

One lesson I learned from going through depressive episodes is to be more open and genuine with others in expressing my true self. In the past, I was so afraid of what people would think of me that I never told anyone for a long time about my struggles, past and present. Unfortunately, I got so used to hiding that when I finally decided I needed help with my issues, some people thought I really didn’t have those issues! However, the longer I struggled, the more apparent it became to me that I needed to talk to someone about my issues, and more than likely, several people.

 

Then, I started to talk. I began opening up the layers of my pain in my past. What I realized is that many of the people I opened up to struggled with similar issues! Also, I didn’t get most of the judgment or condemnation I had feared, and those that judged me were often the same ones that God would later remove from my life anyway. When I started opening up and being vulnerable with others, not only did I forge stronger bonds with those around me, but I found that the pain I went through in my depression lessened as I started to heal.

 

Another lesson I learned from going through depression is to value my time more–especially the good, depression-free times. When I am depressed, I can only see the wounds and ugliness of myself and life. I feel like I am in a long, dark tunnel with no end to it. However, when I am content with life and glance back at (but not dwell) on my depressive episodes, I realize how blessed I am! Reflecting back causes me to value and appreciate the good times more, because I see how far God has brought me from the darkness of the worst of my depressive episodes.

 

The most pertinent lesson that God has taught me from going through depression, in my mind, is that He had a purpose and a plan for allowing me to walk in the dark for so long. I have learned that God has been using my struggle with depression, and the past hurts that had exacerbated my depression, to help me minister to others with similar or even more complex issues than I ever had!  He has also used my struggle with depression to help me be more compassionate and caring towards others in pain, and in order to strengthen my character by tearing down the layers of selfishness and self-righteousness in my heart.

 

If anyone is struggling with depression or suicidal thoughts right now, know that God has a good purpose for all you have been through. We may never know what it is this side of the world, but God never wastes our pain.  Let this be our hope to never give up no matter what life brings us.

 

This article was originally published on Patricia’s website: https://placeinthisworld224.wordpress.com/2019/09/24/lessons-learned-in-the-dark-of-depression/

Posted on Leave a comment

You’re Not a Loser

Life doesn’t always go our way. Sometimes it rarely goes our way. We make plans but they don’t work out, we make goals but they change, we set expectations of ourselves and we don’t meet them, we want to be somewhere in life (career, financially, spiritually, family life, etc.) and we don’t see how we’re ever going to get there. It’s tough.

Compound that with depression and we can easily feel like we’re losers. Depression lies like that: you’re unworthy, you’ll never succeed, you can’t handle life, etc. But that’s simply not true.

You’re God’s child; therefore, you’re not a loser and you never will be. And these difficult experiences and life circumstances? A therapist once told me that if we learn from all of our perceived failures, they will never be empty experiences. Those experiences make us more like Christ and better at ministering to others.

If you’re faithful to Christ in the present moment, you are doing what He asks of you. Remember: Christ followers possess the same spirit that raised Christ from the dead. If you simply trust Christ and His process of making you new, you will do powerful things in His name. And that’s the farthest thing from being a loser.

Posted on 1 Comment

Give Yourself Some Grace

I recently went paddle boarding at one of our beautiful state parks here in Colorado. It was a hot day, but the breeze felt amazing as I slowly paddled through the water. Just to the west, I had an awesome view of the mountains. Even when the lake is crowded, I always find paddle boarding relaxing.

I don’t know about you, but it’s hard for me to get out of the house. My depression often leaves me zapped of energy, and if that’s not hard enough, my OCD goes into overdrive when I’m about to leave my house (is the oven off, are all the doors locked, are all the faucets off, etc.). The result? It’s easier for me not to leave the house.

I love being outdoors, and it usually helps my depression. But getting outdoors is hard.

