As I wrote in my first article, I found several practical things very helpful and as I’ve I talked to other people in depression, many of these ideas and practices were helpful to them as well.
First of all realizing that I was NOT going crazy but that my body was responding to stress as God designed it to do was somewhat helpful. God has given us helpful brain chemicals such as adrenaline to help us deal with stressful situations, the fight or flight syndrome response to danger. However, when we undergo stress for long periods of time and make a habit of thinking negative and self-destructive thoughts, we release those hormones on a continuous basis. After a while our body cannot burn off the extra adrenaline and we slide off what I call the “slippery slope” into a pit of depression. Once in that pit, it is no easy task to climb back out and it is not a quick journey out for most of us. It seems some people can endure a lot of stress and negative thinking without ill effects, and then there are others of us that don’t seem to have a lot of “cushion” as far stress and negative thinking are concerned.
It has been my observation that when people slide into a deep depression, it is usually a combination of things that get them there. Often there is some physical illness, in my case the difficult pregnancy, as well as stressful outward circumstances (in the midst of this very expensive pregnancy we were told that our insurance company would no longer cover us). As a result of all the difficulties, negative thinking gets a stronghold and either is what puts a person over the edge or contributes to making the depression much worse. Looking back at everything now, I honestly believe I still would have gone through some depression with that pregnancy even if I would have had almost perfect thinking and who has perfect thinking, but I’m convinced it would not have been as severe or lasted as long if I hadn’t given into the destructive habit of fearful and negative thinking.
As the Lord helped me to understand these things and, as I said in my previous article, I was back and forth in my belief about my thinking being a key factor in the depression, I began to develop new habits that helped me to gradually come out of the pit of depression. One of the first things I did was begin to exercise on a daily basis. I was so weak physically that I couldn’t do a lot, but I put the baby in the stroller and began to take a walk each day. When the weather was cold, I went to a nearby indoor mall that opened early for walkers. So most weekday mornings my baby in his stroller and I joined about 75 retired people and walked the mall corridors. At first I could barely do one lap, which was about ¾ of a mile but eventually I could walk 4 laps a day. An added bonus was that the retired people loved my baby and we made many friends and eventually the Lord used us to invite several people to church who started attending regularly. So even though I thought I was a total loss spiritually, God was working His plan to bring others to Him. God can even use depression to win others to Him – not that I recommend depression as a form of evangelism but our God is so wise and good that He works all things for His glory and our good.
Besides exercise, there were several other things that also helped. Making and sticking to a schedule for my day was a great help. Studies have shown that people who aren’t required to keep regular work hours such as stay-at-home-moms, some pastors, those who work for themselves, etc. are more prone to fall into a serious depression. So I tried to have a schedule and stick to it. In the beginning when the depression was so bad, I failed more than I succeeded but eventually I was able to stick to a schedule. I also began memorizing large passages of the Word of God. I would do this when I walked in the mornings. I put a couple of verses on 3X5 cards and would carry them with me as I walked and would memorize them. I worked very diligently at this and memorized many chapters and even most of the book of Ephesians during my depression. This really helped because when my thoughts turned negative, which was most of the time, I had lots of verses that I could just start quoting to myself. I still had some negative thinking as I felt that my mind was split, somehow I could be quoting verses and still be thinking about how terrible life was, but at least some of my thoughts were on God’s Word. The more I practiced meditating upon God’s Word with the verses I had memorized the better I became at it. Nighttime was one of the hardest times to keep my thoughts under control so I meditated on verses a lot at night. When I wasn’t sleeping very much at night, I put a CD player with earphones right next to my bed with soothing instrumental music so when I woke up I could immediately start the CD player and quote verses to myself. Being prepared with the CD player and verses kept me from plunging quickly into suicidal thoughts.
