It's Going To Get Better

“It’s going to get better” and other stupid things we say to depressed people

“Don’t worry it’s going to get better”

“There’s light at the end of the tunnel”

“Time is a healer”

What do all these comments have in common?

They are all true.

But they have something else in common too…

They are not overly helpful.

I’ve been talking recently with a quite a few people struggling with depression.

It’s got me thinking a lot.

As most of you know I myself went through a long season of depression in my earlier years.

I should know better than most how useless these statements are… And yet I can’t help repeat them.

Why?

Because they are true. And when everything is fine and dandy in your life it’s easy to say – because you are living in that light at the end of the tunnel.

I often need to think back and remind myself of what it was like in the tunnel.

Things aren’t getting better…

When you are in the depths of the tunnel, and it’s so long you can’t even see a tiny dot of light at the end…

It’s hard.

When you follow everyone’s advice and keep moving forward, only to find the tunnel getting darker and darker…

It’s hard.

When the only light you can see is back the way you came, in the past, that place you cannot return to…

It’s hard!

You see time is a healer. And at the end of the tunnel there is light.

But when time only seems to be making things worse and when you are plodding in the pitch black not even sure if you are heading towards this mythical light or away from it…

It’s hard.

That’s what depression is.

It’s hard.

My recent reminder

About 8 months my wife walked out on me.

I haven’t struggled with depression in about a decade but experiencing that was a great little crash course reminder in what it was like.

In those early days I would wake up and look at the clock only to figure out how long it would be before I could go back to sleep.

Because when I was asleep that was the only reprieve from the pain. Even then my dreams would haunt me at times.

Well meaning people would give me a pat on the shoulder and tell me it would get better. That there was light at the end of the tunnel.

Do you know what I wanted to do?

Punch them. Right in the face.

I know. Very Christlike of me :)

Why? Because every single minute of every single day it got worse.

It wasn’t getting better.

I don’t care about the truth

Here’s the kicker – I knew it would get better – I’d counselled countless people through this same situation! Of course it’s not the end of the world, of course life goes one, of course it gets better.

But it wasn’t.

My experience was a whole lot more real than “the truth”.

I was at the bottom of a big pit and everyone was standing at the top telling me that it’s going to be great when I get out.

The problem was all I had in my hands was a shovel. I was my own worst enemy.

Me, myself and I… We weren’t getting out this pit any time soon!

What I really needed

What I needed was for friends to climb down into the pit with me, to join me amidst the pain and suffering and help me climb out.

I needed friends with climbing gear. Who could tell me to put down my shovel and help me get out.

I needed them to get alongside me.

I needed them to be non-judgmental.

I needed them to let me process stuff in my own time.

I needed them to bring their wholeness to my brokenness.

I needed them to bring their joy to my depression.

I needed the voice of reason, I needed to hear how great it was outside the pit, I needed to know it was going to get better. But above all I needed to know they were here with me, right now, when it wasn’t getting any better.

Thankfully that’s what I found – or maybe they found me.

Are you willing to get in the pit?

That’s what I want for people who are suffering around me. I don’t want to be a distant voice of encouragement. I want to climb into the pit and walk out with them.

I want to take Paul seriously when He exhorts us to mourn with those who are mourning.

Am I going to tell them it gets better? Of course. But not as an outsider, but as someone who has chosen to come alongside them – no matter how messy it might look.

If you know someone who is going through a really hard time don’t just tell them how great the light is at the end of the tunnel. Go deep into that tunnel and bring some of that light with you. Don’t go in with an agenda other than loving them, right where they are.

Trust me, they want out the tunnel more than anyone… But they might need to cry for a while. They might not move at the pace you want them to. They might be barely able to stand never mind walk or run towards the light.

Are you ok to stand with them till they are ready?

Because you might just save their life!

I know that’s what saved mine.

(Oh and if you are going through a hard time I just posted a 45 minute interview with my friend Dan talking about how I processed through my divorce and got through the other side – you can check it out here)

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13 Comments

  1. Hey Phil!
    Thanks for the article. I myself went through a season of depression, fear and anxiety not long ago.

    My question is: Why are there particular seasons where we struggle?

    And is it even normal to go through this stuff? Didn’t Jesus pay a price for us to be free of that too?

    Big blessings from Austria,

    Marcel

    • Hey marcel!

      Even Elijah the greatest prophet at his time
      Went through depression!

      But you see, he went home in style!

      So God wants us to go home in style!

  2. Honest question here: You said “If you know someone who is going through a really hard time don’t just tell them how great the light is at the end of the tunnel. Go deep into that tunnel and bring some of that light with you. Don’t go in with an agenda other than loving them, right where they are.”

    This is a good article, but it’s missing something. I’ve been through this with my mom (who had bipolar) and friends, but I still don’t know what it means to “get into the pit with them.”

    Can you be more specific? Like, what did people do, in very non-metaphorical language, to “get into the pit” with you that helped you? What does that look like in real life? You’ve shared some of what it isn’t…can you share some of what it is?

    • “Don’t go in with an agenda other than loving them, right where they are.

      Trust me, they want out the tunnel more than anyone… But they might need to cry for a while. They might not move at the pace you want them to. They might be barely able to stand never mind walk or run towards the light.”

