“When you feel like that, just read a few Psalms.”
My blood ran ice cold from the cavernous loneliness, disconnect, and isolation that gripped me at these cliché words from a “well-intentioned” friend.
“They’re very soothing,” she said, so blissfully out-of-touch.
I’d spent a day in the hospital earlier that week from a nervous breakdown. It happened smack in the middle of a workday at my high stress, thankless job with domestic violence perpetrators; a job serving no purpose but to feed my worst fears about men and my own lack of worth.
Truthfully, it wasn’t the perps that undid me. I could handle them. It was something so much deeper. It was this soul crushing fear of being my own person in a life that handed me a laundry list of expectations, “or else”.
Somehow, a trip to the psych ward had become less terrifying than standing up for myself.
I saw two doctors that day. I said I was stressed out at work, but inside I was screaming, “I’m not here because of work. I’m here because of…” and my internal dialogue unleashed the unapologetic truth upon myself for the nth time.
How could I say, “I need emotional safety to just be myself, is there a pill for that? Is there a pill for genuine connection, acceptance and heartfelt support? What about courage to chuck the laundry list regardless of consequences? Is there a pill for that?” No.
So, I stuck with “stressed at work.” At the end of the day, I checked out with my façade intact, and an antidepressant prescription in hand.
“What’s wrong?” the nice church friend asked over dinner a few nights later.
“I’m tired,” I said. “I spent a day in the hospital for anxiety.”
(We’re supposed to tell the truth, right? We’re supposed to be honest.)
Her naive Psalm-reading response was a rude awakening to the cold reality that most people don’t get what depression is and how out-of-touch our society is when deep soul suffering defies explanation. A mass market misunderstanding of happiness vs. depression is the assumption that if you’re holding down a job, had no major tragedies, no loss or illness — then you’ve got no reason to be depressed. The mass market prescription to perpetual sadness or anxiety is some combination of “get over it”, “perk up” or “pray harder”.
I instantly regretted speaking honestly. Now I felt even more isolated and misunderstood.
But that experience was a turning point for me. For the first time, I vowed with conviction to carve out a meaningful life for myself regardless of consequences that came from chucking the laundry list. Arbitrary expectations and depression would not win.
At first, I went about it all wrong, in ways not pleasing to God. But in retrospect, He was with me anyway. He never stopped calling. One day I listened… and that is an entirely different post.
I decided it was time to stop lying to myself.
First, I admitted that my depression had deep roots no one knew about, which I was terrified to verbalize. But admitting them to myself was healing.
My breakdown didn’t so much break me as wake me. I began to understand that in many cases, depression is neither fully circumstantial nor strictly chemical. It may be — and often is — some of both.
What happens in one part of our bodies affects the whole being. Part of being “fearfully and wonderfully made” is that we simply cannot compartmentalize ourselves, no matter how hard we try. When we are subjected to emotional stress and abuse, physical processes respond — because at some point every thought, feeling and emotion is tied to quantifiable neurological reactions, which in turn affect physical health. I believe damage sustained in emotional stress, sadness, loneliness, anxiety, anger, hurt, and fear is as physically real as a punch in the stomach.
So, no darling.
It’s not all in your head.
It’s very, very real.
How do you take your life back when you’re spiraling? Or conventional approaches aren’t working? Or no one seems to care?
Be honest with yourself and God about how you feel.
Don’t water down your ugly or negative emotions to just “make them go away” — not even to yourself. God already knows, and He isn’t judging you for it. He is happy you’re giving Him permission to work His power in your life.
Honestly examine your closest friendships.
Are you living with unhealthy control, addictions, put downs, or toxicity? Do you feel scared of certain people? If so, reevaluate their place in your life. They may be affecting you more than you realize.
Accept that you are not incapable of handling your own life.
You are likely much stronger, smarter and capable than anyone whose toxic influence is making you feel otherwise.
Seek options for what you DO have control over.
Take care of your body; get fresh air and exercise. Stay hydrated. Fill your mind with positive reading and music. Do your best to stay away from drama, negativity and stressful situations. We know the drill. God will honor your efforts.
Don’t be afraid to talk to a qualified mental health professional.
Talking it out can be a huge relief, bringing healing and perspective. Explore treatment options, and don’t rule out medication as a temporary stepping stone while you address deeper issues.
And reading Psalms for comfort?
I’m fully on board. But I’d never tell someone who is hurting to “just” read Psalms to make everything ok, or to “just” do anything, spiritual or otherwise. Life is more complicated than that. However, the book of Psalms has developed deep meaning to me, especially the last few months as I pray through them with my #girltribe of prayer warriors. God’s word has very real physical and emotional healing power if you’re willing to let it in. (Again, entirely different post).
Are you battling depression or crushed by disappointment today?
Are you misunderstood and judged?
Are you stuck in a toxic environment with no way out?
Do you have painful longings so deep you can’t put them into words anymore?
Have you exhausted all conventional approaches to find solutions?
Are you maybe not suicidal, but if you didn’t wake up tomorrow morning, it might be okay because you’re just that drained and feeling that hopeless from the struggle?
You’re not alone. Many, many people “get it”. There are those who believe in and support you. You just don’t know it because nobody ever says it. But people you’ve never met are praying for you. I’m one of them, even if we don’t meet this side of heaven.
And if no one told you before, let me be the first to say it:
You’re going to be more than just ok.
You’re going to win.
You really will.
Cynthia is a writer from Southern California who currently resides in Utah. She’s was a journalist for 10 years, is fluent in Spanish and Portuguese and visited Brazil twice. She has a passion for creative ministry and really, really misses the beach. Her life dream is to be a published author. There may or may not be an unfinished manuscript stashed somewhere.