A Minister with Depression
I have depression.
I have for years. I’m told it’s a consequence of all the drugs that fried my brain and altered the chemicals whooshing around in there–I’m told. I go to a Psychiatrist. I have a counselor. I take antidepressants and anti-anxiety medication. In 2019 I will take 2,145 pills to battle my depression and anxiety.
A lot of folks view depression as a character flaw; something you should just “get over.” I wish it was that easy. I honestly have nothing I should be ‘depressed’ by. I have a great life, an amazing wife and beautiful kids I’m so proud of. I’m not homeless. I’m in good health. I have what I need and then some. It isn’t like a I have some kind of “feeling” I can turn off and on. It’s not that simple. I’ve prayed and screamed to God so often that I wish it could be like that. It isn’t.
My depression has profound impacts on my life. It makes me not want to get up. It makes me stay up late. It makes me treat my family poorly because I’m irritable. I’d rather stay home and do nothing than go out. That’s pretty hard to pull off if you’re a minister. Most days I feel like I’ve run a marathon when I haven’t even hardly done anything. I prefer quiet. I need a lot of alone time. That’s difficult when you’re a pastor.
I love my calling. I love my job. I love my church. Yet, depression still tries to strip a lot of that away. A lot of folks may misunderstand me because of my depression. I may not seem to pay attention, or I may come across as distant or rude. That’s not on purpose. Some days, it’s all I can do to just breath. I’m often irritable and snap. I promise I never want to hurt anyone, but I am not a social butterfly.
I’m not one of those ministers who can smile all the time and be friendly to everyone at a moment’s notice. Members have even told me, “You know, for a minister, you’re not too friendly.” Part of that is my introverted nature. The other is just trying to get through the day.
Sometimes I’ll forget to call you or check in if you’re going through something. Some days I might forget many things. Things you asked me to help you work through, things you asked me to research for you, or to get you something you needed.
I struggle to get up and preach on occasion because I feel so exhausted that all I want to do is go back to sleep. I struggle to pray–A LOT. Don’t misunderstand. It isn’t because I don’t believe in the power of prayer–I absolutely do! I struggle because I can’t pay attention or I’m fighting being irritable, sleepy, and groggy.
There’s a lot of undesirable effects of the medication. Forgetfulness. Nausea. Headaches. Spacey-ness. Drowsiness. Stomach issues. However, they outweigh the negatives. They also cause seeming anti-social or uncaring behaviors are not on purpose. The LAST thing I want to do is appear uncaring, inattentive, or hurtful. But understand that’s just going to happen.
I sometimes wish I could switch my depression off. I hate the feelings it brings. Sometimes it makes me doubt God, but mostly it makes me want to be alone. I love playing with my kids. I love hanging with my wife. I love my friends. But, I have depression, and sometimes, without me knowing, or despite my best efforts to fight back, it gets the best of me.
If you’re reading this and struggling with depression, know that you are not alone. Let’s get coffee. Let’s chat. But don’t suffer in silence. There are a lot of myths and stigma associated with mental health issues. There shouldn’t be. We don’t stigmatize people with high blood pressure or diabetes. Why would this be any different?
If you’re a minister and reading this, know also that you are not alone. You aren’t the only one feeling this way. We take on some of the heaviest burdens and when you add that to your own, it can be overwhelming. Talk to your doctor. Pray with your wife. Speak to your shepherds. Pray. Depression doesn’t disqualify you from the ministry. Lying about it might.
If you want to help, then bring attention to mental health in the church. Let us de-stigmatize it. Let us know that almost everyone in the room on Sunday morning (statistically) has some sort of mental illness. Let us get comfortable in sharing that and helping each other.
I want to close with a story, then a scripture. When I first became a Christian and when I was really struggling with depression and panic attacks while still experimenting and trying to find the medications that worked, I cried out to God. One night, I was so distraught and depressed, and I said, “Jesus, why aren’t you helping me? You don’t know how horrible this feels!” I had the Bible in front of me and I opened it up. This was the Scripture my eyes went to:
He [Jesus] took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee along with him, and he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.” Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.” – Matthew 26:37-39
That’s when I knew that Jesus knows. That He experienced it. He went through it. That’s why the writer of Hebrews says:
Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. – Hebrews 4:14-16
Jesus knows. And one day, I won’t have depression any more. But today I do, and I will live to help and serve those who do, and those who have anything else.
The biggest lie Satan tempts you to believe is that you are alone. You’re not. You never were. God walks with you. He hasn’t forgotten about you. He loves you. He weeps at the pain we go through. He holds us. He carries us. He is with us. He is God, and He will see us through. Don’t give up.