In casual, everyday conversation, depression serves as a good synonym for sadness. In this sense, it’s simply a mood state we all experience from time to time, typically after we’ve brushed up against one of life’s inevitable setbacks or disappointments. For example, I’ve heard people say they were depressed after watching their favorite team lose a big game, or even after ripping a hole in a good pair of blue jeans. Such “depression” doesn’t last for long, and it rarely affects our ability to function.
In a clinical context, however, the word has a radically different meaning. It refers to a profoundly debilitating form of mental illness. (The precise diagnostic label is major depressive disorder, but most clinicians simply call it depression for short.) It’s a syndrome that deprives people of their energy, sleep, concentration, joy, confidence, memory, sex drive – their ability to love and work and play. It can even rob them of their will to live. Over time, depression damages the brain and wreaks havoc on the body. It’s a treacherous illness – a shudder-inducing foe that no one in their right mind would ever take lightly, certainly not if they understood the disorder’s capacity to destroy life.
Stephen Ilardi, The Depression Cure
I’ve carried depression as part of my story for twenty years now, beginning with a major depressive episode, then settling into predictable seasonal sadness. I’ve skirted around a significant depression for almost two years, managing with oils and supplements and just believing that eventually life would settle a bit and my mind would find normal again. I wondered when that would come, when it would happen, but found a place where I was content to just wait and keep on plodding along. And then November came and I was pushed, emotionally, off of some great cliff into a darkness that still escapes description or explanation. And I wrestled for weeks, months, to grasp hold of something, anything to make sense of it all.
Mysteriously and in ways that are totally remote from normal experience, the gray drizzle of horror induced by depression takes on the quality of physical pain. But it is not an immediately identifiable pain, like that of a broken limb. It may be more accurate to say that despair, owing to some evil trick played upon the sick brain by the inhabiting psyche, comes to resemble the diabolical discomfort of being imprisoned in a fiercely overheated room. And because no breeze stirs this caldron, because there is no escape from the smothering confinement, it is entirely natural that the victim begins to think ceaselessly of oblivion.
William Styron, Darkness Visible
And that’s where I found myself as February wrapped up and March entered in. Every time I thought I was making progress, gaining a foothold, getting on top of the wave that was this drowning depression, it was as if someone would come and physically shove me back under, to the bottom. Until I could fight no more.
I felt like a pawn in someone else’s game. I had prayed with no response. I had asked God to show me what sin or error might have put me here. Silence. I asked others to pray for me. Relief, then back under. So finally I surrendered. I was going to sit in that pit until God came back to get me. I had enough faith left to believe that He would. Eventually. When He was finished with whatever chapter of this story He was writing. And so I would sit. Because I couldn’t strive anymore.
It is not trying that is ever going to bring us home. All this trying leads up to the vital moment at which you turn to God and say, “You must do this. I can’t.”
I was angry with God. So angry. I was empty and defeated. I had no kind words to say to Him or about Him. I felt completely abandoned. I felt like He had turned His back on me. I truly didn’t know if I could continue to trust a God who played people like chess pieces, who allowed broken hearts and broken lives. Who allowed devastation around the world and in my own home. It was all too much to bear.
Betrayed. My stomach turns at the word. I remember vividly when someone I loved dearly and deeply turned into an enemy. There was a proverbial knife in my back and I was hurt, angry, and aching. I wonder how many of you have walked through betrayal. It is awful. You’re powerless to stop the pain and you keep wishing in vain that it could somehow be a different story.
Jesus wished it could be a different story, too. Just before this scene in Mark where He is betrayed by Judas and arrested, He was in a garden on his knees in deep distress, begging His Father to take the cup (Mark 14:35). Jesus knew what was coming and that it would feel unbearable. He’d asked His three dearest friends on earth to pray for Him, too—but three times, He comes to find them asleep. In His deepest hour of need, dreading what lies before Him, His friends can’t even keep their eyes open.
Son of Man, Son of God, Living Word—betrayed for our sake. He drinks the cup of death that we deserve, so that our cups might overflow.
He was arrested so we could be set free.
He was deserted so we could know we’re never alone.
He was betrayed so we could be held in the arms of Love.
Ellie Holcomb, She Reads Truth
And while I sat in that pit, Jesus was writing a different story, a deeper story. He was writing the only thing He knows to write – redemption. While I wrestled and strived with God, Jesus began a miracle work of healing and restoration. Because He knows what it is to have God turn His back on you. As He prayed in the Garden and all His friends slept, and then ran away. As He hung on that cross and God turned His own broken heart away for the sin Christ bore…..Jesus knew what it was to be completely alone in the darkest place imaginable.
Restoration is not complete. While I can see the daylight now and I sit on warmer ground, I still sit. And I can see that pit not too far behind me. I spend every minute of every day literally “taking every thought captive”, practicing the things I’m learning to prevent the downward spiral that seems to be second nature right now. I know one hard shove is all it will take to land back at the bottom. And it terrifies me. So I guard my heart and my thoughts with all vigilance.
Sometimes we don’t understand the things that happen to us. Sometimes the hard things in our life are part of a story God is writing in someone else’s life. But sometimes He gives us the opportunity to choose the direction the story will go. I thought this winter would cost me everything – my mind, my marriage, my family, my faith. I had nothing to hold on to. God allowed that. And that’s still hard to rest in. But God has allowed other dark seasons in my life, seasons that I also thought would cost me everything – right down to my life. But He wasn’t finished writing. And He isn’t still. As a writer, I understand that stories often take unexpected and painful turns, and if our characters were humans with free will, they would no doubt rail against the author in anger and confusion. And while human authors write countless different stories with good and bad endings, my God only writes one kind of ending in the lives of His children – restoration and redemption. Truth, beauty, and hope. He will restore what the locust has eaten. He will redeem. He will make all things new.
I’ve always been fairly transparent about my battle with depression because it’s part of my story. To hide it would be to hide what God is doing in my life. And to hide it would give it more power. Speaking it makes it less terrifying and gives freedom and courage to others who need to tell their story too.
God is big and mysterious and His ways are higher, and often harder, than our ways. And sometimes that’s scary and confusing and hard to swallow. But He is good. And He is true. And when I had lost almost all faith, that is what I clung to. I knew He had a better plan, no matter what this plan cost me, this was not all He had for my life. And no matter where you are today, God’s not finished. And, yes, that sounds so cliche and I’m so weary of Christian cliches and you are too, but some are true. And when you are in that pit, truth, real truth, God’s truth, is what must be held to, even when it seems dead and untrue and you feel completely forsaken. You are not alone. Somewhere, somehow, Jesus is writing redemption. Just sit down and wait. He will come for you.
For His Glory ~