Learning to Manage Depression

Dear Friends, 

It wasn't until after I had sought God on what to share this week, that I discovered it was also Mental Health Awareness Week.  I've suffered with depression for many years, but I'm learning ways to manage it better.  I say learning rather than learnt, as there are still times when I sink into the deep, dark pit and I can find my thoughts spiralling downwards.

The bible makes it clear that our mind is a battlefield.  Our thinking affects the way we feel and also determines our behaviour.  As Christians we seek to surrender ourselves to God. "If people’s ·thinking is controlled by [or outlook/mind is set on] the sinful self [sinful nature; flesh], ·there is [the result is] death. But if their thinking is controlled by [or outlook/mind is set on] the Spirit, there is [the result is] life and peace." Romans 8:6 (EXB)  The conflict is between our old way of thinking as opposed to our new way of thinking and believing the truth.  The conflict is between wanting to do what pleases God as opposed to pleasing our old nature.

I want to share with you some of the tools that help me to manage my depression.  If you suffer with your mental health then these may be helpful for you.  Or if you know someone else who is suffering please pass this on if you think it would help them.  Some of my suggestions are also helpful in winning the battlefield of the mind.

1. I need God - will power alone is not enough. I'm not strong enough to combat my mental illness, but God is more than able.  It is his Holy Spirit who gives me the power I need.  I need him on a daily, moment by moment basis. 

2. Talking Therapy - be honest with those you have a good relationship with. It's not helpful to open our hearts to anyone and everyone, but we can talk with those who we know really care.  I can choose to bottle up my problems and worries.  But when I do this, rather than dealing with them in a healthy way, they start to become stronger, bigger and more overwhelming.  My thoughts then become more and more negative.  However, I do believe that there is healing available when I choose to share and be honest. My friend may feel they've got nothing they can say to make a difference, but often they don't need to give any answers.  The help they give is by giving me their time, allowing me to talk and listening to me.

If you don't feel you have anyone in your life who can talk with, then talk to one of your church leaders who can help by listening or will be able to put you in contact with someone who can help.

If you are not in a church, then your GP will be able to refer you to a counsellor or some other medical professional.

3. Gratitude - I'll be honest with you, I've struggled with this.  My Mum suggested at the end of the day I find something to thank God for.  My natural response was I'm just too miserable, it's impossible, I don't feel like it.  What do I have to thank God for?  But the truth is I can express gratitude even when I don't feel particularly thankful.  There is always something I can say thank you to God for, for example, his love, his forgiveness, his presence etc.  I think this is what Paul meant when he said "in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you." 1 Thessalonians 5:18 (NKJV)  Notice we are to give thanks in everything, not for everything, there's a big difference between the two!

4. Continue your regular quiet time with God. There have been times when I've read the Bible but it just doesn't seem to mean anything to me. Times when I've persevered in reading it even when I haven't really wanted to. Times when I've felt like I'm just going through the motions.  But even in those times I still believe it's good to read the Bible and that's why I've made it a regular habit.  Our physical bodies need nourishment.  I may not be able to tell you what I had for dinner 7 days ago, but I know I did eat and that it was good for my body.  Likewise, I may not remember what I read 7 days ago, but I do know that it was good for my spiritual nourishment.  I know that it is feeding my soul and my mind even though I may not feel like it is at the time.  This is what David says about God's Word in Psalm 110:25-31 "25 My earthly life cleaves to the dust; revive and stimulate me according to Your word! 26 I have declared my ways and opened my griefs to You, and You listened to me; teach me Your statutes. 27 Make me understand the way of Your precepts; so shall I meditate on and talk of Your wondrous works. 28 My life dissolves and weeps itself away for heaviness; raise me up and strengthen me according to [the promises of] Your word. 29 Remove from me the way of falsehood and unfaithfulness [to You], and graciously impart Your law to me. 30 I have chosen the way of truth and faithfulness; Your ordinances have I set before me. 31 I cleave to Your testimonies; O Lord, put me not to shame!" (AMP)

5. Mediate on God's Word. When I'm depressed I find that my mind dwells on unhelpful thoughts and I can easily give in to the belief that there is no way out of this black hole I find myself in.  But I can choose to think on God and his truth instead. The bible tells us what to do with God's Word: "Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds;" Deuteronomy 11:18" (NIV) It may be by meditating on a familiar verse which has comforted me in the past.  It can be specific verses which replace the lie my mind has been dwelling on, with the truth.  It may be truths I know about God, but put in my own words, rather than memorised from the Bible word for word, such as God loves me, God is with me, I'm not alone or God is greater than my fears. I've replayed unhealthy thought patterns over and over in my mind until they have become what I believe is true, and if someone was to tell me differently I would not be able to change my thinking.  What I need is for my mind to be renewed by God. So the more I meditate on God's word, the more I choose to think these new thoughts, to think on God's truth, the stronger they will become and the more I will be able to believe them.  They can, with practice, become more powerful than the depression and anxiety which at times grips my mind. 

5. Listen to worship CDs - this helps me to focus on God rather than on my unhealthy thought patterns and they lift my spirit.  I listen to them whenever I can, for example, while driving my car, or dusting the living room.  Even if I'm low when I begin listening, I usually find myself singing along very soon.  When I can't sing, I can at least concentrate on the truth of the lyrics.  When I realise my mind  is begin to wander back into my old way of thinking, I can re-focus back on the music and the lyrics.  The Psalmist says in Psalm 42:5-6 "Why am I discouraged? Why is my heart so sad?  I will put my hope in God! I will praise him again— my Saviour and my God! Now I am deeply discouraged, but I will remember you". (NLT)

6. Be kind to yourself - make time to regularly do something you enjoy.  For me nothing beats a good novel.  I've also recently taken up crocheting, and this gives me a good sense of achievement when I accomplish a small project.  I know that won't appeal to everyone and may be very far from your idea of fun, but do find something that works for you.

7. Learn to say no - if something is just too overwhelming for you at the moment, or if someone is asking you to do more than you cope with, then say no.  (Trust me, I know how hard this is, but it is in everyone's interests if you can say no.)

8. Some of us also need medical help from our GP. When I first realised I was ill with depression, I was very good at hiding it from others.  I don't know why I couldn't be honest. Maybe I felt like a failure and that I should be strong enough to cope.  But, overtime I realised just how it was also affecting those closest to me.  I was not the only one suffering from my depression and it was not fair on them.  So, with the help of my husband, I made an appointment with my GP and was given antidepressants.  They help to stabilise my mood and kept me on an even keel most of the time.  They enable me to think more clearly so that I can do the things I've mentioned above.

So much of what I've shared today comes down to the choices you and I make.  I can choose to continue as I have been, in my old way of thinking, allowing my mind to dwell on unhealthy thought patterns or I can choose to change, to move forward with the help of the Holy Spirit, to let God renew my mind and replace how I thought in the past with new thinking, with healthy thought patterns.  Only I can make the decision for myself to keep trusting in God, to keep being honest with him and others, to keep reading his word and "fixing our (my) eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith." Hebrews 12:2 (NIV)

To Think About:
Are you aware of the battle that goes on in your mind?

Which of the above suggestions would help you develop healthy thought patterns? 

How will you put these into practice?



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