The Catharsis of Depression

I have been wrestling with publishing this post or not.  Technically I am not even supposed to be writing it as I’m supposed to be working on my book.  But this is really I can think about.

The Monday before Thanksgiving I was crushed by depression seemingly out of nowhere. Since then I have been very emotionally unstable, coming in and out of a very dark place. I have been in a haze for the most part and had to dig deep to find motivation to finish the quarter. I felt disembodied as I wrote about how the Resurrection of Christ gives us eternal hope even as I struggled to just make it through the day.

There was no big disappointing event.  One day I was fine and the next day my depression just was. I had not felt like this in months, certainly not since my inner healing prayer last Spring, but as I looked to the future I could see absolutely no hope and felt destined for failure in all areas of my life. The joy I had been walking in seemed a faint memory and I have been working to understand what the Hell has been going on in me under the surface of my heart.

I was hesitant to write about my depression for a number of reasons but then I watched this video…

Now I have never jumped off the Manhattan bridge and survived like Schramm, but two times in my life my depression has taken me to the brink of suicide.

The first time was in high school. Two factors drove that depression. On the surface I was depressed because my plans for my life that I had been working towards for three years just fell apart.  Underneath that was a ton of pain from my family, incredible self-hatred and a fear that God too hated me. I ended up at the front of an intersection in my hometown.  As cross-traffic drove by I had my foot on the gas, not on the brake.  I was preparing to drive myself headlong into traffic in an attempt to make my suicide look like an accident.

The second time was last Spring.  The depression that preceded it had lasted months.  It was driven by a severe sense of being betrayed and lied to by both God and my Ex, my inability to forgive my Ex and move on in life, and my attempts to deal with the dysfunctional and abuse home I was raised in. I ended up in a place where I was sitting down to draft two suicide notes, one for my family and one for my Ex, as I seriously considered driving home to get my rifle, so I could shoot myself in the head.

While I am not suicidal, I decided to publish this post for anyone who has ever been there or is there right now. It think Schramm is right. For the sake of those who struggle with depression and suicidal thoughts or suicide attempts, we need to get over the taboo of talking about these issues.  This can be especially difficult in Christian circles where this is an unspoken pressure to be happy and admonitions to be “content in all circumstances” or “grateful for what Jesus did” can act as barriers to be honest with what is really going on.

While my own current depression has not fully lifted, I hope my writing about it is in its own way encouraging.  At the very least I hope people understand that they are not alone.

What’s driving the current depression…

The current depression is not being driven by events that have happened but by raging pessimism about three areas of my future: my arthritis, my hopes for marriage and family, and the need to make a living in the adult world. Major uncertainty in all of these areas allows for a lot of negativity from my past to invade my present.

Proverbs 13:12 says that, “A hope deferred makes the heart sick…” and it feels like the hopes I have for my life in all these areas has constantly been just out of reach.  This dynamic has crushed my heart and at this point and time I feel like giving up hope because that is safer, easier, and the most likely result anyway considering my past. In all three of these areas I feel like I am destined to failure and should just prepare and plan for the worst.

To summarize my fears and my thoughts, my mind usually ends a message similar to this: “God is not going to heal you and your physical body will continue to be worse. You are experiencing physical pain for absolutely no reason. You will never get married, or will get married and have a family only to experience failure such as a divorce or the tragic death of your children. You will never find a way to make a living doing something meaningful and will struggle to pay off loans working part-time jobs with no significance.”

Irrational but not unfounded…

As I wrestled to understand what the Hell was going on with me I realized that a big tension in all of this.  When I stepped back I could realize my extreme pessimism was completely irrational and yet at the same time it was not completely unfounded.

Many people in my life think highly of me and recognize a lot of my great qualities and assets.  Because of this many friends have assured me that marriage and family will happen for me, and that I have such a bright future. If I met a person who had my exact qualities, I would assume the same thing. There are many good things in my life and character that indicate someone bound for success, influence, and a healthy family life. I realize that many people in the world would literally kill to have my life, problems and all.

On the other hand my pessimism is not completely unfounded. In all three areas that I have been concerned with I have experienced major failure and disappointment many times. I have prayed for healing before and it has not come. Is the next prayer session going to be different?  The most recent failed relationship was but the third that followed a very familiar pattern.  Will the fourth break the cycle? After earning a B.A. in Biblical Studies I got a job at Costco.  What’s to say after earning a Masters in Theology, things will be any different? (Especially considering the fact that I want nothing to do with the Christian religious system…you know where all the money and stable salaries are to be found.)  While I know that just because something happened in the past does not mean it is not destined to repeat in the future, the glaring failures of my past do not exactly instill confidence that God is going to come through now when He did not back then.

