Depression ≠ no faith

Image by graphicshunt.com/images/depression

I’m going to try to write about a frustration, a double standard and a serious personal issue all in one post, less than 1,000 words. So bear with me.

If you’re not brand spanking new to my blog you know that my mother took her life last year after a 30 year battle with depression and anxiety. Well I haven’t shared much about this but depression is a battle I’ve fought in my life too. I’ve been medicated and I was committed once, about 15 years ago. Today I’m pretty healthy, I have my ups and downs, my moods, but sometimes I feel blue, thick, heavy, and I worry.

I don’t have the same diagnosis as she did, my depression is a tad more situational and much less clinical. But I am her daughter, and I have inherited a piece of her struggle.

I’m not saying that I spend a lot of time fretting that I’ll share her fate, but I would be lying if I said it doesn’t cross my mind sometimes, especially when I find myself feeling gray and hopeless. But doing that to my children, my family, oh God forbid, God FORBID.

It’s not always easy to be a Christian with depression, because there are still some people in the church that really don’t understand. And sometimes those people have hurt me with their lack of knowledge. When I’ve tried to talk about my struggle in church world I’ve been told:

1) Not to confess or talk about it, that doing so would give the devil a foothold.
2) To pray it out, that increased faith would get rid of it and that time in the word will give me strength and cheer me up about God’s faithfulness.
3) That taking medication for it invalidates God’s power to heal me.

My friend recently wrote me and said: “All I know is the more a depressed person hears that it’s their own fault, the more depressed they become. It’s like when parents say, “Stop crying or I’ll give you something to cry about.” It just makes the child cry harder. “

Now, don’t get me wrong, there is some depression that is spiritual and situational (it’s in the bible – Job and David to be specific) and then there is some that is chemical and genetic. The second kind can be inherited and recurrent, it’s the sort that can relapse and will leave a person always on their guard when the blues set in.

You have to understand depression before you speak into it, otherwise your words may have the exact opposite effect than what you’re going for. It’s simpler to understand cancer, we know that there’s a tumor and that a doctor can throw chemo at it.

But depression can’t be seen on a screen or radiated away. It takes patience, medication, and a tenacious resolve to climb out of the pit. And the cruelest thing of all is that it can rob you of almost everything you need to fight it. You need to exercise but you can barely get through the work day awake. You need to eat well but the ability to cook is beyond you. You need to work aggressively through counseling but it’s so much easier not to talk about it. It’s an evil thing depression, straight evil.

I may have recurrent and genetic depression, I may not, I’m not entirely sure yet. However, I pray that everyone in the church begins to understand that my depression doesn’t make my faith any less strong than your eczema, diabetes or whatever genetic disease you’ve inherited.

If you lost a parent to breast cancer or liver failure, no one would ever fault you for being on your guard against those diseases. If you expressed concerns that you might share in your parents fate, people would understand and encourage testing. If you found out you had cancer or needed dialysis no one would ever insinuate that this happened because of your lack of faith.

But people with a family history of depression don’t always get that same courtesy. I can tell you first hand that I’ve been told that my faith will deliver me from any of my mother’s problems with depression. Yet depression can be genetic, so what gives? There’s a double standard here, it’s understandable to inherit genetic cancer, but genetic depression might indicate a weak relationship with God.

We have to put a stop to this, it’s not the love of Christ, it’s… disease-ism? (like racism but with illnesses)

I’m not writing this to hurt anyone’s feelings. If you’ve said something out of your lack of knowledge, I give you ample grace because I believe your intent was lovely. Depression isn’t one of those things that you learn about until you have to, until it’s happening to you or around you. But as a church, a BIG C Church, we need to understand that some forms of depression are chemical and very real and difficult to understand and diagnose.

The brain, the mind, is in many ways the final frontier of the medical community. Less than 100 years ago people with mental illness were cast out, committed or worse, given lobotomies or had part of their brain removed. So, to say the least, we’ve improved.

