Helping a Friend Who Is Hurting

You know what’s not fun? Being friends with someone who is depressed. The person may be distant, unresponsive, endlessly negative, and hopeless. She might cancel plans or bail at the last minute. She forgets to ask about your life and hopes you won’t ask about hers. She doesn’t want to see people but instead prefers hiding away in a cocoon of despair. When she does talk to you, the conversation revolves around her misery.

Yes, I have been just such a friend, but in spite of all of this, my friends stuck with me instead of leaving me to face the darkness alone. Here are some of the ways my friends have ministered to me while I have fought depression. I offer them as a way to help others know how to help a friend who is hurting, whether that hurt is caused by depression or some other form of suffering. A simple gesture goes a long way to ease an aching heart.

  1. Prayed for me at regular intervals throughout the day.
  2. Brought my family meals.
  3. Visited me at work and brought my favorite coffee.
  4. Surprised me at work with a card and CD.
  5. Checked on my husband when I was getting inpatient and residential treatment.
  6. Picked me up and took me a to a movie when I didn’t feel safe driving myself anywhere.
  7. Came to my house unannounced late one night after I shared that I had a really bad day (they did check with my husband first). They kept me company and made me laugh and made the darkness seem a little lighter for just a little while.
  8. Regularly called or texted me to check in on me.
  9. Sent me texts with verses of Scripture they were praying for me and reminded me of God’s truth when all I could believe were the lies depression fed me.
  10. One friend made a 2 hour round trip to visit me when I was hospitalized. Twice. This meant the WORLD to me. Seeing a friendly face when all around me was confusion and chaos comforted me immensely.
  11. One friend talked to me late one night when I was really upset and Stephen was working a late shift. She kept me safe.
  12. Brought me flowers.
  13. Paid for 5 weeks of Pure Barre classes. (Seriously. Such a generous gift for my body and soul!)
  14. Emailed me and answered my calls at random hours of the day when I was hospitalized and in residential treatment.
  15. Gave my family restaurant gift cards when I was hospitalized.
  16. Gave me Scripture verses printed on scrapbook paper that I could hang up in my room at Timberline Knolls.
  17. Wrote me cards and sent me pictures of my kids at various events that I missed when I was at Timberline Knolls.
  18. Went with me to Walmart to get supplies before I left for Timberline Knolls (I needed random things like a battery-operated alarm clock and ear plugs and unopened toiletries) and then paid for everything I got.
  19. Gave me a photo album of pictures of my family and friends to take with me to Timberline Knolls so I could look at them when I was homesick and remember how many people loved me.
  20. Several people gave me books that helped me: Spurgeon’s Sorrows by Zack Eswine, Suffering Is Never for Nothing by Elisabeth Elliot, Christians Get Depressed Too by David Murray, and When the Darkness Will Not Lift by John Piper. (All of these books are relatively short, which helped me tremendously, as reading–something I dearly love–has been hard for me since depression struck. My focus and concentration have really suffered, so the shorter the book, the better.)

This is just a sample of things that my friends have done to remind me that I am loved. This list is amazing on its own, but I left off the one event that showed me without a doubt that God loves and cares for His own. Back in March when I was on the way to be hospitalized for the second time, I sent a group text to several friends to tell them what was going on and asked them to pray. My phone was taken away from me when I was inpatient, but my friends used that group text as a way to update one another on my progress. When I got home and was catching up on all the texts I had missed, I saw one that instantly brought tears to my eyes. My dear friend Lauren texted everyone and said how burdened she was for me and that she wanted to have a time of prayer and fasting for me on a certain day. My friends all responded with enthusiastic support, and so on a Tuesday that happened to follow what was for me an awful Monday in the psych ward, my friends were lifting me up in prayer and forgoing their own comfort to bring me before the Father. Whenever I think about this selfless act of love, tears spring to my eyes. It was a gesture of faith and compassion I will never forget. Even when I feel like a burden or feel abandoned, I can look at this list and know that these were acts done out of love, not obligation.

One important thing to note about this list is that my friends wouldn’t have known to do any of this if they hadn’t known my need. Receiving from others requires that we open ourselves up and reveal the vulnerable, weak places of our hearts. It is not comfortable, and it is risky, but being vulnerable also brings with it great blessing.

I know that not everyone has the support system I do, and I do not even know how I ended up with these wonderful people in my life. But I do know that their existence is a provision from God, and they have been the hands and feet of Christ during a time when I often didn’t know if God cared at all. When doubt was high, my friends were there. When tears fell hard and fast, my friends were there. When I felt like I couldn’t bear any more, my friends were there. They prayed the prayers I was too tired to pray. They spoke the words of truth I forgot. They loved me in spite of myself. Because of my friends, I have seen the love of Jesus on full display. This is a gift I will not soon forget.


