What is depression? For the purposes of what I am talking about, depression is not just "feeling a bit down". Depression is a sustained state of sadness that effects your daily activities and relationships. Depression goes beyond a simple response to what is going on around you as your brain and body chemistry changes, making it harder and harder to "get it together". Left untreated, depression can lead to all sorts of no good, including relationship breakdown, compulsive behaviour, suicidal thoughts and behaviour and more. This IS worth addressing. If you want to know more about the symptoms of depression, the Beyond Blue website is a good resource.
The Bible does not dodge or mask depression. Elijah was depressed to the point of longing for death (1Kings chapter 19), and God's response was not accusation or condemnation, but to send angels to minister to his needs. Job was depressed, but this did not mean he was not faithful. Read Psalms, so many of them deal with depression or being in a depressed state ("my soul is weary with sorrow..." Psalm 119:28). Then there is Ecclesiastes and so much more. God does not dodge or trivialise depression, nor should we!
I think part of why I wanted to create this post is that depression is rife in today's society and stay-at-home-Mums seem especially susceptible to it, yet we still seem to have such a social stigma attached to this illness. I have my own theories on why this is so, but that is a whole other soap box! What I wanted to talk about was some PRACTICAL steps to dealing with depression. Now, I am not a professional in this area, I have no training whatsoever so DO NOT TAKE MY WORDS AS GOSPEL. This is what I believe based on what I have gleaned both as someone who has had depression and one who has had loved ones traverse the path of depression.
#1 Get Help.
It may be a good friend or relative who "tells you like it is" who helps you check the reality of what you are thinking and feeling. It may be a buddy who holds you accountable by taking a walk with you or calling every day. It may be a website like FlyLady. A support group. Your Pastor. Your GP. A counsellor. Call lifeline or another phone counseling group if you need to. It may even be medication. Likely it will be a combination of two or more of these things or others. I know that God has used depression in the past to teach me that I cannot do it all alone and to give me a healthy dose of humility as I realise how much I need the love, support and help of others. Is this Scriptural? Should we need help from others? Check it out for yourself. Start with Proverbs 27:17 and Ecclesiastes 4:9-12. If there are no others in your life and no prospect of getting support, of course God will be Faithful as He always is, but sometimes He provides assistance to us in the form of loved ones and professionals. Even seeking out practical help on how to manage home and kids can make a world of difference. Check in at "Ship Full O' Pirates" for some good ideas.
A note on medication:- many people feel that medication is not acceptable for them, that is their choice. I have not needed to take medication myself, however I do know people who have benefited greatly from medication. The medicine changed their brain and body chemistry enough so that they could implement the changes to their lifestyle that they needed. They then were able to move away from medication to a positive life. Medication alone solves nothing, but it can be a major hand up if it is warranted.
I am not talking a casual utterance, I am talking sustained daily prayer. I am talking about specifically mentioning all the things on your heart that hurt - even the ones you don't think are "acceptable" or nice to talk about. I am talking about coming to the foot of the cross AS YOU ARE. I am talking about surrendering to God everything, especially those things you can do nothing about (i.e. the pain of loved ones, your own physical limitations, your depression). I am talking about claiming the promises you find in His word. I am talking about praying over what is REAL in your life, not what you pretend your life is to everyone else. I am talking about the type of persistent praying that Daniel did in Daniel chapter 9, continuing to pray even when it seemed there was no answer. The persistence of the woman who bothered the unjust judge in Luke chapter 18. If you feel you can't even pray, claim the promise of Romans 8:26 "In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express."
I know this sounds boring and mundane, even a bit silly. But it works. If you have a basic routine of waking and sleeping, your brain chemistry will respond and start to balance itself out. If you have a small list of things to do each day (get dressed, shine my sink etc.) that you can actually achieve, you will start to feel a little more like you can manage life. For more practical tips on how to implement a routine, go to flylady.org. We were created by a God of order, one of the first things implemented was the pattern of "Evening and morning" (Genesis chapter 1) so we need to realise that our good God has given us a pattern to follow for a reason. Perhaps surfing the 'net until 2am ISN'T the best idea (yes, I've done it!)
#4 take care of your body
You don't have to be a gym bunny, just go outside for a walk every day. Fresh air and sunshine will help with your body chemistry, getting your heart pumping and your body moving makes an amazing difference. When you are depressed it is the last thing you want to do, but I believe this is the Enemy's way of keeping us right where he wants us! Weak and vulnerable. I know I am getting depressed not so much by the emotions but by the overwhelming feeling of tiredness. I also binge eat. I have to exercise, avoid processed sugar and eat fruit and vegetables and initially it is a real effort to do so. I know I am getting better when I no longer have to force myself to do these things by sheer will power! I find it hard to take care of myself for my own benefit. It helps me to remember that it benefits my husband (I'm a WHOLE lot nicer to come home to when I am not still curled on a chair in my PJ's with my hair un-brushed and a sour smell seeping from my pores) and my children. I need to make the effort to take care of myself for THEIR sake or one day they will have an obese, embarrassingly unhealthy woman as their mother and wife. Left to myself, I'd live in my PJ's when depressed (actually, most of the time, I love my PJ's!)
