This article is part of the Open Letters series.
My dear friend,
I’m so sorry to hear that you are suffering with serious depression. Although you feel hopeless and helpless, I want to assure you right up front that there is hope and there is help. I’ve been there myself and I’ve felt the same despair and darkness that you feel. But God, in his great mercy, brought me out of it and I trust and pray he will also bring you into the light.
Recovery took longer than I expected or wanted and I was surprised at how many different components were involved in my healing. But have hope: if you are patient and use all the different means God has provided, you will most likely be among the 95% of people who do get better.
Ask God to teach you through this, to teach you about yourself . . . and to teach you about himself.
You’ve already taken the first and most important step: you’ve admitted you have a serious problem and you’ve begun to reach out for help. That’s huge. If you checked out the symptoms of depression on WebMD, you were no doubt helped to see how many of these symptoms you have and that you’ve already had some of them for a worryingly long time.
The next step is to share this with three people: a close family member (like your spouse, if you’re married), your pastor, and your doctor. You will need family support throughout, and the earlier you involve them the better, as they will have a lot to learn in the next few months. They may not understand initially, but encourage them to support you as you talk to your pastor and doctor.
Your pastor is key as he will help you to discern whether there are any spiritual causes behind your depression. Even if there isn’t a spiritual cause (and there often isn’t) there will be spiritual consequences and you will need your pastor’s prayers and guidance throughout. I’d caution you against announcing this as a prayer need in your church. Not everyone understands depression, and some people might say some cruel and hurtful things about you and even to you. It’s better just to share this with people you can be sure will sympathize with and pray for you.
When you visit the doctor, tell him everything—don’t hold back, don’t minimize, don’t play it down. Just explain exactly how you are feeling. You may get quite emotional opening up for the first time like this, but the doctor is very used to this and you shouldn’t feel embarrassed.
You can expect your doctor to help clarify whether you have the symptoms of depression. He should also be able to do some initial examination of possible physical causes. He may order some medical tests, and he may ask you about your family history and about your life over the past 6–18 months. He’s simply trying to figure what might be some of the contributing factors to this depression. He’s also working on possible cures which, depending on the seriousness of your condition, may include medication or some counseling.
If he does prescribe medication, be patient with it and give it a few weeks to really begin to work. Ask God to bless his provision of these medications, and that he would direct them to the right places in your body. Also, don’t think that all you need to do is pop a pill. I’ve never seen anyone cured by just taking meds. They can work very well, however, if taken as part of a holistic package of care.
Regarding counseling, your pastor should be able to give you basic advice and biblical counsel, but you may also wish to consider a Christian counselor, especially one who has some expertise in CBT (cognitive behavior therapy). That will help you to retrain your mind and thinking patterns for long-term recovery. But keep your pastor involved and informed throughout.
Here are some other practical steps that you can build slowly into your life:
Make sure you are getting at least eight hours of sleep every night, with the same bedtimes and wakeup times. Also, take a proper weekly Sabbath, where you maximize rest, quiet, and peace.
Start walking every day. A small amount at first and then increasing it gradually. Eventually you will want to graduate to gentle jogging and perhaps even some weights at the gym.
Make sure you are eating regular meals and healthy food.
I know your life has been a bit chaotic recently, so try to get back to a daily routine. Our bodies and minds flourish when we establish rhythms.
It’s going to take some effort, but rekindle some of the friendships you have let go, especially Christian friendships.
Read and pray a little each day. Don’t overtax yourself here but start small and brief, slowly building over many weeks.
There’s more to say but that’s a good beginning to approaching this complex problem in a holistic manner.
Above all, ask God to teach you through this, to teach you about yourself—your weakness and your sin—and to teach you about himself, his grace, and his power.
Remember, the Lord will bring good out of this. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve seen God use experiences like this in his people’s lives to sanctify them and prepare them for future service to other suffering Christians.