Depression is like muscle tissue. It has a memory. Once you have acquired the mass, it is much easier to bring back with minimal effort. Well, maybe muscle mass is too positive an analogy. Let’s talk about depression in relation to adipose (fat!) tissue. It has a sort of memory as well. The amount of fat cells we have tends to remain the same in number, but once those fat cells grow larger, they are always fighting to remain large.
When I first experienced serious depression in 2010, it blindsided me. As I have told you on this blog before, while I had been sad and down for extended periods of time before, I had never suffered from anything like this. It came from out of the blue (or so it seemed). Once I came out of it, I hoped that it would just be a distant memory that I used in blogs and sermon illustrations. I just wanted to tell people how to overcome it once and for all. However, over the last few years, I have found that my body now wants to be depressed. It seems to have a memory that is continually dragging me back below zero.
“This is just who I am now. I am a depressed person.” That is what I have often said to myself as I wrestle with this beast. “This is just who I am now. I am a fat person.” These two things are very similar. When one has fought and fought with their weight, it is so tempting to identify yourself by your weight problem, believing it has given you a new identity that you simply must accept. Of course, this is not true, but it is so deceptive. When such a concession is made, we give in, break out the ice cream, and stuff our face with potato chips. We unnecessarily sink deeper into our problem.
The other night, I sat outside my house in my car thinking. I was close to zero on the emotional depression scale (10 being joyful and happy). I was ready to concede to my new depressed identity and go to less than zero. The easiest thing for me to think at these times is that this is me. I am a depressed person. This escalates the problem and tempts me to indulge in the emotional version of potato chips.
“I used to be so stable. What happened?”
“I could handle any problem. Now I just get brought low by everything. I am weak.”
“Maybe this is who I always was; I just had not been through the crucible of life enough yet to realize it.”
“I am just not like everyone else. They can handle things. I can’t.”
Sound familiar? These are all the things we say to ourselves when we become “depressed people.” These are the potato chips of depression and they do no good.
What I have learned to do is change my identity. Depression wants to steal your thoughts about yourself. Depression is a black hole. Even when you are not in it, you can feel its gravity pulling you back. Really, “I have learned to change my identity” is not the right way to put it. I
have learned am learning to realize that it is a lie to say, “this is just who I am.” It is not who I am. Yes, my emotions have a memory. Yes, those memories are terrible. Yes, I have crossed that line called depression. But this does not mean that I am now “just a depressed person.” I am still who I have always been. I am who I make myself to be every moment. While it is not always the case, I do have to decide to be depressed before I go below zero. It is an act of my will that allows me to be identified with who and what I am not.
In seminary, I was taught in spiritual formation, based on Romans 6, three things that form the foundation of our identity in Christ:
1. There is something we are to know.
2. There is something we are to consider.
3. There is something we are to present.
What we are to know
Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? 4 Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. 5 For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection, 6 knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin; 7 for he who has died is freed from sin.
8 Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him, 9 knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, is never to die again; death no longer is master over Him. 10 For the death that He died, He died to sin once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God.
I am a new person in Christ. That old person who had to say “This is just who I am” is dead. It got buried two thousand years ago with Christ. My new self, with a whole new identity, was raised with Christ. Now, I am identified with him and in him. You are to know, believe, and trust in this. If you don’t, you will always be stuck kicking the dust on the ground with your hands in your pockets. You are not just a depressed person and neither am I. You may be down and depressed right now, but put those potato chips away and get your hands out of your pocket. You who are in Christ, this is not who you are. Know this.
What we are to consider
Even so consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus. 12 Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its lusts.
You are dead to sin. What does this mean? It does not mean that you don’t sin anymore. So many times the gravity from that black hole comes from my failures. It comes from my inability to be consistently good. I lose my temper with Zach and yell at him. He cries. I say “Why did I just do that?” to myself. Then I blame it on my new condition. Potato chips handy. Indulgence is one step away. But I am dead to sin. The necessary relationship I had with it is gone. Why? Because I am alive to God in Jesus Christ. I have a new DNA. His DNA. When I screw up, it is self-indulgence that causes me to blame it on this old identity. It is self-indulgence that causes me to enter into that black hole. I don’t have to go there. In fact, though it is easy, it is unnatural. It is not me.
What we are to present
And do not go on presenting the members of your body to sin as instruments of unrighteousness; but present yourselves to God as those alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God.
I have a new purpose. I can present myself as useful to God at every moment. My new identity can cleanse me from negative thoughts or feelings. I am not an instrument of destruction, depression, or self-pity leading to further acts of unrighteousness. I am an instrument of righteousness. I am a tool in the hand of God. My identity allows be to believe this.
As I sat in my car the other night, wondering why and how I had become such a depressed person, I said out loud, “I am not a depressed person.” Sometimes I have to say things out loud. Doing so does not change reality; it simply articulates reality in a way I need to hear. It takes the thoughts of God (“I am his child and depression is not my identity”) and articulates it. This helps defeat the self-indulgence of that black hole of despair.
I am no doctor. I don’t have a Ph.D. in psychology. I don’t claim to be an expert in the subject of depression. I am simply a teacher of theology, cataloguing my present course of dealing with depression in my own life. Folks, I am not a depressed person. This is not who I am. I have been raised with Christ and am an instrument of righteousness in the hand of God. I will go with that rather than follow the idle thoughts that often enter my mind. Though the memory of the depression pulls me, I will put away those potato chips and be pulled back to reality.