I’ve written about this before, and I’ll probably write about it again. Why keep bringing it up? Because it’s important. For many out there, just knowing they’re not alone in their thoughts and feelings could make the different between getting through the day and….. not.
So once again, here is my ‘confession’, my ‘admission’…. I suffer from depression.
Suffer…. there needs to be a better way to say it. I ‘have’ depression… I ‘am’ depressed…. My brain lacks a certain chemical composition that would otherwise allow it to be ‘healthy’ but instead, it functions in a manner that has been come to be called ‘clinical depression’ or ‘major depression’.
I can never figure out a good way to say it. And even the word itself, “depression”, isn’t quite right. Someone is “depressed” when their team doesn’t win the Super Bowl. Someone is “depressed” when they get laid off from a job they loved after 20 years of service to the company. Someone is “depressed” when a life-long friend deletes them from facebook without comment or warning.
The medical condition of depression is none of those things. It’s not “the blues” or “mourning” or “sadness”.
And while different people who have this condition describe it differently for themselves, for me it’s “nothing”. Not even “numbness” just nothing…
I might not be making sense, but remember, this is just my ranting and rambling on the topic. But I’ll back up.
What “Clinical Depression” is
Some people have a disease called “Depression”. While there is no blood or tissue or other medical/chemical test that
can diagnose it (yet), medical professionals generally agree that the disease is real, diagnosable, and treatable. It’s a mental “disorder” (another term I hate), like being bipolar or schizophrenic. (Not really ‘like’ those, but stay with me.)
I don’t want to rehash anything that is very easily Google-able and discussed over and over again in medical journals and with your primary care doctor. But it’s important to know that what it is…. is REAL. It’s not imagined, made up, or an ‘excuse’. It’s not the result of circumstances in life, like those I mentioned above (though all those things, and many others, are ‘triggers’ that can cause ‘episodes’). It is a medical condition beyond the control of an individual’s thoughts and behaviors.
What “Clinical Depression” is not
There is one thing, and one thing only, to describe what depression ‘isn’t’.
It is not your fault.
It’s not caused by something you did, it’s not because of choices you’ve made….
It. Is. Not. Your. Fault.
Depression, for me, is something that has been ‘with’ me for most of my life. My memories of my teenage years are fuzzy (possibly a side-effect of depression’s effect on my brain) but my condition was first given a name when I was 13 or 14. I had written a letter to my girlfriend that freaked everyone out. And rightly so. In it, I talked about death. I don’t recall exactly what I said (I haven’t seen the letter since I wrote it) but I do know that I put feelings into that letter that I should have shared with someone, my parents, my pastor, a doctor, someone other than my teenage girlfriend.
They were right to be freaked out.
But that was a long time ago, the early 80s. At the time, from my understanding, doctors and others were just beginning to understand clinical depression as something other than bored housewives seeing psychiatrists. Prozac and other treatments didn’t exist. I saw a child psychiatrist for a while, I said very little to him. In fact, what I remember most about that time was carrying around a Rubik’s Cube and completely ignoring any questions he asked. So that didn’t go anywhere.
That’s my earliest memory about it, hazy as it is.
But apart from my history with it, is what I continue to experience living with it.
Here is what it ‘feels’ like.
And feels is not a good word because honestly what I ‘feel’ is nothing.
I wrote kind of a short story about it a while back to describe it, I share it again here:
I’m standing, alone, on the edge. The silence of the night is exceeded only by the darkness. I hear nothing, I see nothing. I feel neither cold or heat or breeze.
I know that below me, an inch in front of my feet, the canyon yawns wide and deep. But I see nothing, not the lip of the canyon, not my feet, not my hand in front of my face.
Yet I stand there on the edge, I can’t go back. I can’t go left or right, all there is is the edge. And the abyss.
The abyss. The yawning seemingly bottomless drop before me. One set in front of me and I would fall. Fall. Fall and fall and fall.
I have no choice. I lean into it.
To the nothing.
— — —
I can’t describe it any other way. Nothing. The abyss. The darkness. When I get in one of my depressive spells, that’s what it is, nothing. Not numbness, not pain, not anything, just nothing.
Actually, there is pain. A pain of…. I don’t know…. absence? It’s like….
There’s not a “like” I can compare it to. It doesn’t hurt so much as……
I’m losing my way here. I’m trying to describe feeling something that isn’t felt.
The purpose of my writing this is to tell my tale. To share what I deal with to those who may be reading this.
And that’s where it gets…. ugly?
Let me elaborate….
Being a part of the Christian community and having a mental illness
This is what I want to say. And this is hard for me. I love my church, I love THE church. I love people. All people, not just the church. But I consider my church my family.
