So you wish you were dead... or something like that.
Or you wish you were never born, or you wouldn't mind an accident that took you out, or you just don't feel like you want to keep going... Maybe you are saying things like:
- I quit
- I don't want to play anymore
- I can't do this anymore
- It's just so hard
- I'm so tired
- I'm so lonely
- Nobody likes me, wants me, or loves me
- Everyone (or someone in particular) would be better off if I were dead, or gone, or just disappeared
- I'm going to run away and to be a hobo... or live in a cabin in the woods where I can't hurt anyone anymore and they can't hurt me.
From one person who battles against Depression to another (or maybe to myself if I'm reading this during one of my darker moments), I get it.
I've said all of these things from time to time, more often than I'd care to admit. In fact, I'm writing this letter primarily to me so I can re-read it when I get into another dark place, and second to you my fellow warrior in the Good Fight.
1. It's okay to be not okay.
It's okay to be NOT okay.
You are broken. So is everyone else.
Even the people you look up to most, be it a pastor, friend, or someone else, are broken. We are all broken in different ways. We don't all suffer from the same brokenness. You can't see what is happening inside of them or what battles they fought to get where they are. Their smiles are either fake OR hard-won, I assure you.
Social Media is exactly that, Media. It's where we all put our best foot forward and post things we like. For most people, it's not where we air our deepest darkness.
The fact is, you need to give yourself permission to be NOT okay. Don't run from that feeling, lean into it. But also don't embrace it as Truth. That brokenness is not WHO you are it is simply a state you are in because you live in a fallen world.
In a broken world things break.
You got broken. That is a natural byproduct of living in a world with an enemy. But that brokenness is not who you are.
The purpose of leaning into that feeling is not so that you can wallow in it but so that you can face it and bring it to the light so it can get handled right.
So once you accept that you are broken, you need to start the process of healing out of it.
2. Recognizing Depression | "The Suck" | "The Dark Place"
One of the first things we need to do is recognize when we're in the Dark Place.
It's not hard to recognize depression after a while, it's a familiar spirit (an evil spirit) that you've come to expect... however... it's a subtle spirit. It doesn't start out by saying I want to die, it starts out with subtle lies and builds on them.
Here are some of the things I've said when I found myself in The Suck:
I should have left and Flavia (my second wife, who died) stayed. It's not fair. I wanted to go, get off this dirt rock and she actually liked this planet. It should have been me.
I can't do this anymore. I don't want to do this anymore. There's no point at which my being here is benefiting anyone. I havn't made an eternal impact on anyone yet, not likely to in the future.
I am a screw up, it's what I do and who I am. I'm broken and will never be anything other than a broken screw up. I wish people would stop expecting more from me, it's just more pressure to be something I'll never be.
Leave me alone and let me be who I am. Love me as a screw up or don't but this is what I am.
I can't do this shit anymore... I can't do human beings anymore... I wish I could just rest.
The hardest part of broken thinking is recognizing your thinking is broken.
- Don't trust your thoughts:
- If you are having these kinds of thoughts, acknowledge out loud that these are lies.
- Pay attention to your body:
- Emotions are not all in your brain. They actually lodge themselves in different parts of your body. Paying attention to the sensations in your body can clue you into your emotional state. Tightness in the throat may be the inability to release emotions. Hurting temples, tightness in the chest, butterflies in stomach... these are all signals your body is sending that you need to work on something.
- What thoughts are tied to that feeling?
- Now that you recognize in your body that something is wrong, ask what thoughts are tied to that sensation. You may not even realize you were rehearsing your old thought patterns.
Are you In The Box?
In Leadership and Self-Deception: Getting Out of the Box, by Arbinger Institute (Author)(Affiliate), they talk about being "In the Box" toward someone. The idea is that when you are in the box, you are not seeing them or yourself clearly.
You will seek to Justify yourself and Blame others. If either or both of these are present, you are "In the Box".
