1. Cry out to God. It sounds simple, but in the numbness, fatigue and oppressiveness of depression, it can actually be quite hard! Sometimes I’ve been able to talk and cry and pour out my feelings to God that way. Other times I’ve written things down, got frustrated, screwed up the paper, started again (or not), or done various bits of artwork to get that expression out. God knows how we’re feeling, but it’s good to get that anguish, confusion and sense of isolation out there. I think Job gives us a good example of crying out in anguish when he says: “When I lie down I think, ‘How long before I get up?’ The night drags on, and I toss and turn until dawn… My days are swifter than a weaver’s shuttle, and they come to an end without hope… I will speak out in the anguish of my spirit, I will complain in the bitterness of my soul.” (Job 7:4,6,11)
2. Wait patiently and know that His grace is sufficient. If crying out to God has seemed hard to do, waiting patiently has seemed almost impossible! And yet, God’s Word tells us to “wait patiently” for him to answer. When I’ve felt desperate for relief, overwhelmed with hopelessness, surrounded by darkness, it’s been hard to believe that His grace is sufficient. But it is. The Bible is full of God’s people who have waited out long periods (decades!) of hardship before being restored or having a promise fulfilled. He never loses control of His plans and He never ceases to love and care for His people. His timing just doesn’t always match up with ours!
3. Keep hold of God’s promises. When I’ve been in the darkest periods, NOTHING has sustained me more that keeping hold of God’s promises from the Bible. Not that this has been any great achievement of my own. In His grace, even when He has felt far away and unreal, God has somehow kept me trusting in him, that He is who He says He is, that He still cares and forgives. This has been an amazing witness to the fact that God holds onto us even when we can’t hold onto him.
4. God understands my pain. Really?! Yup. God, who knew me before time, knit me together in my mother’s womb, and knows every word before my tongue has uttered it, knows what I’m going through. He also has a Son, who has walked in this world, faced all manner of temptation and anguish, and yet remained pure and endured the cross in order to give me hope of eternity through any suffering. Pretty awesome.
5. Try and plan to read something from the Bible each day. I’ve really struggled with this, but have benefitted heaps when I’ve managed it. I’ve realised that when I’m depressed, trying to do a Bible-in-a-Year plan is not in the realistic basket (!), so simple and achievable is the aim. I’m still working out how to do this helpfully. Matthias Media's Daily Reading Bible is my next plan to try, with the passage already written in the book, and pages undated so you don’t feel guilty getting behind if you miss a couple of days… or more…
6. Write out helpful passages of the Bible. Memorising passages of Scripture has never been a strong suit of mine and through the long years of depression, this certainly hasn’t got any easier! Being regularly reminded of particular passages that encourage me has been really helpful in keeping God’s Word before me though. I’ve got lots of little verses written on post-it notes that have been stuck on the wall around my desk over the last few years. A number of these verses are listed in the list of verses below. Satan wants to take advantage of us when we’re weak so we need to use the truth of His Word to replace the unhelpful stuff that comes in because of mental illness. I’ve also found making a playlist of Christian hymns and songs helpful to play and force myself to hear God’s truth rather than my own gloom.
7. Pray. Again, this is really hard… Often, I’ve found myself saying: “I need to pray… I need to pray…” And then just blankness. A few years ago I was given a copy of the daily prayers of a pastor who struggles with depression and I’ve found this really helpful to read through and adapt when it’s too hard to pray my own prayers.* In the midst of post natal depression, I remember crying beside my sleeping children and using all that was in me to plead that God would keep them safe in His hands – short and through sobs, but probably some of the earnest prayers I’ve ever prayed! In other times when there has been little but a thread of faith, I’ve been overwhelmed and encouraged to remember these words:
The [Holy] Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God. (Romans 8:26-27)The Spirit prays for us in perfect accordance with God’s will – how amazing!
8. Confess your sin regularly. And KNOW that He has forgiven you. One of the things I’ve found hard to make sense of through mental illness is what in my struggles can be attributed as “the illness” and what as sin. The negativity, lethargy, disinterest and withdrawal from people could be seen as a reflection of my “condition” but I realised in the end that it didn’t matter if I knew exactly how to define it all, God’s Word still tells me to repent and ask God regularly to forgive my sins. I found/find the last two verses of Psalm 139 a really helpful prayer for this.
Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting! (Psalm 139:23–24)
Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord; O Lord, hear my voice. Let your ears be attentive my cry for mercy. If you, O Lord, kept a record of sins, O Lord, who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness. (Psalm 130:1–4)
9. Find a Christian friend who will stand by you and keep God’s truth being spoken into your life when you can’t do it for yourself. In my late teens, through a period when I wasn’t able to get to church in any sort of way for months and months, a group of three older women from church used to come around each fortnight or so to pray and read the Bible with me and my Mum in a low-key and unpressured way. To be honest, I didn’t always look forward to them coming as I got anxious about any sort of company, but they loved me so gently, lavishly and faithfully. I will always be grateful to God for these faithful friends keeping God’s truth before us in this regular way.
10. Try and keep some contact with your church. At one point, my Mum started taking me to a mid-week Bible talk at church. I could slip in the back and leave before anyone much noticed. It may not seem like the ideal – arriving late and leaving early (!) – but it got me hearing God’s Word and being with God’s people in a way that wasn’t overwhelming. Over time, I was able to be much more involved, but I’m really grateful that my Mum let me make those quick exits at the start!
11. Get outside into God’s world. Breathing some fresh air, getting some sunshine and going for a walk are all things that have helped in their way – although I still need a prod to do it!
12. Saying Yes and Saying No. As Christians, we’re called to love and serve at a cost to ourselves. I’m not to forget this in depression, but what is costly to me is probably going to look quite different to what is costly love to someone else. It is learning to do these things as we are able and praying for God’s wisdom in this. Sometimes to love best, we need to rest more – and say No to something else. I’ve found it really hard to get the rest I seem to need which is frustrating. Getting the right balance between rest and action can be tricky!
13. Talk with your GP if things aren’t improving. I’ve found it helpful to talk with a trusted Christian friend if I’ve been unsure or worried about a particular suggestion of medication or treatment. Originally I refused medication, but ended up without the choice when I went into a long period of terrifying dissociation. Finding the right medication certainly hasn’t been straightforward or without complications, but I’ve had to learn to trust God with it. Medication or talking therapies aren’t my Saviour – Jesus is! – but they have been helpful in keeping symptoms under control.
* Katherine Orr is from Cornerstone Church in Christchurch, New Zealand.
** I hope to publish these prayers soon.
You may also like to read:
Maddi's post on depression and self-harm
my list of ways to support someone who's depressed
image is from stock.xchng