depression is real

candle2

I.

I began and abandoned this post a month ago. I couldn’t find the words—or the courage—to finish it. For so many reasons.

Then came the heartbreaking news of Robin Williams.

Which was quickly followed by a tsunami wave of God-awful responses from Christians, flooding the internet with harmful, ignorant, and abusive bullshit in the name of Christ.

So, it’s time to find my words and use them.

 

II.

I think I was in seventh grade when he took his life. I didn’t even know the much-older boy in my school, but I remember being deeply shaken. I remember everything growing eerily silent when we were told the news.

I had questions I didn’t even know how to ask—or who to take them to even if I did.

“Join hands. Let’s pray.”

My Christian school didn’t know how to handle all the questions. The fears. The grief. The heartache.

Understandably.

How could they? How could anyone?

But for the first time, I heard the cruel whisperings that would echo the halls of my Christian culture-bubble for years.

And they echo even still.

 

III.

The ones who say “suicide is selfish” and “if only he’d turned to Jesus” and “depression is a choice”… They simply don’t get it. They just don’t.

I know, because I used to be one of those ignorant people.

I grew up with a pull-yourself-up-by-your-own-bootstraps-of-faith kind of theology. We hid our realities behind platitudes and trite clichés and Scripture-quoting smiles.

We lived in denial, and called it faith.

We named it and claimed it, clinging to a Prosperity Gospel that of course covered even our mental and emotional health. Doctors, counselors, and antidepressants were for those who didn’t believe enough…

 

IV.

But we were never promised health, wealth, or emotional well-being in this fallen world.

All He promised was that He’d be with us.

 

V.

What I know now is this:

Depression is real. Mental illness is real.

They don’t signify weak faith. Or distance from God. Or unresolved sin.

They can’t be willed away by words of faith, hours in prayer, deliverance, repentance, prayer lines, or praise songs.

In no way am I saying God never uses those things to bring healing. But the conclusion that He only uses those things is so unbelievably damaging.

God also uses doctors, and skilled therapists, and treatment centers, and supportive community, and medication to bring balance to instability and hopeful illumination into darkness.

He made light from nothing; He can certainly make it from Prozac.

 

VI.

I know what it’s like to want out…

I’ve been there.

I understand those feelings of hopelessness that suck all the air right out of the room.

The darkness that presses in close.

The nights that are so bleak it seems as though the sun will never rise.

The depression that sits so heavily on your chest, your lungs imagine they’ll never expand again.

 

VII.

I sat on the edge of the bed and stared at the empty bottle, tears staining my cheeks.

It was only my second year on the mission field, and life had suddenly grown impossibly hard. Inescapably dark. Everything caved in, and I saw no way out. No way through.

So handful after handful, I’d swallowed, wondering to myself exactly what a full bottle of ibuprofen would do.

I spent several days vomiting relentlessly.

Everyone thought I had the flu.

I didn’t correct them.

 

VIII.

A decade later, I found myself in an even darker night of the soul. One that mercilessly persisted for years.

Clinical depression, the doctor said. Post-traumatic stress disorder.

Weighty words.

I wanted to resist them—I could hear the echoes of righteous disapproval, reminding me that I should be able to praise my way out of my funk. But I didn’t have enough fight left in me to resist.

So I learned to swallow my pride each morning along with my Prozac.

And my eyes slowly began to see the abusiveness of some of the tenets I’d held onto for so long.

 

IX.

It is devastating to me when I realize again how many still see a conflict between faith and therapy/treatment. They are not at odds with one another, but when we imagine them to be, it doesn’t eradicate depression or mental illness. It only shames us into hiding behind a mask.

When we imagine them to be at odds, it keeps us from seeking help when we need it.

And it keeps those around us from seeking the help they need too.

The Church should be an arms-wide-open safe place for the broken (and by “the broken”, I mean all of us). Instead, all too often, the Church holds stones in her hands, ready and eager to cast them at those already wounded.

