Previous Article: Facing Depression
QUICK SUMMARY: I have fought with depression for a long time, and through much of it, I allowed it and my place in this world to define me. I allowed the negative narrative of depression to take up residence in my mind and eventually my heart. I began to believe the lies that depression sells. I had bought stock in the company. I was not only listening, I began to perpetuate and feed those lies. And when I was finally able to call it what it was, put a name to my enemy, I realized I had a lot of negative self-talk to undo.
For me, my battle took a turn when I realized what was actually going on. For most of my life I believed it was just me, that I just had a motivation issue. I did not make the connection and put the “depression” label on it until I was 31 and pregnant with my second child. Once I was able to name it, to give it an identity other than myself, I was able to gain some perspective. This might not work for everyone. Many people are very aware that they fight with depression. However, I think the principal I learned by discovering it this way is applicable. I had previously been telling myself that I was lazy, or that I was broken. It was all directed at myself. I had defined myself with the symptoms of my depression. I think many people with depression struggle with separating themselves from it, and I would like to offer some help. I am not saying this will be easy, nor am I saying that this is a replacement for medical treatment, but I am hoping it will give you some tools and perhaps a different perspective.
In this article I want to talk about the narrative we believe. So much of the depression battle is what we tell ourselves. It is what tape (sound bite) we let play over and over in our minds. The story we tell when it is just us and our thoughts. In the following paragraphs I will give you three things:
- Lies… that are common to depression.
- Truths… to help combat those lies.
- Tips… for changing your narrative.
Looking for more? Keep reading!
Written By Kendra Hamby
GO DEEPER: (Be sure to read the “QUICK SUMMARY” first.) I am not a medical professional and sometimes depression requires that we take action beyond and outside of ourselves. If you are severely depressed this article will not solve your problems. As was said in the previous piece, (click here to read that article), please go get the help you need. And just in case you need to hear it; there is no shame in getting professional help or taking medication. Sometimes that is the only thing strong enough to pull us out of the darkness… and that is okay! If you are a Christian, please hear me. You are not less of a Christian or lacking in faith if you are depressed and need to see a doctor. Do not add others shame and guilt onto the pile of lies I am sure you already believe. If you are on medication this may help, so you are welcome to continue reading. But simply giving mental assent to these lies and truths will not replace medication. See your doctor before making any changes to your prescribed treatment.
The Scientists Were Wrong
For a long time scientist believed that mental illnesses were the end, that there was no cure because you cannot rewrite the brain. The best remedy they could give was coping, just managing. Doesn’t that sound depressing?! That belief, the thought that there is nothing you can really do to fix this, I think is part of why we have phrases like “I have depression,” or “my depression.” These are phrases of ownership. How about we don’t own our depression, we don’t make it part of the family and invite it to stay! What if we treated depression like any other curable disease, as a foreign antibody that needs to go? Scientist have now discovered that you can actually rewrite the pathways in your brain, that if you actually think positively you can rewrite the narrative in your mind. So instead of having depression, what if we said things like “I am fighting depression?” Doesn’t that sound more proactive, like there is light at the end of the darkness?
How about we don’t own our depression, we don’t make it part of the family and invite it to stay!
Lies – Identifying the Negative/False Narrative
Well, that is great, just what you needed to hear right? Think positive! How many times have you heard well-meaning loved ones tell you to just “think happy thoughts!?” Like we are in Neverland trying to learn how to fly, or something equally ridiculous. I know, I know, easier said than done. The first thing I will say about that is you do not have to believe the happy thoughts to say them and have them still be powerful. But before we move into happy thoughts, an important step to changing the narrative is knowing what your current narrative is and calling it out as a lie. Again, just like with the positives, you do not have to believe it is a lie or feel like it is a lie at first, just say the words, go through the motions. Almost a “fake it ‘till you make it” kind of thing.
You do not have to believe the happy thoughts to say them and have them still be powerful.
Here is a list of lies to help you realize where your narrative is false. These may not all resonate with you and you may need to add your own, but just stop at the first one that hits a chord in you.
- I’m crazy/overreacting, I’m not depressed I’m just dramatic.
- I’m worthless, no good, lazy, no one loves me.
- I should be happy; I have no reason to be depressed.
- My life is going nowhere; I’m a waste of space.
- If I were _______ (stronger, smarter, better at life) I wouldn’t be depressed.
- There are people who have it way worse than me, why can’t I get it together?
- This is my fight I shouldn’t burden others with it.
Just a reminder, those are lies! Your feelings are liars! They are absolutely how you feel and that is not wrong. But they are not speaking the truth about who you are, or your value, or your situation. We acknowledge our feelings, we allow ourselves to feel our feelings, and then we combat them with truth, we respond with reality.
We are not the worry, the darkness, and the sadness, we are children of God.
If you resonated with any of those lies, I hope you stop to meditate on why you believe them. (If none of them strike you as lies you should go see a counselor who will help you differentiate between the false and the true.) Start trying to combat it with the truth. I often find when I am getting too much in my head and too far into the downward spiral of depression, that just saying the lies out loud helps to diminish their power and hold over me. Some of them, when spoken out loud sound arrogant and make me feel worse at first. But often, when I am getting lost in the world of worry, lies and worst-case scenarios, speaking them out loud, especially to someone who knows me and will listen, I begin to see the holes in my own lies.
