I knew going home for 2 weeks would be a bad idea. After the 4 day vacation I had with my sister last month and the volumes of hurt that I received in those 4 days I knew going home and spending 2 weeks with her would only make things worse. I thought long and hard about whether to spend Christmas away from my family for the first time in my life. On Dec 19 I packed my bag and flew home.
By the second day she had accused me of taking advantage of my father’s generosity. By the 3rd day we had a 3 hour conversation (moderated by my mother) where I had to sit and listen to how awful a person I was. How selfish, how self-serving, how abusive I was. How she didn’t have one good memory of me. It felt like my heart was a big raw gaping wound and she was rubbing salt everywhere.
By that 3rd day I saw myself as UNLOVED. UNWANTED. UNAPPRECIATED. I felt overwhelmed. It was the last straw on a year that was sending me steadily into depression. I texted a good friend telling her I wanted to die to end the pain. She texted me back that “things will get better”. I had called her the day before – she had never called back. She was going through something as well she said, but that was dealt with and now she could text me. There were no calls from her. Just a few texts meant to offer comfort. I have no doubt she meant what she said. I have no doubt she’s praying for me. But by the end of that day I also felt INCONVENIENT. A HASSLE. TOO MUCH.
This is a person who I love and I believe, loves me back. Who has called me crying and I dropped everything to talk to her, to be with her. She’s been there for me multiple times as well. She’s held me through tears and walked with me through difficult situations. She’s taken care of me while I was sick and alone. But I have never needed her more than last night. And all I had were her texts. I texted another friend. She also loves me. She’s also been there for me multiple times. I got a text about how we shouldn’t focus on how people fail us because otherwise we will be on the losing end. I never felt more alone. I struggle to remember that these are friends that love me. I struggle to remind myself that just because they aren’t giving me what I need does not lessen their love for me. Even if I understand that it doesn’t erase the hurt.
Depression is like a black hole. I have been here before and I’ve tried to kill myself before. And just like those times, when I attempted to reach out to people, instead of getting their comfort or sympathy or presence…I got “it will get better, you’ll see”. “You need to focus on the blessings you have”. “Have you prayed lately? Maybe you need more time with God”. “I also feel that way sometimes”. I understand this is meant to be comforting. But to a depressed person this is not comforting. Unless you mean you also have tried to kill yourself, no, you haven’t felt that way. Unless you can see the future and see this getting better for me then no, you don’t know that things will get better.
My best friend lives across the world from me. She has 2 kids, a husband who was trying to fly back home for Christmas in the middle of bad weather, and her parents were over at her house. She shut herself in her room and talked to me for half an hour.She said she didn’t know what to say but that she loved me. She said she was hurting for me. She let me talk and vent. She didn’t tell me what to do or what not to do. She wanted my number so she could call and check in on me. I know she’s praying for me but what she did meant more to me than any prayer she could offer up. She sat with me – disgusting, angry, blasphemous, hurtful me, and listened to me and loved me anyway.
Sometimes I feel like Christians suck at dealing with depression. A non-Christian would not feel the need to say “you need to spend more time with God” or “you can overcome this through Christ”. Remove for a moment the God factor. How then would you talk to a person with depression? When did Christianity or having a relationship with God become a cure-all? I may never be free of depression. Just because I love Jesus and He loves me does not mean that I will be free of depression. This may be a burden I carry through my whole life. I don’t know. I dare anyone to tell me that they know, without a shadow of a doubt, that my genuine love for God will set me free from everything that plagues me. I knew a pastor whose good, loving, godly wife died of cancer. I don’t know anyone who knew Christ more. So is mental illness different from cancer? Christians seem to think so. It’s like if I TRY and DO more then I will “beat” depression.
I read an article on what not to say to a Christian struggling with depression. I’m pasting it here because it was that good. The author talks about what Christians say to people with depression. Some of the below I pulled from her article, some are my own examples of what Christians say (that they really shouldn’t say) to people with depression:
- “Don’t curse” while you’re depressed. I like to equate this to Christians saying “don’t be angry”. Don’t express your rage, your frustration, your hurt over the situations and people that have contributed to your circumstances. When you are depressed you are in a deep, dark, and angry place. You lash out. You want to use the right words to express your rage. And it can be ugly to people. But this is how I feel – would it make people feel better to ask how I’m doing and then have me lie? Sometimes I think so. They don’t really want to know how I’m doing or how I feel. They would be too horrified.
