Notes on Depression

***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.

Depressive Vocabulary:

  • I’m just so tired all the time.
  • I just can’t sleep.
  • Worthless.
  • Useless.
  • Hopeless.
  • Pointless.
  • Bored.
  • Judgment.
  • Failure.
  • Loss.
  • Disappointment.
  • Rejection.
  • Hate.
  • Pain.
  • Anger.
  • Fear.
  • Misery.
  • I can’t stop thinking about it.
  • I don’t know where to turn.
  • I can’t do anything right.
  • Shame.
  • “Love.”

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.

13 thoughts on “Notes on Depression”

  1. Everything you’ve written here I have thought or felt over the years. Depression, like chronic pain, is something that simply cannot be understood by those who don’t experience it. I had never thought about how the church is more equipped to “deal” with homosexuality than depression…but you’re right. How crazy is that? I think it is extremely important to talk about depression. When I started writing about this in my blog several years ago, I know some people (think older than me who may have raised me…) were horrified that I was admitting to it. For some, they think it’s just something you’re choosing to do…what person in their right mind would choose despair? I had church people, ministers even, tell me that if people were depressed, they didn’t have enough Faith. That really shook me and I spent several years living under the weight of guilt for not having enough Faith. That’s absurd! Anyone, keep talking about it…not only is it helpful for others, it is actually very therapeutic for you and your mental/emotional stability…it’s a way of living in the light, you know? It’s nothing to hide because you’re right…it’s not a sin.

    1. Thanks Jamie. Always good to hear from you! Thanks for reading and I’m glad it resonated with you. Your line “what person in their right mind would choose despair?” is a great thought.

    1. Haha… I think I meant to write “9” which is still too light, isn’t it? I don’t bowl that much, as you can tell. Maybe in the kids-section? Do they have kids-sections? 🙂

      Thanks for the encouragement and for sharing the post.

  2. Thank you for sharing. Depression can be crippling or can make a person just limp along in life. I am one of the limpers. My dad was bi-polar and my mother had OCD and panic attacks. I grew up with a brother who had a fatal illness. I have what is called “dysthymia.” Chronic sadness. I used to cry all the time. Not boo-hoo tears, I just weeped off and on and couldn’t control it. At around age 50 my doctor, after listening to me cry over nothing, prescribed an anti-depressant. My life got instantly better. I have been stronger and able to achieve much more. I no longer weep or feel that overall sadness. Everyone must decide for himself what is best. I have never felt as much shame taking an antidepressant as I did being a sad depressed person.

    1. Thank you so much for sharing some of your story, Rhonda. I’m glad the meds have been working for you. I’ve seen a lot of friends greatly benefit from medication, and if it ever starts to get to the point that I don’t see a way to reign it in anymore, I’d definitely give it a try. I’ve been fortunate enough to at least usually be able to keep from spiraling too far, but I’m so grateful for the friendships I have with people who’ve been made stronger by the advances in medicine in the last several years. Thank you for being brave and for being open. God bless you!

  3. Your words resonate with me as bipolar issues run deep in my heritage. I am taking medication because I want to “fit” and be “normal.” The side effects are not great…blocks my creative side tremendously. Thank you for sharing and allowing me to do the same.

    1. Thank you so much for sharing, Debbie. I know many people wrestle with the medication issue. I’ve considered medicating before, but haven’t ever quite gotten to the point that I’ve scheduled an appointment. I definitely know people who have greatly benefitted from medication and I’m grateful that it’s out there, even though sometimes it takes a while to find the right treatment. God bless you. I will pray for you that the side-effects would lessen and that you’ll feel like creating again. Keep being you. Keep being strong. And thank you, again.

  4. Derek – I’m going to copy & paste the comments I made on FB to this page. They’ll just get lost over there, and I’d like them to appear here under your important post….

    > Quite accurate for the most part. I’ve traveled that road myself quite a bit over the years. His article would be a great help to people discovering themselves in The Rut.

    I’ve pretty much decided that it’s better to pretty much not discuss being depressed with most people, because most REALLY don’t understand. I’ve heard it all, from “You need more caffeine”, to people saying “Oh you were better off without her anyway”, to “Everybody’s parents die, get over it”, to somebody bringing me over a comedy DVD. Most of what people try to do to “help” just makes things worse.

