I stood on the edge of a cliff wondering whether the rock would hold me if I ventured too far to the edge. From my high vantage point, I could see the vast array of autumn colors and the large lake down below—Devil’s Lake. I saw men and women with ropes anchored in rock, thrown from the heights. These ropes, these anchors in rock would hold them securely as they made their descents and ascents.
The highs and lows. The ups and downs. The places that scare and maybe even make us sick to our stomachs when we look straight down. The edges of life—of ourselves—where we wonder, “Will I fall? Will I downright plunge—crash—even die?
Anxiety, depression and hopelessness are killers. They can sweep us off our feet, cause us to lose our bearings, threaten to take our life either by turning us into resigned, walking dead or by literally taunting us until we become another suicide statistic.
Personally, I’ve struggled with anxiety and depression my whole life due to a mix of factors (innate temperament that tends to haunt artistic types, multiple/chronic traumas/losses, biochemical imbalances). I have lost loved ones to suicide—my aunt, my stepbrother, my first husband. I have people close to me who have lost loved ones to suicide, one as recently as late July.
Presently, suicide is the second leading cause of death among people 15 – 34. Older adults (those 65+) still have the highest rate of suicide but the suicide rate of those aged 24 – 62 have increased to comparable numbers.
Seems we have a crisis of hopelessness on our hands.
So how do we cope and help others cope when standing on crumbling edges of life? How do we even find joy in the midst of intense internal suffering?
I’d like to offer four helpful anchors to hold you when your heart feels broken beyond repair—when your life-line feels like it’s being severed. These four, in balanced combination, have carried me and others I know through turbulent times and have led us safely to calm, refreshing waters.
So grab hold of these . . .
Empathic relationship. We were made for relationship, not isolation. Unfortunately, when people are highly anxious or depressed we often feel like pulling away from others, fearing we are too much for them—fearing they will judge us and reject us. The last thing we need is someone heaping more guilt bricks on our backs when we’re already bent over, faces near the dust.
Despite what our minds tell us in dark times, there is always at least one other we can find who will not judge, who will empathize, who has even walked in our shoes through their own dark times. The particulars don’t matter; the feeling does.
We must reach out to others and let them hold us securely in our dark and crumbling periods. In time, we will find our bearings again and we will return the life-giving favor to others who will slip along the way. Our pain has purpose. We must hold each other—hold onto each other. Because we’re to be FOR each other and not AGAINST each other.
God’s promises. Especially when dark sets in, we need light. We need hope. We need holding. God’s word, ever-true, saves me and you. I cling to his word, especially in hard times because I’m old enough and have been through enough to know that God is ALWAYS faithful to his promises. If God’s word says it, God means it. God says he is always with us and wants us to cast ALL our cares on him, believing his promises as written in his word. I have written some at the end of this piece that are my anchors in solid rock when hard times hit and when I feel like I’m crumbling.
Medication. Let’s face the medication option without judging, shall we? Finally? Our souls live in bodies that break down. We suffer from disease. And we suffer from dis-EASE. Research abounds showing the connections between biochemical deficiencies and depression/anxiety. There are plenty of safe medications available that offer relief for those whose emotional suffering interferes with their life functioning. I know. I also know how medications have saved lives of patients I once treated as well as our own daughter who boldly tells all who will listen how medication has given her a quality of life she never knew possible after her frightening experience with bipolar disorder, psychosis and a 12-day hospital stay two years ago.
Joy. Joy? Yes. It’s possible to experience joy even in the midst of major emotional and physical pain. Hunt for it until you find it. Embrace it. Let yourself take it in and let it nurture your soul.
There is always something right where you are that will help lift you, even if for a moment. Use these moments to keep you going.
What normally lifts your mood? For me, it’s nature. Go outside. Look around. Notice the call of a bird, the rising sun, the colorful leaves, the wings of a butterfly, the feel of the breeze. No matter how small, find something you can enjoy. And give thanks for it.
In times of deepest desperation, I am even more intentional about noticing and thanking God and others for gifts—for my sight, my hearing, my taste buds, my sense of smell, my ability to move and walk and run. I thank friends for phone calls and cards and hugs. I may feel lousy but being intentional about noticing things that are true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, praiseworthy can bring just a bit of joy back again, in a moment. And often, just a tincture of joy is what we need in a moment to propel forward, to place our foot on the next little outcropping of rock.
So keep going friend, even when you don’t feel like it.
Believe God. Believe me. Believe others like me who keep going even in the hardest times. DO NOT GIVE UP! You will come through if you use your anchors. And you will come through stronger with opportunities to be a great blessing to others. You already are! We NEED you here, in THIS life. We are all valuable parts of a beautiful whole. We need each other—each one of us a brilliant leaf, held by branches, held by trunks, rooted firmly, spreading stunning beauty.
Some of my favorite go-to verses in hard times . . .
Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. Hebrews 12:2-3
So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. Isaiah 41:10
Praise the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits—who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion, who satisfies your desires with good things so that your youth is renewed lie the eagle’s. Psalm 103:2-5
As a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him; for he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust. Psalm 103:13-14
The LORD is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and rich in love. The LORD is good to all; he has compassion on all he has made. Psalm 145:8-9
The LORD is faithful to all his promises and loving toward all he has made. The LORD upholds all those who fall and lifts up all who are bowed down. The eyes of all look to you and you give them their food at the proper time. You you’re your hand and satisfy the desires of every living thing. Psalm 145:13-16
“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11
The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn and provide for those who grieve in Zion—to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the LORD for the display of his splendor. Isaiah 61:1-3
The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit. Psalm 34:18
He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds. Psalm 147:3
The LORD is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge. He is my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold. Psalm 18:2 (the whole psalm is awesome!)
I will praise the LORD, who counsels me; even at night my heart instructs me. Because he is at my right hand, I will not be shaken. Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will rest secure, because you will not abandon me to the grave, nor will you let your Holy One see decay. You have made known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand. Psalm 16:8-11
Cast your cares on the LORD and he will sustain you. Psalm 55:22
Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. I Peter 5:7
The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:5-7
Be joyful always, pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. I Thessalonians 5:18 (It is possible to have joy even alongside our deepest internal pain. Pray for it. Seek it. Accept it. And give thanks for it. Taking these words of God’s to heart and doing them helps. God’s promise. Try him.)
And one last thing—if you truly believe you have not ONE empathic friend in the world who will listen, you’ve just found one. Me. Write to me in the comments section or contact me via my email address listed on my contact page. You are NOT alone. Ever.