A few nights ago, just before the evening news, I had an overpowering urge for a cheese sandwich. When the sandwich wasn’t quite enough, I also indulges in a couple of peanut butter cookies. That is a far cry from my normal evening snack of a few taco chips but it was low fat cheese on whole grain bread–and the leftovers and salad we had for supper was a bit skimpy. Later that night, I woke up about 3:00am and realized that as tired as I was when I went to bed, I was now wide awake. I reflected on the fact that I had been tired a lot lately and was surprised that I couldn’t sleep right then.
And then the light bulb (not a real one–the metaphorical one) went on. Binge eating, tired all the time, unable to sleep–I was heading towards depression. Now, I am something of an expert on depression. I have taken graduate courses in depression, I have taught theology students how to deal with depression and more importantly, I have struggled with depression most of my life. I don’t get seriously depressed, at least not enough for medication or active treatment.
But I do get depressed. And when I recognize the depression coming, I have learned that unless I deal with it quickly and aggressively, I will be in trouble. As I thought about the depression, I quickly realized where it was coming from–and at that point, I fell back asleep and didn’t wake up until it was time to get up.
Knowing where it is coming from is important to me. This depression has a clear cause–or causes, rather. I have been working more than normal and therefore having less than normal free time for myself. One of the extras was the funeral process for a church member who was a good friend. As well, both my wife and I had been talking about Kenya and were missing our friends and work there. All this combined with the annoying pain in my shoulder from a pulled muscle to push me into a developing depression.
In the past, I tried to ignore the depression–working on the principle that if I didn’t acknowledge it, it would go away. That always sounded good in theory but never worked well in practise–ignoring the depression and its causes allowed the depression to become more deeply rooted and have stronger effects on me, my work and my relationships. The binge eating that sometimes accompanies it didn’t do much good for my clothes or our grocery bills either.
But I learned that once I acknowledge the depression both to myself and to others, I gain control. And so once I recognized this depression, I confessed it–to myself, to my wife and to one of my Bible Study groups. The last happened because it provided a very appropriate example for something we were talking about.
I am also making some changes that will allow me to relax and unwind–I am invoking the clause in my employment agreements with the churches that allows me to take time off when I work more than the agreed hours. That is taking a bit more effort than I would like because of some things I can’t control but I will be taking some time off. And as well, between therapy, exercises and infrequent pain medication, the pulled muscle pain is lessening.
By the way, I am not advocating this approach for everyone dealing with depression. This is my response to my brand of depression. The point I am working on here is that even though I am a believer, I have issues and I get depressed. And that doesn’t lessen the value of my faith or my ability to minister to others. I am not perfect–but God loves me with all my imperfections. Whether I am depressed or not, God loves me. And since I can love me better when I am not depressed, God works with me to help me deal with the depression–I am pretty sure the 3:00am light bulb I mentioned had a Divine finger on the switch.
In Luke 10.27, Jesus tells us to “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Allowing myself to deal with my depression openly and honestly is part of my loving myself–I would and have helped others do the same thing so turning it inward is really just doing what God has told me to do.
May the peace of God be with you.