Since I couldn’t sleep much, I began getting up early and having hour long devotions. The Lord really worked in my heart during this time. Two Bible studies God brought to my attention through other Christians were Lies Women Believe by Nancy Lee Demoss and Loving God with All Your Mind by Elizabeth George. Both of these Bible studies deal with thinking. The first lie I read in Nancy Lee Demoss’ book was that “God is not good to me”. I realized that this was a lie I had been believing and it was kind of a light bulb moment for me to think that I had to choose to believe that God is good to me at all times, even when circumstances don’t go my way or He doesn’t answer my prayers the way I think He should. Realizing and changing my thinking about God in this one area made a huge difference in my thinking and I think it was a catapult to get me on the right path. Elizabeth George’s Bible study was a great help as my thinking was already beginning to turn around. During all this time, my family and close friends were praying for me and I believe prayer was a major component in bringing me through the depression. Don’t be too proud to ask people you know really pray to pray for you.
Another truth that helped me was to realize that coming out of depression was a process and I would have setbacks. I tend to be a perfectionist, a trait I believe makes people much more susceptible to depression, and when I would have a setback, I believed I had gone back to square one and had to start completely over again. That’s not true. Someone described coming out of depression like a man using a yo-yo while walking up stairs. There are going to be dips and low points but over all there is a gradual upward progress and realizing that all is not in vain because of a bad day or major slip up is critical to hanging on to hope.
Another thing that helped was trying to add some enjoyable or positive activities to my day. I’m not very good at playing piano because I don’t spend much time at it but during the worst of my depression I spent an hour a day practicing while my baby took a nap. For some reason, I could concentrate on learning the music and that kept my mind off all the negativity. If music is not something you enjoy, maybe video games that challenge your thinking would be helpful. Wii has a brain challenge game that would probably be really great for your brain if it’s something that holds your attention. Even being able to concentrate on something wholesome, as opposed to how bad everything is, for a short time can bring some relief and give hope that you will get out of this pit. The longer you keep training your mind to think upon the good things of life (Philippians 4:8) the easier it will become until eventually you find yourself thinking good thoughts more and more (a new habit established).
Last of all, I did want to comment on antidepressant medicines. I am not a medical person at all and the following is just my opinion so take what you can use and ignore the rest. I realize antidepressant medicines are very controversial and can have very negative side effects and many people who are dealing with mild to moderate depression may be better off without taking medicine and working on thinking and lifestyle changes that will greatly reduce the stress in their lives. However, if a person is so deep into depression that they are suicidal, I think that medicine can help as long as it is viewed as a tool to give them an edge on their thinking and lifestyle changes and not as a cure-all. I made the mistake of thinking the medicine would magically cure me and it didn’t, even after the doctor found one that helped. The medicine should not be used as a cop out to keep from having to do the hard work of changing thinking and habits that have put you in depression. Even if the medicine does work wonders for you, in time you can override the medicine if you continue your habits of negative thinking and wrong responses to the adverse circumstances in life. What will happen is that you will need more and more medicine until finally you get to a level where your dose cannot be increased. As I said, the medicine should only be used to even out the playing field a bit so that you can get up and do the hard work. Personally I don’t think there is anything in the Bible that speaks against taking antidepressant medicines if they are used for a relatively short term and not depended upon to meet your needs during every adversity that comes your way. I took them for that one time when my depression was so bad and praise God have never taken them again. Anyway, that is just my opinion coming from someone who has “been there” and you have to do what God lays upon your heart. However, I will say this, it would be far better to take a medicine you are not thrilled with for a while than to ever give into suicide or put your family through the “hell on earth” of living with a loved one that is suicidal.
Remember that 1 Corinthians 10:13 applies to all believers for all situations. “There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation make a way of escape, that ye may be able to bear it.” God never promised it would be easy, enjoyable or short-lived, but He did promise He would bring you through. I promise you, I am nothing special. Since God brought me through my depression, He can bring you through yours as well. You just have to keep going and not give up no matter how difficult it seems. I hope and pray this has been a help to anyone who reads this whether you are the one in depression or you are seeking help for a loved one. God bless you.
Additional Resources you might be interested in:
Getting Past the Past by Harold Vaughan
When Trials Come by Harold Vaughan
“Be Of Good Cheer” by John Bishop
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