I have prayed over this post, it’s not been easy to write, but on my heart I feel a call to bring light to those with deep faith, who still struggle with depression. My brothers, my sisters, if you are fighting along side me, you are brave, never stop fighting, never stop running, confessing and climbing. Just because depression is real and clinical doesn’t mean God won’t bring healing. It only means that if he doesn’t, our faith is still justified.

I hope I’ve brought a light, I hope I’ve encouraged truth.

And all the people said, amen?

  • Lisa K

    AMEN! People don’t know until they experience it whether it’s genetic or situational. It’s not a lack of faith by any means.

  • http://waterwatereverywhere.wordpress.com/ mainlinemom

    Amen.

  • http://katelovesey.typepad.com/blog/ ironmouse

    Amen. You never know how much faith you have until you only have that to cling too. I found depression like that (I expect I will again from time to time). People are ignorant of it being a physical disease. And IT IS just that. If you survive through depression then you have faith there is no lack of it…. by the way I am a Vicar. One day at a time it’s all we can do.

  • http://addingaburden.blogspot.com Jill

    Well said Leanne. Thanks so much for sharing your journey and speaking the truth in love. xo

  • http://gaytha.wordpress.com gaythagail

    Leanne, that’s BEAUTIFULLY written. Thank you for opening up and sharing it with us….it makes me feel more normal knowing that others struggle with depression at time as well. God bless you for writing a deep and impactful blog.

  • Rebecca Roberts

    A resounding Amen, friend!

  • http://caddiemurray.wordpress.com Stacy A

    Girlfriend, I hear ya. I haven’t lost a loved one to suicide (although my grandmother’s grandmother committed suicide when her husband had her put away in a mental institution for what was probably OCD), but I suffer with recurring depression and sometimes feel suicidal. Like you, i pray that God never, ever lets me do that to my husband, my son, my parents.

    Since you already said everything I believe about this disorder, I won’t reword it here, just know that I fully agree.

    I don’t know if anybody is interested, but I wrote a FICTIONAL blog that deals with this issue … I’m reworking it into a novel, and there will be changes in the book version to what is currently on the blog, but you can check it out by clicking my name. (Or going to http://caddiemurray.wordpress.com). I’d love to hear what y’all think.

    God knows our hearts. He knows our depression is not caused by a lack of faith, even if sometimes we feel lacking in faith when we’re going through it. He loves us unconditionally. I am so glad He does! Because sometimes the church doesn’t quite live up to its calling with this.

    Blessings,
    Stacy A

    • jennymsmith

      I can’t say thank you enough for this. I keep reading it, tears and snot streaming down my face. I’ve been reading it all day. Finally – someone has put my struggles, my hurt, the judgments I’ve faced into beautifully formed thoughts with great love. Someone else understands…

      • http://leannepenny.wordpress.com leannepenny

        I saw this comment at 5 am when the kids were up too early and the coffee was not yet ready. My tears and snot started flowing right away too. I am beyond humbled that I could support you on this beyond tough journey.

        • boomchuckpixyniki

          Thank you for this. From my FB-share explanation: “I myself deal with mild depression and anxiety on a periodic basis; in fact, it’s one of the most common triggers of my [almost daily] migraines, even before my wreck. I’ve never been formally diagnosed, but the symptoms are there. I’m currently on a new migraine preventative that is also an anti-depressive, and it’s already helped both issues with me.

          Depression is real, tangible, and often biological. Treat those who suffer from it with compassion, not sermons, as the latter only serves to further isolate and alienate the recipient.”

          Thank you, again.

          • http://leannepenny.wordpress.com leannepenny

            compassion, yes, amen amen!

  • http://katieganshert.com/blog Katie Ganshert

    Amen, sister! A woman shared her personal testimony with depression on my blog today. As a pastor’s wife, she was afraid to talk about her depression for a long, long time. But she did. And God gave her an entire ministry. Here’s her story if you’re interested in reading: http://katieganshert.com/faith/wildflowers-from-winter-hope-after-depression/

  • Grandpa

    Leanna, you
    are a lovely young lady .I love you and I Pray for you every day. Hope to see you soon. Grandpa

    • jennymsmith

      I posted a comment. I hope it shows up. You have to know how much this touched my heart, and how badly I needed to read these words today.

