This series aims to promote awareness of the nature and reality of depression, encourage those who are battling depression, and equip those who want to help someone who is struggling. This post is part 5 in the series. Stay tuned for a new post each week, and find the rest of the series here.
I’m not a doctor, counselor, or psychologist. My education is theological in nature and my professional experience is in churches and non-profits. However, my story doesn’t end there. I’m a fellow spiritual beggar who has felt the sting of depression in both my immediate family and my own life.
Is there a cure for this pain? Is there a way out of this darkness? Is there light that will break through these clouds? Is there hope for a better future?
There are a variety of approaches that have proven effective. Of course, what works for one person may not work for another. Further, what works for one person at a given stage of their journey may not work for that same person at a later stage. A particular intervention may not work for you. That’s okay. It will work for someone. Or maybe it will work for you later. Flexibility and openness will be key ingredients in formulating and implementing a plan.
One method is the natural approach. I recommend this as an initial strategy for people whose depression has set on rather recently and is not severe. If you are in the midst of deep, long-standing bout with depression, I would advise you to skip this approach and go straight to your doctor.
The natural approach involves the physical components of regular exercise, a healthy diet, and establishing regular sleep patterns. These elements should be part of anyone’s life and will be beneficial, even if they alone aren’t enough to get you out of the woods of depression. There are a variety of herbal supplements designed to improve mood and help maintain emotional balance. While these supplements are not regulated by the FDA, you might find some of them effective as an intermediate approach before seeing your doctor.
The natural approach will only go so far with some people. While certain behavioral modifications (diet, exercise, sleep, etc.) and cognitive therapy (positive thinking, self-image, attitude, etc.) can be part of someone's healing process, many people's brains simply don't produce enough serotonin or dopamine. In such cases, people require antidepressants and/or mood stabilizers to regain emotional equilibrium.
This doesn't mean that these people are inferior or weak. It simply means that their brains are experiencing a chemical imbalance (in many cases a temporary one), something over which they have no control—and something they would choose to change in an instant if they were able to do so. Therefore, depression shouldn't be a source of shame.
If positive lifestyle changes and counseling aren't enough, seek medical help. You should feel no guilt in asking for help, nor should you be ashamed to take that prescription to the pharmacy. To the contrary, taking these steps involves tremendous courage and strength, and is therefore something you should be proud of doing for yourself. It will most likely be a key ingredient in the recipe of your healing.
A thorough strategy for healing also involves the spiritual components of prayer, silence, and meditation. Again, prayer should have a regular place in your life no matter your current emotional state. If silence and meditation aren’t part of the rhythm of your life, I offer them as helpful resources.
However, I advise you to approach silence with the following caveat: If your moments of silence are filled with negative thoughts, then stop. These practices can be potentially dangerous if your emotional state is not ready for them. These are supposed to be times that help you clear your mind, focus on positive things, and envision your best self emerging victorious from depression. If silence allows clouds of darkness to roll in over your thoughts, come back to it when you are feeling better.
It is critical that you win the battle going on inside your mind. This is perhaps one of the most difficult elements you will face. You will likely need some guidance, coaching, and support. Find a counselor who will listen, provide sound advice, and walk beside you through this. Cognitive and behavioral therapy can go a long way in your healing process, but it is slow, demanding work. You didn’t get depressed overnight; you won’t find healing overnight. Be patient with yourself and with the healing process. There are no quick fixes here. Roll up your sleeves, dig in, and do what it takes. You’re worth it.
Another ingredient in your healing process will be your social life. Depressed people tend to be reclusive and just want to be alone. Such isolation will further compound your sense of disconnectedness, lack of purpose, and negative self-image. Push yourself to engage the outside world. Go to church. Volunteer at a local charity. Meet a friend for coffee. Invite someone over to play a board game or watch a movie.
Take the initiative in connecting yourself to others. I know you don’t feel like you have the emotional capacity to do this right now, which is why it is even more important that you do so. Get out of the house and have a face-to-face conversation with someone who cares for you. You might be surprised how much this helps. God made us to be social creatures. We need community. We crave belonging. Don’t deprive yourself of this vital need.
Your depression doesn’t just affect you. If you are married, consider the implications your current mental state has on your spouse. If you are single, take stock of how your depression is limiting your ability to connect with friends and form meaningful relationships. If you have children, fight this battle for them. Show them that you are willing to tackle this issue for their sake, if for no other reason.
The people around you care for you and are fighting for you in the ways that they can, but there are certain things only you can do. While the people in your life are playing key support roles, this is ultimately your battle. There are essential things that only you can do. There is no other way. But it is worth it. You are worth it.
In the next post, I will offer some ways to help someone in your life who is struggling with depression.
This material is taken from my book Rethinking Depression (CreateSpace Independent Publishing, 2016).