Monday, October 20, 2014

Depression and the Psalms

Hey there, fellow digressors. Recently, a friend and I admitted that we had been slacking with our Bible-reading, so I've purposed to read five Psalms each day. (Obviously, that plan will have to change a little when I get to Psalm 119.) Yesterday, I read Psalms 6-10. One of them really got to me, and I thought I would share it here:

"O Lord, rebuke me not in thine anger, neither chasten me in thy hot displeasure.
Have mercy upon me, O Lord; for I am weak: O Lord, heal me; for my bones are vexed.
My soul is also sore vexed: but thou, O Lord, how long?
Return, O Lord, deliver my soul: oh save me for thy mercies' sake.
For in death there is no remembrance of thee: in the grave who shall give thee thanks?
I am weary with my groaning; all the night make I my bed to swim; I water my couch with my tears.
Mine eye is consumed because of grief; it waxeth old because of all mine enemies.
Depart from me, all ye workers of iniquity; for the Lord hath heard the voice of my weeping.
The Lord hath heard my supplication; the Lord will receive my prayer.
Let all mine enemies be ashamed and sore vexed: let them return and be ashamed suddenly."

Psalm 6, KJV

"Well," you might say, "that's a rather depressing scripture to share. Is there a point to this?" I'm glad you asked. Here's the thing: I think this psalm is just about the most accurate portrait of faith-filled depression I've seen in a long time. And it was written millennia before clinical depression became a widely-accepted illness, before there were support groups and social networks where people could share their stories and compare notes on their struggles. Did King David have clinical depression? Who knows? But the Psalms have always been a great encouragement for myself and for others who struggle with depression. 

Okay, wait -- let me back up for a second here to clarify: Yes, I do have depression. I've never gone in for a medical diagnosis, but given its persistence, its recurrence, and its correlation to my Lyme timeline (I started having depression problems around the time I started having health problems, and it gets worse at times where it would make sense for Lyme-related symptoms to worsen), my guess is that it is clinical. It's not something I generally broadcast to the world. In fact, it's something that I tend to hide as much as possible. Depression is an isolating illness, and has this way of convincing you that you're alone in your problems, and that you should be. 

Let's just say a depressed brain is not a normal brain. At all. 

Also, I should clarify the differences between feeling depressed and having depression. If something bad happens and your mood takes a turn for the worse, and you have depression symptoms in the short term only, it's generally not indicative of a clinical problem. For example, if I'm generally happy/normal, but my dog gets hit by a car and I cry for a while then get on with my life, I probably am not clinically depressed. On the other hand, if my dog gets hit, and I start to internalize about the situation, blame myself, cry a lot, and my depressed mood lasts a long time without letting up much, there might be a problem. (Not to minimize the trials of people who aren't clinically depressed; your problems are perfectly legitimate. It's just that pain tends to be processed differently by depression sufferers as opposed to "normal" people. We're not as good at getting past things or accepting that things aren't our fault.) 

Generally speaking, if your depression symptoms persist for longer than two weeks, it is considered indicative of some chemical imbalance that needs to be dealt with. Some of the symptoms, according to the CDC, include: 

- Depressed/sad mood 
- Diminished interest in activities which used to be pleasurable 
- Weight gain or loss 
- Psychomotor agitation or retardation (either restlessness or a slowing-down of thoughts and movements due to stress and/or sadness/depression) 
- Fatigue 
- Inappropriate guilt 
- Difficulties concentrating 
- Recurrent thoughts of death 

According to the American Psychiatric Association (in the article I linked to above), five or more of these symptoms must persist for at least two weeks to constitute a diagnosis of depression. Anything less might still be a problem, and especially if you are having recurring thoughts of death, I recommend you talk to someone you trust IMMEDIATELY, whether you fully meet these criteria or not, but officially, this is what it takes to be diagnosed with clinical depression. 

When people hear "depression," they tend to get a certain picture in their mind. A common idea might be that depressed people wear dark clothing, cry a lot in public, engage in some kind of self-harm, and probably have at least considered killing themselves, if they haven't actually tried. There is a lot of stigma involved. But the truth is, most people with depression might look and act normal. They might go to parties, laugh at your jokes, and even get good grades in school. They can be the most devout people you know. They might have never harmed themselves, and it's almost certain that most of them will not openly discuss their struggles with you. And in fact, many people with depression never attempt suicide. You could know them for years and have no idea of their problems, and it would be perfectly understandable. 

