For depression, that is. While everyone is feeling festive, getting creative with costumes, planning Thanksgiving dinners, and family trips for Christmas, the winter season also extracts a high toll for many people as well.
Daylight Savings just changed, so it’s darker earlier. We remember lost loved ones who you don’t get to celebrate the holidays with us anymore. Another year is ending, and realization sets in that you’re not where you hoped you be this year… again. And while everyone else seems so happy, you can easily be managing that “lonely in a crowd” feeling, while suffering with your pain internally.
Let me offer a few tips to surviving what has been called by many as Seasonal Onset Depression, or Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) this holiday season…
- Talk to someone! This is number one, because many people struggle alone unnecessarily. And you don’t have to! Chances are, you’re not alone. You don’t need a lot of people, but you need a one or two good ones, who know your pain, and who you can reach out to in a moments notice and know they’ll respond.
- Wake up earlier. The sun didn’t go away completely, we just messed our clocks up! If you make it a point to wake up a little earlier than before, you’ll get to see some of the sunlight. And that is really good for your mental health.
- Take care of your body. I’ve anticipated this with my own emotional struggles, and I got back into the gym about a month ago. I literally feel like I’m working my depression off even more than I’m working off the extra calories I probably shouldn’t have consumed.
- Stay in community. While you need one or two good people to confide in about your struggles, it’s also healthy to go to the company party, family gathering, church event, or whatever other forms of community you might be interested in participating in. It reminds you that you belong to this human race, you’re not alone, and there is good to experience, primarily through other people.
- Prayer/Meditation. Part of dealing with your depression is actually dealing with it. Time in prayer and meditation is a fantastic way to confront your struggle directly and process your pain in a productive manner that actually leads to healing.
- Don’t be ashamed. You’re not a blight on the season! You’re growing, healing, and communicating through your real struggle. So don’t add unnecessary guilt on top of depression.
Be healthy. Talk to someone, deal with your problems, don’t be ashamed… there’s hope for you! It might not be your fault for feeling this way, but it is your responsibility to take care of yourself through this season. Try to focus on the joys this season. There are a lot of wonderful things to reflect on and experience. Depression doesn’t have to dominate your season.
What Depression is NOT
After attempting to commit some necessary thoughts to writing, I realized this was way bigger than a post – it needed to be more of an on-going conversation.
Recently, I confessed to my staff, church family, and those who follow me on social media that I have been actively struggling with depression and that it has been particularly difficult this past year.
I’m still not ready to get into most of the details of my battle, but I will share a few things about my story:
1. It’s been a lifelong battle.
2. I’ve been to the brink of suicide. More than once.
3. Talking about it has helped. Like, a lot.
4. Jesus is stronger than my struggle.
“Jesus is stronger than my struggle.”
Let me begin this conversation with a couple of thoughts on what, I’m convinced depression is not…
1. Depression is not evidence of being far from God. I’ve heard it all. Someone actually said I needed to repent of my depression. Oh, trust me! I would love to if that made it go away! I’m a pastor, Christian counselor, and coach to other pastors planting churches. One of the greatest ironies of my journey through depression, has been these rare moments, often when the darkness feels the strongest, that I feel the presence of God in more clear, compelling ways than ever. In many ways, depression has drawn me closer to God. And if that’s the price of knowing Him more intimately, I don’t just accept my depression, I rejoice in it. His grace is sufficient, and I glory in my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. You see – these verses are fun to quote until the “thorn in the flesh” is taboo – like a pastor admitting to depression.
2. Depression is not an age issue. Yes, I struggled with suicide and depression since my teen years – but I’m over twice the age I was when I nearly ended my own life. I’m not a millennial – in fact I’m closing in on 40. Since sharing my depression publicly, I’ve had literally dozens of people – mostly men, and many of them pastors – who have shared their struggle with depression. A huge percentile of these people were older than me, been in ministry longer than me, and some had confessed to suicidal thoughts also.
3. Depression is not predictable. I consider myself very self-aware. I’m as comfortable with questioning my instincts as I am trusting them. And there’s few things as frustrating for me as feeling “wrong” on the inside, but not understanding why. Depression isn’t just limited to bad days, bad news, or bad memories. Depression can wreck your first day off in weeks. Depression can put you in a funk right before a date night you’ve been looking forward to all day.
4. Depressed people are not always sad. How does someone so full of life like Robin Williams commit suicide? How can a young, charismatic preacher with a beautiful family and great life end it all? Because often, those with the capacity to express the greatest joy also possess the capacity to feel the deepest pain. I’ll commit more energy to this subject in a future post.
5. Depression is not simple. Pray more. Read your Bible more. Exercise more. Eat better. I’ve been told all of the above, and those who struggle with depression will tell you that these things individually and collectively have immense impact on their ability to cope with, and even overcome depression. But it is almost never as simple as “gut health” or spiritual discipline. If you treat the symptoms but never get true rest and healing at the source, you’ll spend your life tired from trying to fix yourself, and getting frustrated – and more depressed. Once you finally get quiet and still, you find that the shadows of your soul still lurk, waiting for you to become even more fatigued.
• Depression is not unusual. Every kind of person struggles with depression. Christians. Atheists. Soldiers. Millennials. Boomers. Caucasians, African-descent, Hispanics, Asians, wealthy, poor, educated, uneducated, and every other variety or amalgamation of the above. It hasn’t been talked about enough. There’s been too much shame associated with it, and as a result, many people who could have gotten help didn’t. This has created two effects that I see: 1) People with depression have felt isolated and more alone than we know to be true, and 2) because of this, few people know where to turn for help.
It’s time we break the silence, and begin the conversation. It’s time to talk about depression. I still believe Jesus is the only Healer of our broken world and broken hearts, but we’ve got to be honest about the problems, if we’re ever going to accurately apply the solution.
I’m John – a pastor, husband, and father with a great life. I struggle with depression. Let’s talk.