“Depression” – Lying label that doesn’t mean what it says.

Wrestling with understanding what depression is.

“I”m depressed?” I think to myself riding down the road, radio up, singing like the world is my stage surrounded by cars that arranged their day just to be in my presence.

“No way.” I think to myself as the sun’s warmth soaks into my shoulders and the chilly air brushes my face.

“I can’t hear you, I’ve never heard you, I won’t ever hear you, and I don’t want to hear you.” I hear in my head as the question I asked is answered.

“I don’t matter, I never mattered, and I don’t need to be here anymore.” I retort as the music turns into agonized noise, the sun bakes persistently, and the wind screams in my face.

It happens that fast. Life is good. Everything is right in my life. The smallest, most insignificant thing creeps out of some corner in my life and the lights go out. The fuse is blown and I can’t find my way to the fresh air.

I’ve started thinking about people like leaves on a tree. Leaves flourish on all sides, limbs radiating from the trunk, life flowing into each of them. As the prevailing east wind approaches, as is its steady habit, the leaves on the north and south side get a little sideways, the east leaves press securely and confidently into the trunk, completely ambivalent to the breeze. Those west leaves, though, cling for dear fragile life to the limb as the gale pulls them from the trunk, away from the circle of life.

What’s wrong with those western leaves? Good question! You’ve gotta know, those west leaves are depressed. The same substance as all the other leaves but because of their context, they are more susceptible to blowing away.

This is how I’ve been thinking about depression. I don’t live constantly under a dark cloud of hopelessness. I live on that side of the line, but the cloud is often far from me. I know there are others who live even further across the line than I do, and that cloud is often much nearer to them. When the wind blows, those of us normal, healthy people with a disposition towards depression get more quickly covered with the clouds.

What I find problematic with the diagnosis known as “Depression” is that the term fits the minutes and moments but not necessarily the major movements of life. When I am low, I am depressed. When I am low, I am very much in a hole of sorts, a depression in the surface of life, a pebble in the divot on the green. Those are depressive moments, those are times when I am fully covered by what the word means, says, and feels… I am depressed. All of the other times though, when I am living my normal melancholic life, I may feel more sad than the “normal” person, but I am not in the hole. I can laugh, connect with friends, enjoy life, and rest in the warm embrace of love… and I’m still diagnosed as depressed. In these moments, the word doesn’t fit.

When I’m down, it helps me understand that there is a legitimate process at work in my head, that I need to work in one direction to climb from the hole, instead of working in so many directions taking guesses at why I feel the way I feel. The label creates a target and gives me the ability to set up some lifelines before falling in, and some rigging to help me get out.

When I’m up, every time I take a pill, I am reminded that I am depressed, and that is when the label becomes an ill-fitting collar, has me on a leash, and invites me into a hole of hopelessness. Then there is Shakespeare, looking me in the eye, saying something about a rose that, by any other name, would smell so sweet. This thing in my head, this diagnosis, by any other name, would still be so depressing.

Anger, Sadness, Depression, and my Christian Faith

I read my Bible often, almost every day.

I am almost completely unproductive at work, almost every day.

I love being around my family and friends.

I stay at work for hours, even when I don’t have to.

I bring joy to our relationships.

I cause incredible moments of pain and silence.

I trust that Jesus makes all things new.

I believe that my life will never be better.

I help others to live in the light of life.

I would gladly walk quietly off into a never-ending night.

Jesus wants me to control my thoughts.

Without drugs my thoughts veer into terribly destructive valleys.

The grace of Jesus is sufficient for all my needs.

I need medication to sufficiently give grace to my family like they need.

That’s where I’m stuck.

Right after getting the news that I needed to be medicated in order to function like a healthy, contributing member of society, I began reading everything I could to help me grasp my situation. While the range of responses drifted along a scale, I noticed two camps beginning to form.

You are a delinquent Christian! Surrender, Submit, Stop Sinning, and the Lord will heal you!!

The old legalist in me felt this and readily agreed. Depression is a thing of the mind. Right thinking will produce right living. Likewise, wrong living produces wrong thinking. If I return to the Lord, surrender to Him, repent, and take refuge in His grace and glory, He will heal me.

Some of that is true. That full last sentence is true and most of that paragraph rings true. But I’m afraid it is woefully out of context. I am starting to wonder, and maybe realize, that God’s healing of me may have nothing to do with moments of depression. His healing may very well mean that I live for the rest of my life with a propensity to drift into a deep sadness. God’s interaction with my mental health is not primarily dependent on my submission to Him.

Oh my sweet friend, Jesus loves you (Kum Ba Yah)! In your weakness He is strong!! Embrace your depression, take all the drugs, go to all the therapies, and display your depression before the world.

The Jesus hippy in me feels like he found a sun dried wool blanket as he wraps himself up snug and sits by a spruce fire in the foggy morning. I love this! This makes it pretty clear that there really isn’t anything wrong with me. The sovereignty of God is on display in me. This broken man is exactly who God wants the world to see. I’ll take the drugs, I’ll do the work to control my behavior, and I’ll embrace the fact that I am who I am and I’ll never be anything other than who I am now.

The problem with this one is that, at some point, I will no longer be who I am now. That brings me a smidge of hope. I don’t want to be who I am right now forever, though I really don’t want to be any different than I am right now.

To be a little more clear, I know that I must live a life of submission to Jesus. I know that living a life of rebellion and hedonism will bring a load of pain and cold into my world. I also know that God is not ashamed of me (or any of you for that matter) in my broken state, weakness, and sickness.

The hard thing for me to wrestle with is this…

What does it mean to be healthy?

Does it mean to be happy, mostly, and be sad sometimes?

Does it mean that being melancholic and sad are symptoms of something wrong?

What if, as I am now, is as healthy as I will ever be, and as healthy as Jesus wants me to be? What if the redemptive work, the work for which Jesus is absolutely sufficient, is not a work for my happiness, but is instead a work for His glory. What if I’m supposed to trust that He will give me a family who will love me deeply in all of this, regardless of how hard it is for them sometimes? What if I’m supposed to trust that He will give me a job that provides for my shelter, food, and some fun things despite my almost crippling avolition.

To be sure, I don’t have many answers. This I believe:

God is real.

I am a Christian.

I am loved.

I am depressed.

I am ashamed.