Anxiety and depression are two of the most common mental illnesses, and they often occur together. Just because its relatively common, though, doesn’t make dealing with both feel any less weird. Exhibit A, this image I ran across on Pinterest:
It’s overly simplified, of course, to say “depression is when you don’t really care about anything” and “anxiety is when you care too much about everything.” Still, these comments capture part of how strange it feels to simultaneously (or alternately) deal with depression and anxiety. “Having both is staying in bed because you don’t want to go to school and then panicking because you don’t want to fail. Having both is wanting to go see your friends so you don’t lose them all, then staying home in bed because you don’t want to make the effort.”
Anxiety and depression are going to show up a bit different for everyone who struggles with them, but for me it’s like one day I’m on-edge, jittery, and so distracted by my inner anxiety monologue that I struggle to remember how things actually happened. Then the next day I feel like a weight’s pressing down on me snuffing out all motivation and hope. And some days, the smothering feeling is there but I’m also anxious about stuff I should care about and there’s this weird fight going on in my head. It’s exhausting.
Holding on to hope isn’t easy when you’re fighting a struggle inside your mind that tells you the worst could happen and there’s no point in trying to do anything about it. But we’re also not helpless victims of our own minds. We can change the patterns of our thoughts. We can choose to hold on to hope even when there seems no reason for it, and the easiest/best way to do this is with the Lord’s help.
We struggle, but not alone
Being a Christian adds an extra level of weirdness to living with both anxiety and depression. Christians aren’t “supposed” to fear anything except God and we’re also supposed to have joy. Feeling anxious and depressed can make you feel guilty, like you’re not a “good enough” Christian. You might also have people trying to pin-point why you feel this way so you can overcome it, but there’s not always an identifiable trigger or cause. Many well-meaning Christians don’t know how to respond to people who aren’t depressed because something went wrong or because they did something wrong, but because depression is a mental illness that they have.
Being a Christian can also add an extra layer of help and hope. Just a couple weeks ago, I’d been struggling with another bout of depression and I finally admitted that to one of my friends at church because I knew I needed help. She prayed with me and nothing happened, but then during the worship service the rabbi led a prayer for those struggling with depression (we use “rabbi” instead of “pastor” in a Messianic congregation). And I felt the smothering weight of depression lift, just like that. And it wasn’t just a feel-good-in-the-moment sort of thing. It stayed gone! Hallelujah, praise the Lord!
But it only stayed gone for a week. My mental illness wasn’t cured, though I was given relief for a time. I’m thankful for that. I’m also thankful for the perspective that my faith gives on my struggle. Ongoing struggles are part of being human. They’re also a part of Christianity, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise (2 Cor. 4:7-10; 12:7-9; Eph. 6:12). But through this, we have faith that God will be with us, strengthening us with His spirit of power, love, and sound mindedness. We don’t have to face our struggles alone.
But even if you don’t
It’s a nice thought that God never leaves you alone in your struggles and He’ll help you get through. And I do believe it’s true. It’s just hard to make sense of how He gets you through sometimes, you know? Whether it’s anxiety, depression, or some other struggle there are times when it seems like He’s right there ready to help and there are times He seems to keep silent. There are times He lifts your depression in a moment and times you’re stuck in it for months. There are times He answers your prayers promptly and times He answers them so differently than you expected that it seems as if He didn’t answer at all.
I know You’re able and I know You can
Save through the fire with Your mighty hand
But even if You don’t
My hope is You alone
I know the sorrow, and I know the hurt
Would all go away if You’d just say the word
But even if You don’t
My hope is You alone
– “Even If,” by Mercy Me
I’ve been thinking about the MercyMe song “Even If” a lot these past few days. I wrote a blog post about it a couple years ago after a breakup, and talked about holding on to hope in dark times. How do you make sense of the fact that God has all power and yet lets you keep struggling with something like a mental health issue? Or when He lets someone you love succumb to addiction, illness, or accident?
The only satisfactory answer I’ve been able to find is that God sees things from a different perspective than we do, and somehow from His perspective He can see how He’ll make everything turn out all right in the end. As those who faithfully follow God, we have the promise that “all things work together for good for those who love God, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Rom. 8:28, WEB). We can’t always see it. But we can say, “even if you don’t answer my prayers the way I want right now, my hope is you alone. I will keep trusting you (or trying to) no matter what because I know you are faithful and good.”
An anchor for our soul
The writer of Hebrews says we have hope as an anchor for our soul. I love this imagery, and it’s partly why I call this blog Like An Anchor (Heb. 6:19). Anchors keep ships from drifting away from where they’re supposed to be. Hope acts to keep us from being tossed about uncontrollably by the waves of life. A mindset of hope contextualizes our struggles and gives us something to hang on to even when we don’t see how things can turn out well in the end.
The sort of hope God offers isn’t a vague sense of wanting something with no guarantee it will happen. The way the Bible talks about hope is as an expectation of good that you can count on being fulfilled. I’m starting to think that perhaps the question shouldn’t be, “How do you hold on to hope when you’re fighting anxiety and depression?” but something more along the lines of “How can we better understand what hope is so we’ll never let go of it?”
A relationship with God doesn’t magically cure anxiety and depression. God can and sometimes does cure mental illness, but I think more often He walks with us through our struggles rather than removing them entirely. Whether or not the struggle goes away, faith does change how we experience anxiety and depression. It expands our perspective, showing us that we have a reason for joy in the Lord even if everything else looks bleak. It gives us a sure and certain hope that we can keep holding on to, knowing God’s grace and mercy are endless and He will faithfully provide a reason for hope. He is what we can hold on to through every battle we face.
One last thing: if you are struggling with a mental health issue please seek out professional help. Prayer, informal counseling with a pastor, and/or the support of fellow believes are fantastic tools. However, anxiety, depression other mental health issues are illnesses and I encourage you to seek professional treatment just as you’d do for a physical illness like cancer or heart disease. I can assure you from experience that trying to deal with a mental health issue on your own is not a good idea. Please go get proper help. Click here to access Psychology Today’s directory of mental health professionals and find a therapist or psychiatrist near you.
Featured image credit: StockSnap via Pixabay