***POTENTIAL TRIGGER WARNING*** for those who need it. (Also, please feel free to share in part or in full if you find anything written here helpful.)
About a year ago I said very offhandedly to a friend in ministry that “the Church just doesn’t understand depression.” Recently, that friend was kind enough to ask me to elaborate on that. I guess it stuck with him. We sat down for coffee one morning and I discussed my own personal struggle with depression with him for an hour or so. It was more or less a crash-course with him wanting to learn more about depression so he can be a better minister.
Friends, in my experience of the Church over the past 20 years, that action on his part is absolutely unprecedented. I have never ONCE had a minister want to speak to me about the subject out of kindness and wanting to LEARN, rather than to teach or rebuke. I was glad to get up early that day.
It’s been about two weeks, and I’ve been doing a lot of thinking on the subject. I think most people are aware that I am open about my struggle with depression. I made the decision to begin publicly talking about my experiences in about 2005/2006. It has been at times a rewarding decision, and at times a devastating one. I have been everything from applauded to rebuked, to reprimanded, to embraced, to shamed, to shunned. But one thing I’ve never been on the subject is organized. (Ha ha. Jokes are funny.) So I got a notebook and started writing down some talking points on the subject of depression.
I decided that I want to share some of my initial notes with others, and I’ve got this blog sitting here accomplishing nothing…so this seems a good place to do that. I don’t know if this is going to go anywhere. Maybe I’ll write a book or start offering teaching sessions or completely unaccredited group therapy or something…or maybe I’ll write this post, forget about it, and then the next time I’m so bummed out I’m considering hanging up my guitars forever, I’ll have more to say about it again once I’m on the other side of it. Seems to be a developing pattern…ha.
Following are my initial couple of pages of notes. They’re not in any particular order and some of them start and go nowhere…but it’s something. I hope somebody out there finds it useful. It should be noted that I can only write this stuff based on MY experience. There is no formula for depression, and someone else’s experience might be completely different from mine. Get to know the person you care about and meet them where they are. Anyway, here we go…
Notes on Depression:
I can’t just “try to be happy” any more than someone with third-stage leukemia can just “try not to have cancer.”
There is absolutely nothing that my family, friends, or the Church can do about the fact that I FEEL unloved, even though I intellectually know I am loved desperately.
There is absolutely nothing I can do about the way I am wired. And there is not a “cure” for this “disease.” God made me as I am, and since he doesn’t do anything wrong, there must be a reason for that. I’m trying to work out what it is just like everybody else.
Medication is not an option I would consider, though I think it is absolutely vital and legitimate in some cases. Not all cases. But some.
In the past, I have been made to feel ashamed of my disposition. I decided while I was still a minister to begin talking openly about it. I was told by other leaders in the Church that I should not be so “honest” about my “sin.” (And yes, they erroneously called it a “sin.”) I was told that it does not reflect well on church leadership to admit struggling with depression. It is noteworthy that I have not been employed as a minister since that time. I’d rather be honest than paste on a smile and lie to a congregation.
The Church has no idea the kind of damage they are doing to someone when they tell them their depression is sinful. There is no sin in having a feeling. There can be sin as a RESULT of those feelings. But a man carrying a 7 pound bowling ball is not sinning. The man who gets tired of the weight and throws the bowling ball at someone else’s head, on the other hand…
Being depressed is NOT the same as being suicidal.
Being depressed does not mean you are outwardly sad all of the time. Being depressed also does not mean you are inwardly sad all of the time.
Depression has no universal description that applies to every individual. Each person is affected by different things and they may not always be the same every time.
All platitudes are stupid…but some of them actually work.
Being depressed does not mean there is something wrong with you.
YOU ARE NOT ALONE.
Once the world knows you are depressed, some of your friends WILL treat you differently. Some will have the best of intentions and will say or do the wrong things because they don’t know any better. It is okay to correct them. It is not okay to throw your bowling ball at them.
The Church is better prepared to minister to and/or confront homosexuality than it is depression. Even if a church is aggressively opposed to homosexuality, at least they have a game-plan. But let a person walk into their church saying, “I just don’t know how to be happy,” and the Church reaction is, “Uhhhhhhhmmmmm… Have you considered…praying?”