For those of us with this kind of issue and those who know someone with this issue, we need to give ourselves (and those we know with mental illness) grace sometimes. Yeah, perhaps we don’t get outdoors as much as we should, but we do get out sometimes. Not much is easy for us, so the fact that we’re doing some activities means we’re trying, working hard, being strong. We may never get outdoors or do whatever activity that helps quite as much as we “should,” and that’s okay. The thing that matters is we’re trying.

So next time you feel shameful for not doing whatever as much as you “should,” give yourself some grace. You’re working hard to do what you do.

Posted on Leave a comment

Do You Ever Feel That Your Depression Keeps You from Serving God and That He’s Mad at You for It?

Have you ever felt like your depression keeps you from serving God?

Whether it’s because of the exhaustion, difficulty concentrating, or another symptom, do you feel as though you should be doing more to serve God? Do you feel He is mad at you for being lazy? Or do you feel He is constantly disappointed in you?

If so, I think you may be surprised to find that that god you’re thinking of isn’t the God of the Bible. That god you’re thinking of is a god of your imagination.

First of all, in some sense I don’t think it takes all that much to please God. He’s not looking for you to accomplish all these lofty church or “God” projects. He’s not looking for anything flashy. He’s not necessarily looking for things other people will notice. He may not even be looking for you to do anything outside of your house (this is especially true and helpful, I think, for people whose mental illness keeps them home-bound or mostly home-bound).

Jesus says, “The greatest among you will be your servant. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted” (Matthew 23:11-12). Perhaps your depression significantly limits you. That’s okay. God knows how hard the struggle is and how much you’re limited. He is merely calling you to be faithful in your context. That means different things for different people. Perhaps for you that means supporting your spouse when he or she is having a hard time at work. Perhaps that means being kind and friendly to your caregiver. Perhaps that means praying for your kids. It means focusing on someone else, if only for a few seconds. For those with depression, focusing on someone else takes a lot of effort—not because we want it to, but because that’s just the nature of the condition. Because it takes that much more effort, I think it glorifies God that much more.

God doesn’t ask us to be successful. He asks us to be faithful. If we’re simply obedient in the context we’re in, God is pleased. I love the following quote because it illustrates this principle: “A British journalist once asked Mother Teresa how she kept going, knowing that she could never meet the needs of all the dying in the streets of Calcutta. She replied, ‘I am not called to be successful; I’m called to be faithful.’”[i]

Second of all—and most importantly—God loves us, period. He doesn’t love us because of what or how much we do. He loves us because we are His. We don’t earn His favor more by doing things for Him.

This means that He’s not mad at us for not living up to some standard. He’s not disappointed because we don’t serve Him enough. He is constantly loving us and He constantly delights in us because we are His children.

I pray we would rest in these truths.

 

References

 

[i] Bailey, Kenneth. “The Parable of the Pounds.” Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes, Kindle Edition, InterVarsity Press, 2008.

Posted on Leave a comment

Reframe Your Goals

One of the biggest demotivators when we suffer from mental illness, particularly in depression and schizophrenia, is the loss of enjoyment and pleasure, also known as anhedonia. This leads to not wanting to engage in previously enjoyed activities.

This in turn leads to many other emotions such as boredom, loneliness, guilt and grief. Of course, these emotions also negatively impact your thoughts and physical symptoms.

When you don’t enjoy an activity, you stop doing it. When you stop doing things, you aren’t engaging in anything that will bring enjoyment. Bit of a catch-22, isn’t it?

It is really difficult to engage in an activity if you don’t receive any enjoyment from it. Unfortunately, though, when you suffer from mental illness, it can mean you don’t enjoy very many things at all! And when you don’t enjoy life, you feel there is no point to living.

