Since mentioning depression in my post yesterday about exercise, I’ve had a number of people ask me for help in dealing with depression in their own lives. I need to say, first off, that what has worked for me might not work for others, so what I’m offering here are ideas and some of the things that have worked for me, for you to try out. Also, I have not suffered from clinical depression; mine has been more situational, so there may be a difference in that regard from your personal situation as well.
I know that depression is an extremely painful experience. It also affects every aspect of our life: Our walk with God, our walk with others, our physical health, our finances, our jobs, to name a few … and definitely our emotional well-being. There is a billboard near my home that points out that depression can be fatal. It really is something that needs to be taken care of.
I’ve found, in my 52 years, that dealing with most things happens best for me in what I call “layers.” I have rarely found solutions in one action or one treatment of any problem. Depression is no different. For me, that has meant building a number of things into my life to help prevent depression or to fight it. Think of it like being cold. Putting on thermal underwear is not going to get you completely warm, but it’s one of the layers you need. You will also need warm clothes, a bunch of blankets, and maybe a warm body next to you.
I’ll try to talk about the different layers that have helped me with depression over the weeks and months ahead. As I’ve mentioned before, since I have a very full life, I won’t commit to writing on a regular basis — it will come as I have time. But I also have a prayerful life, and I have to trust that God will move me to share the things that you need to hear at just the right times.
If you are dealing with depression and you have thoughts of harming yourself or others, it’s important that you speak to a professional. I’m not a professional — I’m just someone who is walking the same walk you are, sharing what has worked for me. And again, these things, especially what I’m sharing today, will apply more to situational depression than to clinical depression.
I guess the first and yet most difficult thing I have learned to look at in dealing with depression (and again, I’m talking about situational depression — depression that’s caused by something happening outside myself, to me) is to figure out if there is something I need to (or am able to) change about the situation. This is a little tricky to share. I don’t believe in airing other people’s dirty laundry publicly, so I’m not going to be able to give any specific examples, but try to see if this can apply to you.
In order to do this, when I realize I’m depressed, I ask myself some questions.
- Is there a common theme running through my life, a common thread in my various bouts of depression? (For me, it has been that I’m being bullied. Some other possibilities you may face might be abuse, financial problems, career problems, family disagreements, spiritual doubt, isolation, etc. What are some other possibilities you can think of?)
- Am I causing this in some way? Am I, even to a tiny extent, responsible for this? It’s not the victim’s fault when they’re abused or bullied, BUT what about me makes me a common target? (You could ask yourself the same question about whatever the common thread seems to be for you: Why do my relationships never work out? Why am I always in financial trouble? Etc.) I can tell you this: If you can’t answer yes to this question, you’ll feel hopeless and helpless, which is one of the keystones of depression. So try hard to find a “yes” answer to this. Finding MY responsibility in the situation, even if I can only find a tiny bit of responsibility, helps immensely because it EMPOWERS me. If you hold no responsibility whatsoever in a situation, then there is nothing you can do about it. When you find some way in which you affect it, you suddenly have a lot of power: The power to change the situation.
So, for example, in my situation of finding myself bullied throughout my life, I had to come to the realization that there was something about me that attracts or enables bullies. There was/is something about my personality that allows bullies to target me. This was not an easy question to answer. It actually took me many attempts over many years to come to grips with it, but the bottom line for me was my religious upbringing, which had taught me that women are less than men, that women can’t really have much say in their own lives, that women (especially wives/mothers) should always completely sacrifice their own well-being for everyone else’s. (Interestingly, this is NOT the way my parents operate or brought me up. It was rather, an extreme view of the church, and later, the Christian homeschool culture that I involved myself in. This is also NOT to say that Christianity or homeschooling is bad. I continue to be both a very strong Christian and a homeschooler. But the particular subcultures of those subcultures that I was involved in contributed a great deal to my views of myself as a women, a wife, and a mother.)
