Mental illness is an unwelcome visitor in anyone’s life. It has been a part of my life since I was a teenager when I first experienced depression. Most people, including my parents, did not call it mental illness, or even depression. They thought I was just down, or “feeling blue” or I just had a bad day. I was not diagnosed with depression for many years, and when I was finally diagnosed by a health care professional, it was something I sought to keep hidden from all but a few. In my mind, Christians should not suffer mental illness of any kind because in Christ we are made whole. Christ is the Great Healer. There are many stories in the New Testament of Christ healing all kinds of people, including people with what we now know are mental illnesses. Having a mental illness and not experiencing the immediate and complete healing touch of God Himself can be devastating to a person’s faith in Christ. I wondered for many years why God had chosen to not heal me, not take away the depression. I wondered why I lived on this roller coaster of emotions, rising to mountain tops of joy and happiness and sinking to dark valleys of isolation and despair. One therapist thought I was bipolar at one point, but after observation and testing, I just didn’t fit that pattern.
Over the years I have learned some things about my depression. So many people have tried to help, and most, if not all of them, have had the best of intentions. I rely upon trained individuals, usually health care providers, to give me direction and advice. The people that have had the greatest impact on me when I have been depressed are those who have quietly, gently, come along side me and offered support by doing things for me, helping me with food and routine chores, and positive comments of support. The people who have frustrated me the most and often prolonged or deepened my depression are those who tell me things like, “If you are feeling sad, do something that makes you happy”, or other uninformed comments. They might mean well, but mostly they just display their ignorance of a complex problem.
For me, depression is almost always situational or relational in nature. I experience depression quite often in the summer time when my church (and all churches it seems) come close to shutting down for four months. The programs, such as small group studies, and other support mechanisms are abandoned to allow staff and volunteers to enjoy the summer months and have vacations. I understand the need for vacations and rest, but I also believe that when people, such as myself, and I am not alone, rely upon ministries for support, programs need to be maintained through the summer and holiday times. Winter can also be challenging because it is the time of the year when we experience the least amount of sunlight, which is crucial to mental health. Depression can also be triggered by traumatic relational experiences. I have found it necessary to avoid confrontations and arguments with people, and sometimes, to just avoid people who draw me into confrontations and arguments altogether, regardless of how much I enjoy their company. If I do not protect my mind, no one else will.
Writing a blog about depression makes me vulnerable, but as many blogs as there are out there about depression and faith, there is always room for one more because everyone’s voice is unique and adds to the conversation. It is the end of October and the weather is getting colder, the nights longer, and my ability to move about less and less as I get older. These are the times that I need the people around me to put their shoulders under my arms and offer me strength and support. Over the next few months, I will be relying upon my church family for such emotional support. I am hoping I can find people who are willing to do such heavy lifting as their service to God.