The plan was for this final post on mental health to be posted at the end of January but for a variety of reasons, I’m just now finishing it. Obviously, we’re 2 months past January and our world looks vastly different than it did a mere 60 days ago.
I can’t help but wonder if this long overdue post might be a better-timed read for March than it ever would have been in January. I know that in my own life, dealing with depression in the midst of the Coronavirus and self-quarantining is a new battle right now. My screen time has gone up significantly which as many of us know, can also lead to increase in depression and loneliness. I’m sure that I’m not alone in this. So as we work together to figure out this new temporary normal, let’s remember the people in our lives who might be struggling a little bit extra. Let’s still be known for our love during the heaviness of this season..
I love someone who has anxiety and/or depression. How do I love them well?
Be proactive in presence
Don’t wait for your depressed friend to ask for you to show up.
Your friend probably isn’t in her best state of mind to be able to be vulnerable and risk being rejected or feel like she’s an inconvenience. During social distancing, be present via texts, Facetime, or phone calls. Instead of waiting for them to text you, be the relationship leader. Text them with a time to facetime later. Be the one to make the phone call to check-in. Post-social distancing 2020, text your friends and ask if you can drop by and sit with them for a while.
However, just as important as it is to reach out, it’s equally important to be understanding if they aren’t up for it. Be patient and give lots of grace. Recognize that just because you think they need to get out of their house or have a long Facetime call, doesn’t mean they want to hang-out.
I know this seems like a slightly contradictory point- ‘be present but don’t force them to be present!’ and to be honest, it is. It’s a double standard benefitting the one struggling. However, if you really want to know how to help, you must understand that being overwhelmed, fearful, worried, or exhausted are valid emotions and ones that need to be respected. (*Please note- if you are family, there are times you might need a more direct approach. Feel free to email me if you would like more info.)
Be intentional with choices.
If someone tells me “let me know if you need anything,” 95% of the time, I will never reach out- even if it’s someone in my family. However, if a friend is intentional with offering me choices, I will respond. So, instead of saying, “let me know if you need anything,” try one of these:
“What night can I leave dinner on your porch?”
“What night is good for you to facetime?”
“When I can come over and clean your kitchen? (post social-distancing era)”
As the friend, take the lead and start planning the specifics. That makes it much easier for those of us in the struggle.
Don’t insist on being loosely relatable.
Understand that being sad is not the same as being depressed. That being anxious for something that most would deem concerning is not the same as struggling with anxiety. Your experiences are equally valid and important but they are not the same so don’t stretch them to be. This doesn’t mean you can’t relate to anything they are saying, but instead, be aware of the differences and acknowledge them. Often, this will help your friend feel more comfortable and will allow them the space to continue to share because they see that you are trying to understand their unique feelings and struggles.
Be minimal with your suggestions
Suggestions typically are said with the absolute best of intentions, but many times, they are received as judgmental. For example:
Have you considered eating a tuna only diet? They say you get used to tuna for three meals a day and it does wonders for the depressed thoughts.
I hear: If I don’t eat tuna, it’s my fault that I still have depression.
Have you considered selling your house and moving to a rural setting? Getting away from all the noise will do wonders for the mental health.
I hear: Moving is a better solution for dealing with depression than my antidepressant. My antidepressant must not be doing a good enough job, fast enough.
Obviously those suggestions are outlandish, and I’ve never been advised to try either of them. However, I have been urged to try different things. On my “good days,” I recognize it as a kind suggestion to help, but on my “bad days” it’s easy to take as “it’s my fault for not doing ______.” We need to be extremely cautious of how and when we advise those struggling with mental health to add another “solution” to the mix. The safest practice is to wait to offer a suggestion until your friend asks for them or starts a conversation about additional ways they might try to battle their depression or anxiety.
If I come down with pneumonia, I will go to the doctor and follow the doctor’s orders for my recovery. There are certainly “additional” things I can do to help my recovery process; however, friends, family and acquaintances will understand if I choose to solely follow my doctor’s orders and not attempt any other options to a faster recovery. The people in my life trust the doctor and my own perspective to follow-through with finding the best recovery option available for me.
Yet, in my experience, we are less likely to trust the doctor and the person’s perspective on their best recovery process when we are discussing mental health. I remember one day telling Aaron, “I’m truly ok with taking medicine. I’m not trying to find another alternative. The antidepressant works for me.
I think the Christian community has accepted that Christians suffer with depression and anxiety, but I’m not sure that we’ve fully accepted antidepressants as an answer.”
Be thoughtful and considerate in how you choose to share suggestions. Sometimes silence and support is the best “additional” suggestion you can give.
At the end of the day, being a friend to someone struggling with mental health is simple.
Show that you think about them.
Respect where they are at.
It really is as simple as a kind thought, word, or action that makes all the difference.
One day, I received a large envelope in the mail from a friend who I don’t talk to that much. Inside was this beautiful hand-drawn sign and a short note. She had read my post about anxiety and had made me a sign that helps to remind me of the truth of God and His presence. I teared up as I read all the attributes of God she had chosen to list for me. When I brought the sign into our living room, I gasped and took it over to our accent wall. When we moved in last summer, we decided to paint our main living room wall a striking but very unique shade of blue. My friend had chosen to use different shades of blue in her sign. The attributes of God were written in the exact shade of blue that is on our wall. The wall that my friend has never seen.
