Depression is hard to describe.
There are other things in life that are difficult to explain such as love, the way something tastes, or why you like a song so much. Yet, depression by its very nature is lonely, it is a burden to figure out how to express it.
The startling truth of statistics though is that while depression may be hard to describe and feel very lonely, a whole host of people struggle with it. According to The World Health Organization (WHO), 121 million people suffer worldwide.
I’m 29, and I’m not totally sure how long depression has been a problem for me. I’m not sure because for so long it has seemed like a part of me, part of my personality. I have been thought of as lazy and selfish, and I believed it and didn’t know I was depressed. I believe it sometimes still.
I’ve sought out help in various ways – medical, therapy, pastoral, creativity, and old fashion talking with friends. Some of these help in different ways at different times. It’s a shaky tightrope walk towards wholeness. Some times you walk, some times you fall – sometimes simple metaphors are ok.
I’ve enjoyed writing for a long time. It helps me; it is a gift I didn’t expect to have curative properties. I have a dream to someday write a book that will contain short essays and stories about all sorts of aspects of living with depression. It would be for whoever it might help, those who struggle, therapists, friends/family, lion tamers… anyone. One thing is for certain; I’ll need a good editor.
This book would contain writings on what it’s like to walk with depression as a Christian and within the church. I would express how some times I don’t know what to do with the church, just as it doesn’t know what to do with me. I would also talk about how simple kindnesses, careful words, and the willingness to be present is often the greatest gift I can receive. The tightrope metaphor remains suitable.
A large frustration of mine is how over the years certain “Christian” expressions have become popular. Often said, unfortunate phrases such as; “God won’t give you more than you can handle.” If you search the Bible looking for this sentence, you’ll be looking for a while, it isn’t there. You may find a few verses that sound similar (1 Cor. 10:13), but none that express what that famous sentence states. It’s important to think about what it is implying. Does God some how dole out the bad things in our life, like some sort of nasty chef, tipping back the salt shaker short of “more than you can handle”. I don’t know that God. I also live in a world where people continually face more than they can handle, suicide statistics tell me that. This false and deceptive statement is the equivalent of saying, “Come on! Buck up, it can’t be that bad, God hasn’t let you die.”
Instead of offering weak platitudes, we need to put forward something else, but what? One of the kindest things someone ever did for me was make me a happy-face shaped grilled cheese sandwich. It was the perfect thing in that moment. I think about it often, and get teary eyed. So should we start a grilled cheese brigade, complete with Jesus’ face ironed into the bread?(It’s been done… sorta.)
Cookie cutter (or grilled cheese maker) solutions aren’t helpful, we know that. In another moment that sandwich might have been the worst gift ever, each moment is as unique as each person. It is that uniqueness that demands unique responses. Us humans are a creative bunch, why do we settle for the worn-out, tired, and often-false responses? We certainly mean no harm, but unfortunately harm can come from standby statements and actions.
What we say and what we do needs to be both sensitive and tolerant. As we get older we learn not to be offended when someone says, “hold the tomato”. If someone says, “I’d rather not be prayed for today” – we should be able to accept that too. Perhaps that moment is not a time for prayer, but instead an occasion for soup or comic books. There will be many instances, and God is in them all, traditional or not. Speaking from my own experience there are times when I cannot tolerate the church for my own internal reasons, and it has hurt to feel abandoned because of this. Walking with people wherever they are can be a really huge blessing, perhaps for both. Tightropes are lonely.
I didn’t write this because I want the reader to feel sorry for me, or so that I can receive condolences. I wrote it including personal information because I think it makes things more real, and while somewhat frightening, also helps me.
No, I wrote this for you, who ever you are dear reader. I don’t know your struggle, but I know that you have one. Perhaps some struggle more than others, but it’s there for each of us. You possibly don’t have the words, and so let these ones help you to know you are not alone. Maybe my words can help you find your own.
To the brothers and sisters who have said the wrong things, I write for you too. We have all done it; we will all do it again. I hope we can all take a brief moment to be more receptive and more contemplative, which I expect will allow beautiful things to happen.
I’m 29, and I’m not totally sure how long depression has been a problem for me. I do though remember when I started reaching out for help; it was both terrifying and precious. The people of the church have both helped and hurt me, and I have done the same. Once more, I say we as humans have such great creativity within us, to see it wasted on old worn-out sayings and unimaginative responses is a tragedy. I urge us to do things differently; we can do better. Do it for me and do it for you. Do it for the 121 million.
This is a website I love. Check their “Find Help” section for more resources. http://www.twloha.com/