Well, hello friends. It's been awhile!
These past few weeks have brought questions of mental health back to the forefront of my life, with more hands-on practice of my coping strategies than I've needed in quite a while.
It's not unusual for me to experience three to four days of heavy depression at a time, or to go for several months in a state of "walking depression," where my mood is somewhat oppressed but isn't completely derailing me from daily life. However, two weeks ago, I was hit with a severe, debilitating depression that lasted for nine very challenging days.
Despite the intensity of my struggle during this period, it was incredible for me to walk through the same kind of pain that I have experienced many times earlier in life with profoundly more peace and perspective.
As the days went by and I had to dig in deeper, allow vulnerability, and lean into supportive relationships, I realized just how far I've come in my journey with mental health challenges and how much I've learned.
So, for anyone who is on this same journey, I wanted to reach out and share these five things I'm learning to do in the midst of depression:
Stay safe, no matter how you feel. In the midst of the pain and emptiness of depression, there can be a desperate need to experience some kind of relief. It feels awful. It feels endless. This is where so many of us grasp at all kinds of destructive coping devices in order to escape the suffering. Suicidal ideation can run rampant, offering a relief that seems impossible any other way. The truth is, you can sit with the pain. You can hide under the covers. You can hold onto your pillow, your Bible, your café mocha for dear life. You can find a way to cope in the moment that keeps you safe, until the fog begins to lift and you're able to take a step towards help.
Text for support. Chances are, nobody knows how you're feeling at this moment. It is an incredibly lonely place to be. You have to be the one to break through the loneliness. Send a text to the mental health hotline (text TALK to 38255) and let them do the rest. Text someone in your family and/or a few of your closest friends. You don't need to have a conversation, just let them know that you are struggling. Reach out, so others can step in.
Ask, seek, and knock. It took me many years of struggling with bipolar depression, an eating disorder, self harm, suicidal ideation, and a suicide attempt before I ever began to understand the purpose, and even the beauty, in experiencing the suffering of mental illness. We often ask God, "Why?" when life becomes unbearable. But, I have learned to be more specific and ask, "What is this for? What are you teaching me? Where are you in the midst of this?" Jesus, the one who suffered more than I can possibly imagine, does allow us to likewise experience suffering in this broken world. But never without purpose. We can, and should, open his Word and ask to see him, to know him, and to understand the purpose in our pain. He promises us in Jeremiah 29:13, "You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart."
Rest in God's love. There is nothing more powerful, more wonderful, or more tender and intimate than the love of Jesus Christ in and for us. In Isaiah 40:11, he describes himself as our shepherd, who "gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart." Through the darkest period of depression or anxiety, know that Jesus is carrying you close to his heart. Be still, and rest in his tender love.
Remember that this feeling WILL pass. When depression hits hard, or lasts for a long, long time, it feels like the end of everything. The past becomes a blur of intolerable sadness and the future disappears from view altogether. This is a real and present and valid feeling. But it is a lie. This season, as awful as it is, is temporary. You will not be left standing at the edge of the abyss forever. There is a new season ahead. A season where you are new, you are changed, you are able to pour into others with hope and compassion unlike ever before. Hold on, and wait.
These are just a few of the tools and reminders that help get me through the hardest days. Take what's meaningful for you and leave what isn't. Continue packing your own toolkit of resources and strategies to overcome mental health struggles.
While there are aspects of mental illness that we can't control, I hope you'll be encouraged to know that there is always more to learn, more tools to find, more avenues for hope.
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