#5 Be Still - Psalm 46:10
This has taken various forms throughout my life. It used to be a few hours of prayer and Bible study a day as well as a long walk when I was a student. It has been a quiet moment when my babies were sleeping (that stopped when I started falling asleep and drooling across my Bible as soon as they were down). For a while it was a prayer period for an hour or so in the very early morning as I walked my dog. Recently it is 30-45 minutes of Bible study in the morning as the children watch TV combined with some journaling and prayer time as I can get it. Our family devotions can also be added to this. Journaling has always been a big part of being still for me. Getting my thoughts and feelings out on paper makes it easier for me to bring them to God in a logical manner. I journal about the past, present and future. About relationships, fears and expectations. I journal prayers, poems (often really BAD poems!) and prose. I journal about everything really and this Blog is an extension of that journal in a lot of ways. Getting it out can allow me to "Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him...." (Psalm 37:7). Gratitude journals can be an amazing tool for being still. Being still is as much, if not more, about listening as it is about speaking. Over the years I have embarked on my own studies, I have used pre-prepared studies and books (Elizabeth George has written some excellent Bible Study material for women). This time is important, get it any way you can. If ten minutes is all you can manage, start there. I used to feel bad because I no longer have the time to have the hours and hours of Bible study that I used to, then I realised that if I studied 12 hours a day, it still wouldn't be "enough" to learn everything! If I am faithful with the small amount of time I can manage in my day, I will reap the benefits tenfold.
I know it sounds crazy, but it works. It gets your heart and lungs working and helps change that body chemistry back to what it is meant to be. Plus, if you are singing the old hymns you will find a lot of people who also took their struggles to God (What a Friend we have in Jesus, It is Well With my Soul) and reminders of profound spiritual truth (Amazing Grace, Softly and Tenderly). I do tend to crash down again after I finish singing, but not quite so far as I was before. Combined with the other things on this list, singing is a major part of my recovery from depression.
#7 have a realistic, helpful social life.
When depressed, I hide from people, even people who love me and can help me. When a friend of mine is depressed she fills her life up with people so that she doesn't need to think about herself. Most of us when depressed tend to choose to spend time around destructive, unhelpful people because, compared to them, we look great! There are no one-size-fits-all solution to this, but I have adopted some guiding questions.
Does this person encourage and support me to move forward with my life or drag me down, encouraging me to stay depressed or dysfunctional?
Am I wearing myself out trying to *make* this person make good choices in their life or am I allowing them their God-ordained freedom to make their own choices - even if they're the 'wrong' choices?
Has this person listened to me or shown an interest in ME in the last four times we have spoken or are they treating me like I am simply there to serve them?
Does this person respect the fact that I am a person with a life of my own, including commitments and responsibilities, or do they expect me to drop everything for them?
Am I friends with this person because I genuinely enjoy their company and share common interests, beliefs, mindset or history, or am I friends with this person because I am afraid to be without friends?
Am I remembering to keep in contact with people who I love and who encourage me, including people from my past, or am I shutting out people?
When was the last time I sent an encouraging word, card, phone call etc. the way of someone I care about?
Am I giving up my Quiet Time, time with my family, or neglecting my household responsibilities for my friendships or are they in balance with the rest of my life?
Do I talk to people outside my home at least three or four times a week or am I isolating myself?
Destructive friendships can be difficult to deal with. The best way I have found to deal with it is to simply stop seeking them out. Say no if it is appropriate, be kind and friendly but don't help them treat you badly. Jesus said to go the second mile, but he didn't say to rely on those people for your support!
#8 Find beauty
Look at something beautiful every day. I am privileged to have three beautiful children and a wonderful husband, but I can sail through the day without actually LOOKING at them. Erin pointed out the raindrops on the blades of grass today - beautiful. The kids bring me flowers, seed heads, interesting stones - beautiful. I have a small jar on my kitchen windowsill that is there as a reminder of many things, but mostly because it is beautiful. The shape pleases me. I have a stretched belly with a life growing inside - beautiful.
Again with the body and brain chemistry, the working of the heart and lungs. It works I tells ya! Watch a comedy (Veggie Tales makes me laugh! Or Ken Davis), read a funny book (Barbara Johnson wrote some brilliant funny books that are spiritually encouraging a deal head-on with depression), borrow my kids for an afternoon. When you have a choice of laughing and crying (such as when the baby gets hold of a pot of honey or the children decide to make mud pies) LAUGH! In situations like that, crying honestly doesn't help. I know, I tried it.
#10 Take things one step at a time.
I was reluctant to make a list of "things to do" because sometimes lists, while well meant, are enough to drown a depressed person. "WHAT, I can't even get out of bed and you want me to SING!" But start at step one. Little by little, bit by bit, move forward each day. Don't sit down and write a rigorous schedule of exercise, healthy eating, early nights, singing, devotional times and joy breaks. It will just be one more thing to fail at! Implement one thing. When that is a natural part of your life, adopt something else. Then something else, then something else.... Allow God to teach you "a little here, a little there" Isaiah 28:10. You may be amazed the lessons God can use depression to teach you. I know that through my own depression, I have learned much humility, compassion, reliance on HIS strength and the promises of His word. He used a horrible situation called depression, and turned it to my good.
What an amazing God.