Be mindful of: Blame, Self Justification, Unworthy, Unwanted, Worthless, Woe is Me, Nobody Wants Me, Extremes, Exaggerations, and Overgeneralization... (Never, Always, Nobody, Everyone) Projecting a negative future without evidence.
A healthy response says "That may be true but... Positive probable outcome"
An unhealthy response says "That may be true but.... Negative outcome."
So now we know our thoughts are broken and we are in The Suck. The thing is, we didn't start in that dark place. We were led there by something we call triggers.
You were fine. Everything was going well. You were, relatively, happy and productive. You finally felt like you had a handle on things. Then "suddenly" you were ready to quit again.
You experienced a trigger (or set of them) that took you down a path that led you back to The Suck.
Good Therapy defines a trigger as:
A trigger in psychology is a stimulus such as a smell, sound, or sight that triggers feelings of trauma. People typically use this term when describing posttraumatic stress (PTSD).
How triggers work | Strongholds
You didn't actually jump from a good place to the suck instantly; rather, you were led down a path to get here. You may or may not recognize the path looking back but you seldom (without effort and assistance) recognize the path while you are on it.
Imagine a train. At first, when you begin developing this trigger, it's like a steam train. It builds up steam and runs faster and faster until it lands you in The Suck. But eventually, when you've ridden it often enough, it upgrades to a diesel train with higher speeds. Finally, it's a bullet-train and you go from Happy to Quit in moments. But you still traveled, it wasn't as instantaneous as you might think it was... it was just faster because you've run that path so often there's a clearly marked trail.
What you are experiencing is known Biblically as a "Stronghold" (*more on that here).
- Event: Initially, an event(s) happens, often early in life. Someone says something, does something, or something happens. Maybe someone told you that you would never amount to anything. Someone died or left you. You failed at something. You experienced a Trauma (a car accident for example).
- Lie: The event itself, even if it is a huge event, isn't the problem. The problem is that the enemy used this event to tell you how to interpret this event. That interpretation is a LIE. "You'll never amount to anything." / "You're never going to be good enough." / "You can't trust people with your heart." / "All men... All Women..." / "Nobody wants you." / "You're better off without people." / "You're such a screw-up."
- Defense/Comfort: This lie causes pain. As humans, we will do anything to avoid pain. In fact, addicts don't seek drugs for the high, they seek drugs to escape pain. So we seek some kind of way to defend against the pain or comfort ourselves in it. Maybe you isolate to avoid future pain caused by a person. Maybe you decide to never try that type of task again, "I can't" / "I don't." Maybe you seek a substance or the wrong type of person to bring you comfort.
- Reaction: In seeking this Defense or Comfort, you actually end up sending the wrong messages to the people around you and often set up events around you to go the wrong way. You overspend and end up in a financial bind. You push people away and perceive them as rejecting you. Almost always this leads to a new event that appears, in your heart, to reinforce the lie. You end up saying "See... I told you..." never recognizing that your seeking the Defense or Comfort actually set up events in the reaction phase to perpetuate another event which reinforced the lie... and around and around we go.
Example: Baseball Event > Failure > No Good > I hate Men and especially jocks.
I use this example because it seems small (silly even) but it has had a strong, lasting, and dramatic event on my life even to this day.
Event: Almost a Home Run
In 1st grade (so maybe 6-7 years old?), I was on a baseball little league team. I hit the ball and it went far (a success). I ran all the bases and ran home. I stood behind home plate jumping up and down "I did it, I did it". But all the people, my parents, everyone were shouting and pointing behind me. I couldn't hear what they said at first, then I heard "Go Back". The catcher walks up to me and taps me on the shoulder with his glove and the umpire yells "Out!". Feeling like the butt of a huge joke that everyone understood but me, I walked back to the dugout feeling lost and confused. When they explained that I never actually touched home plate with my foot and therefore it didn't count, I felt embarrassed.