There is also a popular opinion floating around that says people who have depression, self-harm, and/or attempt suicide must not be Christians, and must have chosen to be the way they are. If they would just read their Bibles, pray a little more, trust God more, then all their problems would go away. They could be happy, productive people again if they would just try a little harder. 

To combat this idea, I will refer you back to Psalm 6. Or almost any of the Psalms, for that matter. 

"Have mercy upon me, O Lord; for I am weak: O Lord, heal me; for my bones are vexed.
My soul is also sore vexed: but thou, O Lord, how long?
Return, O Lord, deliver my soul: oh save me for thy mercies' sake.
For in death there is no remembrance of thee: in the grave who shall give thee thanks?
I am weary with my groaning; all the night make I my bed to swim; I water my couch with my tears.
Mine eye is consumed because of grief; it waxeth old because of all mine enemies."

Psalm 6:2-6, KJV

King David, one of the great men of the Bible (though he was still human and certainly imperfect), struggled with depression (though whether it was clinical or not, I couldn't say), and was not afraid to admit it. He says plainly that he is weary of groaning, that he makes his bed swim and his couch wet with his tears all night. He is worn down by his trials and pleads for relief. This can be found elsewhere in the Psalms; for example, in Psalm 42: 

"As the hart panteth after the water brooks, so panteth my soul after thee, O God.
My soul thirsteth for God, for the living God: when shall I come and appear before God?
My tears have been my meat day and night, while they continually say to me, Where is thy God?
When I remember these things, I pour out my soul in me: for I had gone with the multitude, I went with them to the house of God, with the voice of joy and praise, with a multitude that kept holyday.
Why art thou cast down, O my soul? And why art thou disquieted within me? Hope thou in God: for I shall yet praise him for the help of his countenance."

Psalm 42:1-5, KJV

Whoa, hold up there. We just heard David express how his soul is cast down within him, how he no longer takes as much joy in going to worship with others, and cries day and night. But did you catch what else he said? "My soul thirsteth for God, for the living God." "Hope thou in God, for I shall yet praise him for the help of his countenance." And in Psalm 6, he said something else:

"Depart from me, all ye workers of iniquity; for the Lord hath heard the voice of my weeping.
The Lord hath heard my supplication; the Lord will receive my prayer."

Psalm 6:7-8, KJV

Time and time again, the psalmist contrasts his own struggles, his own weaknesses with God's strength, faithfulness, and glory. Does he suffer? Absolutely. Does he stumble and fall? That much seems clear. Does he ever feel hopeless, abandoned, and guilty? Does he plead fervently with God for deliverance? Yes, he does. 

But he also turns all that pain, all those trials and all that desperation around to praise God. He trusts in Him, even when life is hard, even when the world has turned on him and everything within him wants to give up. 

"In thee, O Lord, do I put my trust: let me never be put to confusion.
Deliver me in thy righteousness, and cause me to escape: incline thine ear unto me, and save me.
Be thou my strong habitation, whereunto I may continually resort: thou hast given commandment to save me; for thou art my rock and my fortress.
Deliver me, O my God, out of the hand of the wicked, out of the hand of the unrighteous and cruel man.
For thou art my hope, O Lord God: thou art my trust from my youth.
By thee I have been holden up from the womb: thou art he that took me out of my mother's bowels: my praise shall be continually of thee.
I am as a wonder unto many: but thou art my strong refuge.
Let my mouth be filled with thy praise and with thy honour all the day."

Psalm 70:1-8, KJV

The hardest thing about depression is that it paralyzes you. There are a million things you want to do, and about as many that you know you need to do, but it keeps you frozen or just slows you down so that it doesn't seem worth it to try. It tells you that you're alone, and that you shouldn't bother other people with your problems. It makes you feel guilty more than you should, might make you lash out and give more cause for guilt, and overall it just makes life not seem to matter as much as it should. It tries to steal your joy, and can even steal from you the desire to get that joy back. It is a monster, and it is not your fault. 

