By Christine E. Miller
Part of the glory of living is that each moment is dynamic. No feeling or circumstance lasts, whether good or bad. All we have is the present. Unfortunately, we sometimes lose sight of this, and for a vast array of reasons: the death of a loved one, a divorce, a major health issue, an argument with a friend, an unpleasant encounter with a neighbor, the end of a relationship, finding yourself the object of office gossip, losing a pet, or experiencing a setback in your business.
Sometimes we may not know why we feel down. It just feels like life is caving in all around us and we can find no satisfaction, joy, or peace. To make matters worse, we feel stuck in the moment and think we will feel like this forever, with no end in sight to our pain, sadness, and fear. Perspective is dulled. We become depressed.
Depression can be agonizing, pushing us to seek relief. If we find ourselves beneath its cloud of gloom, it will help to remember that like any other problem or challenge we experience, it is an opportunity to turn to God for comfort and guidance. As C. S. Lewis put it, “Pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our consciences, but shouts in our pains. It is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”
When we find ourselves between the proverbial rock and a hard place, it’s natural to focus on the obstacles on either side of us, instead of looking upward to the freedom and power offered by our Creator.
Praying—making a sincere and meaningful connection with God—is the foundation for finding answers, no matter the stumbling block. It is how we recall Christ’s assurance that we are never alone. God is more powerful than heartbreak and depression, no matter how poignant. Knowing we have a spiritual safety net, we are better able to look for help.
Depression as a Mental Illness
Since depression is used to describe everything from getting the blues for a few days to feeling so overwhelmed you can’t get out of bed, we need to be in tune with ourselves enough to know when it is time to do something more than simply hope our mood will pass.
Sadly, some people affected by chronic depression accept their depression as the norm, never realizing that a more positive, joyous outlook is possible. Recognizing the problem is a vital first step in helping ourselves. When our attempts to “snap out of it” don’t work, it may be time to look further for answers.
Below are symptoms of depression identified by the Mayo Clinic:
• Feelings of sadness or unhappiness
• Irritability or frustration, even over minor things
• Loss of interest or pleasure in regular activities
• Reduced sex drive
• Difficulty sleeping or sleeping too much
• Changes in appetite—either decreased appetite and weight loss or increased cravings for food and weight gain
• Agitation or restlessness—such as pacing, hand-wringing, or an inability to sit still
• Slowed thinking, speaking, or body movements
• Indecisiveness and distractibility
• Fatigue and loss of energy—even small tasks may seem like a huge effort
• Feelings of worthlessness or guilt, dwelling on past failures, or blaming yourself when things aren’t going well
• Trouble thinking, concentrating, making decisions, and remembering
• Frequent thoughts of death, dying, or suicide
• Crying spells for no apparent reason
• Unexplained physical problems like headaches or neck pain
Depression occurs in many forms, ranging from a temporary experience of sadness, loneliness, or hopelessness for a few days, to a disabling condition called major depressive disorder or clinical depression, which impairs one’s ability to function normally. Dysthymia, or chronic depression, manifests as a depressed mood felt over long periods of time—two years or more—but is usually less severe than clinical depression and does not keep a person from functioning.
Other varieties of depression include bipolar or manic depression, characterized by alternating periods of melancholy and high-energy elation, or mania. Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a form of depression that occurs each year at the same time. It usually starts in the fall or winter and ends in spring or early summer, but a rare form called “summer depression” begins in late spring or early summer and ends in fall.
Finding Our Way Out
Depression can be treated and even prevented in a number of ways. These can be as simple as making lifestyle changes such as getting regular exercise, improving our diets, making sure we are getting adequate sleep, reducing stress, and seeking support from others. Sharing our feelings and struggles with a caring friend can give us needed perspective. When we talk about our thoughts and problems, the mountain in our mind becomes a pile of dust in reality. If necessary, psychotherapy may help resolve deeper issues we can’t address simply by confiding in a friend.
Physician-supervised anti-depressant medication can also be helpful if used in conjunction with psychotherapy and lifestyle adjustments. While medication can alleviate symptoms, it is generally not desirable for long-term use and often produces unwanted side effects.
Overcoming depression takes daily commitment to positive change, including maintaining our connection with God. Failing to connect with God cuts us off from our most basic and necessary source of strength. We might remind ourselves of the many times he has intervened in our lives, protecting and guiding us lovingly through all kinds of rough territory. Remember Psalm 23: “He leadeth me beside still waters, He restoreth my soul” (vv. 2, 3, King James Version).
Think of yourself as a perfectly baked cake made in God’s oven. All the people, events (good and bad), and material things in your life are part of the icing on your cake. Some people’s cakes look fancier than others, with thicker layers of icing and decoration. But while the frosting may be sweet and artistically crafted, it will cave in without a good cake underneath it. If the cake is not kept fresh and delicious—that is, if we do not attend daily to our relationship with the Master Baker—the icing is pointless. Before we address any issues with the frosting, let’s make sure our spiritual cake is intact!
God’s Power, Not Ours
When we tap into the source of our wholeness, wonderful things begin to happen. We find the strength to separate ourselves emotionally from the people and problems that can easily launch us into depression. We find solutions to our problems—even if we’re feeling like there’s no hope—when we open the door to God’s grace. Best of all, we need only crack that door a bit. God takes care of swinging it wide open.
The Bible gives us hope in times of despair. Consider the wisdom offered in 2 Corinthians 4:16-18.
Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.
Although depression can make us lose sight of the gifts and blessings we have, the most important thing to remember is that everything, even sadness, has a purpose. Sometimes we don’t know the reason until later, and other times we may never completely understand.
This is where faith in the goodness of Christ comes in. However difficult the events surrounding us, however dire our state of mind, everything is exactly as it is supposed to be at the moment.
Embrace problems as God-given opportunities to grow. Everything we experience is intended for our eventual good—to make us stronger, more whole, and more knowledgeable of his overwhelming love for us.
Christine E. Miller is a freelance writer in Oceanside, California.
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