Writing this piece makes me tense. I’ve mentioned before that I’m a fairly private person, and I particularly don’t like talking about my faith online. This is a combination of the fact that – to me – faith is very personal, and because in the past, no matter what I’ve said about my faith, I’ve been “wrong.”
This isn’t meant as a call-out to anyone. If you recognize some behaviors you’ve done in the past – even to me – don’t worry. I don’t hold it against you, nor do I think you’re a bad person for it. I don’t. There are a lot of misconceptions out there about mental illness – and Christians can be accepting, but they can also be condemning and judging. So I’ve created a list of misconceptions I’ve heard around depression.
If you find yourself agreeing with some of the things I’m arguing against, I encourage you to take a moment and open your mind to the possibility that you don’t have all the facts.
Depression is a Medical Condition
There’s debate around this – what a shock – but a lot of scientists have tested and believe that Major Depression and Clinical Depression are caused by chemical imbalances in the brain. It’s not a “disease” in the normal sense of the word. But it is still a condition that is commonly treated by medication. And a lot of people – myself included – can’t function properly without the medication. It not only gives me energy and helps me care about my emotions, family, friends, and work – it also keeps me balanced and cuts my depressive episodes – and suicidal thoughts – down by a considerable margin.
Is depression always a chemical imbalance? I don’t know, I’m not a scientist. But I do know that even if it is triggered by something – lifestyle changes, problems, death, illness, etc – that doesn’t mean that it is a person who is just feeling down. Depression is serious, debilitating, and needs to be taken seriously.
I know there are some religious fundamentalists out there who disagree with seeking treatment for any medical condition or disease – but most are not like that. If you have the flu? Seek treatment. Cold? Take some cough syrup. Cancer? Do radiation. But mental illness? “Pray and it’ll go away, you’ll see.”
Just because it’s “in my head” – literally – doesn’t mean it isn’t real.
Depression Doesn’t Mean My Faith is Weak
I’ve heard many Christians shame each other – and me – for being on antidepressants. Because they view depression as a weakness in one’s faith, or a struggle with sin, or a refusal to deal with personal problems. And – forgive my language – that’s absolute bullshit.
Some Christians I respect beyond others struggle thoroughly with mental illness. They have faith. They’re strong in their walk, unwavering. And yet they still struggle with thoughts of worthlessness, pain, helplessness, and that they’d be better off dead.
These Christians have more faith than many others I know. Because they struggle, every day, with thoughts that they’d be better off dead, or people would be better off without them. But they choose to move forward anyway, because they have hope in a better tomorrow. They know God has a plan for them, and their faith leads them to believe their stories aren’t over yet. How many normal Christians here in the US can claim that kind of daily struggle?
Depression is a Trial, not a Failing
My depression is my cross. It’s my struggle, my trial, my whatever-Biblical-terminology-you-want. My depression is not caused by a lack of faith. It’s my burden. I have to struggle with it every day, not because my faith is weak – but because it’s making me a better person.
Yeah, you heard that right. In some ways, I’m thankful for my depression. I try to live as James says in chapter one.
“Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” James 1:2-4
I try to mold myself in the footsteps of this verse. Depression is my trial – and it has already taught me perseverance. I wanted to die, friends. Is that blunt? Yeah. That’s the point. I wanted to end my own life, and I didn’t. I took another step forward in faith – when I really didn’t want to – praying that life would get better. And it did.
You can Still have the Fruits of the Spirit if You have Depression
I can see myself becoming a better person through this trial. I know that the fruits of the spirit are growing through my life.
Love? I love deeply and unconditionally, because I know what it is like to feel totally alone and unloved. And I never, ever, want anyone around me to feel like no one loves them.
Joy? When I’m at my high points, they’re higher than ever before. I feel joy in every minute that I have when I don’t feel depressed. Moments of happiness feel like blessings. A lot of people can take happiness for granted – but I don’t think I ever will. I think that my experiences have taught me what true, unconditional joy is – the joy of knowing that you’re alive.
Peace? Yes. I feel peaceful. When I’m not depressed, I feel at peace, because I know what true inner turmoil feels like. I can feel at peace with my life and my surroundings because I’ve experienced those low points.
Those are the strongest ones I’ve noticed. I definitely know that I’m growing in the rest of the fruits of the spirit. I can feel it and see it in my life every day.
I know I said at the beginning of this post that this isn’t a call out post. And it’s really not. But, Christians, we need to do better. We need to stop judging mentally ill people for something that’s out of their control. We need to stop shaming each other. There’s no shame in seeking treatment for mental illness, and we shouldn’t be treated that way.
Psalms 34:11 says, “The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” That’s exactly how I feel when I’m in the midst of depression. I feel broken. I feel crushed. I feel heavy. And I know that God is near me in those times, even if I don’t always feel like it. I have faith. But my faith doesn’t eliminate my struggle. Just as faith doesn’t eliminate temptation, or grief, pain, anger, fear, or anything else. It simply gives us something to cling onto, and the hope that the future holds better.