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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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.

Homesick

I’m homesick today, and I don’t even know for which home. I’m grieving double.

We lived in FL for 14 months, so I was just finally getting settled in. I knew my way around town, had a church to call home, the start of some very nice friendships, a routine that I enjoyed most days. Liked Bible Study, loved my Moms In Prayer friends, had great neighbors. Loved my house.

Now I’m starting all over and I’m lonely. I’m grieving the loss of friends. Ok, they’re not lost, they’re just not here. And in many ways, I’m grieving the move to FL again, as I grieve this move to VA. That caught me by surprise this morning. Grief can bring back old grief.

I find myself thinking of my older home, my WI home, the place I moved from when we went to FL. I’m missing my old streets and house and friends and neighbors and co-workers and church. It’s as if I just moved from there, as I’m homesick for them all over again. Even though I went through grief when we moved to FL, it’s as fresh today as it was the first time.

Granted, I’ve only been in VA for fifty-one days. Hardly enough time to settle into a routine, let alone have any friends. But I find myself asking God, “Didn’t I just do this?” I am reminding myself that I told God I’d go where He wanted me to go. I have to remind myself, or I’ll get lost in the pity-party. I think He wanted us to come here, for my husband’s job opportunity and for new adventures together as a couple. I know we prayed about it and sensed God’s leading.

But I’m so lonely. God truly is all I have all day long. I’m trying to practice that, live in that, be content in that. God is all I have.

He is supposed to be all I need. We sing those words. We read those words. Do I mean those words? Do I live them? Is He really enough, or do I only mean it when everything else is in order, in my order?

I know that time will help. I will begin to learn my way around this new place in VA, and I pray that it will start to feel comfortable soon. It will be at least a year before I can call it home – I know from all my earlier moves that’s how long it takes. But it’s really hard in the meantime. And the days are quiet and very long.

So I’m learning, at a deeper level, to listen to God in the stillness. To hear Him assure me that He is enough. He is all I need. He will supply all my needs. He understands my tears. He will draw near when I feel broken-hearted. He is the lover of my soul. I will tell myself these truth-promises until my eyes dry and I can rest quietly in His arms.

Mystery walk

What’s at the end of this sidewalk? Is it different in the dark?

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I can’t see beyond where the immediate light shines. Future is a mystery.

So I depend on faith for my future, affirmed by what I’ve experienced in the past.

I trust Jesus, the Light of the World. He’s been with me every step of my life, lighting the way as I needed to see, and guiding me when I was walking through the dark times where I couldn’t see, when He called me to simply follow Him. He has led me, is now leading me, and He will continue to lead me, curvy path and all.

(This reminds me of the excellent book, Just Enough Light for the Step I’m On, by Stormie Omartian.)

Coloring Grays

Yesterday on the way up the stairs to my therapist’s office, I wondered if she would want me to play with color. We’ve done that sometimes when talking about my mood, which we were going to do since I had admitted to feeling depressed again. I suddenly wanted to color – a simple pattern or design with all the shades of gray that I could find.

We didn’t get out the crayons, but she encouraged me to color when I got home. I forgot about it until after dinner, and when the TV was on and I wanted something to do, I remembered my wish to shade in grays.

I looked through my coloring books – I have 5 or 6 – and picked a paisley with very few flowers. I’m not feeling flowery. I’m feeling gray.

I chose what I thought was a black colored pencil and started at the center – it was actually blueberry, which came out on the paper as dark purple. So much for a picture in all grays.

I pulled all the pencils I could find that would give me the gray continuum, and a few complimentary colors, I had five blacks, one gray, one dark blue, one bronze yellow (it looked olive gray), two violets, one blue-violet, and one blueberry. I added honey gold for a dull yellow.

When I finished coloring, I sent a picture of it to my therapist. She asked why the purple and yellow. Yellow for a little light, but no idea why purple – really just because I didn’t have enough gray pencils. But she pointed out that the purple is in the center.

And then I realized that purple and yellow have always meant Jesus to me. Christ’s royalty as the Son of God, Christ Divine, Easter Sunday – yellow as sun breaking through symbolizing Christ’s triumph over death, or of Easter Sunrise Service, or even Christ the Son (sun). When I see purple and yellow together, I think Jesus.

(No “gray” in the last paragraph. Pretty cool how that happened, not by my plan at all. Just like the picture.)

Mood.