Wednesday, May 29, 2013

The Soul’s Battle With Depression

Did you wonder if I had dropped off the face of the earth? Well, kind of. It is definitely an odd season of life; one which I am not comfortable with. For those of you who have expressed concern for me, let me reassure you that even though depression is not fun, God is oh so close. It is dark and sometimes seems endless, but He is holding my hand and giving me an impossible sense of peace. Daily He speaks messages of love and assurance, and I cling to the knowledge that He is in control. So, let’s get to it and I will share some nuggets of truth God is teaching me about the battle with depression.

Our soul is made up of three parts: our mind, our will, and our emotions. This is the part of our being that relates to other people – our horizontal nature. I want to talk about each one separately, because although they are intricately intertwined, each one builds on the one before.

The Battle of the Mind
Everything begins in our head. What we think about feeds our desires and plays out in our actions. Our mind can work for or against us, depending on what we feed it. Of course, reading and meditating on God’s Word is essential. This word meditate literally means to ruminate - like a cow chews, swallows, digests its food for a while, then brings it up for another round, before sending it to the second stomach, and so forth.

Listening to God-music is another way to influence our minds. Ephesians 5:19-20 and Colossians 3:16 are great reminders of this. I have actually started waking up with songs already playing in my head. I know this is His special answer to my prayers for renewed hope.

Bible reading and music can have little effect on our mind, however, if we do not squelch the competing voice of the enemy. Second Corinthians 10:5 tells us to, “demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” This especially includes lies concerning our personal value. Satan wants us to constantly replay hurtful scenes from our past to beat us down. God wants us to frisk every thought for contraband and anything destructive to the truth of who we are in Christ.

My friend Gwen uses the “It is written” method that Jesus used against Satan (Matt. 4). She fights back by speaking scriptural truths out loud. We agreed that if it was good enough for Jesus, it’s good enough for us!

The Battle of the Will
The second area of the soul is our will. This is where we decide whether we will do our own thing or submit to God’s leadership. Isaiah 30:15-16 in the Message paints a descriptive picture: “God, the Master, The Holy of Israel, has this solemn counsel: ‘Your salvation requires you to turn back to me and stop your silly efforts to save yourselves. Your strength will come from settling down in complete dependence on me—The very thing you’ve been unwilling to do. You’ve said, ‘Nothing doing!’” And Psalm 81:10-12 also, “Open wide your mouth and I will fill it. ‘But my people would not listen to me…would not submit to me. So I gave them over to their stubborn hearts to follow their own devices” (NIV).

God recently gave me a strong message from Joshua 5:7-8. It says: “They were still uncircumcised because they had not been circumcised on the way…after the whole nation had been circumcised, they remained where they were in camp until they were healed.” Circumcision is an operation to cut away the foreskin of a man’s most private part. God instructed the Israelites to do this as a sign of their covenant (promised) relationship with Him and purity. You’re probably wondering how that applies here, aren’t you?

He said, “You have not allowed me to cut away the things that are dragging you down, Beth. I want to help you. Will you, in obedience to me, stay in camp until you are healed?” My first thought was, “But I want to do battle against the enemy, Lord! And we’re this close to the Promised Land. Can’t you just heal me quickly?

He said no.

He pointed out that trusting Him is essential. That to go into battle right now would endanger me as well as others. That His timing is perfect. So I am slowing down, being still, hanging back from the things I’m normally involved in, and resting. God has made it easier for me to obey by allowing me to experience fatigue like never before. I’m so tired, I can’t do much else!

I still have the choice to obey Him or to fight His healing work. Time after time, I bow my will in submission to His loving care, even though it is very difficult to be still.

The Battle of the Emotions
The third part of our soul is fed by our mind and will - how we feel about our self, our life, and our relationship with God. I keep going back to a phrase coined by Pastor Rob Baker of Oasis Fellowship, “How do you deal with what you feel? You’ve got to go with what you know.” In other words, emotions are real and powerful, but they can’t be trusted. We must learn to influence our feelings by choosing to first submit our minds and wills to Christ.

In order to combat these overwhelming feelings, I have become like a terrier in my morning devotions. For the first time in my life, I usually have the freedom to spend as long as I want in the Word. So I am taking advantage of it. Like Jacob, who wrestled with the man from God and told him, “I will not let you go unless you bless me” (Gen. 32:26), I too am wrestling until the blessing comes. And it is good.

If you are currently struggling with depression, I hope my journey is helpful and encouraging. Be assured, God is with you; you are never alone. Reach out for His hand in the darkness and let Him comfort you. He is there. He will hold you.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

The Physical Battle With Depression

As I said in my initial post, I’ve been learning a lot about things that can contribute to depression. Today, I’m going to share what I’ve learned about the physical causes of depression and what we can do to combat them. We cannot always control how much we’re affected by the first four contributors, but we can learn how to respond to them in healthy ways.

The first might come as a surprise to you: Loss. When we face a loss of any kind, it drains our energy and affects our emotional balance. Researchers have discovered that extreme losses such as death, divorce, a lifelong career, home (due to fire or other sudden disaster) can take 85% of a person’s energy to recover from. That leaves only 15% available for mental, social, spiritual, and physical functioning. That can send a person spiraling into depression.