      I feel like this was Phil’s explanation of getting in the pit with them. That as much as you want to do something that you feel is productively helping, that just to be with them in that space and let them process in their own way and time is the most helpful thing that you can do.

      If you are wanting practical ways to help then any small tasks i’m sure would be very much appreciated. Practically helping out is good for people with depression as the most simple tasks feel impossible and very overwhelming. Helping with the grocery shopping, or making sure that they have something to eat- small things like that are huge when you’re depressed.

  3. The person who is trying to help really doesn’t have to help at all. A simple thank you to the that person for taking time from their day and making an effort to offer something should be enough to help you begin to feel better. Most people aren’t trained as therapists so why expect better answers? It’s not all about what can you do for me. God helps those who help themselves.

  4. Gale, great question and I was wondering the same thing.

    Great article, thank you so much for sharing. But I too am wondering what getting in the pit looks like from an actual standpoint – like precisely what kinds of things would you suggest? Thank you!

  5. Thanks, Phil. That’s quite helpful. My Mum has had depression her entire life. By nature, I’m an optimist, and I know my darkest moments have been nothing more than melancholic. So I’m blessed in that regard. I know the difference.
    I’ve come to understand that I’ve treated Mum a little poorly through my not being able to relate – she very much wants us all to climb into the pit, and I’m unable to. She’s a catastrophist, I’m not. It’s difficult to support a state of mind I see as one that continues self-harm.
    What I will take from this post, though, is a call for me to edify her in language. Any compliment lifts her, and through impatience I’ve neglected to do so. I can’t get into her pit, but I can be more kind.
    Thanks, mate, for this site. You’re a tremendous bloke and I do hope you’re gaining joy. I love that word! It’s our birthright, and we all too readily forget it.
    Grace to you – all that the Cross purchased that puts us above all things.
    Paul.

  6. When someone is in depression they are having a really rough time. I’ve known some pretty darn tough individuals who have gone through depression on levels that are significant. The thought that leaves someone with “I must help myself” and leaving it there is not an answer. At all. I thank God that He chose not to tell us to climb out of our own pit. No one ever would have, including those who recommend it. That idea is one of those “Hezekia” verses because it surely doesn’t come from God.

  7. We say even dumber things to those who are physically sick and are suffering from depression alongside it. “You are already healed! Just receive!” “Live life as if you weren’t sick!”…. It is a joke. If we want to get in the pit with people, then it’s time to start re-evaluating our healing doctrines.

    I see lots of worldly advice, but very little Jesus in this article.

    Giving them a pat on the back or to be told to see things in a more positive way is powerless. They need plugged into Jesus who is able to bring about supernatural healing. Often times many need more than a renewing of the mind.

    Time doesn’t always heal all wounds. That is yet again more worldly advice. There are many who need a supernatural healing for their depression or traumas in their life. I know a few who have not healed from a trauma in their childhood/teenage years and they are now in their mid 40’s. They have been to years of counseling, but they need a miracle.

    When bad things happen, of course people want to be told “things are going to get better”, but again this is worldly advice. The world puts their hope into how their life is going. We are to put our hope in Christ and not just “the Christ in me”, but the Christ who is seated at the right hand of God. We should be pointing them to Jesus and not to how their life looks at the current moment. We can’t know that things are going to get better because we are not God. If we try to encourage them with “it’s going to get better”, then we may be setting them up for greater depression and they can feel betrayed by us. If we are a minister or speaking to them as a man or woman of God, they may begin to think that God cannot be trusted. Early in my own walk, I had ministers tell me that “You are healed” and I thought they were prophetically saying something to me, but they weren’t. It was just the flesh (worldly advice or hope) and it made me angry that they would lie to me about something that personal. Thankfully God got a hold of me and I continued to walk with Him.

    Many truly need a miracle from God to be healed from depression. They need to be plugged into Jesus. Worldly advice coming from the Church is pretty lame.

  8. I think I should have read this when you wrote it. My cousin died but all I could seem to say to his immediate family was “it’ll get better.” I just need the Holy Spirit to show me how to jump in the pit with them. Anyway thanks for the post Phil.
    Peace

  9. We all need hope, found in Jesus, when life kicks us in the face with trials that seem to come out of nowhere . I need to know that I have a God who loves me and will take care of me no matter what is going on. I need to be constantly reminded that things will be okay, even though it is so painful to be walking through this valley. I need to be encouraged with the love and comfort of the Holy Spirit. We all need to know that we have a Lord and Savior , Jesus who loves us like no other. Jesus, who will and does heal our broken hearts. I thank Him for restoring our hurting hearts. I pray for all those who experience depressing times in their lives, that the Lord would encourage and heal them with His healing love . In Jesus our healer, Savior, Lord, our life, our everything.

  10. As a combat veteran being diagnosed with depression and PTSD with Anxiety attacks I climbed out only through the steadfast faith of my wife and God’s grace that led me to seek help. A wonderful doctor recognized my pain and I saw a caring doctor that only works with vets. By writing about my experiences and much prayer, many tears, we scraped the scabs off my wounds and applied God’s healing power. Every day is a battle but the war is won! We have dedicated the rest of our lives to being salt and light and washing the feet (metaphor) of service veterans. Semper Fi!

    • Bless you Sonny! Great to see how God has brought healing to a truly horrible situation. What a great gift to the world you are!

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