Category Archives: Depression

Savoring the Sweetness in Suffering

Suffering sucks. It just does. There’s no way around it. Sometimes our natural inclination is just to put our heads down and wait for the hard times to be over. The idea is that if we bury our heads, we can get through it. It’s true that we can get through it that way, but it may not be the best way. What if, instead of just waiting for the bad times to be over, you lifted your head and tried to figure out what you can learn during the hard times?

This would be a different stance for many of us, and it would have to be a conscious choice on a daily basis. It would mean taking a moment to dig in to the suffering, to explore it and see what else can be gleaned. But just imagine what you could get out of it!

You might learn some things about life. You might learn that life keeps going, even if it seems that you will be perpetually stuck in the frustrating place you’re in. You might learn, if you look closely, that it’s never all good or bad. Even in the darkest and most frustrating days, there are rays of hope and light. You might learn that those little things are things to be cherished, and that they can make the suffering more manageable.

You might also learns some things about yourself. You might learn how strong you are. You might learn how resourceful you are. You might even learn about some of your relationships (good things and not so good things). You could learn that you have some virtues you didn’t know you possessed.

The bottom line is that suffering presents us with a unique opportunity: groan or grow. Which do you choose? We’ve already been promised that God will never put more on us than we can bear- that means, we will survive whatever the obstacle is right now. Just keep going! Thanks for reading, and make Well Choices!

Surviving the Holiday Blues

This time of year is hard for a lot of people for a lot of reasons. Some people have seasonal mood shifts due to shorter days,  colder weather, and less sunlight (click here for more info on seasonal depression). Some people are thinking of and missing loved ones they may be estranged from or have lost due to death. Others may get overwhelmed by the stressors of trying to select and buy gifts they can’t even afford! For various reasons, people struggle.  Stress levels go up, and people can get more depressed and anxious.  But, the holidays don’t have to be a miserable time of year. Here are some of my suggestions for having a safe and happy holiday season.

1. Connect with friends and family. If you have positive relationships with family, try to figure out ways to connect with them. Maybe you can’t get to them in person, but you could arrange to video chat or put in a phone call when you know others will be together. Spend time with friends if you can’t get to family. The holidays can be a great time to reconnect with people you haven’t kept in touch with, or to try to mend relationships that may be in need of repairing. If you’ve lost a loved one, take some time to honor and remember them as a part of the holidays. Perhaps you can do this by continuing a tradition they loved, lighting a candle, looking at pictures, or simply talking about them! Just because they are physically gone doesn’t mean they are no longer a part of your family. Another option is to connect with social or religious groups. Relationships matter.

2. Give back. Altruism is a great thing to do any time of year, but during the holiday season when we can get caught up in materialism and “stuff,” it can be helpful to have some perspective and take some time to be (or give) a gift to someone less fortunate than you. For the past couple years, my family has chosen to do that instead of giving gifts for Christmas. Some years we will adopt a family, or volunteer to serve a meal, or give a monetary gift to someone in need. Maybe you know of a friend who is lonely or isolated this time of year and you can set aside an afternoon to spend time with them- what a gift!

3. Set some boundaries. One of the great gifts we can give to ourselves and others is to be honest about our limitations around this season. Set a budget and stick to it. Is that Christmas gift really worth 13 months of credit card interest? Perhaps it’s letting family know that they won’t get gifts this year, or that they will get hand made gifts (my favorite!!) Perhaps it’s knowing that as much as you love your family, being around them for too long will be stressful. Maybe the boundary is internal and you need to balance social time with some alone time. Everybody is different so listen to your own needs! For me, I love family time, and it’s important to get some serious alone time. Blame the introversion. So, I work to balance social time with carving out time for me.

4. Remember what this is all about. Perhaps this should have been the first bullet. For me as a Christian, the real purpose of this season is an anticipation and excitement that God thought enough of me to send a Savior, born into humble circumstances for a divine purpose. When I think about the gravity of that gift, any item I can buy in a store pales in comparison. Sometimes we get so lost in the commercialism that we lose a sense of wonder and gratitude. Focusing on the true meaning of the celebration can keep us in check.

5. Keep up the self-care. A lot of times people’s schedules change during the holidays, and it can be easy to lose track of your sleep schedule, exercise regimen, and let’s not forget the holiday desserts! It’s important to try to keep up the things you normally do to try to keep yourself healthy. I’m not saying don’t indulge, because for some people that would be unreasonable, but also keep in mind that those schedules serve to regulate our minds and bodies and losing them can exacerbate the potential for holiday stress.

These certainly aren’t all the tips, but hopefully they can be a good start. The important thing is to do what you need to do to take care of yourself.  For more tips, check out this Mayo Clinic Article: http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-living/stress-management/in-depth/stress/art-20047544

Thanks for reading and make Well Choices!

