I have depression. Severe at times. I share this because recently we’ve heard news stories in which persons with depression harmed others. A pilot crashed a passenger-filled plane into the Alps. A woman hanged herself in an elementary-school playground, potentially traumatizing students. A suicidal man crashed his car into another, killing himself and the other driver.
We might determine from such stories that all persons with depression pose a threat to others. We’d be wrong. It’s true: depression can skew thinking, but generally in self-torturing ways. Like those green gunky guys in the Mucinex commercials, Guilt, Shame, Dread, Worthlessness, and Despair arrive, toting luggage, intent on setting up a homestead in our souls.
Put another way, it’s like trying to keep our noses above frigid waters*. Makes it challenging to fry an egg, focus at a board meeting, and help with the kid’s homework while trying not to drown. I call depression an invisible disability, because the determination needed to keep on keeping on is not readily evident. But depression can be just as debilitating as any other bodily challenge.
And, far from seeking to harm others, it’s often the love of others that prods us out of bed in the morning when we want to pull the covers over our heads, assume a fetal position, and beg for the bliss of unconsciousness.
What do people with depression need?
- First, not to be labeled by our depression: we are, each of us, individuals.
- Second, not to be feared: we tend to accept blame that’s not ours anyway.
- Third, to know we didn’t choose this. Depression can be caused by life experience, by temperament, by physiognomy, or by a combination of these. We choose to eat right, exercise, take medication as needed, get enough rest, and pray pray pray, but it’s no guarantee. We can still find ourselves near to drowning in depression’s chilled waters.
- Fourth, have expectations of us. Creating, contributing, being depended on remind us that we’re valued and needed. And that keeps us keeping on.
The reprehensible choices of some persons who share a diagnosis does not define us all. Get to know us— each of us—as a unique person. Because for a person with depression, blame is toxic, but acceptance is balm.
* My book, When God Walks Away: A Dark Night Companion, provides further insight into depression, including its spiritual potential and how it differs from the dark night of the soul.