Think about this short list of things that you may have enjoyed previously, but when depressed, find little or no enjoyment:

 

Activity: Eating

When you are well: Good appetite, enjoy your food, eating with others

When you are unwell: No appetite, everything tastes like cardboard, isolative

 

Activity: Church

When you are well: Enjoy worship, want to fellowship with other believers

When you are unwell: Perhaps feeling rejected by God, lack of emotion toward God, angry at God, isolative

 

Activity: Sport

When you are well: Energy to play and meet with others

When you are unwell: Lack of energy and motivation, isolative

 

Activity: General socialising

When you are well: Want connection with others, enjoy activities together

When you are unwell: Lack of energy and motivation, isolative

 

You know that you should be engaging in activities, but you feel that there is no point because you won’t enjoy it anyway. What can you do about it?

One suggestion that may work is to ‘reframe your goals’.

When you have anhedonia (loss of pleasure/enjoyment), having enjoyment as the end goal of an activity isn’t a good idea. You are setting yourself up for failure because it is likely you won’t enjoy it, or at least not very much.  This will just demotivate you to attempt other activities.

But when you ‘reframe’ or change the goal from enjoyment to something else, you have a much higher chance of engagement. Let’s explore this a little:

 

Activity: Eating

Usual goal: Satisfy hunger and enjoy food

Unsuccessful outcome: Not eating as not hungry and lacking taste

Reframed goal: To give your brain nutrition

Successful outcome: Eating small amounts of nutritious food to feed your brain

 

Activity: Church

Usual goal: To enjoy worship and connect with others

Unsuccessful outcome: Won’t go to church because won’t enjoy worship or connecting with others

Reframed goal: Worship God because He is worthy, irrespective of how I feel; I need connection (in spite of not wanting it)

Successful outcome: You attend church

 

Activity: Sport

Usual goal: To enjoy the sport and connection

Unsuccessful outcome: Won’t play sport because won’t enjoy it

Reframed goal: To increase my endorphins and have connection

Successful outcome: Play sport and have connection

 

Activity: Socialising

Usual goal: To enjoy it

Unsuccessful outcome: Won’t go because loss of pleasure

Reframed goal: Because I need connection

Successful outcome: Meet with friends/family

 

 

It is really important to understand that when you can engage in activities, as much as it is a huge effort to do so, a vast majority of the time you feel brighter afterwards (even if thoroughly exhausted).

The result of ‘doing’ has such a positive impact on your thoughts, emotions and physical reactions too. Let’s use the example of going out for coffee with a friend:

 

Thoughts – you have positive thoughts from the conversation; something else to think about; and it lessens your thoughts about loneliness

 

Emotions – you feel less lonely and more contented; you feel more motivated to do it again; you feel less guilt because you have been meaning to catch up with that friend for ages

 

Physical reactions – you have neurotransmitter boosts; you may sleep better due to feeling more contented; often your appetite increases a little too.

 

As you can see from the above example, there are so many positive outcomes to be gained from doing an activity – it’s not just about enjoyment.  Give ‘reframing your goals’ a try.  It may surprise you how it helps to motivate you to engage in some much needed activities.

Posted on 1 Comment

Asking For Help

Have you ever had family, friends or even acquaintances offer to help when you are unwell? Somehow, though, you struggle to come up with ideas, even though you know all too well that you could do with some help.

 

There can be many reasons why we don’t ask for help from others. Perhaps this list of reasons has been your experience:

 

  1. You don’t want to be a burden
  2. You just want to be left alone
  3. You feel guilty for needing help
  4. You are embarrassed
  5. You can’t think of ways others can help

 

Let’s briefly address these reasons:

 

  1. No one wants to be a burden – it can even seem a noble thought to have. However, you must remember that mental illness is doing all the ‘talking’ here.  Put the shoe on the other foot – if your family member/friend were unwell, you would be desperately wanting to help, just to be able to bring some relief to your loved one. In my experience, the family member/friend feels more burdened by not being able to do anything than by actually helping.

 

  1. Once again, mental illness takes a hold of your thoughts and makes you want to isolate. It is wise to remember that illness and isolation are inseparable –  isolation means illness, illness means isolation. We need to allow others to help us, even if only in small ways, to help break the chains of isolation.