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A while ago, I was in the car listening to the radio and the Yolanda Adams song “Through the Storm” came on. The song starts out with these words:

The storms of life will blow
They’re sure to come and go
They meet us all at a time
When I’m calm and doing fine

But the Captain of my soul
He’s always on board
He rocks me in His arms
While riding through the storm

A few days later, my pastor preached a sermon about the importance of praising God in the valley. He said that sometimes the valley is a training ground, and sometimes our valley places are where we will stay. Sometimes the valley is to humble us because we have lost sight of God’s presence and power in our lives. My favorite point was that even though the valley can be dark and lonely, you can still grow! We need to have the wisdom and relationship with God to understand which of these situations best fits us. For those of us who struggle with depression and anxiety from time to time, it’s hard to believe the valley has a purpose other than to bring us suffering and make us feel separate from God. I want to suggest that during the valley times, we should seek after God even more fervently – even (especially!) when we don’t feel like it. For a long time, one of my favorite scriptures has been Psalm 42:1.

As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul thirsts for you, O God! – Psalm 42:1

It wasn’t until recently that I did some more research and realized that the rest of the Psalm is David crying out to God in a moment of depression. What I thought was an exclamation of joyful praise is actually a desperate cry for God in a dark moment. Imagine how our lives would change if in the moments when we feel most frustrated with God, we cry out to the one that we need just like we need water to survive! For some of us, that may be a hard  thing to imagine, but it doesn’t mean that it won’t be rewarding.

Here’s what I know: where ever you are, God is there too. My dad used to tell me God has three possible answers to our prayers: yes, no, and wait. Sometimes when we don’t get the answer that we want, we get mad and want to jump ship. We want to “lean to our own understanding” and do things in the way that makes sense to us. The truth is that God doesn’t promise us that there will be no storms, but there are promises all over the Bible that we will never be abandoned. This really hit home for me as I was preparing for a workshop on the spiritual components of depression. You can’t turn too many pages without finding a scripture that reiterates God’s commitment to be with us every step of the way. For every doubt and question we have while we struggle, God has an answer! Here are just a few:

Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go. (Joshua 1:9)

The Lord upholds all who fall, and raises up all who are bowed down (Psalm 145: 14)

Cast your cares on the Lord, and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous fall (Psalm 55: 22)

It is the Lord who goes before you. He will be with you; he will not fail you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed. (Deuteronomy 31:8)

These are just the beginning. Even when it doesn’t look right or feel right you are not alone. My challenge to you is to keep trusting through the storm! You might be in the middle of it right now, but it gets better. Trust that even in the valley, even in the dark times, YOU ARE NOT ALONE.  Keep trusting. Keep going. God is with you every step  of the way.

Thanks for reading, and make Well Choices!

Black Women’s Fight for their Lives

I came across a HuffPost article that described the discrepancy between rates of depression in black women and their access of mental health treatment. A CDC study quoted in the article leads to the conclusion that while black women are more likely than both their male and white counterparts to suffer from depression, they are less likely to see mental health services and remain in treatment. The article notes several factors that might contribute to this phenomenon: lack of or not enough insurance, shame, lack of knowledge about what depression is, stigma, and the idealized “strong black woman.

The article includes this poignant quote from Melissa Harris- Perry:

Through the ideal of the strong black woman, African-American women are subject not only to historically rooted racist and sexist characterizations of black women as a group but also a matrix of unrealistic interracial expectations that construct black women as unshakeable, unassailable and naturally strong.

I have to tell you, those words hit me like a ton of bricks. Even though I have spent my whole adult life thinking and learning about mental health, this sounded like me. I have struggled with what it would mean to seek help for myself, even as I spent my days providing that help to others. How many of us have felt the pressure to be “unshakeable, unassailable, and naturally strong”? How many of us have been screaming on the inside and smiling on the outside? We pride ourselves on being superwomen, and get pats on the back when we never have to ask anyone for help. I know it isn’t all of us, but I also know it’s far too many. It might not be you, but it might be that girlfriend that you see every once in a while, and you keep thinking, something just isn’t right. It might be your sister, who always looks run down and tired, but always says she’s “ok.”  This post isn’t just about mental health. This is about us taking care of ourselves, and each other. If you know something isn’t right, ask about it. If you see that a friend looks down, don’t look the other way. You might be the help she needs. Maybe it is depression and maybe she needs a therapist. Maybe she needs a sista-friend that she can’t be honest with when everything isn’t peachy. Maybe she needs a sounding board where she can say “This is hard sometimes!”

What I know, is that as long as we try to be 24/7 superwomen, we are in the fight of our lives. Despite our greatest efforts, we are human beings. Human beings get worn out when they don’t care for themselves. Human beings get depressed when they spend all their energy caring for others ,and have none left to care for themselves. A while ago I taught a class on self-care for ministers, and I used these two images to show the difference between pouring out endlessly into others (left), and the health of caring for yourself while you care for others (right). In the left picture, you can see that eventually, the pitcher will be empty. In the right picture, you can see that because they flow into each other, none of the vessels will run dry. Which one of these is you?

pouringoverflow

This issue is not just for black women, it’s for all of us! For me, this is a daily battle. I feel the pressure of needing to be a professional woman, take care of my household, be active in my church, and all the other things that I do. I love to do these things, and if I do those things that I love without caring for myself, eventually I will end up empty and do nothing well. So for me, this means I owe it to myself and the people I care about to take intentional time to look inward and take care of me. It makes me a better wife, daughter, therapist, friend, teacher, and community member. What I do for me depends on what I need- sometimes it’s just a girls’ night, or making myself go to the gym because I know afterward I’ll feel like I new woman. Sometimes it’s letting myself be cared for without guilt, and sometimes it’s going to see a therapist.  Let’s stop wearing fatigue like a medal of honor. Let’s stop cursing our humanness as weakness. Let’s strive for wholeness, wellness, and peace!