PAUSE: How would you interpret this event? I hit that ball so hard, as a small thin child, that I was able to run all the bases before they got to the ball and threw it home. I COULD have seen that event as a major success. Look at what I can do? That could have been interpreted as "Well, it sucks I made such a little mistake and missed the run officially, but wow I really hit that ball. I am really good at this. Next time I'll do better and win the game for my team!" I could have gone on to be a great hitter, won baseball scholarships... who knows. I'll never know because that's not what I learned.
LIE: I suck at sports
What did I learn? I hate sports, I hate males (for making fun of my mistake or did they? I don't recall anyone doing that). I hate all sports. I hate everything to do with sports. I have people who play or watch sports. I especially hate jocks.
I'll never be hurt like that again, embarrassed. I'll never play sports, I suck at sports. I don't get it. Jocks are dumb meat-heads. I'm too smart for them anyway... Etc.
And I never did again.
I never played on any team involving males again. I scoffed at anyone who would "waste their time on mindless sports".
I did join track in Middle School because that's a self-competition (and a girl was involved). But after being rejected by that girl (subsequent event) I never did that again either. It wasn't until I was 33 and going through Kairos at Gateway Church that I realized my hatred of males was built on a lie. And even knowing that I still struggle to feel adequate around other males, especially if there's any Macho or Jockness to them. It's actually led to health issues as I am still feeling like a rejected 7-year-old boy every time I set foot near a workout gym (which are full of manly men).
Reaction: Fear Males
Every time I meet a man, especially a "manly man", I feel everything in me beg to run away. This reaction comes across to other men as stand-off-ish or even arrogant. I have even said things like "I'm smart, not like those dumb jocks". This causes them to not like me. This led to being trash-canned by a jock in high school, reinforcing the lie that I don't fit in with Jocks.
All of that, a lifetime of pain... built on a LIE.
4. Recognizing your triggers
It's important to understand what your unique triggers are because they are the weapon The Enemy will use to take you out every time until you build a defense against them.
Triggers are any thought/action/circumstance that leads you to a series of debilitating thoughts on a train ride to The Suck.
Note: a good list of triggers that may help you identify yours is found at GetUplift (here)
- Financial Pressure: Overspending leads to a financial pinch. Pinch leads to me feeling inadequate to produce. This leads to feeling I need to run away from responsibility. I either hide from the problem in distraction or run to something that will make it feel better (ice cream, more overspending, pornography, "friends" that don't help me get back in touch with God but help me stay mired in the muck).
- Rejection (perceived rejection): Someone doesn't return my call or text, someone ignores me in the hallway when I waive, someone tells me something I could do to improve... any of these can become triggers that lead to "I'm better off alone", "Nobody wants me", "I wish I'd never met.", "I guess I'll just be alone forever, I deserve it."
- Grief-Related Trigger: Either I see a happy couple or I experience something that reminds me of a time I failed to live up to what I thought I needed to be as a husband... this leads to thinking about all the times I failed in both of my marriages... "I am broken. I break people. It's safer if I don't let anyone near me because I'll just end up hurting them too.."
Akin to Triggers, but needing its own space to discuss, let's talk about filters. We all have filters, each and every one of us. They are the glasses we see the world through. You've heard the term "Rose Colored Glasses" to refer to someone who always sees things as good, often to the point they fail to acknowledge anything that isn't good.
Just like tinted glasses, or a water filter, these Emotional Filters taint or change the quality everything we see and hear. They prevent us from seeing what is because we can only see our perception of what is.
Example: Hearing words that weren't said.
My wife walks in after reading my novel and says
"Honey, this is really really great. I'm so proud of you. Have you considered (insert some small change here)? I think that would really make it shine!"
What did I hear?
"You suck as a writer. Stop wasting your time with this and go work more and bring in more money."
Does that seem like a reasonable translation to you? I hope not. But it's what I heard. It took me a few years after to acknowledge that she didn't say that.
Negative Filters, or Filter Issues, are going to happen. The trick is being aware of which filters you have, and clarifying.
