Although it seems counterintuitive, a battle with depression can help us grow closer to God. We know depression exists, and maybe we have struggled with depression ourselves, but we don’t really talk about depression enough in the Church. We might wonder, where is God when I’m battling depression? What does God say about overcoming depression? Is it OK to take medication during times of depression?
Today’s guest Amber Cullum shares about her lifelong battle with depression as a Christian woman. We will discuss the stigma surrounding depression, what it is like to live with depression long-term, and how to keep ourselves mentally strong (including a conversation about antidepressants).
Today’s episode is especially raw and real (I even share about my struggle with depression too) yet it is filled with hope on overcoming depression and growing closer to God through mental health challenges.
P.S. If you’re struggling with depression and need prayer, please direct message me on Instagram (@vibrantchristianliving) so I can pray for you.
WHAT YOU'LL LEARN:
- [3:04] About Amber Cullum
- [5:03] Amber’s battle with depression
- [9:36] Emotional factors and depression
- [11:10] Physical factors and depression
- [14:20] Spirituality and depression
- [19:16] How a battle with depression can help you grow closer to God
- [23:31] Habits to support mental health
- [28:00] Catching and fighting negative thoughts
- [35:52] The stigma surrounding antidepressants
- [41:08] How to battle depression with a combination of mindset and medication
- [45:44] Debunking religious and cultural views on depression
- [48:25] How to move forward if you are in a battle with depression
[3:04] About Amber Cullum
Amber is a mom and a wife, and she hosts the Grace Enough Podcast. I definitely recommend checking out her show, and connecting with her on Instagram. Amber’s story gives us hope and shows us how we can stay grounded in our faith, and in self-care, so that our mindsets can withstand the temptation for depression to really take hold in our lives. I love Amber’s enthusiasm and her willingness to talk about things that are real.
[5:03] Amber’s battle with depression
Looking back, Amber sees that her battle with depression started long before she was able or willing to admit it. After her second child was born, however, it hit her like a ton of bricks. The newborn days were hard, but Amber noticed that she felt awful even when things were going well. The baby wasn’t crying, the toddler was happily playing on the floor, and Amber was bawling in the middle of the floor. She remembers a constant feeling of, “I could care less if something happened to me.” That’s a different thought than, “I want to take my own life.” Both are problematic, and Amber points out the difference between having a suicide plan and the hopeless thoughts of not caring whether we wake up tomorrow or not.
Amber tried to tell herself that her feelings were just related to being postpartum, and that she would be fine. Her husband was the one who told her, after speaking with a friend whose wife had walked through a very severe period of depression, that he thought what she was experiencing might be a mental health issue. He encouraged her to participate in counseling and to consider medication. While she might not have been open to those things in the past, Amber took in what they were saying and decided it was time to seek help.
We talked about how when someone else in our lives points out a mental health issue like this, it can be a really scary moment. We don’t know what to do with something like this. We know if our children fall down and hurt themselves, we can put something on it to get rid of the germs and give them a band-aid. When it’s more vague and we don’t understand why we feel sad, that can be frightening.
Amber remembers feeling overwhelmed, and she would take time to get out of the house and walk around the block. She felt confused, because her life was good. She had healthy children, and an involved and loving husband. There just wasn’t a solid reason that she could wrap her head around for why she was feeling the way she was, but she felt something was going on internally that did not add up.
[9:36] Emotional factors and depression
It can be so hard to pinpoint the root causes of what we are feeling. Amber shares that she’s had some issues in her relationship with her mother, and when things would get hectic she would tend to revert back to factors from her childhood. Looking back on her life, she can see there were other periods of time where she didn’t care if good things happened or where she didn’t feel motivated. We can all have seasons like this, and it can create some habitual thinking.
[11:10] Physical factors and depression
Amber thinks that hormonal changes can play a role in depression, as she might have been dealing with it in high school. She was incredibly athletic, and physical activity certainly helps with mindset. We need to get outside in the sunshine and move our bodies, because that is scientifically proven to help our brains. Amber wonders if she would have felt differently in high school, however, if she didn’t have those physical outlets.
After having kids, our hormones and our bodies change again. Sometimes that can set things off, and this may be especially true if we are prone to or have a history of mental health issues. Postpartum depression is common, and when your hormones are fluctuating it can easily trigger something related to past trauma. Exercise may help us because of the endorphins released, but it also helps because it is breaking the brain out of a state of lowered intensity and shifting our focus.
