Hopeful depression

So I realised this morning, my mind has been astonishingly blank the last week or so. Not that I have thought nothing – just that I have thought nothing that even I find interesting enough to dwell on. I say ‘even’ I because my mind wanders onto the dullest and most bizarre of thoughts on regular occasion, so the fact that I find my thoughts too dull to ponder is really quite extraordinary.

So anyway, I have been pondering the dull nature of my thought life and wondering why, and I have come to this conclusion. I am avoiding the world inside my head.

I have depression. I get it quite badly on a regular basis and kind of cry and get tired and just generally see no hope in the world. Problem is, recently I have had hope. I am very low, very sad and yet at the same time very happy. It seems like the chemicals in my brain are at war with my circumstances ‘I am happy’ ‘No you are not’ ‘no really I am’ ‘no really you are not’. This is the current sound track to my life.

Amongst all the dull thoughts I have been thinking, I have been pondering the happy/depressed state of my mind and wondering at it. What does it mean to find hope within an illness that is doing everything possible to rob you of it?

I have friends, a nice home, a very supportive family near by, a good church, a good job, a brilliant doctor, and an incredibly wonderful boyfriend, however, previously I have had many of these things and still found myself unable to find a way out of the despair.

So what has changed? For me the change has been an increased understanding of what ‘God loves you’ really means. It goes beyond the point of a strange and distant sense ‘I know, I know, but what difference does it make’ to a point where it has given me the strength to change my mindset and outlook on life.

Now don’t get me wrong, when I am very low I still will see a black veil of nothing hanging in front of me, I will still find that point of hopelessness where there is no way forward. My brain gets full and I cannot possibly understand how to empty it or what the way forward is. However, in between these moments I find life. There is a hope that comes from the understanding that in it all, the highs and lows, the hope and despair there is truly a place where you can find peace.

The bible is my key. Reading the psalms (that oh so regularly quoted ‘you can yell at God, look’ book) I find that I don’t need to have hope every second of the day. In my hopelessness I just need to acknowledge that God is bigger than my illness and he will come through – eventually. Not always easy, but always possible. I go back to Job in the bible, again an inspiration, a man in despair, who maintained trust and faith, but not in a squeaky clean ‘all is fine’ kind of way. In fact, I don’t know that I have yet encountered a single person from the bible who did have a ‘everything is fine’ kind of life. So why do we feel we need to?

The church is the place where hope can be found, but this is only possible if the church is willing to accept that life is not always rosy. The stigma around mental health illness – of any kind, must be eradicated. The bible is full of people who screw up, who get miserable, angry, who hurt and who weep. Even Jesus, in the garden of Gethsemane found life a little too much to bear and pleaded with God.

My hope comes from an understanding that life is not easy or straightforward. It is complex and frightening, but I have a God who will stand with me every step. It is just a shame that so often his people will not.

This is the time for change; if you look online you will find endless campaigns to end the stigma. I don’t want to be told that I ‘have not a correct faith’ or ‘do not understand God’s love for me’ one more time.

I have a hopeful depression. I am unafraid of my illness, I know that at times it will be unbearable, but I know in it all I am not alone. I look forward to the time when this hope is shared by the church and all those in it suffering quietly and in fear of what their friends would say.

 

95 Comments

    • I really feel for you Katharine, I so understand what you are going through and I struggle with the same issues but say very little about it. Depression nearly always seems to be brushed off as not as important as ‘real’ illness.

  • OK, here’s a nice recipe that might help. I saw Nigel Slater do it on the telly the other day: 30 minute roast chicken.

    Par boil some spuds for 5 mins. Preheat the oven as high as it will go. (Be brave!)

    Get a decent free-range chicken from butcher or meat counter. We’re going to cut the chicken in half. One half serves two. Just gently tap a meat cleaver all the way round the bird. Nobody should say anything stupid while you’ve got that in your hand.

    Heat some olive oil in a large oven-proof sauté pan. Chuck in a couple of garlic cloves crushed under the knife. Get the half-chicken started in the pan, then surround with the spuds. Lots of fresh herbs: sage, thyme, rosemary. Cut lemon in half. Squeeze over then chuck the lemon halves in too. Fresh sea salt. No pepper. Slam in the very hot oven for 30 mins. That’s all it takes.