  • Lisa Bayne

    During the last months of my mother’s life she was unable to move and could barely speak or eat due to the cancer that had spread from her breast and was eating away at her brain. A week before she died, a woman from her church called her and told her if she had more faith she would have been healed. So it’s not just mentally but also physically ill people who are targeted. Any failure of health in any form is seen as a failure of faith. This from people who follow a Savior who suffered and died! I’ve also heard similar judgements about people who have gone bankrupt even though we have been in the middle of a financial tsunami! When you are depressed, you may feel like you are being isolated and targeted for condemnation. As it turns out, people will take whatever reason is handy as an excuse for harshness. But there is a multitude of us who utterly reject such malicious condemnations due to mental, physical, financial or any other reason people can come up with to judge.

    • http://leannepenny.wordpress.com leannepenny

      Lisa, I am completely dismayed and outraged by those words to your mother. My heart breaks when I hear about people being additionally hurt in their toughest season in the name of God. I’m glad to be part of the multitude who reject this crap and instead bring God’s comfort and grace to the table.

  • brian

    amen. i appreciate your courage and candor
    http://blogprophet.wordpress.com/depression-resources/

  • Liam

    Amen indeed. You speak very passionately, with a lot of fight and conviction. I have a family history of depression, was diagnosed with it in high school, and have felt a continual struggle with it over the years. A bunch of circumstances through the end of last year and start of this year and I felt like I bottemed out and lost the fight. Went to a doctor to get some medication at the request of my wife and ended up in the emergency ward at the hospital. I shared this with our home group and some of my struggles, and it was met with a very mixed response with comments of “it’s all in your head” (insinuating its a made up problem) followed by a documentary DVD about mental illness being made up.

    • http://leannepenny.wordpress.com leannepenny

      Brian, thank you for sharing, you’re brave to share with your home group and I’m completely and totally sorry that the community put in place to support you did something of the opposite. I pray that God sends you a support system that will gather around you in understanding and support without judgement.

  • Heather Tiger

    Amen my friend! Thank you for bravely and beautifully sharing the truths above.

    • Roger

      Amen and Amen. God bless you for understanding.

  • http://moonchild11.wordpress.com Sarah Moon

    Thank you so much for this. I’ve had depression for several years (began situational and developed into clinical) and started taking medication 6 months ago. It’s helped tremendously, but there’s still those people who say that if I’d just get right with God or whatever, I wouldn’t need medicine. Sigh. :/

  • Michelle

    Amen, sister! Could not have expressed it better myself. I’ve been battling since middle school. It has even been difficult for my family to truly understand.

  • http://www.understandingalice.blogspot.com Karen

    Amen! and thank you for pushing the boat out to write this, it has been a real blessing to me x

    • http://leannepenny.wordpress.com leannepenny

      so glad, I’ve been in tears at the response, but the good and the bad.

  • Cheryl

    Leanne, your mom was one of my best friends since we were kindergarteners and I have no doubts about her love for Jesus and her immovable faith. I also know she is with Him now. It’s sad that sometimes those who haven’t traveled the road of depression will try to put a quick fix on the situation. I miss your mom!

    • Patricia

      Amen! Especially “And the cruelest thing of all is that it can rob you of almost everything you need to fight it. You need to exercise but you can barely get through the work day awake. You need to eat well but the ability to cook is beyond you. You need to work aggressively through counseling but it’s so much easier not to talk about it. It’s an evil thing depression, straight evil.” Oh my. Yes, yes, yes–so very true. The days that I succeed at the everyday things feel like such victories–when I don’t have to drag myself into the grocery store, or when I actually want to cook something, or when I manage to talk about my “stuff” without feeling needy and pathetic… Thank you for reminding me that I’m not alone. :)

      • http://leannepenny.wordpress.com leannepenny

        You aren’t, don’t believe that you are needy or pathetic because you’re struggling. God created us to require help and healing, yes all of us!