 

  1. Guilt is an emotion that comes to the fore a lot with mental illness. You can have guilt over lots of things from not being able to earn an income to not spending time with family. But the negative cycle of guilt only makes you feel worse. There is no need to feel guilt from others helping you. Remember, they want to help, and it allows them to feel useful, even in some small way.

 

  1. When you let embarrassment rule the situation, you are denying yourself the opportunity to feel loved and supported. And once again, you also deny others the opportunity to reach out to you.

 

  1. Even if you want others to help you, the brain fog and lack of energy and motivation make it difficult to come up with ideas. Often you are just too tired to even think. Once again, these symptoms of mental illness are the very things stopping you from asking for and accepting help.

 

Whether you can relate to one or all of these reasons, it doesn’t negate your responsibility as a part of your recovery to accept or even ask for help.

 

Some of the simplest things can be so impacting. Perhaps you could write a list (or ask someone to help you write a list!) of practical things that others can do when you are unwell. Here are some suggestions:

 

  • Prepare a nutritious meal – not onerous as they are already cooking
  • Give you a lift (e.g. to appointments or church)
  • Pick up some groceries for you (remember you need to feed your brain for recovery, so suggest simple yet nutritious items like almonds, walnuts, fruit/veggies – these don’t need any preparation!)
  • Pop in for short visits – when you are unwell you probably wouldn’t want a lengthy visit, but you still need interaction from others. Educate your family and friends that just a quick visit is fine.

 

These suggestions aren’t necessarily time consuming or difficult to do, yet they can positively impact your recovery, whilst at the same time benefiting the other person. Asking someone to help you in a way that uses their strengths and interests will be energising to the other person also.

 

It is important to remember that God expects His children to help others, so don’t deny others the opportunity to be obedient to His word. I will leave you with some verses from that perspective that might release you to ask for help:

 

Philippians 2:4  Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.

 

Hebrews 13:16 Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.

 

Matthew 5:16   In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.

 

John 15:12       My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.

 

Posted on Leave a comment

When Missing Church Isn’t Okay

Saturday night rolled around, and Jocelyn was starting to feel feverish and a bit nauseated. By Sunday morning, she was full-blown sick and wouldn’t be making it to church.

 

At church that morning, people asked a friend of Jocelyn’s where she was, if she was ok. The friend wasn’t sure, so people were left to wonder.

 

The next day, a lady from Jocelyn’s Sunday school class called her, but Jocelyn didn’t answer. “Hey, Jocelyn, it’s MaryAnn. Just giving you a quick call to make sure you’re doing ok. We missed you in church on Sunday!”

 

Jocelyn didn’t call MaryAnn back all week. She figured she’d just tell anyone who asked the next week that she’d been ill. No one would question that.

 

Now let’s rewind. (Or, for those of you who don’t remember the VHS era, let’s go back to the Main Menu and choose the Start Over option.)

 

Saturday night rolled around, and Jocelyn was starting to feel depressed and a bit anxious. By Sunday morning, she’d had several full-blown panic attacks and wouldn’t be making it to church.

 

At church that morning, people asked a friend of Jocelyn’s where she was, if she was ok. The friend wasn’t sure, so people were left to wonder.

 

The next day, a lady from Jocelyn’s Sunday school class called her, but Jocelyn didn’t answer. “Hey, Jocelyn, it’s MaryAnn. Just giving you a quick call to make sure you’re doing ok. We missed you in church on Sunday!”

 

Jocelyn didn’t call MaryAnn back all week. She figured she’d just tell anyone who asked the next week that she’d been dealing with her depression and anxiety again. No one would question that.

 

Right?

 

No, unfortunately, almost everyone would question it.

 

So, Jocelyn talked herself out of going the next week before it even got close enough to worry about.

