Outlast the Devil

In terms of dealing with feelings of depression, I admit that I rarely seek counsel from my church leadership.  In my experience, there is too often a sense of “If you have a strong testimony, read the scriptures, pray, etc etc etc, then why should you be depressed?!”  True enough, a commitment to the gospel and obedience to the commandments can *help* with depression, but for many of us, a gaping emotional hole still remains.

When I am feeling depressed, I find it is crucial for me to strategize a plan of attack.  I’ve got to get on top of my thoughts and feelings, and a clear plan really helps.  That is why I was so happy – and a little surprised – to find an article written by a past President of my church, Ezra Taft Benson. He outlines twelve things that can be done to combat depression.

Since I found it so helpful, I thought I would share it with you.  Bear in mind that most of this list supposes you are a religious person, or a person of faith.  What I like about it, though, is that even doing a few that work for YOU can really help to redirect your thoughts and help to heal the hurt that depression can bring.

1.  repentance

I was surprised this was first on the list, but it makes sense if you understand that depression can be a very selfish feeling.  It is after, all, a completely self-centered pursuit to absorb yourself in your own thoughts and emotions, to the exclusion of all else.  Repentance means to forsake a sin, and I think it’s important when you’re battling depression to decide that you will turn your back on getting sucked into that void, that you will fight and forsake its pull.

2.  prayer

This has been a must for me EVERY DAY, several times a day!  I feel that internal itch of depression and immediately pray to my Heavenly Father for help in getting past it, over it, under it, away from it.

3. service

It’s hard for me to want to be around other people when I’m depressed.  For one thing, I don’t want to give it away that I’m a total mess.  Also, I sometimes whine to myself, “How can I take care of someone else when I can’t even take care of myself?!”  I’ve heard that some people find it helpful when they’re feeling blue to go and help someone else who’s REALLY struggling.  Personally, I find little relief from seeing someone else suffer more than me – it doesn’t feel like true charity to be glad I’m not them.  What I glean most from serving is the idea that I get to step outside myself, and usually outside of my surroundings.  It’s important to note, though, that President Benson also gives credit for service to our families.  For many of us who feel depressed, the idea that the baby still needs a diaper change, the kids still need lunch, and the dishes still need to be done will at least get us up and moving, even when we’d really rather not.

4.  work

Along the lines of service, engaging ourselves in meaningful work helps us to contribute to others, our family, or our community – which in turn makes us feel good about ourselves.  You know what they say about idle hands being the devil’s playground.

5.  health

Countless studies have shown that eating the right foods and getting even some basic exercise help with the chemicals associated with depression.  Unfortunately, health and wellness become vicious cycles for people who are depressed.  When we don’t feel good, we eat to feel better, which only makes us feel worse.  I feel that if I could truly conquer this one principle of battling depression – my health – I could be wholly victorious.

6.  reading

President Benson emphasizes reading the scriptures, especially the psalms of the Old Testament and the words of our current church leaders.  We’ve received additional counsel from other church leaders to immerse ourselves in praiseworthy literature.  I know for myself that few things beat being immersed in a good book.  Unfortunately, when I’m feeling depressed it’s hard to get enthused about things I really enjoy, but I try to push past it and keep several books close at hand.

7.  blessing

I hadn’t thought of this before, but President Benson suggests that if you are in a particularly harsh bout of despair, then you should ask for a Priesthood Blessing.  I know that I can always talk to my husband about how I’m feeling, and that has been a huge help.  But I hadn’t considered asking him for a blessing.  I’ll have to remember that.

8.  fasting

So this may not apply if you are not someone who subscribes to the idea of fasting.  As a member of the LDS church, every first Sunday of the month I am invited to fast for two meals and experience the power of prayer and obedience that come with the observance.  Before this month, I hadn’t fasted for over 18 months, since pregnant women and nursing mothers (and others with medical concerns) aren’t expected to fast.  Since Eli has stopped nursing, though, I took the opportunity to fast this month.  I didn’t realize how much I had missed the feeling!  In my experience, there can be a profound closeness with Heavenly Father when you make the sacrafice of fasting, and when you offer up sincere prayers associated with it.

9.  friends

Having someone to talk to, be with, laugh with – it can really help when you’re in a funk.  Or, as many of us know, blogging can help, too!  Creating a network of friends is critical in keeping ourselves healthy and balanced.

10.  music

I appreciate that President Benson included music on this list.  Music can be calming, inspirational, and uplifting.  If you are a church-goer, President Benson recommends that you memorize the words to some of your favorite hymns, so that when you are feeling upset you can quickly recall words of comfort.

11.  endurance

Sometimes all our attempts to feel better still leave us feeling broken.  That is when we just need to bear down and ride out the waves of depression, or as President Benson says, “outlast the devil.”  I cannot express how much I appreciate that phrase.  It helps me to realize that victory doesn’t always mean that I’ll be the cheeriest, happiest, most put-together person around, but if I am at least still standing, then I can win.

12.  goals

I was journaling about my goals when I found this article.  As I said, I have to come up with a plan of attack if I want any hope of getting through a period of depression.  It helps me to have things written out – I will try this, I will do that, this is what I want, this is what I need to avoid, etc.  This time around I decided to throw my lasso out onto the internet (or more specifically, my church’s website) and see what thoughts I could round up from others.  And now in addition to my own list, I have 12 very specific things I can try for combatting depression.

I don’t know that everything on this list will work for all people – in fact, I doubt it – but maybe it can be a place to start.