I’m a Christian. I also have depression. And trying to reconcile these two things in my life has been a journey down a road with many potholes, speed bumps, and crappy paving jobs.
In my experience, there is a stigma in many conservative Christian circles surrounding the idea of depression. It’s thought that if you have your life right with God and are completely in line with His will for your life, then it’s nearly impossible not to be happy. And if you’re depressed then you’re not trying hard enough – you need to adjust your attitude. Or maybe there’s some kind of sin in your life keeping you from God and as soon as you get yourself “right” with God, you’ll be happy again and your depression will melt away like butter on pancakes. In fact, I was even given a book by a well-meaning friend called Happiness Is A Choice. (I must admit I didn’t even read the book because I was so upset by the title, so maybe there’s actually some really good advice in there… I don’t know!)
I don’t think I have to tell you how hurtful and damaging those views were to me while I was growing up and trying to figure out just what exactly was broken inside of me. It wasn’t that I wasn’t a Christian because I was saved and I knew I was a beloved child of the King. It wasn’t that hole I was trying to fill, but a different one. And nearly all of the input I’d received had me convinced I was to blame because I wasn’t trying hard enough and that I had a bad attitude. Someone even asked me once if I just wanted to be sad – if I enjoyed it. Um…no.
Depression is different for everyone. I’ve heard it described as a lack of emotion, just not feeling anything. Mine isn’t quite like that. Mine is a profound sadness that weighs me down, makes my bones feel heavy and my heart unbearably weary. It makes me feel tired – mentally and physically. I sleep and sleep and sleep and I wake up and I’m still tired. I don’t want to face the day – I don’t have the energy or mental reserves for it. I don’t do a lot of the things I actually enjoy doing such as painting and writing because my creativity just doesn’t come – almost like it’s blocked by a big, dumb ball of sadness. Some days are worse than others, but even on my best days I still feel the ever-present tug of a sorrow so deep I can’t even really explain it or describe it. As if no matter how good things get, there’s still so much more to be sad about. As if I’m treading water for the moment but eventually the weight tied around my ankle is going to pull me down and drown me. It makes me think about suicide all the time. Not that I would ever actually kill myself! But I think about it constantly and wonder what it would be like. I think about what a relief it would be to just be done, you know? To not have to worry about this life and all the trivial things we think are important anymore. To not be burdened by all the suffering and pain and loss in the world. To just rest and not have to think about things.
Being a teenager and being inconsolably sad all the time was rough. I couldn’t explain it to my parents. I thought it really was my fault and that I was a horrible person for just letting myself be sad. I didn’t realize until I finally went to the doctor halfway through college that depression is a real thing with real, scientific evidence to back it up. I wasn’t sad and depressed because I wanted to be, I was sad and depressed because my brain wasn’t creating enough serotonin. I had a legitimate chemical imbalance.
I’ve been on anti-depressants since then and it’s really helped me to be able to function. I still majorly struggle with depression, but I’m at least able to survive. The things that felt impossible before I started taking medication now seem difficult but possible.
(I feel like I should add that I’m not encouraging anyone to start medication. Anti-depressants are all different and come with varied side-effects, and what works for one person might not work for someone else. That said, they can also be very helpful in managing depression. If you think you need medication, talk to your doctor about it!)
Depression isn’t a choice and it’s not a symptom of a problem in your spiritual life. It’s a chemical imbalance in the brain. While trying your best to have a good attitude and be content can go a long way in improving your mood, it’s not the only answer and it can’t magically make your depression disappear. Obviously this is a complex issue because temporary happiness and true contentment are two different things (which is another post for another day!), and depression can affect either one or both of them…but I still believe it’s possible to have a great relationship with Christ and have depression at the same time. We can be completely in line with God’s will for us and still suffer from the chemical imbalances in our imperfect bodies. In addition to that, I also believe God is ok with us taking medication when we need it! Christians take Tylenol for headaches all the time, so why should anti-depressants be any different?
I believe with all my heart that God hurts when we hurt and that He sees every tear we shed. Rather than believing in a God who is disappointed in us when we’re depressed, I believe in a God who walks alongside us and helps us fight our battles. With Him, all things are possible. Surviving depression and thriving in spite of it is possible.
Deuteronomy 31:8 “The LORD himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.”
Psalm 42:11 “Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.”
John 16:33 “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.“