Depression is much more common than I expected. I remember being at a men’s breakfast at my church, and five out of the six men at my table admitted to going through depression. But it is rarely talked about.
I tried many things to get rid of the depression — sleeping, fasting, and prayer, talking to friends, and listening to motivational talks and sermons. I went to see a counselor. My goal was to get rid of depression so that I could return to living a normal life. In God in the Dark, author Luci Shaw writes, “A common misinterpretation of the healthy on the sick is that wellness is a matter of choice and decision.” I wanted to choose not to be depressed, but it wasn’t up to me.
Gifts of depression
During one of my winter seasons, my mentor recommended a book by Parker Palmer entitled Let Your Life Speak. In this book, Palmer asks the question, “What if you viewed depression not as an enemy seeking to hurt you, but as a friend that brings you gifts?” This challenged my thinking and perspective on depression.
Realizing that depression was a friend instead of an enemy, a guest instead of an intruder, allowed me to embrace my depression and realize the gifts that this companion brought.
- Depression has helped take away my belief that I am valued because I am productive. One of my biggest struggles was that my work productivity decreased significantly when I was depressed. This led me to feel very guilty because my worth was tied to my productivity. I struggled with the tension of being unproductive and believing the voice of God telling me that I am valued and loved unconditionally. In a world that often tells us that our value comes from what we can do and produce, this lesson was very valuable.
- Depression helped me become more authentic and vulnerable. As long as I can remember, I gained a lot of my value and worth from how people viewed me. When I became depressed, I was forced to reach out to the people around me for help. I chose to show them the dark parts of me and was surprised to be accepted and loved in spite of my weaknesses.
- Depression has taught me to trust my gut. I am a thinker, and I like to think through every decision and see all the angles. This often causes me to think in circles and confuse myself, especially with major life decisions. I discovered that one trigger for my depression was the fear of making the wrong decision with major life decisions. God has taught me that it is okay to trust my “gut”, my “heart”, and the Holy Spirit’s promptings without necessarily having to understand the logic behind it.
- Depression has grown humility in me. My times of depression were very difficult. I came to understand my own limits and learn to accept them. Going through depression has also helped me to be more empathetic toward others going through hard times.
- Depression has allowed me to see God’s goodness in the midst of dark times. I often wondered where God was and why this was happening. But after the depression has lifted, I began identifying the good things that God gave me during those difficult times. I had to admit that I am still afraid of going through depression again (or other difficult times). But to experience that God can bring much good out of dark times takes away some fear of future suffering.
- Depression has prompted me to dig deeper and uncover the roots of my depression, allowing me to understand myself better. The first few times I went through depression, I was not mature enough to know what to do, so I mostly suffered through it alone. During my fourth bout of depression, I finally started seeing a counselor to help me. This process was very helpful as it prompted me to dig deeper and uncover the roots of my depression, instead of just hoping it would pass and never come back. Depression prompted necessary change in my life.
Helping a friend who is depressed
While I was going through depression, I came across many people that tried to help. Most would give me advice and suggestions of what I could do to “get better” or “feel better.” Sometimes I appreciated their concern, but most of the time I would only become more frustrated because I had tried everything they had suggested. (The worst piece of advice I have ever gotten was just not to be depressed. I wanted to punch the guy in the face). Looking back, I’ve come to the realization that although people want to help, many do not know how.
If you’d like to be of help to a friend or family member that is going through depression, here are my suggestions:
- Don’t give advice easily. Giving fast advice makes it sound like the solution is easy and undermines the suffering the person is going through. I have made this mistake far too many times.
- Listen and affirm their feelings. One of the best things my wife did for me when I was going through depression was to listen. Sometimes I felt like a broken record because all I seemed to talk about was how down I felt. When Olive listened to me, I began feeling like my emotions were legitimate and that I wasn’t crazy to feel this way.
- Wait with them. Dr. Sharon Smith, an expert in mental health, says the best thing to do to help someone going through depression is to wait with him or her. It is like sitting beside them in the dark, waiting for the sun to rise.
Are you in the midst of a depression? Our mentors are available to talk about anything.
Here are some resources on depression I have found helpful:
Spiritual Rhythm: Being with Jesus every Season of the Soul by Mark Buchanan Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation by Parker Palmer God in the Dark: Through Grief and Beyond by Luci Shaw Leading on Empty: Refilling Your Tank and Renewing Your Passion by Wayne Cordeiro