Wednesday, August 27, 2014

On Depression, Part 1: The Eye of the Storm

This post is part 1 in a series on depression. 

Since last winter, I have debated whether or not to write a post this deeply personal. On one hand, I can offer insight and encouragement to the many many people who suffer from depression, yet on the other hand I am baring my soul for all to see.

In the end, transparency wins out.

Who am I to withhold encouragement and support from those around me? At the end of the day, we are all humans - fighting the same fight, living life, dealing with trouble, navigating relationships, discerning the many voices yelling at us from within and without.

I want for people to realize that depression is a very real concern that has a very tangible spiritual connection.

Depression is often misunderstood, commonly defined incorrectly, and certainly avoided at all costs. For a person suffering from depression logic and rationale are often separate from the situation. There doesn't have to be a "trigger" or "root cause." In both circumstantial and biological depression symptoms can suddenly appear without warning, and in great severity. The feeling is almost as if your soul is being suffocated, your emotions compromised, and truth hazy because of the oppression being felt.

Depression attacks the person, regardless of who they are. It is an insidious evil that is one of the sad byproducts of a fallen world.

For a Christian growing up in the Bible belt, the mentality behind depression has generally been one of black and white naivety.
"If you are depressed, you can overcome it."
"If you address sin in your life, you will be healed."
"If you seek Jesus more, the supernatural joy of the Lord will overtake the depression."
This general mindset of medicinal legalism seeks to provide answers, yet all it does is give birth to more frustration.

For years I have struggled with varying levels of depression. Some bouts were definitely linked to health problems such as lack of sleep and a high level of stress; yet more recently my life circumstances have taken a beating, and along with them, my spirit. Depression is a very present reality for me now, constantly a struggle as I deal with ailing health and the frustrations connected. I eat healthily now, exercise, try to maintain my personal spiritual life, and yet I find myself time and time again scraping the bottom... barely able to function. It's not anyone else's fault, nor is it my own. It is one of the many symptoms of living in a fallen world.

It is so easy to ask myself what I am doing wrong, as if my depression were a punishment from the gods. Yet, I have come to realize several truths about depression.

1. I am not alone in my struggle with depression. One of the core problems with depression is the deep sense of isolation and loneliness one gets. This leads to terrible bouts and overwhelming feelings of abandonment when left in isolation. The feeling at times can be that "I am the only one who is suffering from this", yet this is far from the truth. There are MANY people around us who are struggling too. We are NOT alone in our struggle, nor are we abandoned. I have been blessed by an amazing best friend who understands the pain of depression, and a church body that makes it a point to check up on me and keep me from having to be alone when the depression is intense. Friendship is one of the most effective things against depression, and I believe it functions as a physical manifestation of Galatians 6:2 - "Bear one another's burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ." Just having a brother or sister walk through the shadows with you can bring so much comfort.

"Walking with a friend in the dark is better than walking alone in the light." - Helen Keller

2. My depression does not reflect on my identity as a person. While it is so easy to fall into the lie that I am a worthless scumbag, depression can afflict those whom God uses mightily. In fact, He uses those whom hurt the most to accomplish some of the most significant works... 1 Corinthians 1 tells us that "God chose the humble things to shame the wise." Just because I struggle does not mean that I am worthless, or incapable of making an impact. My worth is established by the fact that God gave his only Son for me... no matter what struggles or difficulties I may face. In fact, I have recently pondered the idea that perhaps I am able to make MORE of an impact because of my difficulty. The common struggles in life create bonds with those who encounter the same issues, and are often God-given opportunities so that He may pour His love and grace into someone else's life through me. This leads me to point three...

3. God can still use my depression to bring about good. This truth is perhaps one of the hardest to understand. Throughout my personal experience I have found most of my frustration to lie in the fact that I was being hindered from ministering to others. My goal was to simply push through the depression so that I could get to the other side and get back to work. God has impressed on my heart, however, the fact that by embracing the struggle in this particular season of life, He can work through it to reach others in similar valleys. Sure enough, in the past year people have come to me from different corners of my life, reaching out for support and understanding. There is something about the common bond of hardship that brings people together in a supernatural way. Sometimes we just need to see how God is working despite our circumstances - especially when the circumstances are trials.

Romans 8:28 says that "All things work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to His purpose." 
Through a Tim Keller sermon I heard recently, I realized that when Romans says "all things", that this includes depression.

Depression can be used by God for my good? What kind of ridiculous news is this?

At the end of the day, God in all of his foreknowledge has allowed our difficulties because they mold us and shape us into the kind of person that can make an impact on our world.
By our difficulties, God is working in those around us.
By our trials, God is making us more like Jesus.
By my depression, I am growing closer to God.

This IS encouraging.
I hope that you can be encouraged by this truth too.

Part 2 coming soon.

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