Here's a helpful Filter tool:
"When you said/did... I felt... Is that what you meant by that?"
So we've identified we're either on the train or made it to The Suck. We've identified that it was caused by Triggers and Filters.
6. Carving your path back out of The Dark to The Light
It's going to be up to you to fight this battle. It's inside of you. Others can and will help but it's ultimately up to you to do the hard work.
Here are a few helpful ideas to get you started:
- Reminder: It's okay to be not okay. Start by acknowledging that you are where you are.
- No Hiding: Bring it to the light so it gets handled right. Isolation and Avoidance are your enemies. When you hide these feelings, thoughts, or reactions they fester and grow. You need to admit them to yourself, to God, and to one or more safe friends. On that note...
- Curate Careful Companions: Not every friend is a healthy friend. Sure, they may be safe for you. But when you are through talking with them, are you better? Did they direct you back to your Father of Light (God) or did they simply hear and accept you but leave you stuck? True Companions will always be safe space for you to express how you are feeling or thinking, without any judgment but they will also help you redirect your broken thinking.
- Kairos: What's the Truth about that? - Triggers and Filters are built on the foundation of a LIE. Once you recognize the lie, you can replace it with the Truth.
- God, I acknowledge that some event caused me to believe a lie. What event would you like to talk to me about? Give it space, He may not tell you until you are ready.
- I am thinking (insert lie here). I acknowledge that as a lie.
- What Truth would you like to tell me about that? How do you see me?
- Depression attacks Expression. You were created to express a component of God to this world. The opposite of Depression is not Happy. The opposite of Depression is Expression.
- Ask God: How did you create me to Express You to this world?
- GET OUT! Physically move your body, get sunlight. Stand and stretch. Try taking a walk but holding your head high, shoulders back, breath deeply. These are physical cues to your body to redirect your emotional state. The biochemicals in your body actually respond to physical stimuli as simple as changing posture.
Here are a few more tools:
My Best Self
Here’s some homework for you: fill in the blank with between 5-10 different statements:
I am at my best when I ____________ (this should be a daily habit).
My examples here.
A Text Message (SMS) From God to You
This tool is designed to help you practice hearing from God... One word from God can change your life forever.
Here's how it works:
Start by getting a pad of paper and a pen (or you can do it electronically in OneNote or Evernote... but there's something about handwriting that helps you stay out of your head and in tune with your heart).
Write each of these statements and leave enough room to write what you hear.
I see you…
I hear you...
Get really still, in a quiet place or with worship music if you'd like.
Focus on your heart and belly, not your mind.
Then just write whatever you feel God's response is saying.
Don't over think it, or second-guess... this is just a tool to help you practice hearing God.
Here is an example of what I heard when I tried it the first time.
I see you…
- Afraid to take on new challenges because you think you'll fail.
- Lonely & Aching for a companion
- So busy you keep putting the urgent in front of the important.
I hear you…
- Complaining about not having enough…
- Crying "I can't do this anymore"
- Asking for help
- About all of your needs (spiritual, emotional, financial, and physical).
- About your boys more than you do (I've got them).
- About your future & I have idea and plans you haven't imagined yet.
- You spouse
- Your healer
- Your provider
- Your Comforter
- Your Way Out & Your Way Up
- Your Unexpected End
- Your Boys' Father
- Your Future Wife's Father
- Your Father
- Your Friend
*Come Play With Me!*
I find that when I am depressed I HATE music, good uplifting music anyway. That's the demon inside of me refusing to come out. I force myself by turning on a playlist (like this one) and make myself listen to it until the spiritual atmosphere lifts enough to engage in the above activities.
This is the one I usually just play over and over again: Surrounded
I hope it helped you to come on my journey, see you around.
*******I plan to edit, re-write, enhance, re-tool this letter as often as I need to in order to ensure it says exactly what it needs to say. Our lives may both depend on it. Mine did by the time I got done writing it. ************
Shalom: Live Long and Prosper!