I have this roommate. She’s been here with me for about 6 months now. One day, there was a knock on the door and when I opened it, she showed up at my doorsteps and dragged her huge luggage into my bedroom. Before I had a chance to respond, she moved in next to me on the bed.
At first, she just made small talk, but then got herself attached to me. She started to disturb me in my sleep and I wake up 2 or 3 times during the night. She follows me around all the time, and when I had an hour by myself finally, she finds me and talks to me. She loves sarcasm, loves to judge and criticise my weaknesses until I know them off by heart. She constantly looks over my shoulder whenever I engage in something and I end up leaving because of the anxiety she puts on me.
It is not all bad, I tell myself. She does go on small vacations. Sometimes for a day, sometimes for several days. On those days, I am grateful for the breather I get and I enjoy me. But sometimes, she returns at the worst possible times and I am left dumbfounded. The worst thing is, she scares all of my friends away with her presence. They don’t want to hang around me when she’s around, because seriously, even I don’t want to hang around me with her around. When I can’t take it anymore, I tried to run away, but she always knew where I am and how to catch up to me.
When she breaks me and I tried to find a friend who will not be afraid and stand with me, she taunts me and says that no one will inconvenience themselves for me. When no one is available, I believe her and I cry in her arms. That’s when she holds me and doesn’t let go.
Lately, she is getting more irritating and more dangerous. When I tell her to get out, she lunges for me and beats me half to death on the ground. I got some help. I can’t beat her up because she is immune to physical damage. But I am learning to know when to expect her to arrive, learn how to change my locks and learn how to stand my ground to her. She is tough because she always comes back and she always stays months at a time. But I will learn to prepare myself with weapons and tools, ready for battle with her.
Oh, by the way, her name is depression.
I often reflect on why in the midst of my depression, especially when I feel like i’ve hit rock bottom, I keep going to church, even in my unstable mental and emotional state. On one small level, I perhaps long for the attention, the social connection, or the desperate cry for help without actually shouting out “help”.
But I realised something much deeper that is going on. There is just one simple explanation. It is my dependence on God that makes me long to continue to go to church or Bible study. In the last few months, I have realise the need I have for God’s grace and strength. I cannot fight this alone and need God’s power, and He does so by the professional help that is available and the church family and friends that He has placed in my life at this point in life.
When people question me how my depression and my faith can coexist or where they meet, I know that it is my depression which humbles me to be dependent on God and learning that I am not all powerful, but more importantly, it is my faith that has brought me thus far. I look at the lowest points of my life, the ones when I have seriously thought about death and suicide, I see not my own footprints, but God carrying me throigh those dark times. Without God, I may have been dead ten times over.
In my struggle with depression, I sometimes can remember to not to see the long difficult journey ahead, but to see the cross in place of that. It reminds me that through the cross, Christ died for me and death has no hold on me. It reminds me that I am a part of God’s people and He will never let go my hand. It reminds me that there is still a purpose for me here, and that even in my brokenness, God has a plan to use that for the sake of the gospel. I may be blinded at times to see the grace, but I am sure that I am never again lost.
I recently read this article called “You are not depressed, you’re just selfish…” At first I was totally furious at the accusations that depression is a self-centred matter. It is not even an illness, just something that we made up to get attention for ourselves. As time goes on, I begin to think that everything is an illusion. Perhaps, I am just wanting to feel the pain because it is the only thing that can make me feel alive at the moment. Perhaps, I am so in need or desire of attention that I would allow myself to become depressed so people would notice and care about me. Perhaps, it is about me and my selfishness. I am so caught up in my own thoughts that I fail to notice other people’s problems. Perhaps, I am addicted to pain and the belonging that I seek.
I am going to confess right here. As I was sitting outside church, the thing that went through my head was how much I was desperate for someone to come up to me, NOT to ask me “are you okay” or tell me “let me know how I can help”. These two things don’t mean anything to me, for the first one I cannot answer and the second one I don’t have an answer for. I really wanted for someone to stop and sit next to me, just to put their arms around me and let me cry. I really wanted someone to say to me, “I am here for you”.
I know what you are thinking. You should have asked for help. That is the most painful thing I have heard, but on one level, I really wanted the courage to shout out, I need help, but I just can’t. Call it selfishness, call it fear, call it afraid of rejection. It doesn’t matter because I just couldn’t muster that energy to tell people I am not okay. I know you think I am crazy and selfish. I probably am. I mean, I desire for people to sacrifice their time for mine, so I must be selfish, right?