 

X. 

Reaching out, getting help, taking medication, seeing a therapist… Those are not signs of weakness.

They are enormous steps of bravery. Of strength. Of courage. Of—dare I say it—faith.

Yes. Faith.

Faith that acknowledges God can work through anything.

Let’s start being known for championing these brave, faith-filled steps. We need to shake off the stigma by speaking of them more often, more boldly.

Let’s begin being more honest about our own experiences and struggles and journeys. Let’s be people and communities who are safe for masks to be dropped and brokenness to be revealed.

Let’s be those who generously lend faith and courage to our fellow comrades who might need to borrow some. In our empathy, humility, and love, let’s shine the light on the next brave step someone can take.

God made light from nothing; He can certainly make it from us.

Comments

85 Responses to “depression is real”
  1. It is so easy to feel like a failure when hard things happen in our lives and we can’t find the strength to carry on as though all is well. Your last two posts hit me with beautiful grace and power, and I’m grateful. I’m in a season right now where easy answers are elusive…but I’m trying to find the courage to trust that God is using it to bring about strength and wholeness.
    Thank you, as always, for your transparency and eloquence.

  2. I’m with you, friend. From many miles away, but with you in spirit. A friend told me of a friend who takes his anti-depressant every day and looks in the mirror and thanks God for this provision of healing. God is miraculous but He is not limited to it. Bless you!

  3. Well said, Alece! Well said.

    I love you. :-)

  4. Mark Allman
    @
    says:

    Alece,
    Although we don’t want to admit this and some never do I think we are all susceptible to falling into the darkness or being enveloped by it. I certainly know I am susceptible and have been blanketed by darkness to the extent I did not know if I’d survive it. We want to help the person when we see them bleeding but we shy away from someone whose soul bleeds.
    The stigma itself becomes part of the darkness. Another layer of shame poured upon. We should also stay away from giving opinions on subjects we know nothing about. It is easy to tell from what a person says if they have ever been fighting in or even touched by darkness. We need to come alongside each other in these battles instead of just offering meaningless advice. We need to show compassion even when we don’t understand. Extend love to those who need it most.
    My father killed himself 4 years ago and try as we might we were never able to help him find his way out of the darkness that colored his soul. I wish I had wisdom to offer Alece. I wish I knew some good answers. I don’t but I do know we have got to quit beating up those that are already beat down; stop offering ignorant solutions; and tear down the stigma that adds to the already damaged souls.
    We don’t need maps, or directions, we need journeymates.

  5. Brave, beautiful sister. Thank you for speaking truth. I am in a tough session right now, and your words bless deep.

  6. Alece, wow. How can I say this without sounding glib… I am glad you did not die! Others have said it and I agree, you are brave. I am so proud of you. Thank you for finding the words.

    Since starting to receive professional counseling last October I have become acutely aware of the false tenets to which you refer. Such a thin veneer of assumed holiness covering up denial and insecurities based in pride.

    I feel like some of this is changing as more voices, like yours, speak up, knees-knocking, about the truth. As my eyes have been opened to the superficially I grew up in I think often about a quote from Maya Angelou, “Do what you know to do. Then, when you know better, do better.”

    Grace and peace to you my friend.
    fyp

  7. Amy says:

    Love and Hugs to you, Alece. xoxo
    Last year, when I couldn’t get myself out of bed, couldn’t smile, couldn’t hope,
    It took everything in me to overcome those internal churchy roadblocks and go get help.
    Jesus brought me my light in a bottle of Zoloft. ;-)

  8. Sarah says:

    Good work, friend.

  9. Alece, thank you for sharing. Your words and what you went/go through MATTER. You speak volumes to me and/or others with similar experiences and with people in their lives going through the dark. Today, I pray you have people in your life to surround you, especially in the night and those moments. Much Love.