    • http://leannepenny.wordpress.com leannepenny

      Cheryl, I really miss her too, you were always there in so many childhood memories, I believe she’s with Jesus too, no question!

  • sp

    Amen.

    • http://none Vicki Wehrmann-Sorensen

      Your words strike such a chord because they are so true! Any type of mental issue, be it anxiety, depression, OCD, hoarding, etc, is so often seen as a personal weakness or lack of faith rather than a true disease that may require medication, while we would never think that of physical disease. They continue to be difficult to bring up in any natural context. I’ve talked about my struggles with depression/anxiety to only one or two people. Our natural inclination to expect people to snap out of it really inhibits sharing of a condition that is uncomfortable to talk about openly. I consider myself to have a strong faith, but would be totally unwilling to publicly share as openly as you have. Kudoes to you-and inspiration for me! My family has a long history of anxiety/depression-oftyen starting with a hypothyroid diagnosis. Thanks for your post! Vicki

      • http://leannepenny.wordpress.com leannepenny

        Vicki, I am sorry that you are encountering the quick-fix culture for mental illness, I’ve been there too, especially grief. Some battles are long, lifelong, but I do believe that in the midst of it God will sustain. He always sustains. Be blessed, your resolve is there!

  • Candy Sherbert

    So true, Girl, So true. No one really knows until they have to deal with this the way you have had to deal with it. I’ve had the same fear for many, many years. It is a genetic thing and it’s not easy to deal with. I truly understand where you are coming from. Praying for you, Sweetie!!!

    • http://leannepenny.wordpress.com leannepenny

      Thank you Candy :) your prayers are felt and so cherished

  • http://twitter.com/twbtwb Tim Wilson-Brown (@twbtwb)

    Thanks for putting your struggles into words, Leanne.

    I struggle with chronic pain, and the associated depression. I also struggle with the physical and mental effort of rehabilitation. I’ve wanted to express how I feel, but I haven’t known what to say.

    So many of your words ring true for me. Thank you again.

    • http://leannepenny.wordpress.com leannepenny

      I can’t imagine what Chronic pain is like Tim, and I have tried to put myself in those shoes. I’m so sorry for what you’re having to face, but I am on your team and praying for forward motion and healing in every sense of the word.

  • http://kellyjyoungblood.wordpress.com kjpyoungblood

    While I never have thought that depression was “wrong” or could be “prayed away”, what put it (and other mental illnesses) in perspective for me was when a friend blogged one time and said something to the effect of “if we believe that our bodies can get sick and need medication, why don’t we believe the same thing about our brains/minds?” It was that simple image that helped me to understand it a bit better, and if I hear anyone ever make comments about it not being a big deal or it can go away, I now have a response.

    • http://leannepenny.wordpress.com leannepenny

      Exactly! This is just the right way to look at it, although I do have to say that with any disease Medication is just part of the solution, there are so many layers to care.

  • http://heftafarm.wordpress.com heroldsroses

    Reblogged this on heftafarm and commented:
    I understand this so well!!

  • Juli

    Thank you for having the courage to post about this. I am trying medication for depression, and situational and social anxiety. I don’t talk about it around certain people, because of the opinion I know they have about it. I know, because I used to share some of the same opinions. The church setting that I grew up in taught that things like depression and anxiety were spiritual attacks from the enemy. They were never considered physical/chemical problems. Thankfully there are those in the Church that have a better understanding of these things now, but I still know many who prefer the superstitious perspective over the scientific one.

  • http://trainswhistle.wordpress.com train-whistle

    sharing your experience lets others know they are not alone. thank you.

  • http://notebookprayers.blogspot.com Gina

    THANK YOU Leanne.

