Archive | Depression

7 Things NOT to Say to a Depressed Christian


Handling a Depressed Christian

As many of you know, I’ve been depressed for almost five years now. I had a major break in March of 2010. It came out of nowhere and has been a frequent uninvited guest in my home ever since.

I won’t go into it now, but almost seven weeks ago I came out of the depression. I think I know the triggers. But I often tell people not to get too excited. I can never be sure which “me” is going to wake up tomorrow. Will it be joyful me? (who I love) He’s the one who sees life positively and has no time for worry (too busy serving God)? Or will it be broken me (who I hate)? He can’t dwell on anything but the bad and sees no hope in life (and doesn’t even act like there’s a God)? 7 Things NOT to Say to a Depressed Christian But while I have my thoughts straight, I’ve been able to dwell on so many positive things. One of these is the subject of this post. I’ve accumulated a list of seven things depressed people (Christian’s especially) are told. They’re meant to help them out of their depression. I’ve even had these things said to me. But these things are wrong.

Please Note: None of these things necessarily come from evil intentions. These come from people who sincerely want you to recover. However, they do come from the evil flesh that dwells in all of us: judgmenalism. I hope this becomes clear as you read.

Further Reading: Dealing With My Depression #1: Muffling Its Voice

“Just Snap Out of It”

I don’t know how many times I said this to my depressed sister before she took her life. “Just snap out of it, Angie.” From my perspective, I thought you could. I thought that being depressed or happy was an act of the will. If you just make the right decision, you can think your way out of it. But more often than not, depression is not an act of the will. It is an interplay between the mind and the brain that you can’t snap out of. Don’t you think that people who are depressed would “Just snap out of it” if it were that easy? Remember, they don’t want to be depressed. It is the worst torture that one can possibly imagine.

“Think Positively”

Again, this might seem right. Please realize that most of the time a depressed person can’t think positively. That’s why they’re depressed. If I were to tell you there’s a giant elephant in your room, would you believe me? What if I said that all you have to do is close your eyes and trust it to be true? You’d probably say, “I can’t!”Telling someone who’s depressed to “think positively” completely misses the problem. They can’t think positively any more than you can believe there’s an elephant in the room. They don’t want to think negatively. They just can’t stop.

Further Reading: Depression – When We Want to Die

“Confess Your Sins”

Trying to find a sin trigger in the life of the depressed is a hard proposition. There may be some evident sin in their lives that they need to deal with, but consider this:

1) Everyone Sins But Not Everyone’s Depressed There is evil in everyone. According to Martin Luther we’re all, simul justus et peccator which is Latin for “at the same time just and sinners.” Additionally, according to the Gospel of John we have to admit to sin in our lives:

If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. – 1 John 1:8 (ESV)

All to often a lengthy (and often judgmental) assessment of every sin the depressed person has takes place. Once they’re identified they’ll try to get rid of them one by one. This is both impossible and can cause deeper depression. The depressed may believe you and think getting rid of all these sins is the answer. When they realize that this cannot happen this side of heaven, the depression deepens.

2) They Can’t Change the Past Sometimes the sins that led to depression are from a years of lifestyle choices. They build up over the years. It’s usually the little ones that end up getting us. However, bringing this to the conversation with the depressed does little good. They can’t back up and change their choices. If they could, they would.

3) They Already Know They’re Sinners The depressed person likely knows if it’s sin that’s causing their depression. If it’s alcohol, drugs, etc. bringing this up early will only harden the person. It will make them defensive. If sin is causing the depression (and that’s a big “if”) tact and prudence should be used in abundance. This will allow them to recognize their sin without becoming defensive.

“Get On Some Meds Immediately!”

I am no Tom Cruise. I believe that psychiatric medications are often the answer and are a gift of God. I believe that there are many out there who are not taking due to a taboo or stigma attached to them that should be. However, the use of mind altering drugs also needs to be considered very deeply. I also think that they are prescribed too easily without a plan of attack.

Briefly, I believe that some people need to go through the darkness without an immediate way out. Many of the Psalms might not have been written had these drugs been available to David. His ups and downs would have been leveled by a script from the doctor. But we needed David to go through his mental bipolar disorder (if that is what it was). The same might be said of Martin Luther, the father of the Reformation. He definitely needed to be on something! However, God used his mental anxiety for great things.

