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Ever since I was a kid, I’ve been living with treatment-resistant major depressive disorder. I’ve been sick before during the holidays, but never as sick as I am right now.
And it feels very much as if hope, peace, joy and love are the ghosts of Christmas past.
Clinical depression is a mental disorder that can be caused by a number of things. My predisposition is genetic; depression runs in both sides of my family.
There are lots of ways people can experience bouts of clinical depression. For me, it’s like a Novocaine drip
If I believe God’s promises are real — and I do — I have to believe He keeps them even when I’m at my very worst.
to my spirit. Apart from a sense of dread, I don’t feel much of anything. It’s what I imagine life would be like if I lived in a spacesuit. Rather than zero gravity, though, the atmosphere is always heavy.
In fact, everything is heavy.
Depression has taken a brutally-excessive toll on my marriage and my children, and I can never make that right. During a depressive episode, I only ever want to be alone, to hibernate. If I can get out of bed, it takes the emotional equivalent of rocket propellant to make me function like a normal human person in the world. Every time I have to leave my house, my lungs constrict and I want to cry.
I work hard to compensate, but I’m not always successful. I often feel like a freak because my brain is full of white noise so I can’t concentrate, or remember things, or think what to say to anyone.
Clinical depression weakens the immune system, so I get sick a lot. I’m often achy for no particular reason, and I’m always overwhelmed and tired. On a good day, I handle hygiene like a McPick 2 menu: some combination of a shower, clean hair, deodorant, brushed teeth, makeup and clean clothes. Pretty sure I don’t always look and/or smell great.
Then there’s the cherry on top of the turd sundae that is depression: Over time, it makes your brain shrink — a condition linked to Alzheimer’s disease, my worst nightmare.
None of this is fun to talk about. Laying it all out here like this is basically a public colonoscopy. But the World Health Organization estimates there are more than 320 million people on the planet who live with depression. And I’m guessing I’m not the only one of us at Grace.
There’s not an awesome time to have a major depressive episode. For an apprentice of Jesus, though, being sick at Christmas is especially soul-crushing. If you’re struggling right now, words can’t make everything okay. But something has occurred to me, and for what it’s worth, here it is:
Promises can’t be a little bit true. By definition, they’re true or they’re not. If I believe God’s promises are real — and I do — I have to believe He keeps them even when I’m at my very worst.
A depressive episode is the darkest darkness I personally know, but God can shine through it. However isolated I may be in that darkness, Jesus never leaves me by myself. However worthless I think I am, I’m valued by God. However helpless I think I am, Jesus will always help me. However inadequate I think I am, in Christ I’m complete. I can count on those facts not because of what I do or don’t do, but because of who our steadfast God is.
Obviously, this isn’t new information. What I’ve been slow to realize is that God is continually speaking this truth into my heart, even in the midst of soul-sucking depression. When His hope, joy, peace and love seem illusive, I can count on the promise that neither life, nor death, nor sluggishness, nor despair, nor depression, nor helplessness, nor hopelessness, nor pit stink, nor Alzheimer’s can separate you and me from Christ Jesus. His light is stronger than our darkness.
Honestly, I don’t see it right now. But I choose to remember and believe. I don’t know how to celebrate Advent when I have nothing to give, but I can start by celebrating the fact that depression doesn’t have the final word. God does. And for today, that’s a pretty good start.
Felley Lawson is a writer who loves Jesus, her husband, her kids, her dog and talking about herself in the third person.