OK…I’m stepping out and stepping up. (This post may seem disjointed…I’m just trying to be REAL and be HONEST. I am NOT a medical professional and everything in this post is MY OPINION and should not be used as a treatment plan.)
I struggle with depression…and yes, I’m a Christian.
When I say depression, I’m not talking about a few rough days. I’m not talking about feeling discouraged or not being encouraged. I’m not talking about the having the blues or even the baby blues. I’m talking about crying myself to sleep, wanting to stay in bed for days on end, being physically/emotionally/spiritually exhausted, not be able to function “normally” on my own. It’s not enjoying the things in the life that have brought me joy in the past. It’s feeling like I can’t go on…and quite honestly, not wanting to go on.
It’s something I have struggled with since my high school years that hit its worst during my young adult life (early to mid 20s) even though I’ve been a Christian since I was in the fifth grade.
In fact, there was one point (when I was 22) that I was actually medicated for clinical depression and anxiety. And while I was able to come off of my medication (ok…it became a NECESSITY when I became suicidal 2 years later while on it), I know there are many people, Christians, who are on medication…AND THAT’S OK.
I often get frustrated when I hear sermons or lectures from Christian teachers saying that it’s wrong for Christians to be depressed. SAY WHAT?!? I don’t think so.
Depression is not a sin.
Let me say that again: DEPRESSION IS NOT A SIN!
How we deal with our depression may RESULT in sin, but being depressed is NOT a sin itself.
No one WANTS to be depressed. It’s not like I woke up this morning and thought, “Well, self, this is a good day to have a bad day and to feel so bad about yourself that you can’t function and can’t put words to your emotions. It’s a great day to be angry at the world and try to hide behind a smiling mask and pretend like nothing is wrong. Good plan! Let’s go…1, 2, 3, DEPRESSION!!”
It’s ok to feel/be depressed…actually, I think it’s more natural than NOT being depressed.
You see, when Adam and Eve ate the fruit in Genesis 3, sin entered the world. Perfection left. While I can’t know for sure, I believe that they were depressed after they sinned and left the garden. Not just the blues or feeling down for a day or so…truly depressed. They probably had moments where they felt they couldn’t go on and may not have wanted to anyways. I wonder if they just laid under a weeping willow tree and slept all day. I wonder who they talked to about it. I wonder…
Too often in churches, being depressed or anxious is a shameful thing…something looked down upon as sinful and taboo. No one wants to talk about it because we’ve been taught it doesn’t belong in the church. Christians should be joyful, especially because we know that Christ has died to take away our shame, make us whole, and give us His joy…right? He offers us His peace that passes understanding. Therefore, Christians SHOULD NOT be depressed or anxious and it WILL NOT be taught in the church, especially from the pulpit. It will be classified as a sin and should be dealt with privately.
The church is the PERFECT place to deal with depression. It’s the BEST place for Christians to open up about their feelings, anxieties, worries, and cares. We are called to bear one another’s burdens (Galatians 6:2)…even (and especially) depression. But we can’t do that if we’re never vulnerable and share what we’re going through or have gone through.
But instead, we act like the “good Christian” and put on the mask of “I’m fine” when we’re really DYING INSIDE! When I slip into depression, church is the LAST place I want to go, quite honestly. I know that I won’t find the support that I need from church. I’ll find judgement and shame, but not encouragement, prayers, and love…and that’s what I need THE MOST.
When I was coming off of my medication, I was meeting regularly with a Christian counselor who helped me identify my triggers and find ways to combat them. (**By the way, you should NEVER go off antidepressants or anti-anxiety meds by yourself or cold-turkey. You NEED to seek medical advice when going off ANY and EVERY medication. There could be DEVASTATING, DEADLY consequences when you don’t go off properly.**) Over a period of 6+ months, I was able to track my emotions and what caused them. I was able to identify my weaknesses, strengths, and use both to help me.
But, just because I know my triggers (and some have changed over time), that doesn’t mean that I won’t become depressed again.
BECAUSE I HAVE.
In fact, I’m battling depression right now. As I type this, I am fighting back tears, trying to make sense of it all, wanting to crawl back into bed instead of enjoying a warm day filled with sunshine. I’m planning on putting my “it’s fine” mask back on when I go to visit a friend and go to church tonight. I’ll even force myself to play piano for choir practice and the Wednesday night service, and yes, I’ll even teach the youth a lesson on responsibility. But what I REALLY want to do, is crawl back into bed, cry myself to sleep, and SLEEP. I don’t want to see ANYONE. I don’t want to go ANYWHERE. I just want a tub of ice cream, a package of Oreo cookies, some peanut butter, and a spoon. I want to be left alone.
I have a variety of triggers.
My most recent struggle with depression was brought on by feeling rejected: my opinions aren’t valued, I’m forgotten, I’m rejected by family members. I’m exhausted…physically, mentally, spiritually, emotionally, and socially. And one trigger I realized just this morning…I have an unforgiving spirit. I have been wounded deeply by someone who doesn’t recognize that she’s hurt me (or simply doesn’t care) and I’ve been harboring resentment toward her. But that’s only hurting me…not her. So, I’ve confessed my sin to the Lord and He’s given me peace.
