Depression

by Edward Reid

I was born in the sunshine state of Florida, but for individuals grappling with depression, the brightness of such surroundings often holds little significance. Other life events, no matter how positive and significant they may appear to outsiders, can sometimes contribute to a heightened sense of loneliness for those affected by depression.

I later found that depression is marked by profound isolation and despair, making it challenging to convey to those who haven’t lived through it. It’s akin to speaking a foreign language; they struggle to comprehend the deep darkness it can plunge you into.

Growing up in an evangelical church, I believe, intensified my struggles as a youth because, even today, there are individuals within that community who perceive depression as a moral failure or attribute it to demonic attacks, which can be the case sometimes, yet not all.

As a child, I was always sensitive and felt emotions more deeply than other children, though I didn’t express that openly. I distinctly recall experiencing it hit me around the age of twelve. It was an inexplicable feeling, and at that time, I had never even heard the word “depression” or fully grasped the challenges that lay ahead for me.

It felt as though any optimistic hue of life had been forcefully stripped away, leaving behind a pervasive sense of staleness. Everything seemed void of goodness, enveloped in an intense darkness that made the concept of joy foreign to me. Despondency and mental anguish became my constant companions, even at that young age, leading me to question whether God had abandoned me or if there was a God at all.

William Cowper. Christian hymnist and poet about his depression wrote, “(I was struck) with such a dejection of spirits, as none but they who have felt the same can have the least conception of. Day and night, I was upon the rack, lying down in horror, and rising up in despair.”

His writings delve deeper into the realm of depression and the persistent shadow, often referred to as the “black dog,” that accompanies some individuals throughout their lives. They offer solace to others grappling with the condition, providing a sense of connection and reassurance that others have faced similar struggles, diminishing the feelings of isolation and hopelessness, especially for those who follow Christ – certainly when the church has failed many of them who do.

Charles Spurgeon, the world-famous preacher of the 19th century who would also suffer with depression, wrote:

 “’Ah!’ says one, I used to laugh at Mrs. So-and-so for being nervous; now that I feel the torture myself, I am sorry that I was ever hard on her.’ ‘Ah!’ says another, ‘I used to think of such-and-such a person that he must be a fool to be always in so gloomy a state of mind, but now I cannot help sinking into the same desponding frames, and oh! I would to God that I had been more kind to him!’ Yes, we should feel more for the prisoner if we knew more about the prison!’”

He would also say, “I am the subject of depression so fearful that I hope none of you ever get to such extremes of wretchedness as I go to.”

It’s a reality that many individuals fail to grasp the complexities of depression and its weighty impact until they undergo the experience themselves, particularly those prone to passing judgment – and cliché as it seems, I don’t wish this on my worst enemies.

In my circumstances, I lost interest in many activities, like sports, something I once enjoyed, seeking refuge in immersive role-playing video games, using my imagination to divert my thoughts from my predicament. While such pursuits can serve as a distraction from underlying issues, they also prove to be occasionally helpful in coping with challenges.

My parents’ approach involved only a spiritual perspective, particularly when the concept of “spiritual warfare” gained popularity in the church following the publication of “This Present Darkness.” According to this belief, every thought and action constituted a major battle between angels and demons, and one had ultimate control by faithfully working alongside the angels.

So, to them, becoming gloomy, reclusive, and non-communicative must have been because I was losing this war to the demonic side.  They sent me to a Christian counselor, which was a trial for me because I found it hard to talk or find use in their solutions. 

I don’t discount spiritual oppression or darkness caused by demonic activity.  Historically, it certainly happened in the Bible; I have felt it personally. Still, I do believe that attributing all aspects of depression, anxiety, or mental issues is unhealthy and, in many instances, can be criminal.

At one point, my parents had church members come to the house and pray and go through the house, finding what may be the impact of my depression.  Much of my music, comics, and video games were discarded.  According to the deacons that came to the house, these were my moral failures: secular, worldly materials that had opened me up to the supernatural, causing my problems.  

While this phase would eventually subside, it wouldn’t completely vanish as I had hoped and prayed for. Depression has been a persistent companion throughout my life, and this episode marks one of the initial encounters among many more that would arise, each departing at its own pace, sometimes gradually and at other times swiftly.

During this time, I was introduced to my lifelong companion, a presence I had to either navigate and adapt to or succumb to. Some have chosen the latter path, and having delved into the depths of despair myself, I abstain from passing judgment on them.  Top of Form

At least for me, we must avoid condemning others or proclaiming their destined path if they make a permanent choice.

I don’t hold Christians responsible for the challenges I faced while grappling with depression.  It’s not about blaming a religion or its followers, as many were taught to perceive depression in a certain way, and surely others suffered in silence as I did.  It’s challenging for someone to adopt a different way of thinking when their entire perspective is shaped by what they were taught.

Contrary to the way some Christians may have treated the depressed, the Bible doesn’t advocate for such attitudes. I had to discover this truth, as it often goes against what is heard in certain churches and still preached. However, observing the church’s thinking and compassion, the progress is heartening among believers. This is a testimony to the growth within the church and among fellow believers. 

“Come to me, all who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Matthew 11: 28 -30

“But they 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 40:31

Throughout all my experiences, I stayed true to my Christian faith, and I wouldn’t label myself as evangelical; I’ve forged my path by attending a non-denominational church with my family. I’ve come to recognize the importance of distinguishing between God and humans, acknowledging God’s infallibility and the human capacity for error.

However, I believe there is much progress to be made, as indicated by the content of sermons, articles, and blogs. Numerous misconceptions and misunderstandings about depression persist, and I believe a significant shift will occur when individuals personally experience its impact. This sentiment has been echoed in some of the sermons I’ve come across.

Yet there is still much to understand, and I doubt anyone will ever fully grasp the complexities of a disease that affects the heart, soul, mind, and body. It’s so insidious, debilitating, and often perplexing that many individuals can’t articulate their feelings fully. Some, at a certain point, give up trying to explain because so much is inexplicable.

Nevertheless, there are always things that friends and family members can do: be compassionate, non-judgmental, encouraging, and unwaveringly loving in their commitment to supporting the sufferer.  If they are a believer, the ones facing these challenges can do what they can, offering prayerful petitions and seeking God’s aid and will, even when they don’t understand the reason or significance behind the pain.