My struggle with depression:
Ever since I can remember, I’ve grown up in a broken household. Amongst feeling, seeing and hearing terrible things as a child, what scarred me the most was being physically abused by my father and brother. What I felt was a deep sadness and a strong sense of low self-esteem from a young age. I took the hurt and anger I felt inside by abusing myself. I was drinking at the age of fourteen. I took up smoking and used drugs. I started underage clubbing at 16 and would have wild nights where I would down vodka straight from the bottle. I ran from boy to boy to fill up the aching void in my life for a man’s acceptance and love.
I tried everything to numb my pain but things became worse. This was when I started spiraling down into feelings of depression. I would shut the curtains in my room and sleep for a long, long time. Sleeping was a way of escapism for me, a way to feel no pain and sadness. I became an insomniac and it was near impossible for me to get out of bed in the morning.
When I was 16, my doctor finally told me that I had depression.
When I opened up to some friends I trusted about it, a few said, ‘But you’re so happy!’ That’s the thing about people with depression – they can hide it incredibly well, and though their hurt may be deep on the inside, on the outside they may look completely unscathed.
Ashamed that I felt this way, especially since I believed that being a depressed Christian was not normal at all, I faked what I perceived to be joy. I covered my illness by joking and smiling all the time. I remember one time after a day out with a friend of mine, and without knowing why, I went to my bedroom and bent down on all fours crying uncontrollably. In the midst of my sobbing, I cried out to God to send His angels to take me Home. I pleaded with Him. I begged with Him. I felt like I was drowning.
During my depression, I had never felt so alone in all my life. I felt like I couldn’t tell anyone about it because they just didn’t understand. I felt ashamed and angry at my past, and even angrier at God. I felt like He had abandoned me, and I drew further and further away from Him. The loneliness mixed with my constant partying, drinking and drugs turned me very hopeless and suicidal. My thoughts would sometimes be consumed on how I could kill myself, when I could do it and what would happened it if I did do it. However, whenever I thought of leaving my little sister behind, who I took to parenting to, I would shake myself out of it. It was a dark and frightening time in my life, and I was beginning to lose all hope.
I decided to fight through it alone or die trying.
First things first:
Depression is a very real, very strong and very dark mental illness. It’s utterly tiresome and lonely. You can be surrounded by a lot of people, but feel lonelier than you have ever felt being by yourself. Depression is more than sadness. It is a feeling of despair so heavy that it almost feels inescapable. You feel like there is nothing you can do to be comforted, nothing that can ease the pain, no matter how hard you try.
Depression, however, is not a sin. To think that is something to be ashamed of enough to hide is dangerous. It is also not something that a person can just immediately get healing from or ‘get over.’ It does not have a quick, easy fix just from taking a pill or even going to therapy. Often times, it does not come in a brief spell either. For some, depression is a battle they have to face for a long time.
Most of all, what is important to understand is that depression is not a choice. It is a dangerous thing to think that a person chooses to feel depressed, and even more dangerous yet that a person is feeling this way because they weak or do not have enough faith.
If you’re struggling with depression, you may be asking where God is in the depression.
There are conflicting feelings when you are a Christian with depression. It’s understandable that you tend to draw away from your faith and from God in your confusion. You see people in church preaching about joy and peace but you feel the extreme opposite. You are riddled with the question of, ‘If I abide in Jesus he said my joy will be full, so why do I feel so sad and hopeless?’ Shame screams above all other voices: ‘There is something wrong with me!’ and you wonder that surely someone with enough faith in God wouldn’t succumb to depression?
That’s where this area of understanding depression in the church is distorted.
Don’t believe the lie that you have to fight through this alone or that God does not understand what you are going through. Even the most influential people and founders of our faith struggled with symptoms of depression – people like Paul, David, Job and Elijah. What I find humbling is that God not only allowed to celebrate their stories of joy and victory in the Bible, but also expose their depressive episodes and pain, too. He reveals to us that those feelings make up what it is to be human. He shows us, dare I say it, that even feeling depressed is okay. And He shows us that He is not angry about our depression, nor does he want to punish us or abandon us because of it. God acts instead as a loving and understanding Father, confidante and support. At the very throes of our depression, we may wonder where God may be – but He is in the very midst of it.
I remember one day, I was talking to my friend and fellow Bible College student Gary about a difficult conflict I was going through in life. He replied to me with the most beautiful picture. He told me that as we walk down the path of life, wherever we may go or wherever it may lead us, there are hand railings. Those hand railings are God’s love. It was profound for me because it made me realize that no matter how far you stray in life, there is always something to hold onto. God’s love is there for you unconditionally in your depression, strong and sure. While there is no one-way fix all for depression in the Bible, the beautiful thing it does do is give you encouragement in it:
The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.
Don’t be afraid, for I am with you.
Don’t be discouraged, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you and help you.
I will hold you up with my victorious right hand.
As Christians who may be going through depression, there is comfort in knowing that our God is a loving, caring and understanding God who is with you in your dark valley. He not only wishes to see you healed from your depression, but He is actively working to make that happen. I really believe that.