Book Suggestion: Genius, Grief, & Grace: A Doctor Looks at Suffering & Success (Biography of great saints of the past who suffered greatly, but were used greatly.

For some people—as hard as it is to hear—God wants you to go through this darkness. But this is not for everyone. These drugs are a blessing of God when used properly. For some, they can get you over the “hill” of darkness and are only needed for a short time. For others, they are needed permanently for the stability of the mind.

All I am doing is asking you to consider that the depressed person may be a David or a Luther to the church. Don’t immediately demand that they get on these drugs.

“I’ve Been Through Worse”

I had a relative say this to me with absolute resolve and conviction in her voice. She said, “Michael, whatever you have gone through, I have been though worse! So don’t try to give me your sob story.” She meant well, but this is not something to say to a depressed person. It may be true that you have been through worse and been able to get out of it. What you mat not know is that this is meaningless to the depressed for two reasons:

  1. Once you’re in the black hole of depression, the hole itself is the worst thing you’ve gone through. The tragic events that might have brought you there often pale in comparison.
  2. Suffering is relative. There are always going to be people who have it worse than you. This isn’t the issue. It’s how you perceive and internalize your suffering relative to who you were before. For some, the loss of a job can make them suicidal. For others (who live in harsher climates of society) even the loss of a child is expected and absorbed with less depression.

So depression is a very relative thing. Letting people know that you’ve been through worse—while it might be objectively true—can be both unwise and irresponsible. It will only harden the person in their depression.

“God Won’t Give You More Than You Can Handle”

This is in my top ten things of what the Bible does not say that Christians often quote as Scripture. There is nowhere in the Bible that says God will not give us more than we can handle. It does say that he will in temptation provide a way of escape (1 Cor. 10:13). But never does it say that God will not give us more pain and suffering than we can handle.

Many Christians have suffered to the point of death at the hands of executors. Many suffer to the point of death at their own hands. All we can say is that, “the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” (Romans 8:18). This may not solve our depression, but it does give us perspective. Even if our depression has caused us enormous doubt this can be helpful.

“Depression Is a Sin. You Should Have Joy In Your Life”

This always comes from the person who has never experienced real depression. Once you have, you would never say something like this again. Unfortunately, this often comes from those who feel that it’s their job to deliver us from this evil. But is depression a sin? I don’t think so.

Matthew 5:4 says “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” This mourning should not be thought of as some temporary bout with suffering. It’s not purely circumstantial (like mourning for the death of a loved one). The Greek word for mourn (pentheo) is a present active participle. It is actually the best word to use for “sadness” or “depression.” Christ is saying that those that are always (present, active) sad and down, will be comforted. The comfort, in the context, does not come in this life, but in the life to come.So far from being a sin, depression is often going to be the progressive state of the “blessed.”

How You Bear the Burdens of the Depressed

So, if these are the things you don’t do, what do you do? If you have a loved one who’s depressed, it is hard to handle. It can cause depression in you if you are not careful. All you want to do is solve it. Please understand, it’s not your job to solve the depression. You may be able to be a great influence in getting the depressed to feel better, but God has not given you the responsibility to deliver a loved one from depression. Let yourself off the hook. Don’t make yourself responsible for something you cannot do. Though you may be used by Him to bring the depressed to wholeness, you are not the Holy Spirit.

Most of what you “say” will only cause more depression, as shown above. This was the mistake of Job’s friends. They stayed silent for seven days (Job 2:13). They should have stayed silent for good. After seven days they couldn’t take it any more and made all the mistakes we’ve looked at.

Silence, with your arm around the depressed is the best advice. There may be a time for verbal inquiry, but this needs to come naturally and without judgement. You’re not given a podium to preach to the depressed; you’re given arms to hold them. Even if this doesn’t “work” your goal should not be to bring them out of their depression. Your goal should be to be there for them their entire life if necessary. It is a terrible burden to bear when this is a loved one, I know. But this is how we bear the burdens of the depressed.

“Silences make the real conversations between friends. Not the saying but the never needing to say is what counts.” – Margaret Runbeck

When someone is there for you without all the answers and requiring you to follow their advice “or else…”, you have a true friend. And, unfortunately, these friends have been rare from the beginning of time.

