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Depression and the power it holds

May is mental health awareness month. It really couldn’t have fallen on a more perfect time in 2020. As the pandemic continues, and people are growing more and more weary of staying home, the importance of mental health care takes a front row seat. I know for me, personally, the pandemic has definitely exacerbated feelings of hopelessness and isolation. But more on me later.

Mental health has consistently had a bad wrap in society and has throughout history. The stigma associated with such illnesses as depression and anxiety has had far-reaching consequences in our history. In Biblical times depression was viewed as a spiritual rather than a physical condition. Like other mental illnesses, it was believed to be caused by demonic possession. As such, it was dealt with by priests rather than physicians, according to an article in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine. As time went on, treatment would vary from exorcisms to physical beatings. In many cases, those suffering from depression or anxiety (and other mental illnesses) were either locked away, branded as demon possessed, given lobotomies, or even put to death.

Although we have come a long way from those barbaric treatments and beliefs, those suffering from depression and anxiety still find themselves shunned, ignored, and alone. Why? Because often they do not know what is wrong in order to seek help. For that reason, they exhibit signs of irritability, isolation, sadness, and anger. Quite frankly, it’s difficult to be around someone who acts as though they don’t want you around. It’s a catch-22 for the sufferer. It’s a “leave me alone but please don’t go” tug-of-war in their minds.

What is depression? It is defined​ as a mood disorder that causes a persistent feeling of depressed mood or sadness and the often profound loss of interest in things that usually bring you pleasure. It affects how you feel, think, and behave and can interfere with your ability to function and carry on with daily life.

Most people will experience some time of depression in their lifetime. In fact, there are seven different types of depression.

  1. Major Depressive Disorder or Clinical Depression.
  2. Persistent Depressive Disorder.
  3. Bipolar Disorder.
  4. Postpartum Depression.
  5. Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder.
  6. Seasonal Affective Disorder.
  7. Atypical Depression.

During this pandemic, I have found that many of my clients are exhibiting some form of depression. For some, this is the first time they have experienced a prolonged onset of these symptoms. It can be frightening if you are unaware what is happening and why. That is why it is so incredibly important to be honest about your thoughts and feelings to those around you. Often it’s those closest to you who can see the pain you are in even when you can’t.

I have suffered from depression and anxiety for most of my life. In fact, you can read about my anxiety in an earlier blog. Today, however, I would like to focus on depression and my personal experience. Before I begin to share my story, I need to state upfront that there are some things which might be a trigger for some people. If you are feeling hopeless and are having thoughts of harming yourself or someone else, please call the the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 for support and assistance from a trained counselor.

As a little girl I can remember having moments of deep sadness. As I think about those times, I am unable to really pinpoint anything specific that would have caused such sadness. I would desperately want to be included with other children but also would shy away from the very ones I wanted to be with.

I would lay in my bed at night, convinced that I was going to die. I would do everything in my power to stay awake because I was certain that once I drifted off to sleep, I would never wake up. On one particular night, I became so distraught at the thought of dying, I woke my parents up in a complete emotional state. I can vividly remember trying to explain the hopelessness I had but unable to do so.

Throughout my childhood and teenage years, I would often find places to disappear to so I could cry. I didn’t want anyone to know just how much I was struggling. In my middle school years, suicide became a real alluring thought because I was so deeply surrounded in darkness. Thankfully, my parents recognized the sadness as something that was growing more and more out of control so they stepped in and took me to a counselor.

High school was no walk in the park. My depression increased into uncontrolled anxiety. I spent a crazy amount of time trying to be someone other than myself, hoping beyond hope that one of the personas I put on would give me a release from the prison I was constantly in.

The sadness, low self-esteem, hopelessness, and exhaustion became close friends through the years. I learned to accept them as just part of my thinking and actually found some kind of sick comfort in their presence. I found relief through the tears and the pain in my soul seemed to invite me into a place I didn’t understand but didn’t push away, either. This would continue through my young adult life.

Fast forward a few years. I met my husband. We married and had a child. We had a good life. And yet, behind the perfectly decorated front door, I was a mess. I would fly off the handle for no reason then sink into a deep grief over my words. I wasn’t sleeping and my headaches were increasing. On one particular after, my husband and I were in the car and I was saying something that was biting in nature and he turned to me saying, “You need medication.” I was so hurt. But more than hurt, I knew he was right.

It would take a few more months before I finally listened and had a visit with my doctor. He was so kind and there was absolutely no judgment when I told him my needs. Why had I waited so long to get help?! After that, I spent a few years feeling relatively at peace. I would have the occasional sinking spell but nothing like I had been experiencing. Unfortunately, the bottom dropped out and all of that changed.