 

And she continued to talk herself out of going—it became a vicious cycle. She didn’t want to have to explain what she struggled with when she knew so many disagreed. And trying to simply say she had been sick wouldn’t work. First, she wasn’t sure it even counted as being sick. Second, everyone would ask, “Oh, did you have that nasty stomach bug that’s going around?!” But she knew she couldn’t say “yes” to that, because she hadn’t.

 

Now this story is entirely fictional, made up solely for the purpose of this article. However, Jocelyn’s story is far too familiar to many of us—on one side or the other. No one questions our missing church when we have an illness of the body. Why are we not afforded the same understanding when an it’s an illness of the mind? Rather, we are told, “You should make yourself come to church. You’d feel so much better!” Although these common phrases are not meant to hurt, they do. No one would tell someone who had the stomach bug and a fever to come to church because it would make them feel better.

 

Thus, it begs the question: Why do some feel the need to tell a friend who has had five panic attacks in a row that aren’t being helped by medication (medication that usually works, by the way) to show up to church to “feel better.” Is it because we’re to be “of a sound mind”? If that’s the reason, we need to re-examine the context of that verse.

 

But that’s for another article.

 

Those of us who struggle with mental illness have even come to believe some of these lies. Will church make us feel better? Sometimes. But sitting in service not being able to pay attention because of the anxiety and depression riddling your body probably isn’t helpful. The pastor sees a congregant who isn’t paying attention, and the struggling congregant isn’t getting anything out of the sermon.

 

So, I beg you, if your brother or sister is struggling with mental illness, don’t throw platitudes or advice born out of fear, misunderstanding, and/or stigmatization at them. Come alongside them—send them a card if you feel so inclined. Offer to make a meal. Do what you’d do for anyone missing service for a physical reason.

 

Mental illness is no easier to deal with than a physical illness, so, please, stop expecting those struggling mentally to make it to church every time the doors are open any more than you’d expect a physically ill person make it there.

Posted on 3 Comments

Think on These Things

When depression’s ice

Freezes my life

And stops me in my tracks,

 

Or when feelings of inadequacy

Hit me like the felling of a tree

And I want to turn back,

 

I think of…

 

An expanse of sea—

His creative majesty—

Sprawling before me.

 

Something Lovely.

 

A child of innocence,

Meaning no impertinence,

Simply telling the truths of his experience.

 

Something Honest.

 

A gavel downward crashing,

As a judge, through mental thrashing,

Gives the sentence he can’t escape passing.

 

Something Just.

 

A bride deserving of her white,

Ready to make a life

In a new chapter as her husband’s wife.

 

Something Pure.

 

The Hand of the Lord,

Ready with His Word,

For my use—a Sword.

 

Something True.

 

 

“Think on these things,”

Paul exhorts:

 

It may not STOP the

Depression,

Anxiety,

Inadequacy—

 

But a Biblical attitude

Of Godly gratitude

Makes it harder

To fill our earthly larder

With feelings that God did not intend:

Ones that only came about with a Serpent’s end

In mind, in heart—

Of which I want no part.

Posted on 1 Comment

They Tie Up Heavy Burdens

Rather than sit

In a pew, week after week,

I sit at home on a seat—

Far more comfortable, yes,

But with the same Book in my hands

That tells me His commands—

Not man-made, not man-upheld

Like a whited sepulcher,

Like untruths from a Hell

They’ve created.

 

I can sit in a pew

And listen to a man spew

Forth these lies

That in Your eyes

I’m less than,

Not Christian,

Because I suffer from depression.

 

“Oh wait, that’s not all?

“Anxiety, too?

“God doesn’t want anything to do with you.

“Or, if He does,

“First you must be clean—

“Repent of your ways, you sinner.”

 

But don’t you see?

It’s an illness of the brain—

A refrain

I dance to week after week,

Day after day.

 

I can sit in a pew—

Would that make me friends with you?

I can listen to the clatter

Of the offertory platter

As it goes by

And its din gets louder and louder

In my head with each passing moment.