In my own case, I had to ask myself if this philosophy was truly what God, through the Bible, teaches. Again, this was a process that happened over many, many years. Because I believe very strongly in the authority of the Bible, I could not just use human reasoning and say that I didn’t like what the Bible teaches. But I did come to realize that what PEOPLE have said that the Bible teaches is not particularly right. That journey began, I think, with my college chaplain challenging my thinking in these areas, and included people like my father arguing against a ridiculous practice in our church, pastors trying to encourage me to use my gifts (which I thought were not okay for women to use), counselors and friends challenging my mindset. The only thing I can say is, DO NOT expect this process to be quick or easy, but DO engage yourself in it. You do not need to finish the process in today’s blog to be able to apply the other layers I’ll talk about in the future, but getting started on this will help you in many, many ways. Just being in this process will help fight depression because you’re taking control!
You do not have to finish answering the above question in order to answer the next question, but the above question will help keep you from “jumping out of the frying pan into the fire.” Understanding why you keep having repeat performances and changing your philosophy of life accordingly goes a long way toward preventing future depression.
This leads to the next question I’ve learned to ask myself:
- What can I do to change the situation so that I’m no longer being bullied? (If your theme is financial problems, what can I do differently with my finances? Etc. Expect unexpected answers. For example, many people with financial troubles have found the answer in being generous. If your theme is relationship difficulties, look at things that you do in every relationship and examine whether you could experiment with changing one of those variables.) This follows the saying, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.” It may seem like a no-brainer, but seriously, if you’re seeing yourself 100% as a victim, you can’t ask yourself this question. You have to first be able to see that you are in some way contributing to the problem, because only then will you have the power to make any kind of change.
In my own situation, I had to ask this question and take action a number of times before I was able to fully answer the previous question. In some cases, it meant simply talking to the person and pointing out what they are doing, and/or setting healthy boundaries. However, I’ve learned over many years that this doesn’t generally work with bullies. They LIKE what they do. It WORKS for them. So I pretty much have to extricate myself from the situation.
- I have also learned to ask myself if the situation I’m in is actually SERVING me in some way. This can mean that it’s serving me in an unhealthy way — for example, avoiding making my own decisions. If it’s serving me in an unhealthy way, I have to take action to stop being unhealthy. BUT it can actually be serving me in a healthy way — for example, I choose to live without a lot of things that people consider necessities because I believe very strongly in homeschooling my children. I know this is a sacrifice that’s for a limited time, but will have lifelong benefits for them, so it’s very, very much worth it. Again, this empowers me, because I understand that I’m CHOOSING to live the way I live for a reason. There’s a saying in the Bible that talks about this:
“And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” (Hebrews 12, NIV)
What this means is that Jesus went through what He suffered because He saw how it would benefit us — and that made Him happy to make the sacrifice He was making. The author of Hebrews says that we should fix our eyes on Him and think of Him as an example of how we should look at things, so that we can keep on and not be discouraged. Sometimes, when we ask ourselves whether our situation is serving us in some way, we discover that we actually WANT to stay in the situation, because staying in it will produce the long-term outcome that we want. It helps us not become discouraged, because we know that we’re sacrificing for something we think is important. If this is the case, it can actually fight depression just as well as getting out of the situation. However, you may need to set up some way to remind yourself about this. I’ve found that telling key friends and also setting an alarm on my phone calendar to remind me helps a great deal.
- If, in asking myself these questions, I find that I need to change my situation in some way, my next step is to ask myself: What do I need to do to change that situation? And what are the steps I need to take to do that? This takes planning. It may mean staying in that situation for a while longer so that you can leave in a way that won’t amount to more or worse trouble. (However, you’re CHOOSING to stay and you are in the process of TAKING ACTION, so you’ll probably start to feel less hopeless and helpless and you’ll find that the depression is starting to become less and less.) The important thing is to not do something drastic on the spur of the moment, but to really think (and pray, if you’re a praying person) about the steps you need to take. It’s also very helpful to have someone else help you think (and pray) through these steps.
I know I’ve actually started with the most difficult layer of dealing with depression, but for those of you who’ve asked, my heart aches for you so much, and since this is the longest step of the journey, I wanted to put this out there and ask you to consider starting on this part. Most of the layers I’ll talk about in the future will be much easier to accomplish and can be accomplished even as you begin to answer these questions.
I also know that there are times when depression is so overwhelming that even trying to think about a layer like this is more than you can handle. If that’s the case, set this layer aside for the time being and come back to it later. Some of the layers I’ll talk about later will be easier for you to step into.
Again, the things I’m sharing are things that have worked for me. I really don’t know if they’ll be any help to you. Please feel free to share your journey with me, through private messages and in comments below.