I stared at the computer screen, blinking back tears as my eyes took in the images of my daughter proudly showing off the tooth she had lost that day. I wanted to reach my arms through the screen, hug my girl tight, and tell her how excited I was. But I couldn’t. Instead, I sat in the small computer lab housed in the wing of the mental hospital where I was an inpatient for the first time and felt waves of hopelessness and despair wash over me.
Depression had led me to this place — dark thoughts having run away with all reason and logic — and I knew I needed to be here to be safe. But that did not change the fact that I knew what I was missing at home. At night when I was alone in my bed in the psych ward, I would think about my girls and worry that I was ruining them for life by being gone and being ill. I worried that I would never be able to be the mom I thought I should be. How could I, when I was barely hanging on to life itself?
After I returned from my first inpatient stay at a psychiatric hospital back in September 2018, Stephen gave me a small, squishy boxing glove as a reminder for me to continue fighting for life. That little glove has sat in my office at work ever since, and I admit that after a while it sort of blended into my surroundings and stopped being something I focused on daily. But late last week I found myself staring at it anew and gripped it with desperate hands, needing to feel its texture but also needing to remember that I am in a battle for my mind.
Even though my depression has been much better and more manageable these past few months, I would be lying if I said I haven’t been affected by the pandemic and all that has come with it. I have found my motivation depleted, my energy sapped, my mood despondent. I have felt strangled by loneliness at times, and I have craved a normal Sunday at church, where we are free to hug each other and worship unhindered by social distancing and masks and sterilization. Anxiety about what the school year will look like for Charlotte has consumed me, and I find myself voicing prayers in the middle of the night as I think of all the worst-case scenarios. It is enough to send my thoughts racing, to make me feel like I am losing my grip on reality.
Instead, I stop. I breathe. I squeeze my boxing glove and remember the warning of Paul in Ephesians 6:12: “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” I am in a battle for my mind and soul, and my enemy (and yours, too) isn’t the corona virus but sin and Satan. Satan taunts us with lies and fear, and if I am not careful I find myself falling into his trap. So I must be diligent: “Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication” (Ephesians 6:13-18). I combat lies with the truths of Scripture. I fight despair with the hope of the gospel. I take my negative thoughts captive and make them obedient to Christ. I fight, and then I wake up the next day and fight again. The battle is not lost. I have victory in Jesus.
Three weeks ago I started reading Psalm 119. Conviction washes over me daily as I read its words of love and adoration, as I meditate on its admonition to cherish God and His Word above all else. I am reminded that He is good and does good (verse 68). I am reminded that His Word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path (verse 105). I am reminded that in my affliction, His promise gives me life (verse 50). I am reminded that the earth is full of His steadfast love (verse 64). When I do not know where else to turn, I turn to Him. He alone is steady and unchanging and dependable when all else fails.
Are you weary and laden with fear? Bring your burden to Jesus. And keep fighting. You do not fight alone.
I don’t know exactly when it happened, but sometime over the last two months I stopped reading my Bible. This is unusual for me, for even during times when I was so depressed that I could manage very little, I would still listen to the Psalms being read to me, and they brought me comfort. But in this chaotic time of life, when you would think my desperation for normalcy and comfort would drive me to the Word, instead I have found myself adrift, swimming in deep waters without my life jacket on and then wondering why it feels like I’m drowning. Is it any wonder that life has felt overwhelming and unmanageable? Is it any wonder my heart feels cold and lifeless, when I have cut it off from its source of true life?
I don’t write this as someone who has the answers but as someone who knows where the answers can be found. I am done with allowing my fear and anxiety and anger and sadness to rule me. I am submitting anew to the counsel of God’s Word and asking God to change me from the inside out. I am planning to camp out in Psalm 119 for the next four weeks, starting on Monday, July 13. If you’re burned out or tired or looking for change, will you join me? Here’s the reading plan I have outlined. Each week is around 40-47 verses, and you could read the whole chunk each day or break each day into smaller sections. (The number of verses each week varies because I tried to follow natural section breaks within the psalm.)
