When I was fourteen, I faked it at the shrink’s office so I could get a bipolar diagnosis like my friend Katie. Judge me if you must, but I had just watched Girl, Interrupted three times over and frankly, I wanted a diagnosis that would explain the imploding way I felt.
I wasn’t bipolar, by the way, though I should have won an Oscar for my performance in front of that poor, trusting psychiatrist. If you or someone you love has bipolar disorder, I am highly sympathetic. It is no small matter to suffer from mental illness, and it can happen to anybody.
Which brings me to the point: mental illness shows no partiality.
In fact, no illness has been known to skip over certain people because of who they are. I’m sure Billy Graham has had the flu, for example, and I don’t doubt that Phil Vischer of Veggie Tales has been hospitalized at some point in his life. Mental illness is like any other illness, just as our minds are like any other part of creation: fallen.
Some of us are prone to certain health conditions. My mom gets a headache at the drop of a hat. I get eczema on my hands like you wouldn’t believe. Some of us are prone to worse conditions. For one of my best friends, Alicia, cancer is a dominant trait in her family. We pray fervently every time she goes in for a scan that this will not be the time they find cancer in her body. It is serious stuff.
And some of us – and I include myself in this category – are prone to mental illness. Sure, stress might bring it on or make it worse, as it does with my eczema or my mom’s headaches, but the tendency toward depression or anxiety is there all the time. Another repercussion of the fall. A thorn in our sides. A sleeping dragon.
And then there are people who have never had a health glitch in their lives, with no family history of disease, and suddenly out of nowhere the doctor tells them they have blood cancer or a brain aneurysm. Depression, similarly, can bowl over some unsuspecting soul who never knew what hit ’em. In fact for these people depression can be particularly dangerous, as it’s horrid feelings are often misinterpreted as marital discontentment or an identity crisis. Marriages can needlessly end, good jobs can needlessly be abandoned – or suicide needlessly resorted to – all because no one pointed the finger at the true culprit.
I say all this to say this, friends: there is no shame in depression or anxiety. Did you catch that? I’ll say it again. THERE IS NO SHAME. Christians get depressed, too!
Well-meaning people in your circles will say “You’re just not spending enough time in the word,” or “You must have unconfessed sin.” Sure, sure, you probably need to sit down with a counselor, as all of us should do from time to time. And sure, some things might come up from your upbringing – from your mother’s withheld affection or your father’s drinking – that need to be laid down at the foot of the cross. Absolutely. But then, please consider taking medication. You would take medication for indigestion, wouldn’t you? Of course you would. Well, in this case, it’s your mind sending burning acid into your body rather than your esophagus. The one really isn’t all that different from the other, nor more shameful.
If you are depressed, don’t put on your Christian face all day and then go home to implode on yourself, dying from the inside out like a rotten peach. Get help. Get real with yourself and with others. Lift up your head, unbind your heart, and let those tears flow.
You’ll be happy you did.
How have you seen depression play out in your life? For you or others you know and love.