Depression is a thief. Depression robs us of happiness, life, joy, excitement, relationships, hope, health, creativity, desire, companionship, memory and love. For many people who do not live with depression this may sound somewhat extreme, but for those who do live with depression it is their reality.
One of the major problems for those who live with depression is that very few people understand what it means to be so low that one no longer enjoys life like they used to. Many do not understand what it is like to have no energy, no interest, and no joy. Many people do not know what it is like to wake up every day knowing that every action, from morning shower to bedtime, with no enthusiasm, no energy, will require constant effort. Many people do not realize that living with depression is like walking through treacle from morning to night. Living itself becomes very hard work.
This is why the person living with depression will be told to “perk up”. They will be constantly told that they have nothing to be depressed about. “Why don’t you just pull yourself together?” “All they need is a good kick in the backside and told to get over it”. It is assumed that all of the wonderful things around them should be enough to bring them happiness never ending.
The reality is that depression cannot be overcome with trite instruction, objects or money. Depression is one of the things that makes its own demands, and without appropriate attention will consume an entire life. It is a thief.
Far too often people with depression will withdraw from friends and family. Sadly it also happens that families and friends will withdraw from them because they do not understand the sickness that has overtaken someone they love.
A friend with a broken leg usually has an exciting story to tell. They broke it playing football! They broke their leg when they fell off the skis in the snow! They broke their leg when the bull trapped them in the cattle yards. Of course part of the excitement of a broken leg is that everyone who visits can write a message on the plaster cast. We can be entertained for hours as we attempt to interpret the sometimes obscure messages written hastily with a permanent marker or ball point pen.
How do you sign depression? How do you leave a humorous message so that everyone who follows will be suitably entertained? The answer is that you cannot. Far too often the person living with depression is progressively isolated. Visiting becomes too hard. There is no happiness or foolishness when we meet. Sometimes there is no conversation at all.
Depression is just the same as a broken leg, or diabetes, or pancreatitis, or the flu, or any number of sicknesses that are socially acceptable. It is a sickness that can be treated with appropriate medication. Depression is a chemical imbalance in the brain. Appropriate medication can redress this imbalance and bring healing to the one who lives with depression. It may be a short-term or a long-term medication regime, but like all sicknesses, there are valid treatments available. Of course there will be people who will encourage us to pray for healing. “Divine healing can be yours if you pray”.
Divine healing can also be accomplished through medication. We happily consume antibiotics for an infection. We swallow a vast array of pills and potions for a cold. “Soldier on!” We consume medication for high blood pressure and other blood related illnesses. However, when it comes to mental disorders such as depression some think it to be a sign of a lack of faith to rely on medication.
While we are encouraged to take pills and potions for minor ailments we are encouraged by some people to think that only faith can heal mental health disorders. Too often we hear accounts of how a person with a mental health illness is told to throw away their medication and to trust in God for healing. When the medication has permitted the person to live a normal life up to that point such an instruction is inappropriate in the extreme. It can be dangerous for the health of the person who is sick, and hazardous for those around them.
Of course the person giving the advice has nothing to lose. If divine healing does not happen the person is told that their faith is not strong enough. “If your faith was strong enough you would be healed. You have not been healed so your faith is not strong enough”.
This becomes a double whammy for the person with the mental health disorder. At a vulnerable time they are stripped of everything that helps them. They lose out on medication and they lose out on faith. People who have been thus abused can lose years of their life while major efforts are made to bring chemical balance back into their lives.
Divine healing is to be made at one with God. It is to be content with who and what we are. It is to recognize that all illness is a part of life and at times, death. And yes from time to time we will witness healing that can only be called miraculous. It is healing that will beggar the minds of the medical establishment. Our God is a generous and loving God, so it stands to reason that this can happen. However we are foolish if we think that we can force God to heal.
After all, when we are laying in our bed with our leg wrapped in plaster do we think that anything more miraculous than the progressive healing will take place. Do we think that the day after the plaster has set we can say a prayer and throw the cast off and walk away? Of course not! Why then do we assume that with mental illness we can cast off the medication and be perfectly normal in an instant?
It is more important to say our prayers, give thanks for life, and for the healing which can take place in our bodies and minds. While we are praying we can also give thanks for medication, knowledge of healing, doctors and nursing staff, and give thanks to God for revealing this knowledge, skill and compassion to us. This is a far better option than withdrawing from life and allowing depression to rob us blind.
Fr Adrian Stephens
2 Replies to “5. Living with Depression”
Hi Father Stephens,
I completely agree. I have just started to take medication for depression this week after being off it for over a year. I wanted to try to come off the medication – to see if I really needed it. Well, my experience agrees with your description above – everything took effort, every day was difficult, most of my thinking very ‘negative’. I finally realised that if I didn’t need to suffer needlessly, then I shouldn’t.
I don’t know why I am not healed yet. I do know that the Lord has a plan for my life and an order in which He will complete that plan. Perhaps healing will come later, perhaps not. I do know now that I can survive without the medication, but life is much, much easier with it!
I came across this website looking for a church, but also enjoyed your encouraging letter.
Thank you Father Stephens.