Walking Our Faith: How faith can help with depression (column)
September 29, 2017
It's been a year since I've written, I thought everything was fine. Until I read this in the Summit Daily: "Summit County's suicide rate has now risen to three times that of the national average." I wanted to shrug it off and move on to the food section because I've been feeling fine. Then I recalled the wolf of depression had been at my door more than once in the past 12 months.
In the Spring, I came down with a cold that turned into pneumonia. At one point, I was so sick that as I lay in bed I prayed, "Dear God, help me." In addition to the fever and muscle aches, I felt so weighed down by sadness I was afraid I'd go to sleep and never wake up, not by my own hand, but simply because my heart was exhausted.
Not until my 50 year of life, did I embrace the truth. Instead, I rode the ups and downs of my mood swings as a normal part of my creative mind, exacerbated by too much alcohol and a youthful disregard for my health. I was too ashamed to admit what I'd intuitively known for years, that I'd lived with chronic depression for decades.
When my primary physician suggested an anti-depressant to cool menopausal hot flashes, I was so relieved that I might finally get help for my depression without having to publicly admit to it, I broke down in tears. Yet it took another three years, and only when my doctor asked if I still needed the pills for hot flashes, that I admitted I needed them for depression.
Despite taking an anti-depressant every day, there are still bouts of depression I know I will deal with for the rest of my life. From time to time, the dosage of my medication must be adjusted. Last year, when one pill stopped working we tried another, only to discover that it sent me into crying jags that were so devastating I couldn't leave the house. So, another pill was tried, and once again a happy equilibrium established.
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Binge drinking, binge eating, binge behavior (crying, angry outbursts or dangerous behavior) are often resorted to when we're feeling depressed. Perhaps it's because only something equally as excessive will dull the psychic pain we're feeling. But that's the dangerous lie of depression. When we are depressed, what we really need is to seek help from a medical professional who can provide medication, or counseling or whatever remedy will help us to find our way back to health.
You, like me, may have to manage depression for the rest of your life, or it may only last for a season. Either way, this means managing your prescriptions, and managing your health. Eating healthy, exercise, even if it's just going for a walk. (Little efforts can feel enormous when you are sad.) Yet, you must make the effort because your health is important. You are loved. And it will get better, I promise.
How can our faith help us when we are depressed? When I have been in the depths of depression, two thoughts fill my mind: First, that I am beyond God's love or forgiveness. Second, that things will never get better and it is impossible for me to go on. These thoughts are of course lies. Here's the truth: God wants us to know that we are dearly loved. God's love for us will never be diminished no matter what you, or I, have done. Here's what God's word promises:
"This is how much God loved the world: He gave his son, his one and only son. And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life. God didn't go to all the trouble of sending his son merely to point an accusing finger, telling the world how bad it was. He came to help, to put the world right again." (John 3:16,17, MSG)
"For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord." (Romans 8:38-39, MSG)
When I am blue, reading the Bible, and the Psalms specifically, is an enormous source of consolation and comfort. As I read, I discover I am not alone in my sorrow and I'm reminded that I have also had days of joy. My resolve to keep moving forward is strengthened because God is with me.
"He heals the broken-hearted and binds up their wounds." (Psalm 147:3)
"Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning." (Psalm 30:5)
"Though I walk in the midst of trouble, you will revive me; you will stretch out your hand against the wrath of my enemies, and your right hand will save me." (Psalm 138:7)
The Bible leads me to prayer, my greatest source of grace. Even when the pain is so great that I cannot pray more than, "Please help me, God." I know God is with me and I am held securely in his loving embrace. He will never leave us. Even when we feel we have no words left to describe our pain, God helps us:
"Meanwhile, the moment we get tired in the waiting, God's spirit is right alongside helping us along. If we don't know how or what to pray, it doesn't matter. He does our praying in and for us, making prayer out of our wordless sighs, our aching groans. He knows us far better than we know ourselves, knows our pregnant condition, and keeps us present before God. That's why we can be so sure that every detail in our lives of love for God is worked into something good." (Romans 8:26-28, MSG)
When the wolf comes to your door, seek help from medical professionals. Seek God through prayer, find your way to church. Seek the companionship of friends. Be strong and keep moving forward. Your life has great value, you still have much to contribute, we need you here.
With much love,
Suzanne Anderson is the author of "Love in a Time of War" and other books. You can reach her at Suzanne@suzanneelizabeths.com or facebook.com/suzanneelizabeths.
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