Monday, November 10, 2014

Walking With God in the Midst of Depression

(Having a tough time writing this, because I am actually writing in the midst of a smallish depression time. So... if you have dissenting thoughts -- or even just think this is scattered and unhelpful -- that's fine, but I may not be up for discussing that with you right now. Just FYI.)

I got this message from a friend on Facebook this week:
Hey, I have a suggestion/question. If you had stuff to say about it, would you consider writing a blog about how you walk with God EVEN in the midst of your worst depression days? Talking about how you have crappy circumstances with no control and still learning what it means to walk in "victory" without the depression necessarily "going away"? Someone was just talking about reconciliation on Sunday and how God doesn't want us to walk in defeat, and I was wondering what your take on that is in the situation of depression.
And I thought, "Sure, I can pull together a couple thoughts on that."

First things first: Depression =/= defeat. Or, well, it doesn't have to be. That was my very first response to the message I got.

Even if I feel defeated for a day or a week or a month or a year, that doesn't mean I actually am defeated. Because, guess what? My life's not over yet. There are plenty of things I have accomplished and can still accomplish in spite of what depression whispers in my ear.

(I want to note before I move on that every person's depression is different. Many people deal with much more long-term chronic depression, rather than the pattern I have, which is waves of depression followed by waves of feeling OK. I have also not ever been suicidal. So I cannot speak for their depression -- I can only speak for mine. They will have different ways of dealing and coping, and my experience doesn't necessarily reflect theirs at all. That being said, here are my thoughts as to how I deal with the degree of depression I have.)

The key, for me, is hope.

The truth is, I am not hopeless. Depression often brings intense feelings of hopelessness, and it's easy for those feelings to seep into the way I view the world, but for me, it's very important for me to be able to separate how I feel from what is true. I may feel like I'm never going to be OK again, but I know in the back of my mind that I will be. I may feel worthless and like I don't matter, but I know that I have value. Cheesy little affirmations totally work for me -- not because they make me feel better, but because they cement in my mind the truth that I can't see when depression clouds it, so that somewhere, somewhere in the back of my mind, I know that what I feel is incorrect.

The reason many people (including me) say they "struggle with" depression? It's because it's actually a struggle. It's a fight. It can be a battle every day to get out of bed and talk with people and do what you need to do. And sometimes you lose a battle and you take a step back and spend the day just crying and watching movies. But you're not defeated until you stop struggling altogether -- forever.

"Walking in defeat" (to me) means that I've accepted I no longer believe I can beat this.

"Walking in defeat" means I'm not even thinking about trying to make it through the day anymore.

And, with depression, "walking in defeat" can get really serious really fast.

There's a tendency in some circles to think that depressed people are just mentally or emotionally lazy, people who don't want to deal with their problems or fix themselves. They look at these people and think, "They've given up completely." But most of the Christians I know with depression work really hard to deal with it. They get up every day and serve in churches and pray with people on Facebook and do whatever they can do to remind themselves that they are not their depression. Sometimes all they can do is get dressed. And while that person on the outside might think, "That is not a victory," but they have no idea how hard it can be sometimes to do just the bare minimum.

For me, "walking in victory" isn't about the depression going away. It's not about walking in my victory because I feel awesome and I've conquered depression -- it's about walking in God's victory. It's about trusting that he can get me through the day, the week, the year, and my life. It's about realizing that if I can't walk any further, he can carry me, and I'm still victorious because I'm trusting him.

That "Footprints" poem where God carries you gets printed everywhere, but sometimes I think we forget that that happens when we can't walk anymore. It's kind of terrifying to get to the point where you actually can't, because we look at ourselves (or sometimes at others) who have collapsed on the ground and view it as a defeat -- but we have to trust that God can get us through that, whether it's by surrounding us with outside support, giving us the opportunity to take care of ourselves, or helping us just power on through.

So, after all that, here are a few practical ways that I try to walk with God in the midst of depression:

1) Be completely honest with God. This is especially important if I don't feel like I can share my feelings with most of the people around me. For me, not sharing it with God is like putting up a little wall to distance us -- even if it's because I'm trying to distance myself from me. But those walls can make it hard to be vulnerable and ask for his help.

2) Constantly remind myself of the truth. Like I said, those cheesy little affirmations work for me -- they may not make me feel better, but they keep me from feeling worse. When I'm depressed, it can feel extra difficult to remind myself of truths about God's love and provision because I think, "He's not providing for me!" but that means it's even more important to remind myself that he is faithful and will carry me through somehow.

3) Psalms! Psalms are awesome for depression because, wow, some of them read a lot like how I feel. When I don't have words I can express, I turn to these a lot.

4) Seek out people who exemplify joy and faith. As much as I love my snarkier and more cynical Christian friends, they are sometimes not good for me to be around when I'm dealing with depression. Instead, I tend to gravitate toward those people whose lives just shout joy and faith, the two things that get hit the most in depression times. This is not so much to ask them for prayer or advice, but just to spend time with them and let their infectious joy and faith either 1) spill over into my life on some level, or 2) simply remind me that God is good.

God is bigger than my depression, he is stronger than my depression, and that means depression never has to mean defeat, because I don't have to fight this alone.

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