Navigating Patterns in Depression
I find it hard to believe, admit or confess to being burnt out. In spite of this, I am overwhelmed with feelings of shame and patheticness when I compare myself to those who are truly burnt out in full-time ministry or have more reason to be than me. I don't feel I have a real reason to defend my feelings of despondency in my behaviour. Often I push back on being labelled depressed, whether clinically or chemically. I often look back to the day the Lord saved me and lay a promise in me that the depressive cycles that I went through in my late teens and early adulthood would not be the same; He has remained faithful to that promise. In many ways, depression for me has never looked the same since I was saved. Fantasies of suicide or my funeral no longer frequent my mind as they did once, and I am not completely robbed of hope because of the promise hope I have in Christ and the immeasurable riches of the inheritance that He has for me. I've seen Him bring me out of seasons of depression and have no doubt that He can do again.
Recognising Satan's Schemes
Having been brought through some seasons of depression, it's becoming easier to see the patterns that lead up to it. After a couple of cycles it's easier to recognise these patterns and lies more for what they really are, I have found myself more able to navigate around the enemy's schemes, and the Spirit has taught me many gospel truths to avoid the pitfalls that are so easy to fall into for us.
Learn to recognise the 'engine lights' of your soul
Usually the works of the enemy - bearing in mind that sometimes the worst enemy is our self - will fill us with lies that result in certain works and manifestation of which, for me, include introverting, emotionally shutting down, being physically tired or unmotivated, resting from God and losing all hope. Sometimes it takes me a couple of weeks to even realise that I am in a state where I'm suffering from depression. Because of this, I've found it helpful to remember and recognise certain patterns of behaviour. These patterns are my red flags or 'engine lights' on the dashboard of my soul that tell me that I'm in for another bout of depression and that I may need to seek help, the gospel and the cross.
Patterns of Avoidance and Introverting
I recognise that in these times I have an innate desire to self-preserve my energy and develop behaviours where I begin avoiding loved ones and isolate myself away from people or social gatherings. I go into a 'flight mode' where I experience incredible urges to get away, escape, take-off and leave my church community or town. I avoid being around social gatherings and see them as places where it will drain my energy and prefer being on my own. I begin to see my sadness as a weakness and therefore avoid gatherings or environment where I could be exposed as being weak, vulnerable or pathetic. I begin to fear judgement from others and clothe myself harder with works.
In some of my worse instances, I've been known to control anticipated fears of rejection by rejecting others first by cutting people off or out of my life.
Patterns of Self-Pity
Self-pity is the counterfeit shroud to the comfort of Christ that I often falsely wrap myself up in. In that state, self-pity tells me that it absolves me from sin I'm enslaved to and tells me that I am a victim. In this shroud, I tell myself that I am a victim of mental health, other sinners and church members or a victim of society. Self-pity also tells me that there is nothing I can or need to do, and it's all about what other people can do for me. Self-pity teaches me to find identity in being 'depressed' or being a victim.
Patterns of Looking Inwardly and Emotional Volatility
I am sensitive to critique and become paranoid as I begin to look less outward and more inwardly. In that inward space where I stare defensively at my own self, I become emotionally volatile. Sometimes a simple "How're you doing?" will set me off into choked back tears. In response, I put up a harder shell and try to clothe myself in a harder shell. Defensively I have become numb and apathetic, devoid of joy, unresponsive, narcotized to anything potentially emotive, provocative or deep. I find myself distracting myself with impressively lame iPhone games. Avoiding reality. Superfluous to say, none this emotional volatility can be a surprise when one looks inwardly at themselves and not to their Creator.
Patterns of Being Physically Tired
On my days off I will find myself having a heavy 4-hour nap where I hope to lie comatose in a deep sleep. I'm too tired to get up most mornings which is unlike me. Doing simple tasks are laborious, and I find myself avoiding doing anything. If I'm honest, sleeping is my means of escapism where I don't have to deal with the world and most of all myself. It's a place where I can avoid my thoughts and try to quiet the voice of the Spirit.
Patterns of Resting From God
I find myself associating my troubles with the relationship with my Creator and the call He has on me. In turn, I begin to avoid Him and distance myself through prayerlessness and distractions that I might "rest" from my troubles, which cannot be further from the truth.
In this place, I do not go to Him for comfort, healing or restoration. Neither am I thanking Him, acknowledging His works or seeing His finished work in my life. I remove myself from what I see as being the cause of my pain instead of running to the one who
Patterns of Hopeless
It's sometimes hard to recognise it as hopelessness. It works itself out beginning from a lack of motivation to complete abandonment of a cause of effort to go, serve and bless. In my hopelessness, I make every excuse why there is no point in doing God's work, and I see no hope of change or effect in my ministry. Hopelessness usually tells me not to bother rather than give up. In this space, I forget the power of God, the eternal inheritance I have and have forgotten the joy of my salvation.
I will praise God again, I will find my joy in the God of my salvation. Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God. My soul is cast down within me; therefore I remember you from the land of Jordan and of Hermon, from Mount Mizar. (Psalm 42:5-6, ESV)
What are some of the patterns of depression that you notice? Do you identify with some of the thoughts or patterns I see in my life? How do you see the Gospel being able to speak into those places? Feel free to let me know your thoughts in the comment section below.