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How to Help Someone With Depression or Anxiety (including what NOT to say)

I have had struggles with depression and anxiety for many years, but during the past five years things have really started to improve dramatically, despite some challenging circumstances, such as having to move out of state for the first time in my entire life!  I would like to thank those people who have stuck by me through my life’s journey and encouraged me to never give up.  These same people have also taught me how to encourage, validate, and strengthen others who also, like me, struggle with depression and/or anxiety. 

I am a born perfectionist, not so much for others, but definitely for myself.  I broke down in tears the other day at work because the pressure of performing at a certain rate and the anxiety of not meeting the goals I (and, I thought, the managers) set for me at the time.  I dreaded disappointing them. I was afraid that they would think less of me as a person, or think that I wasn’t trying hard enough. The truth was that I had become so fixated on performing that my drive was starting to suck out the joy and motivation to even work!  Anxiety was starting to take over even before I clocked in to work.  However, one of my managers, Jim,* validated my presence and my character.  He made it clear that he did not expect me to perform at that rate every day, and it was OK to have bad days sometimes.  When someone is anxious, especially about not doing or being enough, a good way to calm their anxieties is to reassure them that you value them no matter what they do.  Also, validate something in their character that has nothing to do with what they are anxious about. For instance, Jim complimented me on how I make people joyful inside. 

However, I know from experience that there are things that you should never say to someone struggling with depression and anxiety. I had someone tell another person trying to calm my anxieties and depression not to “baby” me.  Never disparage someone struggling as “weak,” “babyish,” or “silly.” They already have low self-esteem, and may even have suicidal thoughts.  If you feel emotionally overloaded trying to help someone with depression and/or anxiety, don’t. Instead, enlist the help of another person who is better able to help them. 

Another way to help someone struggling with depression and anxiety is to invest in them and believe in their abilities. When someone is clinically depressed, they feel like they are in a deep, dark tunnel with no way out.  They don’t typically see their God-given abilities and talents. If someone is anxious about themselves, they may think that trying anything new or that they haven’t done in a while will result in catastrophic failure, so why try? My mentor J saw that I was depressed and didn’t want to get out of the house much.  I did not believe that I would ever get a job or do anything worthy in my life.  Thankfully, she saw a way out of my deep, dark tunnel of doubt and despair, and walked me through the long, but worthy process of helping me gain independence and be employed. She invested in me and believed in my God-given abilities.  When we take the time and effort to invest in someone struggling with depression and anxiety, we will most likely see a slow, but steady growth in that person.  They will be able to have hope and joy again. I can’t speak for J, but her investment has made a huge impact on how I view life and my challenges.  So far, even though I still get anxious and depressed sometimes, my episodes don’t last as long and are not as severe as before I met her.

Sometimes, the best way to help a depressed or anxious person is just to be there for and listen to them.  One of my online friends did not think she was doing much because she felt that she wasn’t able to completely get me out of my depressive episode.  She did more than many people offline I know. She didn’t have to say anything. She did not make things worse by offering unsolicited and unhelpful advice.  She just listened. Sometimes that is all that the person struggling needs at the time—someone that will care enough to listen and to be there for them, when no one else seems to be there.

Finally, we can pray for those struggling with depression and anxiety. We can pray for God’s presence to flood them. We can ask God to help them see His sovereignty and caring hand in the situation that they are in so their anxieties would be quelled.  We can ask God to help them see the hope and joy that awaits them if they put their trust in Him and do not give up on their lives.

If you are struggling now, there is a way out even if it doesn’t seem that way right now.  Don’t give up. If you are recovering, make it a point to help others out of the tunnel of darkness and help them see the Light of Joy and Love.  There is always hope when you are alive.

*=not his real name

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Faith’s Role In Beating Depression

Recently, I had an epiphany! I was complaining to my mom about something so minor that I can’t recall what it was right now, and she said these words that had a profound effect on how I saw God and my situation: We accept what God gives us.

Not only did those words convict me of my complaining, but they also gave me a new perspective on how I could choose to view the trials and cares of my life.

I have been struggling on and off with depression for more than twenty five years now and have just recently begun to realize that most of the triggers that fueled my depression stemmed from some type of discontentment that I was feeling , whether it was dissatisfaction with some aspect of how God made me (Why am I so short? Why did He make me have this type of personality, rather than someone more agreeable? ), my situation (Why am I experiencing this? Why don’t people like me? Why am I so burdened by “X” problem or problems? ), and so on.

One good example of me being depressed (or, in this case, more upset and anxious) because of discontentment was in my work relationship with one of my bosses I had.  I had prayed for one and half years for the relationship to be repaired and/or improved. I was so faithless that I couldn’t imagine anything good coming out of my problems with this boss! One day I was so upset that when I went to church on my day off, I was visibly distraught about this situation and felt like if I didn’t have help soon, I would blow up and totally lose my cool in front of my boss. Thankfully, my pastor made me look in the mirror and see how I contributed to the problems I had with my boss.  The Holy Spirit ended up prodding me to write a note to my boss apologizing for the anger and bitterness I had held against him.  From that day on, our work relationship dramatically improved. Now, I am happy to say that he was one of the best bosses I have ever had! Had I accepted that God gave me my boss for a reason and how God was working, I would have probably enjoyed a better work relationship with him much earlier!

God also helped me see why I should accept what He gives us in life. He gives us the answer in Romans 8:28(KJV) – And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.

