I Live With Depression

brain

I originally posted this in 2014 the week that Robin Williams died. Hands down, this entry has been the most read and most shared of anything I’ve written. Since people tend to struggle with depression more in winter months, I thought I’d re-post it.
——————————–

This week, the world mourned the loss of the irrepressible genius actor, Robin Williams. Typically, the death of celebs leaves me a little sad because I know I will miss their gifts. With Williams’ death, however, I grieved. Not because I knew him personally, although his acting made all of us think we did.  I grew up loving Mork & Mindy, learned to seize the day, and saw the beauty of flawed humanity in his movies.

Mostly, though, I grieve Robin Williams’ death because I am like him.

I live with a mental illness. It’s called depression.

I grieved for Robin Williams’ death because I understand his struggle. I know all too well the feeling of drowning in a sea of emotions whose pull drags you to the depths of despair and won’t let you breathe. I understand how easily your thoughts and feelings can become warped by a combination of brain chemicals and difficult circumstances, leaving you unsure of what is true and what is the myth told by your feelings.

I know I’m not alone. The CDC estimates that about 1 in 10 people report a depressive episode at least once in their lives. My symptoms started showing up in seminary. I’ve taken medication for it the majority of my adult life.  Like millions of others, I take the medication because my brain is just wired differently. It’s a brain disease, just like epilepsy or ADHD.

When you see me on a regular basis, you’re not likely to see any signs of depression. That’s because, like epilepsy, it doesn’t shout out its presence. For me, depression can be managed with medication, therapy, and self-care. However, like epilepsy, depression can be triggered by any number of factors, but for me it’s usually a combination of them—stress overload; loss; sleep deprivation; poor eating and exercise habits; working too much and playing too little; having no margin in my life for stillness and quiet; ignoring my needs and emotions.

Unlike epilepsy, when depression is triggered, it doesn’t wave a red flag and say “Hey! I’m here! Deal with it!” The slide into depression is insidiously deceptive. Slow. As imperceptive as a decline down a low-grade hill. If you are not vigilant to notice the signs, some of which are unique to each person, you can find yourself being pulled toward that black hole of despair, and it feels impossible to resist its gravitational pull.

Sometimes the fog of depression is too thick to be able to find our way out. And so we get help. We see a therapist (mine rocks, by the way, highly recommend her) to talk things through. We adjust the medication. We try to take care of our bodies by getting adequate rest and exercising.
At times, though, giving in to your feelings and thoughts—as misinformed as they may be—feels much easier and less exhausting than fighting back.

And on Monday, Robin Williams stopped fighting.

I’m taking a risk in writing this blog. It may not be received with grace, especially in the Christian community, I’m sad to say. I fear the backlash from fellow believers who wrongly assume that I don’t have enough faith or am not relying on Jesus enough (you’d be surprised at how many people think that). Unfortunately, depression goes largely misunderstood. It’s not just a matter of having a rough few days. It’s not a ploy for sympathy or an excuse to lie around the house. It’s not a lack of faith or a sign of sin. People who suffer from mental illness—from depression to anxiety disorders to anorexia—still love Jesus and find their hope in Him.

It’s hard for us to reach out to family and friends. We think you’ll judge us; we think you won’t understand (and you can’t completely unless you’ve been there); we worry that you’ll look at us funny and treat us as if we have ebola. And so we suffer in silence. Talking helps us but we can’t talk. It’s a nasty irony.

Why am I writing this blog? In all truthfulness, I’m not sure. I think maybe because I’m tired of hiding this part of me from my family, friends, and colleagues. I think partly because I am weary of the stigma attached to mental illness and want to destroy its stereotypes, even if just among the few people who will read this.

Mostly, though, I am telling my story because I seek to be authentic and real in my faith journey, and doing so requires that I be transparent about all of my struggles, not just the socially acceptable ones. You know, the fears and worries that are safe to share as prayer requests in church—a sick uncle, a job interview, traveling over the weekend. I want to challenge my fellow believers to stop playing church and start living like authentic Christians, and that means I must model it first.

