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It is written that if we must boast that we boast in our weaknesses (2 Cor. 11:30). Here goes. Clinical depression has been my reality for at least 25 years now. In other words, the feelings of worthlessness and pointlessness are always there. Sometimes they are lighter and sometimes heavier. There are moments of delight or distraction, but the sadness never goes away. You can run but you can’t hide. It’s always there.
Why this would be a problem is a guessing game. Caring parents and family, knowing and loving Jesus all extend to my earliest memories. No abuse or neglect. No tragedies or traumas. If only there was a loss to grieve or a memory to deal with. Then the sadness makes no sense. As such, there is no solution.
For twenty of these 25 years I have been on medication. I’ve lost count of how many meds I have tried. Almost all of these years have involved therapy, usually on a weekly basis. I’m on my fourth psychiatrist and a sixth therapist. The matter is way beyond the usual platitudes of thinking positive and looking at the glass half full. Diet, exercise, chiropractic laser treatments, Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation, and light therapy lamps have brought negligible results in my case. If these work for you, wonderful. Therapy has been helpful. Medication has been helpful. I recommend both to make the burden more manageable, but there is no silver bullet.
An endless supply of insults and ridicule will either trickle or torrent through the mind. Spontaneous thoughts of being a loser, a failure, and a waste of space occur daily. Sometimes the thoughts come by the minute. They come out of nowhere and for no apparent reason. Also, an unexplainable deep sense of purposelessness and worthlessness underlie the daily grind. Even when things are going well, a cloud of nothing being accomplished rains overhead. Sometimes the schedule is so full that there is no time to stop or think. Running here and there or a delightful evening with fun people will crowd out the emptiness, but not for long. When the laughter and chatter among familiar faces transitions to a silent walk back to the car, the cloud remains. An unsolicited compliment will renew confidence for a while. For a moment, it seems like efforts are helping someone. Being here means something.
Eventually the mind refills with the missteps of the past: clumsy words, awkward silences, disgusted responses. Forgetting an appointment. Never calling a friend. Bored guests at the party. The person who won’t answer your messages anymore. Memories are a trail of letting people down. The pile of papers still needs to be sorted. A growing inbox of unopened emails. A better preacher would see more changed lives. A better administrator would bring more results. A better leader would increase morale. The inner critic never quits. It has home field advantage on the terrain of sadness.
Faith in Turmoil
Some might question the genuineness of someone’s faith who feels like a purposeless waste of space. That’s understandable. I had the same question 25 years ago. How can someone saved by grace be focused on works-based shame? How can someone with Jesus Christ feel worthless? Mustard-seed faith is supposed to move mountains but prayers for relief go unanswered. For a while it was natural to wonder if faith was genuine. Not anymore.
Somehow, my faith has survived this unexplainable onslaught of internal negativity. It is God who holds us firm. The torrents that should easily overpower us somehow cannot remove our feet from the rock. Instead of eroding faith, the depression has sent me grasping for Scripture all the more.
Contrasting depression’s thoughts and feelings, the Bible paints a very different picture of reality. God says there is no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus (Rom. 8:1). The Son of God actually loved me and gave himself for me (Gal. 2:20), so that we would be part of the divine family (Gal. 4:4-7). We are even flesh of his flesh and bone of his bone (1 Cor. 12:12-31). His love for those who revere him began before time and continues for eternity (Ps. 103:17). In an otherwise meaningless world (Ecclesiastes), Jesus Christ gives eternal meaning. The most mundane of tasks become honorable service for the King of the universe (Col. 3:23-24). All the troubles of this life might square off against us, even to the point where it can be said that we face death all day long (Rom. 8:35-36). But because of Christ, in all these things we are more than conquerors (Rom. 8:37).
The Bible for me has not only been a soul-saver but a lifesaver. What is in my head is the way of death. Charting a course based on the map of God’s truth is the way of life. I might have thoughts of self-condemnation, but those are not true. I might feel lonely, but reality is being part of Christ’s own body. Thoughts of being a waste of space might enter the mind, but a life for which the Son of God went to the cross has infinite value. Life might feel meaningless, but God has made it meaningful. Love for self might flicker, but our most important love is eternal.
Depression is still present every day, sometimes faint and sometimes consuming. It has all the hallmarks of a thorn in the flesh—keeping conceit at bay, a tormenting messenger of Satan, which God will not take away, but shows his grace is sufficient and his power through weakness (2 Cor. 12:7-9). Therapy and medication are helpful, but depression has spiritual dimensions as much as mental and biochemical. Talk to a trusted pastor in addition to a doctor and therapist. Mental health affects faith and how we relate to God. Depression can open a new way to connect with the man of sorrows who was familiar with suffering (Is. 53:3), or it can build resentment and rejection of the sovereign God who would allow such a cursed affliction. Choose the former to avoid the latter.
Since weakness only shows God’s power all the more, my mental health challenges are not a shameful secret. If people think of me, they will only think more of God’s power. Every day I still have to choose to live by what I believe from what God has said, instead of the thoughts and feelings of depression. The treatments make the load more manageable, but only by faith is life navigable.