But I know that deep down, I was being unfair. I can’t ask people or risk people being dragged down by my negative energy. I tell myself that I am not worth the trouble for people, and so when rejection comes, I feel like it is expected. I cannot let my depression be the excuse for my sins, I know that I am selfish and wants to feel like I matter. Perhaps, this is why I am depressed, because it makes my life more interesting and dramatic.
The worst confession is that at times, like now, I can’t see the grace that saved me. I know it is there, but somehow cannot feel it in my heart. I pray that God will hold onto me, for I am blinded by the darkness of my own heart.
When I tell people about my struggles, some of them look at me as if I am crazy. People tell me that it is all in my head. Sometimes, I actually believe them. People often ask me why I am depressed or what triggered it, and sometimes I struggle to come up with a reason for my depressive episodes. I often ask myself why am I this way but often get no answer. Then I feel like a real crazy person because there is just no way that I can be this depressed for no reason, right?!
When I hear of other people who are battling physical illnesses and diseases, I am often conflicted internally. I admire and respect those who are brave and strong enough to fight the battles, but also having the courage to speak out their vulnerabilities and weaknesses. On the other hand, I feel a sense of less self-worth because I am drowning in my own sorrows of mental downward spirals and think that there is something crazy about me.
We oftem hear about the victorious battles people have overcoming obstacles, hardship, disabilities and diseases. I sometimes have a really hard time believing that I could ever get out of this invisible battle with my mind. Sometimes, I feel like I am losing it, day by day. It breaks my heart to hear people telling me that depression is not real or that depression is just selfish. Or that it is not worth like other legitimate obstacles.
We are fighting an invisible battle. You may think it doesn’t exist, but if you could get inside my head, perhaps you will have a different perspective. I sometimes wonder what it would be like for an outsider to look inside what depression feel or look like. I can’t imagine. There may not be any physical injury, but the emotional and sometimes mental pain is intense. We may seem “normal” on the outside but we are desperately crying out for help on the inside.
Fighting depression is an invisible journey that is as real as every other illness. Fighting depression is an invisible journey that may lasts for a whole lifetime. Fighting depression means that we are fighting daily battles in our heads. Don’t stop fighting. Just because other people cannot see it doesn’t mean that we should stop trying to fight depression.
I know nothing worse than someone telling me that I need to trust in God more to combat my depression. I have had friends, in all their good intentions, who have told me not to be anixety about anything and how God is in control of all things. While they are good verses, it is scary to think about how I am not obeying God in my depression. Then how does my depression and my faith in God go hand-in-hand?
It starts by me acknowledging the fact that having depression does not diminish how much God loves me and it does not make me any less of a Christian than someone else. On my worst days, I tend to go into a spiraling downward thought loop where I tell myself I am not good enough for God’s kingdom. It is then when I need God’s voice to tell me that it is okay not to be okay. I usually can’t even see the light at the end of the tunnel but when I can muster the energy to stick my head above the sea of despair, I realise how much God had been carrying me through the sand.
The problem with most Christians, as well as other people, is that they try to “fix” the problem. We believe that if we can quote from thw Bible and give pearls of wisdom, we can help fix depression, possibly make it go away. We don’t need people to tell us how to be happy, we need people to say to us that we are not alone in this journey. We really need a space where we can say that we are not doing okay without being judged like we are late for church all the time.
When my depression hits, I often wonder how that will affect my faith. But I never seem to ask how my faith will affect my depression. The two are interrelated. As my depression sometimes puts me in a place of lament and anger with God, my faith in God had helped me through some of the worst times of my life. My depression has given me lessons about how much I am dependent on God and how much I am in desperate need of His soverignty. I am more dependent on God than I have ever been.
As I reflect and ponder, where do my faith and my depression meet, I have one answer – at the foot of the cross. I realise that I will most likely battle depression for the rest of my life. I still need professional and medical help, but I need to ask God to give me His strength to fight the thoughts that plague my mind everyday. But I cannot just ask for it once, for each day is its own battle. I take things one day at a time. But with God by my side, I know that depression may always be here, but its hold on me can be broken.
As I look at the cross, I am reminded of God’s grace, that I can be kinder to myself because Jesus died for our sins. God loves us, nothing can change that and that is the beauty of the cross.