May I Be One Who Laughs

Back in February I spent several hours by myself in Stephen’s office, writing and thinking in the quiet of the university library where he works. I already spend a lot of time thinking–too much time, if I’m being honest–but very few of my thoughts are actually productive or constructive. I wanted to set aside some time to be intentionally reflective. I found some reflection questions in a book I had just read (Christians Get Depressed Too by David Murray–highly recommend) and online (from a website that I have already forgotten). I wanted some structure to guide me so I didn’t end up with wandering thoughts. The questions ended up being really helpful for me, as they made me stop and consider various aspects of my life and what I think and feel about where I am and where I have been and where I want to be. 

One question asked, “What do you think about the future?”, and this question has stuck with me ever since. There are many ways you could answer this, but I immediately thought, “I don’t like thinking about the future.” In fact, the thought of the future didn’t appeal to me at all but instead filled me with dread. 

I don’t know precisely when I stopped looking forward to the future, but I think it was after I was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis. Before ulcerative colitis (UC), life was relatively uncomplicated. I had struggles, but nothing that altered my life in such a profound way as being diagnosed with a chronic illness. Being so sick for an extended period of time caused a shift in my thinking. I started to fear future flares and started to expect the next unwelcome event. The disappointments that came after my UC diagnosis (hip surgeries, chronic pain, weight gain, other things listed in my last post) became debits that were being drawn from my hope account, and as far as I could see, no credits were coming in. I started believing that the future would be just like my present reality. I wrestled with my thoughts and tried to cling to the truths of Scripture, but I missed the way fear crept in and took up residence in my heart and mind. Even as I read verses that talked about all things working together for good (Romans 8:28) or suffering producing endurance which produces character and hope(Romans 5:3-4), deep down I did not have hope, but apprehension. Looking back I see the many blessings that accompanied these difficult years, but most of the time I allowed the pain I experienced to overshadow anything good. 

Now, I dread the future because I am afraid. I’m afraid the hints of joy I have seen the past few weeks won’t last, and so the future will be just as painful as most of the past year has been. That is not a hopeful picture to me. All of this is complicated by the fact that much of what I’m afraid of is outside of my control: I don’t know when my disease will flare (it’s flaring now, in fact) or if the depression will subside completely or how long I will have hip pain. However, unpleasant circumstances don’t excuse me from obeying the commands of Scripture, and Scripture calls me to rejoice always and pray continually and give thanks in all circumstances (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18). ALL. Even though my circumstances may not change, I can change my perspective. I want to be like the woman in Proverbs 31 who laughs at things to come instead of dreading them. I want to embrace whatever lies in front of me because I know the One who is preparing the way for me. I want to live in confident assurance that He who began a good work in me will carry it to completion (Philippians 1:6). I need to put aside the lie that only bad will befall me. Realistically, no one’s life is 100% bad.

The truth is that my future couldn’t be more hopeful. Because the righteousness of Christ has been imparted to me, I know that I will spend eternity with God in heaven. I will be healed and whole and lovely because He loves me. There will be no more tears and no more pain and only love and light and joy. What future could be better than that?

Redemption at the West TN State Fair

It was Tuesday, September 11, 2018, and I had been planning to take Charlotte and one of her best friends to the fair that evening. Charlotte was excited for days leading up to that night, filled with chatter about what she and her friend would do and see at the fair.

I wanted to be excited too, but I was mostly sad. Sad that I didn’t feel like taking my daughter to the fair. Sad that I was sad. Sad that life had become so dark and unbearable that I didn’t know how much longer I could bear it.

That Tuesday came on the heels of a Monday that was emotionally difficult: I had left work abruptly mid-morning and spent large chunks of the day crying (I know, depression is super fun). On Tuesday I found myself dreading the day and trying to figure out how to make it through. I wasn’t scheduled to meet with my therapist that week, but by an act of what I know to be God’s providence, his office called to see if I wanted to take a slot that had opened up that afternoon. By an act of what I know to be my own desperation, I quickly said yes. By the end of the appointment, my therapist was on the phone with my husband, telling him about my very specific, actionable suicide plan and recommending that I seek inpatient treatment immediately.

That’s how I ended up checking myself into a psychiatric hospital in Memphis that night instead of taking my daughter to the fair.

There are a lot of things that are hard about being hospitalized, but breaking a promise to my daughter broke my heart. After I got back home, I apologized many times, and her sweet heart of course accepted all of those apologies, but I wished I could make it up to her. Still, as much as I wished I could have been there to take her to the fair or been there later that week when she lost her second tooth, I knew that my seeking treatment was helping to ensure that I would be there for many more fairs and many more lost teeth. I had to trust that God would redeem the time that we lost.

And last Tuesday, almost a year to the very day, God gave me a gift: He gave me the chance to take my daughter to the fair. Even though it was approximately 200 degrees outside, and even though I sweat profusely and the hair stuck to the back of my neck and my hands felt perpetually sticky and grimy, it was marvelous. I watched Charlotte and her friend (the same one I had planned to take with us the year before) giggle and smile their way through three hours of rides. I watched them share jokes and scream and gesture excitedly about everything, and I couldn’t keep the grin off my own face. “I can’t believe I almost missed this,” I thought to myself. That night I was filled with gratitude–and still am–that I am still here, still living this life of mine.