  10. What a timely post. You are so courageous!

    I loved this line (not that I love the reality it is speaking of):

    “The Church should be an arms-wide-open safe place for the broken (and by “the broken”, I mean all of us). Instead, all too often, the Church holds stones in her hands, ready and eager to cast them at those already wounded.”

    Just when you said “and by ‘the broken’, I mean all of us” – That IS the Church. We’re throwing stones at our own Body. The ultimate self-hatred and self-destructive behaviour, a fruit of the Church’s own depressed state. And I speak that with humility and grace and love for the Church, not accusatory and finger-pointing. When the Body attacks itself, it shows its own spiritual and emotional state.

    We pray for the beautiful, but broken Church. We pray not only for those wounded parts of the Body but also those parts that think it is healthy to destroy and attack other parts of its own Body. In medical terms that would be an auto-immune disease. In a way, this is a spiritual auto-immune condition where we feel we must somehow attack our own.

    Thank you for bringing light to this very real issue.

    Alison
    p.s. I also wrote something about some surprising realizations I have had about faith – “Your uncertainty is your qualification for faith.” –http://alisonlam.com/2013/05/frank-thoughts-on-faith/

  11. This is so beautiful friend! Thank you for your brave words. As someone who pops her Zoloft night after night to the dismay of her husband, I know a small part of what you feel.

  12. Dawn Purver says:

    Thank you Alece for finding, and for sharing your powerful and very meaningful words; I have shared what you have written on my wall, because you have articulated so well, the truth of the gospel. Thank you again.

  13. Jeremy Hilliard says:

    From someone who is currently in counselling for ways that I have theologised my pain away in the past… I loved your honest words my sister.

    • i so so so appreciate that you read and commented, jer. thank you for walking these wild and crazy roads with me… our candid convos last time i was in cape town linger with me still. and i can’t wait for round 2…

      • Jeremy Hilliard says:

        I feel proud to walk this road with you… even if it is often from the other side of the world. Looking forward to round 2!

  14. cindyholman says:

    Great article. Thank you.

  15. Melissa says:

    There are no words to tell you how I feel. It’s as if my own thoughts are written in front of me. Thank you.

  16. Nancy says:

    “We lived in denial and called it faith.”

    Amen

  17. Allyn says:

    Be happy with those who are happy, and weep with those who weep. (‭Romans‬ ‭12‬:‭15‬ NLT)

  18. As someone who struggled inside this deep pit for at least two years and didn’t go the medication route, I wonder if I would have done things differently…all that to say, it is real and I fully support those who choose to–to get help, to acknowledge it and who allow God to work through many different ways. Thank you so much for being honest with all of us.

  19. Joy Geaslen says:

    Thank you for this post. I especially like the end:

    “Let’s begin being more honest about our own experiences and struggles and journeys. Let’s be people and communities who are safe for masks to be dropped and brokenness to be revealed.
    Let’s be those who generously lend faith and courage to our fellow comrades who might need to borrow some. In our empathy, humility, and love, let’s shine the light on the next brave step someone can take.
    God made light from nothing; He can certainly make it from us.”

    I really want to be a part of making safe communities and humbly giving empathy and love. Oh, and I’m glad that those pills only made you sick. May God continue to fill you with love and courage as you shine his light in the darkness, Alece!

  20. Don says:

    Thank you. Wonderfully said. I have gone the Prozac and then Paxil route, seen therapists and taken courses to better understand myself and to accept what I have not been able to accept in myself…and depression still lurks around every corner. Ultimately, we live in a broken world and, as you said yourself, we are broken ourselves. There is a better day coming when ALL things will be made new and, until then, we do have the promise that “In Christ we are a brand new creation and all things have become new.” It does take faith to hold onto that truth when the dark night comes, the weight descends and the air is sucked out of the room. The Lord bless each and every one of you who has shared here. starting with Alece. Thank you again.

