Three of my kids hid in their room, afraid to come out. While I sobbed on the floor, my oldest — ten years old at the time — tried comforting me, even prayed over my slackened body. Sadly, the weight of debt, insecurities and the fear of living in the middle of a cancer cluster pressed me further into the ground.
I’d already battled cancer twice and couldn’t imagine any way out of our circumstances. I reached out to a few friends when my down days first washed over me nearly two years ago. It was an uncomfortable admission, especially for someone like me who spent time with the Lord. But what unsettled me most was my fear of judgment from like-minded friends.
Depression is a lonely place. Debilitating in every sense of the word, once despair hits and suffocating begins, crawling out seems unreachable.
There is hope, I promise. I’m living proof.
And to set burdened minds at ease, if you are questioning your spirituality because of your emotional state, be encouraged. Kings, prophets and the anointed have trenched through this path before us: King David, Elijah, Job, Jeremiah, Martin Luther, Charles Spurgeon, and even Beth Moore have fought such disparity.
The good news: There’s a way to combat the blues.
1. Locate your triggers. Each of us has something that pushes our mental deflate button, whether it’s unforgiven sin from someone we’ve tried to reconcile with, effects of divorce, lies we believe about ourselves or life’s uncertainty. Once we locate specific worrisome areas, we can move forward with releasing, adapting and overcoming.
2. Eliminate mood-altering substances. You may be surprised to find that sleep-aids, alcohol, barbiturates, beta-blockers, anti-anxiety medication, acne medication, prescription pain killers and many other prescription pills are depressants. They drive us further down into the depths of despair. If you’re already struggling, try to avoid them at all costs.
If medication is the culprit, contact your healthcare provider and let them know your emotional unease. Drugs alter our brain chemicals. That’s why the anxiety temporarily subsides, pain diminishes and sleep comes easily. But we can only trick our brains for so long. The alter ego to that false state becomes the enemy of our mind.
Drugs may be necessary for many conditions, but if getting out of bed seems unthinkable and suicidal thoughts consume your mind, seek professional assistance immediately. A chemical imbalance isn’t your fault.
Untreated depression is the number one cause of suicide, so please, don’t take this condition lightly.
3. Health. Our health affects our livelihood and hormonal imbalances play a big role in our happiness.
A regular checkup from a primary care physician may unveil medical maladies which cause depression. The following are a sampling of such ailments: thyroid disease, stroke, brain tumors, heart problems, multiple sclerosis and a number of other chronic illnesses.
Medicinenet.com estimates that, “Up to one-third of individuals with a serious medical condition experience symptoms of depression.” Living with a medical condition is one of the hardest hurdles to overcome. This is where my mental battle began. I wish I would have opened up sooner to any of my physicians–but I allowed fear to silence me.
4. Avoid negativity. From office gossips to the unrelenting friend who does nothing but speak her pain, flee.
Find upbeat peers to surround yourself with. An unstable state is difficult enough to carry alone. Someone else’s burden may put you too far under. For a season, until you’re well, surround yourself with hope-filled people.
Don’t discount the negativity streaming through your radio or television, either. Turn it off and download podcasts from Tim Hawkins, Andy Stanley, Ken Davis, Zig Ziglar — anything with a positive message.
5. Get Moving. Scrub the floor. Wash the car. Fix that old project you don’t want to touch.
There’s satisfaction in finishing a task. And if our hands are busy, this helps distract the mind–especially if we simultaneously listen to upbeat music.
The best part: When we’re moving, the blood flows quickly which in turn energizes our bodies. I’m a huge fan of Christian dance music because I can’t possibly sit with the tempo surging. See for yourself. Try listening to “Live It Up” by Group 1 Crew without moving around.
In the book, The Depression Cure: The 6-Step Program to Beat Depression without Drugs, author Stephen Ilard wrote, “Researchers have compared aerobic exercise and Zoloft head to head in the treatment of depression. Even at a low ‘dose’ of exercise – 30 minutes of brisk walking three times a week – patients who worked out did just as well as those who took the medication. Strikingly, though, the patients on Zoloft were about three times more likely than exercisers to become depressed again over a ten-month follow-up period.”
When I’m down, I want to sleep, watch TV and isolate myself. It takes momentum to gain momentum. Begin with a walk around the block. I’ve found that energized endorphins work wonders on my emotional state. The hardest part is always getting started.
6. Don’t discount spiritual warfare. Our enemy deeply desires to see us beaten and unusable for the kingdom. He enjoys whispering lies, especially when he sees the mental and physical effects.
