Guest Blog by Wife, Mother, Author, and a friend who understands God's Grace in mental health ... Gillian Marchenko.
I have major depressive disorder. Through years of serious struggle, I've learned that a holistic approach towards health is not only helpful, but vital. I call this a mental tool box, and God, in his goodness and mercy, continues to add to it; cultivating a relationship with Jesus, medication, trading isolation for community, attempts to avoid numbing behavior, being active in recovery, and biblical and secular therapy. I'm not cured of depression. I fight it most days. But does the tool box help? A resounding yes.
One new tool came through cognitive behavioral therapy. As best as I can tell, cognitive behavioral therapy works from the outside in. You start with negative habits and move towards deeper, underlying issues. Henry Nouwen says,
"You don't think your way into a new kind of living but live your way into a new kind of thinking."
This tool is a sheet of paper. After each session, I left with a jotted down action point. Later, in an episode, I can look at it.
1. Don't think. Do.
I used to wake up in the morning and assess my depression. How do I feel? Am I depressed? What are my body and mind telling me? After checking in, I would then act accordingly.
In therapy I learned a simple trick. Don't think. Do. Now, before categorizing myself, if possible, I get up, shower, dress, and help my family with their morning routine. After an hour or so, I am allowed to think about my mental health. This tool provides a sense of accomplishment. I helped my kids. I got dressed. Even if I end up back in bed, starting well stays with me. It instills the hope that I might be moving towards health.
2. Narrate your surroundings.
Also known as mindfulness, narration plants me in the moment. When my blood pressure begins to rise, I speak my surroundings. I am sitting on the soft brown couch in my office. A car passed by. The leaves outside blow in the breeze. This practice stops my negative thoughts. While in the moment, there's no room in my head for anything else.
3. Include scripture.
Being bathed and grounded in the word of God is a must. But when I am depressed, it is almost impossible. I can't comprehend what I read from the Bible. I can't pray. My mind is too cloudy to allow the light of Jesus in. Reading from my list of action points proves much less daunting than opening my Bible. Now, after practicing this action point for a while, I don't need to include verses in my actual list. The verses find me. And they extend hope.
I stretch out my hands to you; my soul thirsts for you like a parched land. Psalm 143:6 (ESV)
The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. –John 1:5 (NIV)
For he will hide me in his shelter in the day of trouble. Psalm 27:5 (ESV)
God, who has called you into fellowship with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, is faithful. -1 Corinthians 1:9 (NCV)
One definition of depression is the loss of hope. But Jesus can fight that. Hope in the Lord comes in different ways. Sometimes, it is a piece of paper with action points, just one of the tools in my tool box, that gets me out of my head.
Gillian Marchenko is the author of Still Life; A Memoir of Living Fully with Depression. She lives near St. Louis with her husband Sergei and their four daughters. Connect with Gillian at gillianmarchenko.com.