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Navigating Depression

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“I don’t know what to do anymore. I feel like an empty shell of a person. I go to class, say hi to my friends, and come back to my room and cry. What happened to me? I’m so scared the rest of my life is going to be like this.”

That’s what my journal looks like from November 2005. I’d been struggling through a difficult situation for several months. I well remember that night, the one where I couldn’t remember the last time I’d actually felt like myself. The last time I’d smiled without suddenly remembering all the reasons I wasn’t supposed to be happy. The last time I felt like I cared about…well, anything.

The suffocating darkness of depression can find us almost anywhere, even those of us who love and follow Jesus with our whole hearts. We didn’t get to opt out of the hard stuff of this world when we decided to follow Him, and mental illness and its comrades come for us just like they come for our friends who don’t know Jesus yet.

The difference for us is that we don’t battle depression (or anything else!) alone. Jesus does fight our battles with us, even when we have incredibly difficult seasons like the one I wrote about in my journal.

But, even so, we still need to take practical steps to move back toward freedom and wholeness. Having walked through severe (and long) seasons of depression, I’d love to share with you a few of the things I did that seemed to help.

I changed my environment. Sometimes life feels extra difficult when we’re simply stuck in a rut. Add depression to that, and it’s a real beast! Changing up our routine may feel hard when we’re depressed, but it’s worth the extra effort to take a few minutes to walk through a park, read a chapter on your lunch hour, or visit a new coffee shop.

I was so desperate to kick myself out of my funk that I actually transferred schools and moved across the country. It worked well for me because I needed space between me and dangerous people, but not all change needs to be that drastic. Little changes make a difference too.

I got real with trusted people. One of the hardest parts of walking through depression for me was constantly feeling like I was alone. Of course I had people around me, but depression distorts our thinking and tricks us into thinking they don’t care about us. When we push back against that mindset and start sharing our burdens with other people we can trust, people like parents, therapists, doctors, or wise friends, we begin to remember we do have people standing beside us. It’s easier to fight when we have trusted friends nearby.

If you can’t find a trusted person in your community, call a help line or a nearby counseling center or church. Try to connect with two or three different resources, even if it takes a few tries to find a good fit.

I started calling out the lies. Depression is a liar. It makes us feel like we’ve lost ourselves and our purpose, but that’s simply not possible. While it’s easy to forget the truth when we feel like we’re surrounded by such darkness, it’s worth the effort to seek it out anyway. Put truth in front of yourself however you can do it. Are you artistic? Paint or hand-letter a comforting Bible verse. Spend a lot of time at your desk? Cover the surface in Post-its with more Bible verses or uplifting phrases. Enjoy music? Make a playlist of songs that bring peace to your heart. Do whatever it takes to surround yourself with truth.

I didn’t give up. There were days when I could have, for sure. But I didn’t and I can’t put into words how grateful I am now that I’m on the other side of that season. Back then it was hard to imagine feeling whole, finding connection with others, and experiencing happiness again. And I guess that’s part of why everything was so dark for me…I was putting a lot of stock in the way I felt in those moments instead of trusting that God could bring beauty even from my personal ashes.

I still experience really hard seasons, for sure. Beating depression a couple of times doesn’t guarantee that it won’t ever come back. For some people, it’s a lifelong battle. But that’s okay. Because even in the middle of the hard stuff and the depression and the dark times, there is still a lot of life to live.

You are loved. You are cherished. You are here for a reason.

I hope and pray that if you’re walking through a season of depression right now you’ll hold onto those truths even if you can’t hold onto much else.

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