How do we know that all things work together for good to them who love God? Because God is always good!  

This is where the devil tempts us to doubt, and thus sprout seeds of discontent in our lives.  He has been doing this ever since Adam and Eve were in the Garden of Eden, with the forbidden fruit.  The devil tempted Eve by saying to her, “For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.” (Genesis 3:5—KJV).  In other words, Satan was saying to her that God did not have her best in mind when He forbade her and Adam to eat of the fruit—that God was withholding good (“ye shall be as gods”) from her and Adam for His own benefit. Nothing could be further from the truth!

Satan does the same thing with us!  

For instance, when I complain about how God created me, Satan has successfully convinced me of the lie that God made a mistake, that He did something wrong and bad in the way He created me!  When we complain about a situation or a person that God has put in our lives that we don’t particularly like and it seems that either the difficult situation will never end or the difficult person hangs around in our lives forever, we believe the lie that God is trying to make us “suffer” or maybe that God does not have our best interests in mind when He allows the situation or person to linger more than we’d like.  We fail to realize that maybe God wants to teach us something through that person or situation, or that He wants to use them to refine our character and make us more like Himself! We also demonstrate lack of faith that God can make something good come out of that situation and person.

However, I find that when I trust God completely and when I accept what God has given me, I feel much more content in my life.  God then opens my eyes to see all the ways He has blessed me, and I begin to realize just how blessed I truly am! I begin to see how God is working in my life, and how I can reflect His light.  In contrast to the hopelessness that depression often brings, having faith in God’s goodness and plans for us gives me great hope. Faith has helped me to learn to trust that everything God does is for my good, even the trials in my life. No wonder Jesus says in Matthew 11:28, “Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” (KJV) I find that when I start to get burdened by all that is going on in my life, but then come to Jesus for rest, I find that I am significantly less depressed and anxious.  In that I find great hope for my life!

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Living In Fear—My Journey Out

I have lived in some fear for most of my life.  Even back to my elementary school days, I was chided by teachers and peers alike for “worrying too much.”  I had severe OCD in my early teen years. Later, some of my anxiety sometimes turned into paranoia. Moreover, in my senior year of high school I was dubbed “most paranoid” by my graduating class.

But God has rescued me out of many of my fears.  Yes, He is the same God that has said, “Do not fear” numerous times in the Bible. 

I recovered from my severe OCD with medication and by slowly trying to reduce the time I spent on my nonsensical rituals. Now, many years later, I barely even remember what the rituals were! God used people and situations in my life to help me to combat the devil’s lies that not doing the rituals would bring me “bad luck”. (Yes, I actually believed that “bad luck” deal! ) God helped me realize that not doing the nonsensical rituals actually freed me to joy and to do what He wanted me to do with my life in the first place.

I also used to be so afraid what people would think of me if they found out that I was on the autistic spectrum and had other struggles.  I tried to hide my struggles from the outside world even before I realized I was on the spectrum.  I was taught by my parents, my culture, and the community around me to not tell anyone about my “dirty laundry.”  I know they all meant well—as they did not want to further expose me to becoming prey to unscrupulous people who may have wanted to take advantage of my openness.  However, I also felt alone and powerless to fight the battles that still raged on in my heart long after the visible symptoms of the struggles had passed.  When the Spirit impressed upon my heart to write about my struggles, I expected people to judge and even reject me, but, at that point, I did not care.  I knew God wanted to use me to bring hope to others struggling similarly.   When I started writing about my struggles, something amazing happened! Not only did God use me in His amazing way, but I also found that most people found my newfound vulnerability refreshing. It opened up the way for them to share their own struggles, and find acceptance and camaraderie with those struggling similarly, including myself.

Sometimes, I would also be afraid of certain people themselves, as when an abuse survivor sees his or her abuser in close proximity to them after going “no contact” for a long time.  This probably stems from an incident where a teacher growled at me and acted threateningly to me when I ran from him in fear.   I still fear people when they yell at me because of this, but thankfully my fear abates within hours, if not only a couple days, of the yelling incident.  God has infused the power of forgiveness and redemption to quell my fears of people yelling at or hurting me.  He has taught me (and continues to teach me) the power of releasing bitterness and replacing it with mercy, compassion and grace.

When I was in school, I used to worry about what would happen the consecutive days, whether it was the fear that I would not pass a test or quiz, or if I was going to get in trouble for something that I may have said or done. Sometimes, I would lay awake for some time worrying about these and other such things. What I learned was that my worries and fears either never came to pass at all, or it wasn’t as bad as I had imagined.  I still struggle with this sometimes, but one major way God has helped me with my fears is redirecting my focus from my circumstances and the “what-ifs” that I fear (like what if I don’t pass that test….or what if I get laid off or fired from my job? ) to His sovereignty and goodness. Now, I am learning how to say, “Even if I don’t pass the test, God will give me a second chance, for example….or even if I got laid off, God will provide me another job.  Even if I get COVID-19, God will use my illness to glorify Himself and bring about good in my life) This has quelled my fears about COVID-19 significantly, and has helped me to trust God’s sovereignty and goodness in my life, no matter what will happen. 

Almost everyone I know has at least one fear, even if they don’t readily acknowledge that fact.  It’s normal, but when fear starts to paralyze your joy and freedom in life, then it needs to leave.  With God’s help, you can conquer your fears and experience the joy and freedom He has for you.