What you can do to ease your depression:
1. Be gentle on yourself. Depression is an exhausting battle, so it’s important that you are kind to yourself. Life is hard enough as it is. Remember that it’s okay if it’s too hard for you to get out of bed in the morning. It’s okay if the thought of going to the supermarket or making eye contact is too daunting for you right now. It’s okay if all you want to do is cry. You are worthy of your own gentleness and grace.
2. Talk to a trusted friend. I know how hard it can be to open up about your depression, especially since the stigma around it is that talking about it will make people uncomfortable. But you deserve to heal. You deserve to let out all the struggles you’ve been keeping in. The best thing I ever did to heal from my depression was talk to a trusted friend with total honesty. She didn’t tell me that I will get over it soon and she didn’t think I was too much to handle and left me to fight it by myself. What she did do was walk beside me. There was a great power in that for me. People sometimes don’t understand that someone struggling with depression desperately needs to hear someone tell them, “I love you and I support you and you are wonderful just the way you are.” It is one of the most powerful things a depressed person can hear.
3. Surround yourself with life-giving people. They don’t need to know your battle with depression if you don’t want them to. But be sure to surround yourself with people who will do nothing but encourage, celebrate and love you unconditionally. The kind of people who will support you though they may not understand your journey, who will breathe words of life into you when you feel low, and who will give you hope and inspire you to keep living when you feel defeated. Find those friends and and set boundaries with people who drain you. Negative people can be very toxic for your soul, but good friends are like a lifeline of hope.
4. Find hope in something. Crucial to surviving depression is finding something to look forward to, no matter how small it may be. Don’t underestimate something that gives you even the smallest amount of hope or joy. For me, it could be as simple as seeing a friend that day, listening to my favorite song on the way to work or watching my favorite movie. At one point, everyday I would wake up and get excited about figuring what my passions were in life and making my dreams come true. It doesn’t matter how small or big it is – as long as it gives you something to look forward to, as long as it gives you a reason to keep fighting on and live, it’s important.
5. Don’t be afraid to seek help. I know how daunting it can be to seek professional help. For the longest time, I refused any form of it and was determined to fight through it alone. How stubborn I was! Depression is an illness, and just as you cannot deny someone with cancer treatment, you can’t deny someone with depression help. This is not a matter of being independent, it’s a matter of finding the courage in yourself to find a trusted therapist or doctor who will walk with you through this journey. It is in your darkest moments that you need the help of people, and when you are on the very edge of the cliff, don’t let fear, shame or pride stop you from reaching out to someone who can help pull you back.
It’s a journey we can walk through together.
I still struggle with mild depression. I still struggle with insomnia. I still have emotional fits where I will cry for a long time, and at times I do still struggle with suicidal thoughts. There have been certain times when something will trigger me into a deep depression where I have found I can’t eat and can’t sleep, and when I do I sleep for a long time. However, my depression is phenomenally less severe than it has been before and I know there is something inside of me that is much more stronger the mountain before me. This time, I’m getting through it with my God, the people I love and The Lilac Road. That’s what gives me hope. That’s what keeps me going. What matters is that I am well into the journey of healing from it and I couldn’t be more proud of that.
I sincerely hope hope that if you are going through depression that you know that though it is hard, painful and though it may seem hopeless most of the time, it is a battle that can be won. Celebrate the small victories everyday. Every time you choose to get out of bed, every time you choose to smile and think positively, every time you visit your counselor or doctor – you are climbing higher up the mountain and you are gaining more ground over the enemy. What matters more than anything is that you begin that journey of healing from depression and onto the road of restoration with your loved ones and with a God who loves you, with or without this illness, more than you could ever imagine. Your depression does not change His infinite and deep love for you. All you need to do is take a deep breathe and decide to begin the journey of healing. It will be a step of a lifetime, but it is one worth taking.
In response to a reader’s question, ‘I love Jesus. Why am I still depressed?’, Eddie Kaufholz replied like this:
“I know that depression, crippling depression, makes it feel like there’s no path out of the dark woods. And I’m sure you’ve spent so many hours wandering, looking and waiting for some hint of light to illuminate the way—only to remain lost. But here’s an assurance that I need you to have: While it may feel like getting over your depression will lead you back into the favor of Jesus, that is just not true. It is in the darkest places where Christ draws most near and is with you. You do not have to “get it back.” It was never lost.
You do not have to try harder, be healthier, be happier or be anything to impress God or gain his favor. What you need to do is continue to be brave, put one foot in front of the other, make it to all of your counseling and doctor appointments and live with the assurance that God is propping you up. His love can’t be earned… and it certainly can’t be lost by someone as great as you doing the best you can to make it through the day.”
You are not a slave to your depression and you are not a slave to your addiction. This mountain in your life can be conquered. If you feel empty and that your illness will overcome you, keep holding on to that thread of light. It won’t ever fail you. It will lead you home. And when you feel that the darkness is too overwhelming, keep holding onto hope, for you very well know that it is the anchor for your soul.