In my more stable state of mental health, I take the opportunity to reflect on how depression has changed my life, how my faith had played a vital part of my recovery, and the constant battle to balance the two. As national mental health week approaches, I thought I take this time to provide some insight and wisdom into the world of depression and the lessons I have learnt trying to manage it.
Depression has changed how I thought about myself, how I lived and essentially how it shaped my mindset. I thought depression was a superficial thing that people say to get out of blaming themselves for the bad things that happen in their lives. But when it hits me, I realise the cycle of negative thought and self-blame that it actually implants in my brain so I would feel like it is my fault. Depression allowed my self-loathing and self-hate to manifest in destructive ways. Most importantly, my interaction with others became a chore and I would rather cocoon myself in a hard shell which no one gets close.
Depression is like an addiction in a way because it is hard to pull yourself out of a downward spiral of despair and hopelessness. It is also contradictory because the more we try to hide it by saying I am fine, we are in fact screaming for someone to care and to help us without stating the obvious. Depression had made my decision-making process all croas-wired and I find myself less capable of making a decisive decision. My overthinking and over-analysing feeds into that and I get anxious and irritated.
God has shown me there is light at the end of the tunnel. In my darkest hours, where I wanted to kill myself, God had shown me that His grace is enough for me. He held onto me and carried me through the valleys of despair. I have come to realise that depression does not make me less loved or valued in God’s eyes. My faith in a greater purpose has given me some great insights into how I relate to the world. God has a plan for me, and while I don’t know what that may look like now, I need to see the next second in order to find out what that may be.
I have learnt that sometimes we can’t pull ourselves out of a rut. Which is why awareness is so important. We need to be able to care for our loved ones and be okay with asking the question “are you okay?”. We need to understand that for the sufferers and fighters, they are trying their best to push through the challenges they face in life. Instead of telling them, “you need to do better”, perhaps asking them “how can I help?”. Instead of saying “it will be better”, just sit there and be with them.
What we need is first of all a compassion for the struggles that people go through. Mental health sometimes is not a war that can be won in this lifetime, but it is a constant battle for people to learn to live with. The sure hope that one day, when Jesus returns, we will be made whole again and there will be no more tears and pain, that is one thing which helps me to put things in perceptive. The struggles of this lifetime will not be in vain.
The journey will be painful and long and difficult. It will probably be a lifelong journey. What we need is the support and encouragement of people who will not be afraid of “getting their hands dirty”. We need friends who will be there for the journey, to laugh with us and to cry with us. We need people who will tell us that it is okay not to be okay, but will push us to speak out and seek professional help. We don’t need to be a superhero in our struggles with mental health, but our first step of seeking help will be the most courageous thing that we can do in our fight against them.
I love a good book that makes you think. But what I love even more is one that makes you self-reflect and challenge you to look at your sins and try to change them. Tim Keller’s Counterfeit Gods does exactly that. I have not finished the book yet, but so far, it has challenged me to search my heart and look at who I am letting in control of my life.
We all have counterfeit gods living in our hearts. Some are obvious, others are not, and some we believe are not idols at all. Yet, counterfeit gods exist in all of us. Some are surface idols that we can identify, but in our hearts, those idols are usually driven by deep idols that rock us to the core. If we continue to allow them to control our lives, I believe that eventually, we would go down a spiral of despair because those things don’t give us the sure hope of happiness. They are temporary because when they fail, and they will, the only things that are left for us are despair, anger and hopelessness.
One of my counterfeit gods has to do with love. That is the surface idol. I believe I have been so consumed about my identity in the “world of love” that I have been obsessing over it. It frustrates me and when it fails, I feel like I failed. Deeper down, I suspect that I have made acceptance, approval and comfort my counterfeit gods. The longing of feeling loved drives what goes through my head. It has also muddled the way I see relationships, romantic or otherwise.
Over the last four months, I have been back and forth about the idea of what it meant for to open that can of worms called same-sex attraction. My desires, temptations and my emotions have not made the situation easier. Whenever I feel like I am making headway, my heart screams in protest and I am knocked back a few steps. Yet, this problem, I believe I have magnified it so much that I cannot think straight and it consumes my mind like a plague.
The painful reminder is for me to stop dwelling on my sins and to look to Christ for identity and salvation. It is a difficult journey and I feel like it will be a long time coming, if ever, for me to come to that point where I am at peace with myself. To understand the counterfeit gods that dwell in our hearts, but to learn to let go of those idolatries, it is something which we need to work towards every day of our lives.