Reflection upon depression

As an undergraduate student I began talking with a counselor about the painful experiences I had growing up.  As hard as it was to talk about them and deal with feeling depressed from time to time, it was helping me.  When I went to graduate school however, I found myself upset over very insignificant things; a perfect example of this came from a friend of mine who found her mom crying in front of the open freezer because she couldn’t decide what vegetable to make for dinner.  I was encouraged to see a doctor about it, but was too afraid to; I was afraid to be ‘sick’ but I was also afraid the doctor would say I was fine and to just  “keep keepin’ on”. 

I had a difficult time with serious topics.  Attending church and being with hope-filled Christians especially  made me feel alone. I feared judgment and shame as a believer and as a person preparing for ministry.  But I couldn’t care anymore; apathy had set in as a numbing agent.  I didn’t see suicide as an option, not because I was against it; those things weren’t registering at that time anyway. It was because I was so fearful of the physical pain.  When I heard of someone who attempted suicide, I actually saw them as courageous in a way.       

As you can imagine, any advice to cling to God, or know God loved me seemed to be phony and untrue.  I was angry with God and thought life was a cruel joke inflicted upon us. To truly be with me one would have to sit in the pain with me, and I don’t blame anyone for not wanting to do such a hard thing.  However, a couple of friends helped me a great deal by doing just that.  One told me she thought it was good that I was finally letting myself be sad.  Another friend simply told me she was worried about me.  They didn’t try to make me laugh or tell me it would pass.  They didn’t offer those trite or faithful platitudes I would have used before experiencing this for myself. 

What they did was listen and respond to what I said, not asking me to be where they (and I!) wished I would be.  Having someone listen to you well brings more healing than ‘cheering someone up’ for awhile will ever do (many people will try so they won’t disappoint you but it just makes them feel even more alone and misunderstood later). I will never forget those two friends and how they helped me without knowing if they were saying the “right thing” or not.  

We often talk about needing our experiences of suffering to mean something so they are not ‘in vain’. For me, I do not believe that my depression was given to me for a reason, but because we have a God like our God, I have been able to turn it around to receive great healing. When I am able to use my story to help others or understand my own problems better, I have an experience of redemption I can scarcely live without. I think this is my theology of the cross too-God didn’t want Jesus to be crucified but God was sure going to do something with it–redemption, healing, and of course, salvation.   

 

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About Lauren Ivory

Lauren Ivory is a hospital chaplain working on Chicago's diverse north side. After receiving her Master of Divinity degree at Aquinas Institute of Theology in St. Louis, MO she went on for further hospital ministry training at the Cleveland Clinic of Ohio. On the side, she enjoys helping couples plan wedding/commitment ceremonies and works with couples as a certified premarital guidance counselor.

8 thoughts on “Reflection upon depression

  1. I have a similar theology of the cross, and also similar experiences with depression. Like you, I don’t think God “wanted” me to struggle with depression, but because I did, I was able to take away a lot of graces. It made me more open-hearted, and less quick to judge. I’ll be the last person to tell someone struggling with depression or other mental illness to just “get over it.” I have a lot of respect for the friends who stuck it out with you; I can remember one friend who also helped me get through. I think it’s so much better to risk saying “the wrong thing” than to say nothing at all when someone you love is suffering, but often we’re so afraid of saying the wrong thing that we avoid the pain our loved ones most need to address. Thanks for sharing such personal reflections.

  2. It’s good that you can use your experience to help others. This fallen world in which we live creates so much brokenness and despair.

    What awesome friends to show the love of Christ by just sitting with you and listening. That is the definition of compassion–to suffer beside and with another. That is who Christ is. When He saw hurting people, He had compassion on them. He spent time with them. He listened to their story. He tested their readiness for healing. Then He healed them (and still does). He doesn’t tell us to “get over it” or just try to cheer us up. He suffers with us and for us. He is near to the broken hearted.

    This false belief that we should just “get over it” or that we can simply cheer people up, make them smile or laugh and that will take away their problems only compounds the damage. Though many resort to that because they don’t know what else to say or do, in many cases, it’s downright abusive. It’s one thing to provide hope. It’s quite another to invalidate one’s experience.

    Thank God for His mercy, for the cross, and for His enduring love…

  3. I know that people don’t mean it, but you are right econmommy, we must try and avoid invalidating one’s experiences. And realize that true clinical depression is not about just having problems, it is a chemical imbalance. Like my example of my friend’s mom, we can be sad about things that just don’t make sense and arent because life is so bad for us–money doesn’t bring happiness sort of thing. When I had clinical depression, I had everything going for me if you will-great friends, roof over my head, scholarship to grad school, fairly good health, etc.

    My bias is that clinical depression can only be “fixed”, in large part, by either medicine, herbs and diet changes, etc. Basically some sort of intervention other than trying to change one’s mood.

  4. Thank you for this and thanks for getting all comfy and personal. I think the problem with friends trying to change your mood is that they can also take on your problems as their own and try to fix the problem, thus wearing themselves out — and making you feel like a horrible friend. As someone who has struggled with depression, I think that mood changing can and has helped me — but I have to find the mood — it can’t be forced. Still, I’m a big believer in self-affirmations and lots of self-care to work on the mood. I believe that depression can have a chemical component, but there was a mood element as well — and that depression can happen to anyone, regardless of level of privilege.

  5. Thank-you for sharing, Lauren. This was a very powerful and moving post, and obviously many share your reality. Mental Health can be so hard to maintain, and since people can’t see the “injury” they often think that it doesn’t exist. Your witness helps people realize that depression does exist and that with time, support and help, people can learn to live a healthy life even with depression.

  6. Ugh. I’ve got to share my frustrations that I have a patient right now whose depressed, and I thought I would know how to respond to him and his concerns well because of my own experience, but its not working!! This poor guy, I don’t know what to say to him. Everything I try he responds with something like, that’s nice of you but it doesnt help. And he even said my talking about how the normal platitudes don’t help was even a platitude in his mind. ugh. And its not like him, he’s usually very gracious in conversation but the past few months have been hard on him. So I understand but I want so much to say something right, like my two friends did for me, to somehow make him feel less alone. Ugh, I’ll say it again!

  7. Lauren, just sit and listen. I know we want to try and offer words, but we know well, that there rarely words that will help. Sometimes the best words to offer are something like, “I don’t know what to say, but I care and I’m here with you.”

    Something I learned in my clergy training is that asking questions that require thought helps us to move out of the emotional state and become more cognitive/rational. It’s not a “fix-it”, but it can help when people are “stuck” in the emotion, to help them move forward. (Careful not to overuse it to the point it becomes a barrier to properly processing emotions, or just irritates the person.)

    Perhaps a question like “What do you need most right now?” could help things along. It gets the person to think about what’s lacking and what might fill the void. It also lets them know that you’re there to help and to listen, not to offer, or in some cases dump, words or platitudes on them.

    You said what’s key in your comment, “to somehow make him feel less alone.” That’s what he needs, to know he’s not alone.

  8. Thanks for the ideas Econmommy. I felt like I tried all of that (asking questions to make him think, asking what he needs most, I don’t know what to say, etc.) but its possible that sometimes someone is in such despair nothing is going to work at the moment. I talked with a co worker who has a masters in counseling and he said it sounds like I’m being more parental than professional, probably because I care about him so. We deal with a fine line in my work because we want to extend empathy and caring, but not get wrapped up.

    But the good news is that today my patient had a visit from a good friend and it really made him feel good. Yea for friends!

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