When Depression Threatens, Don't Forget Your Slingshot
About 12 years ago, I experienced my first bout of extended depression, not just a week or two of the blues, but the real deal--a suffocating, absolutely relentless depression. It made me feel like one of those caged cats in the zoo who paces back and forth day after day after day behind steel bars, unhappily separated from his former life and former self--or perhaps who spends the day sleeping, seizing his only respite from his misery.
Eventually, I sought spiritual counseling, sought medical help, turned to friends who loved me unconditionally, began exercising and focusing on surviving, and because God never gives up on us even when we've abandoned all hope and sometimes even abandoned Him, I am here today. I claim Psalm 94:16-18, "Unless the Lord had given me help, I would soon have dwelt in the silence of death. When I said, 'My foot is slipping,' your love, O LORD, supported me."
I'd like to offer a few tools, simple as they are, that I use to help batten down the hatches when the winds of depression kick up in my life. Maybe they will be relevant to you or a friend.
The first/best line of defense against any threat is prayer and reading God's Word, of course. But since we eventually have to close the Bible or stop praying actual words for periods of time, I think it's wise to have some small practical weapons in our arsenal with which to fight these battles. Sometimes it only takes a few stones in a slingshot to bring down an enemy of the Lord!
I'm not a professional, of course, but I am a survivor. Is my life perfect now? No. Do I ever feel down? Sure I do. But--when I feel the shadow of that terrible period hovering over me now, I quickly and confidently acknowledge that I am not powerless. I do not panic anymore because "If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed"(John 8:36).
Here are some "stones" I keep handy when I'm under attack:
1. I remind myself of the verse above by stating, "Jesus set me free of depression; therefore, I am free. I may feel threatened. I may feel a little roughed up. Doubt may be tapping me on the shoulder. None of those feelings can compromise the truth: I am, at my core, set free from depression's oppression. Thank God. Now that I've remembered that the issue is settled, what else can I focus on to strengthen my faith?"
2. I get outside at least briefly, to get natural light. Outside light is different from indoor light, even on a partly cloudy day. Twenty minutes can do a world of good. And if I walk those 20 minutes, even better. Plus, outside I can pray more effectively. When I was heavily depressed, my mind was a thick fog, and I couldn't stay focused on praying or reading the Bible if there was any aural or visual distraction.
3. I avoid sad songs/movies/books/network news. I avoid rehearsing the time when I was depressed. I simply avoid reinforcing anything negative at all, until I feel I'm past the most intense vulnerability.
4. Any time you remove a temptation or avoid something, you need to provide a substitute to fill its spot. So you guessed it; I listen to music that glorifies Jesus or I listen to secular songs that I know also evoke positive feelings/outlook, none about broken hearts. I look for little ways to help other people; I watch funny movies. I talk to friends who will lift me up. It's OK for me to express what I'm battling with a friend, but we need to quickly leave the subject and talk about healthy, uplifting topics--not dwell on how low I feel.
5. I talk myself "down from the ledge." I say, "You are an old pro at fighting this. You are smarter than the threat. Your sad feelings may be valid; they may be rational depending on what's going on in your life currently, even so--it's still not all about you and your feelings in this world. Move emotionally outward. Feelings are fleeting. This depression is not coming to stay; it's coming to pass. You are prayed up, read up, sung up--now get up and live like a nondepressed person. Smile." Guess what? I start to feel like an overcomer. and that's not being false--remember--I have been set free. I am an overcomer.
I am not boasting about having it all together; I do not have all the answers, nor do I have particularly original suggestions. It was Christ who set me free and the Holy Spirit who teaches me how to cope with my own personal trials. But sometimes I need to be reminded of fundamental truths and simple plans for facing hulking giants. Now matter how large depression looms, I know that I serve a bigger God. According to Ephesians 4:8 "When He [Christ] ascended on high, He led captivity captive [He led a train of vanquished foes] and He bestowed gifts on men" (Amplified). He has defeated depression. He has bestowed on me the grace to face my fears, an abundant life to enjoy in Him, and courage and desire to begin a brand new day.
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