When I think about the topic of mental health, I’m reminded of that hilarious Bob Newhart clip in which a woman enters his office seeking psychological help. Bob initially responds in his typical deadpan humor then yells to his patient, “Stop it!” She is stunned by his calloused approach to her legitimate struggles and leaves his office more confused and discouraged than when she arrived.
Have you ever been given similar advice when you’ve sought counsel during an overwhelming season in your life? In your grief and stress, maybe you’ve turned to a friend for perspective and she flippantly replies, “Don’t worry. God has a reason for it. I’m sure it’ll all work out!” While those words may be true, they offer little more than a Band-Aid to our gaping wounds. Those oversimplified, cliché answers often leave us feeling unheard, devalued, and isolated.
In my nearly 40 years of life, I have battled depression (post-partum and depressive disorder) a handful of times. I didn’t want to feel like the world was caving in on me, crushing any hope of my circumstances improving but I felt powerless to move forward. I couldn’t just “stop it”, as if depression were some magical switch I could control on a whim. Something was broken in my ability to choose joy and find hope. Jesus seemed aloof, watching me struggle from a distance but with no real concern for the deep sadness that plagued me.
When life feels overwhelming and sad, these are 5 tools that have helped me through the shadows to a place where I can recognize truth and begin my journey toward a healthier way of being.
1. Be honest. I had to admit that I wasn’t “fine”. I needed help in addressing the negative thought patterns that ran circles in my mind. Those who knew and loved me could no longer provide the necessary help. Life felt inescapably sad and stifling. I struggled with ongoing hurt and guilt that required a new way of thinking. Owning my need for help meant risking further vulnerability but it also meant I was one step closer to freedom from the crushing dark.
2. Call a (trusted) doctor. Sometimes a simple phone call can help with the chemical part of depression. I was at my son’s appointment when his pediatrician said, “So, when are you coming to see me? You aren’t the same vibrant person I met 10 months ago.” I was stunned by her direct approach but that’s exactly what I needed to finally address my overwhelming stress and grief. She encouraged me to consider an antidepressant to help with the probable chemical imbalance. I used to feel shame in taking an antidepressant; I felt like I was being judged for my lack of faith in God to heal me without medication. But that’s faulty thinking. While God’s grace is enough for our needs, He can and does use medication to help us on the road to healing.
3. Find a good counselor/therapist. My doctor referred me to a therapist who specializes in overachieving women who struggle with burnout. (Can you believe that’s an actual thing?) Counseling helped me to process my thoughts and experiences in a safe place, where a trusted guide pointed me to the truth. She gave me time and space to face the deeper issues and gain a better understanding of my life and heart and what God was doing in both. Counseling gave me practical strategies to accept the truths I already knew and to move forward in them.
4. Sleep. Sometimes sleep is the best anti-depressant. I’m learning to turn off the screens an hour before bedtime, read a good book, and go to bed earlier.
5. Focus on the truth. The truth is that God is with us, delights in us, and created us to thrive in using our gifts to serve Him. Daily journaling, intentional times of quiet, cultivating authentic friendships, and listening to good music have all encouraged me to focus on what is true.
I don’t know what you’re facing in this season of life but hope and help are possible. If you’re overwhelmed with sadness, paralyzed by stress or grief and unable to “stop it”, make time to address your pain and struggles. Maybe it’s time to be honest, call your doctor, find a good counselor, get some sleep, and focus on the truth.
Have you struggled with depression in motherhood? What tools have helped you to move through the shadows?
Katie Carper is a recovering people-pleaser with a strong sense of justice and a deep desire to include the excluded. She’s grateful for coffee, laughter, and this adventurous life with her husband and 4 kiddos. You can find her at katiecarper.com where she blogs about community, faith, adoption, and special needs with hope, humor, and a good dose of snark. She also shares snippets of her life on Instagram.