Depression

Generally speaking, I am not an especially “sad” person. On most days, I wake up and go through my days relatively happy or at least busy. Those who do not know me well would be surprised to know that I have, for as long as I can remember, struggled with intense bouts of periodic melancholy. I hesitate to use the word “depression” because it carries the connotation of a medically or psychologically diagnosed condition. I’ve never been clinically diagnosed that way, but I would be unsurprised if such diagnosis were ever applied to me.

When I was a teenager it was not unusual for me to have episodes of intense emotional distress (i.e. weeping and/or being perpetually on the edge of tears) for hours on end, though my outer demeanor betrayed none of that and my parents were absolutely unaware that crying myself to sleep was not at all uncommon. I was rather ashamed to tell them that. Experiencing such depth of emotion seemed to me to be “weak” and I didn’t want to 1) embarrass my parents for having such a punk for a son, 2) make them feel badly for raising a son who couldn’t keep it together, or 3) admit that how terrified I was of the intensity of my own emotions.

To cope with all of this, I became outwardly a very emotionally distant person who was charming and yet in possession of a biting sarcastic wit. The painful shyness of my youth was covered up well under a veneer of impassibility and a stubborn inward decision to never be dependent on anyone. I never asked for help for anything; a habit that still persists to this day. In the leadership I rose to in college, I was extremely competent and utterly independent, but also very distant and uncompassionate to those around me. I could with no emotion whatever humiliate and crush someone who opposed me without any sense of real guilt.

Over the years, I’ve mostly matured past many of these sinful behaviors, constructed as they were to prevent me from dealing with the inward depression I periodically experienced. They will always be strong temptations to me. God has been gracious to me, and I pray he has repaired the damage I undoubtedly caused to many people through the years. Even so, I still struggle with depression, though thankfully not as in previous years. When it comes, it no longer washes over me like a tidal wave, but rather seeps in and creeps up, like a slowly rising flood slowly stripping me of desire or passion or motivation. Once it has fully come, simply getting through the day feels like a major accomplishment, though there is a grace that seems to come when I must minister to others. When that grace lifts, I rely on the discipline of obedience and steadfast trust in God to carry me through. Sometimes this barely feels like enough.

I do not write this in pity, nor in regret. I do wonder for those who have this struggle and minister to others especially how you cope with it.

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2 thoughts on “Depression

  1. elderJ: what a great post. I know this experience, I can almost taste when depression is coming on, although I relate to your last section about tidal wave vs. the seeping in. The last “tidal wave” for me was thankfully about a decade ago but it was frightening and my thoughts turned dark during that time. It was also the beginning of some of the best years of my life.

    Since then I know the “seeping in” feeling and I’ve been told that’s perfectly normal for everyone. But I’m always marked by those plunges that started all the way back in middle school.

    Hope you are well, brother

  2. awww, I’m so sorry to hear this, Joshua. 😦 You are right in that you never show a minute of weakness for someone to even consider this may be a problem.

    I too have really battled this. Especially in the last 3-4 years since I had Ransom. I’m pretty sure I struggled through post-partum depression but in the last 3 years in particular it’s taken the form of seasonal affect depression. (And you wonder why I’m always so happy to go to warm places for conferences, etc.???) 😉 The December right before the SC that I emcee’d with Greg, I hit such a horrible low I was pretty sure I wanted to end it all & ended up having to be on the phone for a hours one night on one of the depression/suicide hotlines. After that it seemed right that I begin anti-depressants. For a myriad of reasons I didn’t actually start them on a regular basis until last Fall, right at the beginning of my Sabbatical & what a difference they made. I mean, night & frickin day.

    For many many years I’ve been extremely hesitant to go on anti-depressants for mostly stupid reasons. i.e. “they are for weak people.” Or my insane thinking that because I knew what was wrong with me (my family is dysfunctional & crazy) that somehow drugs weren’t warranted.

    But there was something about ’07-’08 winter, with no good reason to feel absolutely crappy & suicidal that made me realize I didn’t need to live with slow “seep” as you call it.

    Anyway, I think I’m trying to suggest that you consider at least whether or not a low dose drug like Zoloft or something could be good for you. I’ve been off it now since last April due to my pregnancy & now that the weather is getting cold and the sun never comes out I can feel it creeping it’s ugly little head back in & has made trying to do fund-raising &/or campus work, a real beast of a job. I’m eagerly looking forward to going back on it.

    Thanks for sharing your honest thoughts about this. I wish I’d known earlier… maybe we can chat about it at the next Spring Meetings.

    Love you bro!
    -grace

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