My Depression Doesn’t Make Me Less of a Christian
“If you’re happy and you know it clap your hands!”
We’ve all heard it, maybe we’re all guilty of singing it, too. The lyrics of that annoying little song we use as a way to teach sweet toddlers where their hands and feet are, or maybe we just use it to help them learn how to smile, to see them happy. That’s what that song is supposed to do right? Make people happy, because if they’re not happy then they do not clap their hands, the song is ruined and we all look at those people in a way that says:
“What’s wrong with you?”
I think about that song a lot, because I get those funny,”What’s wrong with you?” looks a lot, and I know other people do too.
See, here’s the thing, life is like that song, and everyone sings and claps along. At least, every “normal” person does. There are certainly people who do not clap to the song that constitutes every day life. People who cannot clap their hands because they’re not happy, because they can’t do what the rest of the singers do and just fake it through. Those are the people considered “not normal.”
I’m going to be open now, I’m going to be transparent. If you want to stay and look, that’s fine, I’ve invited you in, but on one condition:
Judgment stays at the door. Right here, right now.
Why do I ask that condition? Because I speak not only for myself, but for others like me. I speak for those who cannot clap to that song. I speak for those who cannot fake their happiness in life and are judged every day. I speak for those who cannot laugh on instinct, who maybe cannot feel anything on instinct, but just strive to smile, and even then smiling is like a daily work out. I speak for those with depression.
Yes, I know there is enough all over the internet about this topic. I know you have probably felt preached at enough and will probably stop reading now, but that’s OK. For those of you who are going to read with me, let’s dive into what it’s like to feel depressed, anxious and just plain unhappy.
You see, I’ve dealt with depression for years. I began showing symptoms of depression around age 12. However, I did not understand that the feelings, and lack there of, I was experiencing was not “normal.” I remember feeling completely hopeless at age 12. I remember for years I grew up feeling attacked on all fronts. It’s like I was enclosed in this black little box that held only a tiny window to the outside world. It was through that window I lived my life. I saw only through the grayness of this streaky little window so that everything outside looked distant and gray and utterly hopeless. I felt this window provide a barrier when I tried to talk with people, so that even though I could see and hear them, I could not connect. I was limited, alone and trapped in my little black box.
Feelings of loneliness and hopelessness plagued me constantly. Just when I thought I’d turned a corner and that window was getting cleaner, larger, maybe even opening, I would run back into a black wall of my box and the window would again shut tight, thus darkening my little black box even more.
“Did you ask for help?” you may be asking. Well, yes, as a matter of fact I did. I tried to break out of my box, to crawl out my little grey window for years, however, I was stuck. Eventually the hopelessness became worse, the loneliness too much and I contemplated suicide. I went to my mother at this point, only to be told that if I were placed in a health center or began seeing a counselor, I would utterly destroy my family’s reputation and bring nothing but shame.
I talked to friends, I talked to teachers. No, I did not tell them I was contemplating suicide, but I did relay to them my feelings of loneliness and hopelessness, how no matter what I did, I was trapped and alone. I told them of my cutting addiction and how that was the only thing that made me feel better. While some teachers and friends did constantly check on me, that majority of the responses I received were the following:
“How is your relationship with God?”
“How much have you been praying?”
“Have you been praying the right way?”
“Is there any sin in your life that is making you feel this way?”
“How often are you reading your bible?”
And my personal favorite… “Why don’t you read this book? It will help you get right with God again and fix your issues.”
I tried it all, for years. I cried on my knees every night for months trying to find God. I wrote Him letters, I fasted, I read my Bible for hours a day. I did anything and everything, yet my depression only grew worse. Why is that? Because after everything I had tried, I still felt no closer to God than before. I thought for sure that He must be mad at me and punishing me for some sin in my life.
But let me tell you now, that most certainly was not the case.
My depression is not caused by a lack of faith in God. My depression is not caused by a lack of prayer, Bible study, or some sin in my life. My depression is a mental disorder that causes me to feel hopeless, unmotivated, and question absolutely everything I do from the time my eyes open in the morning, until the time they close at night, and sometimes even between.
My depression does not make me less of a Christian, it does not make me crazy. My depression cannot just be “prayed away” or stuffed into the back row of a church where all the “unhappy” people are. My depression is the reason there are doctors, psychiatrists and medicine. You can think what you want to about God, but I’d like to think that He knew this would happen when the world fell. He knew there would me physical illness, starvation, abuse, He knew there would be mental illness as well. So God gave us doctors, and doctors gave us medicine. I have nothing against counseling and psychiatric help, I have nothing against prayer. What I do have something against is intentional ignorance. The intentional ignorance that sees me on a “bad day” with my depression, walks over and tells me to choose to be happy, to put a smile on my face and fake it. The intentional ignorance that frowns when I say I cannot do that and tells me to try anyway or go somewhere else and be unhappy. I have something against the intentional ignorance that chooses to ignore me because I am an inconvenience.
Well here’s the cold hard truth that has taken me years to realize. I am not an inconvenience! I am not crazy and I am not a terrible Christian because of my depression. I am a human being who struggles with a load that many people do not have to bear, and that’s great for them, but the thing is I do bear it. My burden is often invisible, often ignored and often looked on as fake, but it is not fake. Depression is very much alive and real and will not be defeated until it is talked about, taken seriously and treated for good. Do not look at me and tell me to “pray it away” Instead, look at me, look at me through my streaky little gray window, and tell me “We will get through this!” Because that is the first step to tearing down that tiny black box.
Follow this journey on In a Day in October.
If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.
If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, the Trevor Project at 1-866-488-7386 or text “HOME” to 741-741. Head here for a list of crisis centers around the world.
We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.
Thinkstock photo via ysbrandcosijn