I may have missed the fair last year, but this year I didn’t. And that’s what my daughter will remember. Here’s to many more nights at the fair.



Far from Home, Part 3: The Wounds I Carried

This is part 3 in a series describing my time spent at Timberline Knolls receiving treatment for depression. Part 1 is here, and Part 2 is here.

As I mentioned in my last post, my days were filled with activity. Group therapy took up the largest chunk of the day, and some groups resonated with me more than others, but all of them had something that I could use if I looked hard enough. Here’s a list of some of the groups I attended on a weekly basis:

DBT (Dialectical Behavioral Therapy) Skills: DBT is the theoretical framework out of which everything at TK operates. Several groups were dedicated to various aspects of DBT. The goal behind DBT is to create a meaningful life, and DBT teaches people how to do this through a variety of practices.
Body Image
Self Image
Family Dynamics
Soul Making
Mood Regulation
Process of Addiction
Process Group
Reflective Journaling

One group I attended was called “Grief and Loss,” and after hearing part of my story, my therapist assured me it would be a good group for me. I didn’t know why she said that since I have not experienced the loss of a loved one. I felt like an intruder just being in the room, since I knew that several of the women present had experienced deep loss. We started the group by listening to this TED talk by a woman named Nora McInerny. In it she talks about losing her husband and that she doesn’t think you “move on” from grief but instead “move forward” with it. It’s a very moving, poignant talk that I highly recommend listening to. As I was listening to the talk, I found myself becoming emotional. Tears sprung to my eyes, and I was hit with the hard truth that had I made different choices, I would be putting my husband and family and friends through the very grief that Nora talked about. Depression and suicidal ideation is a thief and a liar, and it almost cost me everything. The reality of that thought struck me with an almost palpable force in that group therapy room. After the video, several women shared their stories of loss, including two who lost parents from suicide, and it was an incredibly intense but important session.

After that group, I met with my individual therapist. One advantage of attending TK was being able to take part in their Christian track of therapeutic programming. This basically entailed attending certain groups specifically geared towards believers and being provided with a therapist who is a Christian. I was assigned to a therapist named Cynthia. Cynthia and I hit it off pretty much immediately, which was fortunate since I met with her 3 times a week the whole time I was there. Initially, it was daunting once again having to start all over with someone and fill her in on all that had been going on, but she was an excellent listener and had good recall, and I was instantly put at ease when sharing with her.

That day after the grief and loss group I found myself essentially sobbing through the entire session. Not only did I realize the gravity of the situation in which I found myself, but I also saw with clear eyes how much I have lost over the years. The losses for me haven’t been people but instead have been related primarily to my health: being diagnosed with ulcerative colitis; being sick for 3 years before getting to remission; not getting to run my 2nd half marathon due to chronic hip pain; giving myself shots on a biweekly basis; being told I needed to be in remission for a year before getting pregnant; gaining weight on prednisone; having hip surgeries and being on crutches; enduring weeks of physical therapy; continuing to have pain; eventually gaining back all of the 90 pounds I once had worked so hard to lose; having an unplanned C-section and a child in the NICU, etc. I cried for the pain of all of the unmet expectations, dreams, hopes, and desires those losses represented. I cried for the pain of having endured all of those things. I cried for the pain of having hoped that I had “done my time” with suffering and wouldn’t have to suffer like I presently was. I cried, and my therapist listened kindly while I somehow managed to express all of this to her. I cried, and I felt heard and seen, not just by Cynthia, but by God. I knew He had been there with me through all of those trials, and He was with me in that therapy room while I opened a door of my heart that I had stubbornly kept locked.

For the first time in a long time I allowed myself to admit that all of those experiences had wounded me, and I allowed myself the space to grieve what might have been. For the first time in a long time I didn’t minimize my struggles by saying, “It could have been worse,” or “Other people have suffered more.” I just let myself grieve, and it was freeing in a way I can’t express. For too long I have not let myself feel sad about the sad things that have happened to me because I have compared my pain with that of others and felt like mine was lacking in significance. But what Cynthia helped me see is that pain is pain and pain is painful, no matter how it comes, no matter the degree it is felt or experienced. All of the times I had pushed my pain aside resulted in me absorbing the message that my pain was not important, that I was not important, and so instead of making the wounds smaller, this denial just made them deeper and larger. I was hurt and hurting, and it was acceptable to admit that. Not only was it acceptable to admit it, but it was necessary so that I could move forward. 

I wish I could say I have moved past all of the painful experiences I have had, but I’m still a work in progress. That’s what therapy is for–to continue to heal the wounds that I let fester unseen for too long. If there are things in your life that were painful but that you swept aside out of fear that they were too insignificant, I encourage you to bring those wounds into the light and let the healing begin.