If this sounds like you, please get help. No matter what "real" problems you may or may not have, if you struggle in these ways and feel like you are slipping, please talk to a parent, doctor, or a trusted friend as soon as possible. Admit that you are struggling, and don't be afraid to ask for help. There is no shame in the struggle, and Christ did not die for you just so you could beat yourself up and suffer in silence. He loves you, and He is always there, no matter what you might be feeling. And despite how it might seem, there are people out there who understand (to at least some extent) what you are going through, and are ready and willing to help. Blogs such as The Hope Movement offer support and encouragement to those suffering with depression, anxiety, eating disorders, and other difficulties, and if you are in crisis and contemplating suicide, please call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or talk to your parents or a trusted friend IMMEDIATELY. 

I won't try to tell you that if you read your Bible and pray more, your problems will magically go away. That's not how it works, at least not always. Depression has a physical side as well as a spiritual one, and if not addressed, it can eat you alive. God never promised us that we would live easy lives, that we would never be discouraged or struggle to hold on. But He did promise that He would always be there. 

"Hast thou not known? Hast thou not heard, that the everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth, fainteth not, neither is weary? There is no searching of his understanding.
He giveth power to the faint; and to them that have no might he increaseth strength.
Even the youths shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall utterly fall:
But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint."

Isaiah 40:28-31, KJV

"Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?
As it is written, For thy sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.
Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us.
For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come,
Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord."

Romans 8:35-39, KJV

Life is hard sometimes. But we can be sure of one thing: If we have trusted in Christ, if we have confessed our sins to Him and accepted His free gift of salvation, we are His forever. Nothing, not even depression, is enough to drive God away. Everyone else may leave, may laugh at you or accuse you of faithlessness or abuse you with their words and actions, but God will never leave. He is faithful to the end, and beyond. Even when you feel like giving up, God won't. Even when you think you are hopeless and beyond redemption, He will stand by you and give you strength to continue. Human strength fails, but God's strength never does. Depression is real, and it is crippling. But it is not the end. And if we trust in God, we can be sure that He will work everything out in the end. All will be brought around to His glory, and if we endure in His strength, we will learn and grow in ways that we could never have imagined. And that, in and of itself, is enough reason to keep fighting. 

"And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose."

Romans 8:28 KJV

"For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the Lord, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end."

Jeremiah 29:11, KJV


"I remember
When my eyes were too tired to see
I remember
When I choked on my sadness and failures
And I couldn't breathe
The yoke on my shoulders was heavy, and I couldn't stand
And if only I'd reached out much sooner and taken Your hand,
I would have realized

That You were there through it all
That You were ready to pick me up whenever I'd fall
When I was weak, You were strong
And when I couldn't breathe
You were my song
Before I heard Your call
I was weak and I'd fall
But You were there through it all

I remember when my mind turned on me
And I stopped believing in Your love
I remember
When the pain was too much
And I cried and I screamed that I'd had enough
Because the night was so dark and my eyes were so blind
I was blind, but now I can see
That You were there,
There with me

Though friends may desert me
Though foes may beset me
Though the pain, it still stabs at this heart of mine
Though my spirit's not willing
And my flesh, it is weak
And I turn on myself every time
Lord, I know every time

You'll bring me through it all
And I know that You hear me
Whenever I call
When I'm weak, You are strong
You're my breath, You're my song
And You pick me up whenever I fall
Lord, You pick me up
And You carry me through it all."

'Through It All' - Original Song
(Copyright 2014 (c) by C. F. Barrows)


  1. Thank you for sharing! It's uplifting to hear about others turning to Scripture to help with their problems.

    1. Indeed. I also feel like it's important for believers who struggle to be honest with one another about their conditions and be willing to help one another. Having a good support system is crucial, and that way, we can hold each other accountable in terms of being regular about devotions, etc.

      ...Did I just get preachy again? xD I do that a lot. *hides*

    2. No problem! Being open about our faith (and having an accountability and support system) IS crucial.

  2. Great post Carrie.

    okay that might sound slightly bad considering the topic you are discussing but you get my point...I hope.. Anyways, I too am reading through the Psalms and read Psalm 6 the other day and I did find that to be quite interesting. Before, I never really noticed or understood what he meant by that verse but now I really do...but anyways, I just wanted to let you know that this post was really well done and words to be honest...just kind of rambling...but I think you get what I'm saying

    1. Yeah, I get it. *hugs* I'm so glad it was helpful for you. The Psalms are so wonderful.

      And it's okay -- I ramble, too. Hence the name 'Digressions of a Demented Scribe'. ;)