I’ve talked about it in this space before —how I suffered through a long period of depression, feeling isolated, lonely and empty, despite being surrounded by great friends and many blessings.
Depression can be that way. It clouds your judgment to the extent that seeing those blessings and having hope can be next to impossible.
It wasn’t my first bout of depression; in fact I’ve struggled with it for as long as I can remember, as did my mother and grandmother.
As a child I was the target of common British phrases such as, “Smile, it may never happen,” or “Take a chill pill.”
As a child I had no idea what I was dealing with.
One of the hardest things for me about depression has been feeling completely desolate when there is so much goodness in my life.
How can I feel depressed when I have so much? A beautiful, healthy family; financial security, a comfortable home and a husband who supports my writing passions. The continual message to myself has always been, “What do you have to feel depressed about?”
It’s a vicious cycle: the depression enacts the shame and the shame intensifies the depression.
I think when a tragedy happens to a person, when a loved one is taken from them, or any other devastating life experience, we are able to grieve with them—we see a cause and an effect. But when we can’t see the cause, when we only see the great life a person seems to have, we struggle to understand and empathize.
Last year I tried everything to drag myself out of the darkness. Really I did.
I prayed and went to church. But God felt so far away.
I wrote. But my words were parched—I’ve have never felt so disconnected from them.
I journaled. Occasionally. But depression is a funny thing; when you’re in it, it’s the last thing you feel like talking or writing about.
I knew that the only things that could haul me out were God, medication, and counseling.
But it seemed God was otherwise occupied and medication wasn’t an option.
So I found a Christian counselor, thinking if I could just figure out what was wrong in my life I would be okay. We talked about my fear of taking anti-depressants. How I felt as though my faith alone should be enough—that God would heal me if I just tried a little harder. Had a little more faith.
Try a little harder, Claire.
And my counselor told me this: Depression isn’t about failing as a Christian; it’s about mental illness.
Yes, God may heal us. But he may not.
He also shared with me that at a weekend retreat he recently facilitated for pastors, some 30 percent of them admitted to suffering from depression. Of that 30 percent only a few were taking medication—the rest were vehemently against it because they wanted to lean on God alone to carry them through.
I wanted to lean on God alone too. But I wonder, if I had a serious physical illness, would I refuse medication?
Mental illness is so different. We can’t see it; it’s socially unacceptable.
And so we suffer in silence.
Despite the counseling, the positive attitude and the multitude of self-help books that have graced my life, last year I made that final decision to take medication.
I could no longer justify suffering when there was something that would help me feel alive again.
Within weeks of taking the medicine I felt one hundred percent better, despite the circumstances in my life and my attitude remaining exactly the same.
I didn’t choose this illness and I need medicine to help me live life to the fullest.
And yet there is still shame.
Truth: I follow and love Jesus but I have depression.
Truth: Millions of people in the church have depression.
My heart aches for the many people in this world who suffer silently with this illness. They feel embarrassment, hopelessness and isolation, and they feel these emotions more intensely if they are believers.
My experience of teachings in the church is that if we just turn to God and place our hope in Him, think positive thoughts and count our blessings, we won’t suffer.
Yet still we suffer. And so we feel ashamed. Like we aren’t good enough Christians.
I am thankful for my depression.
God has taken my past and is using it for good. He has a purpose for everything I have been through.
I am tired of running from mental illness and of watching others do the same. We hide behind walls in denial, often finding another name for this struggle.
It’s time to bring it into the light.
Through my work with journaling and self-growth, it is my goal to change lives. To use my experience to empower others and be a guiding light that leads them into a place of hope and purpose.
And my prayer is that one day there will be no more shame.
Image credit: waferboard