I debated for a long time whether or not to write this post. Its topic is one of controversy, especially among Christians. At least that has been my experience over the years. It’s also a very personal topic as well as a painful one. All that aside, though, I decided to write this if for nothing else to sort out the thoughts in my own head. Before I begin, I want to make a disclaimer. What I write reflects my own experiences only. I’m sure there are many people out there who have had similar experiences, and I am sure there are many who have had very different experiences. The purpose is not to judge someone else’s experience, nor do I want judgment of my journey. Again, I sort and process better if I can get the words out of my head and into sentences.
Most people who know me are aware that I have a chronic illness. I have written about the difficulties and uncertainties that come with that illness. What many may not know, though, is there is another illness that plagues me. This illness can rear its head at any time with no warning. It is unpredictable and, it seems, misunderstood by so many. Its name is depression.
I have suffered with depression since I was a teenager. I use the word suffer very literally here. If there is one thing that I could say is true beyond a shadow of a doubt, it is that depression makes its victim suffer. Over the years I have come up with many different ways to try to describe my depression to doctors, pastors, friends, family and counselors. The problem is, there really isn’t a way to describe it. It can take different forms at different times. Many hear the word “depressed” and think, “Oh, she is sad.” Yes. And no. Sadness is not the same as depression. Have you ever tried to swim with jeans and a winter coat on? Can you imagine trying to swim in that attire? That is my depression. It is not just an emotional sadness but rather a full body weight that prevents me from doing even the simplest of things.
Elizabeth Gilbert, author of the book Eat, Pray, Love said the following about depression: “When you’re lost in those woods, it sometimes takes you a while to realize that you are lost. For the longest time, you can convince yourself that you’ve just wandered off the path, that you’ll find your way back to the trailhead any moment now. Then night falls again and again, and you still have no idea where you are, and it’s time to admit that you have bewildered yourself so far off the path that you don’t even know from which direction the sun rises anymore.” For years I tried to believe what people told me–that depression was just a sadness, that everyone has sad days, that I just needed to think happy thoughts, and that I just needed to have more faith. The more I did all those things, the more lost in the woods I became. Countless times I was so lost I could not figure out which way I was even supposed to go anymore. My mind was a mess of pathways all twisted together. The more I “walked” and the more I thought and the more I tried the more twisted my path looked. Hopelessness often was an unwanted guest in my thoughts.
As I got older, I was given medication after medication by professionals–family doctors and psychiatrists. If the medication did not have the predicted effect in a certain time period, I was switched to a different one or one was added to what I was already taking. At times, I was taking 4 different pills at various times of the day. These pills all had their own side effects. I remember one in particular that made me feel like a zombie. I could barely walk and when I did, the world spun around me. Thankfully, I have grown wise to the world of prescription drugs. I don’t discount all of them, but I certainly am much quicker now to refuse them.
What really bothered me though was the line that Christians shouldn’t suffer from depression. Countless times I was told that as a Christian I was supposed to be happy because, after all, I had the best gift anyone could have–eternal life with Jesus. Why would I be depressed? So many times I tried VERY hard to will away my depression. I was so ashamed that I was letting God down. These people couldn’t all be wrong, right? Guilt piled on guilt as time and time again depression would find its way back to me. In his book The Problem with Pain, C.S. Lewis says, “Mental pain is less dramatic than physical pain, but it is more common and also more hard to bear. The frequent attempt to conceal mental pain increases the burden: it is easier to say “My tooth is aching” than to say “My heart is broken.” How true. I am told as a Christian that I need to be happy. The problem is when depression hits full force, I am physically unable to be happy. Unless one has walked this road, it is not understandable.
I didn’t ask for this to be part of my life. I have prayed innumerable times for God to take it away. He has not. Oh, it eases once in a while, sometimes for days and even weeks or months, but it always returns. I cannot predict its arrival, nor can I predict its force. Sometimes it is just a low laying sadness; other times it is a raging enemy that grabs hold of me with a vengeance that leaves me feeling that death is certain. Its triggers (for me) can be something as small as a comment made in jest by a family member to something as big as a loss of a loved one or a major change in my life. In the many years I have dealt with this beast, I have become somewhat skilled at hiding it. I wear the “everything’s fine” mask or the “I’m smiling today” mask when really, behind those masks, is an intense weight of profound depression.
The thing is, I am tired of hiding it. I am tired of trying to be what people say I should be. I don’t expect everyone to understand my situation. I firmly believe that unless you have experienced a severe clinical depression that you really cannot fathom the depth of it in a person. I also know that others have overcome depression; for whatever reason, God has chosen to remove that “thorn” from them. While I wish so much He would do the same for me, I have to face the fact that so far, He has chosen to leave it. He has removed other thorns from me–the desire to drink alcohol. This is something I was once hospitalized for; it is also something that should have taken my life when I got behind the wheel of a car when I had no business doing so. I am thankful beyond words that I no longer struggle with alcohol. I know that can only come from God. This thorn of depression, though, is still in my side. It sticks with me in varying degrees every day. I know at any time God can take it away–I continue to pray He does. I also know that Paul prayed to have a thorn removed and God said “No.” Sometimes, God says “No”. I don’t understand why, but I do know that His ways are higher than my ways.
In the meantime, I hope that these few paragraphs help some of you understand why sometimes life for me is beyond difficult. I hope it helps some of you to be slower to judge the follower of Jesus who suffers at the hands of this illness. I hope it helps some to see that sometimes wearing a mask gets tiring, and regardless of the backlash that may result, one just has to take off the mask and admit a weakness.
Hello, my name is Becky, and I suffer from depression.