Friday, March 21, 2014
I've a Confession to Make
...I will not boast, except of my weaknesses. Though if I should wish to boast, I would not be a fool, for I would be speaking the truth. But I refrain from it, so that no one may think more of me than he sees in me or hears from me. So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
- 2 Corinthians 12:5-10
Things like what I'm about to do are never easy. Yet sometimes, we find ourselves compelled to do them anyway. As I meditated on this scripture from 2 Corinthians this morning, I thought I heard the Lord telling me to tell you what I'm about to tell you. But here I am, closing in on the end of this Friday afternoon, and I still haven't done it.
Because I don't want to.
But here I go anyway: My name is Tim, and I have chronic clinical depression.
I've had it for years. Two highly-regarded evangelical psychiatrists have separately confirmed the diagnosis, and I'm on two prescription medications for it. I think I've had five or six other therapists over the years, but frankly, I've lost count. It's been at least a decade since my last visit to one.
Okay, so... I'm not gay - which is what some of you were probably expecting me to admit. And no, I've not been engaged in some adulterous affair. I'm not a left-wing Communist, either, although some of my right-wing acquaintances will probably never be convinced of that. I suffer from chronic clinical depression, and while by itself, that's not a crime or something I should be intrinsically ashamed of, I constantly feel like it is, and that I should be.
Particularly as a self-professing, evangelical Christ-follower.
None of our lives are perfect, although a lot of us pretend really hard that they're close to it. But few diagnoses carry with them such punitive baggage in society - and especially in the Christian church - than having some sort of emotional or mental disorder. For years, I've only whispered my condition to select people within the churches I've attended, exclusively on some need-to-know basis, because I'm aware of the stigma attached to it, and how most churched folk treat people like me.
A couple of close friends have asked me why I don't write more about my depression, and my answer to them has always been the same: I have few friends as it is. Letting this type of information circulate in the public domain isn't going to help me find more of them. Especially not in church! Sympathy? Perhaps onlookers think that's what I secretly want, but they'd be completely wrong. A flurry of self-help motivational information by people who think they're being supportive? No thanks, because all you're doing is presuming that conditions like mine are "all in the head" - only metaphorically. Not physically, which is what clinical depression really is. It's a physical problem involving chemicals in my brain.
One does not simply "snap out of it."
Meanwhile, all of the other evangelicals who remain closet sufferers of depression are agreeing with me right now, knowing their own private pain, and their gnawing fear about what would happen if it were widely known.
As I read this passage this morning, which was part of the scripture from this past Sunday's sermon at church, and that subtle little thought sprung up through my brain's morning haze, I fought it. I fought it for the same reason I always fight it, because I've been thinking of doing this for some time, but I've never had the courage to actually do it. Part of me wonders if things really won't be so bad if I go ahead and admit it, even if it's here in an amateur blog that only a few people read regularly. But most of me has seen and heard how my fellow church-goers treat other people who admit they're clinically depressed. And I don't want to be their victim, too.
Yet, neither do I want to be a victim of fear. And fear has become the all-consuming manifestation of my clinical depression. From those excruciating days, 21 years ago, right before my parents in Texas convinced me to go see my singles pastor at my church in New York City for help... when I'd be literally curled up in that fetal position you always hear about deranged people crawling into... fear has reigned in my brain. And probably my heart, too, if I wasn't so scared to open it up and look around inside of it.
And I'm under no delusion that this little essay will really help me feel better. Besides, I'm not telling you my secret so I can feel better. I'm telling you my secret because I don't think I'm honoring God with everything I've got by keeping this a secret. I've got chronic clinical depression, and the "chronic" part means I've had it a long time, and I'll probably have it for a long time to come. God has allowed this to be part of the life He's given me. I didn't earn it through my personal sinfulness, having it is not a crime, and the Lord is revealing some eternal truths to me as He leads me through it.
Most of all, however, He has continued to sustain me through near-daily thoughts of suicide, and teach me why He created life in the first place: for His glory.
Theoretically, at least, I'm learning that my life isn't about me. And your life isn't about you. Not ultimately, anyway. For me, however, chronic clinical depression has been a significant part of life. Even though some people with this condition can - and do - earn a lot of money, I can't handle the stress required for most high-income jobs. Chronic clinical depression has factored into why I don't have a spouse or children of my own, although lots of people with this condition do. Yes, I've come to realize how much of my time I spend being resentful, and jealous, as well as fearful. But then again, a lot of people who don't have chronic clinical depression are also quite resentful, jealous, and fearful. These are things to work through, right? Not ignore.
So, what's your problem? 'Cause we've all got 'em.
My name is Tim, and I've got chronic clinical depression. And I've got God, Who knows what I've got, allows me to have it, and is guiding me through it. And that's the truth.
So - help me, God!
Part 2 - Not Your Everyday Depression
Part 3 - My Theology of Chronic Clinical Depression