Believe it or not — Depression can look like this.
This photo, taken exactly six years ago, popped up in my newsfeed today…and I’ll never forget taking it because I was in a severe state of post-partum depression. I was convinced that I couldn’t take another breath, let alone survive to take care of my two little ones at the time. I was in the pit of depression and of despair.
There is no darker place than the pit of depression. It’s a place of dreaded emotion and unrelenting despair. It saps you of your hope, robs you of your joy, and steals your very desire to live.
It’s a dark cloud that perpetually looms overhead, giving no sign of relief…no sign of the sun that shines above it. After a while, you begin to forget that the sun even exists.
It has no favorites…and attacks when you least expect it. It doesn’t care if you’re rich or poor, churched or unchurched, young or old. It’s an illness that paralyzes your body, grieves your emotion, and breaks your spirit.
It’s a place I would never wish upon anyone. It’s a place that I pray against each and every single day.
The Church Needs To Bring Depression Into The Light
It’s time for the Church to step up in our understanding and support of mental health issues within the body of Christ. It’s time for us to speak up, because the most dangerous thing about depression is that it’s typically a quiet illness that lends itself to suffering alone.
When cancer strikes we start Facebook pages, prayer lists, and support groups. But when Depression rears its ugly head…we hide. We pretend like it doesn’t exist. We try to battle through it alone. But it is exactly in those dark and lonely places that depression loves to feed, to grow, and to attack. It breaks us down, especially when we try to battle it in isolation.
It’s a quiet illness because it comes with a blanket of shame. It’s as though those who struggle with depression are some how less than. Less healthy. Less holy. Less Christian. Less courageous. Less strong. What a lie from the pit of hell. A lie that keeps you down and prevents you from moving toward healing from depression.
Depression, anxiety, and mental illness THRIVE in the darkness. They grow, gain power, and use their leverage in the secret and silence — where no one else knows about them. They convince you to keep the world out, and suffer in isolation. They fool you into believing there is no hope, no reason, and no resolution.
Which is exactly and precisely why we, as the Church, need to be a place that’s talking about mental illness, inviting it INTO THE LIGHT, more than anyone else out there.
We need to BE the safe place where people can come, as they are, having absolutely nothing to hide. Because it’s only in that environment that healing from depression has any hope.
As a professional counselor, I know this to be true because I’ve seen it in so many different ways in the lives of my patients and in my own life as well.
The Hope of Healing From Depression
There is hope for those who are struggling with depression. With a combination of medication, counseling, community and God’s grace, there is the opportunity to find relief and even long-term healing. Hold onto Hope. The sun still shines behind the cloud. And I promise you, you’ll see it again!
I am utterly grateful to say that I have been out of the terrible pit of depression for quite some time, but as I look around me, it’s something that so many people are battling on a regular basis. This week in particular, the world heard the heartbreaking news of a young pastor, husband, and father of three taking his own life.
Whether or not you personally knew this young man, and whether or not you’ve ever heard his name, there’s something about suicide that causes a universal grief inside of our hearts. I know I found myself mourning.
The tragedy of suicide, depression, anxiety is becoming more and more apparent to the public eye. And until recently, it’s something the Christian community has been largely silent about. But suicides in both Hollywood (Kate Spade, Anthony Bourdaine) as well as within the Church (Andrew Stoecklein, Matthew Warren) are a sobering reminder that this is an ongoing battle, and one we need to be prepared to fight together.
The thought of enduring such internal suffering and turmoil that one would take their own life, is hard for many to understand and process. But this type of suffering, that comes at the hand of many different kinds of mental illnesses, is one that is plaguing this generation more than ever before.
Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in America.
Suicide rates are the HIGHEST among adults ages 45-64.
44,000 Americans die of suicide each and every year.
It’s the second leading cause of death in college-aged students.
For every death resulting in suicide are 25 attempts that didn’t succeed.
I was reminded of these sad statistics recently as I preached a sermon on the importance of vulnerability, and shared the sad story of a 19-year-old University of Pennsylvania student that lept to her death unexpectedly. No one had any clue she was even suffering. No one.
For many people, the waves of mental illness and emotional struggles come and go on a regular basis. Like the tide of the ocean, they climb high, and then climb back down. And for me, eventually, the waves subsided. With the help of medication, on-going support, prayer, counseling, openness and honesty….
But it’s in the climax of that wave that everything in life looks insurmountable.