I struggle with depression. And I love Jesus. The two are not mutually exclusive.

____________________

http://www.cdc.gov/features/dsdepression/

 

Advertisements

Why You’ll Find Community at McDonald’s Instead of at Church

logoBeing a freelance writer, I get to choose where I work. If I’m hungry and haven’t had breakfast (and if I’m not going anywhere where the odor of french fries on my clothes might offend someone), I head to McDonald’s. Love me some yogurt parfait. And an occasional biscuit. Don’t judge.

In my vast knowledge of McDonald’s locations in the Nashville area, I have noticed a couple of things:

First, the McD’s inside Nashville are way more posh than the ones in the outlying areas, specifically the tiny hamlet of Kingston Springs. You won’t find any faux leather seats or flat screen TVs there. Just hard plastic booths.

Second, McD’s is a place to find community. Three groups of community, to be exact. At least in the Springs.

First, the senior men. They talk about men’s issues—the weather, politics, sports, local gossip. No emotional topics please. And no women, thank you. Another group  gathers on the opposite side of the restaurant—the hunter/redneck crowd. Which allows women, by the way. They’re almost always in cammo, always wear a ball cap, and talk about deer, fishing rods, and football. There’s always time to talk about football when you live in SEC territory.

The third group? The employees.

You might be thinking, sure, they take breaks together. Yes, that’s true, but the members of this circle come to hang out…even when they don’t work that day. These people will actually show up  just to be together—when they could be doing a dozen other things away from the smell of coffee grinds mixed with grease.

The group is a ragtag lot. Most are tattooed at least once. Some have body piercings. Most smoke. Their ages range from pimple-faced teens to senior adults who are working there because they need the income. Quite a conglomeration of cultures.

If you listen to their conversations (which I NEVER do), you might think you were in a normal office setting:

“How’s is your mom?”
“How was your doctor’s appointment?”
“My son is driving me nuts!”

Other times, though, you listen to their stories and realize WHY they are a community:

“My child support…”
“I can’t pay my rent until…”
“My partner and I…” (same-sex partner, that is)

They come to experience community. (They certainly don’t gather because they can’t get enough of the food.) They come because, in that space and place, they find acceptance. As is. They find the much-needed feeling of being understood. Of someone caring for them. Supporting them.  They gather because they’ve shared the same experience of being shunned in other places, even (especially?) the church.

Be honest: Would the gay cashier with his striped socks and funky shirts be welcome in your church—even when he starts talking about how to mix hair colors? What about the barely-adult woman who has had three children by three different men? What about the recovering addict who has to sneak out during worship for a cigarette?

What would you do if you found out if a visitor (or a member!) has a criminal record? Cheated on his wife? Had an abortion? Would you treat those people any differently? Would you invite them in to your community of faith?

Better yet, would you invite them eat with your family (or friends) after the worship service?

These people gather because they all have scars—and they all know it. There’s no need for pretense or pretending because everyone in that circle acknowledges that they’ve messed up and have no room to judge. They gather because they’ve found some sense of belonging in spite of poor decisions and sinful pasts.

In short, McDonald’s provides what the Church often does not—a place of flawed yet accepted humanity.

If Jesus were alive today, I’m pretty sure He’d stop by the Kingston Springs McD’s…

…and He might even eat a biscuit.

Dear [older] women: We [younger] women need you!

solo

Dear {older} women:

I speak for myself but my plea echoes the thoughts of others my {age}:

We need you.

My mom passed away eight years ago this week, and her absence has left a void that can never be filled. But her absence can be lessened by other women being willing to pour into my life. And I think my female contemporaries would say the same thing, even if they still have a relationship (close or not) with their own moms.

Why do we need you? Because we are unsure as moms ourselves. Just like you, we don’t have a manual for how to raise our children. You have what we lack—experience. Wisdom gained from the added years.

