Last year, on the first Tuesday of February, I made a post called The Depression Culture. Over the past few months, I've been considering the nature of depression and the importance of the topic within our culture. Because of this I've decided that, for the time being, I will dedicate the post on the first Tuesday of February to depression. Let me tell you right now, this is one of the few posts that will be ridiculously easy to write. It's late on Tuesday night as I write the beginning of this post- the last Tuesday of January. I've just posted my post on chopsticks. And these past three days have been misery. I don't want to even try to finish the week. Things were going just swell up through Saturday, and then Sunday came and I hit a brick wall. But at least I'm right here where I need to be in order to write this post. Because for the duration of the foreseeable future, the first Tuesday of February will be a day of darkness, gloom, and despair on my blog. And in order to write it, I have to know it."There is no point treating a depressed person as though she were just feeling sad, saying, 'There now, hang on, you'll get over it.' Sadness is more or less like a head cold- with patience, it passes. Depression is like cancer."
Psalm 139:8b, 11-12 (NASB)Before I get into the meat of today's topic, I need to explain exactly why I'm covering this. After all, as Christians, we believe that there's always a light. So why focus on the doom and despair of depression? I have two main reasons for looking at this. First, for the sake of contrast. Light is always more brilliant when it shines in the darkness. Second, and more directly, for the sake of the people caught in depression. We live in a fallen world, and inhabit sinful and broken bodies. In many cases, our brains have chemical disorders which cause depression. This is not necessarily a sign of spiritual need, but rather, a sign of our broken bodies which will someday be replaced. Because we live in a sinful and fallen world, we need to know how to deal with it, rather than pretending that it doesn't exist.
"If I make my bed in Sheol, behold, You are there.
If I say, “Surely the darkness will overwhelm me,
And the light around me will be night,”
Even the darkness is not dark to You,
And the night is as bright as the day.
Darkness and light are alike to You."
Romans 8:23-25 (NASB)Now, into the topic itself. A while ago, there was a "copy/paste" status going around on Facebook meant to tell people who struggle with depression that you're there for them. I believe I mentioned something similar in last year's post. While it is good to let friends know that you're there for them, there are two problems with this type of declaration. The first was covered last year: people who are depressed are unlikely to believe you. The second is that if they believe you, it won't actually cure them.
And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body. For in hope we have been saved, but hope that is seen is not hope; for who hopes for what he already sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, with perseverance we wait eagerly for it.
Imagine a person with depression as a magic dump truck. Every day, a new load of dirt (read: depression) is piled into the back. Now, other trucks are going around from place to place with maybe a covering of dust, but not the same load of junk that the dump truck has. The dump truck can only get rid of this dirt by dumping it into other trucks. But typically, the dump truck will not do so. It could be out of pride, or it could be out of consideration for the other trucks, but he doesn't dump out the depression. Eventually, however, he has to break his custom. His tires are about to burst, his entire being is about to fall apart, so, because it's an emergency, he asks for help. And he dumps it into one of the ordinary trucks, or maybe two or three. Now, these other trucks are able to go to the landfill and dump in their junk. It's not pleasant for them, but unlike the poor dump truck, they at least have the ability. They don't reach the height limit that blocks access to the landfill for the dump truck. Because of this, at first, the other trucks are perfectly willing to help the dump truck. "You can dump stuff out whenever you need to," they say. "We can transport it to the landfill for you." They have the best intent. But after a while, they notice something. The dump truck's load isn't getting smaller. They thought that they were helping heal the dump truck. They thought that, little by little, the dump truck would be on the path to recovery. But after a while, they start to realize, "isn't this the same dirt that we've already helped you with so many times already? Shouldn't this issue be gone by now?"
A number of things have happened in the past few days that hurt. Some of them are big things, some of them are little silly things, but either way, these past few days have not been happy ones. It's easy for me (and much more so for somebody looking at the situation from the outside) to look at the situation and say, "if it weren't for this, this, and this, then I could be happy." The problem is that there will always be one more thing. Something will always come along, and if nothing comes along that's worthy of causing depression, the depression will come anyway, and I'll just find something to blame it on. No matter how consistently you listen to me, no matter how faithfully you stay by my side, you cannot make my depression go away forever.
Now, this doesn't mean, of course, that we should just abandon people who have depression. Listening helps. What I'm saying is that it doesn't help in the same way that's expected. It doesn't make the depression go away, but it still relieves some of the pressure and lets the person who's affected have some time to breathe. I'm also not saying that we should devote our lives to listening to somebody who's depressed. As humans, we wear out. We get tired. Sometimes, we need a break of our own. And in situations like this, we should be able to go to the person who's depressed and say that we need a break- not that we no longer love them or that we'll never come back, but that we need to rest and relieve some pressure of our own.
God can heal depression, just like He can heal an amputated limb. But that doesn't mean that He'll choose to just yet. And just like somebody missing a leg needs somebody to lean on, people with depression need someone to lean on as well. Leaning on someone won't cause healing, but it will help. And understanding this will benefit people on both sides of the issue. It will help the person with depression because understand this and care about them anyway, and it will help you because you won't become discouraged when you don't see the depression going away after months or years. Depression isn't fun, but with a proper understanding of what it is and how it works, we can at least help to make it bearable.
"If you know someone who’s depressed, please resolve never to ask them why. Depression isn’t a straightforward response to a bad situation; depression just is, like the weather.
Try to understand the blackness, lethargy, hopelessness, and loneliness they’re going through. Be there for them when they come through the other side. It’s hard to be a friend to someone who’s depressed, but it is one of the kindest, noblest, and best things you will ever do."