PAULA'S TIPS - for people who suffer with depression/anxiety
Accept Help when it is offered and ASK for help when you need it (your spouse/partner, a friend, relative, work colleague, doctor, minister, your church, counselor, therapist etc). Even if you feel embarrassed asking for help or if you feel like a failure just try and push yourself to receive help or to ask for it outright. (I know this can be extremely challenging if people around you don’t understand depression/anxiety).
Exercise – it’s one of those things I hate starting but once I’m 10 minutes into it, I inevitably say to myself “why don’t I do this every day?” I am able to significantly reduce my anti-depressant medication if I am diligent with exercising every day for about 45 minutes to 1 hour. The exercise has to include some low impact cardio (like brisk walking) plus weight bearing exercise – just some small hand weights is fine. This particular exercising combination seems to work extremely well for me. It keeps my happy endorphins going for quite some time. Now, if you are reading this in the middle of a full blown depressive illness this paragraph will seem overwhelming to you right now – so just start with little steps. Even if you attempt to walk around the block just once a day for 5 minutes then work up to 10 minutes – that’s all you need to start with. After one week you will notice a significant difference in your mood.
Journal Writing - I find this very therapeutic. Venting how I am feeling especially if I’m angry seems to help. I usually start off ranting and raving. I purchased a journal from the Bible Society that has a line of Scripture at the bottom of every page so by the time I get to the end of the page I tend to stop ranting and raving after I’ve read one line of Scripture. I try and replace my negative thinking/feelings with Biblical truths like:-
“God loves me and is carrying me through this; I am God’s beloved adopted daughter because of what Christ has done for me; I am pure without blemish because of the blood of Jesus; The Lord is my shepherd I shall not want; Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow death, I will fear no evil because you are with me; Jesus said come to me all who labor and are heavy burdened and I will give you rest”.
I try and replace my negative thinking with some soothing Scripture. Sometimes I write a letter to God in my journal – it’s part of my prayer time. I pour out everything on the pages and give it all to God.
Learn to say NO without feeling guilty to help with your recovery (this is probably my most challenging tip to myself!)
PAULA’S TIPS - for people who are caring for people who sufferer from depression/anxiety (or would like to)
Enrol in the “Partners on Depression" course which will be run by staff from ANGLICARE's Personal Helpers and Mentors (PHaMs) program for 6 weeks at some Anglican churches in Sydney’s east throughout 2011. The course is for anyone who loves or cares for someone with depression, to help them understand the issues better, what is helpful, what's unhelpful and looking after yourself. (PHaMs is a Federal Government funded program for people aged 16 and over who have significant functional limitations as a result of mental illness. Participants work alongside a support worker on a journey of recovery, building on strengths and working towards goals that the participant identifies. Many different organisations run PHaMs programs throughout Australia. ANGLICARE runs PHaMs from its Bondi office throughout the eastern suburbs from Watsons Bay down to La Perouse. For more details ph 8362 3700 or email email@example.com)
Depression is not like a virus – it’s not like an illness you might have for 10 days and then you’re better after a double course of antibiotics – it doesn’t work like that. Often it’s two steps forward, then 1 step or sometimes 2 or 3 steps back. It does improve but takes time and patience.
Don’t keep asking “so are you better yet?” Most people recover from a depressive illness but some people may have to battle depressive ups and downs for the rest of their lives (I’m one of these people). Just like someone who has to “manage” diabetes, high blood pressure or high cholesterol. Medication certainly helps as does diet and exercise but sometimes there’s a genetic factor or a pre-disposition to mental illness for a variety of reasons.
Offer practical support – eg mind their kids or other acts of service and DO NOT expect the favour to be reciprocated in the near future….perhaps ever! The hardest thing I find doing is accepting offers from other parents for a “play date” at their house with my kids because I know I can’t return the favour. Minding other people’s kids in the middle of a depressive relapse gives me heart palpitations just thinking about it. I can barely look after my own! Sometimes I have avoided or declined offers because I don’t want to explain my depression and I start thinking “they must think I’m so rude/selfish for not inviting their kids over to my house”. I recover very quickly if I have a couple of child free days during the school holidays.
Make a home cooked meal and deliver it. I would rather go to McDonalds Drive Thru every day then ask for someone to cook me a meal and I will rarely say yes to offers because I think other people are more deserving. I’ll never forget the day a women in my Bible Study group dropped off a meal for me unexpectedly when I was a brand new Christian suffering depression (she had 4 kids under the age of 6 at the time). I only had one child and I could not understand how she could find time to cook for me and her own family. I felt so incredibly loved by this act of service. I burst into tears after she left – tears of absolute gratitude.
Persevere with phone calls, text messages, emails etc. I find it difficult to talk to people or return phone calls when I’m depressed. Some people give up and probably think I’m quite rude. Even though I might not respond to emails/texts/phone calls, I really do appreciate the effort – it’s a small way of showing that you care. Don’t be offended if you don’t get a response. Just keep persevering in trying to show them you love and care for them.
PAULA’S TIPS - for Ministers/Church Leaders/Bible Study Leaders/Coordinators
I find volunteering for church crèche or holiday Sunday school a huge struggle even when I am not in a depression relapse. Often crèche triggers my anxiety – the sound of babies crying, kids screaming/arguing is very difficult for me. This was extremely difficult to explain to Christian leaders running crèche when I first started going to church as a brand new Christian 8 years ago. I kept being told that Christians are called to serve others in response to what Christ has done for us. The crèche leaders would say – everyone is expected to “have their turn it’s only twice a term etc” and “it’s good to serve others”. Most days I was lucky to make it to church at all but to have to endure crèche because of fear of judgment was excruciatingly painful. Sometimes I’d just lie or “chuck a sickie” so I wouldn’t have to do crèche – which is such a shame because it hindered me from coming to Bible Study. I lied to my Christian friends because I feared their judgment. They thought I was being selfish not wanting to take my turn and serve because I present really well on the outside - I don’t actually look depressed and I was too embarrassed to tell anyone about my illness but on the inside I was in so much pain barley holding it together and consumed with self loathing every time I left church – I would often cry in my car the whole way home from Bible Study!
People suffering with depression/anxiety may or may not be able to “serve” in various Christian ministries. They want to but it might not be possible from time to time. Let it be there choice. Do continue to include them and ask them but encourage them also to say “no” without guilt. This is what my minister does for me now. He might ask me to do a particular job or ministry because he knows I can when I’m well but he is very clear at encouraging me to also say “no I can’t at the moment - not feeling well etc” without feeling guilty. This is so helpful with my recovery. He also doesn’t get disappointed when I say yes and then suddenly find I can’t continue with the job – which also happens from time to time. So I am now able to be honest with him without feeling judged (no more “chucking sickies” for me!)
This is my last Equip Book Club blog. Thank you so much for the opportunity to share my story – it has been an amazing privilege and blessing. God really is amazing! I hope you have gained some valuable insights and are better equipped as we face depression together.
Jesus said “Come to me all who are weary and heavy burdened and I will give you rest” Matthew 11:28
With all my love in Christ