Are Depressed Christians Really Just Weak Christians?

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I am presently weaning myself. After sixteen months on an anti-depressant, I am gradually stepping down my dosage and on schedule to be done within the month. I am nervous. But I have no hesitance about reintroducing the meds if things go south, and I have no expectation that I won’t need them again in another season.

I vividly remember hanging out with three close friends almost ten years ago when I first encountered the dilemma of a depressed Christian. My friend was asking for prayer for her depression, and I was thoroughly baffled. I had no context for depression among God’s promises. He promises peace….so how does that work? I didn’t know how to pray or how to help, and I loved her and knew her to be a godly woman who had given her life to ministry. I was spiritually perplexed.

Since then I have ministered to and loved on depressed people on a regular basis; even so, I didn’t “get it” – in the same way I don’t know what it’s like to have cancer. To be quite candid, it was relegated to the “Depression Sucks and I’m Glad It’s Not Me” box in my brain. That’s what I knew about it…

Until I found myself trapped miles down the darkest, deepest well. It was damp with hopelessness and poisoned with lies that echoed all day every day. We’re not talking feeling blue; I’m talking unable to function. Begging to die. Hating my body’s involuntary response to keep drawing breath. A heavy, wet blanket of despair pinned me to the ground – trying to stand under it was futile and took every measure of energy I could muster.

I’m not sure when my depression actually began… In a matter of eight months, we moved to a new city; we left family, a tight-knit support system, and a ministry and team I loved leading. My Nana died, and Chris and I both began working the same ministry schedule. We lived in three houses (building one) with 90% of our belongings in storage the entire eight months. Our girls struggled with anxiety, and the youngest was diagnosed with a learning disability. I prepared daily, with a weighty and ever-present looming, for the largest speaking opportunity of my life (almost 15,000 people), and my otherwise healthy husband suffered a subarachnoid brain hemorrhage with a three-day ICU stay. Top that with lots of changes at work, no investment into building a support system, and no request for help.

At some point, I quit. My insides gave up, and I became very angry with God. Not because of the hardship as much as the fact that I couldn’t hear Him in it. I couldn’t see Him or feel Him, and that had never been the case in twenty-five years of following. I couldn’t pray; I couldn’t focus on anything I read in the Bible. I saw Him doing wonders all around and experienced none of my own. All I wanted was to know He hadn’t abandoned me. My head knew Joshua 1:5, yet, I had never felt more alone. I rebelled. I begged Him to take His Hand off my life. So, whether my depression began before or after my rejection of God, my difficult circumstances and my spiritual defiance made for a harrowing tangle with darkness.

I’ve spent the past year healing. I’ve asked the Lord to forgive me a million times  although it was only necessary once. He has been the most gracious and tender, and I know with the greatest degree of certainty all I needed to do was ask for help. I think he wanted to be seen and heard and felt in my circumstances through other compassionate, godly believers. Again, my head knew I needed people but a quiet arrogance in my soul suggested I did not.

My plight became harder to conceal as my emotional state would deteriorate from composed to unprovoked-weeping-mess in seconds – regardless of whether I was in the public library, at work, at Target, or in my bedroom. I have legitimately cried in more public places than I care to recount. I eventually found myself unraveling before my doctor who diagnosed my depression, prescribed my meds, and recommended counseling, so I attended weekly Christian counseling for a solid year. Today I love differently because of depression. I love and know Jesus in a way that I couldn’t have without it. My affection and desire for people to thrive as believers is a white-hot passion again. Depression can be a gift.

And I’m not the only one who thinks so. A few days ago on Facebook, I posted this:

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Almost 15% of my Facebook friends boldly admitted they are believers who have struggled with depression. IT’S A REAL THING. And some of those friends were willing to share from their experiences with depression here:

Some people don’t get it – and that’s okay! Perhaps they think that depression and Christianity are incongruent. I’ve literally wanted to clock good-intentioned (I choose to believe) people for telling me, “Just trust in the Lord.” Ya think?! Hell yeah, I trust in the Lord. That’s the only thing keeping me from drowning. When depression strikes, I am desperately clinging to the promise he made that ALL things work for the good of those who love him. Otherwise, I seriously couldn’t go on. – Michelle Keiffer

I was going through a divorce and thought the world was coming to an end even though it was for the best. I finally “woke up” one day and made the conscious decision to make myself change because I was headed towards what I thought was a way to stop the pain. That is when I started attending a singles Sunday school group and church again. Not to mention, I had some help from medicine, but that only went so far. One Sunday morning the subject came up about depression, and I just started talking. I then realized how many other people suffer from it too. I honestly believe that through talking, seeking professional help, and talking to God, it makes all the difference in the world. I had my suicide planned out. Thank God I never acted on my plan. – Wayne Cawthon

