I’m not always sure what brings on depression, but I know it leaves me crushed and paralyzed in what I call “horizontal mode.” Horizontal mode is when laying down hurts, but it hurts even worse to rally toward any movement. Depression is not a pity party (I’m a badass grown woman). It’s like a prolonged seizure or labor contraction for your insides. And it hurrrrrts.
I wish my confused friends knew that I wasn’t just sitting here, simmering in my sulking emotion. The weight of something just collapses on top of me, and I don’t even think about my issues. I am swallowed in hopeless heaviness. Painfully. Inexplicably.
I wish my friends knew that I am as discouraged as they are seeing myself like this, and I can’t wait to feel normal again. I hope they know that I’m not milking anything for attention. For a million dollars, I wouldn’t drag this heaviness out a millisecond longer than it lasts. I can’t wait to stand up again. I want them to know that I’m doing everything I know how to disarm this thing’s grip on my life.
The thing with depression (at least how it feels for me) is that it’s not you. It’s not who you are. So when you have good days, you engage, take on responsibilities, and make promises. Because that’s you. It’s in you to live, to serve, to lead, and to love. But then, a bad day hits. Or a string of bad days overwhelms you. You are no longer even the person in the room. It’s just the skeleton of you now, and that skeleton frame cannot bear the weight of those very normal commitments, responsibilities, and relationships. “Frail You” fails, crumbles beneath pressure, and lets people down.
After enough times through this cycle, you learn all too well the dread of facing (or worse yet, bailing on) the commitments you took on during good days. Eventually, even when good days come back, you still shy away from taking on your full potential for living and moving forward. Because you know that soon a bad day will hit again, and you won’t be able to live up to everything you’d once said yes to doing.
At pretty much every juncture of my day, I battle with a mental tug-of-war over whether I will be able to pull it together for the things I have coming up. In shame and fear, my knee-jerk reaction is to shut it all down and say no to doing anything for an indefinite season. And sometimes, re-calibrating boundaries can be good and helpful. But the insatiable tyrant of fear always seeks to steal more life from me, even when depression isn’t present.
A lot of the time, the seclusion of depression is because we don’t have it in us to be who we think people need us to be. So, here’s my breakthrough: relieve yourself of the burden that the world needs you to perform at a certain level for you to be allowed to participate in it.
You are allowed to show up tired and less than bubbly. You are allowed to say “I’m actually not doing great,” when a friend asks how you’re doing. You don’t always have to make the room feel comfortable by offering a wild smile and perfectly-timed joke. There is space for me, even my depressed self when I have nothing impressive to offer.
On my road to defeating this beast, here’s what I’ve learned: I had to choose to move past my annoyance and devastation that depression wasn’t a one-time visitor for me. I have to combat it repeatedly.
I had to become willing to do the things that ground me in hope, truth, and perspective. It’s hard enough to do anything when you’re depressed. It’s harder to do things that move you out of a depressive state when you feel it’s going to return anyway. But it is my commitment to myself, to the goals I’ve set, and to the plans I’ve made for the legacy I want to leave. I’ve decided not to let my bad days negate what I will do with my good days, even if in some seasons the bad outnumber the good.
So when I feel taunted to doubt the abilities of my tomorrow self or when I’ve already been fully swept under by the darkness, here are a few of the things that I do.
I believe in Jesus, which means I lean into believing who he says I am. I choose to believe that He brings light that beats all darkness. So I cling to the words He says, the practices he recommends, and the other sources that point to Him, and it shows me the life he promised.
I listen to songs that remind me that God lives in me. I want to exist in a place that’s utterly engulfed in who He is and what he does because that’s where I find freedom. I listen to songs and choose to submit to what they say versus what my struggle is selling to me. Here’s a go-to playlist I use.
I reach out to my trusted close circle of support. Frequently, depression will steal my energy and words so it may be something as simple as a group text to my close girls. “Don’t have it in me to talk, but need prayers. Feeling hopeless today.” Give your people a chance to pour truth and love bombs on you. Allow them the opportunity to release prayers that will help you rise.
I gratitude journal and gratitude rant obsessively. I incentivize myself to practice gratitude the same way I incentivized my daughter. I translated Psalm 100:4 for the brain of a five-year-old to “God comes close to us when we thank Him.” Since I quite literally depend upon His nearness for my grounding every single day, I’ve decided to keep thankfulness on my tongue and in my fingers.
I constantly have mindset-enriching podcasts, audiobooks, and sermons playing while I drive, clean, cook, put makeup on, etc. My mind is unfathomably skilled at filling itself with hopeless projections and sorrow. It helps me to fill the space where my mind roams with goodness and helpful content instead of the spiral-inducing thoughts I come up with on my own.
I made a shift in the last couple years to spend 24 hours each week, (Friday sundown to Saturday sundown) when I am “off the clock” without getting anything done. My daughter knows things go differently on this day (we call it Sabbath), and she loves it. She gets to have me, undistracted by work, emails, or to-do lists. She watches Kids Club videos about God. I read the Bible and even study Hebrew root words so I get a deeper picture of God’s heart and story. I sleep, and I don’t work or clean. My kiddo eats simple food for those 24 hours. Anything I didn’t get done before sundown has to wait. We’ve survived so far.
I can’t explain it, but during the weeks I do this, I feel taken care of and capable. The weeks when I don’t, I am far more prone to discouragement. There’s something about the way God designed things. We do better when we follow the beat of His heart (found in the words He put in the Bible.)
I see a counselor and make sure that I continue seeing one. It takes work to find a counselor, schedule appointments, and figure out a budget to afford it. But it’s worth it. Seeing a counselor or a therapist is like letting the air out of an overwhelmed balloon. (By the way, I’ve found reduced-cost counselors many times over the years, such as $10 sessions, so don’t cheat yourself out of this benefit because of a perceived cost barrier.)
I hate exercising with a deep and fiery passion, but I workout. Because God made this thing called endorphins, and I see it as hypocritical to complain about a struggle if I’m not using what’s been put in my hands to combat it.
I lean toward healthy foods that give me energy. I notice how much more prone I am to sadness and discouragement when I’m overwhelmingly tired. I need the energy to show up to the tasks I feel responsible for or drawn toward.
If you’re struggling with depression, please see a counselor. Keep seeing a counselor. Make hope and nearness to God your obsessive pursuit. Let people speak over you and tell you the good they see in you. Fill your head with helpful content. And be grateful for as much as you can in life.
I know a list like this can feel overwhelming when there’s no motivation or energy. But it is healing me. I don’t do all of these well all of the time, but having these tools slowly and surely keeps me from despair and gives me life. I want the same for you.
If you liked this article you might want to check out this Spark talk.
What resonates with you most in Sophie’s article, and why?
How does it feel to have permission to be where you are even on your worst day?
Even if you’ve never prayed before, try a simple prayer like this to connect with the God who wants to bring you life. “God, I need you. I want your healing. Help me trust you, and lead me into your freedom in Jesus’ name.”
Pick one thing from Sophie’s list to try to start this week. Tell a friend about your plan. Ask them to hold you to it.
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