See, some of my other triggers are discouragement (or lack of encouragement), exhaustion, conflict, unmet unrealistic expectations, loneliness…and burying all of that deep down inside so that no one sees it. The hiding part is the most exhausting and depressing.
But just because I’m feeling this way doesn’t mean I’m any less of a Christian. It means that God has given me emotions and I’m still learning how to control them. It means I need to be honest with myself, and with God. I need to tell Him that I need help. I need to reach out to others for help…I need others to reach out to me. I need to spend MORE time in the Word, learning from the heroes of faith and how they conquered their giants. I need to open up and LET IT GO!
Every time I go through an episode of depression, I sit down with my husband (my live-in counselor) and we figure out what has triggered it. We pray, we cry, we talk. We make decisions on what to do and not do in the future to help avoid another round of depression. (In fact, we’ve already done this for this round of depression, but some commitments need to be fulfilled.) We discuss what aspects of the situation are my fault, which are other people’s fault, and which are completely out of our control. But all of this is ONLY possible because I’M HONEST WITH HIM and we rely on GOD to carry me through.
As a Christian, we feel (and sadly, are taught in churches) that we shouldn’t be depressed. We should be thankful, not anxious. I mean, isn’t that what Paul commands us in Philippians 4? We are to focus on the “whatever” things…whatever is right, pure, lovely, admirable, trustworthy, honorable, etc, not on the negative things. We shouldn’t complain, grumble, or argue.
So, as a Christian, I feel like I should be happy: I have a wonderful husband (some people don’t); my son is healthy (others have sick kids); I am a stay-at-home mom (many women would love to stay home); we have no debt (many are weighed down financially); I seem to be physically fit and am able to exercise daily (others are disabled and can’t workout); I am a cancer survivor (some people don’t survive cancer).
But I’m not happy. I have two older sisters, one of which I haven’t talked to in 11 months, not from lack of effort on my part. I eat my emotions, like half a box of sugary cereal the other day, and then feel worse physically and emotionally that day and the next. My opinions are rejected or simply aren’t asked for. I’m left out of decisions, events, and the ones I’m a part of are sub-par. I give love but rarely feel loved.
One of my spiritual gifts is encouragement. Sometimes, I feel like this is more of a curse than a blessing. Why? Because when you encourage others, they think you don’t need to be encouraged yourself. You see, I can sense when others need to be encouraged and reach out to them. Often I am rejected or ignored…at least that how it feels to me. I send multiple encouragement and “thinking/praying for you” cards to multiple people and rarely receive acknowledgement and NEVER receive on in return. So then I get sad, feel lonely, and try to hide my feelings with a smile.
So how do I cope? Well, I have multiple methods. Some are healthy and productive while others are unhealthy and detrimental.
Some healthy ways I cope with depression are to open the curtains and doors in my house and let the sunshine in. I try to go outside, even if it’s just for a walk down to the mailbox. I will sometimes text a friend. I try to dig deeper into the Word, throughout the day, not just in the morning. I exercise daily, even if I don’t feel like it, because I know I’ll feel worse if I don’t and better if I do. I try to make healthy food choices and avoid processed sugar because it becomes an addition to me. I try to reach out to others, to stay involved in ministry, and to not isolate myself.
Some unhealthy ways I cope with depression are eating large quantities of junk food. I overextend myself and try to stay busy or even get busier so that I can avoid my feelings and ignore them in hopes that they will just go away.
What do I need when I’m depressed? I need HELP…and in some ways I want help. But I will never ask for help. I need someone to show me tough love, point out my issues, and walk with me through them. But I don’t want to ask for help because that will mean that I have to take off my mask and show you my ugliness. You’ll see my true self…the self I desperately try to hide from everyone (including me). So no, I won’t ask for help, but that certainly doesn’t mean that I won’t want or need it. I need encouragement. I need REST. I need to exercise and eat healthy. I need to be needed.
Why am I sharing this? I don’t want to share this…but I need to share this. Other Christians (and non-Christians) need to realize that you’re not alone. I want to bring awareness to this problem that is hidden and ignored within the church. I want to take away the shame that is often associated with depression, especially in the Christian circle. I want to help others.
There are going to be consequences when I publish this blog, and I know that. I will most likely be ostracized within my family, my church, and my community. I will get funny looks from people. I may get a few messages from friends to check in on me. But I will also get peace, knowing that I’m following the Lord’s direction.
If this blog helps just ONE PERSON, than it’s worth all of the negative consequences I will receive. If it points ONE PERSON to Jesus and takes away their shame, it’s worth it.
So, yes, I’m struggling with depression. Yes, I’m a Christian. But, NO, I’m not ashamed…and I WON’T let you make me feel that way!
(If you struggle with depression, PLEASE reach out to someone. If you know someone who is struggling right now, PLEASE reach out to them. This is NOT something to be taken lightly and can NOT be dealt with alone. Seek medical advice as necessary and GO TO GOD!)