  • Adri

    “And the cruelest thing of all is that it can rob you of almost everything you need to fight it. You need to exercise but you can barely get through the work day awake… You need to work aggressively through counseling but it’s so much easier not to talk about it. It’s an evil thing depression, straight evil.” –This hit me right in the heart, because this is EXACTLY what I have been struggling with these past few years. I’m a college student, and sometimes can barely leave my dorm room except for with help because I’m so depressed. I try to do my homework, but sometimes I’m so paralyzed. But unlike you, my depression is not really situational at all. My home life is just fine–good, actually. To many people, it would seem that I don’t have any reason to be depressed. My parents are together, I’ve never been abused, and my family loves me very much. I’m a Christian, and sometimes my faith is the only thing that keeps me going another day. I’m medicated and go to counseling but it’s so dang hard.

    I have my dreams I’m going to college to fulfill, but sometimes they seem so impossible. However, this reminded to keep going another day.
    So thank you-this reminded me I am not alone in my struggle.

  • Juniper

    Thanks for sharing this part of your life. I also have depression and have since my early teens. (I’m 45 now.) I get so tired fo explaining this part of my life to people in church, but like you, I think its necessary to lift the fog from the many misconceptions and some of the rampant stupidity surrounding the issue. I made a conscious decision to be “out” with my illness as I am about my faith. Just because I have one does not mean I do not have the other. God’s strength is in my weakness.

  • vitum, md

    It took me years before I began to understand depression… four years, of medical school, to be precise. I am still learning.

    The only thing more challenging than explaining this exasperating condition to my patients is to try to explain it in the context of faith. As painful as the comments from the church can be, and as hard as it can be to receive, they often come from a place of trying to help. It takes patience to overcome the unintended hurt of these statements… and unfortunately when the patience is needed the most, there is usually so little left – bled dry by the harsh grip of this misunderstood disease.

    Depression, like all mental illness, carries a horrible stigma which must be overcome – a task that can only be completed by educating ourselves about it. Only then can my hope come true: that people will not have to go to medical school to learn to support their brothers and sisters who suffer from depression.

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      • Kay

        Depression runs in my family; I’ve struggled with it most of my life. I’m a leader in my church so it’s not something I can talk freely about for fear of seeming weak or lacking in faith. This past year has been expecially bad for me after being forced into early retirement, bankruptcy and my husband being ill. It was wonderful to read that I’m not alone in my struggle. I know that God walks with all of us (he promised to walk with us through the fire)!!!!

        • Edward Kaipo Wright

          =) Thanks for sharing and keep on keeping on.

  • http://hotdogsandmarmalade.wordpress.com Sally

    Amen.

  • Mister Wolf

    Good to read.

    I find my depression and anxiety hurt my faith because they make me angry at God. I’ve prayed and prayed for relief, and He pretty much ignores me. 😛

    • Mister Wolf

      Yipe, your comment system interpreted my disgruntled smiley as a glee smiley. If isn’t clear from context, that’s not what I meant!

      • http://leannepenny.wordpress.com leannepenny

        hey, typos happen to us all 😉

  • Lucy

    Thanks for sharing…depression needs to be talked about more…my favorite line ‘”my depression doesn’t make my faith any less strong” – AMEN.

    I went through a season of serious clinical depression about 5 years ago and was also hospitalized. The hard part was that I was really involved in a church at the time – I went up to the alter to receive prayer and the lady asked if I knew Jesus. I told her yes and that I had been struggling with depression. She then asked “are you sure you know Jesus?” Because in her mind, Christians don’t have depression! It made me feel less than and unworthy…like all my fears of being inadequate were confirmed.

    Looking back, I know this lady meant well, but just didn’t have any clue on how to interact with a Christian struggling with depression. I think if we talked about it more openly, we would see more healing take place.

    • http://leannepenny.wordpress.com leannepenny

      amen and oh man I am so sorry, I think as a church we like to believe that we have no more learning to do on acceptance and understanding… boy is that not the case.

  • Edward Kaipo Wright

    Wow. Thank you so much for sharing. Especially about how persons battling depression are robbed of everything needed to fight it. And one of the greatest tragedies is that our best weapon, our faith, is robbed by the very people that are supposed to help guard it.

