[Defining Decisions is a series of blog posts on the 20 life-shaping decisions I made in my 20s.]
Depression has been a familiar and mostly unwelcome companion through my 20s. I have had six unannounced visits over the past ten years, each visit lasting between one and six months. This companion has felt more like an intruder than a guest, and I am always glad when Depression leaves me.
Nov 2003. “I don’t know what’s wrong with me. Something definitely is. Well, I guess I do know partly what’s wrong with me: laziness, depression, unmotivation, pessimism, neediness, frustration, discontent… but what I don’t know is how to get over this. How to fix it. What the solution is. It seems like I’ve tried so many things, but nothing has worked. I keep on asking God but I sense nothing.”
July 2008. “Yesterday morning I was so emotionally tired – I just started sleeping from my exhaustion. It was like I give up… this is too difficult to have all these questions and doubts. I’m tired of my disbelief.”
June 2009. “The last month has been tough – seems like I have been struggling with doubt and fear. It has definitely affected me negatively. I am much more worried and anxious, and very unsure of myself, of God, and of the future. God, what is it? I am out of my own strength and my own wisdom has not worked. I am exhausted at carrying this burden – why does it feel so heavy?”
Sept 2009. “This morning while I was still in bed I realized I felt guilty. Guilty for not being productive, for not being stronger, for my lack of vision and drive and passion.”
Mar 2011. “I feel down and sad. I wish I were stronger. Life feels so heavy now. Everything I do feels so difficult – I need to force myself to do them: my work, exercise, socializing, and especially waking up. I really dislike having to force myself to do things – it is very tiring.”
Depression is much more common that I expected. I remember being at a Men’s Breakfast at my church, and 5 out of the 6 men at my table admitted to going through depression. But it is rarely talked about. Perhaps that is why, out of all my 20 defining decisions made in my 20s, my decision to Embrace My Depression by far got the most votes when I polled my readers about what they were most interested in hearing me write about.
Whenever I was going through depression, I would ask myself the questions, “What’s wrong with me?”, “Can I live a good life when I have no strength or motivation?”, “Where is God?”, and “How long will this last?”. I would try many things to get rid of the depression. Sleeping. Fasting and prayer. Talking to friends. Listening to motivational talks and sermons. Seeing a counselor. Waiting. Silent retreats. My goal was to get rid of depression so that I could return to living a normal life.
One book I read called God in the Dark says “A common misinterpretation of the healthy on the sick is that wellness is a matter of choice and decision.” During one of my winter seasons, my mentor Ken Shigematsu of Tenth Church recommended me a book by Parker Palmer entitled Let Your Life Speak. In this book, Palmer asks the question, what if you viewed Depression not as an enemy seeking to hurt you, but as a friend that brings you gifts? This challenged my thinking and perspective on depression. As John Piper says in his book Don’t Waste Your Life, God takes what the Enemy intended for evil and redeems it into something that benefits us. That is what Scripture means when it says, “We are more than conquerors through Him who loved us” (Romans 8:37).
Realizing that Depression was a friend instead of an enemy, a guest instead of an intruder, allowed me to embrace my Depression and realize the gifts that this companion brought.
This post is turning quite long, so I will split it up into two posts. In my next post, I will share about the actual gifts that depression has brought me, some resources I have found helpful during my times of depression, and give some suggestions on how to help someone through depression.