I have probably been depressed as long as I can remember. Raised in a home with a prescription drug-abusing, emotionally cruel parent, I can remember crying desperate tears to a point of total congestion as a child. Trauma was a part of daily life. Being beaten down by parental mocking and shame naturally instilled insecurity. Too often my siblings and I would hide together in one bedroom of the old flat to escape the emotional explosions. “I can’t wait until I’m grown up,” I would sob. I must have believed that adulthood would free me of this heavy, relentlessly turbulent home. Little did I know that life wasn’t that simple.
I followed the predictable path of addiction’s youngest casualties. My fight to be loved and dreams of being cherished shaped poor choices. I craved attention and approval. I was overly needy and a relentless perfectionist. Control and stability were what I craved. Having to move home after being beaten up by a boyfriend in my young adult years, I confessed through tears to one of my parents that I just wanted to be loved. In response, I was told through gritted, angry teeth, “If you want my love, you’ve gotta EARN my love!” I never felt worthy.
Perhaps the ache of moments like that are what made it was easier for me to break that cycle of emotional torture with my own precious kids. I never wanted them to be subject to the crushing pain of feeling unloved, unwanted, less than. I never wanted them to spend a life overcompensating for parental rejection by making poor decisions in hopes of acceptance. I never wanted them to hate their lives as I always hated mine, devoured by hopelessness. I am so grateful to say that the abuse ended with me rather than being passed on to my kids.
Not surprisingly, I was formally diagnosed with depression in adulthood. It wasn’t until I found a psychologist who practiced Cognitive Behavior Therapy that I was able to learn that depression was not my fault. I didn’t just need to pick myself up by my bootstraps and “stop overreacting.” There was a biology to this difficulty and years of family dysfunction that fed it. Despite continued demeaning by my family of origin, the truth emerged. I started to learn how to fight back and challenge the garbage that had been planted in my head for decades.
Most importantly, I have learned in 5 decades of wrestling this oppressive beast just to stay alive — Depression is a WICKED LIAR. This biological, chemical reaction in the brain is like a coercive hostage-taker cornering you in the dark against your will. It tells you that all of the little insults wielded against you are unquestionably true.
“Well, you know how YOU are.” “You will never amount to anything.” “You have issues.” “Maybe if you’d discipline that kid…” “Nobody wants to hear what you have to say.” “You’re a bad mother.” “You’re ugly.”
The verbal bludgeoning endured over the years can bounce around the recesses of your brain like a lead pinball. It HURTS. After awhile your mind becomes so trained at self-loathing and shameful cowering that very little pressure need be applied to kick it into high gear. EVERYONE is better than you. No one likes you. And you are a big, fat, unloved nobody in the world of your catastrophic thinking. All of these accusations and shredding barbs are the antithesis of truth, yet they linger worse than garlic breath.
Perhaps the biggest, most merciless lie wielded by the beast of depression is the false belief, “Things will never get better.” This one persistent thought cloaks your path towards hopelessness. God hates you and life holds nothing but disaster for you in the days ahead. The pain will never subside. Good things are meant for everyone else but you. Why even bother? You should just give up. Stop trying.
Having stepped from one heart-crushing situation to another in seemingly endless repetition, I have found it easy to feel depression hold my head under water, chest pounding for fresh oxygen. Bitterness has been my beverage, watching people enjoy time with friends, or women adored by spouses, or financial bounty blessing those who work a fraction of the time that I do. The corrupt bask in ease, nothing but smooth sailing, as my suffering goes on without relenting.
“If heaven is only for the next life, can I go NOW? How long will I have to exist in this misery?” I have sighed in sorrow. Moments can feel like forever when there is no hope.
