Occupation: Depression – Thoughts on Faith and Mental Illness

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Photo credit: Denver Post

I’d like to dedicate today’s piece to all of the doctors and health care workers who take the time to treat the WHOLE patient. Not all heroes wear capes. You know who you are ❤

 

By: Jana Greene

Here’s what today’s blog post is not going to be about: Snapping Out of It.

Snapping Out of It is the ugly cousin of Just Get Over It, who is a third cousin twice removed to This Too Shall Pass. There would be no point in snapping out of or getting over something that isn’t going to pass. Know what I mean?

I am not only a recipient of these sentiments, I have – at various times – been the advisor. I never meant to be curt with anyone, but from where I was sitting in my own woe-is-me-pod, some other depressed people had it pretty cushy, honestly.

You went to Disney World twice last year. You drive a car with working air conditioning. You are physically healthy. Your children are little full-ride scholarship, carved-out-of-cream-cheese, ministry workers who worship our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Oh my God, what more do you WANT!? Why are so SAD!? STOP IT. JUST STOP BEING SAD.

Except that depression is the very definition of subjective-ness. (I once was the lady who went to Disney World twice every year, and eventually nearly drank myself to death anyway.)

Here’s what this blog piece IS about: What depression feels like. I am SO hoping that many of you respond with how it effects YOUR life so that we can interact. It’s such an important subject.

You are already whole in Christ! 

Yes. But I feel like a whole lot of hurt. And that’s just the truth. Maybe if I had normal brain chemistry, I would grasp this wholeness in a more useful and fulfilling way!

That I struggle doesn’t mean my faith is janky.  It might mean my chemicals keep me from realizing the beautiful truths that seem to come so easily to others.

I’ve recently become more proactive in improving my mental state. I am currently in therapy to try to slay old, fermented demons from childhood forward, because you cannot slay and deny the demons simultaneously. Oh, and it would be nice not to have nightmares nearly every night.

I’m doing self-care. It’s a work in progress.

I know a perfectly lovely woman with cerebral palsy. To watch her worship is how I totally envision perfect praise. Her movements may be jerky, she may stumble at times, but I have NEVER seen more genuine worship than that by my friend.

Is she a child of a lesser god because she isn’t in perfect health? Oh COURSE NOT.

Mental illness is no different.

Depression can be *&%^$#@! organic and I have the lab results to prove it! I’m virtually out of stock with the serotonin. This is why God created geniuses in billowy, white lab coats (coincidence that they dress like angels? You decide) to whip up concoctions to help our bodies heal. Better living through chemistry. Yes, I would rather take some St. John’s Wort (although anything with ‘wort’ in it kind of turns me off) or slather on Snake (Essential) Oil) or chaw on some magical, organic hay that has been regurgitated by free range cows, but I don’t have time for that dangerous gamble.

I come from a long line of depressed people. And honey, I mean a LONG line. In the past four generations, many of us have started with the Gerber baby food of antidepressants (Prozac or equivalent) around 13, when hormones make us crazy. Deep despondency requires our brains get a little help.

We are almost ALL ridiculously creatively gifted. We are painters, and artists, and sculptors, and writers, and poets, musicians. (What’s the nice way to describe someone loony? Oh, “eccentric.”)

We fight hard, we love hard – there is no moderation.  If you are in my family and are not on at LEAST three medications to regulate your brain chemistry, thyroid, migraines, blood pressure, and cholesterol, step down, son. You can’t even play in the majors.

You see, we also have this quirk in which our brains do not manufacture dopamine and serotonin sufficiently. It’s hard to call it a curse, as it is directly correlated to our creativity. But it’s impossible to call it a blessing.

Depression feels dark. I’ve been sitting here trying to visualize what depression would look like if it were a person, and an image came to mind. Depression would be a coal miner. A hard-working, hard-scrabble, soot-covered man with the weight of the world (or its resources) on his shoulders.

He is in danger every single day, never sure if this will be the day a shaft collapses or any of 1,000 other mishaps might take his life. That’s the anxiety component.

He wears a helmet like some kind of gag gift – as if it could stop boulders and shaft supports from crushing him. On the helmet is a head light, but it, too, is covered in so much soot. It’s glow is minimal.

You see, there is soot everywhere. Blackness. All of his workday (and much of his life outside) he is blackened head to toe. When he goes to eat his wax-papered lunch sandwich, there are remnants of coal in his lunchbox. When he takes every breath, coal wisps into his lungs. By day’s end, only the whites of his eyes are not blackened by thick, powdery coal.

