As some of you reading this may know, the last year and a half have been a time of great frustration, disappointment, and drastic change in my life. I started that period of time heading into my first full-time, paid ministry position and am now living in Korea as an English teacher with no immediate plans to return to the United States (on a permanent basis) for at least the next five years and no plans on returning to vocational ministry within churches ever again (though as with all things, life brings change). I also started out that time period within the joys and frustrations of a happy long-term relationship that was moving towards marriage and am now single due to our mutual recognition that our conflicting life and career goals were too separate to form a lasting and healthy marriage. Needless to say, that even with the amazing successes at my job in Oklahoma City and the new opportunities to pursue my future in Korea, pain has been a bigger part of my life over this last year and a half than usual. I am now at a point where I am out of that particular valley, but if I were to apply a particular phrase to this past year and a half, it is that “the best laid plans of mice and men do so often go awry.”
Now to get to the topic of this post. When I started out this year and a half period, I did not have a very good handle on how to deal and cope with this kind of overwhelming pain and frustration. Whenever the topic had come up in the religious situation that I grew up in, the words “pray about it” or “give it to God” were usually the best I was given. I would like to, at this time, call all kinds of bulls*** on that. As Christians, we are allowed to feel pain, we are allowed to struggle, and we are allowed to look for ways to deal with that pain. (This is going to be a very broad address on that topic, especially as far as theology is concerned; if you would like to go deeper, take it to the comments section and I’ll do my best to respond)
I remember as a teen in youth group testifying that ever since I had become a Christian I wasn’t struggling with depression… and then when I began struggling with it again I was trapped by that same testimony because that would mean I wasn’t doing something right. I would agonize over whether or not that meant I wasn’t praying right or hard enough, that I wasn’t earnestly giving it to God, or that I hadn’t ever truly given it to Him to begin with. I now know better, having been given a more humane and realistic standard to live to as a Christian (a different topic for a different day), but at the time my depression was not just a threat to my sanity but to what I believed was the significance of my relationship with God. I could not be a true believer and a good Christian if I still struggled with depression and suicidal thoughts.
So, coming of the closet time: for those who don’t know, I still struggle with depression and suicidal thoughts (not having to worry about these things threatening your job security is a wonderful thing). In my year and a half period of particular struggle, there was a point in time in which I had a loaded gun in my hands and considered using it to take my own life. I have since surrendered that weapon into safer hands than mine and gone into counseling, but that’s exactly it. It took me pointing a loaded weapon at myself to begin telling more people than a few close friends and family that I still actively struggle with depression. Even though I had been able to tell myself that I wasn’t a terrible person for being depressed I still tried my best to hide it away and hope that it would leave and that if I told enough people that I was happy then I would be (protip: this is a bad plan). I felt that as a Christian and especially as a minister of the Gospel that I absolutely could not let people know of such a far-reaching and fundamental fault within myself for fear of rejection and accusation. Unfortunately, I am not alone in this assessment. After talking with many friends who struggle with depression, anxiety disorders, and a whole host of other psychological disabilities this has been a common consensus: many churches are not safe places to be that kind of broken. We are also aware that this is changing and that many developments within recent history are opening hearts and eyes to the struggles of those who deal with chronic depression and anxiety, but as it stands now, the fact remains that we don’t feel safe.
In light of this, I would like to say this to all of those reading and struggling with depression and anxiety. You are loved and worthwhile and incredible and strong and not only does God love you but there are people and family and friends who love you. There are safe places to talk about this, and as weird as it sounds, there are safe places to go be openly depressed.
As for advice on dealing with depression and anxiety, I probably don’t have much you haven’t heard before. Sunlight, exercise, proper diet, plenty of sleep, activities and people that you enjoy, but of course, I know it isn’t that easy. Sometimes it requires medication, therapy, and other specialized treatments, and with these things I would like you to know that the need for these things does not make you weak and it does not make you a bad person. Just like bandages help healing when we bleed, so therapy and specialized treatment help when our hearts and minds have had too much. Plus, it takes a certain kind of strength to address problems rather than ignore them (trust me, telling family members and friends that you want to stop living is awkward as all get out). I would also like to take this time to emphasize just how much your friends and family love you and can help you. You’d be amazed at the people who are willing to come around you even when you are at your lowest and have the functionality of a slug on morphine. They can be the quiet presence needed to help bring some light and life back into your situation. I highly recommend going and living with other people whom you know and trust, even if you’re feeling introverted as all get out. I still don’t think my friends who opened their homes, couches, and schedules to me during that initial summer and for all of the times afterwards realize just how much help they’ve been in keeping me alive and in helping me recover to functionality.
So, for those reading who aren’t struggling with these things, I realize a lot of this probably sounded like lots of nonsense, and that’s ok, this wasn’t particularly for you. However, what I would like you to take away from this is that there are many around you who are struggling with these things, some openly, others not, and that you can make a difference by loving us, opening up your time, and by being present in a time when we no longer know what it feels like to be properly human or alive or hopeful if we even know how to feel anything at all (note – depression often functions far more like severe and uncontrollable apathy than it does severe sadness). If you would like a more in depth explanation of what depression is like, read this blog: http://hyperboleandahalf.blogspot.kr/2013/05/depression-part-two.html
This is all I have for now. Peace unto y’all.