    I’ve come to accept that my depression is not very much unlike a person not having legs. And as much as I would never ask someone without legs to stop complaining and to just stand up and use the stairs. I’d also never ask myself to just get up and start “having heart”. And while prosthetic limbs have helped many champion their adversities, I’m personally not looking for a brain prosthetic. And so I look to the hills from whence my help comes from.

    Rachel Held Evans referred to your blog as the Bravest of the week, and it really is. I think it’s courageous of you for sharing so openly. Courage that I’m still praying for for myself. =P

  • Debbie Johanesen

    I saw your post. It’s true. I battle with depression and my oldest daughter battles with it even more so. Both of us have a strong relationship with Jesus. I could really relate with your saying that it takes a conscious effort to climb out of that pit. I may languish there for a time, but eventually I find that I have to give the effort to try to climb out. It’s never easy. Thank you for your willingness to share. We’re in this battle together.

  • http://montanamoxie.wordpress.com Lindsay

    This is excellent. Although I’ve never had depression, I have close friends who are clinically diagnosed (who doesn’t?), and one who is just coming out of post-partum depression. Walking through depression makes many question their faith, and, you’re right, the church doesn’t always help the matter. I will pass this along, as appropriate. Thank you!

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  • http://logicandimagination.com Melody

    for your courage, bless you sister! there are more of us than you realize. you are not alone, that is clear from how many comments you’ve received. i do hope that your heart is encouraged.

    (i talk about my depression on my blog, extensively. i am no longer ashamed.)

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    • Jannie50

      Dear Leanne, thank you! There are already 60 comments. This has been a concern of mine for many years. There are so many misconceptions regarding mental health. We are making progress and it always helps to know you are not alone. I have stopped going to church but I have not stopped praying and trusting the Lord. My husband has been dealing with chronic pain and depression the past 35+ yrs and we have lost most of our friends because they don’t understand but I know Jesus knows whole story. Thank you for your insiteful words. May God continue to bless you and your family. Love,Jannie

  • bekah

    Amen!
    And thank you very much for sharing!!

  • http://kristinaselle@students.kuyper.edu kristiselle

    Leanne, I am a student at Kuyper and in SpiF this semester. As an assignment I am reading your blog, but I know I will read so much more than I will ever “have to” for the class.
    I struggle with depression as well. I have a problem with cutting and then hiding it from the world. As I sit here I’m battling it. The posts of yours that I have read and this one for sure has encouraged me to keep going in this fight that I feel I am so frequently losing. Thank you so much for sharing this.

    • http://leannepenny.wordpress.com leannepenny

      You’re so welcome dear. I’m praying for you in your fight!

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  • aka1979

    Amen! I’ve been sitting here this Sunday morning struggling over this very issue. If my faith is strong and my service right, why won’t it go away? What have I done or not done? Where am I lacking? Is God trying me or is the devil messing with my head (and faith)?

    This has been my journey for the past 13 years, getting worse the last 3-4. Your post helps me to understand I need to focus less on what’s wrong with me. I’ve have depression-situational & genetic that moves back & forth like a pendulum. I need to turn to those God honoring practices (sewing, prayer, family, counseling) that uplift my spirit when I’m feeling my worst. If Job sat around all day looking at those boils he would never have survived! He put his faith and focus on God & waited for him-as difficult and long as it may have appeared.
    Romans 8:28 says all things work together for the good for those who love God and are called according to His purpose. I believe it-I now need to live it!

  • http://www.angierobinson.com Angie Robinson

    I just found this post and wanted to let you know that it hit me in my heart as I struggle with bouts of gloom and sadness (probably not clinical depression, but I was medicated for a couple years). It’s so true that depression and faith are not interconnected, and yet so many think that my sadness is related to my faith weakening. Even I think that sometimes! Great post to help others learn about depression as a chemical imbalance or a brain disorder and NOT a lack of faith.