    Be careful taking it out. It’s going to be very hot obviously. There’s no God, so don’t bother saying grace. Just serve with a chilled white wine, and some token veg on the side, say fresh peas. And have some chocolate for pudding.

    Watch Nigel do it without the spuds, using both halves of the chicken. Here at 24:20.

    Hope that helps.

    • There is a God, in fact only one and we can know him through Jesus Christ. I am just asserting this fact, I am not supporting it, although I could easily do so, because you didn’t bother to support your negative and highly dubious assertion. I don’t suffer from depression but it seems to me that, however good the recipe, your flippant comment here is in bad taste.

    • No man is in a position to say that there is no God, not even the most smug atheist, just that he doesn’t believe. (So WHAT doesn’t he believe in?)

      Anyway, quite honestly, I think you’d have a lot more fun with a roast shoulder of lamb, but don’t smother it with rosemary and don’t spoil the delicate flavour with mint, just because ‘everyone’ else does. Serve with roast potatoes, of course, and garnish with a simple, healthy vegetable, such as broccoli.

      By the way, have we all considered—those of us who are not in denial—that depression might be caused by the unacknowledged fact of overpopulation? And that yet more people will soon be crammed into this poor, sinking isle?

      • Definitely not opposed to a spot of lamb. Stick it directly on an oven shelf and allow it to drip onto spuds below cut into slices. Redcurrant jelly is fine, but absolutely no mint sauce which is the work of Satan (also doesn’t exist).

        Now hope I won’t be accused of being too smug there. Because I get the distinct impression that Satan is being quietly written out of the script. Katharine hardly ever mentions him. Pity really. It’s like having a Bond film without the baddie.

  • I too have hopeful depression, I live every day hoping to be free from it! Despite everything, I am thankful for how my depression keeps me returning to God’s feet. Thank you for this, I find it encouraging to know that I’m not alone. 🙂

  • A really honest blog. Wish more people would be as honest and talk of their depression openly then others might understand and be more tolerant.

  • My favorite verse is from Lamentations. If you put ‘Lamentations’ in a thesaurus, it comes up with “grieving, wailing, mourning, complaining” – a book of sorrow. And yet, tucked in that bleak book, you have this: “Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness”

    We are not overwhelmed, taken over, consumed, because each morning, even when we wake with a numb despair, God is there, faithfully, and in love. Amazing.

    The longer passage, in The Message version is great too:
    I’ll never forget the trouble, the utter lostness, the taste of ashes, the poison I’ve swallowed.
    I remember it all—oh, how well I remember— the feeling of hitting the bottom.
    But there’s one other thing I remember, and remembering, I keep a grip on hope:
    God’s loyal love couldn’t have run out, His merciful love couldn’t have dried up. They’re created new every morning. How great your faithfulness!
    I’m sticking with God (I say it over and over).He’s all I’ve got left.

    God proves to be good to the man who passionately waits, to the woman who diligently seeks. It’s a good thing to quietly hope, quietly hope for help from God. It’s a good thing when you’re young to stick it out through the hard times. When life is heavy and hard to take, go off by yourself. Enter the silence. Bow in prayer. Don’t ask questions: Wait for hope to appear.
    Don’t run from trouble. Take it full-face. The “worst” is never the worst. Why? Because the Master won’t ever walk out and fail to return. If he works severely, he also works tenderly. His stockpiles of loyal love are immense.

  • Thank you for such an honest and reflective account. I have watched my husband suffer and have become much more aware of what it means and how it is so very different to what many people say is depression when they are feeling down. We must work in the Church and in wider society to support all who suffer and take away any stigma. Help is at hand from many quarters if only people understand and love one another.

