I’m depressed. I don’t say that to garner pity, or attention, but rather as a descriptor of a medical condition I battle daily.
I also love Jesus, and believe our relationship to be healthy and thriving.
Many believers I know simply cannot reconcile those two statements. If you love Jesus how could you possibly be depressed? Snap out of it—shake it off already. This public confession or acknowledgment of my depression is often met with a litany of Christian clichés and outright judgment.
And frankly, I’m over it. I thought I would take a moment to give voice for those of us who dwell in the tension of clinical depression and a deep faith. There are more of us than you know. It’s high time the church has an enlightened discussion about overall mental health, but I’m specifically speaking to the topic of depression and anxiety because I know the landscape. It’s where I live.
I’ve tried (often in vain) to explain my struggle with depression to fellow believers for more than a decade and often the conversation turns from that of enlightening others about my condition to defending my faith in spite of it.
To those of you who can’t understand the paradox that is my life, I have written here before about dwelling in the thin space where joy and pain coexist. That is what it is to live with clinical depression and anxiety. I put emphasis on the word “clinical” because I would like to remind the world, who doubt my disposition, that I live with a medical condition that is no more within my control than my ability to force my heart to beat a certain way, or control the way in which my liver functions. Depression is a chemical imbalance that affects the way my body works. And I was made that way. I didn’t choose to be depressed—it’s just a part of my composition.
Earlier this year I was speaking at a conference and, in my presentation, briefly mentioned that I personally struggle with depression and anxiety. I had not thought much about mentioning it, but was later approached by no less than three ministry leaders who were both shocked and relieved to hear that they were not the only ones. One woman broke into tears explaining that she was ashamed of her depression, but she still loved Jesus.
I recognized that knee jerk reaction to justify your faith after confessing your affliction. I have been down that path before and would not wish it upon anyone. Depression and anxiety are hard enough to deal with; it’s simply too much to ask that individual to then defend their faith in spite of their diagnosis. It’s not fair … or biblical.
To those who live in this thin space—hear me clearly say you are not alone. Depression is not your fault and it doesn’t mean you don’t love Jesus.
As I’ve grown older and more comfortable in my own skin (or entered “the second half of life” as Richard Rohr calls it), I’ve made peace with my depression. It’s a part of who I am and it shapes the way I experience life in both good and bad ways, depending on where I am in my journey.
There will be seasons when I can face down this giant on my own, but there will be many more seasons when the tide rises and I will need help breathing under water. That may mean counseling, or chemistry. Because some days I count the minutes until my next Xanax or Effexor like I’m waiting to take my next breath. And other days I just need a sounding board to help me wade through my racing thoughts, to help me stare into the darkness to find the light on the other side. And that’s okay. That’s the landscape I live in. And I know the terrain well.
Some have mistaken this peace I have as giving up. That is certainly not the case. I’ve reached a place of accepting myself for who I am—the good, the bad, and the ugly. I understand that there will be an ebb and flow of depression that will likely follow me the rest of my life. I am learning to navigate the waves, and when necessary, I can still breathe under water.
Photo (Flickr CC) by Ian D. Keating