Colossians 2 – How the Bible Can Help with Depression

In the Mabbat Facebook group, I’ve been posting a Bible study guide each week, and right now, we’re in Colossians chapter 2.  (Here’s the link if you want to check that out: https://www.facebook.com/groups/773975689656609/?ref=bookmarks  It’s going up in weekly installments in the Facebook group, and then I’ll post it as an e-book after we’ve completed it in the group – more on that to come next month!)  Each week, there are a few notes, and then there’s space on the page for you to do some creative assignments to deepen your study of God’s word.  I’ve discovered as I write the Bible study prompts that there are some things I would love to add but don’t really have the room for if I stay focused.  So I decided to share those here on the blog.

Oftentimes as I’m reading the Bible, I find ideas that correlate with things I’ve learned in therapy.  I don’t know why that surprises me, because I firmly believe that God gave us the Bible as a blueprint for living the best lives we can.

20180716-Colossians 2 on DepressionIn Colossians 2:2, Paul expresses a desire for the church members to be “knit together by strong ties of love” before he expresses his desire for them “to have complete confidence that they understand God’s mysterious plan.”  As a lifelong church member, this felt backwards to me until I spent time thinking through it.  Aren’t we supposed to have Jesus first and only?  Isn’t he sufficient for all our needs?  Yes, but… Our standard church answers leave a lot unexamined.  Jesus gives us the tools we need, and he will faithfully meet our needs, but we aren’t absolved from investing a little elbow grease in the process.

Paul wanted the church at Colossae to be bound together in love to provide an environment that fosters learning, trust, and care for one another – an environment that will encourage confidence in the knowledge of God.  As I breathed in that verse, I understood that we can’t see Christ’s love unless we are expressing it and receiving it, and that is the primary function of the church – to be a network of Jesus’s love and grace.

How does this fit in with depression coping skills?  I’m glad you asked.  Strong relationships are key in combatting depression.  There are plenty of scientific studies (as well as every therapist I’ve seen) that tell us the more connected we are to other people, the lower our risk of depression and substance abuse.  If you have depression, think about your symptoms.  Do you find that you pull away from people and, however unintentionally, isolate yourself?  Do you drop out of activities with other people that you enjoy?  Do you back out of engagements with family and friends?

Paul knew it was vital for the church to have strong, loving relationships to understand the fullness of God’s love, and it’s vital for our daily lives, too.  Especially if you battle depression.

So how do you do this when you are in the throes of grief and depression?  First, let someone in.  Find at least one friend that you can trust, and open the door.  Share with them, and listen when they need to share.  Then add another friend.  Then join a group – maybe go to a class you enjoy and start meeting the class members, or go to your local church and join a small group or Bible study class.  Slowly expand your circle and invest in those relationships.  In my experience, the more connected I am to my family, to my circle of friends, and to my church, the better I feel and the easier it is to get out of a funk when I fall into one.

20180716-Colossians 2-7Another verse that grabbed me in Colossians 2 is verse 7.  It’s a beautiful image to think about: “Let your roots grow down into him…”  It’s also a solid way to build a foundation for faith.  First, establish roots, then build, then grow, and then overflow.

That’s not just a solid way to develop faith, but it’s also a solid way to build mental health.

You need roots – some basic skills to recognize depression in your life and some basic skills to combat your symptoms (a treatment and/or maintenance plan).  Once you have that, then you can start building up your coping skills and work towards a “new normal” as your symptoms stabilize.  Then you will grow stronger, and then you’ll be able to share and help others.  The thing about this setup is that you can never neglect any of the stages; they’re all continual and build on each other.  As soon as you skip a step (ignore your roots, say), the entire thing (your mental health) comes crashing down.

This may be less dire for episodic depression and acute grief that will pass once the circumstances shift, but if you struggle with depression as an ongoing issue, you know you need to keep your eye on the ball and not ignore the things that keep you healthy.  I have recently been able to stop my antidepressant medication, but I can feel it when I let stress build up and skip the things that make me feel sane, like exercise, eating well, writing, and art.  When I see my cues – a short temper, complete lack of motivation, and a desire to eat all of the chocolate in the world – I know it’s time to evaluate and get back to basics of self-care.  Sometimes, I know it’s time to check in with my therapist.

What does your root structure look like?  Do you have a solid foundation of self-care and coping skills?  What does your life look like when you are “overflow” stage?  If you’re not there, what will it take for you to get on the right track?

*I am not a professional therapist or counselor, so I don’t offer this as a replacement for professional care.  If you are dealing with depression, please talk to your doctor and make a plan to begin healing.  I believe that Jesus can heal us, but I also know that he gave us tools like doctors and psychologists to help us when we need it.  If you are not getting better through prayer and healthy habits, please seek professional help.  I hope if nothing else, I hope my example can help remove the stigma that so often shadows mental health issues in our churches.  If you don’t know where to start, contact me, and I’ll be happy to help you locate resources in your area.

