The idea of a depressed Christian used to seem like an oxymoron to me. Why would anyone who is a Christian be sad? I wondered. If a person really were a Christian, they should be able to remember all Christ had done for them, I figured. We really have no reason to be sad, let alone wallow in depression or sink into some lethargic sadness. People like that just need a better relationship with God, I thought. They probably didn’t pray the right way or didn’t even try to get anything out of their Bibles.
There just was no reason to be depressed—Christ has all the hope, joy and peace any person could ever need. It was such a foreign concept for me to understand; yet little did I know, this very problem was fermenting in my own head.
I always heard stories of believers who were depressed. I didn’t understand them or know how to start talking to them. I got some coffee one night with a friend from Germany and learned he wasn’t going to finish his semester at college. His grades were terrible, and he didn’t know what to do. He couldn’t fix them, so he was going to leave. Then he told me he was seeing a counselor for depression.
I was stumped. I told him I’d pray for him because I didn’t know what else to do.
Then there was another guy I knew on my floor at school who was in a similar situation. He hadn’t been doing well and was on academic probation. He told me he got behind because of depression.
Over my years at college, I would come to know many more people who dealt with depression. A statistic began to form as people left every semester either because depression killed their grades or they couldn’t recuperate from this disease while at school. The foreign concept didn’t seem so far away because people I knew and was friends with were suffering and introducing me to what depression really was.
As I became more familiar with depression, I saw how much it affects people and how much it can destroy a life. I saw how people lose all motivation for accomplishing anything or for trying to fix anything. I took notice of their outward symptoms, but was still clueless as to what the inner causes were. But I would soon know these inner causes, because they were slowly coming to a boil inside me.
I began feeling numb to more aspects of life. Small disappointments and unmet standards of spirituality started to accumulate in my daily life. Things just weren’t working, and I would constantly be frustrated with school, church or people. Soon, depression grew like a tumor in my brain, keeping me from functioning and even recognizing that I was slipping into an actual clinical depression that would last two years.
I didn’t know I was depressed; I had no idea what that was like. I just knew time seemed to move much slower and existing just took forever. I didn’t realize I was now one of those people whom I couldn’t comprehend. I was the person who I used to look down upon because I didn’t understand them.
I used to think that depressed people weren’t as spiritually strong because they might have given in too easily to their thoughts or because they didn’t trust enough in God. What I would soon realize is that depressed people are quite the opposite. Many are bastions of faith who have to struggle twice as hard to have any fellowship with God. They are often more reliant on God because they have nothing left to rely on; depression has stripped them of any crutch that would work as a substitute.
There’s no comfort in relationships, no consolation to be had from a good speech or sermon, and not much to believe in or hope for. Worship becomes no more than ink arranged on paper and empty, familiar words spoken with no emotion. There are the countless hours spent wondering what’s wrong with you and why you can’t just be like everyone else?
Depressed people also usually have a keen intellect and critical mind that detects counterfeit or superficial attempts at spirituality. They know this because they’ve tried just thinking positively or wishing they were a better warrior for God and have come up short. Their normally healthy mind can drive itself into despair, can let itself wallow in sadness and even produce thoughts of suicide.
After a year and a half of living as a depressed Christian, the unfathomable became poignantly clear. I was depressed.
I knew what it felt like to not know where God is and to not know how to fix anything in your life. I knew how it felt to be the recipient of the sometimes hollow and distant sympathy, “I’ll pray for you.” I knew what it was like to have no motivation to accomplish anything because I was so consumed with my own problems. I now knew what depression looked like because I could look in the mirror and truly see myself there.
Now I know how real depression is, and how real struggle is in the spiritual life. I can no longer pigeonhole people who are truly suffering as “just not that spiritual.” People who seem to be on the outside of what I think is spiritual are usually the ones who know better than to have such a category. And I can only pray that someday God will bless me enough to be like them.