Growing up as a church kid, who suffered from severe depression, I was not met with the type of counsel and comfort one might have expected. I was faced with a surprising amount of misunderstanding, terrible advice, and total estrangement in some cases.
Now that I am older and hopefully a bit wiser for the wear, I see that there is a much greater awareness about anxiety and depression in a general collective sense in the world. However, it is still so often spoken about in hushed tones within the church. We need to change that.
Tragically as a Christian community, we keep witnessing the effects of mental illness within our church leadership. Following the suicide of some prominent pastors, I knew I needed to share my experience to let all my fellow warriors know that they are not alone in their struggles or in the church.
When you are suffering from chronic depression or anxiety as a Christian, it seems that everyone wants to give you a pep talk, while almost no one wants to climb into the darkness and just sit with you. Everyone offers to pray for you, few want to walk through the pain that neither you or they understand. There are many uncomfortable silences, but far worse than the deafening silence, are the words that pierce through you like a knife and deepen your pain, which hardly seems imaginable. This leads to feeling even more out of place and misunderstood within the walls of the church.
The church I grew up in, had two upspoken codes of conduct once you walked through the doors:
- You put on a happy face. It didn’t matter if your child just died or you were contemplating suicide…you better count it all joy and turn on that smile, sister!
- If someone asked how you were doing, the appropriate response was,” Fine.” You were always fine. It could clearly be untrue, as you said it with tears in your eyes and a trembling voice, but no one would question beyond this response.
Due to the environment, I found myself in, I only reached out to selective people about my crippling depression. I hated the world I lived in. I hated what my life had become and I spent years in such terrifying darkness, that I completely believed there would never be an end to it.