God gave me a double encouragement through her that day. Not only the words on the sign she had drawn, but also the reminder that God is with me through all of this and provides the perfect encouragement I need. Even down to the right shade of blue.
Your encouragement to a struggling friend can be their biggest blessing that week. God can even turn it into a double blessing. Just be obedient. Love them well.
Depression is best understood rather as ‘a kind of mental arthritis.’ Unlike other sorrows this one infects us with malignant patience. Often we who suffer it have no ready or immediate rescue off of its stranded island. Rather we must learn the skills of grace necessary for surviving there and adjusting our lives to what it means to thrive within its conditions. - Charles Spurgeon
For those in the struggle:
There is not “one cure fits all” for mental health. We all know that’s not true. Although I’m sharing practical actions that have helped me, I also know what it’s like to be bombarded with suggestions when you’re just trying to make it through the day. So, I hope you believe the sincerity in my words when I tell you the four activities I’m sharing with you today are my own “skills” when anxiety and depression hit hard.
[Please know that this is all in conjunction with my taking anti-depressants. Please talk to a medical or counseling professional if you haven’t already. I didn’t include that as one of my actions because for me it’s a foundational element in this journey.]
Telling a safe someone.
This was my worst fear. Letting someone into the thoughts, fears, and heartache that is plaguing me is terrifying. In my head, I just knew that since my thoughts left me distraught, I could only imagine what they’ll do to the person who is hearing them. It was with a pit in my stomach and tears in my eyes that I told Aaron what was going on in my mind. You know what? He didn’t freak out. He didn’t condemn me. He also didn’t trivialize it. He reminded me of my identity in Christ, the person he knows me to be, and he pointed me to truth, grace, and logic. In these mental health and spiritual battles, I’ve learned that Satan almost always wins if I’m facing off with Satan alone in the privacy of my mind. The minute I bring someone else into the struggle, I start to see the light of God’s truth through Satan’s lies of darkness. Every time I’ve told a safe person- my mom, sister, a best friend- what I’m struggling with, regardless of the topic, this proves true.
This came out of desperation. I was making my quiet times a priority. I was listening to my “Christian thought playlist.” But I found that when I was in the game room with the kids, or we were playing in Eliza’s room, the anxiety would creep back in. My 2 year old and 10 month old didn’t exactly give me “mental health recovery” breaks to go have an intense time in the Word to re-focus.
One day I grabbed construction paper and a sharpie and I started writing some of the Bible verses that I felt like God had given me throughout this struggle. I found a roll of blue painter’s tape and I started taping these verses up around the house- wherever I knew my eyes lingered. I had one by our kitchen sink for when I did dishes, one in the game room, several in our living room, and one in Eliza’s room above our changing table. In my really hard moments, I would read them out loud, sometimes many times over and very emphatically. Initially my kids would stop and look at me with surprised faces, but eventually they got used to their mom’s random outbursts and proclamations, and little by little, I found that I started turning to those signs automatically before the negativity hit.
Growing my brain.
I found I do better when I learn something new each day- whether it’s listening to a podcast, reading a book, or googling a topic I’m interested in. By no means am I saying this replaces my time in the Word with the Lord, but I realized that on days where I had listened to podcasts and learned something new, I found my thoughts defaulted to the new knowledge I was processing. My unhealthy thoughts always hit the worst when I was day dreaming or zoned out. But, when I had been intentional with Scripture and then added to that new and interesting information, my brain started becoming occupied more frequently with actual truth and information- rather than my worst-case scenarios and fears. I have been reminded that God is truth, and all truth points us to God. So even in my learning new things about a variety of topics, they still point me back to Him.
One day, quite unintentionally I realized that this made a huge difference mentally. Since we had moved into a new house right before my anxiety hit, there was still quite a bit of decorating to be done. One afternoon in one of the hardest weeks of my anxiety, I started working on decorating a set of bookshelves so I could mark it off my list. I realized an hour later that I had gone an entire hour without a negative thought! I couldn’t believe it. I’ve started assigning projects to myself each day and its been helpful for me to have something in my hands that helps me focus my brain.
That’s it. These are the primary ways that God has sustained me these past few months.
This quote from the book Spurgeon’s Sorrows has brought great comfort - as I hope it does for you as well. “However exceptional and unusual my be your trial, yet, with Job whisper these words, ‘Though he slay me, yet will I trust him.’ In such whispers, often unheard and unnoticed, His treasures shine as it were, small but warm like a candle flame within a cracked jar. Invaluable this flicker amid the howling winds of night’s deep. His vigil light, undaunted keeps watch over the helpless, keeps watch through to the morning. The sun may not rise for a few hours yet. But here amid the waiting hours, the sorrowing have a Savior.”
Immanuel. God with us.
