I’ve written in the past about my ongoing history with depression, but I want to take time in this blog to hopefully give some insight into the depths of doubt and despair that accompany this disease.
I was first diagnosed with major depressive disorder at 18, but realistically had probably suffered from it for at least 5 years prior to the time the diagnosis was made. Sometimes, I find myself asking God why it has plagued me so intensely and for so long. It’s tempting to bemoan the disposition of sorrow that seems inescapable. It’s easy to accuse God when it seems like there is this big, black cloud looming over me that won’t go away. How am I supposed to feel any differently? How am I supposed to proclaim His goodness and display joy in Christ when this weight and oppression all but crushes my soul?
Rarely does the Lord answer my cries the way I expect or want Him to. But He does answer. Through His Word, His people, and His creation, He reminds me of truth when it is the last thing I want to hear or believe. I can’t count how many times I have wished and prayed this darkness away… how many times I have asked the Lord to take my life because it feels like it is too agonizing to go on. How can I keep living when I wake up and feel like there’s nothing in the world worth getting out of bed for even though I know I have been blessed with so many reasons to love life? Why can’t I make myself feel better? Sleep better? Eat better? It feels uncontrollable. And there are days when it seems like it is too debilitating to even be able to function.
I can’t express what hopelessness feels like. Try as best you can to imagine a complete numbing of the soul and dulling of the mind and you may come close to the edge of the deep abyss that one falls into when despair overwhelms every aspect of their being. Do your best to envision a future that looks like a lot of nothing, a view of the years to come that is blank, that bears no joy, and that inspires no zeal for life whatsoever. It sounds miserably morbid. And it is.
When the heart falls into hopelessness, it loses any desire to go on. Which makes sense because what’s the point of living if you have perceived that you have nothing to long or live for?
The depths of despondency seem endless to those who find themselves immersed in its waters.
Maybe you’re thinking something like “just get out of the water” or “stop being depressed and get over it.” Philippians 4:13. Problem solved, right?
I desperately wish it were so simple.
But at the same time I don’t because drowning in the murky depths of doubt and darkness make the moments when air is breathed and light is seen a thousand times more meaningful.
The longer you swim amidst the lies, the more resiliently you cling to the truth when it is revealed.
Please understand that I’m not defending doubt and depression or encouraging people to willingly submit themselves to such states.
What I am saying is that those who find themselves swept into the turbulent tides of sorrow and melancholy have the ability to grasp hope in a way that the well do not simply because of the nature of their disease.
Just as the cancer patient would be more appreciative of a day without nausea or fatigue or a wide variety of other physical ailments he or she may face, so the person with a debilitated mind will be more welcoming of a day that isn’t laden with thoughts of futility and death.
Someone who struggles to see the meaning in life will find greater pleasure in the moments that bring meaning.
Someone who is well acquainted with pain will savor longer the moments when the pain is relieved.
There are those who may view the depressed person as a masochist. That may be true in some cases, but in most I would caution that the depressed person is not happily depressed.
He or she is probably incapable of exerting enough energy to do little more than continue existing, much less to attempt to appear less miserable than he or she actually feels.
The darkness of depression isn’t something someone can simply tell himself to emerge from. One cannot summon her soul to escape the surly sorrows that have enslaved her by mere word or wish.
If they could, they would. It’s not a matter of will. It’s a matter of work. Work such people are unable to do on their own.
So it does little good to tell the one caught in the throes of tormented thought to stop thinking in such a way just as it would do little good to tell a mother in labor to stop having contractions.
I promise it is an agony that is beyond the person’s control.
So will the hopeless remain in such a state? Will the depressed be damned to desolation?
They will so long as they are given up on. They will so long as people view and treat them as if their illness is reason for contempt. So long as they feel scorned or scolded, their capacity for change will dwindle. The worst thing someone can do for a depressed person is let them wallow in their isolation and loneliness and make them to feel as though they have to navigate the obscurity and anonymity of their despair on their own; to place an unrealistic burden on such a person, to communicate the expectation that he or she should just persevere to overcome their circumstances so that they may become like ‘normal’ people is more detrimental than it is helpful.
But when their pain is affirmed, when they are assured the losses they feel it necessary to grieve are legitimate, and when they are reminded of the purpose their anguish may serve in bringing them to a greater understanding of their need for salvation, surely, they may be able to hope again. When they are not left to think that the mental instability that plagues them is something they must overcome alone, maybe they will not feel as if the victory they seek to achieve is so improbable.
Our Master weaves into His eternal tapestry tragedy that is as mysterious as it can be beautiful. Those with disquieted minds may need to be encouraged more than others at times to see the glory sorrow may serve to yield.
Many saints have fought this battle before and many continue to fight it today. Some are called to fight it until their dying breath. They will not be able to face such darkness on their own.
Praise the God who, in His infinite mercy and grace, has given us each other, His Word, and His promise:
“He who called you is faithful. He will surely do it.”