You don’t see it. Most of the time we don’t want you to. That’s what makes us feel so alone. We can’t tell you because we’re afraid you will give us the same responses everyone else does … the false optimism of Job’s friends, the quick fix list of bullet points of things we’re supposed to do, or maybe we’re just afraid that you really don’t care to meet us within our own messiness. Most people are fine with pontificating bullet points of how we’re supposed to take back control of our lives, and maybe even going with us to coffee once or twice, but when it comes to walking with us and being purely and consistently present, we understand that most people just don’t care enough. And most of us don’t want to trouble anyone with our problems so we hide them in a backpack that we carry with us into every single moment.
One of us described our condition like being in a burning building on the top floor, watching the flames engulf the room around us. This is every single day for us. Those of us that end up taking our own lives: its not that we want to die, but that we just don’t want to bear the pain of living anymore. Jumping out of the building seems to be a quick and easy way out of the pain of our daily existence.
This is what its like to be depressed. This week I’ve been thinking a lot about Rick Warren, who’s 27-year-old son committed suicide last week. My heart goes out to the Warren’s, and I can’t help but wondering about Matthew Warren in light of my own lifelong struggle with depression. I wouldn’t even say depression … I would say self-hatred. There have been times where I hated my own life so much that I will deliberately do things to punish myself. I don’t tell people about this because I don’t expect anyone to care. If I don’t want to hang out with me, why would I expect you to? Small attempts at vulnerability are often met with token responses and hopeless legalism of what I’m supposed to do to get myself out of this pit. Most of all, its the strangulating loneliness, like being in a world filled with people but knowing no one, having no community, and having no one who cares. Is it easier to jump out of the building?
One time Jesus met a man who everyone thought was demon-possessed because he lived in the tombs and would cut himself. It says that this particular man had an “impure spirit.” It also says that no one could bind him because he would always break the chains and irons. Depression is destructive. If we cannot act out on something, we will act out on ourselves and punish ourselves with crippling thoughts. This man was uncontrollable, either by himself or by other people. Often that’s the reason we feel depressed is because we have felt a complete loss of control over our own lives… that no matter what we do, it will make no difference. Jesus came up to the man and said “come out of this man, you impure spirit!”
In the world of the Bible people believed in demons. They didn’t have the same kind of scientific terminology that we have today to describe mental illness so they assumed that every sickness was the result of some spiritual force of evil at work. We are not sure whether this man was filled with demons or not, but we are sure that he believed that he was. Who is to say that those of us with afflicted minds are not under the torment of the spiritual forces of evil? It certainly seems possible! The man sees Jesus from far off. Recognizing him as the popular miracle worker, he runs and falls at his knees before Jesus. “Don’t torture me!” he says. Depressed people carry their guilt around everywhere, and it cripples them.
Whether this man was actually filled with some dark spirits I’m not sure. But either way Jesus met him where he was at and went along with his delusions, and helped him come back to reality.
Coming from someone who has constantly struggled with depression, who is constantly in recovery, and who has found hope and help in Jesus Christ, I want to give you a couple ways to help people who are depressed:
Text them. Right now. I mean it. Nothing means more than when people reach out, seemingly at random, and say something like “you have been on my mind for some reason lately.” Not only does it feel that there are people thinking about you…it reminds you that God is aware of your pain and is enlisting the help of other people to show you love. Be the answer to someone’s desperate and broken prayers! Don’t ask them if they want to talk … they will always say no. Tell them you want to talk. Force your way into their pain if you have to. Affirm them and tell them you care.
Don’t give them quick fixes or token answers. What people deep in depression are looking for is presence. They need consistent presence and friends who seek them out just to hang. Just to be there. Nothing fills a thirsty soul with nourishment like good, Godly friendship.
Share positivity, hope, and humor. One thing that helps me during dark moments is the knowledge that there is much in life to enjoy and be thankful for. It especially goes a long way when a friend says something that makes me laugh. One moment of laughter can change a person’s entire day…seriously.
Listen. Consistently. Don’t just meet up one time and never ask them about it again. Many times that’s worse than not reach out to them at all. Be attentive. Learn to read between the lines with that person. Most of us try to subtly reveal that we are hurting in socially inappropriate or offensive ways. I do it using sarcasm or cutting remarks. Those come directly from my pain. Most of the time, if I say something critical about anyone it is because I am speaking out of my wounds. You have to learn to listen for those things and ask questions like “where is that coming from?”
Tell them about the God who understands. The truth is that just like Jesus helped that man long ago who didn’t have a great view of himself, he wants to speak healing and hope into the lives of the mentally ill and depressed, and he wants to use you and I to be beacons of compassion for those whom most people misunderstand. Especially those of us who are well aware of the pain of loneliness and depression: we must be on the lookout as to how we can encourage afflicted minds with the truth that Jesus knows exactly what its like to be abandoned and lonely and is willing to meat you in your loneliness and depression to lead you out of it.