  21. Chris Vonada says:

    Alece, thanks for writing this. Having met Robin Williams personally and engaged in conversation with him, the loss was devastating to me. He had an impression on so many. Winston Churchill described depression as a “black dog” – he battled it his whole life – like so many creatives!

    Over the past few days, this quote rooted into me like no other:

    “I used to think the worst thing in life was to end up all alone. It’s not, the worst thing in life is ending up with people that make you feel all alone.” Robin Williams

    We need to keep building each other up, only focused on LOVE. I loved RW and wish I had an opportunity to have changed his world before it was too late.

    Blessing to you and all you do in His name :-)

  22. Lisa
    @
    says:

    Yes. Oh yes. and amen. The hardest decision I ever made was to first get some therapy, and second recognize that I needed medication too. It wasn’t any easier when, after a long process of weaning off the medication I realized in only a few short months that my body and brain still needed the help. And I’m thankful that help exists. And so saddened by the fact that sometimes I still feel shameful for needing it. You said it perfectly when you said you swallow your pride with your prozac each day. That’s how it feels.

    I’m so thankful that God can make light from nothing and anything.

  23. this is helpful. my husband and i were talking about it last night. neither of us have experienced depression, and my husband’s personality is very positive and very elastic; he can bounce back from anything with a good perspective. i have never been diagnosed with depression, but i’ve felt darkness and emptiness and the wish not to exist anymore, so it’s a little easier for me to understand what drives someone to that final, awful, irreversible decision. the more i read about people’s personal experience with depression, the more i’m able to understand it all and be more compassionate. so thank you for sharing your story.

  24. kaylen says:

    thank you. so much more than you can understand, thank you.

  25. Thank you for your vulnerability and courage. I have distanced myself from huge portions of the Church because of the kind of attitude you described. I’m not on Facebook and follow none of them on Twitter, so I was spared seeing a lot of those horrible comments–I just can’t take it.

    That pain, and that desperate desire to be free of it using any method possible, is one I know all too well. Recently I heard someone talk about depression who said sometimes we feel all alone in the dark and we don’t know other people are also inside our cave, because we all have our headlamps off. The best responses to Robin Williams’ suicide have been a lot of headlamps flickering on, revealing a nation of sufferers. How can Christians judge such suffering? We should be, like Jesus, simply present in it.

  26. The Mariner says:

    If I had the time — or the right — I’d buy you a beer. Unfortunately, I nor longer exist…

    • i, of course, got your “nor” reference… but what do you mean you “nor” longer exist…?

      • The Mariner says:

        “We lived in denial, and called it faith.”

        Have you ever experienced that on an intimate level? I have, and it changed me in ways I never thought possible.

        Isn’t that something? I survived my parents’ divorce, my mother’s alcoholism, my brother’s drug abuse, child abuse, my friend’s brutal murder, losing three children, three suicides of people I loved and cared for very deeply, even my father’s sudden death — and through every one of those storms, I could see the sunrise…

        …but the one thing that finally got me was being told, time and time again, that I was not welcome in a “good christian home” when it was time to celebrate the birth and resurrection of Christ, and the eloquent lie that it was for my own good because I had to pay for a sin long since forgiven. It happened all the time, too, not just at Christmas and Easter (but that was when it was most painful, especially last year because I lost an opportunity to be with my Dad).

        Now, anytime I hear somebdoy quote Scripture or I see so much as a billboard about god or jesus, I am filled with disgust because all I can think about is being treated like a second-class citizen “in the name of jesus.”

        You once said that I was “living breathing example of hope” because my faith had survived so many storms — but that guy is gone.

        He no longer exists.

  27. Denise says:

    I am so encouraged when someonelse is so honest about their jouney. I am facing 4 days on my own while my family is away. got thru 1and a half days still a long night ahead. I take it one hour at a time.I constantly pray for understanding people to be around those with panic disorder and depression. Thank you a nd bless you.