When unhealthy thoughts enter the mind, find something to thank God for. Replace those negative messages with a positive because the two cannot coexist simultaneously. The Bible teaches us to “Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise,” (Philippians 4:8).
When I’m down, wallowing easily follows. But that spirit of fear surrounding me is not from the Lord. When I surrender those thoughts with thanks for my children, hobbies, friends, church, food in the fridge — any positive aspect of my life, this helps me to remember life really isn’t as horrible as I’m telling myself.
7. Serve. This step seems impossible, especially when it requires uncoiling from the couch. But, when I’m helping others, I’m not thinking about my situation.
Hebrews 13:16 tells us to “do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.”
God is pleased with the sacrifice of praise and service. What’s amazing is that these two acts directly affect our mood.
Visit an assisted-living facility, rock babies in the church nursery, mow a neighbor’s lawn, make a meal for someone newly diagnosed and then sit and talk with them. It’s a beautiful distraction, and you might just reach out to someone battling your condition.
8. Surrender to God. As we continue with the theme of sacrifice and serving, we reach surrender.
The toughest act of all is giving every ounce of myself to God. The most effective way to conquer adversity is to hand my problems back to Christ. Once I stop focusing inwardly, nitpicking my misfortunes and releasing the mental anguish, a subtle shift in my thinking occurs. The stuff of life will forever disable me if I allow it. I either completely trust that God is in control of my health, finances, children — or I spend endless hours worrying, which I’ve found never changed my circumstances, but only consumed my thoughts.
A technique that psychologists recommend to cleanse the mind is writing out your apprehensions. As Christians, we typically do this by writing our prayer requests. Here’s a fabulous fact, though. There are over 3,000 promises from God in His Word. Instead of praying the problem, try praying His promises.
Rather than asking God to take away my debt, I thanked Him for meeting all of my needs (Philippians 4:19).
Instead of asking if He heard my prayers, I thanked Him for listening, knowing He would answer (Jeremiah 33:3).
When I pray God’s promises rather than my problems, I flip my mindset, change my thinking and praise Him all at the same time. For more inspiration, Google the phrase, “Praying God’s promises,” or check out Beth Moore’s book, Praying God’s Word.
The Lord promises He is with the brokenhearted. He will rescue those crushed in spirit when we reach out to Him (Psalm 34:18).
I have to be honest, though. Christ isn’t as concerned with my happiness as much as He is with my salvation and calling He’s placed on my life. If things aren’t going according to my plan…that usually is a good time for me to sit back and ask, “When was the last time I heard from the Lord?”
I’ve found when I’m not following His will, I can wander in the wrong direction which requires Him to gently bring me back. Sometimes that’s through brokenness.
A Way Out
What pulled me out of the shadow? Flushing a popular sleep aid I used in combating insomnia, seeking financial counsel which required drastic lifestyle changes, jogging, relocating to a new area and, lastly, repeating, “In Christ there is no condemnation,” (Romans 8:1).
Any time those pesky voices of guilt cluttered my brain from past mistakes, I repeated Romans 8:1 over and over.
I have come to realize that God isn’t wielding a bat ready to swing when I mess up, and He will never shun me when I face darkness. Like a father, He desires to protect, love and raise me to maturity. But when chemicals alter my moods, bills consume my thoughts and I focus so much on self — I leave little room for dependency on Him.
God wastes nothing. He uses every trial to draw me closer to Him.
One Final Note
Depression should always be monitored by a licensed physician. Only you, your doctor and the Great Physician decide the path. For some who are battling suicidal thoughts, that may include jump starting with medication.
Seek help. But always remember, “In Christ there is no condemnation.”
How about you? What ways have you battled the blues and won. I’d love to hear your advice.
Portions of this article were published in the Good News, May 2012. This information is based on my personal experiences with depression and not necessarily the feelings of the Good News, or that of a licensed practitioner.
“Satan delights in our feelings of inadequacy. He wants to help us stay there. He wants us to go to Bible study, learn the deep truths of God, leave encouraged, and then come home and have a complete meltdown….”
He wants us to entertain a very dangerous thought: ‘Why doesn’t Jesus work for me?’ …
You see, if Satan can get us asking these kinds of questions, then we can easily justify distancing ourselves from God…
But ‘Why doesn’t Jesus work for me?’ is never the right question. Instead, when circumstances shift and we feel like we fall short, we should ask, “How can I see Jesus even in this?” (Lysa Terkeurst Becoming More Than a Good Bible Study Girl, pg. 41).