If you saw me at church or around town, I would have smiled and told you I was good. On the outside, I wore the mask that so many Christians do. Inside, I was dying.
My wife will tell you that it was the darkest year of our life. I was tired and sad every day. I was present with my wife and kids physically, but mentally I had checked out.
Six months in, I finally admitted that I wasn’t just burnt out. I was depressed.
But I’m a pastor! I’m not supposed to get depressed. How could this happen to me?
I’ve never shared this with anyone before (except my wife). And the reason I’m writing about it now is that, by the grace of God, I’ve overcome my depression, and I believe you can too.DISCLAIMER:
Before I get into the things that God used to help me pull out of a year of depression, I need to make a few important disclaimers.
Many factors lead to depression. We still have much to learn about what causes it.
In this article, I’m not talking about depression caused by mental illness. I have a close family member who has a mental illness that causes depression. He will battle it every day of his life, and I thank God for advances in psychology and medicine that have helped him manage it.
So if you are wrestling with a mental illness and need to take medication to manage your depression, let me be the first to tell you that it’s OK.
There’s a terrible stigma in the church about taking medication to manage clinical depression. It’s wrong. God doesn’t love you any less if you need medicine. Nobody should be looked down upon for getting help.
Also, please know that I’m not a professional psychologist. I can only speak about my experience. If you need help, please talk to a professional.
The tips I’m suggesting here are what helped me to pull out of a dark time in my life.
There was no magic fix. The climb out was slow and painful. It didn’t happen overnight.
But over time, the depression faded into the background, and I have moved on.
Here are the ten things that helped me.
When the righteous cry for help, the Lord hears and delivers them out of all their troubles. The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit. (Psalm 34:17-18)
Yell at God if you need to. Tell him all your frustrations. Don’t stop. He can handle it.
When I was depressed, I blamed God. I was mad at him for allowing this to happen to me. I played the victim, and my prayer life suffered.
Things started to turn around for me only after I started praying again. Just know that it didn’t happen overnight. I prayed day after day, month after month.
God is faithful. He hears your prayers. Don’t stop.2. FIND YOUR IDENTITY IN CHRIST
2. FIND YOUR IDENTITY IN CHRIST
But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God (John 1:12)
Part of the reason I was down was that my I build my identity on the wrong foundation.
My identity was in being a successful pastor, working in a large church, and being the poster boy for Christian life with my perfect little family.
When a child’s medical problems, difficulty at work, and eventually my depression blindsided me, I couldn’t handle it.
I didn’t know who I was anymore because my identity was in things other than Christ. It took a lot of soul-searching for me to realize this and ultimately find peace in knowing that I am more than just a pastor, husband, and father. I’m a child of God.
If (God forbid) I lost my ministry, my family, and everything else I had worked so hard for, I would still be a member of God’s family.
Who would you be if you lost everything? If you don’t have an answer, you have an identity problem.
The last thing I wanted to do when I was depressed was a workout. But research has proven that regular exercise helps fight depression.
Your body releases neurochemicals that help you feel good after you exercise.
It wasn’t easy to get started. I started going for walks with my kids to a neighborhood park and doing a few pushups and sit-ups in my living room.
It wasn’t much, but doing just a little bit every day helped until I had the energy to do more. I felt better on the days that I exercised than on the days I didn’t.
4. EAT HEALTHY
Eating is my favorite sport. Can I get a witness?
When I was depressed, I self-medicated with food.
I sought comfort in comfort food, and it only made things worse. I gained weight and felt worse.
After I had admitted my depression, I cleaned up my diet at the same time I started to exercise. It helped a ton.
The greasy foods and sugary drinks hurt more than they helped.
Studies have proven that if you battle depression, you can help win the war with your diet.
5. STAY IN CHRISTIAN COMMUNITY
And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another (Hebrews 10:24-25)
My first instinct when I got depressed was to withdraw. I didn’t want to be around anyone. I just wanted to do what I had to do, go home, and be left alone.