Today, Depression Hurts. Tomorrow…

What does coping with mild to moderate depression look like in practice?  I can only share from my experience of what works.  I feel it’s important to put the both the good and the bad days out there, so maybe someone who doesn’t have a solid toolbox of coping tools can learn from my mistakes and my battle-earned wisdom.  This is something I wrote a few months ago but wasn’t ready to publish then.  It’s how a bad but not-too-bad day feels, and it’s what I do to make it through.

May 3, 2018: Today is a full-on depression day.  I don’t want to move.  I don’t want to sleep.  I desperately need a shower, but that feels impossible to do.  Honestly, the whole last week has been some version of this that I have generally been able to overcome.  Today, though, is ridiculously hard for some reason.  I feel like screaming or crying or flopping on the ground in some sort of catatonic state.  But all of those require an initial effort, and today I just can’t.

IMG_0804Maybe today is harder because I didn’t sleep well last night or because my period started, and it feels like my uterus is trying to kill me.  Maybe my hormones are out of whack.  Maybe pollen is God’s greatest curse on Adam and Eve, and so snot is also trying to kill me.  Maybe.  There could be a million reasons why, but none of them matter.  Because I just can’t.

So how do I get through today in some moderately adult fashion (since throwing tantrums is frowned upon at my age)?  I will pray a lot.  None of my prayers today will sound very dignified.

This morning I muttered and grumbled because I couldn’t find clean underwear for my child since it seems all her clothes are either dirty and scattered all over her room or in the washer, which I forgot to transfer into the dryer and must wash again.  And then I said, “God, you could just find me a pair of underwear,” as I searched through a pile of unfolded clean clothes all belonging to me.  Behold, a pair of tiny human underwear was in the midst of the pile.  I will hope today that God answers all my obnoxious demands so perfectly to my liking, but the reality is, he will get me through it, pretty or not; how prettily will mostly depend on my attitude.img_0805.jpg

Besides praying undignified, muttered, short and snappy prayers, how will I cope with today?  Mostly I will just keep talking to myself and reminding myself to breathe in.  Breathe out.  Take the next step, whatever it is.

One minute at a time isn’t so huge, so I can walk to the bathroom and start the shower.  I can wash my hair and cry where I won’t scare the dogs or tiny human, and then I can get out and do the next thing.  I won’t think about the whole day or my to-do list or what’s coming up this weekend.  I will gently tell myself that I did something great by bathing, and I will tell myself that I can do more great things today, like brush my teeth.  Even though I desperately want to eat my weight in ice cream or peanut butter or chocolate, I will eat good food in moderation, and I will celebrate by telling myself, “we can do this; we can make it through the day.”  And even though I feel like kicking people in the shins and sticking my tongue out at them while I run away, I will smile instead, and I will hold my feet still, and I will celebrate by reminding myself that on a normal day my smile is my secret weapon.  I can coax a smile out of the grumpiest of folks if I look them in the eye and smile – it’s my best and favorite superpower.

Everyone has some superpower, and a sparkling-eyed smile is mine (procrastination is also one).

But I’m not a nice and friendly person when I feel this depressed.  Generally, I shut down and avoid all contact, but when I don’t, I am sharp-tongued and angry.  It’s not pretty.  I actually take pleasure in the mean things I think – and sometimes let slip – and then I feel awful for being a jerk.  More self-loathing to add to the heap of horrible I already feel.  And even though I know it’s fleeting – this will pass in a few days – it feels like I will feel like this forever.  I almost edited that last sentence because I overused the word “feel,” but then I realized that’s the key to my self-talk coping.

I speak truth to my feelings.

It turns out, feelings can lie.  My depression feelings are depraved liars because they tell me I’m worthless.  They tell me it doesn’t matter what I do because no one cares.  They tell me it’s okay to skip my life and wallow in self-loathing and self-pity.  None of that is true, and in my heart I know that I am a creation of God; I have intrinsic value as his child.  I am a worthy daughter of the King.  I have to tell myself the truth over and over, and even when my feelings make it impossible to believe, I can still act on the truth.  Once I make that first move into the light of truth, I start to feel better.  Each act builds on that momentum until I realize that I made it to lunch without falling into my pit of despair.  Then I made it to dinner and through the tiny human’s bedtime, and then it’s my bedtime, and I made it.

Tomorrow may be just as hard, but I can tell the truth tomorrow, too.

What truth do your feelings need to hear right now?  Listen in your soul, and hear the voice of God tell you this: you are precious and valuable.  You are loved.  You are worthy of love.  Today may be hard, but the load will get lighter the more you listen to his truth, the more his truth lives in you and fills you up.  Jesus is waiting to carry the load for you if you’ll let him.  There is an army of people surviving depression who are cheering for you and love you and want nothing more than to lift you up.  My door is always open.  Join me in the Mabbat FB group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/773975689656609/?ref=bookmarks or e-mail me at mabbatblog@gmail.com if a group feels too scary.