Some Reflections on Depression (and an attempt to explain it to the mentally healthy)

I have realized that it is difficult to explain what depression/anxiety/OCD feels like to those who have never experienced it. It isn’t just sadness or worry. Like I have written before, I don’t know what the main problem I have is, but it is probably somewhat a mixture of the three. I am going to make an effort to explain my thought process and how I understand my mind to work. I have been wanting to write this out for a while, but I have mixed feelings about doing it because I do not want to appear as if am simply drawing attention to myself or asking for pity. I cannot however expect others to understand how I feel without attempting to explain it. I have been blessed beyond measure with the opportunity to have many conversations with Christians who struggle with depression this summer in Chicago, but I desire to be able to explain how I think and feel to those who haven’t had similar experiences both for my own sale and the sale of others who struggle with similar mental harassment. I have a burning passion (that’s kind of an understatement) to in some way help those Christians who struggle with depression and other mental health issues, and point those with depression who are not Christians to the love of Christ, the only relief that will last forever. I might as well start here.

The idea that I may have to live 60 or 70 more years battling my own mind is almost too much to take. That’s over 20,000 days and half a million hours. The idea that hourly i will have to fight for joy and hope and peace is exhausting to think about and makes me want to curl up into a ball and lay in bed forever.

One of the best ways I have heard depression described is by Sylvia Plath,

“God, but life is loneliness, despite all the opiates, despite the shrill tinsel gaiety of “parties” with no purpose, despite the false grinning faces we all wear. And when at last you find someone to whom you feel you can pour out your soul, you stop in shock at the words you utter – they are so rusty, so ugly, so meaningless and feeble from being kept in the small cramped dark inside you so long. Yes, there is joy, fulfillment and companionship – but the loneliness of the soul in its appalling self-consciousness is horrible and overpowering.”

Or in the words of Giles Andreae,

“Here is the tragedy: when you are the victim of depression, not only do you feel utterly helpless and abandoned by the world, you also know that very few people can understand, or even begin to believe, that life can be this painful. There is nothing I can think of that is quite as isolating as this.”

1. Depression feels like absolute emptiness. It is not like sadness. Sadness is healthy and you can actually feel something. You can feel alive while you are sad. Depression feels like death. I want to cry but I can’t. I feel completely numb much of the time. I want to feel but I can’t.

2. Everything seems meaningless and overwhelming. Thinking about brushing my teeth or showering can be exhausting. It just seems stupid. Why would I brush my teeth or take a shower? It doesn’t make much sense. Nothing will get better ever. Friends are nice and marriage would be good, but life honestly seems kind of dumb. Laying in bed seems like the only option. Sometimes listening to some sad music is nice, but sometimes even music doesn’t sound good. I can remember listening to music one time when I was really depressed and it sounded awful and I just wanted to throw my iPod. I think I did throw it. March Madness is okay I guess. Yeah, I like March Madness. I wish it was always March.

3. Depression feels like complete loneliness. Loneliness when I am by myself or when I am in large groups. Really the only time I don’t feel that way is when with like 1-4 other people who I can have a really deep conversation with and am able to relate to. (Some hard cider with the company doesn’t hurt.) When I am by myself I can only look at my own despair and disgusting heart and when I’m with a larger group, I feel lost in a crowd. For the record, watching movies in a large group is the absolute dumbest thing I have ever heard of. Being surrounded by happy people also leads to loneliness. Being around a bunch of depressed people is a lot more pleasant. They can understand. At least we can be depressed together and have something to connect over. I guess my relative happiness is technically higher when I am around depressed people. Plus happy people are often exhausting. They are hard to understand and make me feel more depressed much of the time. They don’t do it intentionally. But yeah, it still happens. Depressed people make much more sense. Sometimes I think people who aren’t depressed have the real problem. What gets in someone’s head to make them happy?

4. I am often scared to death. It is an uncontrollable and crippling fear. Sometimes fear of something specific and sometimes (most of the time) fear of I don’t know what. It is like my chest is in knots and and feels as if it is going to explode. It is pretty paralyzing. I cannot escape it as hard as I try. I just have to lay down in bed and try to calm myself down.

5. I have constant thoughts of hell and feelings of condemnation. Sometimes I cannot pray because I can’t get them out of my mind. The wrath and holiness of God is easy to see. His love and mercy, not so much. I tend to view God as a malicious slave driver or overbearing taskmaster, rather than a loving father. Prayer and bible reading then become more exhausting and painful than restful and healing as they are supposed to. Worship is also hard. Being in a room full of people worshiping without any reservation is kind of frustrating. Why don’t I feel like them? It just makes me feel more guilty and more depressed being in a room full of joyful Christians. I want that, yet I can’t find it.

6. I am afraid to believe the gospel. What if I am deluding myself? What if I am one of those in Matthew 7 that Jesus says “depart from me . I never knew you.” So I am afraid to believe God loves me because there are some people who believe that and aren’t really saved. I am afraid to have hope of heaven because there are some who have hope of heaven and aren’t really saved. It’s safe to say that this fear of believing can make bible reading, prayer, and worship frustrating at best and more often than not miserable. The only thing that can provide me lasting relief is the thing I am scared of most. God. Much of the time I wish God wasn’t real so that I didn’t have to think about such weighty things. I could just go get drunk and do some weird drugs, hook up with some strangers, and travel a little bit and that would be the end of it.

