“The opposite of depression isn’t happiness; it’s vitality.”
Depression used to drain the life out of me.
Four years ago, on May 12, 2014, my life radically changed, but the seeds for that change were sown in January 2013. Here’s a partial journal entry from that day:
- Decimating mountains of fear
- Obliterating depression
- Pulverizing despair
- Dismantling lack
- Annihilating anxiety
- Building hope muscles
- Training my mind to think positive thoughts
- Rebuking the victim mentality
- Shaking off discouragement
- Stomping on old habits
- Parting ways with the pity party
- Stepping out into the future.
- Lack is not part of my vocabulary
- Stressed is not in my thesaurus
- Blessed is how I describe myself
I am rich: rich in favor, finances, in spiritual wisdom, in relationships, in all my endeavors.
I WAS MISERABLE.
My positive affirmations pumped me up but I guess it was all hot air because five minutes later I was right back where I was before: deflated and defeated; powerless to change. Maybe my boss was right: I was a glass-half-full girl. But I was determined to fill that glass.
Every morning while it was still dark I came downstairs with my Bible and journal, lit a candle and studied.
- In darkness, I memorized verses about light.
- Hopeless, I recited verses about hope.
- Barren, I sowed the seed of his Word.
- I dug up the hard ground of my heart and rooted out the weeds.
I was doing the work but I couldn’t seem to get a breakthrough. Not one that lasted, anyway.
The first breakthrough
One day I was so depressed I decided to take a walk and as I walked I thanked God for everything I could think of, hundreds of simple, ordinary things:
Ice cream cones, front porches, lawnmowers, grass, cracks in the sidewalk, marching bands, etc. I walked and thanked Him until I thought my heart would burst with how glorious life was; how glorious HE was. My hope muscles got so big they almost split the seams of my shirt.
When I walked through the front door I was filled with hope, sure that I had done some serious damage to the mountain of depression.
As I continued to practice gratitude, my old enemy stopped by once in a while to taunt me: “God’s not good. He’s not going to come through for you.” Sometimes I listened to that voice. Other days I stuck out my tongue and kept praising.
Finally one day God asked me flat-out, “Who do you say I am?” I knew exactly what He was asking: “AM I good?”
If you want to beat depression there are two things you’ve got to be convinced of:
Three things I learned in my gratitude journey:
1. Count your blessings because blessings count
On May 12, 2014, inspired by a friend, I started writing nightly gratitude lists and posting them on Facebook. I’d been working on the gratitude thing for a while by then but there was something about the commitment to post it online that really ramped things up for me.
Phil 4:8 Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise let your mind dwell on these things.
That word DWELL means to count or take an inventory. The more I counted my blessings, the more they added up.
2. Give your flabby mind a workout
Colossians 3:2 tells us to set your minds (literally, EXERCISE your mind) on the things above. Thinking God thoughts strengthens your mind. Strong minds can lift heavy weights.
3. Tell your mind who’s boss
2 Cor 10:5 … we are taking every thought CAPTIVE to the obedience of Christ.
I like how the New Living Translation says it: We capture their rebellious thoughts and teach them to obey Christ.
Next time you feel your thoughts spiraling, just give them the side eye and say, You! Go sit in that chair!
Flip that thought
If you’re like me, you’re probably rolling your eyes right about now. Monitor my thoughts? Who’s got time for that?! (News flash – you’re already monitoring your thoughts.)
I can be like Gollum in Lord of the Rings, rolling my negative thoughts around and around while murmuring, “My Precious.”
Now I take that negative thought and FLIP it by practicing gratitude.
Gratitude ~ a practice that takes practice
“I WILL bless the Lord at all times,” and when we do, we discover the oil of gladness. His Presence. His Provision. His Peace.
The longer I practiced gratitude, the lighter I felt. The gloom and haze that plagued me for most of my life began to lift. I wasn’t sure why it worked but I was happier than I’d ever been.
Mantle Of Praise
IS 61:3 says God gives us a mantle of praise for the spirit of heaviness or fainting. But what is this mantle of praise?
In Biblical times, a mantle was a large loose-fitting, sleeveless outer garment worn by shepherds and peasants. Nothing fancy or fine, it was usually made of wool, goat-hair or camel-hair. They wore it by day, and wrapped themselves in it by night.
- It was functional and foundational, just as our praise is to be
- It was meant to be worn at all times, just as our praise is to be
- It provided covering and warmth in the night, just as our praise does when we lay awake, burdened and heavy-hearted
Heaviness takes many forms: afflictions, sins, guilt, shame, anxiety, depression. It’s like a scratchy wool blanket soaked through and so laden with tears that it seems impossible to lift off in our own strength. Ugh! I struggled with it most of my life. But not any more.
All those months of walking, thanking God, and practicing gratitude helped me to cast OFF that heavy blanket.
Research shows that Praising God (ok, they call it practicing gratitude) literally changes the neural pathways in our brain.
Gratitude directly activates brain regions associated with the “feel good” neurotransmitter dopamine; dopamine is important in initiating action, like throwing off that heavy blanket of depression.
That means increases in dopamine make you more likely to do the thing you just did. It’s the brain saying, “Oh, do that again!”
GRATITUDE ➡ DOPAMINE ➡ ACTION
How it works
Let’s pretend you routinely wake up with a pit in your stomach, but now you say,
- “Jesus, you are my King, thank you for this glorious sunrise!”
- Your brain says: “Oh that felt good – let’s do that again!”
So then you say,
- “Praise you for this cup of hot coffee and for your Word.”
- Your brain replies, “More, more!”
Now you’re on a roll:
- “Thank you for the sunshine, I think I’ll go for a walk!”
- Your body says, “Finally! THANK YOU!” and the clouds of heaviness start to dissipate.
It eventually becomes a habit:
- “Lord, my husband is driving me crazy, but I thank you for how hard-working he is.”
- And your husband says, “Oh that felt good, say that again!”
It’s a choice!
God inhabits the praises of his people! It’s in him we live and move and have our being. It’s Scripture and science backs it up.
Dr. P. Murali Doraiswamy, head of the division of biologic psychology at Duke University Medical Center, says, “If thankfulness were a drug, it would be the world’s best-selling product with a health maintenance indication for every major organ system.”
Researchers have found that people who express gratitude on a regular basis are healthier, more optimistic, make more progress toward their goals, have a greater sense of well-being, and are more helpful to others.
Overcoming depression is not just about feeling better (although, HOORAY! for feeling better) it’s about feeling better SO THAT we can be a part of extending His Kingdom.
Praising God, practicing gratitude, giving thanks in all things, and looking for blessings even when your life is in shambles, is intentional. It takes effort, but after a while it becomes effortless.
There’s an old saying that if you’ve forgotten the language of gratitude, you’ll never be on speaking terms with happiness.
Don’t save that mantle of praise for a special occasion or for Sunday morning; wear it! Cast off the heavy mantle of depression and wrap yourself up in the mantle of praise. It’s an everyday garment that never wears out.
Here’s what it looked like:
What are YOU grateful for today?
As we struggle in our battles with depression, help us to remember who you are: Savior. Healer. Victorious, Conquering King. And help us to remember who we are: Your children. Forgiven. Free. May the dark clouds that loom be a reminder to seek Your light. Help us make gratitude a practice until it becomes effortless. You are deserving of all our praise. May we count our blessings so that we live lives that count.