  • Thank you for this honest and helpful post Katharine, works for those of us who live with someone suffering from depression too. I find Psalms very useful too; helps that I also hear them sung everyday, and their beauty lifts my soul. As you’re discovering, you can live with the “black dog”, but I won’t pretend it’s easy. You’re right to acknowledge how important a loving and supportive family is, and how unhelpful some in the church can be. Keep on being you

  • Dear Katharine,
    I, myself have been also treated for depression for the last three long years..I know how you might feel from time to time, I had some very bad days, weeks and even months but thank God I started to feel much much better. I don’t know if you are taking medication or just therapy, I have been taking medications and it takes time to find the right treatment cause each case is different. My doctor had to try many different medications till she found the right one for me.
    Also I would like to suggest you to have a diary which you write your feelings and prayers this might help you to understand yourself better..When I look at my diary today I see so many non-sense thoughts of mine and how much my mental health improved:)
    God is good to us! He hears our prayers..he accepted my prayers and I am sure he is hearing yours. But also I would like to tell you that some self-suggestions are so helpful…it helps me a lot.
    May God help you.. and your doctor to find the right treatment for you. You will be in my prayers.
    God bless!

  • Thank you for writing this. I am a chronic thinker, and have been thinking over the meaningless of life juxtaposed with the purpose of life thinking I am going to get really depressed. Do you think all the distractions in life are a cause for many people not coming to terms with truth and that God really does care? sorry another thought. But thank you for your honesty and the courage to share it.

  • Glad to know others out there feel the way I do. I have been suffering from depression on and off for the past five years. I have let most of my faith fall away and now I’m trying to get back into having a relationship with Christ. I have started writing again as a way to understand God, Christ, the Holy Spirit and Christianity. It helps me to know that I’m not the only person who has a happy life yet is still sometimes depressed. Thank you so much for sharing this story.

  • “[god isn’t shite]”. “god is good. all the time”. “god really does care”. Does an excellent job of dissembling then. Life can be joyous and ABM at times, but the many, many truly awful sides of and for people, esp. those already within the church, are hard for churches to deal with or even acknowledge. happy, happy, happy; praise you for being wonderful; et cetera ad nauseum → hard to reconcile with WTF is (still) going on and why aren’t you doing owt Big Guy. I hate depression.

    • Depression is the loneliest place in the psyche…I felt even more alienated by “Cheerleader Christians” who offer bumpersticker tracks to keep your suffering at arms length…and don’t even get me started on the “you’re not doing….” BS, as if there is a magical formula that I haven’t tried yet…Thanks for letting me vent…

  • I really appreciate your honesty and bravery in writing this, Katherine. I’m also a Christian girl in my late twenties who has struggled with depression over the last four years. Reading this has encouraged and helped me today – thank you.

  • Thank you for your honesty and thoughtfulness in ‘coming out’ about this distressiing affliction that affects so many people today. As a young woman to do this – you are so brave. Very encouraging – bless you and thank you.

  • Your honesty and vulnerability will be of help and benefit to others, I know. And I know too what this state is like, having had PTSS and depression for just over 2 years (following an horrific car accident …) Sometimes it felt as though I was only hanging on by one finger tip to God, to contentment, to family and friends. BUT GOD … but God was still hanging on to me even when if didn’t feel like that to me.
    May you know the steadfast love of the Lord, that never ceases – even when we don’t feel it.

  • Blessings to you…and all others who suffer the “black cloud”. It has been a nearly life-long companion for me as well, and–as an Anglican priest–I know all too well how even within the church, there is a very real stigma about any kind of mental illness. I would encourage all who suffer to urge their doctors to search for neurological issues as well as psychological. After many, many years on many different antidepressants, it was finally discovered that my depressions were to a significant extent related to a form of epilepsy–temporal lobe epilepsy, or a kind of complex-partial seizures. The seizure meds make a huge positive difference to me, although I still have an occasional “Visit of the Mugwumps”!
    I also heartily affirm much of what you (and others) have said about the spiritual aspects. Without prayer and my relationship with the Lord, I would not be alive to this day. And, I have also found that both the epilepsy and the depression often open the doorway to deeper spiritual insight and awareness. The psalms are so, so deep, as are the insights of so many of the saints…especially St. John of the Cross, and many others. These journeys through the Dark Night (Yes, there are more than one) can truly purify the soul and prepare us for fully embracing the Light of Christ.
    Prayers and Blessings.

