Depression. Not a fun word. It conjures up negative connotations of gloom, despair, and sadness. It’s not hip or cool to have a mental illness, and the stigmas and judgments affiliated with depression and other ailments are disheartening. Awhile back, I wanted to write a song about how it felt to be in the pit of despair. But I kept putting it off because I knew I would be “outing” myself as someone with issues. I also put it off because these issues are so hard to even describe in words. Depression, anxiety, suicide – these aren’t fun or easy topics to discuss. But we need to discuss them, more often and more openly. And what better time to share what inspired our song about depression, Father Help Me, than today, the last day of National Suicide Prevention Week.
A quick note about depression, for those who have never experienced it (and if that’s you, you may want to stop reading right now and say a prayer of gratitude that you’ve managed to escape it): There are essentially two categories of depression: SITUATIONAL (defined in psychology as adjustment disorder with depressed mood) and CLINICAL (defined in psychology as major depressive disorder). Many of us have experienced situational depression because of financial struggle, the loss of a loved one, a painful breakup, unemployment, etc. The comforting part about situational depression is that once the situation is resolved or enough time to grieve has lapsed, the person usually returns to a slightly happier state. Situational depression is fairly rational. It makes sense to feel pain and dread in response to something painful and dreadful.
But unlike situational depression, clinical depression is not rational. Not even a little. It can creep up out of nowhere, without warning or reason. You can have everything going your way, feeling on top of the world with a great job and amazing friends and family, when suddenly, either gradually or instantly, clinical depression swallows you, and everything goes dim. As someone who has battled clinical depression at various times in my life, I can tell you, it’s horrifying, debilitating, and disorienting. The room actually appears darker; a heavy weight crushes your lungs; the walls close in; the emotional (and even physical) pain crescendos until you are paralyzed (literally – I had days where I would lie motionless, physically unable to move for hours).
I was barely old enough to tie my own shoes the first time I experienced depression. A very sensitive child, I always felt like life was constant “muchness.” My highs were higher than average, which was great…but my lows were lower than average, too, which was not so great. Something as minor as a cloudy day could affect me in profound ways, bringing me a painful sadness like nobody’s business. I loved the world, and I found beauty in the simplest things…but I also found anguish and darkness in random moments, and I couldn’t just tune people out or shrug off issues. I was considered a “highly sensitive person” (HSP), and studies show that HSPs are more prone to depression, in part because they “respond strongly” to their environment, making it overwhelming to absorb the world’s problems and difficult to process distressing situations. (On the bright side, HSPs are also compassionate, empathetic, creative, intuitive, easy to talk to, and great in a crisis).
Clinical depression is frustratingly misunderstood. It’s not a simple sadness, and you can’t just snap out of it. It bothers me when I hear trite media statements like, “For people who feel suicidal, hold on – things will get better.” (I appreciate the sentiment, but it’s just not that easy!) Or when I hear someone get angry at people who take their own lives, calling them selfish for leaving loved ones behind. Remember, depression is not rational. This isn’t some dramatic way to get attention. It’s an indescribable agony…a complicated explosion of emotions…a disorienting haze of darkness…an overwhelming loneliness, despite having lots of friends.
During these crippling depressive episodes, I wasn’t able to think straight. These were like out-of-body experiences. I wasn’t able to analyze thoughts or contemplate actions. I was too busy drowning in sheer anguish to even process rational thought. I recently came across a post on social media that said it best: People who are suicidal don’t want to end their lives; they want to end their pain. Exactly. The truth is, when I was lying despondent on my living room floor, I was actually really afraid of dying. But I was also afraid of losing myself in that darkness, and of not knowing how or when I would be “normal” again. It was all so disorienting. It was all so confusing.
Being a Christian through all this? That almost made it more confusing. I naively thought my belief in an almighty God would heal me in no time. I desperately wanted to believe I could simply pray just the right prayer and suddenly *poof* all signs of depression would forever vanish. I wanted to feel free of the pain, but all I felt was guilt over the fact that I must be weak in my faith (not true) and that if only I prayed harder, I’d get better faster (also not true). No matter how fervently I prayed, I was still afflicted. I didn’t learn until years later that it’s much more complicated than I first thought, and that God does not just *poof* our troubles away like some magic genie lamp.