My husband and I went through a three year stretch where we were anything but at peace. Job loss, moving, financial woes, illness… it was tough. And because of the difficulties we were experiencing, I decided to try to save money where I could. We didn’t have medical insurance so I stopped my antidepressant to save money.

If this is your first time reading my blog you won’t know this about me but I am a Christian. I have always known the Lord but I didn’t have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ until my early 30s. It was also during that time that I accepted my call to ordained ministry. This is important information because a lot of people still believe that depression is only a spiritual problem or they believe it’s only a chemical problem. I, however, believe it is both.

I absolutely believe in evil in the world and I believe that the battle of good and evil is constant. Ephesians 6:12 says, “For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places.” Depression is a mighty power that dangles darkness like a golden carrot. And it’s nothing to ignore.

I really can’t properly describe the roller coaster I have ridden over the past few years. I absolutely loved life and hated life all at the same time. While privately continuing to battle these unseen evil forces, I put on a completely different face publicly.

As a pastor and a therapist, my entire existence was about helping other people. And I’m actually really good at it. I can empathize with people suffering with pain, loneliness, fear, sadness, etc. because I’ve been there. I’ve walked in similar shoes. So I have given my all to helping those who need help and I’m proud to have been chosen by God to do that for His glory. But just like the rest of my life, I pushed down my own needs and concerns, sidelining them in lieu of focusing on others. And for over a decade, I did that without a second’s thought. But like a balloon, if you keep filling it with air, it will eventually pop.

I “popped” on March 18, 2020. I knew things were getting to a crisis point within my psyche several weeks prior but I had become so good at covering up my pain I arrogantly believed I could continue in my tailspin without consequence. I had taken a leave of absence from the ministry and was working toward expanding my counseling practice to a full-time status. I had just celebrating the opening of my new office space and had several new clients. Things on the outside were seemingly glowing. But on the inside I was sinking to a low unlike anything I had ever experienced. The unfortunate part is that it had been such a slow process I had failed to see it.

On March 18, I had a couple of clients scheduled as well as a meeting with a ministry supervisor. The meeting was supposed to be about my leave of absence. That morning when I woke, I had a headache and just a general feeling of doom. After I arrived at my office, my first client called to reschedule so that gave me a little time to do some paperwork. But I just could not concentrate. I felt like my skin was crawling and I could not sit still. My mind was racing and I could feel the tears threatening to fall at any moment.

My supervisor arrived and we began with talk about my leave, just as I anticipated. But then it turned and when it did, my world crashed. Now you must understand that I take my faith very serious and my vows to God are not up for debate. So when my supervisor informed me that I had caused harm to those I had ministered and had “lost my Christian witness”, I was devastated. I could scarcely breathe. And as I sat there, the darkness which I had been so diligently trying to keep at bay finally enveloped me and for the first time since the 7th grade, I welcomed it.

There is nothing easy about writing this but I think it is important that society stop pretending that depression shouldn’t be talked about. As we see a profound increase in depression and anxiety due to the pandemic, talking about depression and the signs are life and death necessities. We must not hide out of fear or shame.

In the moments right after my supervisor left, I sunk into a pit. And honestly, that pit seemed more safe, more loving than anything I was experiencing at the time. And it was so dark.

So Jesus said to them, “The light is among you for a little while longer. Walk while you have the light, lest darkness overtake you. The one who walks in the darkness does not know where he is going.” – John 12:35

I can tell you that that moment of darkness really did leave me wondering aimlessly, not knowing where I was going. I had lost so much but up to that moment I felt as though I still had my faith and then, just like that, it was taken from me (or so I thought). I was completely hopeless, completely lost. On March 18, 2020 I said out loud, “I have no reason to live anymore. I don’t want to keep going.” And darkness grew closer, darker, and more beautiful.

By the grace of God, I immediately recognized what was happening so I went home to my husband. He didn’t ask. He didn’t need to. He just loved me and reminded me of who I am – a child of God.

It has been a very difficult but enriching stretch of time. There are things that reply in my head and I have to fight against the pull to let depression take back over. I am taking medication and seeing a therapist. I have family who love me and friends who check in on me constantly. And above all, I have a God who ensured that the Light is to never be extinguished. Not in my life and not in yours.

“I waited patiently for the LORD; he turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand. He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see and fear the LORD and put their trust in him.” – Psalm 40:1-3

Depression is a medical condition. Depression is a spiritual condition. Depression is treatable. Depression does not define you.

If you are experiencing any of the symptoms of depression, please reach out to your doctor, therapist, and spiritual advisor. Together, they can develop a treatment plan which will offer you a healthy release from the darkness that imprisons you.

Because of our God’s merciful compassion, the dawn from on high will visit us to shine on those who live in darkness and the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace. – Lk 1:78-79