Some months ago, I had a bout of depression. Only I didn’t fully realize it until the bout was fully over.
I had had some stresses and disappointments fall into my lap as the fall season settled in and the days got shorter and darker and colder (which never helps when it comes to matters of mood). But, I made up my mind to manage it like the Gilmore girls – wallow for a weekend and move on. Then, one weekend of oversleeping and binge-watching Netflix and binge-eating my now trademark brownie in a mug turned into one week, then two, then a month, and so on.
I remember talking to a pastor friend in his office one day and crying (which is weird, because I’m not a crier) and saying, “I’m not interested in anything lately. Not work, not church, not reading, nothing. And that’s terrifying.”
It’s terrifying to know that you feel 100% not like yourself. That, on the contrary, a lazy, lifeless alien seems to have taken up residence within you.
As soon as I identified this particular terror, my pastor friend replied matter-of-factly: “You’re depressed.” And, even though I’ve known for years that I have chronic depression and know the symptoms and know some of the triggers, this simple statement surprised me. It may always be jarring to have someone stop and see your condition for what it really is and say so.
“I mean, don’t get me wrong,” I said defensively, “I’m still going to work and church and all. I’m doing what I’ve gotta do.” (This is sometimes called high-functioning depression, I’ve learned.)
He shook his head. “I don’t want to see you just surviving. I want us to get you thriving.”
We wondered together for a few minutes what it would take to get me thriving. And I wonder now, from the other side of the depression, what in fact it took to get me thriving – as I have been, gratefully, for months now – and what it could take for others like me and maybe like you to get through this too.
From the other side, I see that, as St. Augustine writes in his Confessions: “Time does not stand still, nor are the rolling seasons useless to us, for they work wonders in our minds. They came and went from day to day, and by their coming and going implanted in me other hopes and other memories. Little by little they sent me toward things that had earlier delighted me, and before these my sorrow began to give ground.”
From the other side, I see that at least three things stand in the valley between me and my depression like great, calm shields.
From the other side, I see purpose peeking through in the work God has called me to do. Purpose in the co-workers or clients or customers I could meet, the goods and services we could exchange, the relationships we could form, the daily little impacts we could make on the world, the bits of beauty we could build in the world.
I see people who love me and are loved by me. People like the pastor friend who let me cry in his office. The therapist who asked annoying questions and got on my nerves but helped a little, I have to admit. The housemates who patiently lived with Depression for a couple months – and even made her laugh sometimes – rather than living with their usual roommate. In that passage from Augustine’s Confessions that I just quoted, it’s rather hard to tell (at least in English translations) what “they” refers to. It comes in the context of Augustine talking quite a bit about the consolation he received from friends, a consolation that helped him through a time of great grief. And I would agree with him that friends “came and went from day to day, and by their coming and going implanted in me other hopes and other memories.” They reminded me who I am, what I love, what I hope for – and even, when hope seemed hard for me, what they hoped for me.
Finally, from the other side of depression, I see prayer happening. Prayers of others carrying me through, whether I realized it or not (because most of the time I didn’t realize it). Prayers of the saints who wrote the psalter and the Book of Common Prayer and heavy, pleading Advent hymns like “O Come, O Come Immanuel” that helped me plead for Christ’s presence right along with them. And, finally, prayers of my own sneaking slowly back into the sleepless nights and the sleepy mornings, the healing of Lent and the healed-ness of Easter – seasons that quite literally paralleled the progression of my depression this year.
As Donald Miller says in A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, “it’s as though God is saying, ‘Write a good story, take somebody with you, and let me help.’”
If you or someone you know lives with depression, if you’re right in the thick of it and can’t even fathom the other side, hear that with me: Find purpose in your story. Take people with you. And let God help.
From the other side of depression, I promise: It will get better. It takes time. But it will get better.