Just like the first step to recovery is admitting you have a problem, the first step to beating depression is acknowledging the false narrative. Part of the negative narrative is believing the negative narrative! And part of the negative narrative is believing you are your depression. We are not defined by our mental illness. We are defined by the God of the universe. We are not the worry, the darkness, and the sadness—if we have received God as our rescue from sin and the master of our lives—we are children of God. The old things pass away and the new creation that we are in him is what is true (2 Corinthians 5:17). You may see a scared, unmotivated, lazy, waste of space but God sees a son and daughter of the King of Kings. He sees a beautiful child, one he created for a purpose, who is important and necessary. The world would not be the same (in a bad way!) without you functioning as God created you.
You may see a scared, unmotivated, lazy, waste of space but God sees a son and daughter of the King of Kings.
Truth – Replacing the Negative/False Narrative (Philippians 4:8)
As we start to identify these false narratives, we have to realize that it will not work to just ignore them or shove them down. We have to replace them with something. You cannot just remove pathways in your brain (or not use them) you have to rewrite them. So, what do we replace the narrative with? The enemy of depression is light and truth. Like I said before, it is much easier to see a lie for what it is when you bring it to the light instead of letting it just bounce around in your head space wreaking havoc. Once you have smoked out the lies, you have to put truth back in its place. Remember, you do not have to believe these truths to make them effective, at least at first.
Here are some truths to start with. You may want to reach out to someone who knows you really well and has proven their ability to love you unconditionally and ask them what your specific truths should be. Or you can again seek out a Christian counselor whose objectivity and grasp of God’s truth will be just the resource you need. If you are very brave, tell them your lies and have them give you the truthful other side.
- My depression is a real thing, it is valid.
- I am a child of God with a purpose and design for my life.
- I can be and will be happy again… but I am not right now, and that is okay.
- I may not have the strength to fight this, but my God does.
- The pain and suffering of others does not negate or invalidate my own.
- I can, with loved ones, God, and proper treatment, beat this. It will take time and that is okay.
- I am not an isolated case, many fight this fight, I am not a freak or broken beyond repair.
- 2 Corinthians 12:9-10
- Jeremiah 29:11
- Psalm 23
- Deuteronomy 31:8
The more truth you fill your life with, the less room there will be for lies.
3 Tips for Beating the Narrative
1. Replace the Lies with Truth. The scientists were wrong, which means we can “reprogram our brains!” And changed thinking eventually changes our feelings. This “how to” is rather simplistic and may sound trite, but hear me out. Pick a few of these truths that resonate with you or write your own. Then you are going to say them to yourself over and over. You are going to write them down on 3 x 5 cards and fill your space with them. Remember, if your depression comes in part or in whole from a heart-wound, you will need to keep this practice up until you get the help you need to be well again. And this is not going to work right away, you are going to rationalize yourself out of these truths, you may read them and roll your eyes, or say them through tears. You will not believe them at first, but they are still true and still have power. The more truth you fill your life with, the less room there will be for lies.
2. Replace the Lies with Your Own Song – The truth is not the only thing that can help combat this false narrative. I referenced Philippians 4:8 earlier. This is the passage that talks about what things to think on, whatever is good and right and lovely etc. I do not think that is only referring to the Bible or truth. I think it is also talking about things you love, things that bring you joy or put a smile on your face. If you are musical like me that includes singing. I often sing my way through situations. There are a few that I always sing when I am struggling to find the light. “It Is Well” and “No Longer Slaves” are two of them. I go to those specifically for their message. Find your own song. Even if you cannot sing, find your own song.
Depression often makes doing things you love, hard to do, which is why I am a fan of music. It is easy, accessible, and you can hum anywhere.
Sometimes I pick other songs based on what they say. Sometimes I just sing the first thing that pops in my head. Whether you are musical, just love music, or are indifferent, I think this is a powerful one music is emotional. It is full of memories and powerful narratives. If music is not what does it for you find what does… reading or writing poetry maybe. Anything that helps you express yourself. I know that depression often makes doing things you love, hard to do, which is why I am a fan of music. It is easy, accessible, and you can hum anywhere. But you can also think about Harry Potter anywhere or run sports plays in your head. Whatever gets you stop thinking the negative things and start thinking of things you enjoy. Just be careful to not let Harry Potter or sports (or anything else) become more than just a diversion, trusting it to break your depression rather than God.
3. Replace Isolation with Community – The last thing I would like to say is that community is so, so important! Isolation is a breeding ground for depression and a place where that false narrative can gain strength. We are not always strong enough on our own to speak truth or even recognize the lies. Reach out, find help identifying the false narrative and rewriting it. Depression is not something you have to fight alone, in fact, it is something you cannot and should not fight alone. The enemy would love you to believe that you are on your own and that no one understands you. He would love to keep you trapped in the lies. The light and truth you find in good, safe, godly community is the enemy of depression and a faulty narrative. Ecclesiastes 4: 12 says a strand of three cords is not easily broken, find your other cords, let them in, and let them help.
If anything you read hit home, raised questions, or helped you realize you could use some help, follow this link to get in touch with a Two Rivers coach.