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Posts tagged ‘avoiding isolation’

Depression: How to Fight for Faith in the Dark

SOURCE:  Stephen Altrogge/Desiring God

Three Lessons for Depression

I’ve often said that depression is like wearing tinted glasses. Everywhere you look, things look dark. Bleak. Black. Hopeless. Helpless. The waiting room for depression says, “Abandon hope, all ye who enter here.”

Depression is both a physical and spiritual affliction. Neurons and synapses fail to fire properly, leading to chemical imbalances in the brain. These imbalances cause the depressed person to feel awful, like their entire world is a raw catastrophe hovering over the depths of despair. When everything is a catastrophe, it’s easy for faith to falter and stumble.

“Depression causes a person to feel only gloom and despair, no matter what they’re thinking.”

Normally, the prescription for faith is somewhat straightforward. We read the promises of God, let them diffuse throughout our hearts, and then embrace them fully. As we embrace these promises, our faith rises. When we have more faith, there is often a physical feeling of encouragement and hope.

But with clinical depression (and most other forms of mental illness), things don’t work quite that way. Depression usually causes a person to feel only gloom and despair, no matter what they’re thinking. Filling your mind with God’s promises is necessary, but it doesn’t usually alter the way you feel. It’s like having a migraine. Believing God’s word is essential, but it won’t take away the migraine (usually).

From Gloom Toward Gladness

When all you feel is gloom, it becomes very hard to have hope, no matter what you read in Scripture. As someone who labored under a lot of depression and anxiety throughout my life, I know that it usually doesn’t help a depressed person to say, “Just believe God’s word more!”

So if you’re depressed, how can you fight for faith? How can you believe while also stumbling through the dark? Here are some things that have helped me.

1. Distinguish between fact and feeling.

The most important thing I’ve learned is that 90% of the time in the midst of my depression, my feelings have zero connection to reality. This is key when you’re in the morass of mental illness.

I feel bad because something is seriously wrong with my body. Because my brain is rebelling — not because everything is really going to pieces. Reality is outside of my broken brain. It is defined by God’s word. It’s solid. Objective. Unchangeable. If I try to process my life or circumstances through the dark lens of depression, I will be terrified.

“Depression turns our brain into a swirling mass of half-truths and distorted perceptions.”

If you’re depressed, it can be dangerous to evaluate anything in your life. Don’t scrutinize your circumstances or friendships or prospects for marriage. I can assure you that you will misinterpret reality.

Instead, simply say, “I’m leaving that to God for now. I’ll think about it later and trust him to handle it.” God is good. He is faithful. He loves you even though you don’t feel it. He can handle your life even when you can’t.

Remember, faith is not a feeling. Faith is simply believing that God will do what he said, even when it doesn’t feel like it. I can guarantee that when you’re depressed, it won’t feel like God is faithful. But that feeling simply is not true. Don’t believe it.

John Calvin, a pastor acutely sensitive to the imperfect feeling of our faith, says that true faith “clings so fast to the inmost parts that, however it seems to be shaken or to bend this way or that, its light is never so extinguished or snuffed out that it does not at least lurk as it were beneath the ashes” (Institutes). Like David prays in Psalm 139:11–12our faith may often slip away from our sight, but it does not slip away from God who gave it in the first place.

Separate your feelings from the truth.

2. Find a friend to remind you of the truth.

Depression gets you stuck inside your head. Your brain becomes a swirling mass of half-truths and distorted perceptions. Up seems down; truth seems stranger than fiction. It’s impossible to think straight. It’s like looking upside down in a hall of darkened mirrors.

During these times, I need someone to tell me the truth. Not in a corrective way or as an exhortation, but simply as an anchor. I need someone to say, “Listen, here’s what’s true. I know it doesn’t feel true, but it’s true. Right now, you feel like you are doomed. But God is with you. He loves you and won’t let you go.”

“Just twenty minutes in the sun can do wonders for the darkened brain and the sunken soul.”

If you’re depressed, one of your greatest temptations is to shut people out. And I get that. It’s really hard to let people into the cage of your life. But you need someone to gently remind you of what’s real; a faithful friend to walk through the valley of depression with you.

When your friend speaks the truth to you, it gives you something to grab onto. In the moments of darkness, don’t believe what your mind is telling you. Believe the words of your faithful friend.

3. Give sunshine to the soul.

There is an intimate connection between the body and soul. The body often charts the way forward and the soul follows in the wake. When your body is deeply sick, it pulls your soul downward, like a weight tied around the ankle.

I’ve found that one of the most effective methods for increasing my faith begins with my body. When I exercise or go for a walk or sit in the sunshine, my body feels better. Blood and oxygen pump through my body, refreshing and nurturing it. When I feel better, I think more clearly and see things more accurately.

When I think more clearly, I can more easily process and embrace God’s promises.

When I embrace God’s promises, my faith surges.

Charles Spurgeon, who often fought depression, said,

A day’s breathing of fresh air upon the hills, or a few hours’ ramble in the beech woods’ umbrageous calm, would sweep the cobwebs out of the brain of scores of our toiling ministers who are now but half alive. A mouthful of sea air, or a stiff walk in the wind’s face, would not give grace to the soul, but it would yield oxygen to the body, which is the next best.

“God loves you even though you don’t feel it. He can handle your life even when you can’t.”

If you’re depressed, embrace the sunshine. Go for a walk or a jog. Sit on your porch and feel the warmth on your face. Drink your coffee and watch the sun rise.

You won’t feel like it. You’ll want to hole up in the darkness of your room or stay in bed. But just twenty minutes in the sun can do wonders for the darkened brain and the sunken soul.