 

 

Yes, I can do those things, too,

Just like you—

But then, because of this struggle,

The words start to tumble

From your mouth to my ears:

 

Unclean

Unrighteous

Unrepentant

Unsaved

Sinner

 

But who’s to say

That you have the right way

Of judgment,

Of unacceptance,

Of unwillingness to understand.

 

If that’s your God,

You can keep Him—

For to my God,

I am His beloved child.

Posted on Leave a comment

4 Reasons Christian Men Don’t Discuss Their Depression

According to information from the National Health Interview Survey, about 9% of American men have “daily feelings of depression or anxiety” (American Psychological Association, “By the Numbers: Men and Depression”, https://www.apa.org/monitor/2015/12/numbers.aspx). It stands to reason that that number is probably the same for American Christian men.

For the last ten years, I’ve talked openly about my struggles with depression. Every now and then a Christian guy would admit to me that he too struggled with depression. And just since starting Persevering Hope three months ago, I’ve had several Christian guys tell me online or in person that they struggle with depression.

But with all that said, I’ve only had one other guy express interest in writing for Persevering Hope (as opposed to 12 women). Some of the guys who admitted battling depression to me never mentioned it until I said something about my battle, whereas almost all the women I’ve known who battle it discuss it freely.

From my understanding, more women have depression than men. But let’s face it: there are men—Christian men—who fight this battle but struggle to openly express it. In America, women talk about it more easily than men. That needs to change. We need to find a way to make our culture more conducive to men discussing their mental health problems.

Here are four reasons why Christian men don’t discuss their depression.

  • They feel most other Christian guys don’t struggle with depression, so they feel isolated.

I remember feeling this way. I had great Christian communities at both the colleges I attended and in the churches I attended during those times. In my small groups, I was the only one who battled depression—at least the only one who said anything about it. The other guys didn’t really know what to say to me when I’d discuss it. In a way, I can’t blame them. How do you know what to say unless you’ve been through it yourself? But the lack of understanding discouraged me from bringing it up. As you can probably guess, that only made things worse.

  • It’s not particularly socially acceptable.

In my experience, church people don’t really know what to do with a man who says he has depression. Again, let’s be real: it’s not as socially acceptable as it is for women. These men are anomalies—purple cows or unicorns or strange-colored something. They can feel as though they stick out like a sore thumb. That’s not easy to do. So why mention it at all? Which brings us to the next reason…

  • They want to be seen as godly men, so they sweep depression under the rug.

This is especially true if men are in leadership positions. Sometimes men feel as though everyone looks up to them when taking care of their families or organizations or churches. I don’t think men should feel this much pressure when leading people. I think it’s a result of complementarian theology, but that’s a discussion for another day. But if they don’t feel particularly accepted when they admit depression and they want people to view them as godly men, why would they bring it up?

  • Some Christian communities still believe depression is always a sin.

This drives me nuts. I’ve talked to a few women the past month who said their church told them they don’t know Jesus because they struggle with anxiety and depression. If you’re a guy in one of those churches, you’re never going to let anyone find out about your depression. You are going to suffer in silence and put on a happy face around everyone, not to mention the voice in your head constantly asking why you don’t have any faith in God. That is a recipe for disaster.

If you’re a guy suffering from depression, I hope you’ll discuss it unapologetically. Don’t let anyone shake your confidence. You are a man of God—you keep loving and serving those people who look at you funny or don’t get it.

We need to change our church culture. Christian men—godly, godly men—have depression. They are as much of saints as anyone else. Get over the social awkwardness and love them. Make it socially acceptable for them to talk openly. Even if you don’t understand, ask them how they’re doing when they mention it in small group, ask them how you can pray for them or help them, tell them you admire them for speaking up, spend time with them and try to understand, and be there for them. The absolute worst thing you can do is say nothing and hope it never comes up again. That’s what church people have been doing and it has devastated suffering men.

Let’s get the conversation going about depressed Christian men.