March 14th 2014 (4) comments so far
I’ve mentioned my struggle with depression in passing a couple of times in the course of writing this blog. I’m fairly open about it just because it’s not something I feel is worth putting any effort into hiding. I suffered from major depressive disorder (more commonly known as clinical depression), which is a fancy way of saying my brain had a chemical imbalance. Combine this biological predisposition with repressed emotional issues I was dealing with and you have a recipe for one of the most excruciating stretches of my life. When asked about my testimony I use the story of my depression because it’s undoubtedly the most spiritually significant event of my life.
It was the beginning of my junior year of college when I decided to tell a friend how I felt about her. It wasn’t pretty, and suffice to say, Hakeem Olajuwon would’ve been impressed by that rejection. I was awfully hurt, but it was nothing I hadn’t experienced before. I knew the sting would pass in a couple of weeks or so.
Except it didn’t; it persisted for months. One seemingly routine instance of rejection was the catalyst for image and inadequacy issues I had been actively internalizing most of my life to reemerge with a vengeance. My repressed emotions were a bull that had been poked one too many times, and now I was catching the horns I had emotionally deferred to catch for the past ten-plus years.
I couldn’t find joy in anything. Physical aching pain in my chest started from when I woke up in the morning to when I went to bed at night, teaming up with anxiety-driven insomnia to make me constantly crave sleep during the day just to escape the perpetual sadness. I always felt the crushing fear that I would never measure up, even though I had no idea what the measuring stick was for me. My deteriorating self-esteem disintegrated my trust in my friends.
Life wasn’t about living anymore, it was about surviving. I endured this for six months before I finally sought help, and went through a month or so of counseling before it was determined I was suffering from clinical depression.
I waited a long time to ask for help because I was ashamed to admit I needed it, which is, unfortunately, common in churches today. Depression, anxiety, and other related mental illnesses aren’t subjects that people are comfortable discussing in the open at church.
Depression is not a deficiency in your character, spirituality, or emotional makeup. It is not a sin, but we’re not willing to let go of the feeling we’re disappointing God when we struggle with it. This only adds to a cycle of self-shaming and guilt many depressed people muddle through, compelling them to hide their embarrassing “flaw” so they don’t encounter the ostracizing they fear they will encounter at church.
The word “depression” does not make an appearance in the Bible (except in the New Living Translation). While there is no way to pinpoint if anyone in the Bible suffered from clinical depression, if you look closely you can find many examples of biblical figures dealing with symptoms. Elijah, after defeating the prophets of Baal in a test of God’s power, is forced to flee from a murderous Jezebel. After 40 days on the lam, Elijah’s words have a familiar ring to anyone who has been through a bout of depression: He (Elijah) came to a broom bush, sat down under it and prayed that he might die. “I have had enough, Lord,” he said. “Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.” Then he lay down under the bush and fell asleep. (1 Kings 19:4-5, NIV)
Elijah is far from the only biblical figure to show symptoms. Jesus himself was not immune, as His prayer in Gethsemane demonstrates. As he left his disciples to enter the garden, he admitted to them, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death.” (Matthew 26:38). During his prayer, he displays extreme physical symptoms of his emotional pain. “And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground” (Luke 22:41-44).
Depression is lonely, just the way Satan likes it, and he is constantly whispering in your ear that no one will understand what it’s like. You are not the first, only, or last person to feel this way, and Jesus himself knows all too well the pain you feel day in and day out.
However, it’s during these dark times of our lives that His redeeming love becomes most apparent. When I finally told my friends that I was in counseling and taking medication, I told them I understood if they thought I was some kind of mental head case.
“Nah,” one of them said. “You’re Townsend.”
Their affirmation of love was the first of many breakthroughs in my treatment, which was long and slow. As I trudged through learning to change my self-defeating thought patterns, reliance on God to get through my day became synonymous with breathing. Prayer was constant, and the realization that I couldn’t rely on myself facilitated the most profound spiritual growth I’ve experienced thus far. It was a time that truly changed how I live my life by giving control of it to Him.
While I hope I never have to experience depression that intense ever again, I also recognize it’s an essential part of me now, a part that God used to bring me closer to Him. He can take the darkest, most desperate parts of our lives and use them for His good.
If you identify with any of this, I urge you to share what you are feeling with someone you trust. I know you fear rejection, but I promise it’s the right thing to do. If the feelings persist to the point where your daily life is affected, please don’t hesitate to seek the help of a professional. It doesn’t mean you’re “crazy” or “damaged goods”. Like my mom says, “It’s no different than me going to the doctor for the flu; it’s just a different doctor for a different illness.”
Most importantly, never believe for a second that God doesn’t understand or is angry with you for feeling this way. Psalm 34:18 tells us The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit. He hasn’t given up on you so don’t give up on you or Him either. You are loved more than you could ever know, and you will make it. Never stop fighting the lie that you won’t.
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