Purchase on Amazon: Now That I’m A Christian: What It Means to Follow Jesus

Concerning My Laments (Something I Really Need to Say)

broken-pot

Sometimes, after I write a blog post I find people who get the wrong idea. Ever so, often I have to bring my staff at the Credo House together to explain something to them about myself. Then, they get worried. Many of the constituents of Credo House also get worried. My doctor even called me in to his office after reading a post last year. It is all very understandable to me. It is difficult for me to see the looks on people’s face . . . those looks of concern coupled with their inability to do anything about the situation is often followed by a distancing of themselves from me, or the ministry. Others come in with all the answers. They know exactly what is wrong with me; and, it is normally some sin which, somehow, they are able to discern.

I get it. I get why people sometimes think I am about to lose it.

“Staff,” I begin the meeting ever so often (especially when there are new people), “I want you to understand something about me and this ministry. I reserve the right to write on the blog some things that are very atypical and unconventional for someone like me who is the leader of a ministry such as this. You will often see things on the blog that I write about myself which make it look as if I am completely falling apart. . . .” I go on to explain what I am going to explain now.

I just got a message from someone who does not like the way I use this blog sometimes. Here is what he/she said:

Okay Michael you’re entitled to be, “messed up”, as you say. Now what? What are you going to do? Your problem is highly psychological in nature. Are you willing to see a competent therapist? Are you willing to face that the issue may lie within? Or will you only lament? I want you well for the record, but using your ministry and blog for long laments and people patting you on the back telling you how brave you are for revealing your inner anguish isn’t going to resolve your ongoing sadness, depression or melancholy.

My response, whether you agree or not, is important for people to hear:

[Unnamed Person], you may not believe this, but these laments are truly helpful to a great number of people, and have been for quite some time.

I think you probably ought to try to understand this in a way not dissimilar from the approach David or Jeremiah [most of what they wrote were laments about their pain made public] wrote. By the way, you sound (and believe me, I do understand) as if you would likely chastise them for what they wrote. If not, why [chastise me]? Continue Reading →

When the Sadness Doesn’t Leave

Sad

I don’t know how long ago it was. Probably 2010. That was a big year for me. Not a good year. It was the catalyst for a lot of change. Not good change . . . I think I need to stop and return to this in a bit.

There are many of us that are prone to brokenness. I am not necessarily talking about this subject in a good biblical sense. Some people handle it well, but a lot of us remain confused, always waiting for the the next disaster. There is a deep mire in this world in which so many of us get caught. We are sad and grope for some light to shine through the darkness.

Personally, I attempt to deny my sadness as just being an itinerate foe that will leave soon. However, it never does. My wife and kids can see it in me. I try to hid it, but this unwanted friend has already made his presence known in a thousand different ways. There has been so much advice, so many interventions, but no one really knows what to do with me. They are often worried. I’m tired and find very little joy in my life. The most productive thing I do around the house is worry. I can’t find the peace that I preach.

Don’t get me wrong. Though my belief has suffered some terrible trials; and, this wrestling match with God has left me beaten and bruised. I know Whom I have believed. Yes, from time to time I have a bout with doubt, but it normally does not last. I am just sad. And everyone knows it.

Let me back up.

I think I remember when it started. It was not evident what I was doing, but it was a conscious willful choice. For years I had been strong (or so I thought). For years my faith did not flinch. I was so hurt and confused by my sister’s suicide, but I did not know it. Being so intimately acquainted with her issues and depression in the years before her death was more than I could handle (though I was not consciously aware of it). Standing strong and moving back home after my mother’s aneurysm damaged me (though I was not conscious of it). Watching my father waste away due to his sadness bruised my heart (though I refused to let myself recognize that fact). This is especially true because of my hope that I was going to bring Christ into his life through intentionally investing so much thought, time, emotions, and prayer. This hope (as far as I know) was never realized. Then he died. Continue Reading →

Suicidal Thoughts on Suicide

“Your packing a suitcase to a place that none of us has been. A place that has to be believed to be seen.”

-Bono
“Stuck in a Moment You Can’t Get Out Of”

I have needed to write this ever since the death of Robin Williams. Every public suicide gets to me. Well . . . every suicide I hear about gets to me, public or not. I wish it didn’t. I wish it was some distant thing that was as familiar to me as plane crashes, getting struck by lightening, or the death penalty. Sure, I have heard about those things and they are tragic, but they are what happens to those on the other side of the world, not to me. Suicide is different since, as many of you know, my sister killed herself in 2004.

These are suicidal thoughts on suicide because when I think about this subject or put some thoughts to paper, it is almost more than I can bear. To think this world affords us the pain and suffering that it must take to pull the proverbial trigger makes me quite troubled.

