Following the tragic death of Robin Williams, it wasn’t long before the ugly side of Christians reared its head. Comments about how he wouldn’t have been depressed if he had Jesus, how Christians who suffer from depression can’t really be following Christ, to it was all his choice and his fault.
I just wanted to curl up in the corner of my sofa and cry.
Apart from the occasional side reference in a blog post, I’ve not really talked about my battle with anxiety and depression. I was diagnosed with Seasonal Affective Disorder a few years ago and it’s mild really, so I’m reluctant to call it a battle. By their definition, my moods are generally impacted by the weather and it’s something that’s happened for as long as I can remember (even before I knew what it was). I just accepted that it was something that happened to me and I just got my head down and powered through it. Occasionally I would drink to help get through the evenings, or watch things I would regret later (which probably didn’t help); anything that got me through each minute seemed justified. When I was out, I often just didn’t want to be seen and would try to hide in the corner. I felt safe in the corner, away from people. Nothing really changed when I gave my life to Christ, I still had to battle it; I wasn’t cured of it (something I still struggle to understand now). What it gave me though, was a definite sense of not being alone in this. Many times in the winter months, traveling from Abingdon to Slough for work, I’d feel like Jesus was just sat next to me, arm around me, telling me he was going to help me get through this.
I’ve never seriously considered suicide, I never got that far down my hole, but I’d be lying if I said that I never thought about just throwing myself in front of the train whilst standing on platform 3 of Didcot Parkway station at half 6 in the morning. I can’t explain why I didn’t, probably because I wasn’t totally serious, but it went through my mind. For several brief moments, I thought it would be better for everyone. I know friends who have tried, but I can’t say I fully understand why because I’m not them. I don’t walk in their shoes and mine aren’t a perfect fit. My experiences give me a starting point to understanding, nothing more. I think this is what hurt the most about yesterday. There was no attempt at understanding, just a blanket condemnation as if one solution that worked for one person must work for everyone and if it doesn’t it’s the persons fault. Sometimes I don’t need someone to understand, just someone who will join me in my duvet/pillow fort and listen if I need them to. My dark hole is mine, and it is different to everyone else’s.
When I eventually went to see my GP about it, I was adamant I didn’t want to be on medication for too long. I needed a long term solution, but what the medication did was make my hole seem less dark; enough for me to re-orient myself and go and see a professional. I am eternally grateful to those professionals for their help and advice. They didn’t judge, they didn’t condemn, they showed support and compassion and got me the help I needed. I was part of a church at the time and I made it when I could, they were supportive for the most part and that was important too. I now have a light box which helps with my moods, my XBox helps me distract myself for a couple of hours and helps relieve some of the stress, I know I can rant at Sarah or at any of my friends and I know they will support me. That’s what’s really needed, support. They don’t blame me, they don’t heap shame on me, they don’t tell me to just “get over it”. Sometimes I do need a kick up the backside, and they give me that, but they are in a position to because they know me and my past.
Someone had commented on Twitter that “You wouldn’t throw Scripture at a broken leg and expect it to be healed, so why would you do that for a mental condition?” There is so much misunderstanding about mental health, not just within the church but in society as a whole. There is a strong current of ‘blame the victim’; “it must be their fault”. Within the church that leads to shaming statements of “you don’t have enough faith in Jesus” or “you don’t believe in the right Jesus”. ‘Salt and wound’ come to mind, but passing judgement on someones faith or issues that they don’t know the full story of, seems to be the job description of the modern day Christian. Why would anyone go for help if they’re going to get more pressure heaped onto them? A friend said to me “only a person who’s gone through the same thing, truly understands what you’re going through“. I think that’s largely true, and I’m incredibly grateful to the many who have battled depression stepping up and combating the dangerous nonsense that was going round yesterday.
Depression is very very real, the most common cause of death in men under the age of 35 is suicide. I sometimes find myself back in my dark hole, sometimes it’s almost comfortable being there. Other times I find myself just looking down into it. It’s just part of who I am, but it doesn’t define my existence.
If you’re struggling with any of the issues mentioned in this blog, or you’re in a situation that you don’t know how to get out of, the Samaritans are available 24/7. They are there to listen and offer impartial, anonymous advice. You don’t even have to give your name if you don’t want to. Their contact details are at http://www.samaritans.org/how-we-can-help-you/contact-us