As an adult, after the birth of my first child, I dealt with postpartum depression. I think that between having a new baby, moving to another state and losing my grandmother (to whom I was very close) all within 5 months was just a lot for me to deal with. Then, after the birth of our second daughter, postpartum reared its ugly head again! I knew I needed to get help when I would find myself driving to the grocery store, knowing we needed food, but completely unable to focus on making an actual list. Day-to-day things seemed extremely hard to make happen. I ended up seeing my medical doctor and getting started on medication. Just saying yes to medicine was incredibly difficult for me; I remember saying to my husband, “I have lots of faith; why isn’t God taking this from me?” I struggled with whether it was a lack of faith and that was painful! When the right medicine started reversing my inability to function like normal, I knew there was more to it than my belief system. I was on medicine for about 2 years and eventually was able to come off of it. – Jennifer Danford

I’ve struggled with depression my entire life, but since I met Jesus in 2010, it still hasn’t gone away. From almost losing my house twice to foreclosure, to going from my phone ringing nonstop to having absolutely zero friends, to our most recent struggle of trying to get pregnant, it is SO hard to rely on the Lord’s promise that He is a good Father who only wants good things for his children. As a leader of a group of women, I always felt I had to have it all together until it hit me that being vulnerable with them allows them to share their own struggles which is where we have seen the most growth. What started as one D-Group in Florence with 7 women has grown into 3 separate groups with over 25 women. Although my depression is real and it is something I continue to struggle with on a daily basis, I have people that I can share my struggles with and a supportive husband, but most importantly, I have realized that the Lord didn’t allow me to struggle with depression because He doesn’t love me or by accident, but to only bring Him more glory! – Carmen Smith

I have struggled since my late teen years. I always prayed that God would take me home because I never felt like I belonged here. I thought about suicide all the time. I am on medication for depression now, and I am seeing a wonderful Christian counselor. He has helped me see myself as God sees me – not how I feel. We need to know who we are in Him and that He has a purpose and a destiny for us. Depression is one way the enemy will try to stop us from being who God created us to be. – Jill Hindman

My biggest problem concerning depression was how I talked to myself. I was my worst enemy. Depression medication, for me, was just a band-aid. I had to retrain my mind to be my own advocate, my best cheerleader; over time and with practice I slowly got better. I still fall, but now I have the tools to bounce back. The understanding that I’m God’s child and that he has great plans for me is part of my mantra. – Jonathan Bumgarner

I want to begin by reassuring you this girl’s walk in Christ is a work in progress, but I grew to recognize his love and presence in my life more through this experience than any other. I was a mess and often felt like death would be easier. I lost my appetite, could not sleep and had difficulty even doing the basics to take care of myself, much less Lila who was two. She was the only reason I reached out for help. I prayed for insight and guidance from Him and found answers in unexpected places, my dreams. He showed himself to me in the most beautiful way, not only giving me the reassurance I’d asked for, but showing me that he truly knows and loves me more intimately than anyone could. I will bloom again and I can’t wait to see what he has planned. – Holly Morrison

Having depression as a Christian has been a mystery to me. I don’t know why I suffered with it, and I don’t know why I sometimes battle with it still. I’ve learned that it’s not always easy to see Jesus in a storm, but the truth of the matter is, he is there with me regardless. I found help through prayer, counseling (pastoral and professional) and the general love of people who showed me Jesus’ love through these seasons. Thankfully, with a continued trust that God has His best for me, and with people around who also want the best for me, I’ve been able to win more and more of these battles. – Bridget Hillier-Vogel

Jesus loves me this I know… but wow, it was hard to remember that when I was struggling with depression. I didn’t really even love myself very much those days. Even activities I completed every day were nearly impossible…making the bed, cooking dinner, going to work. Eventually, the depression lifted. I know Jesus was there the whole time, but sometimes it was hard to remember in the midst of it all. – Mandy Orzechowski

I have dealt with depression since I was 21…becoming a Christ-follower doesn’t cure this widespread disease. We can survive anything if we can see the end in sight but depression/anxiety is so relentless that it makes seeing the end hard. Depression is a cancer that only our faith and being able to receive grace can bring us through. – Billy Isgett