And family, biological, spiritual, or otherwise, can be cruel. Most times without knowing it. And in the church, they believe they are being loving while they’re being cruel.
I don’t talk about my depresison when I’m with church folks anymore. Let me tell you a story…
A while back I was involved with a program called “Celebrate Recovery”. If you’re not familiar with it, it’s a “Christian-ified” 12 step program. Along with the 12 steps that AA and other programs use (albeit re-written to match CR’s Christian-ness), there is also a heavy emphasis on the Beatittudes as a recovery tool.
And it’s great. It’s a fantastic program. There are great things that happen in people’s lives because of CR.
However, our church is a very small church. And our implementation of CR was likewise very small. Which can be good, but for me it was….. odd.
In larger churches that do this program, CR can split up into groups based on the individuals’ respective addiction. Alcoholics can go in one room (they’re separated by sex too, so men and women go their separate ways), over-eaters can go in another, sex addicts in another…. and so on.
One of the things CR offered help for was depression. (I joined to help with other addictive issues, but I had hoped for help with depression too.) And I’m sure in larger groups, depressives had their own sub-group just like the others. But in our little church, after the “large group” time (a time of worship and a lesson — a sermon really — just like a Sunday service) all the guys went one way, and all the women went another. So in our little group we had people that struggled with “A” and people that struggled with “B” and… well, everything all in one room.
And it was a good group. I am still very close — at least in my heart — to the guys in that group. And for some of my issues it was greatly helpful. But when I talked about depression…..
When I talked about depression, I always felt the room change. I know someone that was in that group might be reading this, and they’ll deny it, but I felt it. Depression just wasn’t seen as the same kind of problem as alcohol or heroin or pornography or marijuana or overeating or… or… or….. No. Depression wasn’t seen in the same light. At least in that group.
One of the rules of CR, just like AA and similar groups is that what is shared in that room is private. It doesn’t leave the room. (I’m probably pushing the edge here, but I’m blogging anonymously about my own issues, so I think I’m Ok here.) And that is a great rule. Anonymous is part of the thing. Some things have to be shared anonymously to be able to help you help yourself.
But people didn’t think that applied to depression. They seemed to want to talk to me about it all the time. In front of others in our CR group (when we were in the large group) but also on Sunday mornings in front of others, during potlucks, in the parking lot. It was fair game. To my horror someone even mentioned me during the “pop-up” prayer time we have every Sunday, sharing with everyone in church something I had shared in CR.
Depression was just not a problem to them.
But worse than things I had shared being made “public”, was the advice that everyone gave me as their solution (while they were talking to me in front of everyone).
If you struggle like I do, you’ve heard the cliches. “Think happy thoughts”, “Just choose happy” and so on.
But if you’re part of a church or the Christian community in general, you’ve probably heard some, if not all, of the following:
“Jesus can give you Joy”
“Christians have no cause to be depressed, are you sure you’re saved?”
“Depression means you have unforgiven sin in your life, pray with me now”
“Jesus died on the cross, what are you complaing about?”
“Depression is a demon! Deny it in the name of Christ!”
And maybe the worst:
“If you’re depressed, maybe you just aren’t among the Chosen and need to accept that.”
(If you’re familiar with Calvinism and it’s ‘TULIP’, then you know what this is about.)
Basically, they said depression means I’m rejected by God, He doesn’t love me, and I just need to accept it.
And that one was dropped on me right in front of my wife and kids.
Family can (and will) be cruel.
For me, there is good news. I am on medication that helps. I don’t see a psychiatrist regularly anymore, but I strongly suggest it. Mine gave me great tools that work with the meds. And I have her on speed dial when I need her. I still have really bad episodes, but I know what they are and how to let them “be” and allow them to pass.
But you, dear reader, if you’re still with me, you might not be a lucky as I am. You might still be struggling, maybe right this moment, with that nothingness. And you may, as I have on many many occasions, be thinking that death is preferable to nothing.
Please know, you are not alone. And if, like me, you are part of a community that just doesn’t “get it”, don’t despair. And most of all, don’t listen.
I chose to stay a part of that community. And to just shut up about my depression. Right or wrong, it’s what I did.
However, it might be better for you to leave. If someone thinks they have the authority over you to tell you that your disease means God doesn’t love you, get out.
But don’t just go out on your own. My experience is that you can’t make it on your own. Find a community that accepts you and is willing to help you in the real ways that you need helped. Whether it be a “real world” community or an online commuinity or anything. Or talk to me. Message me at email@example.com. I’ll just ‘be’ with you.
I think I’ve ranted about this enough for now.
Originally published on Wordpress