It isn’t easy being green
There sat Kermit, all alone. Blending into the background, feeling overlooked. Everyone, everything, seemed so much more attractive than he felt. He felt anything but special. But…
But Kermit realised that there were some wonderful things that were a bit like him. They were big, they were friendly and important. The thought perks up Kermit, he rises to a brief high before coming down to a level where he is able to accept that he is who he is. He’s not jumping for joy but he’s not in the depths of despair. Kermit feels okay.
Kermit had had the Big D.
Once there was the Big C. It was the medical equivalent of Voldemort, an illness that people felt unable to call by its full name. Over time people began to talk about cancer but as a concept, or as something that affected other people. Admitting to suffering from it was not the done thing. Thankfully this is less true today, although some cancers like bowel and testicular cancer remain subjects people don’t like to talk about.
Cancer has changed from being a taboo subject one which supporters raise phenomenal amounts of money to fund research into. Sadly there remain illnesses and diseases which continue to be taboo subjects. The Big D is one of them.
Despite many high profile sufferers that have talked eloquently about their own battle with depression (Ruby Wax and Katherine Welby-Roberts to name but two) it and many other mental illnesses remain taboo subjects for much of society.
Depression as a topic of conversation is approaching the stage most cancers have long since passed. People are starting to talk about is as a concept or as something affecting other people, but finding people who are able to admit to suffering from it can be hard to find.
There are many reasons why people are not admitting to suffering from depression, at least not outside the comforts of anonymity. Reactions to someone with depression can have far reaching consequences, far beyond their mental health. Jobs can be put at risk, promotion and future prospects can be trampled on and never be fulfilled.
Depression is not feeling sad, nor is it feeling a bit down. Everyone experiences moods in peaks and troughs, but what may make one person sad or indifferent may make another person depressed. Nor does the sense of meaning correlate to make the trivial a thing that only frustrates.
How one person becomes depressed is unique to them and understanding it is difficult even for them, let alone a carer. My experience has shown depression in part to be the lack of hope, motivation and energy, the irrational becoming rational and being overwhelmed by everyday interactions; that this is a simplistic and incomplete description indicates how complex depression can be to talk about and to understand.
Seeking to understand the illness is though the wrong place to start, as is attempting to offer advice and solutions. Those seeking to help the depressed need start my examining their heart towards the depressed: is it one of compassion or one of frustration? Do they want the person to ‘snap out of it’ or do they want to simply be in the presence of the depressed without saying a thing? Sometimes the only way to help is by not helping. Sometimes the demand to be left alone and to not talk about things is a cry to be helped and talk about things. It is a nightmarish and confusing situation for anyone wanting to help a sufferer.
My prayers for people on all sides of depression will continue: for compassion, understanding and patience in carers, employers and friends of sufferers; and for peace, strength and a willingness to reach out for help for sufferers. Above all I pray that you will be able to find the hope in God that I did and cling onto in my darkest moments.
This is the end of the blog post I was intending to publish. However…
As reading personal experiences of things are often the best way of understanding something a piece on my experiences of depression follows. Feel free to stop reading now, especially if you don’t like reading what can feel like a piece of self-pitying because although I have tried to avoid that it can be difficult to avoid it when writing about depression.
If you don’t read any further but are affected by depression in anyway, and especially if you are a member if a church, you may find the Mental Health Access Pack helpful. The video below gives an overview of how it will help you, more information is available at http://www.mentalhealthaccesspack.org.
I told you so!
It is people’s lack of understanding of depression, or more particularly their lack of compassion towards sufferers, that has been the heart of a recent dilemma for me.
My depression has it’s foundations in failure, knock-downs and unfulfilled promises.
Back in my mid-twenties I found myself in debt, the result of being taken advantage of by someone I was helping to start a new company with. It was the culmination of several years after leaving university in which I had struggled to find employment. Whilst my friends were moving on I was moving backwards, to my mother’s house and to more training. It was the start of a severe bout of depression.
I feared life not death, yet suicide wasn’t an option. Having been at the receiving end of relatives coming close to committing suicide I knew the effect it would have on my family. And when you’re left with no way out, no way of ending the illness, depression can feel like a prison sentence. I hoped that my release would come from someone or something else, that an ‘accident’ would kill me instead.
Thankfully someone else did end things me, not with death but with a new hope-filled life. After 6 months of researching God I was visited by Jesus and the very physical feelings of despair drained out of me like water leaving a bath (read more about the experience in Rescued from the darkness). Since that time there have been ups and downs, times of sadness and great joy, but thankfully nothing that I felt unable to cope with, nothing that came close to the depression I had had before becoming a Christian.
The second half of last year had some parallels to that dark time in my life. Both times I had come to a disappointing end of something in which I had placed great hope and effort: the business and exploring ordination.
During what can be the final stage before being sent off for ordination training, a Bishop’s Advisory Panel (BAP), I was questioned relentlessly about whether I had been depressed again and what measures I used to cope when I found things difficult.
