Depression has cast a shadow on my life for about five years now. It hit its worst when I was sixteen. I thought that it would never change, that I would never get better. But then I did. And yet it stayed lurking nearby, and I could feel it coming back again last Christmas, sneaking back into my life and surrounding it with shadows.
The definition of clinical depression, according to the Mental Health Foundation, is as follows:
Depression is a common mental disorder that causes people to experience depressed mood, loss of interest or pleasure, feelings of guilt or low self-worth, disturbed sleep or appetite, low energy, and poor concentration.
– Mental Health Foundation
This definition is certainly true. And yes, it encompasses many of the feelings and experiences that depression brings. But somehow the list of symptoms just doesn’t begin to express what it means to suffer with depression.
Here is my definition of depression. Not the clinical symptoms, but what it feels like to be in the darkest valley.
Getting out of bed in the morning becomes a battle that takes up all energy for the day. Some days I just can’t find the strength to get changed. My motivation is gone before it even arrives.
Every day I find myself searching for any distraction I can to get away from the thoughts in my head. And come night time I feel so, so tired, and yet I just can’t sleep.
It feels as though it makes no difference whether or not I’m there, as though I could never be the company that someone wished for. I find myself turning every action made around me against myself. I’m so paranoid that I’m not wanted, that I shouldn’t be there. I’m caught in a downward spiral of comfort eating and guilt.
Depression to me is feeling lonely even when I know that there are so many supporting me. It’s the constant thought that I’m a burden, an unnecessary load upon the lives of those looking out for me. ‘Hopeless’ and ‘worthless’ are ever-present words in my mind.
Depression means feeling that nothing is going to change. Forgetting what it was like before. Feeling stuck, trapped, with no way out, no hope, no solution.
It may sound dramatic, but it is my daily reality, as my thoughts spiral out of control, and I feel powerless to escape the prison of my mind.
The first time that depression overwhelmed my life, I was not a Christian. I didn’t know the hope that God brings, the light he gives to those who are walking in darkness.
Before, when I had been in the depths of depression, I began to lose all hope in the world. I began to feel that everything was pointless, and that all meaning was disappearing from my life. I convinced myself that nobody would ever like me and that I, myself, was worthless.
But Jesus gave me hope.
From the moment I picked up my mum’s old bible and began to read, the darkness began to lighten. As I made my way through the pages of the Gospels, I found a more certain hope than I knew there could be. I saw that Jesus Christ gave us certain hope when He died on the cross for our sins, taking the punishment that we deserve so that we may be reconciled to God and enjoy eternal life in heaven with Him. I saw that there was a meaning to life, and it was far greater than I had ever imagined. I saw that I wasn’t worthless, because my worth is found in Him. And I saw that I was so very loved, by the One who was willing to lay down His life for me.
And yet being a Christian and suffering with depression brings some of its own challenges too. When I felt the depression coming back to me, I was plagued with the thought that ‘I shouldn’t feel like this’. I was annoyed at myself for having fallen into the darkness again. The promises of God bring certain hope and joy, so why did I feel like all the happiness in my life had been washed away? And why did I find myself hiding from God when I should have been running to Him?
One of the most challenging things to face as a Christian with depression is knowing that there is so much hope and yet not being able to feel an ounce of it.
But one thing that I must teach myself again and again, is that it really is ok to feel like I do. Through the pages of the Bible we meet people who cry out to God from this darkest valley. And He doesn’t always lift them from the pit. Instead, He comes down into the pit with them. God is close to the broken-hearted. He will not break a bruised reed. He will not snuff out a smouldering wick.
The hope and comfort that God gives to His children can be seen so very clearly in what is perhaps the most well known psalm, Psalm 23.
There is so much that this short Psalm opens up to us. But for now I would just like to focus on one verse.
Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me.
In this one verse we see God’s promise that He will never leave us and never forsake us. We see that God is our comfort, our refuge, that He waits patiently for us to turn to Him in times of need. We see that we do not have to pretend that we are ok, full of joy and life, but can come before our Heavenly Father with honesty and trust, acknowledging that we feel lost, broken or overwhelmed.
And there’s more too. We are not destined to stay in the darkest valley but, by the strength of God, we are to walk through it, and to emerge in the light and hope that God has given us. We are reminded that our lives, our circumstances, are in God’s hands, and He really does use our suffering for good.
And we are shown that however big, however vast our suffering is, we have a bigger God. This is why we need not fear, for whilst our suffering may stand like a giant before us, God stands, infinitely greater beside us, a hope and a strength through any suffering that we may face.
And so, to anyone out there struggling with depression, I wish you to know that you are not alone. I urge you to consider the words of the God who cares, the God who takes our suffering upon his shoulders. You too can discover the same hope that I have found in Jesus.
To the believer, remember this: that God is with you in the midst of your suffering. He is not waiting for you at the end of the valley, but is there with you, walking beside you in the darkness. He is carrying you.
I stayed silent about my depression for so long because I was scared about the reactions of those around me, scared that it would hurt them or scared that they wouldn’t care. It was the open honesty of my church family and those I loved that helped me to finally open up. The more people I talked to about my depression, the more I realised that I wasn’t alone, that others knew what I was going through. It was because others were real, vulnerable and honest that I was able to be so myself.
So I encourage you, be vulnerable with one another. You never know how much you are inspiring and encouraging those around you to keep walking through the darkest valley, to keep walking towards the light.