[14:20] Spirituality and depression
While Amber still battles depression, she has learned to deal with it in different ways. She has more tools in her toolbox that keep her from spiraling out of control in the ways she might have done previously. She is better able to calm herself through going for walks, praying, and talking to other people who she trusts.
Spiritually, Amber still felt that the Lord was near. She knew His presence was there, and that allowed her to finally decide to seek counseling. It wasn’t that she wasn’t spending time with the Lord, praying, or feeling unhealthy in other ways. She needed to focus specifically on the depression she was experiencing in order to move forward.
[19:16] How a battle with depression can help you grow closer to God
Before Amber realized she was battling depression, she thought of herself as a “chronic grumbler”. That can be personality- or environment-based, and it’s something that she still struggles with. At times, her husband will stop her and ask her to name five things that she was thankful for. She admits that it irritates her, but it also changes her perspective.
Amber began to practice gratitude journaling where she would write 10 things every day – everything from toothpaste in the morning to huge answered prayers. She started extending this practice to her family as well, because God has asked us to give thanks to the Lord for he is good, and we naturally gravitate more toward grumbling.
When it comes to Amber’s walk with the Lord, she also mentions habits that she put in place. She has a habit of meeting with the Lord in the mornings that she sometimes does because she is excited, and she sometimes does it because it’s just a habit. We need to have spiritual disciplines in our lives that allow us to dedicate time to Jesus.
Even with her depression, she knows her body well enough to know when she is starting to get overwhelmed. She first tells her husband about it, and he begins praying for her. She has a support system now that will pray for her when she tells them she is starting to spiral. She also starts spending more time out in nature, because that feeds her soul. She notes that it’s important to find that thing for you that brings you solace.
Amber’s depression has drawn her closer to God because she now knows the things that bring her toward health. With depression, it can be difficult to think clearly enough to figure these things out. This is why it is so important to talk to others and to seek help.
[23:31] Habits to support mental health
Amber shares that if we get physically sick, we work to get rid of the sickness. If we get it again, maybe we need to think about what habits we can put in place to prevent it from happening again. Putting these habits in place can be crucial. Being physically active, and finding ways to worship God, can be so helpful. We are called to love the Lord, our God, with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. We can love Him by taking care of ourselves, because then we have a clear mind to be able to serve Him and let His light shine through us. We can work against those negative thoughts.
Sometimes habits are exciting to do, and sometimes we just have to make them work. We have so many habits that we don’t even realize are habits. That late-night bowl of cereal is a habit. So is eating three healthy meals a day. It’s possible to adopt new healthy habits, but it requires a lot of intention and time.
Amber shares that she has recently adopted the habit of breath prayers. It focuses her mind on what is true versus what is not true. Depression can cause us to spin out of control over something untrue, such as the thought that we are a horrible mother. This is when we need to remind ourselves of scriptural truth.
[28:00] Catching and fighting negative thoughts
Our thoughts can repeat on auto-pilot, and we have to gain strategies to catch and fight our negative thoughts. Now, negative thoughts are not always bad. As we know, our brains are wired to keep us safe. As part of that, we have a negativity bias because we are wired to look for danger. If we see something in front of us that’s bad, it is important for us to notice. It’s a matter, though, of when does that spiral out of control and turn into fear, anxiety, or perfectionism? The more we sit in negativity, the more it can develop into things like depression.
It’s very helpful to make ourselves aware of the negative thought, have compassion for why it is there, understand why it is reasonable, and then let it go. Amber talks about the importance of renewing our minds. She has identified a lot of lies that she had been speaking over herself for years, and she is working on speaking the word of God over herself instead.
Mindset coaching is also a vital component of healing, because we all do better when we are in community with people working toward a focused goal. We don’t want to just tell ourselves to stop it, because the more we think about stopping it the more we end up thinking about it. Finding a scripture that combats the lie, and committing that to memory, can be pivotal. It gives us a truth to think about during the times when the lie threatens to take over. We also don’t tend to do things differently unless we have help and support.
[35:52] The stigma surrounding antidepressants
There is a lot of stigma around antidepressants, particularly in Christian circles. At first, Amber was resistant to going to a psychiatrist. She ultimately went because she was at a place of brokenness and she realized she couldn’t pray it away. Amber notes that sometimes as Christians we have this idea that we just aren’t praying enough, or that our faith isn’t strong enough. Amber says she had to let that all go because it was affecting her view of the Lord. She started feeling like He was letting her down, but she knew that was a lie too.