Also, in the beginning of my struggles, I felt compelled to hide all my diagnoses and treatments from others, and I tried to pretend that I was always happy and totally “normal.” Now, thankfully, I can be myself around people – because, spoiler alert: nobody’s “normal,” and we’re all messed up in our own way. But that exhausting period of hiding my pain and feigning happiness actually taught me a valuable lesson: to look closely at charismatic personalities, and watch for subtle clues. Many times, the life-of-the-party types are the ones suffering through the worst depression. Look for signs. Pay attention to nuances. When in doubt, reach out.
There are 150 Psalms in scripture, but Psalms of Lament (expressions of despair, mourning, sorrow) are more common than any other type of Psalm. People hurt. People have always hurt. People will continue to hurt. And people need somewhere to turn when they hurt. Even the biggest faith skeptics have been known to pray in despairing or life-threatening situations. But depression doesn’t care whether you’re Christian. Mental illness doesn’t discriminate. It can incapacitate even the strongest person. And it can trick even the smartest person.
Thankfully, God is more powerful than any struggle. He cares about our pain and wants to heal us. I won’t get into the theology of why bad things happen to good people, or why Jesus doesn’t just swoop in and *poof* away our troubles. That’s a discussion for another article. But if you’re hurting, just cry out, “Father, help me!” Seriously, humor me and try it sometime. On days when you’re on the edge of more than you can handle, cry out. When you can’t seem to leave your bed, cry out. When you’re tattered and tired, cry out. Even when you feel so drained you’ve got nothing left to say, cry out…you might not have the strength to utter any sound at all, but He hears your silent cries, too.
I pray for everyone who struggles with depression (and for some, it’s a lifelong struggle), and I pray we as a society can break the stigma. We need to lift each other up. It’s about hope, it’s about healing, and it’s about time.
If you’re ever feeling hopeless and need someone to talk to, please, PLEASE call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text 741741.
Father Help Me A song of Lament, inspired by Psalms 88 and 102 Artist: Sparrows Rising Album Name: So Close Music and Lyrics: Stacia Ray/Maygen Lacey Producer: Jeff Halland
Lyrics: Father, can You hear me? I am hurting, I need You now Father, please be near me I need to feel Your strength somehow I am afraid, lost and dismayed I am broken I feel so drained, I’ve got nothing left to say I am empty I cry out, I cry out, help me Oh, I cry out, I cry out Father, help me Lord, my hope has failed me I can’t seem to lift my head Lord, my pain’s derailed me I can’t seem to leave my bed I am afraid, lost and dismayed I am broken I feel so drained, I’ve got nothing left to say I am empty Oh, I cry out, I cry out, help me Oh, I cry out, I cry out Father, help me I cry out both night and day Incline Your ear to hear me pray My soul is troubled and my heart is in a battle I’m as good as dead I am tattered, I am tired I am worn and uninspired They say You don’t give us more than we can handle But I’m right on the edge I cry out, I cry out, help me Oh, I cry out, I cry out Father, help me I cry out, I cry out Help me, Father help me
Psalm 88 (English Standard Version):
1 O Lord, God of my salvation,
I cry out day and night before You.
2 Let my prayer come before You;
incline Your ear to my cry!
3 For my soul is full of troubles,
and my life draws near to Sheol.
4 I am counted among those who go down to the pit;
I am a man who has no strength.
Psalm 102 (English Standard Version):
1 Hear my prayer, O Lord;
let my cry come to You!
2 Do not hide Your face from me
in the day of my distress!
Incline Your ear to me;
answer me speedily in the day when I call!
3 For my days pass away like smoke,
and my bones burn like a furnace.
4 My heart is struck down like grass and has withered;
I forget to eat my bread.
5 Because of my loud groaning my bones cling to my flesh.
6 I am like a desert owl of the wilderness,
like an owl of the waste places;
7 I lie awake;
I am like a lonely sparrow on the housetop.