Depression and anxiety fool us into believing that to be true…even when it’s not. They talk a mean talk, and boy do they talk loudly. If you find yourself battling the waves of mental and emotional struggles today, I want to give you some reminders that helped me during dark times.
Your struggle is not a reflection of your strength.
Your struggle does not indicate a weakness….in fact, those who struggle are usually the strongest. Because on this journey of life — you’re the one living life with an extra 50 pounds of burden on your shoulders, yet still taking the same steps as the person next door. So it’s not whether or not you struggle that sets you apart, it’s how you choose to handle the struggle.
Strength means getting through each day, even if that means getting dressed is all you do. Strength means asking for help. Strength means understanding your limitations and resetting your expectations during times of struggle. Strength means hearing the voices, yet choosing not to believe them. Strength means clinging to the truth. Strength means believing there is a light at the end of the tunnel, even when you can’t see it.
Your struggle is not a reflection of your faith.
That I even have to affirm this breaks my heart, because it means so many of us believe the lie that struggle and faith are mutually exclusive. That is a lie from the pit of hell! Jesus himself when through darkness and despair, and cried out to God for help…cried out for God to take this away.
Dear one, your struggle is not a reflection of your lack of faith – your struggle is the catalyst to your faith. Those who struggle deeply, feel the deepest emptiness, will eventually be filled to that same measure.
When I was in the pit of depression, God gave me a picture. He showed me a picture of deep holes in a desert….the holes represented my suffering. Each hole seemed wider and deeper than I could handle. But then He reminded me that the deeper the hole, the more His Living Water could fill me up. The more I suffered, the more I needed, the more room He had to fill me. And fill me He has. I’m believing the same for you, my friend.
Counseling and medication are just as important as prayer.
Through my journey of depression – I’ve learned that faith and action go hand-in-hand. One fuels the other. When we have faith, we move. When Jesus healed the paralytic at the pool of Bethesda, he told him to “get up and walk”. Walking while paralyzed doesn’t seem possible, just as impossible as it seems to “live” while depressed. But Jesus reaches out His hand and tells us to GET UP AND WALK. Take the next step. Move the part of your body that you believe to be dead and dying. Take action. And trust God to give you the strength you need to take that next step.
That next step might be reaching out to someone to let them know you’re suffering.
It might mean walking into an emergency room and letting them know you don’t think you’re safe to be alone.
It might be setting up an appointment with your medical doctor.
It might be seeing a psychiatrist.
It might mean enrolling in professional counseling.
It might mean filling that prescription of antidepressants you’ve been debating whether or not you should start taking.
It might mean asking for help while you focus on rest and recovery.
It might mean calling a suicide hotline.
It might mean all of the above.
Whatever it is, take the next step, because there is absolutely no shame in seeking help and moving toward healing from depression. We would never shame a diabetic for seeing an endocrinologist, or a cancer patient for seeing an oncologist….neither is there any shame in getting counseling and seeking medical help.
Let me remind you that faith and action go hand-in-hand. When we begin to move, God begins to heal and when God begins to heal, we begin to move. The key of how to deal with depression is to simply do the next thing. THAT, my friends, is what faith is all about.
God is with you on the mountaintop, and He’s with you in the valley.
Your one and only job right now is to do the next thing…and step by step, get yourself to a better place.
The wave will pass. It might take time, but it will subside. I promise you it will. All you have to do, is hold on to that belief….and do what’s next.
***If you find yourself struggling with ongoing depression with suicidal thoughts, call the National Suicide Hotline, and then get yourself connected to a professional counselor to help you walk the journey of healing.
***If you’re going through a dark time in your life and find yourself asking “WHY, GOD?”, I invite you to take a minute to listen to this episode of the Love + Relationships Podcast called, “When Life Doesn’t Go As Planned“. I pray it will encourage your heart today!
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Debra Fileta is a Professional Counselor, national speaker, relationship expert, and author of True Love Dates: Your Indispensable Guide to Finding the Love of Your Life, and Choosing Marriage: Why It Has To Start With We > Me where she writes candidly about love, sex, dating, relationships, and marriage. You may also recognize her voice from her 200+ articles at Relevant Magazine, Crosswalk.com, and all over the web! She’s the creator of this True Love Dates Blog, reaching millions of people with the message that healthy people make healthy relationships! Connect with her on Facebook or Twitter or book a session with her today!