How can a true Christian experience genuine depression? They must not trust God enough. They need to read their Bible more and pray more. There must be an underlying sin issue that is causing the despair. These have been my thoughts – not about other Christians, but about myself.
As a teenager I was treated for depression, but I recovered, and not long afterwards became a Christian. ‘I’m glad to be over that blip,’ I thought, ‘now on with the rest of my life, and doing this Christian thing!’ But then as a young adult I was struck out of the blue again by a depression that I couldn’t shake off. But I did – with medical help yet again. I grew up, moved on with my life, got a job, got married and began serving God in all kinds of ways. I told myself that, though I had been a Christian, I must not have been fully trusting God when I was struggling with depression. But that was done with now, and I wouldn’t fall into that again.
I am enormously thankful for all that God has done in my life, the ongoing process of transforming me into Christ’s likeness and blessing me with a huge love for God’s word, and a love of teaching it to others. I became a mother and carried on serving my family and the church, enjoying reading scripture and praying every day. But something changed.
After having a baby, depression crept in again. It stalked me this time, slowly taking over, so that I didn’t even notice it at first. Then I started to notice it but tried to ignore it. I told myself I was just being silly, or that something else was the problem. I even went to the doctor to ask for blood tests, trying to convince myself I thought I was anaemic or diabetic or something. But it kept coming.
So I read my Bible more. I prayed more. I remember going onto the NHS website and looking up ‘postnatal depression’. It talked about not bonding with your baby, about disturbed sleep, about not showering and not eating. I even asked my husband if he thought I had postnatal depression. We talked about it, and decided that I didn’t, I was just tired. After all, I was getting dinner on the table and putting the hoover round. I was even washing my hair and putting on makeup.
But it got worse. If you’ve never experienced depression, I can only describe it as living in a vacuum. I believe it feels different for everybody, but for me it was like being inside a glass box – you can see out, you can interact with others, you can carry on with daily life, but nothing really gets through. No feelings at all. For me depression wasn’t blackness but a deep, unrelenting grey that pressed in to every pore and wouldn’t let me feel anything. At my worst I can remember sitting on the sofa watching the baby cry, knowing I needed to go to him, care for him, but I just couldn’t muster the energy to do it.
But there is also a photograph of me grinning at the camera, surrounded by my family, which was taken the very next day. I remember looking at that photograph and thinking ‘that’s not how it feels’. And I kept putting up that facade. I didn’t feel like I could talk to anybody at church about it as they would tell me I needed to read my Bible more and pray more. It’s what I would have told somebody if they came to me for help. I would have wrapped it up in a more pastoral-sounding package, but that would have been the gist of it. So I kept reading my Bible loads and praying. My husband suggested that I was reading the Bible without really applying it to my life. So I tried to make sure I was doing that. But the waves of sadness just kept coming and they didn’t look like they were going away.
And yet – I wasn’t in total despair. When I stopped and thought about it, I did feel a huge hope that I would one day be in heaven. Though knowing I was utterly undeserving of it, I knew that I would get to heaven. I was completely certain of that, and I did feel joy about that. I still loved God and knew that he hadn’t abandoned me. But the depression didn’t lift. What was I doing wrong?
Nothing. Sometimes it just happens. It certainly can be the case that if we are experiencing symptoms of depression it could be because we are not walking closely with God. It could be an unresolved sin issue that we need to deal with. And we need to evaluate these areas in ourselves and those we are seeking to counsel. But that is not always the end of the matter, and I wonder if we in the church jump too quickly to those things – or that we think others will – in the same way that the rest of our culture probably jumps too quickly to taking medication.
I think it took my husband and I so long to realise that this was in fact depression because the symptoms do look like sin issues. It can look like laziness, self-centredness and fear of man. And it can be very difficult to work out what it is that is going on. Even more so because of the fact that even if a person does have depression, they are still sinful, and a diagnosis doesn’t take away their responsibility for their sin. This is why it took me so long to get help.
So what did I do? I started avoiding people because I didn’t have the energy to keep up my facade any more. I stopped going to groups. I ducked out of church as quickly as I could after the service finished. I didn’t answer the phone. Until eventually I did. I started by telling two friends I was struggling. Then I told another. Then I asked somebody at church for help. And before I knew it I had somebody helping with something practical, a few others praying for me, and somebody who came and sat with me all afternoon, phoned the doctor for me and came right in with me to speak to him.
I was prescribed antidepressants – again – and I started taking them. Within a few weeks I started to feel more like myself again. I had the energy I needed again to take care of my family and to be involved in church life once more. Where did all of this come from? From God, who provided exactly what I needed. Initially I felt like a fraud. How can I claim I’m trusting God when I’m taking medication to make me feel happy? How can I teach the Bible to others when I’m relying on tablets to do so? But that’s not being a fraud – that’s the reality of living in a fallen world.
Did I come off the antidepressants? Or am I continuing with them long term? I’m not going to say, as I don’t think that’s the point. Will I always have periods of struggling with depression? I might. Or God might heal me of this affliction for good. I don’t know. But what I do know is that God is good – whether we are weeping or rejoicing – or doing both at the same time! And the Bible is absolutely full of sinful human beings who are in the depths of despair and are praising God at the same time. So I am not alone. And I expect that some of you who are reading this know exactly what I’m talking about. So be encouraged. Praise God in the darkness. Praise him for being the light. Rejoice that one day we will be in a new creation, with new bodies that work perfectly and don’t let us down.
The writer of this post wishes to remain anonymous.