We need you because being a godly woman in an ungodly world is even harder than ever, and we’re not sure what that looks like. Culture is constantly in our face, telling us what we’re supposed look like, what corporate ladder we’re supposed to be climbing, what accolades to achieve, what fame to seek (even if it’s just on Facebook or Pinterest), what trendy pursuit to chase. And nobody else is speaking loud enough for us to hear anything else.

Please, speak up. Take us out for coffee. Let us ask you questions. Listen to our hearts, because they are burdened and confused and in need of your shaping, even though we’re no longer children. We are still eager to learn. It just takes a while for our walls to come down because we’ve spent a lot of time constructing them so that others won’t see the mess of our lives.

Please don’t think that we have it all together. We don’t. Please don’t assume that our overbooked schedules and frenzied appearance means we are confident, under control, or at peace. Often, our frenetic lifestyle just mirrors the unsettled state of our souls.

Please don’t check out on us. Don’t think you don’t have anything to offer, because you do. We need your encouragement. Your wisdom. Your advice. Your example. Your guidance. Your humor. Your perspective.

We are waiting for you to make the first move, because asking you upfront for help seems intrusive. Unspiritual. Awkward. Demanding. But if you’d just ask us out to lunch and open the door, we’d rush in and drink deeply from the well of intergenerational friendship —for we are parched.

Where are you, [older] women? We need you.

Why I am not crazy in love with being radical

20130507-122544.jpg

I have a confession to make. I’m not a huge fan of the book Radical.

Now before you stone me, brand me a heretic, or excommunicate me from the church, let me explain.

I live in a small town. Only two traffic signals. The local gas station also offers minnows and take-out pizza (which is good). And in my town is a really small church. No more than 50 people or so. They’ve recently been going through the study Radical, and one of its members recently commented to me, “I can’t go sell my home. Then you’d have one more homeless person in need of ministry.”

I know the comment was tongue-in-cheek, but it does highlight a major problem in the Christian community today: the exaltation of “celebrity” ministry.

Please don’t get me wrong. I’ve met the author of Radical, sat on a panel discussion with his wife. They’re great people. They would never put themselves on a pedestal as more important than others. But their popularity–fueled by the resonance of their message–has created the faulty idea that unless you sell your home, adopt orphans, or create a social enterprise, you’re not fulfilling the call of God to care for others.

We as a Christian community have focused so much on major movers and social shakers that we’ve forgotten that the church was founded by a bunch of uneducated fishermen who didn’t really know what they were doing. The history of Christianity has been propelled forward by millions of anonymous people who were just doing their small thing where they could, however they could. They saw needs and met them.

Take my mother-in-law, for example (she’s going to kill me when she reads this, so this may be my last post). She’s never been highlighted in a magazine, her story never told at a conference or on a Webcast. You wouldn’t recognize her in the airport.

Unless you’re one of the people she’s helped.

She volunteers at my daughter’s school and takes her octogenarian neighbor to the doctor. She fixes meals for underprivileged kids who need to eat on the weekend. She sings in the church choir and changes out the wreaths in the fellowship hall when the seasons change.

Yet, by the standards of our Christian culture, she’s not doing enough. She’s not radical enough, not crazy in love with Jesus enough. She doesn’t qualify for the top ten list of most influential Christians (yes, that list exists).

We’ve replaced anonymous, do-what-you-can-right-where-you-are servanthood with banners and headlines and awards and book deals, making people like my mother-in-law (and me and you) wondering if her small acts of service really matter.

If you’ve ever asked that question, the answer is a resounding yes.

Just ask the kid who will get to eat this weekend because of one anonymous woman.

To quote a not-so-anonymous woman, “We cannot all do great things, but we can do small things with great love.” (Mother Teresa)

So go and love. Love deeply. Care for others right where you are, even though you’ll never make the front page. You are Jesus with skin on. And every small act of love matters.

You matter.