Unrelenting pain can also deplete our energy to fight back feelings of sadness.

Hormonal changes, such as PMS or menopause take more physical energy than our normal output and can leave us feeling lethargic and sad. Women aren’t the only ones who have hormonal cycles, but since men don’t have the physical symptom of a period to mark these changes it’s harder for them to recognize hormonal changes.

Also, Physical Changes of aging or a debilitating sickness or injury can be a bitter pill to swallow. We want to keep moving at the same speed and energy level we had in our 20’s, or like we did before we were sick or injured. It’s another kind of loss.

The next three contributors to depression we do have control over, but often we don’t see how intricately they are intertwined with the other two parts of our being - our soul and spirit – and choose to “cheat” a little here and there until it’s out of control.

Fatigue is a common culprit in depression. We joke about it all the time, but forcing our bodies to keep on moving with regular doses of caffeine “uppers” - coffee and energy drinks – can contribute to depression. If we refuse to rest when our body’s had enough, eventually we’re going to crash, physically, emotionally, or both.

Of course you knew this one would get in here somewhere, our Diet is extremely important to emotional health. God created our bodies to burn food as close to its original form as possible, without colors, additives, and processing. You’ve heard of stuff like fruit, vegetables, whole grains, and unflavored water? Simple but true, a body full of sludge will eventually poison our emotional health.

We also need regular Exercise to burn that fuel. A stream with no outlet stagnates and stinks. It’s amazing how much a walk can release pent up emotions and improve our mood.

I told you in my first post that I had been “doing all the right things” yet have still been battling the worst season of depression I’ve had in years. I eat a pretty healthy diet (although I do enjoy coffee and chocolate!), take a whole gamut of vitamins and supplements, and try to exercise at least five times a week. However, I realized I haven’t been resting when I needed to because I felt guilty spending “unproductive” time reading or curling up for a nap. So instead of fixing myself a cup of coffee or forcing myself to do just one more thing I’m trying to listen to my body’s needs and practice better self care.

There were also things I couldn’t control – personal losses and feelings of grief, unrelenting back pain, and the changes of menopause. I realized that any one of these ‘uncontrollables’ could trigger a depression, but when they came at me one after another my body’s defenses were eventually too depleted to fight anymore. I began to search out natural remedies to replenish serotonin levels in my body. I have began taking St. John’s Wort and so far, it seems to be helping.

However, as I said, we’re not just physical beings, but body, soul, and spirit.  My next post will have to do with how depression can affect our soul, which is made up of the mind, will, and emotions, and how I’m learning to combat depression in this important area.  

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Fighting Depression Series

It’s a stupid commercial. Every time it comes on, my husband and I either look at each other and laugh, or chime in with the corny phrase, “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up!” This is followed by the actor’s anemic struggle and pleading eyes. Then the announcer touts the special call button you should always wear around your neck and tells us how we can order one. How ridiculous, we think. Until it happens to you.

The dumbest injury I’ve ever suffered is the time I got trapped under my own yard debris bin. It was full and heavy. I yanked on it with all my weight to roll it down the driveway for pickup, but it flipped over on me instead, pinning me to the ground. I pushed and strained to lift it off; I even tried sliding out from under it, but it wouldn’t budge. Eventually, pain and fear trumped pride and I called for help. I was hoarse and pretty shook up when someone finally heard me. It took three of my neighbors to lift it off. I still have a dent in my leg from where it fell.

Depression can be like that. We don’t like to admit we’re down; we’d rather be up on our feet and roll our own trash to the curb. But the truth is, sometimes we do fall and we can’t get up. That’s when we need help to lift whatever is weighing us down. Depression is not a sin, it’s a feeling, and certainly not anything we choose. But we can choose how we respond to it. Like all human struggles, God has the answers for it.

I am just coming out of the worst season of depression I’ve experienced, other than when I went through an unwanted divorce. It was a heaviness I couldn’t lift - a darkness I couldn’t dispel. Even though I love the Lord and have much to be thankful for, I woke morning after morning with no desire to get up, to do anything, or see anyone. But I did it anyway. I continued to do all the “right” things, while the darkness clung like festering tar.

I continued to press my “call button” and follow God’s counsel. Today, I can truly say the JOY has returned. Praise to God! I know I’m not the only one. Many of you deal with depression on a regular basis or are currently suffering a season of depression. What I share with you in the next three posts is not as an expert, but as a fellow sufferer testifying how God has helped me get up from this all too human frailty. Each post will include what I’ve learned can help when depression hits.

We are created in God’s likeness and He is made up of three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We have three parts to our identity as well: Body, Soul, and Spirit. My first post will list some of the physical causes of depression and how we can counteract them. The second post will deal with the soul, which is made up of our mind, our will, and our emotions, and how we can fight depression in those areas. The final post in this series will deal with ways to battle depression in the spiritual realm. I hope this series will help and encourage you, or provide something to share with a friend who is fighting depression.

See you next time.