I used to think I wasn’t the type that struggled with depression. During some deep personal struggles, I remember thinking I’m so glad I don’t struggle with depression, for this would be a really dark time.
Normally I would describe myself as an upbeat, passionate person who thinks deeply, sees life realistically and bustles about with high energy.
But as I look back over my 36 years on this earth, I see some mountain top experiences paired with some equally low valley seasons that were longer and darker than I gave them credit for. It’s hard to understand life as you walk it forward. It’s not until you look back that events make sense, yet time and circumstances don’t often allow you the luxury of looking back and reflecting.
Since my grandfather passed away, and even right after he took a dramatic turn for the worse, I have struggled off and on with this darkness.
I remember sitting in Sunday school one day and the room felt like it was spinning. Words sounded like they were underwater. I would try with all my might to stay involved in the discussion, but I couldn’t keep up. Deciphering through information made my head spin and my stomach cringe.
And deciding on what to do for lunch afterward…nearly tapped me out. The options were endless and the decision making process excruciating. It all just swam around in my head.
I tried to pull it together and keep going. I thought if I could maintain my pace and ignore the emotions hovering over my mind, eventually the dark cloud would get tired of lingering and go away.
But depression and grief don’t work that way. Just like how the moon follows as you drive, so the dark cloud remained over my mind no matter what task I did or how fast I did it. Finally I realized I had to stop, had to acknowledge the sadness, the pain and press into the emotion of it all, allowing it to break up deep within me and give the tears permission to flow. And let me tell you, just like that last sentence, it’s messy!
(Which is why I tried to run from it as fast as I could in the first place. I don’t like to be messy unless I’m doing a project and I’d rather NOT be the art project!)
So I wanted to share some things I’ve learned as I’ve walked through periods of grief/depression:
I don’t believe depression to be a result of bad spiritual discipline. It didn’t happen because I didn’t do the right bible study or didn’t pray enough or pray the right prayer. It’s not because I didn’t stay in community. It’s not because of any hidden sin in my life that I needed to confess.
Depression can hit when you least expect it because life is hard and messy! It’s 100 different reasons all written down on a slip of paper and then to torn in two and thrown in a bowl. Pull one out to read and it makes no sense. There are external reasons, internal reasons, things I have control over and things I don’t.
This I know: You’ll never reach a point in your Christian walk where struggles or hardships fall away from you like equal ends of a magnetic field.
I also believe depression isn’t strictly spiritual warfare. I’m sure there’s a spiritual element to it for we are spiritual beings, but it doesn’t vanish with one prayer. Depression is a complex issue that involves many factors to understand and even more to walk through and recover from.
So, if you’re walking through a dark period of life right now, I give you permission to do the following:
- Rest. Say no to activities and focus on your wholeness and stability. Give yourself time to breathe, sleep and find enjoyment in ONE thing each day.
- Heal. Be honest about your feelings and emotions rather than run away from them. Is there something that triggered this darkness? Is there something you need to talk through? If there is, find someone and talk! If not, don’t feel like there should be. Life can feel like a tangled wad of string. It’s hard to find the end and comb through it again, but helpful to try and find your wholeness in the mess.
- Give yourself grace. You won’t get everything done that you want but you aren’t a failure. See #1 and #2. It’s OK to say No and make time for yourself.
To those walking with someone who’s suffering I encourage you to do the following:
- Listen. Now is not the time to talk or know the answers. Just listen. Edify and clarify as you can but mostly hug and say you are there for them.
- Don’t lecture or offer books/bible studies. A person suffering from depression often feels like a failure and has a foggy mind. It’s like a clogged air filter from your house. It’s really hard to filter though a lot of information, it just all gets hung up. When the depression lifts, that person can reason again, but until then, hold off on recommending any heavy reading, for that can often feed the feeling of failure.
- Offer one-on-one time. Community is essential during this time, but finding the balance can be tricky. The person hurting may think he/she needs to be alone. Time alone can be good, but not too much. Groups may make their head spin, but a call or text means a lot. Anything you can do lift the blinds and let in some sunshine to that person is a blessing.
Now, I am not a licensed professional and do not wish to diagnose, cure or treat people suffering from major depression. I do know it can be tricky to know how to help those around you who are struggling and so I am merely offering suggestions based on my personal experience. I hope you find them helpful!
On one hand I wish I had life together and everything figured out. A clean house with a place for everything and everything in its place. But then I think, what fun would that be? It’s in life’s messes I watch my Creator make a masterpiece. He takes my spilled paint, torn fabric and frayed strings of life and weaves in His Redemption and Love and makes it something beautiful. His creativity inspires me to be creative. So watch your step! And thanks for joining me on this messy, creative adventure of life.