If you know me at all, you are most likely aware that I deal daily with the effects of a chronic illness. Some days are better than others, but all days provide a reminder that I am not the healthy younger version of me. If you know me well, you also know that I have battled depression much of my life. Even with all the focus on educating people about depression, there is still a stigma attached to the diagnosis. In my case, the combination of a chronic illness with the long standing fight with depression can make for some very difficult days/weeks/months. The two combined can be likened to a mosquito on skin. The mosquito needs blood to live, so she finds you sitting outside on a warm, muggy summer evening. The opportunity is perfect. She silently lands on your exposed arm and begins the process of eating some of your blood. It takes a little time for you to realize that something has penetrated your skin; once you do, though, you slap at the spot in hopes of killing the blood-sucking pest. Had you been wearing a thick, long-sleeved sweatshirt, Miss Mosquito would not have been able to feast on your blood. The mosquito is only a pest when it bothers you. If you are sitting in your house and you see the mosquito flying outside, you don’t go running out there to try to kill it. It is only when it attacks that you lose patience and swat at the flying pest. Depression is like that mosquito–at least for me. It is always there, lurking beneath the surface, just waiting for the right moment to attack me. Its presence may be barely noticeable at times; however, if I am having a day that is filled with more pain than usual or dizziness that sidelines me from doing what I want and need to do, depression grows larger. My skin is exposed, so to speak, and the pest is no longer flying around waiting to attack. No, the attack comes full force.
During those times of intense attack, my inclination is one of two things. I either isolate myself knowing that my presence would not be positive company for others, or I force the depression down and pretend that, for the most part, things are okay. I have worn that mask of “things are pretty good” so many times that I am pretty darn good at pulling it off. The heartbreak, though, is that it is during those times of intense attack that I need a friend the most. It is only very recently that I have become open about the struggle I still face with the beast of depression. I have written about it before. Still, there is a sense of self-preservation in trying to cover what is really going on. Part of the reason for that is I have been burned in the past being honest on this subject.
One of the most difficult aspects of having depression as part of my life is the fact that I am a Christian. I am supposed to be joyful. I am supposed to trust God. I’m not supposed to struggle with intense sadness and self-hatred and guilt because Jesus lives in me. I believe Jesus died to set me free from all of this, yet, all of this is still very real in my life. It’s a constant conundrum to know Jesus has saved me yet I still struggle with all the yuck that depression brings to my life. I have yet to find someone who can understand this, let alone someone who can help with it.
One fictional character that I have always related to is Eeyore. You know Eeyore–the sad, blue donkey from the Winnie the Pooh cartoons. Poor Eeyore. He’s always losing his tail. He doesn’t bounce like Tigger–how could he when he always feels so sad? Recently on Facebook, I saw the following:
Eeyore’s friends have found the secret that humans have yet to figure out when dealing with people who suffer from depression. In the midst of it all, the last thing a depressed person wants or needs to hear is that they have so much going for them (even if it is true) or just snap out of it (it isn’t that easy) or everyone has hard days (it’s way more than that). What a depressed person needs is a friend–a friend like Pooh is to Eeyore–a friend who doesn’t ask you to pretend to be happy or doesn’t cancel because the awkwardness of tears is too much. (Yes, there are some times that the most loving thing a friend can do is make sure the depressed person is safe and can get help. If someone is struggling so much that they are convinced taking their life would be better than continuing to live, then professional help is needed.) Most people with depression, though, are not at that point. Instead, they are bravely trying to get through a day or a week.
I have been at both ends of the spectrum. I know what it is like to be so depressed that thought patterns are not logical and dying seems like the best option. I also know how it feels to be depressed and be fully aware of that beast as it rears its ugly head. It is in the latter times that understanding friendship, while hard to come by, is so needed. A depressed person needs a friend who will just listen and not judge tears–not a friend who passive-aggressively lectures on how good his or her life is compared to people in countries where there is no food or water.
Depression, like any other illness, at its core, is rooted in sin. Not necessarily the sin of the individual but sin in general. It is sin that caused our separation from God and caused the fall of man so that life would no longer be perfect and easy. BUT, just because a person is depressed does NOT mean that person has brought that depression on themselves by doing something wrong. If someone you love was diagnosed with cancer, you wouldn’t say to that person, “Well, you did this to yourself. At least you have food and water unlike so many in the world.” Even if that were true and the person lived a lifestyle that had the potential to cause cancer (i.e. smoking and lung cancer) you wouldn’t say that to your loved one. Instead, you would weep with them and seek to support them. Yet, when it comes to depression, people think it’s okay to try to talk depression out of people…reminding them how good they have it and scolding them for not being more grateful for all those things.
Depression is a cruel adversary. It hides for a time and can launch an attack with no warning. Unexplained tears fall freely even though they are not wanted. I know this all too well. I suspect living with someone who deals with the beast is not easy either (my husband would probably agree with that!). It is a formidable opponent that can only be conquered through the healing hand of God. And sometimes, God says “No”. Instead, God is desiring growth through adversity, tears, and pain. These are not easy words to type, nor are they easy words to live, yet living them is what I am called to do as a follower of Jesus.
I am Eeyore and what I long for–what everyone with depression longs for–is a group of friends who love me regardless of whether or not I am blue with sadness. Actually, every human longs for this–not just people who suffer from depression. It’s just that sometimes, people who suffer from depression have a much harder time finding that kind of community. For some, it never comes and the alternative is tragic.