  28. Nancy says:

    I still haven’t been able to piece my own words together yet. Reading yours encourages me to keep going and to keep tapping at the keys until the words come back.

    One blog I read had a quote by a very popular women’s ministry speaker who said that “in her experience” depression & mental illness often stem from an ungrateful heart. It made me SO angry because I realized that truthfully many people ignorantly believe that as well. I vented to someone who tried to somehow smooth those words. It broke my heart. I explained as best I could the difference between sadness, disappointment, situational depression, and severe clinical depression. I told her how it feels to be able to “count your blessings”, but feel unworthy of them. I told her about the tricks that your brain plays, about the strength it takes to keep reminding yourself that God loves you and is WITH you in the ugly broken places, and how much worse it makes it when someone says that it “stems from an ungrateful heart.”

    I know that we live in a fallen world, but oh how I hope that through all of this discussion, some hearts and minds will be more tender to those suffering . . . and they will quit judging those who struggle differently than them.

  29. Melissa says:

    While I agree with every point you have made, I still have to speak up. Yes, there are those Christians out there who speak that way and treat others that way which angers me and breaks my heart, but I can’t say that I’m surrounded by any of those Christians. We cannot include every single Christian into that box.

    See, I’ve battled severe depression my entire life. I didn’t even know what I was experiencing and that it had a name. All I know is, that darkness has followed me and swallowed me since as far back as I can remember. Let’s just say that no other kids I knew thought like me or saw life like I did.

    I hit my lowest with it in 2012 where I had been drinking heavily which only encouraged the depression more. I am not diagnosed and I’m unmedicated. I don’t need doctors to tell me what I’m experiencing because I already know. I think medication is a wonderful thing for those who choose to take it. I believe that God has provided those resources for us. He already knew how broken this world would be, so He provided the plants and the intelligence here for us to help us with things such as these. For me, I chose not to take them not because I’m better than medication, but because I know myself better than anyone.

    When I began facing my own issues from my past and better understanding what happened to me and why (while intense messy and emotional prayer with God), I began receiving healing. I couldn’t afford a therapist or I would’ve gone to see one. But, again, God provided a way. Through my church, He taught me how to face the pain with Him and receive emotional healing. And I did. Am
    I depression-free? No. I will never be. But I have noticed a huge difference in my outlook on life, attitude, anxiety, depression, etc., when I sit in His presence daily bearing my heart and soul to Him even though He already knows. Just verbalizing my pain to Him somehow alleviates a lot it. He is the ultimate Healer, am I right? His word told me to come to Him if I am tired and weary, and I was, so I did. I can speak only for myself. I have no idea what will work for everyone.

    My mother (and several other family members) have PTSD and are medicated for their depression. They definitely need it. The difference between my mom results compared to theirs is, she combines her medication with therapy, group therapy, and time with God. She’s doing everything that is available to her and she’s seeing incredible results. I can say that because I witnessed the incredible change.

    So, again, while I agree with everything you said, I don’t agree that every Christian is that way nor do I believe that spending time with God won’t help. I’m walking proof.

    I appreciate what you wrote so very much though. Christians do need to be aware. I’ve noticed as of late that the Christian community has become more of the bully than the bullied in the Name of Jesus Christ. I pray that God reveals to them what they are doing.

    I apologize on their behalf if they choose to turn that anger toward you here. There’s no reason that this topic can’t be discussed maturely.

    Thank you.

    • i didn’t say (and don’t believe) that all christians think in that extremist way, that medication is the answer for everyone, or that spending time with God isn’t a help. our journeys toward wholeness are as individual and personal as our unique brokenness is…

      thank you for amplifying that even more by sharing a bit of your own story and journey here. it’s wonderful to hear of the transformations you and your mom have both experienced, through different approaches…

  30. Melissa says:

    I just re-read what I wrote and I want to correct a big typing error.

    I didn’t mean “I’m better than medication” I meant that I’m better without medication. I’ve tried it and I’m one of the few it doesn’t work for.

