I’ve suffered from severe depression and anxiety, as well as chronic illness. With God's help, I’ve overcome it all.
To heal chronic physical illness, a new way of living must be learned and practiced. I had to learn how to eat healthily. I had to figure out that certain foods that seemed healthy still caused problems for me. I had to understand how to exercise and push through the fatigue and pain to keep moving forward, even when everything in me screamed, stop! You’re making it worse!
Healing mental illness is just like this. I had developed a habit of thinking toxic thoughts. Thoughts of self-pity and anger, of apathy and suicide. I am not ashamed that depression and anxiety are a part of my story. I have no reason to be. Shame is not part of God's plan for us and neither is depression or anxiety.
Unfortunately, it's something that many people struggle with. It's estimated that 16.2 million American adults have had at least one major depressive episode in a given year and 40 million American adults have anxiety disorder.
Depression and anxiety nearly destroyed me. When these things became strong enough, they stole my ability to function, to find humor or hope, and to love. Mental illness killed everything that made this life worth living. It turned my focus away from God and away from others. Soon my focus was solely inward, on myself- on my pain. Just like a physical ailment, it’s not something of which to feel ashamed. It’s something that requires healing.
There is a very real battle over our minds.
Depression and anxiety are the results of a dark, invisible war that I didn’t fully realize I was apart of. Satan fights for our minds because it’s the one thing that he can use to destroy us. The attacks came each time after I was knocked down by illness, or when people hurt me. When I was attacked, abused, disregarded, or devalued, when my mind and my heart were vulnerable, Satan and his army moved in. They convinced me to believe lies about myself and others.
I was conned into believing that I was a powerless victim, subjected to erratic whims of despair and a vacuum of scarcity.
Many people believe that mental illness and mental health are passive, that it's something that happens to you or it doesn't. That's not true. You have more power than you know.
Your thoughts determine how you perceive life and if you believe the lies that you aren't enough, that bad things always happen to you, that you'll always be this way, then you're right- until you stop those obsessive negative thoughts, nothing will change.
There are physical elements that play a role as well. Hormone imbalances will make it difficult, if not impossible, to think healthy thoughts, but they can be changed through healthy eating and exercise, and other therapies.
If you want to be physically healthy, you must devote time and energy to doing what you must do to obtain health. If you want to start your own business, you devote every day to making that dream come true. If you want to reach any goal, you must work hard every day to make it happen. Mental health is no exception.
Proverbs 4:23-27 (NIV) Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it. Keep your mouth free of perversity; keep corrupt talk far from your lips. Let your eyes look straight ahead; fix your gaze directly before you. Give careful thought to the paths for your feet and be steadfast in all your ways.
Your mind and your heart are priceless. If you're struggling with depression or anxiety, you must invest time and energy into fighting to take back ownership of your thoughts.
Toxic thoughts cannot be removed. They can only be replaced.
Here’s how I did it:
I had developed a habit of thinking negative, self-defeating, divisive, accusing, paranoid thoughts. I didn't categorize them this way at the time, only as dark thoughts. After years of thinking this was, I didn’t know how to think any other way. I had to develop a new habit but I couldn’t do it without people or God.
I started by changing my morning routine to include quality time with God. This is vital, so please make sure to check out my article, Establishing a Routine with God Now Can Help You More Quickly Move Through Slumps Later.
Then, I filled every part of my day that didn't require interaction with people, with Christian books, podcasts, blogs, and anything else that consistently spoke God’s truth to me. I listened to podcasts and audiobooks when I was getting ready in the morning, when I was driving- any time that would otherwise be filled with silence and my own thoughts. For a while, I purposely didn’t allow space for my own thoughts because I couldn’t trust them to provide truth or nourishment to my spirit. They were working against me.
Philippians 4:8 (NIV) Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable- if anything is excellent or praiseworthy- think about such things.
As I consumed the words of spiritual leaders, those truths began to replace my old ways of thinking. After months of this, I was able to finally make room for silence in my life because my thoughts had become more encouraging and life-giving.
I stopped spending much time with people who spoke the way I thought when I was depressed or anxious and surrounded myself with people who spoke God’s truth. It’s better to be alone with Christian podcasts than with friends who speak negatively. I found that when my thoughts and words finally mirrored God’s, I began attracting the kind of people who’s thoughts and words did also.
I found a Christian counselor who would push back on opinions and mindsets that didn't serve me well and offered tools to use when I feel anxiety creeping back in.
I still practice these things daily. I notice when I prioritize other things above spending time with God, or when I consume entertainment that doesn’t continually move me in the right direction, I begin to feel a pull back toward those toxic thoughts.
First steps to moving toward mental health:
1. Consume God's truth constantly through media, reading the Bible, and praise music. Click here for a list of podcasts that have helped me.
2. Spend time with people who will speak God's truth and life-giving encouragement to you.
3. Find a good Christian counselor.
100 Day Challenge to find God in my every day.
Today is the first day of a new year and I’m going to challenge myself to take on another habit that will help keep my focus on The One Who Saves- on God. I’m going to look for God in my every day and post where I’ve found Him for 100 days on Instagram. This is a personal challenge but posting it will hold me accountable. Plus, sharing the goodness of God is always a good thing!
Instead of focusing on the fact that the mail lady mixed up the mailboxes and the inconvenience of taking the neighbor’s mail to them, I’ll be able to find God in the opportunity to meet and better know my neighbor. Instead of focusing on the army of mosquitoes on the walking trail, I’ll find God in the way the sun bursts through the trees, reminding me that His light can never be hidden.
Developing a habit of looking for God in everything and everyone is one more way that I can fight to protect the mind and heart that God has given me so that I may continually move forward and do what He has called me to do on this earth.
Find and follow my 100 Day Challenge: #IFoundGodIn
What has helped you gain mental health? I'd love to hear from you in the comments section!