The psychiatrist was fantastic, and talked to Amber about serotonin and the chemical process involved in depression. The science made sense to her, and she decided to give it a go with medication. She started on the lowest dose and monitored that. For the longest time, she didn’t want to tell anybody. Along the way, however, she decided to let people know that she takes medication AND 100% loves Jesus. She didn’t feel like she was less of a Christian or had less faith because she took medication.
Amber has tried to stop taking the medication a couple of times, and it didn’t work. She has had to accept that she will take it for the rest of her life, but that is true for many people on various kinds of medication. She doesn’t want to be dependent on it, so she does other things to keep herself healthy as well.
I have also been on a low-level antidepressant for probably around 20 years now. I started it after a major depressive episode with suicidal ideation, and I haven’t been able to get off the medication. Over the years, I struggled with a lot of the thoughts Amber described, and I think it’s so crucial to share about these experiences and break the stigma. We can’t always pray ourselves out of this, or just start thinking differently (and I’m somebody who teaches people how to rewire their thoughts!). There is a medical side of this, and we may not produce enough serotonin or something along those lines. It is a medical issue, just like taking medication every morning to balance my thyroid. When we look at it from that standpoint, it becomes less scary.
There are some people who take medication without dealing with the thoughts behind it, and that is not what we are advocating for. This is part of a lifestyle change that we have to make in order to live with balance. Amber and I have had a wrestling match with God on this issue, and He has brought us to this place where we can feel peace and share our experiences without fear. I am grateful that He allows us to live in a culture where we can get the medications we need, because it truly is something that has just changed in my body and it needs to be there.
[45:44] Debunking religious and cultural views on depression
One myth Amber wants to debunk is the idea we talked about earlier, that we just need to increase our faith and pray more. Another thing to keep in mind is that depression doesn’t always look like sitting on the floor crying all the time, wanting to commit suicide, or being unable to get out of bed. Sometimes depression involves rage or anger. It presents in different ways, so Amber encourages anyone who is curious to go see someone. It is a hard road, but there are tools out there that can help us to manage these feelings. As Amber says, “Most people would have never, ever known that I was a depressed person unless you lived inside the four walls of my home.”
[48:25] How to move forward if you are in a battle with depression
If you are struggling with depression, I want to give you some next steps and some things that you can do to help yourself. First, let’s talk about some habits. Number one is being grounded in the word of God, and letting ourselves make that a priority. We have to decide on and prioritize what is important to us, and we don’t conquer that mountain overnight. It’s a little at a time, and yet it is something that we are actively pursuing. I would say spending time with God every day and really engaging in His word helps us to get rid of negative thoughts and communicate back and forth with God through prayer.
If you need help with that, I would love to offer you a resource. At vibrantchristianliving.com you can scroll down on the main page and find a free Bible study that teaches you how to study the Bible in this way, using the spiritual growth rhythm. There is a free, three-day study that supports learning how to interact with God in this way – and I think that is the number one habit I would start with in order to manage depression.
For those of us who are thinking about reaching out to someone, I want to congratulate those who are willing to think about that. It is courageous to decide that we can’t go on like this anymore and to work to address it. Sometimes people want to do it, but they don’t know where to get started. I also recommend a resource called Get Faithful Counseling, which is an online counseling service that they do virtually. We can access licensed Christian counselors anywhere in the world, and they can help walk through journeys like this. My affiliate link, meaning I will earn a small commission if you sign up with them, is getfaithful.com/vibrant .
If this episode has caused you to think further about depression, whether it is for yourself or for a loved one, I would love to communicate with you. The best way to do that is to connect on Instagram. You can comment on my posts or send me a direct message, and I would love to dialogue with you or pray with you as you are going through this.
Connect with Amber:
OTHER PODCAST EPISODES ON DEPRESSION:
- Ep 91: 5 Soul Care Gifts to Give Yourself This Year Pt. 3: Embrace Self Compassion
- Ep. 92: What To Do When You Feel Spiritually Lost
- Ep 116: Mindset Matters: What is Mindfulness and is Mindfulness Appropriate for Christians?
- Ep 131: How the Hustle Culture + Need to Achieve Nearly Took My Life
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