Many highly knowledgeable authorities (pro or amateur) on depression walk the streets, and few of them have ever experienced protracted, severe, clinical depression. I’ve heard seemingly endless thoughts and theories on the subject from professionals and laymen alike, and they share one characteristic; all they have to offer is guess-work based on some academic’s, or pop-psychological guru’s, guess-work. Those who have lived in the depressive state don’t have much to say about it, except that it hurts. Beyond that, we really don’t care to expend the effort.
Expressions of My Depressions:
That last statement, taken by itself, could be viewed as a description of laziness. Instead, it encapsulates all the time-release capsules of trouble that depression releases in my daily life. It saps all potential enthusiasm, energy, motivation, and even the will to keep on breathing, very much like a summertime desert’s unrelenting sun saps the strength from an unprepared wayfarer. Perhaps the only difference between the two is the desert wanderer has some hope of finding a little relief from the sunshine in the sparse, desert vegetation or the occasional rock outcropping.
A Bit of Personal History
Much of the feedback I received from my mother was on the order of, “You’re slow as a seven year itch.” I also learned that I was lazy, careless, and a daydreamer. Some say I’m still trying to please her even though she is many years gone.
My early puberty and consequential interest in the female form caused its own set of problems. That’s where my dad came in; I was a shameful, nasty, dirty little boy, and I had to constantly go to confession before receiving communion. The shame issue was so deeply rooted that I still haven’t shaken it. Knowing I’m forgiven is wonderful, but that knowledge by itself can’t quite counterbalance the overwhelming sense of unworthiness that saps my victory, much like depression saps my sense of well-being. Come to think of it, the two are likely related.
A Little About School
A few guys let me hang around with them in high school, but their academic achievement-level was in a whole different galaxy from my own. My best friend Rick got a kick out of beating me on both the pool table and the tennis court, as well as any other games he chose. He went on to earn his CPA, while another friend, Dennis, received an advanced degree in math, and Peter eventually earned an organic chemistry PHD. Any time we gathered as a group I was the obligatory comic relief.
After moving to Montana, I married a girl eight-years my junior—she, eighteen, I, twenty-six—and she offered her life’s savings to finance my starting Bible college. I wanted to become a pastor, and she believed in me.
Once enrolled in Houston’s Gulf Coast Bible College, all my forgotten secondary school nightmares returned to haunt me. I was slow and poorly motivated. The same applied to the machine shop work I took to support my family. I neither completed my preacher-boy degree, nor journeyman status as a machinist. That’s just a very brief excerpt of my list of uncompleted endeavors.
Never Gave Up
One of the few endeavors on which I never gave up is my life in Christ, but the depression has even managed to cause trouble there, with the enemy finding it a convenient weapon for attacking my peace. That old shame has generalized into an overwhelming sense of unworthiness, exempting me (in my own mind) from many of my Lord’s promises. Even though I realize the enemy has found an easy sucker in me, on the emotional level I believe the lies. Nevertheless I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able to keep what I have committed to Him until that Day. (2 Timothy 1:12b)
At the tender age of fifty-one I experienced a myocardial infarction. During the followup with our family doctor he noted some alarming consistencies in my behavior, so I took a depression-screening test, and wouldn’t you know that’s the one test on which I scored quite highly. Thus began my treatment with anti-depressants.
At various times my wife and I tried pastoral counseling, but none of them could grasp the concept of clinical depression not being a choice. Of course, these people were all type-A overachievers, so my depression had to be an issue of sin in my life. I’m sure the degree of its impact on my faith-walk, my marriage and my work history had something to do with sin, but I could never pinpoint where I was going wrong.
My insecurity and stinking self-concept eventually broke up our marriage, not even twenty-years into it. One contributing factor about which I had little to say was the advice she received from her atheistic brother and humanist friend who happened to be a school counselor where she worked. She decided she wanted to throw me back in and cast her hook for a better catch.
After the divorce my asphyxiating depression and hopelessness only magnified, until, that is, God gave me a special dream. Here’s the short version:
I found myself next to a young man who was reading what seemed to be a Bible. I had situated myself next to him in hopes of finding some spiritual fellowship.
As it turned out, the “Bible” he read was the NEW WORLD TRANSLATION, the Jehovah’s Witnesses own custom version since they couldn’t manage to make any of the valid translations fit their teachings. Continuing our conversation, I pointed out some of my reservations about their teachings, not directly attacking him or his religion. During the conversation I came to feel a profound love for him, the kind of love that a father feels for his child who is in danger of mortally wounding himself.
On waking from the dream I puzzled why I should remember it in such minute detail, when most dreams are lost within seconds of waking. Then God showed me that my feeling for that young man was but the most infinitesimal sensation of the love He has for me. I had to cry and laugh and sing His praise all at once.
While the dream convinced me that God’s love for me was unquenchable, my depression—or the enemy’s use of it—deepened my shame for being who I am, in view of my Savior’s great love for me.
The Thorn in My Mind
Apostle Paul had his thorn in the flesh(2 Corinthians 12:7). Would a thorn in the mind or emotions be all that different? Based on his zeal for the Law, and then for the law-Giver, we know he had no self-image problems; he knew that he knew what he knew. I have no such self-confidence, and even struggle with Christ-confidence. Even though I know He loves me beyond any definition of love that I can understand, I just don’t feel like I “cut the muster.”
I see my whole life as one great disappointment. My epitaph will say, “He had so much potential.”
I would believe that God is disappointed with me but for one fact. He knows the end from the beginning, so from creation’s beginning He knew how I would live my life … and still He loves me.
Maybe this powerful sense of unworthiness isn’t entirely bad; at least I have no illusions of my own goodness. I, if anyone, can appreciate God’s wonderful nature
Depression can’t be defeated by personal will alone, and certainly not relieved by the well-intentioned advice of shrinks. While I’ve prayed and hoped for an emotional healing miracle, I’m still waiting for my loving Father’s intervention.