*All quotes come from the book Spurgeon’s Sorrows: Realistic Hope for those who Suffer from Depression by Zack Eswine. I cannot recommend this book highly enough. It was an incredible source of comfort, challenge, and hope for me in some of the darkest weeks.
Depression is a silent drain on the soul. How do I fight an enemy that attacks me from my soul outward?
Something my husband discovered after we got married and started living together is that when I get sleepy, I am incredibly clumsy. I literally start to walk into walls and trip over my own feet. I remember one night, I dropped my cup three times in a row just trying to take it out of the cupboard. When I’m struggling with depression, I feel like that’s how my life operates. Throughout my day there are a lot of mental bumps and crashes that slow me down. I find it so much harder to do simple things. When it used to take 20 minutes to meal plan for the week, I now sit staring at the paper for 45 minutes. Something as routine as getting my kids ready to run an errand, requires me to emotionally hype myself up and often ends with frustration and snapping at my kids.
To be completely transparent, depression is an odd conversation for me. On the one hand, I no longer feel awkward about owning that it’s part of my struggle. I understand that I didn’t cause it and I think it’s important for Christians to start breaking stereotypes about mental health. However, the part of depression that I’m not as open about, the part that I still wrestle with guilt over is the lethargy that affects every part of my life. So many days, I literally have nothing to show for my time. It makes me self-conscious, ashamed, guilty. I feel like I was wasteful and a huge disappointment to my family. I didn’t do anything of value. In a world that runs on to-do lists and checklists, how do I measure up when nothing is checked off beyond the daily requirements of caring for my children?
The fatigue is not limited to my physical world. My spiritual walk slows to a crawl, and in some seasons, if I’m being brutally honest, it slows to a standstill. I struggle with having quiet times regularly. I wrestle with focusing on the Scripture I’m reading, with staying awake while I am praying, with praying for anyone else but myself. Depression truly dampens my ability to think at the same level as when I’m well- even when I’m thinking about the Lord. I loathe anxiety, but in reality, depression in some areas is a harder force for me to fight because at least my anxiety has driven me to the Lord. With depression, I feel farther away from the Lord and have less of a desire to get back. It’s not as if I’m unaware of what’s happening. As my guilt reminds me so often, I know what I should be doing, but fail at following through so many times.
Knowing the truth in my head doesn’t solve the depression in my DNA.
Depression is a silent drain on the soul.
How do I fight an enemy that attacks me from my soul outward?
In 2019 with the added layer of anxiety, it’s been too much for me to pretend that I can do everything I used to. I simply can’t do all the things I normally can when my brain is healthy. For the first time, I’m finally seeing in myself the disconnect between what I know is true and what I practice. What I mean is this- I wouldn’t expect myself to do all the tasks while fighting pneumonia. I would pace myself. Rest when I needed to. Take my medicine. I would trust that God is not vindictive, and He will be with me in the rest rather than judging me for the rest. Yet, why when I’m dealing with a mental struggle, do I expect to perform at the same level as when I’m healthy? For the first time, I’m finally starting to personally apply the truth that I’ve told so many others. It’s a real struggle and a slow healing.
So, in this fourth round of depression in my life, I’m letting myself take the nap. I’m finally being honest with my husband and saying “That sounds like a lot today. I don’t think I can do it.” I’m lowering the expectations for myself- even in my quiet times. In this season, I’m learning that God isn’t silently judging me for my humanity, weakness, and frailty. He’s with me now as He always is. This season of almost necessary “stillness” isn’t angering Him. He’s being still with me.
Tonight as I was writing this, I’m sitting under a lap quilt I made for my grandmother when I was just a kid, and it struck me that this quilt represents a time of stillness. It was my first time trying to quilt and I wanted to give it to my favorite person- my grandma, because she spent much of her days in bed due to pain in her back and legs. I always considered it a special treat to be the grandchild that was invited back to her room to sit with her because I had all of her attention. As I reflect back, I now recognize how hard it must have been for her to be isolated from so much of the family so many times. She certainly would have preferred to bake her infamous Christmas cookies, go to Christmas Eve services, and take her grandkids on a walk in the snow, but she couldn’t. She was in bed.
Despite being still for so many of her days, however, she was at peace with it. Her eyes still twinkled from her place in bed. She was content because she knew that no matter who came in and out of that room, One was always there. Always beside her. Always keeping her company. Many times while I laid on the bed across from her, she would grow excited, start to smile, and she would tell me about Jesus, how much she loved Him, and how excited she was to be with Him in heaven. I remember being surprised at how much she genuinely looked forward to heaven! Now I know why. Immanuel was her reality. Her Present. God was with her here, on this earth, in her stillness, and she cherished that more than anything. She couldn’t wait to experience His presence in her forever home for eternity.
May I learn to be that kid across from my Grandma again, laying under the same blanket all these years later. May I learn to embrace Him in my stillness, just like she did. When I’m laying down because of the emotional pain or the physical exhaustion, let me be at peace because I know Christ is there. Laying across from me. Knowing my heart. Knowing my pain. Knowing my exhaustion. Not asking me to “do” but accepting my stillness. Let me then be able to accept it myself.
About Holly's Blog
Holly loves to write, and you'll find her blog covers all different topics!