7. I am burdened by guilt. I don’t even know what I should feel guilty for anymore. I kind of feel guilty that I am writing this on my iPhone. I don’t need an iPhone. I don’t need all of the music I have on it either. Most of it is Christian hip hop. Then I think to myself: why does Christian hip hop even exist? Lecrae is an amazing artist and stuff but he could be a missionary instead. Isn’t that more productive? Steph Curry too. Why does he play basketball? He could work with the IJM and end human trafficking or something. And there was this one time after I read a book by David Platt that I was like “why am I eating pasta? Salad would be cheaper.” Or desiring marriage. I don’t need a wife. Isn’t Jesus enough? True story: I bought a gum ball I when I was in Paris out of one of those gum ball machines. I had seen a homeless lady just before that. Oh man I felt super guilty about that. I should probably just be a monk. But that won’t help much because as much as I give up, I could always give more. I could start cutting the amount of time I sleep down to like 4 hours so I can help more people. This level of guilt both renders gratitude and generosity near impossible. I used to heel so guilty for doing homework or watching sports on Sunday. Maybe this is all just a way of rationalizing not doing stuff that I actually could do to help others. I don’t know.

8. I can’t trust myself. I don’t know what to think about most of my thoughts. I don’t know if they are logical or illogical because I know a lot of what I think is logical is illogical. Then I am afraid what I think may be illogical is logical. And I don’t know what is a result of a chemical imbalance in my mind, what is harassment and condemnation from Satan and what is conviction from the Holy Spirit. Maybe I’m not even saved and I don’t have the Holy Spirit. Maybe I’m not even depressed and I am just trying to convince myself I am so that I can have an excuse for self-pity.

9. I feel unloved. A lot of people throw around the phrase “I love you.” It is really hard to believe. I like myself a lot. I think I’m pretty funny. I like to make myself laugh. I guess I’m kind of egotistical. I like talking. I probably wouldn’t write out all of my thoughts into a blog it I wasn’t. All that being said, my default position is that people don’t like me and certainly don’t love me. My family loved me. My friend Sam loves me. Other than that I am not too confident. (If you are reading this and you love me and you are offended, don’t be. It’s not your fault.) I guess I just usually think people are probably being nice to me because they are nice people, not because they care about me or love me. Oh, the people from Chicago Summer Mission with Cru. I think a few of them may love me. Maybe it’s super prideful, but I generally think I care about other people more than they care for me. Or maybe it’s not pride. Maybe I just suck at letting people love me.

10. I am afraid to talk about how I feel. About 50% of men in America who experience depression or other mental health issues do not seek help. The culture tells me I am not supposed to feel this way and that if I do I am just supposed to pretend otherwise. If I talk about how I feel, will I come across as needy and high maintenance? Will it seem like I just want attention? Will people be afraid to get close to me? I don’t know. But Jamie Tworkowski, founder of To Write Love on Her Arms (TWLOHA) writes,

““Pain will tell you to keep quiet, but that’s a lie. Life is fragile and we all break in different ways. I hope you know you can be honest. I hope you know that you can ask for help…Screw the stigma…Break the silence and break the cycle.”

So there.

I don’t pretend that that this is what everyone who experiences depression feels like, but it is often how I feel. Depression is not like testicular cancer. It is experienced in a large variety of ways. No two people who are depressed have the same experiences. So if you ask someone who experiences depression, they may feel that some of what I have said applies to them and not all, or maybe none of it applies to them.

Like I said, thinking about dealing with all of this for 60 or 70 years seems pretty hopeless and struggling to believe that God is good and that He loves me doesn’t make what comes after that 60 or 70 years seem too hopeful either. But I will fight to believe. It really will be a fight. And I will fall. A lot. But as J. I. Packer says “your faith will not fail while God sustains it. You are not strong enough to fall away while God is resolved to hold you.” I have to try to believe that. A lot of the time I don’t. I believe, Lord help my unbelief. But as Sinclair Ferguson says “the weakest faith gets the same string Christ as the strongest faith.” It is not the strength of my faith, but the strength of the object of my faith that matters. I am weak and a mess, but that’s okay, because I am not saving myself. Jesus says he’s strong. I will have to believe that. The gospel isn’t for those who have it together, and thank goodness, because I don’t have it all figured out. As Michael Horton says “the gospel is good news for losers.” Good news for the mentally unstable, the screw ups, the rejects, the failures, the sinners, the hopeless, the freaks, the outcasts, the broken hearted, the weak, the weary, the fearful, the damaged, the misfits, and the wretched. Good news for me.

I don’t know of a better way to finish this than by quoting from on of the most inspirational stories in my life. It is just a random three pages tucked away in an amazing book called Gospel Wakefulness by Jared C. Wilson. In this book Wilson writes a chapter about depression and in that chapter he has his friend’s son named Andrew tell his story of his battle with depression. Reading this was the first time i realized i wasn’t the only Christian who felt the way i did. So here is Andrew:

“Even the darkest night will turn into morning. The sun is always rising. Even the worst of sinners can be made clean. Evil – Death itself – obliterated by Love. Saturday is over. Sunday is here. I want to live freely in the hope of Christ. I want to believe in Life that not even death can subdue. I want to believe that one day I will stand before God without shame. I wish to want only God. I don’t want his promises. I don’t want his abundant life. I wish to want God and God alone. I wish to know the resurrection intimately. I wish to look Christ in the face, to see him smile. I want to see the shards of light reflected off his eyes. I wish to greet him not only as a King, but also as a brother and a friend. And I do believe. God help me. Easter is a day for people like me. It is for the hard of hearing, for the blind, for the weak, for the empty. It is a proclamation that can’t be ignored. The sheer volume of the trumpet blast threatens to blow the whole world apart.”

(If you want to read the rest of Andrew’s story, I plan on posting the other two and a half or so pages at some point when I am bored and have nothing better to do.)


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