Thanks for reading, and make Well Choices.

Let’s Talk About Depression

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Let’s talk about Depression. I’ve been doing some prep work for a workshop I’m doing about Spirituality and Depression, and I must admit: I’ve been really struggling. I struggle because in the church, we send so many mixed messages to people. On the one hand, we tell people that God is a provider, a protector, a sustainer, and we should cast all our cares on God. On the other hand, we sometimes shame people when they actually admit that it can sometimes be hard to see and feel that! I want to talk about two different types of depression- situational and clinical. Most (if not all) of us have experienced symptoms of depression related to a specific incident (a loss, a death, a break-up, a stressful work situation). If you won’t admit it, I will. I’ve been sad, lonely, frustrated, confused, and unsure about God’s place in my life. In these situations, sometimes a change of perspective, a reminder of scriptures of explaining God’s promises, prayer, and a good cry are just what we need to feel better. But, all depression (or maybe a better word is sadness) isn’t like that!

Sometimes, you are depressed and you don’t know why. You can’t get out of bed. You don’t feel motivated. You don’t feel God’s presence. You can’t seem to enjoy the things that once drove you. You can’t concentrate. You can’t rest. Your body hurts. This is clinical depression. This is not depression that can be prayed away. This depression is not about a failure of faith. This is a brain disease that makes even the simplest of tasks seem like great battles. Here’s the problem- we treat these people, as if they are the people dealing with situational distress. We say things like:

Just pray.

Just trust God.

Believe it will get better.

Fake it ’til you make it.

But what if my mind is so clouded that I can’t see any of that? What if my heart is so heavy that I can’t find the words to pray? For some folks, depression is not something that you can just pray or praise your way out of. For some folks, a professional therapist is needed to help them find ways to cope and to heal. For others, medication is needed to correct a chemical imbalance in the brain. Take a look at this photo from a WebMD Slideshow about Depression:

depressed brain scan

For people who experience clinical depression, the brain functions less efficiently (the bright colors indicate levels of activity) and is less able to handle every day demands- that why people who are depressed may have difficulty getting work done, making decisions, taking care of life tasks, or being in relationships. So, when you tell someone with clinical depression to snap out of it, you are asking them to do something that they are physically (emotionally, spiritually) unable to do. It’s not a sign of weakness, it’s not a personal failure, it’s a treatable health problem. There is so much stigma attached to mental illness that people are often afraid to share their struggles. Imagine the hurt we cause when people muster up the bravery to talk about it, and their concerns are not taken seriously or they are given the message that they should just pray it away.

As the church, we have a responsibility to stop shaming people for their “lack of faith” and start guiding people to wellness. Here are some simple things you can do:

  1. Just listen. You can bet that much of the advice you try to give, the person has already tried, possibly without success. Try listening without developing a response other than: “I’m sorry, what can I do?”
  2. Connect them with resources. We are great for providing a listening ear, but if you’re not a professional mental health care provider, don’t try to do it! Offer to be with the person while they make an appointment, or even go with them to the first one. Help them to look up therapists their insurance company will cover. If you don’t know where to start, check out my Find a Therapist page for help.
  3. Pray. Acknowledging that professional help is needed  does not negate everything we know about the power of prayer. We pray before surgeries, flights, road trips, and first days at school. This is no different. Pray that the person will begin to feel God’s love and power. Pray that they connect well with the therapist and/or psychiatrist treating them. Pray for healing!
  4. Don’t stop checking in. Often, people who are depressed feel that they are alone in the world. Your call, text, or email can mean all the world. Show them that you care and that you are there for them. You can be the physical manifestation of God’s love for a person who is suffering. While we don’t always understand why we go through things, we do not that God loves us, God cares, and God never leaves. Check out these promises:

Psalms 145:14- The LORD upholds all who fall, and raises up all who are bowed down.

Psalms 34:18- The LORD is near to those who have a broken heart, and saves such as have a contrite spirit.

Psalm 3:3:You, O Lord, are a shield for me, my glory and lifter up of my head.

Romans 8:37-38: No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels, nor rules, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

My hope is that we will begin to provide a space where we can talk about this without fear of shame. My hope is that we can truly be the hospital for all kinds of ailments, that we can instill hope, and that we can honestly admit when we need to call others for help. The only way people can get the help they need is if they are able to admit they are hurting!

If you are in the Richmond area (or willing to travel) check out the Upcoming Events section for an awesome conference on this very issue being held in a few weeks!

Thanks for reading, and make Well Choices!