  • Thankyou for your honesty and courage. As a Christian who daily battles depression, I agree that the stigma has to end. Churches should be the easiest places to be when you’re feeling lost and broken, not the hardest. Recently I’ve been learning that hope is so much more than a feeling or emotion, it’s the truth you have to cling onto through the darkness. Truths that don’t change no matter how much depression tries to steal them. The truth that God loves us completely and unconditionally, and will carry us through the storm. Praying that God will bless you on the journey. Thankyou!

  • Thank you so much for your honesty with this post. It was shared by a friend on Facebook and it is wonderful to see people speaking out and telling their own story of the realities of depression and working to end not only the stigma, but the wrong thinking and teaching behind that stigma, those things that make being a Christian with depression even harder. I’ve had depression, diagnosed for about 10 years and actually much longer and have had to learn to hold hard onto truth that does not change no matter how I feel. I wrote about it towards the end of this post: http://messmuddleandfun.blogspot.co.uk/2013/02/come-somewhere-to-stand.html I agree, it is time for change, time for the church to be a safe place to speak honestly, time for hope.

  • Thank you Katharine, Church should be the first place that understands that loves and that in time of need helps. It is taking its first steps but its time to realise the stigma that hides real people who are simply just unwell.

  • To me depression is when you’re waiting not to do things. But happiness is when you can’t wait to do things.

  • I find that being a Christian adds to my struggle with depression (21yrs). If God is all powerful why does He not heal me & worse still I feel when I’m at my lowest He leaves me to fend for myself. In my “sane times” I’m sure this isn’t the case but it hurts horribly at the time. I do know though that to face depression without my faith would be unbearable, if this was all life was with nothing to follow, well it doesn’t bear thinking about
    Well written & great points raised

  • Thank you for your forthright candor, Katharine. I used Job 3 in writing a prayer for depression (here), and a clerical friend, on medical leave for clinical depression, used it daily to good effect.
    Jill Woodliff

  • Hey!
    I love your honesty, as well as reliance on scripture.
    As having gone through it myself, and having also walked besides others, can I suggest that you put Bondage Breaker, and victory over darkness right in top of our reading list!? These are not just good books, but life changing based on truth and the real application of he gospel 🙂

  • A friend shared the Telegraph article on Facebook. I do not suffer from depression, thank God., but I know a lot of people who do, and I am going to send as many of them as I can contact your article. It will be an enormous encouragement to them. Thank you Katharine for your honesty and courage. I wish you wel in your walk with God. David Wright age 73.

  • Is it possible that depression is a modern construct? Many throughout history have been given to melancholy. Only recently has this natural way of being been framed in terms of disease. In other milieus melancholic personalities have boldly harnessed their nature to bring about progress, all the while serving as the social conscience for a generation.

  • Thankyou for sharing your story. Iv suffered many years with depression and at the moment am needing support. Your very brave.

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  • captures perfectly the good days, which are essential to remember (and oh, so very difficult to keep in mind) when the bad days come around again. one of the best books I have ever read (which echoes your comment about the psalms) is by Kathryn Greene-McCreight, Darkness is my only companion. absolutely honest, deeply theological, and quite practical.

  • Very honest blog, Katharine. I have suffered recurrent depression for over 35 years, have had a lot of help from CBT in the last couple of years, but still getting episodes. I realize you don’t know me from Adam (well, from Eve anyway) but I would love to send you a free copy of my book ‘Crying for the Light’ (BRF 2008) as it is structured around a series of notes on what my husband calls ‘the whingeing psalms’ and I call the ‘depressive psalms’, and another set on depressed or mentally ill characters in the Bible, both women and men. I think you’d like the book, but if you don’t want to send me your address, can I send it via your dad at Lambeth Palace? You can email me on vez@makewrite.demon.co.uk. You might also be interested in the online forum I run, called Waving not Drowning, for Christians with mental health issues (although you do need to be a signed-up member of Ship of Fools (www.ship-of-fools.com) to access it. We’re a little online community of around 150 people with probably a third of members posting regularly, sharing our difficulties and triumphs and useful knowledge. All the best, Veronica

  • Dear Katharine, I have a 30 year history of mental illness – clinical depression and then psychotic illness (schizo-affective disorder). In the past I have had electric convulsive therapy (ECT) better known as electric shock treatment. I have a book of poems published entitled ‘Loud Silence’ which is about my experience of mental illness; on-going recovery and stigma. If you would like to give me a fowarding address I will send you a copy of ‘Loud Silence’. May the Lord continue to bless you. Thank you for your courage in speaking out.