Depression can feel like it’s a solitary condition. And to some extent it IS. There are some things you can only work through alone. But you don’t have to. And you shouldn’t just internalize it. Not talking could kill you.
Someone who is depressed might not “look” like it. I might be smiling, laughing, and joking on the outside and dying on the inside.
Once you know a friend or family member struggles with depression, it’s okay to be there. But it’s not okay for that to be the only thing you think/talk about. A depressed person is foremost a PERSON. Focus on the person, not the depression.
Everyone’s trigger is different. But if you KNOW you’re dealing with some heavy stuff, trigger warnings are always appreciated, even when they are unnecessary. But unfortunately, the Church traditionally has absolutely no understanding of the phrase “trigger warning.”
YOU. ARE. NOT. ALONE.
We all have different coping methods. Unless someone is doing something harmful to themselves or others, please do not tell them their method is wrong or force your own coping methods upon them. You will do more harm than good.
Freud defined depression as “anger turned inward.” If you are dealing with someone who is depressed, there is a good chance you are dealing with someone who is very angry. And some of us have been angry for so long, we don’t know what we’re mad about anymore. The feelings of anger are gone. The depression is what remains.
Depression is often a very selfish condition. A lot of those suffering from it don’t know that.
- I’m just so tired all the time.
- I just can’t sleep.
- I can’t stop thinking about it.
- I don’t know where to turn.
- I can’t do anything right.
A depressive can easily develop dependencies.
A depressive will often try to fill the holes in his/her feelings with things that are sometimes healthy and sometimes not. Drugs, alcohol, sex, money, possessions, and even non-sexual relationships may be a depressed person’s attempt to find happiness from without rather than within.
Common fears that keep people from discussing their depression:
- It’s too personal.
- People might look at me differently.
- I don’t want anyone to know I’m not “normal.”
- I am ashamed.
- I am afraid.
- What if it costs me friends, or a relationship?
- I do not want to be pitied.
- What if it costs me my job?
- Will people think I’m crazy?
- What if it hurts others to know that I’m not happy? (This is an issue I struggle with regularly, by the way. I don’t want the people I love to hurt over me hurting, and sometimes that makes it hard to share.)
- I don’t want anyone to think this is THEIR fault.
- I don’t want to look weak.
- People won’t understand.
- I don’t want to be labeled.
- What if people think I’m a bad Christian?
(The answer to most of those concerns is a kind and honest “So what?” by the way.) In my personal struggle to start talking about it, I had to reach the point where all of those questions and fears were dwarfed by one that is far, far more terrifying… “What if I can’t do this alone?”
If you need help–GET HELP.
You are better than you think you are.
Just because someone else has more to deal with, and they’re doing a better job with it than you are with your stuff, that doesn’t mean your pain isn’t real. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t struggle.
Jesus loves you more than you think he does.
Your faith isn’t defined by your condition.
A depressive can become suicidal. Or want to stop living, even if they don’t necessarily want to kill themselves.
A depressive can and will try to torpedo every good relationship in their lives.
A depressive will cling to bad situations and bad relationships.
A depressive is typically a pessimist.
The honest answer to “what are you so sad about?” might really be “I don’t know” or even “nothing really.” That doesn’t invalidate the feelings.
It might be okay for a depressed person to make a joke about their mood or condition. Self-deprecation can be a very therapeutic coping method–a way of talking about it that feels “safe.” If someone can laugh at their problem, it might help to take the power away from it. But be warned, it might be okay for the depressed person to make the joke, but it might NOT be okay for you to do likewise.
A depressed person will frequently make bad decisions. Some of those decisions might hurt people that they care about very much. There is no excuse for that…but they WILL carry the guilt with them for the rest of their lives, even if there has been forgiveness. It’s a form of self-destruction. “I don’t deserve this relationship and I will make sure they know it…” As hard as it is, the best thing you can do for that person is to prove them wrong.
Really. Sincerely. You are NOT alone.
…and that’s it for now.