Statistics on Suicide

Here are some basic statistics on suicide:

  • A suicide occurs every 15 minutes in USA
  • 35,000 per year
  • Fourth leading cause of death of people ages 18-65
  • There are four male suicides for every female suicide, but twice as many females as males attempt suicide.
  • Firearms account for 60 percent of all suicides.
  • More active duty soldiers die from suicide than from combat

“Hold me now . . . Cause I’m six feet from the edge and I’m thinking, maybe six feet ain’t that far down.”

-Creed
“One Last Breath”

Suicides in the Bible

It might be interesting to note that there are quite a few suicides recorded in the Bible. Here is what I found.

1. Abimelech – Judges 9:54

2. Samson – Judges 16:30

3. King Saul  – 1 Sam. 31:4

4. King Saul’s armour-bearer – 1 Sam 31:5

5. Ahithophel – 2 Sam. 17:23

6. Zimri – 1 Kings 16:18

7. Judas – Matt. 27:5

Questions About Suicide

1. Can Christians Kill Themselves?

The simple answer to this question is “yes.” To somehow make suicide as an unforgivable sin is not only unbiblical but destroys the essence of the Gospel. Despite this, there are many Christians who have been led to believe that suicide cannot be forgiven. Where does this come from? Continue Reading →

My Second Round with Depression

Depression. I hate it. I can’t think of many things in this life that are worse. Oh, how different I would be if I were never introduced to this dark shadow which swallows everything it pleases.

Maybe I should back up a bit. . . .

For those of you who visit the blog regularly, I am sure you have noticed. . . I have been somewhat AWOL from the blog. I am going to try to explain.

When I first went through depression in 2010, it was such a foreign thing. It hit me out of nowhere, and was relentless in its ability to create fear, panic, and destabilization of every thought and move I made. However, 2010 was the first time I was confronted with it. Being the first time, I was less ashamed (at least, this is how I am interpreting things right now). I kept all of you (and everyone I knew) up to date on its effects. I blogged about it daily. The shame was not present to the degree it is now because (again) this was my first time to experience it. Therefore, I was not admitting to anyone that I was a depressed person whom you had to shy away from, but that I had had this strange, foreign, campaign in the darkness that was so unlike me.

Well, here I am four years later, coming out of a second serious round of depression. And as transparent and so many of you may think I am, I have been too ashamed to admit it . . . to anyone.

There are so many circumstances that have contributed to this round that it is easy for me to find the triggers. My dad died in November. I have taken full-time care of my mother, and have been confronted with serious issues involving my family and work.

It was so great when I recovered from the first round of depression. I had gone through the darkest time I could possibly imagine, and yet, came out on the other side. I could now empathize and preach to the depressed souls with more understanding. I did not want another helping of this stuff. I did not want any more understanding. I just wanted to move on and grow from the injuries. Continue Reading →

Scared

Fear

So much of what I write on this blog is hard for me to admit. Certainly, I don’t want people to always see the real me. I would rather show just enough to demonstrate that I can empathize with your plights and then extend my chest to show how my strength remains. But on some days I don’t have any strength. Some days I am weaker than any of you. The problem is that I forget these days when and if they pass. When this happens, I lose a part of me and am not able to be honest with myself.

Fear. I have never really known what it is like to be afraid. Of course, I have been scared. I suppose the most fear I have ever had was the day I attempted to disarm a man who was threatening suicide. I had never been shot at before. Now, I have. It was scary. But all is well, and the man is okay.

However, today, I am scared. I know what you are going to ask. The same thing I would ask you: “Scared of what?” I wish I could tell you. The best I can express it is to say that I am scared of living. I am scared of the future. I am scared of myself. It started a couple of weeks ago. There was a nagging insecurity about my future. I began to think that my life was unstable, irresponsible, and filled with stupid decisions that have created a situation of unrest.

Can I take care of Kristie and the kids? Am I going to be able to put bread on the table? Have I invested enough in their lives? Who am I to think I can take care of my mother? Is it too late to make up for all of my mistakes? Is the real me a fake? Have I bitten off more than I can chew in about every area? Who will be there for all those I hold up if I were to die? Continue Reading →

Carrying the Burden of the Sadness of a Loved One

It has been almost two months since my father died. Perhaps, not enough time has elapsed to make me a sage on the subject of death, but I’ll never pass up a chance to share my thoughts about something.