  • Thank you for sharing, Katharine. Your thoughts are a wonderful affirmation of things I’ve always felt.

  • Hi Katharine. I came to your blog via Sally Hitchiner. Thank you so much for writing this – I think it’s so difficult to explain to people who haven’t experienced depression how this paradox works. You have explained it perfectly. Am recommending this on my blog.

  • Such searingly uncompromising honesty, Katharine, is a sure sign of bravery (as if your having served as a police officer in a tough part of London for 3 years wasn’t enough of an indication!). It takes a lot to cope with depression: courage, determination, organisational skills, a sense of responsibility to others as well as to oneself, and the kind of clear thinking many can’t face, let alone apply.
    My life has often been blighted by despair so I feel qualified to comment. It seems too me that your ability to seize the moment wherever possible, together with all the above qualities, will stand you in very good stead. I wish you ‘bon courage’ and many blessings.

  • Katharine, I read with interest about you in the Sunday Telegraph today. I have just been diagnosed with clinical depression, after some twenty years with an anxiety order.

    As a result of the article in the ST, I have read your blog for the first time. Thank you so much for speaking out on our often misunderstood illness. You have been very brave, and have helped me to feel that I am not alone in my depression.

    Thank you.

  • Good for you for speaking up about this. I hope this raises some awareness of the issue of depression. I have never suffered depression myself, but have had several friends who have, and one who was very suicidal as a result. Also as a long term volunteer with Samaritans, I have spoken to many people who have depression. If you get in one of those states where you can only see blackness and hopelessness, do feel free to ring the Samaritans on 08457 909090 – they won’t give you advice, or judge you, but they will listen and take you seriously – sadly it seems that one or two people commenting here are not prepared to do this.

    I’ve shared your blog link on my Facebook page, because it deserves to be read and noticed.

  • I meant to add that your point about Gethsemane is well made. “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death” (Matthew 26:38) sounds very much like someone who does not wish to continue living. If someone said that to me in the context of a Samaritan call, I would almost certainly ask them if they were having suicidal thoughts. (Part of the process of de-stigmatizing mental health and suicide is to allow people the freedom to talk about it).

    • An honest dialogue about suicidal thoughts is so important to a person who struggles with dark thoughts. Often the gift of presence and being heard and validated is the right balm for deep wounds. Thoughts of suicide and intent to actually carry out those thoughts are 2 different things and we should have the discussion!

  • Dear Katharine, this is so thoughtful, helpful, and boldly written. You won’t remember, I guess, the one-time Succentor at Coventry; but what you’ve written reverberates strongly in me, given my own recurring blackness, bleakness and blankness, and the faith that the cathedral community there helped me rediscover. Do give my love to your dad. David.

  • I have been at both ends of depression. In the tunnel trying to look for that bit of light and witnessing to a sufferer who was ‘cured’ miraculously. You will notice that I put the inverted commas around ‘cured’ because you can never be completely cured of depression – it can still haunt you – testing you waiting to pounce years later at the single sign of weakness. You can feel – it’s a presence and it can move through your body – to your heart (make it race – palpitations etc.) or to your gut (Make you feel sick, loss of appetite etc!!) or your sex organs (loss of appetite – you know what I mean) or your eyes (sleepiness) limbs (weakness) shoulders (heaviness) it can also make you feel scared and confused and more scared and more confused and it can ‘Inhabit’ all of the above at the same time. The route into depression is often not the same route out so you can’t trace your steps which is why so many sufferers are long term. The biggest challenge is how it corrupts your identity. The longer it goes on the more difficult it is for those around you to separate the illness from who you are or were. If I can say one thing though. Faith played a really big part in my own recovery and as I have said I’ve also seen sufferers miraculously cured. (No inverted comas)

  • Thank you for writing this blog. I am also a Christian suffering with depression and church is hard. I am so relieved to come across you and your honesty.

