Hi, I am James and I suffer from depression.
I find it interesting that I get a very different reaction when I tell people I suffer from arthritis than when I tell them I suffer from depression.
The stigma around depression has definitely lessened over the last few years, but it’s not gone away. I hesitated to write the admission above, and this whole post because I know some people will still react negatively to the admission from a pastor that they suffer from depression.
I think part of the problem is that despite all of the recent publicity around mental health and depression there is still a fair bit of confusion about what it is.
If so, depression may have touched your life too. The experts tell us that the number of people experiencing combinations of those emotions has rocketed since the pandemic.
Depression then isn’t just about feeling very, very, very sad as many people think.
I am very aware as a pastor that as Christians we are not immune from these emotions that express depression, and for some people, they can linger on for weeks months, and years.
At one point in my life, my depression was really debilitating. I got some professional help and now when the “black dog” rears its ugly head in my thinking, I can largely control it so I don’t slide into the depth of depression I had before.
Now I am not a doctor, but I have experienced these feelings and I know they, to use a technical term, suck. I wanted to share with you some things I do to help me keep my depression “under control”. I’ll call them coping skills.
Here they are
TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF PHYSICALLY…. The temptation with depression is often to take to your bed or raid the fridge. To neglect your physical health or do stuff that will impact it negatively. Instead, look after yourself physically. I don’t go mad going to the gym or running 10ks every day. (or at all tbh) I just make sure I keep myself active. For me, daily dog walks in the forest really help. So, find something you like doing that keeps you active, and well, just do it.
FIGHT THOSE FEELINGS …. There are some feelings I get that lead me to very dark places if I follow them if I allow them to dominate my thinking. Feelings like failure, shame, and inadequacy. I actively fight those feelings if I know they are coming on strong. I divert my thinking, when I feel shame, I read verses about God’s grace. When I feel inadequate, I read 2 Cor 3:4-6. (go on look it up) I remember I am allowed to make mistakes and with God failure is never final. I pray against these feelings and ask some close friends to pray for me.
REJECT ISOLATION …. Depression isolates you and then it becomes a vicious circle, the more you isolate yourself, the more you want to avoid being with people. The problem is we really need people when we feel down. Community is one of the most effective antidotes to depression. So, when I start feeling the pull to withdraw from being with people I resist it. We need the support of other people; God has wired us that way and created the church to help us be connected to the support we need. You don’t need to tell the whole world you are struggling; just reach out and tell a friend you trust. As a pastor, I am always free to talk, just let me know, and I’ll get the coffee on.
ENJOY YOURSELF … There are some things we all enjoy doing, that raise our spirits, so when you begin to feel down, plan to do something you enjoy. For me, it’s putting on my crash helmet and heading out on my motorbike, I never come back feeling worse and usually feel much better.
WORSHIP …. There is a pattern in many of the Psalms I wonder if you have noticed it? The Psalmist will express some of the emotions we have been talking about, often describing being in a very dark place, and then something happens that seems to lift their spirits. That something is worship.
As the Psalmist takes his focus off himself and looks to God, who He is and what He has done, this seems to act as an antidote to depression. I can tell you from experience this works. Depression makes me unhealthily introspective and so I stream some worship songs, I watch a YouTube worship song, I read some Psalms or if I am sure no one is around, I might even belt out one of my favourite Wesley hymns.
Why not try it? When you feel a “bit blue” get the focus of your thoughts off of yourself and your feelings, faults and failings and get yourself focused on God and his attributes and actions and just praise Him. I can’t fully explain it but there is something about being in God’s presence and worshipping Him that lifts our mood.
SEEK PROFESSIONAL HELP …. I really hope that these coping skills that have helped me, will help some of you but I know that for some people they won’t be enough. For various reasons, there will be times when perhaps you just can’t shake off those feelings of anxiety, frustration, anger, isolation etc etc Its at that point that you need to seek professional help.
When we break a leg, we don’t think twice about seeking medical help, when we feel our spirit is broken, we shouldn’t hesitate either. We take medication for physical pain; we should be willing to take medication for emotional pain too.
If you need to talk about any of this, firstname.lastname@example.org