Depression is genetic or hormonal for me. I tried to fix it spiritually for years until my husband and doctor “tricked me” into taking meds I thought were for something else. Cured! Except I have to stay on meds. I am not ashamed of it now. – Vicki Dixon

My parents divorced when I was a freshman in college and two years later, my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer. I was mad at cancer and totally pissed at God. Why my mom? Then as I mourned my mother’s passing, my father and I had a huge falling out. I crashed into a dark hole. Then came depression, weight gain, moving to a new city… I felt hopeless. A smile was on the outside but inside I was a total mess. Through church family and medicine (yes, I love my happy pills) and lots of love and acceptance, I understand God was not punishing me. I am no longer pissed, no longer in a lonely abandoned state. My relationship with my father is great, my soul is free of pain and I give all the thanks to God for his grace..but, boy, it was a hard road! – Tiffany Freeman

“I’m educated. Smart. A strong Christian. I shouldn’t be depressed. Snap out of it!” These are the words I continued to tell myself but it didn’t work.  I couldn’t seem to pull myself out of the spiraling darkness that was overwhelming me. It was like there were two parts to my mind: the educated, logical self that knew that God was in control and that I was fine and the dark, bottomless pit of sadness that I couldn’t understand. It was illogical. Through therapy and many methods of learning how to communicate my fears and stressors, I was able to get a handle on my depression. I am able to see now that I don’t have to have it all together. It has made my faith stronger because I was able to research and lean on God when I had no control over myself. Depression is illogical. You can’t talk yourself out of it or snap back to your old self. It takes time, help, others, and lots of prayer! – Gina Lee

It started when I got my first rejection letter from the nursing program. Then came the constant weight problems. I would lose weight and gain weight. I just felt alone and like I couldn’t talk to anybody about anything because I didn’t want to be judged. So many nights I would come home and bask in my own sorrow, crying myself to sleep. Then I started to really dig deep to find out what this was….I was depressed. I started going to a small group and then I started feeling better because there were other people who really did have this same problem with despair and depression! I applied to the FDTC nursing program and was accepted. Now I am back on track (and did I mention losing weight?) and have made it to the second semester of nursing school. – Thomas Blackmon

I experienced extreme depression eight years ago. I fell apart at the seams, totally and completely. I cried out to the Lord. As a matter of fact, I cried, and cried and cried. Eventually, my family doctor got involved and suggested that I see a psychiatrist.  I resisted for a long time.  I’m a Christian, I thought, I don’t need a psychiatrist. But I didn’t get any better. I was put on medication (these medicines were changed several times in an effort to find the right one).  I attended group therapy classes and heard others share their struggle with depression. It took about a year for me to get back to my old self, and there were several things I learned along the way.  My God is faithful; never have I felt any closer to him than I did during this low point in my life.  Jesus was my friend and confidante during the whole process. My old opinion of “For goodness sake, just shake it off!” is gone.  Also, my feelings that I was not a good Christian if I needed drugs and counseling were dispelled; God uses doctors to help heal mental illnesses just like he uses doctors to help heal physical illnesses. Finally, I showed my family that it’s not only right to ask for help – it’s essential (suicide was not foreign to my thoughts), that you don’t have to be ashamed, and that you are not alone. – Yvonne Rhodes

I have been dealing with depression since high school. Most of my friends would say I joked around a lot and was funny. However, I hid my sadness behind a mask. I’ve tried to commit suicide because I grew up unloved, not having anyone, and I thought I would be better off. It took a long time to figure out that God has a plan for me, and I’m trying to live my life according to the Bible. Am I cured? No. Am I better? Yes. Everyday is a journey, and I will make it! – Robert Rackley 

I have been battling depression and anxiety for as long as I can remember. And I do mean battling! I think the hardest thing for me during these dark times has been feeling all alone, even with friends and family around. People just don’t understand…I would have close Christian friends ask:

  • “Why can’t you be happy? Just choose to be happy!”
  • “I don’t think you need to take medication because it is all in your head!”
  • “You just need a better relationship with God!”