July 13-July 19: Psalm 119:1-40
July 20-July 26: verses 41-88
July 27-Aug. 2: verses 89-136
Aug. 3-Aug. 9: verses 137-176
I plan to start each week by reading through the whole psalm, and then I will spend the rest of that week on the allotted verses. I picked this psalm because I love the Psalms in general, and specifically, this psalm is rife with adoration of God and the written word He has given us. I want to fall in love with the Bible again, and I don’t know of any other way to do this except to spend time devoted to actually reading the Bible. I also plan to write out the entire psalm over the course of the four weeks. I have done this before with certain Bible passages, and I have found that it helps me to absorb the words more deeply and aids in my meditation of the Scriptures.
Accountability is a great way to help achieve a goal, and I would love for anyone reading this to join me in this endeavor. If you want to read along, please comment, and we can figure out a way to have a weekly check in of some kind.
If you’re already regularly reading the Bible, what are you reading right now? I always love to hear what others are studying!
I have been going to therapy on an almost-weekly basis since August 2018. During that time I have been able to assemble a host of coping skills to help me battle my depression and anxiety. Given that we now all find ourselves in the midst of a pandemic, socially distancing ourselves and seeing the world turned upside down, I thought it might be helpful to share some things that keep me grounded when my feelings seem out of control.
Keep your hands busy. The more anxious I am, the more fidgety I get, and it really helps me to have something to manipulate with my hands. I have this therapy dough in the “Spa” scent that I love to play with. It may seem silly to play with something that is very much like play dough, but trust me on this: having something in your hands can be a great distraction. And if you want to go a cheaper route, Silly Putty also works great for this.
Try mindfulness activities. Mindfulness activities are meant to help keep you grounded in the present moment, and they are a great way to take your focus out of your chaotic thoughts and into the current reality. A few I like: try writing the alphabet with your non-dominant hand; pick a color and make a list of things that are that color; pick a color and find objects of that color in the room you are in; write a description of the room you are in, focusing on as many details as possible; play 5-4-3-2-1 (pick 5 things you see, 4 things you hear, 3 things you can feel, 2 you can smell, and 1 you can touch).
Go for a walk. Physical activity is a great weapon against depression and anxiety, and it’s something that we are still able to do while social distancing. Being outside not only feels good, but if your walk is strenuous enough, your body will release endorphins and give your mood a boost.
Create positive experiences for yourself. Find little ways to inject pleasure into your days. Are there flowers for sale at the grocery store? Grab some while you’re making your grocery run and brighten up a room. Is there music that calms you? Spend 5 minutes and listen to it. Feeling stressed? Take a soothing bubble bath. Small, simple gestures like these can go a long way in making the day more pleasurable.
Practice deep breathing. This is one of my favorite calming techniques, and it’s super easy. All you do is focus on your breath, taking in slow, deep breaths through your nose, holding for a few seconds, and then exhaling through your mouth. The slower your breaths, the calmer you feel.
Journal. Keep a journal of your experience during this very unique, crazy time we are living. It will not only help you process all that you are thinking in feeling, but it will be an interesting document to revisit after this has all passed.
Reach out to friends. Stay connected through calls, texts, emails, Marco Polos, etc. Any way that you can maintain relationships during this time of social isolation will help boost your mood and decrease anxiety. We are all in this together, and we can fight it best together.
Memorize Scripture. Pick some of your favorite passages and work on setting them to memory. Hang them up around your house in places where you will see them frequently. God’s Word is the best antidote to anxiety and depression.
Color. I really enjoy coloring, and it is a great way to focus on the present moment and relieve stress. Coloring isn’t just for kids! There are a lot of great coloring books for adults.
Practice gratitude. Gratitude is essential. Without it, it is easy to become lost in all of the negative things happening. But there is always something to be grateful for, so spend some time each day making a list of simple blessings.
This is just a sampling of things you can try to lower stress and anxiety. Get creative and be intentional, and if you really want to dive deep, here’s a list of 99 coping skills you can try! I recognize that these things will not change our current reality, but it is my hope that by practicing these coping skills, you might feel better equipped to face these uncertain times.