Saturday afternoon we had a two hour block of free time at the Embracing Orphans retreat. Instead of hiking or going to downtown Estes Park, I hid away in my room to do some last minute prep for my talk that night. In truth I’d had several moments of panic and thought of changing my talk a half-dozen times.
But sanity prevailed and other than adding a few details, I was ready. It would be the first time that I would stand in front of a crowd and talk about my nine year battle with depression (both “regular” and “post-adoption”). I’ve shared about it on my blog and did a video testimony for church several years ago, but this was my first time “live.”
I was all ready to do a quick run through (wanted to make sure I wasn’t going to go too long), when I clicked over to Twitter for just a second. (Can you say ADD?) There was a tweet from someone about praying for Rick & Kay Warren as they had lost their son.
I quickly found the story on MSNBC. A story many of you have read by now.
“In spite of America’s best doctors, meds, counselors, and prayers for healing, the torture of mental illness never subsided,” Warren wrote to church members. “Today, after a fun evening together with Kay and me, in a momentary wave of despair at his home, he took his life.”
I stood in that hotel room and wept. A dozen years ago my reaction to that story would have been completely different. While I’m sure I would have felt sorry for the Warren’s, I’m also honest enough to admit that at one point the thought “Well that was selfish” would have flickered through my brain.
I had no reference from which to comprehend what would lead a person to suicide, especially a depressed person.
Not until one night in early 2004. I had, most likely, been clinically depressed for at least 6 months. But I had refused to admit I needed help. Had refused to talk about it with anyone, including my spouse or my best friends. Had refused to label it or even try to find a label for what I was feeling.
But that night I reached a breaking point – a full realization and face-to-face moment with the pain I was feeling. The realization that I no longer recognized the person I was. And the person I had become was NOT someone I liked.
In that brief moment I thought to myself, “Jesus, just come take me now please. I don’t think I can do this anymore.”
I want to make sure the distinction is clear – I wanted Jesus to relieve my pain. I was not, nor did I ever get to the point of contemplating suicide. I don’t want to unnecessarily scare my friends & family.
But that brief moment was enough to give me a glimpse into the darkness. Enough to forever change the way I would look at mental illness and suicide.
To look not with judgement, but instead with empathy. To know that logic, even “spiritual logic” is sometimes elusive – not because the person isn’t Christian enough. Not because their faith isn’t strong enough or they didn’t pray enough or they have some unconfessed sin. But because they are ill.
Mental illness is no different from cancer. No one chooses it.
Unfortunately, what is different is how we talk about it. ESPECIALLY in Christian circles. As a pastor’s wife (at the time), I felt as if I needed to hide the weight of my emotions behind a mask of hospitality and faith. I was sure that if I began to bare my soul, even just the tiniest bit, that what poured forth would be met with judgement and disdain. No, not from my husband, family or closest friends, but from the church as a whole.
The fear was, of course, not based in reality. But that’s the problem with depression. It blurs the lines of logic and reality until the person suffering is too afraid to take a step forward.
Can God heal? Absolutely! Does every person need medication to get better? No. Are there a lot of people who need help and aren’t getting it? Yes!
A study by the Shaffer Institute revealed that 70% of pastors battle depression. That’s 7 times the national average (1 in 10). So why aren’t we talking about it?
What if, instead of wondering how the church would react, every person suffering from depression knew they would be met with open arms and loving acceptance. What if they knew because we showed them? What if every Christian who has suffered from depression and mental illness would step forward and say “Me too”?
Matthew’s death is a horrible loss – the worst loss a person can ever encounter. I pray that somehow through the Warren’s story the church will wake up to the realities of mental illness and start talking about it the same way we talk about other illnesses – without judgement and shame.
If you are battling depression, please get help. It just takes reaching out to one person to start – whether that is a spouse, best friend or doctor.
If you have been blessed to be left untouched by this disease then I hope you will stand by, ready to support and love those around you who do suffer. Because I promise that there is someone, if not now, then at some point in your life.
A couple other posts you must read…
Ann Voskamp – “There’s no stigma in saying you’re sick because there’s a wounded Healer who uses nails to buy freedom and crosses to resurrect hope and medicine to make miracles.”
Kristen Howerton – “When we hear about grieving parents it can be so tempting to try to assign blame, because if they aren’t to blame, then we have to grapple with the reality that sometimes, tragedy is senseless. This is an uncomfortable truth: awful things happen to children that parents cannot prevent. It’s a truth so painful that we would rather throw grieving parents under the bus than face it.”