I cringed when my phone rang, or a friend texted. I didn’t even want to go to church anymore. It was bad.
But withdrawing from the world and everyone who loved me didn’t help. One of the things that helped me get out of the pit was staying involved in Christian community, even when I didn’t feel like it.
Don’t run away from church. God’s desire is for all of us to live in community. Even when you don’t feel like it, you need to get out of bed and go to your church or small group.
One of the best things you can do is stop focusing so much on yourself and your problems. Live to love and serve others.
6. COUNT YOUR BLESSINGS
give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. (1 Thessalonians 5:18)
You may be depressed, but it doesn’t mean you aren’t blessed.
I was so focused on all that was wrong with my life that I missed all that was right.
When I realized this, I made a conscious effort to thank God every day for the good things, no matter how small.
Whether I was thanking him for the laughter of my children, sunshine, coffee, or another day to live, praising God for the blessings made life less depressing.
Don’t build a house in the land of negativity. Focus on all the good things God has given you.
Phone addiction is a problem. Studies have found that people who spend more time on their phone have a higher risk of depression.
You may not know this, but your phone has an off button somewhere. It’s OK to use it.
When I was depressed, I retreated from my real-world problems and stuck my face in my phone. I played games, watched Netflix, and killed hours in mindless online activity.
When I started to turn it around, I made a conscious effort to put my phone down and spend more time in the real world. I played with my kids and talked to my wife instead of watching other people live their life.
Take a break from electronics. Unplug from the world. Turn off the noise. Be present.
It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives to his beloved sleep. (Psalm 127:2)
You may feel depressed because you aren’t sleeping enough.
My depression hit the hardest when I was working late on my computer every night and had a newborn baby. Needless to say, I wasn’t getting enough sleep.
To make matters worse, when I should have been sleeping, I was up until 2 am watching Netflix.
I was up early, up late, and up with a child that decided not to sleep through the night for two years.
I used to joke, “I’ll sleep when I’m dead.” But I realized I’d be dead a lot sooner than planned if things didn’t change.
If you aren’t getting the proper amount of sleep, it may be a big part of your problem. I know for a fact that I started feeling better after I made sleep more of a priority.
9. EDIT YOUR LIFE
Part of my problem was that I was doing too much. I couldn’t juggle it all. Something had to give.
When I got depressed, I had to cut a lot of things from my life. I turned down some great opportunities, but I was overextended, and it was killing me.
If you have a problem like me in saying yes to everything, you have to learn how to say no.
Cut the nonessential obligations from your life. It may be a good thing, but too many good things aren’t always the best thing.
Spend time on only the most important things and create more blank space in your life.
10. TELL SOMEBODY
Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. (James 5:16)
Here’s one thing I didn’t do until it was far too late. I didn’t get help like I should have.
I didn’t want to talk about my problems. How could I? I was a pastor who was supposed to have it all together. What would people think?
I called a Christian counselor once, but he was out of town. So I never made an appointment.
My pride got in the way. I knew I wasn’t OK, but I didn’t want anyone else to know that.
Thankfully, I married an amazing woman who helped me come to terms with what I was feeling inside. We talked it out for hours every day. She helped me be able to admit for the first time that I was depressed.
It took me a long time to be able to even say the words, “I am depressed.” I thought as a Christian I should be above that. But I wasn’t.
It’s OK to admit that you aren’t OK. The road to healing starts with confession.
YOUR NEXT STEP
Are you depressed? There’s hope. God will help you pull through. Please, don’t be like me and let your pride get in the way. Don’t wait to get help.
I still have days where I start to slide back into the hole, but I’ve learned to identify it before I get too far down.
Christian joy is about more than just a feeling of happiness. It’s an awareness of our ultimate well-being because of the good news of Jesus Christ. It is well because, in the end, it will all be well.
If you know someone struggling with depression, share this article to help spread hope.
This article was written by Brandon Hilgemann and originally appeared at his blog. Find it here.
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