For me, Jesus has made ALL the difference in this awful journey. He hasn’t removed the pain of depression or pulled me from its path. Instead, He trudges along with me. When the painful words from the past echo in my brain, “You’ll never be able to…” He refutes, “You can do ALL things through Me. I make all things possible.” As mocking still diminishes me, Jesus lifts me from the pit, makes my footsteps firm, and reminds me that I am His image bearer. When the silence and disengagement of another person isolate me, convincing me I am completely unlovable, Jesus reminds me that I am loved with an everlasting love. I am ascribed infinite worth and purpose by my Maker. And when people don’t seem to give me the time of day, He says that I am so valuable that I am worth dying for!Yet, while my heart knows this boundless hope, my brain doesn’t always keep in step. Too often God feels absent or like His blessings are for everyone but me and my small household. My brain chemistry and function oppress me with those wicked deceptions. My past wants to dictate my present.
The GREAT news is that with my embrace of Jesus, I have been clothed in new gear to fight this battle. The tools that I have been lavished with in Christ are:
- The knowledge and acceptance that I require medication to put a floor under me — I suffered far too many years needlessly because of the familial stigma of medication. When my psychologist finally coaxed me into taking the leap, I wondered why I had waited so long. I found a qualified psychiatrist who normalized my challenge, assuring me that if it were him, he would have no problem taking the prescribed medication for life. It does not mask my symptoms. I must still do the work, but the medication is much like a prosthetic for an amputee – I need it to even have a chance at doing the work. It’s the difference between life and death for me.
- The comfort of knowing that “God is real no matter how I feel” — Have you ever been certain there was a monster under your bed or someone in your house in the dark when there wasn’t? THAT is depression to me! In a culture that tells me to follow my heart, Jesus has taught me to doubt my doubts and TRUST what He tells me, even in my discomfort. He holds me close and helps me ride out the storm until the miserable feelings pass, and they always do. Perspective eventually returns, proving Christ right. This has transformed depressive episodes into more like riding out a bad head cold, knowing it will pass. That’s HUGE! I know that I may feel completely uncomfortable, but my feelings do not equal reality. I slow down and care for myself knowing that it will get better soon.
- The fellowship and validation of knowing I am not the only one — Blowing the dust off the Bible exposes that there is nothing new about depression. Elijah suffered through it. Jeremiah, known as “The Weeping Prophet,” suffered through it. Even the Psalms show us how King David suffered through it. Cracking open God’s word offers me a firm foundation, knowing that I’m not alone and still counted among the faithful. There are also saints throughout the ages who have eluded to their difficulty with depression. One of my favorites, Charles Spurgeon, was surprisingly transparent about his despondency for his time. And others like Augustine, John of the Cross, Ignatius of Loyola, AB Simpson, William Carey all wrestled with the same. How good to know that such heroes of the faith shared my difficulties! Add to these immense blessings the fact that, in these times, the stigma of mental illness is beginning to loosen its stronghold on people. This opens opportunity to share experiences and have community with others who struggle through depression. That comfort and affirmation is like a lifeline when times are low.
- The understanding that I may have depression, but depression doesn’t have me — I may be wrong, but I firmly believe that a big part of the stigma that is involved in discussing depression is the fear of being defined by it. It’s not unlike guys always blaming a woman’s crankiness on PMS. Women hate being framed in that light! So too do the depressed hate being subjected to such judgment. This is where I am convinced that Jesus makes all the difference. My value, my worth, my definition lies in Christ alone. Being unwavering in my certainty of this makes all other perceptions of me nothing but noise. My mood disorder is only a fraction of who I am. In fact, I often hear people tell me that they are surprised to hear of my challenge because they think I am “so funny.” I don’t know about that, but I love to laugh! Such irony for a woman who battles with melancholy! Aside from humor, other things that are a core part of my being include reading, gardening, photography, writing, and being out in nature, especially near water. I am a spouse, mother, a friend, an advocate, a leader. Depression is such a tiny part of who I am.
Depression would have me or anyone else in its grip believe that there is no hope. That is a complete lie. The best thing anyone can do for me or anyone else who fights this battle is to love us through it. Love us in spite of it. Don’t shame us for lack of faith. Don’t demean us or judge us. We already do that pretty well ourselves. Instead, just be present to us, affirming our worth. God’s word tells us that He is close to the brokenhearted. Keep assuring us that we are close to the heart of Jesus. That is the most hopeful, tender act of Truth-filled compassion you can offer.