I remember walking away each time thinking, “What the heck was that? Am I just crazy?? God is the only One getting me through this…helping me get up every day and giving me the courage to fight and live my life!” My favorite question from someone who has never struggled with depression is “So, how does the medication make you feel?” I looked at them and said, “I don’t know…like you, I guess.” I know they genuinely cared, but it always made me sink deeper into the black hole of depression…second guess everything…especially friendships and trust! I stopped letting people get too close and didn’t fully trust the ones I did let in…including my loving husband! My hope is that anyone struggling with depression and/or anxiety will know that they are not alone during these times in their life. I have to remind myself God is in control and He carries me through the dark times and walks beside me during the good times. I have to trust and rely on him for everything…He is my LIGHT! And even though I still struggle, finding my own peace in the fact that I am exactly who God intended me to be has given me the strength to fight even harder! And just maybe my purpose is to give someone else a little hope! – Kaci Chapman

I’m not trying to write a medical post on depression, and I’m not knowledgeable or brave enough to take on a theological discussion of depression, but as a believer, in the company of other real deal believers who struggle with depression, I do think we can glean some nuggets of truth from our common experiences:

  • God does not leave us or forsake us. Even when we feel alone in darkness. He is there; He’s not afraid of the dark.
  • Depression does not compromise God’s promises. We have experienced his tender expression of faithfulness by way of healing, hope, support, love, grace, peace, and the return of joy.
  • God has allowed depression in our lives to draw us closer to him. He has used it to create a desperation for Him and a compassion for others. In that way, it has been a gift.
  • If you are struggling with depression, you are obviously in good company. 🙂
  • Asking for help is critical to getting better.
  • Getting better takes time.
  • We aren’t weak Christians. We love Jesus a whole lot. We’re simply Christians who have danced with a darkness that shackles. And we know Jesus more intimately because of it. Depression hasn’t only been our infirmity; it has been our equipping.

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8 Comments

  1. Martha Davis
    Martha DavisReply
    March 14, 2015 at 10:06 am

    You nailed it! I do think depression can be a gift to a Christian. How can you possibly empathize with someone who can’t see past the next 10 seconds if you haven’t been there yourself?

    During my second bout (I thought it was my first but in hindsight, I know it was my second) with depression, my pastor came to see me. He told me that there must be some unresolved sin in my life or I wouldn’t be experiencing that unbearable sadness. I asked him to leave. By the way, that pastor’s father has committed suicide!?! And yet, this guy still didn’t have a clue!

    Thanks for this post, Cookie! I’m sure it helped all of us who commented to know that we’re not alone and that we will be reminded to pray for one another.

    • Cookie Cawthon
      March 14, 2015 at 11:14 am

      Martha, how encouraging it has been to just hear that others have experienced the same darkness! Doesn’t make it easier but someone it breathes hope and lessens the bite of thinking you’re alone in the battle.

  2. Lynn Thow
    Lynn ThowReply
    March 14, 2015 at 10:36 am

    Cookie, You are a beautiful soul. Thanks for being so open and honest. You are helping many!!

    • Cookie Cawthon
      March 14, 2015 at 11:17 am

      Thank you, Lynn; can I admit that this post terrified me? Actually, my stomach is still on fire as we speak… 🙂 Having the other 20 voices stand with me has made it easier and so much more enjoyable!

  3. Bee
    BeeReply
    March 14, 2015 at 11:06 am

    Oh, man. I am just now climbing out of that awful and very dark pit that I lived in for at least 3 years. Sometimes, it seemed like I was clutching at the sides trying NOT to climb out because everything was so, so hard. I can do identify with just wanting it to be over. Not suicidal, but totally understanding the why.
    God was there; just my insides were screaming so loud,!i couldn’t hear Him.

    I hated every minute of it. But I wouldn’t change it. Just like you, I’ve gotten better at loving and extending my so-small-in-comparison-to-His grace. It’s a real, ugly monster.
    But for those of us who love him, He works it for our good.

    Loved this.

    • Cookie Cawthon
      March 14, 2015 at 11:21 am

      Goodness, Bee, you are so right! Everything about trying to get better is so, so, so hard. Love hearing that you are on the other side of it!!

  4. Kristi
    KristiReply
    March 19, 2015 at 9:07 am

    Cookie, I wish people talked about this topic more! I would personally love to hear more on how to heal using therapy technics from a Christian perspective. I’ve done counseling with different therapist over the years to battle depression and anxiety, but I love the idea of Christian counseling! Personally I think a lot of my fears and depression are rooted in a misunderstanding of God’s promises and love for me. I enjoyed reading this!

  5. Susanne
    October 7, 2015 at 8:14 pm

    As someone who has struggled with depression off and on for 14 years now, I can’t begin to tell you how refreshing this post has been to me. Right this minute, I am dealing with the aftermath of a severe depression. Yet, your loving reminders that I am not alone, and His promises are still true regardless of how I may feel, and most importantly, that He can take this time in my life and use it for my good and His glory, are like a balm to my wounded soul. I’m gonna share this with my counselor when I go next Thursday. I love you, Sweet Friend!!!

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