A Grip Stronger Than Your Own

Ultimately, your hope in depression hinges on Jesus. He’s holding onto you even when it feels like you’re free falling. You may be in the dark, but your Shepherd is walking right beside you. He knows what it’s like to be overwhelmed by grief and swallowed by bleakness.

Your grip on life may falter, but his grip on you won’t.

Q&A: My Friend Is Depressed. What Should I Do?

SOURCE:  Taken from an article by EDDIE KAUFHOLZ/Relevant Magazine

How To Help When You Just Don’t Know What To Say?

I have a friend who has been struggling with depression for a long time and I think she’s considering suicide. I’m really worried about her, but I don’t know what to say. What’s the best way to help her?

– Courtney

Courtney, thank you for reaching out and asking this incredibly important and brave question. You are a good person with a good heart, and I’m glad your friend has you.

Here’s what I’m going to do. Usually, the form of these Ask RELEVANT articles take us from theoretical to practical. Today though, I’m skipping most of the theoretical and just giving you three steps to do right now:

1. Treat Every Mention as Real.

When we first hear someone say they’re thinking of taking their own life, it can be really difficult to accept. There are a number of reasons why:

Sometimes, they say it in such a casual way that it doesn’t register as an actual threat to their life, but more like a little throw away phrase. We all say these kinds of things, don’t we? “I could kill the guy who’s setting off fireworks in August!”

See what I’m saying? Even if I’m justified because the 4th of July was well over a month ago and my kids are now crying at 3 a.m. because of that punk, I’m not going to really kill anyone. I’m just talking.

We need to do all we can to remove the mental barriers that make us treat a cry for help as something other than a real and credible danger.

We sometimes hear, as clear as day, someone say something like, “This world would just be better off without me,” and we chalk up the statement to our friend being sad and maybe a little dramatic—they’re just talking, right? Who knows. That’s why you treat it as real, instead of guessing incorrectly.

However, there’s another reason we don’t believe the mention of suicide is real. It’s because, well, we don’t believe it’s actually real. We think there’s no possible way they would actually do that. Maybe we think the idea of suicide is unthinkable and unimaginable. Or maybe you’ve heard a friend say a hundred times that they’re going to take their life. But this time, you believe it’s time to wisen up and not be duped a one-hundred-and-first time.

Nope. It’s real, just like it was time 1 through 100.

Whatever our reasons for not fully comprehending the weight of a suicidal threat, we need to do all we can to remove the mental barriers that make us treat a cry for help as something other than a real and credible danger.

So Courtney, just to be really clear, your friend’s cry for help is real, and it’s time to act. Which leads us to the next step …

2. Ring the Bell.

Courtney, you need to find someone to tell about your friend’s admission to you. Now, I know, because you’re a good friend, that it may seem like you’re betraying some sort of trust because your friend may ask you to keep this between the two of you. But seriously, you can’t. Here’s why:

First, neither you nor I have all the skills necessary to really help. In fact, no one person does. Even an amazing counselor, when confronted with a client who’s threatening self-harm, talks to another counselor for wisdom.

You see, really caring for someone who’s suicidal is more than just being a listening ear. It’s a holistic conversation about medical issues, psychological issues, life issues, etc. etc. It’s bigger than you, or me, or your friend. But it’s usually not beyond the scope of a good support team.

So what I would do is be as empathetic and loving to your friend as possible, and then engage in a conversation about who else could be told about this. Maybe your friend will have an adverse reaction and try to stop you. If that’s the case, you have to just go to a parent, counselor, pastor or really anyone you trust and let them know everything you know. Your friend’s desire for your actions can’t outweigh your desire for their well-being.

However, more often than not, the person will appreciate that you’re taking the threat seriously, caring for them genuinely and letting other people join the team. If this ends up being the case, talk together about who could be told and then figure out the best way to tell them.

Courtney, isolation is the enemy here. Your friend knew that, and she was smart enough to bring you in to help and not try to fight this thing alone. And now you need to do the same. You can’t be alone in knowing this information—it’s time to ring the bell.

Really caring for someone who’s suicidal is more than just being a listening ear. It’s a holistic conversation about medical issues, psychological issues, life issues, etc. etc.

One more thing: A lot of people get hung up on the, “I have to tell someone” part and they can’t figure out a person who is trustworthy and safe. If that’s the case, or even if you just can’t come up with a name in the intensity of the moment, please call this number, they’ll walk you through what’s next:

3. Be Supportive.

All right Courtney, this is the last thing. Thoughts of self-harm stem from a very real and difficult space. And anyone who has ever been suicidal and found their way out of the dark woods knows that it wasn’t because they purely willed themselves to get better. It’s because a lot of people helped.

Courtney, think of yourself as one of the three legs of a stool: One leg represents professional/medical help, one leg represents a belief system (often, a belief in God), and one leg is community support (you).

For your friend to get better and find balance, all three legs must be intact. This is where your role becomes vital. Because while doctors and counselors are diagnosing and testing, you’re going to be there telling your friend you love and value them. And while your friend tries to figure out that their life is worth something, you’re going to be the constant voice telling them they matter to you. Courtney, you’re not the only leg of the stool, but you’re a vital part of the team. What you contribute can’t be undervalued.

In closing, I’ll share this: I still mourn the loss of one of my best friends to suicide, and would give anything to tell him one more time that he matters and what he does with his life matters. And while I still feel unspeakable sadness about his death, I know it’s not in anyone’s power to save anyone else. All we can do is take the threat seriously, gather a support system and love them through the pain.

I, and many others, will be praying for you, Courtney. You’re a good friend.

——————————————————————————————————————————————————

1-800-273-TALK(8255)
www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org
Read more at http://www.relevantmagazine.com/life/my-friend-depressed-what-should-i-do#BsYpozlYcxHYgUxZ.99

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