Finding hope in dark times, peace in lament, and joy in ordinary times.
Throughout my journey with mental health, there have been extremely dark times, times of crying out to God and to be honest, pretty ordinary times as well. 2000 years ago, Jesus was just a few days before his crucifixion, tensions were building, and everything looked bleak. In amongst this darkness, we see the pureness of eternal life, and new hope is born.
I have seen moments like this in my own life and in my journey of depression. When things have been at their darkest, hope crashes in. When things seem beyond repair, peace allows me to sit with the brokenness. When things are moving smoothly, joy stirs in my soul.
But this journey with depression has been complex and riddled with learning! I wonder if I can take you on that journey with me?
Depression is like living life in greyscale, at its worst, it's complete darkness. It's not being able to engage with life in all its fullness. It goes beyond “Low mood” or having a bad day. Depression is different for everyone, but one of the key features is that you are unable to enjoy the things you once did enjoy. For me, an example would be that normally I love reading and if I lose interest in this, it's a warning sign to me that maybe I am not feeling too well. Other people might experience sleeplessness or need to sleep more, or loss of appetite or increase appetite.
I have struggled with depression since I was in my teens, I take medication to help me with this and I like to think of it as a wave. When you are in the sea, sometimes when a wave is coming, you can feel it beginning to pull your body backwards as it gains power and momentum, ready to crash upon the shore. The wave then has a peak, and you might get caught up in the foam, and then eventually the wave subsides and calms. I live with the waves, I can't ignore them, when they come, I take action, and I wait until the seas calm again. When I spend weeks fighting the waves, it crashes harder.
Medication isn't the answer for everyone but for others, it's been a lifesaver. Some people who take medication struggle with the concept of taking a pill; for their brain. I haven't ever struggled with this, as I grew up with chronic asthma so early in life I was used to taking medication.
I think there is a misconception though, anti-depressants aren't happy pills. They don't take the depression away and suddenly life is back in full colour again. What they are able to do, is allow you to swim when those waves come. Anti-depressants enable me to keep my head above water in a way that I certainly couldn't do without them. With my asthma, I have medication otherwise I could have an asthma attack that could kill me. Similarly with depression, I need anti-depressants so that I can try and live life to the fullest.
It can typically take someone 10 years from struggling with their mental health to then asking for help. This can be down to a few reasons
- We are taught that we should be able to cope with life, so when we are struggling then we should be able to cope alone.
- People might ask for help, but not actually get what they really needed, so this can stop people from asking for help in the future.
- It might be a feeling of shame. We might tell ourselves “I am a Christian, therefore, I shouldn't be struggling with my mental health” or “I have all this great stuff going on in my life, what do I have to complain about?”
I think it's helpful to remember in all of this, is that Jesus came for the ones that were most in need. He hung out with the people that struggled most in life. What I find fascinating about the way that Jesus engaged with the broken was that he reached out to them. We hear a lot about “If you are struggling then reach out to someone you trust” which can be really helpful. However, what would it look like for us to start reaching in, diving into the mess with people? As communities, church, friends and family, we need to reach in, spot the signs, and offer help when it hasn't been asked of us.
When someone is drowning, we don just chuck them a life raft and walk away. We notice they are struggling to stay afloat, we take initiative and help them put a life jacket on and pull them to shore so they can recover.
- Rachael Newham