I have always been a creature of extremes; my sadness is deep, my anger is fiery, and my joy knows no bounds when I feel free to express it. I am at once a romantic and a cynic, a bright optimist and a crushing realist. My friends like to blame my intensity on my red hair. I wish it was that simple. In university, I was diagnosed with depression. The diagnosis answered a lot of questions, but it didn’t come with its own answer.
When I imagine Hell, I imagine it must feel a lot like depression. Dark, devoid of love, all-consuming. But I know there is a difference. I read today that the difference between Earth and Hell is the undeniable artistry and presence of God in the world around us. I would say that depression is the same. I’m a Christian living with depression, and the only way I have found to keep myself alive and hopeful is to look for those divine brushstrokes through what sometimes feel like infinite smears of black.
I have had a personal relationship with Jesus as far back as I can remember. I always loved going to church and praying before bed, reading stories from the Bible and about the saints, but the times that I remember feeling closest to God throughout my life were always times of grief.
I suppose it makes sense then, that my depression has also been a place where I have drawn near to — rather than been separated from — my God. And it explains why I would feel so defensive when told by another Christian that my depression is a sin or a sign that I am far from Him. Science tells us that while depression certainly has emotional components and all kinds of triggers,.
It’s important to remember when you’re depressed that you have purpose. That you are capable of good. That there is hope. That it’s not your fault. That you are not your mistakes or regrets. That your life is worth living and that the world is better off with you in it. But it is admittedly a challenge to remember those things all the time.
It’s especially a challenge for me because, honestly, I’m attracted to darkness. To the nighttime, to troubled and mysterious people, to sad songs and elegies. So even though there is an undeniable desire in me for the holy, for the light that I have found in Christ — sometimes it’s difficult to choose it. I’m not a dualist, but I know that within me, there rages a war between the dark and the light. And I know that the winning side will be the one I give permission. Some days, I can confidently call on the name of Jesus as my conqueror; some days, I can barely get out of bed and the battle just goes on.
A few years ago, a friend shared a verse that was on her heart for me. It is a promise of strength, that in Christ we can overcome any fear, anguish, pain, fatigue, anger, sorrow, or apathy that wants to take us over:
He gives power to the faint,
and strengthens the powerless.
Even youths will faint and be weary,
and the young will fall exhausted;
but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength,
they shall mount up with wings like eagles,
they shall run and not be weary,
they shall walk and not faint. (Isaiah 40:29-31)
My depression has helped me to connect with the life of Christ. I see how He reached out to the broken and ostracized, and so I know that there is a place for me in His heart. But it also means I can connect with the pain that He experienced. When I feel far from joy, I remember His forty days in the wilderness and His passion. If Jesus is the example of the abundant life, then we know that no version of it will be without suffering.
You don’t need to feel triumphant all the time. Jesus Christ has won this battle for you already. He knows that you will have dark days, days when it will be hard to see or feel His presence. But those are the times that it is imperative that we know who He is, and who we are in Him. In its own way, depression can be a gift. It has helped me actively give Christ permission to illuminate my life.
Jesus hasn’t made my depression go away, and, while I have hope, I don’t expect that He will make your depression go away either. He might, but I feel like it’s important that you don’t put all your chips on that (there’s the crushing realist in me). The main thing is to remember that He is the place to go when it’s hard.
Here are some practical ways that have helped me fight for Joy:
1. Talk to your doctor
I can't stress this enough, especially if you feel like you're experiencing symptoms of depression and haven't been diagnosed. Antidepressants aren't for everyone, and they might not be a permanent solution, but it's worth having the conversation with your doctor who can also connect you with a therapist.
2. Look Up, Not In
It's so easy to remain introspective when bouts of depression get bad. Make a habit of turning to God and His promises rather than dwelling on your own thoughts when things are going OK, and it will be much easier to remain grounded in Him when they get really tough.
3. Make a contract
Not everyone who lives with depression will have thoughts of suicide or self-harm, but it's best to have a plan in place should those feelings arise. Talk to at least two trusted friends or family members (in case one isn't available) about what you're going through and ask them to be a personal emergency contact. I made a verbal contract with my best friend and my mentor that I would call them any time I felt like I might hurt myself and it has been a life-saving practise I've only needed to cash in on once or twice. It might be hard or feel selfish to make this agreement, but trust me - it's not. Your friends will be glad you're giving them a chance to help you out. Make them your first call when things get scary and let them speak truth into your heart. For more emergency tips, go here.
Find a way to give back in your free time. Soup kitchens, animal shelters, and schools are always looking for people to offer the gift of their time. Nothing distracts from personal grief like giving love to others, so find something fulfilling to pour yourself into!
5. Memorize Scripture
Start with my favourite verses, Isaiah 40:29-31 and the simple but powerful Jeremiah 20:11 ("The Lord is with me like a dread warrior") and then find other verses of encouragement to uplift you in dark times.