  • Thank you! I experience depression & currently having a depressive period. I’m also a Christian, church can be tough because. Find it difficult to hear that I’m loved when I feel anything but loveable! Thanks for speaking out, I admire your courage & honesty 🙂

  • “God is bigger than my illness and he will come through – eventually.”

    What’s he waiting for? This all-knowing, all-powerful god who watches your every move, who analyses your every thought, who gazes upon your suffering?

    Are we to prostrate ourselves and give thanks for his magnificent creation. Depression included?

    • My greatest torment in the midst of a deep clinical depression was the waiting…why were some people “cured” while others were left to suffer? What was the meaning of suffering? I was not comforted by the bumper sticker platitudes about “God is tempering you for a greater purpose” (lucky me) or “God will use this for His redemption” (is God a sadist?!) or “Romans 8:28” (really, I don’t see the good in this at all…) The greatest help came from the genuine people of God who loved me, befriended me, did a load of laundry or cooked a meal and then actually ate with me…the folks who said “This is a terrible journey and we don’t understand this, but we are here with you on this road and we will not leave you”. That was church!

      • Strangest thing. I also received much help. From close friends and family members. And not one of them has ever stepped inside a church. What does the bible have to say about that?

  • Dear Katherine
    It is tremendously brave of you to be as open as you are about your depression. It’s a real illness and I hope that blogs such as yours give hope to others suffering with the same condition, whilst further stifling the stigma.

    Where I cannot agree is with the role of religious ‘faith’. The IDEA of external agency may well provide succour and hope. There is nothing wrong with that. But let’s be real clear. No more so than any other kind of placebo.

    You are young and still discovering yourself in this crazy and chaotic world, so this may fall on stony ground as you read. However, I found the complete opposite to be true. It was when I unshackled myself from all the religious absurdity inculcated in me by others, even more misguided than myself, that I truly started to feel liberated: from depression, oppression, the conceited wishes of religious dogma, the sheer burden of all the pious sanctimoniousness swirling around me. The relief was so overwhelming, I was staggered I hadn’t had the courage to throw off the bounds sooner.

    What you believe is your business. But don’t be under any illusions. If your god is perfect and watches over you, why did he give you depression, and what’s he waiting for?

    kind regards,
    A Recovered Depressive. (Without the help of a single god, shamen or holy book).

  • Just wanted to say thankyou for sharing your thoughts on depression with others. Having suffered with depression, anxiety and panic attacks for most of my late twenties and early thirties, I can say that there is hope. It does get better.
    Learning to accept yourself helps hugely. As I look back, I don’t resent my illness in the least. It made me a more thoughtful and empathetic person.
    I’m positive that you’ll get through this. You’re an intelligent, beautiful and strong woman. You have already cracked the hardest part of the illness, which is the realization that it is an illness and admitting to others that you need their support.

  • Just catching up on all this via BBC. The best bit you said was that there was no reason for your depression, you have a nice life as you described it. Me too! When I’m depressed, I feel crap for not being able to cope wth regular life. And members of my Church have been ace, even if the whole Church isn’t there yet.

  • Thank you so, so much. You have such a wonderful way of explaining how I feel, living with depression and being in the church. I, too, had an experience recently of actually understanding and starting to believe God’s love for me and it has been life changing. It doesn’t make everything better but has given me hope and increased my faith.

    At the moment I’m waiting for the result of my BAP but either way I’m passionate about the church learning to support people with meantal health needs, including depression. After all, it affects so many of us.

    Sending you lots of love and hugs and many more thanks for being amazing, being open and honest and for letting God use you. x

  • Hi, my name is Jordan, and I must say this is an EXCELLENT blog. wow.
    I am a recording artist and I am diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder; I have written a song that encourages people like us to stay in the fight. My latest iTunes release, “The Fight”, states this in its lyrics:
    “Life is more beautiful than it seems,
    Though sometimes the beauty hides behind broken dreams;
    The miracle is waiting just beyond the pain,
    So don’t give up now”

    Praying that I would be able to be an encouragement to some of you blog followers out there!
    this song is available on iTunes:
    https://itunes.apple.com/us/artist/jordan-rainer/id596291020

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