Some confusion and some clarity…

This whole situation confused the crap out of me.  Where did this depression come from?  What sparked it?  Why now? Will this ever be over, or is it going to be like this the rest of my life?  Should I get on medications?  Is there a spiritual element to it?

As I thought about the whole situation, a couple things came to light.

First, I choose this. Several months back I decided to stop pursuing a PsyD degree knowing that school feels safe to me and the real adult world is scary. I knew getting into the real world beyond school would push a lot of my trust issues with God…and it has. Part of my depression has been feeling the incredible financial pressure of the “$50,000 mistake” that is my seminary education.  The fear is that I will not be able to pay back my loans and simply end up in permanent financial distress.  Obviously this is a very negative outlook on life, and shows very little trust that God will provide for me or wants to see me succeed.  This trust issue was and is very real and it needs to be dealt with.  If I had pursued PsyD, I would be in the same situation I am now, just several years down the road and with even more debt. Choosing to do the MAT alone just hasted this day.  I was always going to have to work through this. Overall, I am glad this is being dealt with sooner, rather than later.

Second, I saw some spiritual and family dynamics and choices I have regarding them.  Growing up, I did not feel safe to go to my parents when I was in emotional distress to receive comfort.  I was basically scared of my parents and felt responsible for my mother’s emotions, so there really was no room for me to be sad anyway.  Therefore I learned to self-sooth when in distress and all my issues with addiction and seeking to numb out stem from this. During a time at my internship God invited me to seek His comfort when I was in distress, even though I was scared to do so with my parents. Will I trust that God can and does want to comfort me, even when that concept is very foreign to me? I am trying my best to do this and trust God to minister to me and comfort me in ways no addiction or distraction can.

In a related vein I actually called home and let my parents know what was going on with me.  This was the first time I have ever talked to my parents when I was in such a bad place and intentionally let them in. My mom obviously told the rest of the family and I got a call from my father and an email from my sister about it. It was…weird.  I really have never though of my family as a place of emotional support and understanding. While I recognize part of the reason I struggle with depression is because of choices my parents made twenty years ago, I know have a choice if I am going to let them be part of the solution.  They were not there for me then, but they can be there for me now, and seem to want to be.  Will I let them?

Third, in my class on Inner Healing Prayer we were taught that healing often comes in layers.  Just because an issues comes up more than once, does not mean we “lost” our healing, but that the healing is going to a deeper level.  I think this is very true. Sometimes bondage is broken and cut instantly.  Other times it is dissolved or dealt with in increments. I think God deals with things when we are ready and there is sometimes a component of timing to healing. This, I think, is especially true of my struggle to forgive my Ex.  I dissociated from a lot of the pain in that relationship and used resentment and anger to mitigate the pain of what happened.  This was a good thing.  If I had felt it all at once I would probably have gone through with my planned suicide.  But as I began to forgive my Ex, the pain and feelings my anger had held at way came to the surface. I would then have to work through the process from pain to forgiveness again. This situation made me feel like I was never making headway, but there was just a lot to work through a little at a time.

The catharsis in depression…

Overall I realize that this depression will ultimately be cathartic.  I do not mean that by writing or talking about it or even understanding it will eliminate it from my mind or my heart.  I have walked in depression long enough to know that alone is not the solution.  What I mean is this:

Dr. Chuck Kraft said something to the effect that “pain is a sign that points to the need for healing and/or the need to be ministered to.”  I think this is true.  In this, my depression is like the light that comes on when your car is low on gas.  It points to the existence of a problem, namely the underlying issues of my depression.  When it turns on, one can choose to deal with the problem, one can attempt to ignore it and hope for the best or one can manage it in some alternative way.

Hoping for the best and continuing as usual, or attempting to numb out from the pain has not proven to be a beneficial solution. I am choosing to deal with the issues that are being brought to light by the depression, especially the lack of trust I have in God in regards to my future and the pain I have experienced that have led to that lack of trust. I am choosing to continue in inner healing prayer, I am considering getting back into counseling with a different counselor, I am talking to people about what is going on (which is really a new thing for me) and bringing these issues before God and obeying what He says.

In this, my depression will ultimately lead to the release of healing in my life in places that need healing. While by no means enjoyable, my depression is a gigantic flashing neon sign that highlights problems in my heart.  This is what I mean by the catharsis of depression; it is the resolution of problems in our minds and our hearts that is possible only because the pain of depression points to an issue that we would normally ignore or remain ignorant of.

[Note: If you’re struggling with depression and/or suicidal thoughts please get help and talk to someone.  Even as I still struggle with my most recent depression, I can from experience echo the words of Schramm: while it is difficult to make the choice to come back to life, it does get better.]

