survived am surviving depression
I was initially temped to title this article ‘5 things that got me through depression’, shelving the article and writing it when I was sorted. Symptomatic of our societal need to portray ourselves as sorted beings, having conquered the challenges that life throw at us. Sadly some of these things are sticky like blackjacks, fiercely attaching themselves to us, and despite our best attempts to rid them, we simply can’t. Some remain with us our whole lives. I’ve realised I’m most drawn towards the people who with courage and vulnerability, are able to stand warts and all. I think that in the context of the church (where I was working whenI wrote this), I think there is a need for leaders who are willing to show their unfixed and broken parts, without having to wait for healing. Sometimes healing in God’s eyes looks a little different to what we expected.
A few months ago I found myself being unwillingly placed in a new and largely unfamiliar landscape. Months in I began to sense that I knew the name of the place, but I was too scared to say it out loud. When my resilience had eventually waned to the extent that I was able to visit my doctor, I sat in his office in tears, when he named the foreign country mentioned the word I had been so afraid to verbalise – depression. The following months have been a journey indeed, and below I share some things that have helped me – are helping me – navigate the territory.
Somehow being known in the midst of my involuntary inner-turmoil was helpful and healing. My close friends and family were able to extend a shoulder to cry on. Perhaps it’s a guy thing – or a human thing – that we want to fix people. Thirteen years of pastoral ministry has taught me that despite my best efforts, I can’t fix people. Author Bob Goff details a life lessons that he has come to learn: “I used to want to fix people, now I just want to be with them.” I’ve had to help educate people how they can support me. I didn’t want answers, or to analyse the situation – I just needed people to be with me in the midst of the darkness. I want to be asked how I am, have someone listen, and know their love in the midst of that. Sometimes words are not necessary. An old mentor told me repeatedly that the greatest way that God heals today is through community. I think he is right.
Understanding some of the (precious) truth behind depression
Despite how ubiquitous depression is in our day and age, it still carries some taboos and unhelpful stigmas from the outside. Perhaps because it’s inexplicably difficult to fully understand depression until you’ve experienced it. Studying psychology and years of helping people deal with various disorders still didn’t fully educate me. I’ve been encouraged with some new studies casting some surprisingly positive light on depression. Tim Keller points out: “People who have gone through depression can become wiser and more realistic about life than those who have not. He presents a number of studies that show that people who have never been depressed tend to overestimate the amount of control that they have over their lives. While severely depressed people are debilitated, in general and experience of depression can give you a more accurate appraisal of your own limitations and how much influence you can have over your circumstances.” Sobering, yet hopeful.
Towards the end of last year I read the inspiring story of Nina Sankovitch, who after losing his sister, embarked on the incredible journey of reading a book each day of the year to help her deal with her grief. The books helped her deal with, rather than escape, the barrage of emotions that she encountered as she mourned. You can read her story in Tolstoy and the Purple Chair. I decided to embark on a less intense, but still ambitious journey of reading a book a week for the year. A few weeks left to go and I’m still on track and thoroughly loving the adventure, and experiencing healing in the words, stories, and lives of others. I’ve loved the hours I’ve spent lying under the fragrant fig tree in my garden, accompanied by Kathleen Norris, Donald Miller, Marilynne Robinson, NT Wright, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Malcolm Gladwell.
When I had very little motivation to participate in some of the activities that I usually found life giving, I needed to find something different and exciting to do. With a gift voucher from a friend, I bought a home brewing kit and made my own beer. The sense of satisfaction of making something and releasing some creativity was healing. Of course it helped that my beer (appropriately named Parson’s Ale due to the fact I live in a parsonage) was among the most delicious craft beers I had tasted. True story.
Right, faith. I’d love to boldly declare that it has been my faith that has carried me through – that I’ve been able to ‘walk in victory’. Many who have struggled with depression will tell you it’s not as easy as that. Depression has a sinister way of seeping into all aspects of life: what appears to be a psychological issue quickly morphs a physiological, spiritual and social one. One of the hardest lessons to learn in depression – and most certainly outside of depression also, is that how we feel does not dictate truth. Feelings do not inform truth, truth is much bigger than the frivolity and ever-changing nature of our feelings. In the absence of some of my usual spiritual fervour, all I was left with was a sense of longing. A sort of spiritual homesickness. I have taken delight in the master story teller Frederick Buechner’s words: “Faith is homesickness. Faith is a lump in the throat. Faith is less a position on than a movement towards, less a sure thing than a hunch. Faith is waiting.” There have been many times when that longing or homesickness has been enough. A longing for the presence of the Father, and learning to know and sense his love in a different and deeper way.
Another faith lesson that I’ve had to learn, is that sometimes it is ok to let go of God. I desperately tried to hold on, and although my resolve was quickly waning, I was desperate to keep holding on, filled with fear of what would happen if I let go of my grip on God. Eventually I had no strength and let go. Not knowing what to expect. I soon began to realise that instead of free falling, it was God who was holding onto me. I was so used to the feeling attached to my tightened grip that I hadn’t fully been able to feel and know His grip. Sometimes God’s view of healing is different to ours, and sometimes we only begin to understand this when we are willing to loosen the grips and relinquish control.
 Bob Goff, Love Does
 Tim Kellar, Walking with God through pain and suffering
 Frederick Beuchner, Secrets in the Dark