- “Trust God” or “God is in control” is something they say as well. I do trust Him – and here I am in the midst of this all-consuming depression. Where the only way out I see is to end my life to ease my pain. Now what? I trusted Him but here I am dealing with this sickness. Now what? If He’s in control why do I want to literally go to sleep and never wake up? Did He plan for this to happen? Now what?
- “You need to focus on how blessed you are”. My mind is telling me I am UNLOVED, UNWANTED, and BETTER OFF DEAD. And all it will take to shut these feelings down is to shift my focus onto my blessings? Is there a switch I can flip to do that? Because I would love to be able to focus on my blessings. If there was a simple solution to depression don’t you think I would have tried it? I don’t like being depressed. It is not the least bit enjoyable and it is not a ploy for attention or sympathy. It is like living in a personal hell filled with pain and despair and hopelessness.
- “You need to spend more time with Christians and with God and read your Bible”. This is assuming that every depressed person has somehow stopped communicating with God. I have found that I never pray as hard as when I am in pain. And believe it or not, my reaching out and sharing what I’m going through is me spending more time with Christians. But more often than not they don’t really want to spend more time with me. They ask how I’m doing but act uncomfortable when I open up to them. They give me cheap comfort in the form of platitudes as if somehow, that means, that they have “done their part”. If by opening myself up to them I will continually face rejection then I’d rather hide and struggle on my own…which never works because clearly I am not in my right mind.
- “I just can’t be there for you the way you want me to.” Or “You’re just too draining. I can’t help you if you don’t help yourself”. This I genuinely feel guilt for. I wish I wasn’t going through depression so I wouldn’t inconvenience my friends. I wish I had planned my depression better so that it wouldn’t be over the holidays and would instead be when they have their lives together or when they have free time. But a part of me screams that life happens. Shit happens. And we can’t plan for it to happen at a better time so friends can be…friends. Depressed people already feel abandoned. And then you throw in friends that leave. To people with depression it’s like proving what we feel about ourselves is true. That we are unworthy of love. That we are OK to have around during good times but not during bad. During my first bout with depression I would go to my mother for help. She would often tell me that she had “enough problems of my own. I don’t need to deal with yours”. I then tried to turn to my small group. My friend actually yelled at me that I was being “blasphemous” by expressing my anger at God. Another friend told me to try to love my parents more and when I got upset yelled at me that she didn’t know what else she could do to help me. I tried to kill myself 3 times in a year. I felt rejected by my family and rejected by the Church. The Church that was supposed to be Christ’s hands and feet. Is it any wonder that I felt God would reject me as well?
So this is my story. If you are asking how am I – I am currently in the throes of my second bout with depression. I struggle with the daily choice to get out of bed and continue on. Some days I numb myself to everything but basic actions – wake up, shower, eat, sleep. And some days I manage to laugh at a few funny jokes and enjoy a minute, an hour, a day. Most of the days I keep the pain at bay but it is a throbbing in my head that lets me know it is there. Some days I so badly want to reach out to friends but I am terrified of hearing that this is my fault, that I should spend more time with God, that I am doing something wrong that is causing this depression to worsen. And this is how I feel. I don’t want to make any friends or people responsible for my actions, choices, or decisions. But I can’t do it alone. And I need help. For everyone struggling with depression, I wish for them a community of believers that would love unconditionally, listen without judgment, and offer of themselves their time, presence, and resources.
This post is my clumsy attempt to put something out there that will speak to people. If you are depressed then take comfort that you are not alone – there are people that actually understand how you might feel or what you are going through. If you are a friend of someone who is depressed, please take the time to learn how to deal with them. The link to the article I cited is a good start. Don’t try to fix them or offer solutions based on your own opinions. Get feedback from professionals, talk to other people going through depression and get their opinion. Above all, please love them through the good, the bad, and the ugly.