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About Kevin

I am figuring out life and faith and taking other people along with me on my journey. Sometimes as fellow travelers, sometimes as hostages.
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3 Responses to The Catharsis of Depression

  1. Thank you for posting this. I know you mentioned you struggled with the idea of posting it or not, but I believe this was a very important piece to write, for you and for many readers to come.

    I’ve struggled with a very abusive past and have recently decided to give up my secrets with the world. I can no longer keep them buried deep within, they’re killing me. As I read your words I could hear how cathartic it is for you to voice your feelings and get them out. I understand how that feels.

    I’ve felt deep depression in periods of my life, which has given my life contrast to know what it is I DO want from life. You’re right about depression acting like a neon sign to show you there’s a problem buried deep – let it out, shine a light on it so you can see it from a new perspective.

  2. Phil Bjornberg says:

    Kevin, my brother in Christ.
    Thank you for surrendering to the urging to publish this in spite of any rationalizations of false pride or shame that may have convinced you otherwise.
    What little we (you and I) have shared together in our encounters at school thus far have contributed profoundly to the enrichment of the learning and fellowship I am experiencing at seminary.
    A few tidbits I’ve picked up along the way in my recovery process, I share with you here, as I have been moved to respond to your rigorous honesty and realize in reading it how profoundly God is working in you and encourage you to trust in the mysteries yet to be revealed. This salvation journey truly is a process, not a destination to be completed in this lifetime. It is the authentic you that you share, in your full humanness, that is of such profound service to our Lord, not our cultural views of what is “acceptable,” “successful,” or “celebrity.”
    My sponsor imprinted me with the key that freed me from self-condemnation: “It is not about good or bad, or right or wrong. It is about what IS, and what you DO about it!”
    Another gem from the spirituality of recovery for me is “You are only as sick as your secrets.” Learning through 12 step fellowship and intense one-on-one therapy over the last 8 years, I am finally beginning to practice purging and putting out into the light the shame, guilt, weakness, helplessness, vulnerabilities, scars, etc. I put it out into the open so it can no longer be toxic to me and others.
    I am returning to Pasadena for the winter term. I hope you and I can get together more as we share our walk together.
    One day at a time I can find gratitude in the moment, abiding in Christ by faith alone at times, carrying on through the darkness of depression or unfounded shame, in full knowledge, life is a gift I can cherish, no matter what it feels like in the sacrament of any given moment.
    “This too shall pass!”
    Peace, brother
    Phil

  3. archie says:

    Dear Kevin,

    I very much appreciate your openhearted dialogue and have been inspired to not only write this reply (quite out of my comfort zone) but also to seek help for my condition which I could describe as ‘depression based on introspective feelings of guilt from my personal history’. Quite a common condition I am led to believe and through talking to others and opening up about the issues I dwell on most, I reckon I can crack it and be a consistently fulfilled individual for the first time in a loooong time. I appreciate your candidness about spirituality and whilst this topic I find personally to be completely open for all offers at this time, I do benefit from the rare occasions I visit a church, or more recently have been attending Buddhist meditaion sessions, and somewhere inside I feel God is within me and holding a dim candle at all times which is leading me slowly and surely to full enlightenment. I feel I have experienced this sense of enlightenment at certain times in my life, where I feel like I always know exactly what the right thing to say or do is and my creativeness flows like a steady stream of pure white gold light. Unfortunately my routine is to celebrate these times of inner power and financial prowess by excessive alcoholism and drug abuse to the point where my grip on life, relationships and creativity dries up and I find myself flitting from one place to another without a job, goal, friends or anything to call my own apart from my depression. I know there is a way out, I have not seriously considered suicide since I was 11 years old (I was going to jump out of a window and land on my head but talked myself out of it in case I didn’t pull it off and ended up worse than before, mentally and physically scarred for life, phew!), I have a deep rooted belief also that suicide is such a selfish way to go and how would all my family feel about it and not to mention the person that finds my body! And that is a strong thought right there. To think of others instead of ourselves is key, which personally I struggle with a little bit because I think to myself “well isn’t it selfish to help that person just so I can feel better?” I guess the answer is probably yes but so what and don’t call it selfishness, it’s more like self-preservation, which in turn may also help the person or persons you are trying to help. I was feeling rather low today and searched ‘catharsis for depression’, thinking I would find a link to a nice singalong music video or advice about techniques to work on by myself, but instead your article popped up and I feel as I am writing these final words right here that the answer does not necessarily (ooh really struggled to spell that word!) come from my actions alone at home, but through truthful communication with others and really opening up myself to everything.

    Thank you Kevin

    Yours as truthfully as current conditions allow,

    Archie

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