    Melissa

  31. I’m forever amazed at how much ignorant and narrow-minded thinking there is in the world, especially when it comes to things we don’t understand. When someone has never experienced the utter, unexplainable hopelessness that depression wraps itself up in, too many times they don’t WANT to understand it, but rather to sweep it under the rug saying, “Just buck up! Look on the bright side! Things could always be worse.”

    Unless you’re living inside my skin, my brain, you don’t know how bad things already are, so how can you say they could always be worse?

    Depression followed me a thousand miles from home when I thought moving to Florida – and changing my landscape – would change my world. It didn’t. Nor did spending thousands of dollars on “retail therapy” or having inappropriate (although not adulterous) relationships.

    Depression was waiting to “pile on” when I lost my job and my son nearly killed himself with a drug overdose, when my marriage was more painful than enjoyable, when my mom was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.

    For anyone who wonders whether or not depression is real, trust me when I say, it’s real.

    But for me, it’s a combination of faith in God and Wellbutrin that keeps me out of the darkest corners of despair and focused on another world that I can’t reach until I survive this one. And it’s a daily battle to live in a world where people would rather judge me than ask what they can do to help.

  32. Faith says:

    Amen and amen!! So well spoken, Alece!!
    My heart hurts for you…
    Sending you love and blessings and a tight hug!!

  33. Faith says:

    And thank you for sharing!!! These things need to be spoken. This was brave girl!

  34. Christina says:

    I just wanted to say THANK. YOU.

    Thank you for speaking truth into lies.
    Thank you for shining light into darkness.
    Thank you for sharing your broken heart for the healing of others.
    Thank you for using your very immense gift for words and writing to glorify Him.
    This post is perfect. So needed. So very needed.
    Thank you.
    Thank God for you.

  35. Jim Kane says:

    Alece,

    I thank you for your courage in sharing this post.

    I pray God’s blessing on you today and everyday

    Jim

  36. Eric says:

    Ignorance about diseases that affect the brain is common. That ignorance breeds fear and stigma. Spreading this fear and stigma seems to be some form of Christian duty (god-awful responses).

    I saw a blog post entitled: How to avoid slipping into Depression. Yep. Christian blog. Spiritual advice.

    Whenever I encounter this mindset, I substitute a physical disease for the mental one, as in: “How to avoid slipping into Allergic Reactions!” Woot. Eat that shellfish/peanut, you of little faith!

    If it sounds absurd, that’s only because it is.

  37. Andrea says:

    With much gratitude I wrote this. Gratitude for the truth that is spoken so beautifully through this raw, honest post. I love you for writing this and giving a voice and -strength- to those who haven’t had a voice. It’s not a sign of weakness at all to put your hand up and ask for help. Thank you.

  38. Alece,

    I’ve come across your blog posts off and on through various sites and always appreciated your honesty. I ached with you across the internet years ago when you told your painful story about your husband. Then time passed and I lost your last name and your site.

    Tonight as I was reading your mom’s blog she mentioned your name, and I remember you and your voice. I am happy to have found your site again.

    Re depression and mental health in general… yes, there should be no stigma in people having the courage to seek help, to use meds, and to get wise counsel. We are emotional, mental, spiritual, and psychological beings with varied needs. I am thankful for wise counselors and agencies, and the freeing grace that is creeping in more and more into people’s awarenesses and experiences in the western church.

    Warmly,
    Jennifer Dougan
    http://www.jenniferdougan.com

  39. Betty Draper says:

    I have my spiritual white hankie out and my heart is saying, preach it sister, preach it. Great post.

  40. Amy says:

    …such a brave, honest, vulnerable & needed post. Thank you for sharing your heart in the way that you do… {hugs, kitty.}

  41. Thank you for sharing these words. Because they hit so close to home and as I struggle to put my own thoughts and emotions into words regarding my personal struggle i find comfort in these words. Thank you.

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