[Defining Decisions is a series of blog posts on the 20 life-shaping decisions I made in my 20s.]
Continuing my previous post, as I have reflected on my seasons of depression, I have realized the gifts that God has allowed depression to bring into my life.
1) Depression has helped take away my belief that I am valued because I am productive. One of my biggest struggles was that my work productivity decreased significantly when I was depressed. This led me to feel very guilty because my worth was tied to my productivity. During this time, I had to struggle with the tension of being unproductive and believing the voice of God telling me that I am valued and loved unconditionally. In a world that often tells us that our value comes from what we can do and produce, this lesson was very valuable.
2) Depression has helped me to become more authentic and vulnerable. As long as I can remember, I gained a lot of my value and worth from how people viewed me. This caused me to hide my faults and show my strengths, in hopes that others would praise me and like me. But I always felt like a bit of a fraud when I was doing this, like I was putting on a show. When I became depressed, I was forced to reach out to the people around me for help. I chose to show them the dark parts of me and was surprised to be accepted and loved in spite of my weaknesses. It felt good to be loved for who I am – the “good” parts and the “bad” parts. With this growing realization came an increasing freedom to be authentic and vulnerable to more people and a decreasing anxiety and obsession with how people would view me.
3) Depression has taught me to trust my gut. One of the things that depression allowed me to uncover was my trust in my own mind. I am a thinker, and I like to think through every decision and see all the angles. This often causes me to think in circles and confuse myself, especially with major life decisions. I discovered that one trigger for my depression was the fear of making the wrong decision with major life decisions. God has taught me that it is okay to trust my “gut”, my “heart”, and the Holy Spirit’s promptings without necessarily having to understand the logic behind it.
4) Depression has grown humility in me. My times of depression were very difficult. I came to understand my own limits and learn to accept them. I came to realize that I cannot do anything and everything that I put my mind to. Going through depression has also grown empathy in me for others going through hard times.
5) Depression has allowed me to see God’s goodness in the midst of dark times. It’s very hard to see God in the valleys of life. I often wondered where He was and why this was happening. But after the depression has lifted, I began identifying the good things that God gave me during those difficult times. There is a saying that no one likes going through the valleys of life, but many are glad that they have experienced those times. I had to admit that I am still afraid of going through depression again (or other difficult times). But to experience that God can bring much good out of dark times takes away some fear of future suffering.
6) Depression has prompted me to dig deeper and uncover the roots of my depression, allowing me to understand myself better. The first few times I went through depression, I was not mature enough to know what to do, so I mostly suffered through it alone. During my fourth bout of depression, I finally started seeing a counselor to help me. This process was very helpful as it prompted me to dig deeper and uncover the roots of my depression, instead of just hoping it would pass and never come back. Through my conversations with my counselor, thoughtful reflection, and prayer, I identified patterns in my depression. Each time I went through depression coincided with a time of decision-making. I discovered underlying fears in my life (of failure and of disappointing God and people). Depression was a symptom of deeper underlying issues in my life. Without going through depression, I might not have uncovered these things and learned about myself. Depression prompted necessary change in my life.
While I was going through depression, I came across many people that tried to help. Most would give me advice and suggestions of what I could do to “get better” or “feel better”. Sometimes I appreciated their concern, but most of the time I would only become more frustrated because I had tried everything they had suggested (the worst piece of advice I have ever gotten was just not to be depressed. I wanted to punch the guy in the face). Looking back I’ve come to the realization that although people want to help, many do not know how.
If you’d like to be help a friend or family member that is going through depression, here are my suggestions:
Don’t give advice easily. Giving fast advice makes it sound like the solution is easy and undermines the suffering the person is going through. I have made this mistake far too many times.
Listen and affirm their feelings. One of the best things my wife did for me when I was going through depression was to listen. Sometimes I felt like a broken record because all I seemed to talk about was how down I felt. When Olive listened to me, I began feeling like my emotions were legitimate and that I wasn’t crazy to feel this way.
Wait with them. Dr. Sharon Smith, an expert in mental health, says the best thing to do to help someone going through depression is to wait with him or her. It is like sitting beside them in the dark, waiting for the sun to rise.
Here are some resources on depression I have found helpful:
– Spiritual Rhythm: Being with Jesus every Season of the Soul by Mark Buchanan
– Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation by Parker Palmer
– God in the Dark: Through Grief and Beyond by Luci Shaw
– Leading on Empty: Refilling Your Tank and Renewing Your Passion by Wayne Cordeiro
– Olive’s blog post on depression
Have you experienced depression and if so, what gifts has depression brought for you?