Had he any other choice, he would have a different occupation, but like so many families dealing with chemical genetic depression, it seems a simple given.

Like fighting depressive feelings, he gives his all every single day. It exhausts him, but he will get up and do it again the next day.

Cavernous darkness and a sinking feeling. That’s what it feels like to me. Depression manifests with thoughts of certain doom, ridiculously high anxiety, and in losing complete interest in anything that has ever brought me joy.  Heavy-hearted, short on hope. Praying to be delivered from the mine, and getting really pissed off at God for not rescuing me. So I cry. I do a lot of crying, but that only makes the soot sticky.

But there are those times in the hole, the black, black vortex, that I sense a miner just like me. His presence is the Comfort. That’s where faith comes in. For what I lack in serotonin, I more than make up for in camaraderie. Eventually I will take hold of the hand – also covered in soot – and allow myself to be lifted up and out. I can try to pull up others with my own sooty hands.

It isn’t that we are truly out of hope, it’s just that it’s hard to find in the darkness.

Please feel free to share your own experience with spirituality in regards to depression.

And God bless us, every one.

 

2 thoughts on “Occupation: Depression – Thoughts on Faith and Mental Illness

  1. Jana, thank you for sharing some of your journey and for the great insight you have into mental illness.
    My journey:
    The nightmares…I have had two weeks of nightly dreams that make waking and starting my day quiet a challenge.
    I don’t deal with depression as a result of chemical imbalance, my struggles come from past traumas that my brain has hidden so very well from me.
    I know I’ve had times of depression, but most of my life (what little I can recall) has been lived numb and detached, so I’m not sure if I would recognize what is depression and what is my mind numbing me out and keeping me from remembering exactly what’s causing so much pain.
    Over the last couple years anxiety has kicked in and at times it escalates to near panic. I hated it at first but now prefer that to the numb. At least I know I’m alive. And through this journey God has shown me that the anxiety is a sign that my heart is coming back to life. I’m safe now, and as a result my mind is starting to leak bits and pieces of what I experienced as a child. It’s not fun…but you can’t heal what you don’t know.
    I’ve been diagnosed with DID and PTSD. For years I let it become my identity…but as God began to show me the truth about who He is and who I am in Him I now realize it doesn’t define me, God does!
    He’s shown me ways to manage as I walk this healing journey. As the pain escalates and the anxiety surfaces or the numb settles in I invite Jesus to sit with me in it. I can’t identify where it’s coming from and for years I would fight to figure it out or just ignore it. Now, as I intentionally welcome Him to sit with me in it, I am experiencing a peace right there with the pain.
    Some days this is hard to do. Some days I just hear the voices saying “they” want to die. I know I don’t want to die but I do want the pain to stop!
    I acknowledge those voices and that pain, and I ask Jesus to go to whatever “part” of my mind that is manifesting that deep pain and do what only He can do, and I rest.
    I never know from day to day, sometimes hour to hour, what my day will look like. It can start good and at the flip of a switch go south…way south…and if it weren’t for God I don’t know how it would play out…but as God reminds me in those moments to invite Him to join me, and as I choose to believe what He says regardless of what my pain or feelings are telling me, I am lifted up…sometimes quickly, sometimes it takes awhile, but knowing I’m not alone in this has made a world of difference.
    I have a long ways to go and many memories to uncover but the overwhelming need to “know” has diminished, and I’m okay with walking this journey of “not knowing” with God. I want to remember but if He has a different plan I know His grace will be sufficient. It really will be enough because He is enough!
    I want and need Him more than I need to remember, and more than I need to heal, yet I’m finding that in His Presence there IS healing. Not always tangible or anything I can put into words, I just know something is changing and it is good!
    I look forward to reading more from you in regards to mental illness.

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  2. Oh how I understand what you are saying! Yes, feelings are not facts,, but they hurt just the same and I absolutely believe God GETS it. He understands. Growing up and having anxiety play such a major role in my childhood and life, I always kind of felt I had to be ‘up’ before I was acceptable to God, but that’s not it at all. Instead, he comes down to exactly where we are at any given moment. No lecture. No condemnation. No agenda. Just love. Praying for you,, friend. I don’t know how people who don’t know Jesus and are unfamiliar with the gospel of grace even cope with life for a DAY. God bless you (and thank you so much for taking time to read the piece.) ❤

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