I remember thinking, after struggling with severe panic attacks for over a year, that I would never be on stage again. I’ve always felt called to ministry, but I assumed this was God’s way of telling me that my role would not include public speaking. Generally, I see myself as more of a behind-the-scenes guy, so I became okay with that understanding.
While I know now that this isn’t the case, I let this lie dictate my actions for longer than I care to admit. Like Paul, I had a thorn in my flesh, but unlike Paul, I let it control me and render me ineffective in a number of ways. With help, my panic attacks have become few and far between, but my struggle with anxiety and depression continues. Through it, I have learned a few practical measures that I hope you find helpful.
Don’t Believe the Lies
Something my wife and I talk about often is the fact that feelings can lie. Similar to the way a lifelike dream can bleed into reality for your first few waking minutes, our feelings can breed a false reality in our minds that is not grounded in truth. Maybe you feel like God has left you. Maybe you feel like you are not loved. Those are lies. It feels right, but it is not.
Depression whispers lies into your ear, and we believe its seductive voice. Whatever it tells you, don’t just accept it. Ask if it’s true. In the wilderness, the devil tempted Jesus with half-truths in an effort to trip him up. But Jesus, unaffected, quoted truth in return as a way of combatting the distortions that Satan wanted him to believe. Treat depression in this way.
A friend of mine, who I consider a wonderful counselor, always asks the best questions. For the longest time, I wasn’t sure what her secret was, but I have since realized that she is always digging for truth. She helps me discover the lies I have bought into by pointing to the facts. Now, I use this same method to fight back when I feel a season of depression begin to creep in.
Learn About Yourself
In order to fight depression, however, you have to see it. You need to be able to recognize what it looks like when you are becoming depressed. Common feelings experienced by people struggling with depression are not wanting to get out of bed or a sudden loss of hope. For me, I even find myself listening to sad music or eating poorly. Slowly but surely, everything begins to feel pointless.
The natural reaction to these feelings is to give up and give in. The depression then escalates as we push into it. But don’t allow yourself to do that. As you start to recognize the signs, pull back. You can, at times, use the physical to combat those spiritual and mental emotions. Read, pray, or sing to God. Find tactics that help keep you from collapsing under the weight.
This seems like “fake it until you make it,” but that’s not it. It’s choosing truth over falsehood, even though your heart is pulled in the other direction. It is continuing to be obedient to Christ instead of giving into your fallen way of thinking.
Tell Someone Else
One of the best ways to keep depression from seeping in is to get out of your own head. Find a trusted family member or friend and tell them. I have talked with a number of depressed men in particular who hadn’t even told their wives what they were going through. Whether it was a desire not to bother them or a false understanding of what it means to be “strong,” they chose not to reveal their depression to their closest confidant. This is sure to only increase its effects. Don’t try to tough it out on your own.
I must add that you can’t expect someone else to have the perfect answer or fix. But, at least they will know, and that will help. You can tell them what you are feeling, and occasionally be able to hear how silly it sounds when you actually say it out loud. Always tell someone when depression is close—every time.
The Purpose of Depression
Of course, I am no expert. Everyone is different, and depression comes in many different forms. This is simply what has worked for me. These steps have specifically helped me avoid or shorten seasons of depression that could have otherwise been debilitating. This is what they are intended to do. They will not cure you. If you need more help, talk to your doctor or a professional counselor. Medication and therapy can help. There is no shame in these things.
Like me, God did not give you this thorn to cripple you. It is there so you can realize that you cannot do this on your own. Instead, you can learn to trust God in your depression and fight against those false feelings through truth, community, and grace.