The assumption made by the interviewer was that I had never truly recovered from the depression that coincided with turning my life over to Christ some 15 years earlier. His doubts of my ability to cope and opinion that I was primed to crack at a moment’s notice was all too obvious. Nothing I said convinced him otherwise and the report that followed the BAP laid his judgement bare. In hindsight the irony inherent in that experience is darkly amusing.
I wasn’t recommended for ordination training and it was a tough decision to take. So many things and people had pointed to ordination being part of God’s plan for me, but I found myself being turned down. After such a significant investment of emotional energy in the process it was predictable that I would experience pain and grief. I cried. I was down but I wasn’t depressed.
I knew I wouldn’t be able to think clearly or discern what God’s message to me in the BAP’s decision for sometime so decided to take a break from all things theological. I found peace and a realisation that God might well have said that the timing wasn’t right, that He might still want me to be ordained but not yet. I also felt comfortable with the fact that God wanted me to do something completely different, something for which the discernment process would prove invaluable.
My family and I managed to buy and move into a house we never thought we would be able to buy and life was good, very good. It was time to return to ‘normal’ and work.
I returned to a job that I had taken in order to be the main carer in the family. It was dull and intended for someone starting out in their working life, and few of my skills or experiences were called for. That I chose such a job to enable me to play the role of the family’s lead-carer didn’t make it any easier to be the office dogsbody and take having my contributions dismissed by colleagues younger and less experienced.
Exploring ordination had given me a focus and had pointed towards a purpose that made me feel more alive and in-tune with God than ever before. I returned to work with that focus removed and with the future unmapped. Uncertainty such as that can be uncomfortable and difficult to handle for someone who is a natural planner like me. That I also knew from the experiences of others that the time ahead would be difficult should have led me to take preemptive action, unfortunately I didn’t.
In time I felt, as I still do, that God would send signs to reveal the direction I should take. I hoped that positivity and trust in God’s overarching plan would enable me to ride out any storms until the signs began to emerge. That wasn’t going to be enough.
As the monotony of work resumed my mind naturally turned once more to thinking about my future. As I began to reconsider the direction my life should take next I found myself increasingly struggling to cope. My working life felt like a string of failures and now it felt like I was failing to be a good husband or father.
I was, I am, no failure as a husband and father but depression was trying persuading me that I was.
That I would struggle after a BAP was predictable, indeed I had been warned about it and advised to prepare for it. Support options were offered but I didn’t think they would be of use because I was fine and I would be fine. But I wasn’t. I was blinded by my arrogance, arrogance that I would be immune to the struggles that many people who had been through a similar experience to me had experienced.
Of course when I realised I was struggling I should have asked for help there and then. But asking for help meant admitting I was struggling. And admitting that I was struggling felt like I was proving the BAP Advisers right. I didn’t want to do that! Arrogance had been joined by stubbornness. However by not asking for help I was dependent on my own mental abilities to cope and they were the very things that needed the help.
It was by not reaching out for help that I proved the Advisers right, that their concerns did had some merit. Had I taken head of the advice I had been given it wouldn’t necessarily have stopped be from succumbing to depression but it would have helped me to catch it early on. And in doing so I would have proven that I was able to manage my mental health. It took this experience to learn that.
Depression does strange things to logic and reasoning. It feeds on negativity, turning feelings and falsehoods into seemingly true facts which coexist with actual truths. They fight for your attention with each trying to persuade you that they are the thing which must be believed and acted upon. That it can feel like satan and God are waging warfare over your mind and soul is because they are. Depression is one of satan’s weapons.
Helping and being willing to be helped depends a lot on synchronicity. Offers of help or requests to talk will be met with silence or denials if made when at a moment in time when the other doesn’t feel able to talk. The reverse is also true, which creates a dangerous situation where things can escalate and feel irretrievable. Things never are but it can take tremendous effort and divine intervention to hold things together until requests to talk come from all at the same time.
Thankfully a time came when I was able to open up and talk. The love and compassion that followed expelled the negativity and the falsehoods. There is rarely an instantaneous healing, although miracles do happen and are worth praying for. In most occasions it takes continued effort and dialogue from both the sufferer and carer to sustain the healing.
I have dreams and hopes, passions to fulfil. I have been given a tantalising glimpse of possible future avenues I might find myself travelling along. The view ahead is peppered with key words that hint at God’s plan for me, that my life will have at its core understanding, peacemaking, encouraging, writing and perhaps preaching. Underpinning all of those possibilities lie another that they and all others will be built upon, that of family (see my post We are Family).
One thing is abundantly clear though, although becoming increasingly self-aware is good it means nothing if we maintain our emotions and interactions in self-regulated imposed prison. Those who have suffered or are suffering from depression need to reach-out proactively and to allow others in reactively. That takes tremendous energy, resolve, patience and love from all.
Postscript: I recovered from my post-BAP depression and resumed my exploration of ordination, going to a second BAP three years later. if you would like to jump ahead in the story and find out what happened go to the timeline of my blog posts or go to the BAP Experiences page for blog posts about both my visits, the aftermath of each and other people’s experiences too.
If you are affected by depression in anyway, and especially if you are a member if a church, you may find the Mental Health Access Pack helpful. The video below gives an overview of how it will help you, more information is available at http://www.mentalhealthaccesspack.org.