Depression, Anxiety & the Faithful
Depression and anxiety happen to the Faithful. And I know this for sure because I have been there. Granted, I am on the other side. But from that side, I want to tell you a few things, take them or leave them. Either way, it’s okay.
Most people would not believe the depths of the sorrow I walked through about two years ago. For the most part, in public, I didn’t reveal how bad it was. But it was bad. Really, very bad. And not just, no makeup, stay in my pajamas bad. More like, “I am not going to drive over the bridge today” bad.
The bridge was too risky, I couldn’t be trusted. Although death by drowning seemed less than ideal, I had myself convinced this would look like an accident. And I am not here to tell you all that awfulness. I think that is one of the worst parts of the camaraderie of depression and anxiety. You know, if I tell you all my awfulness, there is the chance you’d compare your awfulness to mine and vice versa. There is no real formula for what hurts any one of us on a sliding scale of least to greatest.
Which, by the way, is of huge consequence to this post. The comparative is part of the vicious cycle of depression and anxiety. And I propose, it is a huge factor on the spinning wheel of the faithful and afflicted.
The voices of depression and anxiety, for me anyway, started and ended with, “if your faith were stronger, if you loved Jesus more, you wouldn’t feel so desperate.”
And those thoughts went round and round. “If you were stronger in your faith, if you loved Jesus more, you wouldn’t feel so desperate. And, if you were dead, no one would know that you weren’t stronger in your faith. Certainly, if it were an accident only Jesus would know it was an accident. How could you leave your children? Oh my gosh, how could you leave Justin? And what about your mom and dad? This is why you are depressed, you are a failure and a coward! If you were stronger in your faith, if you loved Jesus more, you wouldn’t feel so desperate.”
Then I wasn’t only depressed and desperate, I was wracked with anxiety about how little faith I had. And the anxiety brewed, stewed, and bubbled until finally, I was safe from bridge driving because I was paralyzed to drive.
While I most likely will experience extreme blog remorse in the morning, I knew that I would have to write this post. And I prayed and waited for opportunities to word it just so. The words started to stir and then, today, my youngest son came into the kitchen from riding his bike. I said, “Hey Charlie, how’s the weather?” And Charlie said, “It is sweaty.”
And there you have it.
The outside forces that start the spiral of inner responses. Most likely, something started you down the road to a depressive state. The response is physical.
It was actually a beautiful day in Houston on the 29th of February, 2020. Slightly warm with just a breath of breeze. But if you are only six, and don’t own a thermometer, and have ridden your bike fast and hard for over an hour, “It’s sweaty out,” is a good measure of the climate.
And if your marriage ended, you buried a beloved, lost your job, lost your home, had a terrible or even minor accident, met with financial turmoil, or just stopped caring, it may have turned your insides to mush. But my purpose was followed by another mess. And this mess is like chum in the shark tank, and that chum is guilt.
When I look back on the season of depression and anxiety, that is what is most vivid, gut-wrenching guilt.
I am not any good at tennis, but I volleyed the guilt ball back and forth over the net, never missing a hit. Honestly, even writing about it now, I can hear the hollow pop of the ball, hitting my racket and meeting the center of the opposing racket, square, and back and forth I went.
Everything, every thought was steeped in how I should be, and what I should do, and how awful I was because I just couldn’t.
Snap out of it…
Depression and anxiety aren’t the Fruits of the Spirit…
Why don’t you…
You would be better off…
They would be better off…
Because you are the worst…
And look at this mess…
If only you would…
Good Christian girls don’t need medication…
Good grief, snap out of it…
And all of the “you shoulds” were followed by what I knew to be true of “great” believers in Jesus Christ. Christians should have the Fruits of the Spirit. And if I did, I wouldn’t be avoiding bridges, taking antidepressants, eating obscene amounts of graham crackers, and my prayers would be answered.
Ah yes, the answered prayer manifesto. Which came first? The faithful believer or the answered prayer?
Truth be told, this was my first glimpse at bridge safety. It was my very own words, “an apple tree doesn’t try and make apples, it just does,” that first inspired me. Trying to produce the Fruits of the Spirit is like spying an apple tree bearing down, gritting its roots, desperate to make apples. Or the ground beneath your feet, grunting and moaning, giving all it has to spring forth a blade of grass.
Nature is just that, a natural occurrence.
And while it can be wild and turbulent, like an earthquake or a tornado, it doesn’t try to do that either, it just happens. So this was the first step in my recovery, I just rolled with the natural parts of my grief, disappointment, and loss, and let the storm rage.
