Yesterday I was driving to run a few errands. I had one day off before returning to my stressful job in the ICU, and that meant the day was dwindling away with unpleasurable tasks rather than sitting by the pool and reading a book. Yet, despite my mundane to-do’s, I cranked up the radio with a smile, hummed happily as I admired the blue sky, and drove forward in joy while the warmth of the day rested on my happy face. I had a minuscule moment of surprise over my unexpected elation, before it hit me why I was walking on sunshine at all. Every day got better than the last!
Look, I’m a realist. I’m not going to try and sprinkle rainbows on your cloudy day. I’m not spouting a magic cure or trying to be a lifestyle coach of optimism. But what I will do is share with you my life experiences.
I suffer from depression, and I also suffer from anxiety. Some days are better than others. Some days, though, I’m sad for no reason, and that drives me mad. I go through seasons where my melancholy mood is worse than others, and I can be negatively affected by work stress and problems in relationships with friends or family. I’m an over-thinker, and my persistence in going over a problem repeatedly will keep me up at night. What I’m trying to say is, I’m not without trouble. I’m not perfect. But I have found what helps.
I’ll go ahead and get this out of the way… I’m on an antidepressant/anti anxiety medication prescribed by my doctor. In fact, I reached out to my physician a couple of months ago when I saw the signs that my condition was worsening and a dose adjustment was necessary. I hate when the devil tries to use our weaknesses against us, like telling us we’re not a “good enough Christian” if we can’t get rid of mental illness by prayer and Bible reading. It’s simply not true!
I come from a long line/family history of mental illness, depression, alcoholism, and suicide. I won’t pretend to be an expert on chemical imbalances and hereditary factors in mental health, but I will say I believe they exist. I’m a believer in nature AND nurture. Your past experiences do affect your future self. Do they control the narrative? No. But we can’t throw out the scars that rejection and other painful instances leave in their wake. Also, I believe in spiritual forces beyond our recognition. I believe in familial curses that can impact one generation after another, and I believe the devil prowls like a lion looking to destroy us. I believe in demonic forces at work in mankind distorting our perception of reality and feeding lies into our thoughts. Never-mind external stressors like working a pandemic in critical care (insert your own personal stressor)!
With so many different factors that play a part in mental health, how can we as Christians say just one thing works? So, if you’ve ever felt guilty, or been made to feel guilty, for seeking medical help for your mental health, please don’t. Throw that out with the garbage. I love Jesus more than the air I breathe, but I still found myself with suicidal ideation the day before my period would start. I talk to God all day long, yet I couldn’t stop myself from worrying about things that were not even things! I read my Bible every day, but I know better than to think I’ve kicked addiction’s butt. I can’t just have a glass of wine and call it a day. It will end up being a whole bottle and headache in the morning. I know the Lord has broken the chains of addiction in my life, but I’m not about to put Him to the test. It’s not necessary. But I digress. I’m just trying to say, this is a broken world. Don’t be surprised if you need a little help picking up the pieces. You can believe in God’s healing and still take an antidepressant. God does much of his healing through the work of His children, be it a counselor or prescription provider.
But let’s get to the meat of this post. I’ve had plenty of patients over the years that have been on a bucket of medication, but they still couldn’t get out of their pit. Remember when I discussed the multifaceted nature of mental health? I believe that my healing, strength, and joy come from Jesus. Yes, I take a daily prescription, and yes, I talk about my feelings, but it’s His strength that keeps me going. Here are a few things that have made a positive difference in my life.
One, I read the Bible every day and spend substantial time in His presence. You can do this a number of ways. I read devotions from the Bible app on my phone. I read encouraging emails from trusted, Christian websites. I will take out my Bible and just open it up where I feel the Holy Spirit leads me and read. That may just be letting it fall open, or going to a book you feel the Spirit impress to your mind. I also journal. I’m going to attach a diagram of words. You can pick one for each day. Get your word, pray and ask God to speak to your heart, and then just write whatever comes out. This is a great way to communicate with Him. On work days I listen to praise music on my commute and I worship like the interior of my car is church on Sunday morning. Some of my best times with the Lord have been in the car!
Two, I give Him every day. I discovered my best place to get quiet time that is uninterrupted is in the shower. I bought a shower chair, and I’ll have a seat and talk to my Father. I pray about different things. Yesterday I just talked to Jesus like He was my best friend (because He is), and I told Him different things I had been thinking about my home and work life. He didn’t say anything back, but I knew He was listening, and I felt a weight lifted afterwards. One thing I always do in my shower chair/prayer closet is surrender my life/day to Him. I close my eyes and imagine I’m at the foot of His throne. Then I lay down physical objects that signify my mental battles. I lay down anxiety, depression, worry, doubt, and fear. I also give Him my finances, family, and future. I call it laying down the big three. I ask for more or His Spirit and less of this world. I ask for ears to hear His Spirit and truth over everything else. I do this every single day.
Now, this one I had slacked off on, but I picked it back up because I find it helpful, I see a difference, and it’s super easy. I daily apply the Armor of God (Ephesians 6). I memorized these verses, not exactly word for word, but enough to recite them. I say the full armor out loud and mentally put it on. Take that, Satan! Don’t laugh, bro. It works.
Lastly, I strive to walk in Kingdom Truth. This is sooooo hard. That’s why you see me doing all the above stuff daily. To fight fear, you have to be like a well-trained athlete. You have to daily feed on the truth of God according to scripture. You have to allow that truth to become who you are. The truth of scripture changes you! If you know a Christian who isn’t different from the world and displaying the fruits of the spirit, such as love, patience, kindness, joy, and self-control, then they are just forgetting the truth of God. We all have our moments, but to walk in Kingdom Truth means to understand this world is temporary. The problems we face won’t be forever, but a life full of love in Jesus will last for eternity. Nothing can truly harm us as followers of Him. We don’t fear change, political unrest, or the opinions of others. We don’t allow broken relationships to break us. We understand that while the tears may come right now, that joy comes in the morning (future). This life is a sandcastle, and the waves will eventually sweep it away, but until then keep building your castle for the Lord. Invite others to build with you; even the sinners (oh, wait, that’s all of us). Even the ones persisting in sin (oh, wait, that’s all of us)!
Pain comes, but joy is the River of the Holy Spirit that runs through the heart of every believer. We just forget it’s there. Spending time with the Living Water (Jesus) will remind us of that truth. Depression happens on this earth, but the truth reminds us that His strength is made perfect in our weakness. Like Paul, God won’t always take the thorn from our side, but He will use it to help us find our way. Our way back to His truth. The truth that we are sons and daughters of a King who rules the entire earth and Heavens, yet still absolutely adores little ole you and me. We love because He loves us. We lay down our offenses because He laid down ours. We forgive, as He forgives. We help the hurting. We seek His healing and guidance. We allow trouble to roll off our backs like water off a duck, because He is in control of all things! He fights our battles! He protects, guides, and provides. And remembering this truth, that I have to remind myself of daily, spending time with Him, this truth brings me joy even in the midst of pain.