    The one thing I would disagree with Derek on is medication. I’m REALLY not a guy who like meds….I wait way too long before I even take the aspirin for a booming headache or muscle pain that affects my job performance. I don’t take painkillers after a med procedure, and I’d rather carry a box of kleenex than take allergy meds. But a few years ago I felt like I was in a depression tailspin, spiraling down like a Cessna out of gas. Some of the big triggers were a marriage on the rocks and heading for divorce, deaths of a parent and pets, job woes, money woes, winter doldrums, home repair crises, and on & on & on. Counseling didn’t really help, nor did anything else I tried. I finally went to my family MD, and he wanted me to take a med. I was reluctant. He explained that it wouldn’t change anything in an obvious way….it wouldn’t make me suddenly happy or hopeful, it wouldn’t make me more able to bounce out of bed in the morning, etc. What it would do was to make me feel like I could maybe get a foothold in that long slide down I felt I was in…to provide just a little bit of a place to get a grip…I’d still have to eat right and motivate myself to do stuff, but I’d find it just a little easier to be able to find the motivation. I only took them for a couple of months, and I did in fact notice a subtle change in my drive. Depression is more than just “a feeling”… it’s an actual physical problem in the body’s “circuitry”.

    One of the larger factors in my depression seems to be seasonal – it usually starts somewhere between T.giving and Christmas, gets worse over the holidays, even worse as work in the construction field drops way off (I’m self-employed… if the toolbox isn’t open, I ain’t got a penny coming in.) (There are Fridays in Jan & Feb where I often have NO check to collect.), continues bad thru the dark, cloudy, cold, snowy, wet, gloomy days of a N Ohio winter, stays bad thru tax prep anxiety and the consequences, and usually doesn’t break until spring is obviously here.

    But I was just thinking recently…. There is NEVER EVER a time where I say, “Man, I feel FANPHUCKINGTASTIC today!!” Even on a vacation on the beach in the sun with money and good friends and good food and…. I never feel that way anymore. I feel like I’m in a low-grade depression almost always, which gets worse sometimes, and becomes really bad for several weeks each year.

    I’ve never been suicidal. Too chicken, too upsetting to think how it would affect my son, my elderly mom, my friends. I could never ever do that. But I do remember driving past CLE airport, with huge jets coming in about 30 feet over the road every 90 seconds, and thinking, “You know, if one came in a little low and obliterated this van, I wouldn’t complain.” Unfortunately, I was on my way to a counseling appt, and she told me that if I was indicating I was suicidal, she’d have to report that and have me sent to the hospital where they deal with that. I told her I wasn’t, but if my time was to come, that was okay. She again cautioned me. I never mentioned it again. But that didn’t stop the thoughts.

    I rarely think like that anymore, even here in the dead of a miserable winter. I’m still in a minor to moderate depression I guess, but I don’t even think or worry about it anymore. The #1 symptom is mostly lack of motivation, lack of enthusiasm. The house is a mess. The van needs work. My bookkeeping is behind. Rather than snowblow the 10″ in the drive, I just drive in my little ruts and trudge thru the drifts. Attitude is sorta, “aww phuckit”.

    What I’d like from my friends is for them to NOT *try* to help. Just be there if I need to talk, and just mostly listen, don’t try to solve. Be a little patient with me. Gimme a pat on the back now & then for something small. Don’t change for me….don’t treat me differently than you did before you knew. Don’t try to tell me jokes or cheer me up. Just being a friend standing next to me can make me smile. It’s comforting to know that you can be patient and not get mad because I don’t feel like going to a game or for a swim.

    I have several internet and FB friends who know me well enuf to know how to be the friend of a person with occasional depression. Some have been there, some have cared for someone who’s been there, and for some – especially females – it almost comes naturally. And I feel there are people out there who are in a depression and either don’t know it, or are in denial. That’s a problem. To deal with it, you have to accept it first.

    Please thank Derek for that post. Good stuff.

  5. Again copied from my comments on FB…

    One other thought – I still remember one thing that really made an impact on me. I was discussing with my counselor all the things in my life that seemed to be going wrong, and I had quite a list of downers. I finished by saying that I felt my whole life was on fire, horizon to horizon and out of control.

    She told me to look a little more closely…that it wasn’t one big huge fire…it was a whole lot of little fires. She said to pick some of the ones I knew I could battle, and work on getting those under control, and move on to the next. Some of them could even wait. And others would pop up from time to time, and to deal with each.

    It sounds stupid now, and maybe I’m not remembering it exactly, but it was so helpful. Just the thought that it was a series of maybe manageable situations rather than the whole world burning down was oddly comforting, and I really believe it changed my entire core attitude.

    1. Hi Don. I’m sorry it took me so long to get this on the blog. I haven’t logged into the blog since that week and apparently I don’t have e-mail notifications turned on. (Fixing that now!) Really appreciate your thoughts, and I’ve used the “fire” metaphor more than a couple times since our Facebook conversation.

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