A Hard Truth about Scripture and Depression

In my previous post, I included some practical things that were said to and done for me in the midst of a depressive episode that helped me. Here’s more: A friend let me come over and take a nap on her couch so I wouldn’t be alone. Another called me daily to check in. One took me shopping at Walgreens for Christmas stocking stuffers. One gave me a ride to work when I was unable to drive because of medication. Another brought dinner for the family. Good friends even saw me when I was in the psych unit – not an easy place to visit. One sent – and continues to send – encouraging cards and notes.

These folks were Jesus to me – “Jesus with skin on.” And that was the point of the post – practical things you can say to or do for someone in the midst of depression that they might find comforting or helpful.

You’ll notice, if you’ve read many of my posts, that I didn’t include helpful Scripture. Part of that, to be honest, is that quoting the Bible to a person who is in the depths of depression is not necessarily helpful. At least, it wasn’t for me. This is a hard truth – just throwing God’s Word at me wasn’t helpful when it was spoken without “stepping into” my suffering.

Now don’t get me wrong. Many friends shared God’s Word with me, and I found the verses encouraging and comforting – to be reminded that God is always with me, that He desires hope for my life, that He hears every cry from heaven – every prayer – called out to Him. But I only felt this way because these friends first made an effort to understand my suffering.

For me, reading God’s Word in the midst of a depressive episode, at the depths of despair, wasn’t practical. For one thing, I couldn’t read, couldn’t actually focus my eyes to make out the words on the page. For another, I felt so guilty about my depression and the accompanying negative thoughts, that often Scripture felt condemning, not comforting. The comfort came in being reminded that Jesus was with me, not in particular verses from the Bible.

Some verses left me feeling completely inadequate, and unable to call on Jesus for His saving strength. I had to be reminded to do these things – hearing Bible verses didn’t inspire me to do so. And others doing this for me – standing in the gap, so to speak – was invaluable. I couldn’t do it, so others did it for me.  They prayed for me when I couldn’t even form the words to a prayer.

In my better moments, I was able to write God’s Word into my journal, to write out prayers to God for strength and healing. My journal is full of these. I also used a little book, God’s Promises for Every Day, by W Publishing Group. It’s full of verses for particular struggles – verses to read when suffering from depression or anxiety, or when wondering where God is. It’s got verses about peace, God’s love, doubt, eternal life, God’s faithfulness, confusion, Jesus as your friend or Savior or Lord. And the Holy Spirit brought memorized verses to my mind to help me. since reading the Bible was so difficult to do.

I guess what I’m saying is that simply quoting Scripture to a person struggling with depression is not necessarily helpful. Telling me to practice Philippians 4:6-7 doesn’t just make the anxiety go away – I was already trying to live those verses, but wasn’t feeling peaceful. Quoting I Peter 5:7 doesn’t necessarily relieve the burden – it’s hard to cast anxiety on Jesus when I’m drowning in depression and its companion, anxiety. It’s hard to cast anything. That required energy I didn’t have.

Please don’t misunderstand. God’s Word never returns empty – it will accomplish what God intends (Isaiah 55:11). But shared outside of the context of the suffering I was experiencing felt cruel. It left me feeling less than, unlovable, abandoned, misunderstood.

It was better to be told the verses that folks were praying for me. It was more helpful to be gently reminded of the truths of Scripture than having them shoved at me.

So please, in reaching out to a friend in depression, don’t simply quote a Bible verse and expect that to help. You need to show them that verse, living out Jesus’ love to them. Don’t hurt them with God’s Word – apply it as a salve in the context of their suffering.

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Things you can say…

I made this list when I was depressed and needed my husband to help me see the way out of the darkness. These are things that I suggested that he could say, preferably as he hugged me.

It turned out that it didn’t matter that I told him what to say… it always made me feel a little better.

If you know someone struggling with depression, try saying one of these things.

  • You’re not alone.
  • You’ll get through this.
  • I’m here for you.
  • Is there anything I can do?
  • Do you want to talk? I’m here just to listen.
  • Come sit with me.
  • You’re doing fine.
  • You are okay.
  • This will eventually end.
  • We’ll get through this together.
  • I’m calling tomorrow to check on you. (Then do it!)

(just show up and say) I’m here to ____________________:

  • do your laundry.
  • make you lunch (bring the stuff for it).
  • sit with you.
  • play with your pets.
  • take your dog for a walk.

Let me just ____________________:

  • sit with you.
  • hug you.
  • hold you.

Sometimes when someone close to you is hurting deeply with depression, you might not know what to say or do. Ignoring it, or pretending everything is okay, is almost impossible for the one suffering. These are just suggestions of things that worked for me, in my life, when others said or did them.