Let me back up a bit.

As many of you know, I have experienced some relatively significant depression over the last few years. I have not been shy about sharing  the dark times. For a while, things became a lot better, but I still have to wake up each morning and do a quick self-diagnosis to see whether I would be able to handle the day emotionally. Sometimes it is good, sometimes it is not so good.

One would think my father’s passing would have caused more of the same, but such has not been the case. Don’t get me wrong. I have been very sad. In fact, I cried a bit this morning, as I talked to my sister about it. In general, the sadness I feel over his death feels more natural (as natural as the pain of death can feel). Yet, there was also a very particular darkness that left my life at 10:15 a.m. on November 8th.

A few years have passed since I first started crying. I called it “Crying For No Reason At All”, when I blogged about it then. It seemed unreasonable back then, since I could not name a specific cause for it. But one day,  I was listening to George Jones’ “He Stopped Loving Her Today” while driving, and it reminded me of my parents. It made me think of how much my dad loved my mother, and how much of a void the effects of her aneurysm and stroke left in his life. Though still alive, she was gone in 2006. When I received a new mother, he received a new wife. Over the last seven years, he lived like a broken man who could not be put back together. With his daughter gone and his wife replaced, he never regained his ability to seek purpose, or find a happy moment before he died.

During this time, I did not realize how much his outlook on life and his fractured soul affected those of us who loved him. To have someone so sad around you is harder than being sad yourself. It eventually takes its toll on everyone, and the Lord does not always rescue us from this referred pain. Continue Reading →

How Do I Stay Sane and Believe in Hell?

Below is an email (edited) that I received recently. How would you respond? Please speak directly to John Doe.

“Dear Michael,

Right now I am in a crisis of faith and am in great need of your advice.

[He then talks about the abusive and legalistic Christian environment he grew up in]

Right now, intellectually I believe in double predestination but emotionally I am a Universalist. If I allow my emotions to bleed into my intellect then I will become a heretic and if I allow my intellect to bleed into my emotions I will become suicidal. In other words, I can’t handle the truth, so I lie to myself.

In an attempt to become consistent I read some of Jonathan Edwards. His view seems to be that because God hates the damned, the saints in heaven will also hate the damned and will rejoice over their misery. I thought that maybe we as Christians should do likewise, so I watched a bunch of YouTube videos by Fred Phelps (the “God-hates-fags”, funeral picketing guy). He argues that God hates the reprobate more than Satan hates the elect and that therefore we should hate non-Christians. I grew up with a lot of abusive, unstable, racist, paranoid relatives so I have seen what hate looks like. It’s a very ugly thing, but what’s really scary is that there’s a part of me that enjoys watching Fred Phelps; that enjoys the adrenaline that comes with stomping on another human being with your mind. I watched Fred Phelps the other morning, and for the rest of the day I felt like I wanted to fight somebody, so I decided to not watch him anymore.

My question that I desperately need answering is: **How do you believe in hell without becoming a suicidal psychopath?** All my life I have struggled with mental illness and my main goal has been peace of mind. I have sought peace in religion but many a time it has been an aggravator and not a soother. I am in a part of my life where I’m going through religious change and am afraid that I may abandon orthodoxy for the sake of the emotional stability that I have so desperately sought all my life.

I realize that such is dangerous because even benign quirks in theology will lead to illogical patters in life. Right now I’m very close to deciding to never have children because they’ll probably go to hell (there’s a part of me that suspects that the vast majority humans do) and it is cruel and evil to bring souls into existence that are probably doomed to damnation. They’ll probably grow up in a world ruled by homosexuals and Muslims. I have become so bitter that I have come to often feel that God hates humanity; that He delights in our misery. I still love God, but I’m starting to love Him in a Stockholm-Syndrome, Battered-Woman, masochistic kind of way. There’s a part of me that feels like I should never get married because my wife will probably go to hell, in fact, it may just be better if I become super reclusive and not have any relationships because everybody’s going to go to hell. There have even been times when I felt like I would probably go to hell and that I should torture myself in order to prepare myself for the afterlife. Michael, I think I’m losing my mind.

People have told me that this should motivate me to evangelize but every time I have tried to I make myself look like an absolute nut and push people away from the faith. I think my mental health makes this very difficult and I have come to think that maybe I have no purpose in life. Maybe God just created me to suffer.”