I think it goes without saying that there seems to be a stigma attached to depression. Admitting “I’m depressed” bears feelings of guilt and shame, and perhaps even more so for those in the Christian community, believing depression is forbidden and unmentionable among Christians. For me, anyway, admitting my struggle with depression was taboo; it was something with which Christians should not struggle, and for many years I was ashamed to admit my own battle with it.
I lived under the assumption that depression is a state of mind and not a medical condition. And though I knew people who took medication for depression, and some of them Christians, relying on medication was a cop out. Is life really that difficult that a person should succumb to depression, especially Christians whose reliance should be on God? With some gumption and good sense anyone can get over it.
I was going to get over it and so should everyone else. Besides, all one really needs to do is pick themselves up by their bootstraps and move on. It did not occur to me that depression could be more than an occasional bad day or that some people do not even have boots. I realize now that my pride and ignorance not only caused ceaseless anguish in my own life, but more significantly hindered my ability to empathize with and comfort others.
My struggle with depression began in my early twenties. I do not recall a defining moment that initiated the depression, except that circumstances were far from favorable. I was living and working in a small, rural community with little social outlet, and my two closet friends and colleagues in ministry had moved away. I was single and very lonely. I often felt “down in the dumps” and did not enjoy life or my usual hobbies and activities. There were also the frequent sleepless nights and, consequently, lack of energy and motivation.
Most notably, there were the recurring thoughts of suicide and the night I nearly ended my life with a bottle of aspirin. Yet even in all this I could not bring myself to admit that I needed help. I was too ashamed of my depression to even confide in my Christian friends, so I withdrew from the body of Christ, those with whom I most needed to be in fellowship, accepting solitude over community.
Years passed until I finally came to acknowledge that my depression was a real medical condition and willingly accepted help in treating it. Ironically, the breakthrough come in the midst of the darkest and most difficult circumstances of my life in which tears, brokenness and loneliness were constant companions, to the point that I didn’t “even have boots” many days.
I vividly recall the defining moment when I finally acknowledged my need for help. In tears, I called a trusted mentor from church, a minister on staff, confessing that I was not handling circumstances very well, and for the first time openly admitted my struggle with depression. He encouraged me to seek counseling, which my church offers at no charge, and assured my first appointment was scheduled with ease. He also encouraged me to consider prescription medication.
Medication helped me manage my depression but counseling was most helpful. I learned a lot about myself and how to be honest with myself and others about my depression. Most significantly, I learned how to let others care for me. The greatest breakthrough was, when in tears and brokenness, I confided in my discipleship class at church about my struggle with depression. To confide in a trusted mentor took strength; to confide in a community of Christians took courage I did not know I possessed.
In being more honest and open with others I have reaped the fruit of their prayers and support. I have learned to rest in God’s unseen arms, trust in His unconditional love and hope in His unfailing promises. What once was a hopeless situation became hopeful as I allowed others to care for and about me, blessing me with their presence in my life and reminding me that I am never alone; I belong to Christ, my hope is in Him, and I have the support of His people.
While I have not welcomed the dark and difficult circumstances of my life, I am thankful for the greater purpose they have served. Depression is no longer my shameful secret. It is a fact of life for many people and the reality of my own existence. In finally acknowledging my struggle with depression, not only have I emerged wiser, stronger and more confident of who I am in Christ, but I have experienced freedom to minister to others who struggle with depression. My pride and ignorance have been transformed into empathy and compassion. Rather than being a forbidden topic, my own experience with depression has become an opportunity to express concern for others — to pray with and for them; to cry with them, encourage them and support them; and, ultimately, to love them as Christ loves them.
I have relinquished my burden of shame and guilt, I have embraced the body of Christ, and I have experienced the freedom to minister and be ministered to. I am forever blessed and grateful!