Severe depression is, by definition, an unhealthy, unnatural state of mind, inherently and wholly illogical. It really and truly doesn’t make sense. And that’s what makes it so difficult for those who’ve never dealt with it (and even many who have) to understand. Cheer up, people say. Get out. Get active. Life’s not so bad. And, of course, they’re right. On some level, you know they’re right. This is exactly how you should be thinking and what you should be doing, because this is what normal people think and do.
But let’s face it: When you’re dealing with depression, you’re not normal.
In fact, you’re a wee bit insane. You might not be talking to lamps or calling yourself the Queen of England, but your brain is a little warped. What makes logical sense to everyone else—what makes logical sense to you, very often—just doesn’t compute somehow. Telling someone suffering from severe depression to cheer up is a little like telling someone with a shattered leg to take a quick jog around the park.
But, unlike broken bones, which are obvious to everybody, your broken brain is out of view. It doesn’t even have the decency to come with a telltale cough or fever. You can complain about the pain, but no one can see any real reason why you should be in any. And unless you’re aware that you have depression, you don’t see why you should be in pain, either. You just know that you are.
You often don’t know that you’re depressed. I just knew that, without warning, you are unable to cope with life’s simplest challenges. It doesn’t make sense. And depression’s inherent illogic doesn’t make it any easier to deal with. You feel like the way you feel now will be the way you will feel always and forever.
In the absence of treatment, there’s some truth to that. You have to find a way to move forward, and both counseling and medication can be incredibly useful to facilitate that. There’s no replacement for expert help.
When I suffered from a bout of severe depression, I didn’t get psychiatric help. I didn’t know I needed it. But I did get help. I was fortunate that I had people in my life who helped me push forward. And as happened even before this, they gave me the gift of three key elements. They happened pretty much simultaneously. For the sake of clarity, let me talk about them one at a time.
Time. The miracle of our creation isn’t just found in how we’re made, but how we can, slowly, painfully, be remade.
When man-made things break, they are broken. If they’re going to get fixed, someone’s going to have to fix ’em. But when people break, we can heal. Cuts stitch themselves together. Broken bones mend. We may be left with scabs or scars, but we can be whole again. And sometimes, we can feel stronger than before.
And even when our mind breaks a little, it, too, can heal.
Not always, and not always perfectly, but most of us can find a way to move on. When we grieve over the loss of someone we love, we sometimes feel we’ll never get over it. But usually we do. We always feel the pain of the loss, but with that pain comes a hint of gratitude: Even the pain reminds us how wonderful it was to have known and loved that person, even if it wasn’t long enough. When we suffer losses of a different kind—a friendship or a job, or when we deal with financial or personal setbacks—we often learn lessons and use them to move forward with a little more wisdom. Our physical, emotional, and spiritual wounds sometimes leave us with a limp. But we can still walk. We can still move forward . . . with time.
Let me stress that coming out of a depressive state is a long and gradual one. Just as I didn’t start being depressed all of a sudden, I wasn’t miraculously better after I spent three weeks on a couch—ready to celebrate and maybe paint the house. For months afterward, I wasn’t quite myself. My stomach still gave me fits for a while. I still wanted to sleep a lot and dealing with people took a ton out of me. But over weeks and months, I remembered where I had been and saw where I was now, and I knew that I was getting better.
It wasn’t just time that did it. I had help.
You have just read an excerpt from the book, Beauty In the Browns: Walking with Christ in the Darkness of Depression by Paul Asay. © Focus on the Family 2021. Used by permission of Focus on the Family (rights managed by Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.) All rights reserved.