When You Struggle With Depression: 10 Tools to Fight For Joy

When I was in my early to mid-twenties, I went through a pretty deep depression. Probably on the outside, I looked fine. Happy mostly. I showed up at work every day. Played pranks on people. Cracked jokes. Tried to maintain a kind and cheerful disposition.

But, those closest to me could tell something was wrong. I came home every day and slept. For hours. My weekends were pretty mundane and uneventful. I plodded along through a lot of dark days.

Looking back, I can now see several contributing factors to my melancholy outlook on life, but mostly I think I was just deeply disappointed. Disappointed in the way things had turned out. And to be honest, when I looked ahead toward the future, it didn’t carry any hope. Now, I know I was only in my twenties, but I had already settled in my heart that my future was destined to be pretty bleak.

Several years have passed since that disconsolate season in my life, and I’m better now, though I still have hours here and there where I struggle along and fight for joy. I’m thankful, though, that I’m able to wrestle through and not be overcome by all that doom and gloom.

To be utterly honest, being able to get married to an incredible man (which is the one thing I had hoped for the most and never thought would actually happen) and getting to have children has been the greatest gift and has brought with it a profound sense of fulfillment and happiness to my life.

But, deep down, I think we all know that circumstances themselves cannot automatically rescue us from depression itself. Some folks “have it all” and still struggle to process life in a way that is hope-filled and joy resulting.

I do wish I could have known a few things back then. There’s just some things that would have helped.

I realize that I could never offer you an exhaustive list of ways to get better from depression. But what I can offer you is some “tools for your tool-box” so to speak.

1. Go on a beauty hunt.

I think God put beauty in the world to help heal our hearts. Make it your aim, at least once a day to look closely at something God has created and be astonished at it, with child-like wonder. Stoop down, if you must to study a snowflake up close, or a wildflower. Gaze up into a tree, or step outside before bedtime to look for the moon.

2. Cultivate thankfulness.

Start with what’s right here in front of you. That cup of coffee. Those kid’s faces. Clean water. Dirt. Start a gratitude journal. Count the ways God is showing up in your day, through seemingly small things.

3. Consider taking medicine.

I remember the day I went to the doctor because I had developed shingles. (I had thought only old folks got the shingles, but apparently anxious youthful folks can get them, too.) Anyways, when he walked back into the room and offered to put me on a mild anti-depressant for a little while, I had to choke back the tears. I tried desperately to cover up the shock I was feeling inside, because I had JESUS! I knew the doctor just wouldn’t understand. That since I had Jesus, I couldn’t possibly need anything else!

I wish now that I had known taking medicine for depression wouldn’t have made me any less of a Jesus-follower. God gave us these minds to create things that help us. Sometimes, medicine just really helps.

4. Spend time with God.

Your soul is your most important part of you. Take time to sit with your Maker and talk to Him about your heart. Then get His Words inside you. Eat ’em up. Do this at least once a day. Think of it as taking vitamins.

And it’s good to remember that God isn’t confined to your “devotional time.” He’s with you always. When you’re at the sink and over the laundry, tucking your kids into bed, and putting in long hours at work. Learn how to live constantly aware of the warmth of His turned-toward-you face.

5. Love someone.

You were made to bless. Think about someone else. Do something for them.

My friend, Rob Gilliom offered me some helpful thoughts on this matter:

 “I don’t know how to really love someone, but I do know how to do simple acts of love toward someone. I can do things for someone, especially someone who can never return the act, which look like love. And then I am often surprised that I magically “feel” love that I didn’t know how to feel before.

This is a sacramental act which we can do, and seems to often open the door for God to do something inside us which completes the act.”

6. Go to therapy/counseling.

Yeah, we’re all a mess. It’s okay to find someone to help you along. I’ve gotten plenty of help along the way. Still do when I need it.

7. Keep on praying.

Sometimes this looks like quiet feeble prayers and sometimes it’s loud shouts and crying out in desperation. Don’t ever stop talking to God. Therein is relationship. Exercise that one speck of faith.

8. Exercise.

Even if it’s just going for a ten minute walk. Just keep moving, just keep moving.

9. Eat good food.

You know, like fruits and veggies. A steady diet of fast food and ramen noodles will make anybody feel like the whole world is about to cave.

10. Give yourself plenty of grace.

We live in a broken world. Some of us will just have certain things we struggle with. Our struggles aren’t wasted. This gives us compassion for the person sitting next to us, who struggles with something else. Give yourself some grace. It’s okay if you’re not all put together.

Please know I write this from a place of tenderness. This is my way of reaching out and grabbing your hand, in case you, too, have struggled along with a whole string of dark days.

These are some of the tools that have helped me overcome and keep the hope tucked down in my chest.  I hope they help you, too.

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