How to Not Feel So Alone When You’re Navigating Depression
Depression thrives on two things: isolation and silence.
During one of my darkest seasons, I convinced myself that if I didn’t tell anyone about my depression, it would go away. I feared the verbalization of how I felt, thinking it would somehow become more real. Some days, I rationalized the constant sluggishness, numbness and fog that hung over me. I believed I was having a bad day, and the next would be better. So instead of being honest, I tried to be happy. Or at least, to put on a happy face.
I am convinced that God surrounded me with his protection during those months, and this is the reason why I’m still here. But it wasn’t until I stated the truth about my spiritual, mental and emotional condition that I started to see change. First to God, and then to others. To take this crucial step, I had to move past one of my biggest fears: that God was ashamed of my depression.
Shame feeds depression too, but it operates on a different level than isolation and silence. It feeds them. It tells us to stay in isolation and silence because no one will understand. It says we shouldn’t feel this way as believers in Jesus, and persuades us to hide.
Can I tell you something? There is no dark pit you can sink into that will cause Jesus to turn his face from you. He will chase you, sing over you, and speak through his Spirit to remind you of the truth as many times as it takes for you to see the Light again. But he also wants to give us tools. He doesn’t want this all-consuming darkness to keep us in isolation, and longs for us to thrive in community.
Over the past decade, God revealed some life-changing truths to me about depression and how to fight the loneliness it brings. My prayer is for you to use these action steps as weapons, and to know you are not alone.
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1. Tell God how you feel.
When we tell God how we feel, it invites him to expose lies we may believe.
For years, I didn’t realize there are stories of men and women in the Bible who suffered from depression. Although Scripture doesn’t use this specific word to describe what these people experienced, their words and actions reveal a clear picture of their hopelessness and despair. Then, thanks to my pastor, Elijah’s escape to Mt. Horeb came to life in a whole new way and I saw all of the classic symptoms of depression right there: isolation, fleeing, false beliefs. But if these symptoms weren’t enough, there’s the bold declaration he makes to God: he wants to die.
After running for forty days and nights to Mount Horeb, Elijah is prompted by God’s heart-searching question, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” and Elijah finally reveals the lies he believes about his situation (1Kings 19:13). He thinks after performing miracles through the power of the Spirit and proving the prophets of Baal to be false, there is still no one who serves the Lord. He believes he’s alone, and he’s tired. He’s ready to quit. Elijah’s honesty with God invites the Lord to speak truth, and the truth is that Elijah believes a lie. He is not alone. In fact, the Lord has raised up an army without Elijah even knowing it.
“Yet I reserve seven thousand in Israel—all whose knees have not bowed down to Baal and whose mouths have not kissed him.” (1 Kings 19:18 NIV)
Did God already know what Elijah thought and how he felt? Absolutely. He’s omniscient. But by telling him, Elijah invited relationship. He entered into the presence of God and revealed the whole truth, and doing so created a sacred space for God to speak.
The same is true for us. Yes, our Savior knows what we’re going through. He knows the desperation we feel and he wants to intervene. Coming to him and exposing our beliefs is an act of trust. He won’t turn away. He will speak life into our circumstances, and may reveal something we never knew.
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2. Connect with other believers you trust.
It is no secret that a stigma surrounds mental illness in the church. And as much as I wish it weren’t true, some people believe true Christ-followers don’t get depressed. But despite these misconceptions about the nature of depression and mental illness, there is also hope. Believers are opening up about their struggles, and groups of Christians across the country are rising up to connect and support each other as they journey toward wholeness and healing.
If you suffer from depression, one of the worst things you can do is remain quiet about it. Whether you tell someone at your church, a friend, a counselor or healthcare professional, it is critical that you let someone into your dark place. During the chapter of my life when my depression was at its worst, the first person I told was my doctor. Then later, I told my husband and eventually a counselor.
Each step felt like a confession. It was like inviting someone into a foggy room where I couldn’t make out the objects and shapes, and the only constant was chaos and despair. I didn’t know what would become exposed in the process of bringing people into this place, and I wasn’t sure I wanted to find out.
But as I became open about it, a suffocating weight lifted off my chest and I could breathe again. Instead of trying to carry the burden all by myself, I allowed others to come alongside me and lessen the load. With time, I saw light and my joy returned, but it all started with that first step. This is what the body of Christ does. We were never intended to try to face the weight of this world by ourselves.
“Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” (Galatians 6:2 NIV)
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3. Invite others to pray for you.
The battle against depression isn’t just mental, emotional or physical. It is spiritual. We have an enemy who seeks to steal, kill and destroy, and wants us to remain in darkness (John 10:10). Asking someone to pray for release from depression may be as scary as telling others about it. We may fear being judged, or worse, being told some Christian platitude that only serves to make us feel more isolated. But can I tell you something? It can also be one of the most life-giving steps we can take.
When a fellow sister in Christ held my hands during church and prayed for my release and healing, she also stated lies I’d believed for the past year. I didn’t tell her about these false beliefs before she prayed. She knew because the Lord revealed them to her. This is the power of the Holy Spirit who wants to deliver each of us and bring us new life.
If we know others are going to battle for us and fighting for us, it lifts the feelings of loneliness and isolation. God uses these prayers to bring renewed vision, focus and strength, and sends his armies to fight for us.
“I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people.” (1 Timothy 2:1 NIV)
Last of all, friend, but certainly not least, celebrate each victory you make on this hard road. Look for God’s hand in the small, every day triumphs. Write them down as altars of remembrance. Remember the God who began the good work he started in you will bring it to completion (Philippians 1:6). He’s not finished. And he delights in each step you take toward him and toward healing.
Abby McDonald is a blogger, speaker, wife and mom whose work has been featured on Proverbs 31 Ministries, (in)Courage, For Every Mom, and more. Her passion is to empower women to grow in faith and hope, even when life is messy. She earned a Bachelor’s Degree in English from the University of South Carolina, and loves to teach about writing at conferences each year. Abby lives with her husband and three children in western Maryland. You can connect with her at abbymcdonald.organd on Facebook.
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