If you’re the one suffering, I urge you to tell someone close to you what you need them to say. It’s okay to have to tell them – they can’t read your mind, and might feel awkward, like they’re afraid to say or do the wrong thing. So tell them what you need from them. You’ll both feel better for it.

Relationships and community

I met with my new therapist this past Tuesday. Nothing new, really, except that she and I are new together. I talked about loneliness, and told her the steps I’m taking to reach out to others to ease the alone-ness. She didn’t offer much, other than that I was doing the right things. She did remind me that I can quit the things that aren’t working.

So I’m giving myself permission to take the pressure off of Bible study. I’ll keep going, for the discipline of study, and sharing with other women. But I’ll not expect to make great friends there – that hasn’t worked so far, so I’ll lower my expectations. I won’t feel guilty about missing a week and going out with a new friend to visit and share lunch. I’ll keep it all in balance.

I have plans with another friend for breakfast together. I’ll go to work and meet with my individual students. I’ll enjoy my free time with my husband on the weekends and we’ll adventure out in our Mini-convertible.  We’ll occasionally meet his coworkers and spouses after work, for a drink or dinner/campfire. I’ll keep trying.

I had an epiphany while writing this post. I’m not just longing for relationships. I’m hungry for community.

When I had school-aged children, it was easier to have groups of friends, based on different activities our kids enjoyed. And I had my friends at work – we were a close bunch! But as an empty-nester, I’m needing to find new ways to meet people. I long to belong to a community.

I’d really like to get to know people at church, and the best way to do that is to join a small discipleship/fellowship group. But my job goes into evening hours, so that makes those meetings impossible. Maybe my work schedule will be different after the holidays, and I can try it then.

It’s taking so much longer this time.  Usually, by the time a year has passed, I can start to see roots growing, start to feel at home. For whatever reason, I’m finding it harder to do here. Harder to break into relationships. To feel settled and part of a community.

I hunger for that bigger connection. For deeper friendships. For people I can share my day-to-day with. Right now, I can thank God for the one person with whom that relationship is growing. We share about our kids, our churches. We talk about work. Our friendship is slowly growing deeper. So thank You, Lord, for her.

Maybe once my evening schedule is freed up, I can join a book club or knitting group. Or a connection group through church.

It’s just going to take more time. Lord, I need more patience!

Getting better 

I’ve been on my increased dosage of new meds for one week, but I think I’m seeing a difference. I think they’re working! I went from tears to apathy to caring a little bit. I’d say that’s improvement.

The doctors will say that a person won’t see any progress with meds for 4-6 weeks, but I know I often respond more quickly. I think I’ve seen improvement in just 7 days. My husband thinks so too.

I’ve had a busy week with work and the start of Bible study, and I managed it all well. I “put myself out there” at Bible study, initiating some conversations and welcoming others. I went to a friend’s Open House. I had another friend over for breakfast and socializing. I struck up a conversation with a stranger. I’m reaching out, and that’s a definite improvement over the isolation that depression brings.

I don’t see my new therapist for another week and a half, but I scheduled a distance-therapy session with my old therapist for Monday. I’m really looking forward to that. And there’s another improvement – looking forward to something.

When I’m in the midst of depression, it feels like it “will always be this way.” And that’s a very familiar feeling, like a comfortable sweater which I can wrap around me and cozy into. There’s no real desire to get better, because the illness feels familiar, and it’s easy. Getting better requires an effort. And effort takes energy, which I don’t have when I’m depressed. It takes energy to get out of bed, to shower, to care about the day. It takes lots of energy to engage in conversation, to be interested in what another person is sharing. It’s easier to isolate, to stay home in silence. To listen to sad music or nothing at all. To sleep and hide away from the day and its demands. To refuse invitations, to be alone. Those are all features of depression in my life.

But it’s worth the effort. It’s good to reach out, toward wellness. I’m a more complete person when I’m mentally healthy. I’m more interesting, and certainly more interested in others. I care about them, which is my real nature. Depression steals the real me away, and makes it seem like it’s ok. But it’s better to be the real me, to be invested in others, to pray for them and care about them and want to be with them.

I’m thanking God for these small improvements, knowing they will lead to bigger ones. Thanking God for medications. For my psych doctor who cares and keeps track of me. For friends who reach out to me even when I’m less than myself. For my husband who stands with me through mental illness and health. To Jesus, for understanding and loving me anyway.

Syllable Poem

Awake, 2 a.m.

Toss, then pray; move cat

Toss, then turn; pray more

Look at the clock – 3

Move cat; pray again

Get up; put sweats on

Read; eat cereal

Lay down; move the cat

Sit up; check the clock

4:50 a.m.

Write it on the blog. 

Pet the cat; lights out.