Now, I was under a physician’s care, so do not think I am saying that you have to do this on your own. Just like an orchard needs tending to, so too might you need some outside help. The point was, I even felt guilty about that. But I quickly came to terms with the fact that help was just a farmer, tending to some runaway weeds, the result of a storm that blew in some foreign seeds.
No harm no foul. If you had the flu and you went to the doctor for some medicine, would you accuse yourself of being less of a Christian? Which brought me to the quick conclusion, all of the other outside things that interfere with our ability to function are never questioned by the “rules” of the Christian faith.
Germs get in, you get a sore throat and fever, you go to the doctor for antibiotics, and simultaneously believe that Jesus was born of a virgin, healed the sick, deaf, blind, crippled, and then suffered died and was buried, and rose again.
And here we are.
So if the outside infidelity, loss, misfortune, or whatever, got in and resulted in depression and anxiety, you get whatever help you can, and simultaneously believe that Jesus was born of a virgin, healed the sick, deaf, blind, crippled, and then suffered died and was buried, and rose again.
And there you go.
However, if the outside got in and resulted in depression and you berate yourself for your lack, I propose you manifest more depression and bonus, you also now have anxiety. Anxiety to get over it and move on and be a better believer and better pray-er. In the midst of that, there is the misguided belief that prayers aren’t answered and that circumstances don’t improve because of this lack. And the pressure increases and the depression grows greater and the anxiety gets worse and worse.
Repeat and increase depression and anxiety.
Sure, Christians should be producers of fruit, but even apple trees produce apples in seasons.
Most certainly, hope deferred makes the heart weary. But that deferment will seem like much more than just one growing season if the only fertilizer is guilt. Even if your actions were the catalyst to the mess that fostered depression, Jesus offers no harm, no foul.
Sadness is an emotion. Anger is an emotion. Joy and happiness are also emotions. And while the first two are not as much fun as the latter two, you were created to feel and experience these by a perfect God, who is most careful with you.
That was the second biggest part of my recovery. Knowing I wasn’t in trouble for not bearing fruit, and picturing a gentle shepherd, carrying me on His shoulders as I healed.
What monster is this God that we create? That stands at the foot of our bed demanding we pull it together and stop being so depressed and anxious? Imagine for a moment someone you love, a person you hold most dear. Picture for a moment, them with the flu. They are physically depleted, ravaged with fever, in miserable pain and discomfort. Now, picture yourself telling them to get up and get over it, NOW!
How is it that Jesus got such a reputation?
Would He stand at the foot of your bed while you suffered, grieved, and struggled to function and chastise you? Would he bark at you to get it together, and list all the ways you have failed to be better when He died for you?
It makes no sense. Surely He loves better than any human you know, for I know no other human being that would be tortured to death so that you and I could live?
I have a degree in counseling and human development. Berating someone was never encouraged in any sane counseling methodologies. I have fostered and adopted babies, and in that training and certification, there is never any suggestion that cruelty would bring about healthy change. So why would a God who loved the world so much, that He gave His only son, be such a beast as to not stand vigil, out of pure love, while you get well?
The mind is part of this body, and it can be depressed and wracked with anxiety.
Just like it could be afflicted with a stroke or Alzheimers, it can break down under the heavy burden of loss and heartbreak, and that is entirely apart from your commitment to knowing and loving Jesus.
Maybe, it won’t get okay for a while longer. But I would bet the farm it would be a much easier road to healing if guilt were not a fork in the road. The road to recovery from depression is one we would all like to hurry.
No one wants to feel bad. That is not how we were created. We were created with senses so that we might experience the abundance of life all around us. So, of course, you want to feel happy again. I firmly believe that you can and will, but first on the agenda is to note the healthy emotions of your predicament. Guilt is not one of them. Comparison is not either.
This season of depression and anxiety is not about whether or not you believe in Jesus. This season is about Jesus being there no matter how you get out or get on with things.
He will never leave or forsake you. Nope, not ever.
And this I know, for sure.
Jesus be all over you. Love, Jami
32 I am Well Cards downloads with original art and affirmations by Jami Amerine M.Ed. Bonus three pieces of downloadable art and scripture. Introduction and copy of the Blog Post Depression, Anxiety, and the Faithful.
The “I am Well” Download Companion Affirmation Cards for the Depression and Anxiety for adults can be found on Etsy here!
32 cards, 3 original pieces of art, this essay, and encouragement! Visit here!