Let’s talk about depression. Or in the words of an older, more seasoned Salt-n-Pepa, “Let’s talk about depression, baby. Let’s talk about you and me. Let’s talk about all the good things and the bad things that may be.” Mainly bad things if you’re depressed.
How did we get here? This is the question I’ve often asked myself over the years. Am I depressed because I’ve made poor choices? Or do I make poor choices because I’m depressed? Which came first the chicken, or the egg? Did they both end up dying sad, lonely deaths at a dirty KFC in a small Georgia town you’d feel dumber for even trying to pronounce? Probably. But try not to let your depressed little mind think about that.
The reality is the answer to the above question is probably “Yes.” Yes, you’re depressed because you’ve made poor choices. And yes, you’ve made bad choices because you’re depressed. Some of these bad choices may or may not have included a late night visit to KFC in which you ordered a “family meal” for one. Unless you consider their biscuits your family. And then you ate your family. Your delicious, delicious, family.
The best description of depression I've ever read is from Darlene Withers, a character in Jeffrey Eugenides’ recent novel, The Marriage Plot. She’s at an AA meeting describing the difference between addiction and depression: “One thing I learned, between addiction and depression? Depression a lot worse. Depression ain’t something you just get off of. You can’t get clean from depression. Depression be like a bruise that never goes away. A bruise in your mind. You just got to be careful not to touch where it hurts. It always be there, though.”
The thing about bruises is sometimes you know how they got there, and sometimes you genuinely don’t. I once had a counselor tell me that depression always has its roots in sin, and he found that hopeful because it meant you could always do something to make it go away. I sat across the booth from him at Ruby Tuesday, quietly listening over my chicken finger platter, thinking maybe my depression has its roots in the fact that I’m eating at Ruby Tuesday, the Crocs with khakis of the restaurant world.
What if depression isn’t so much a choice as it is a condition that both includes AND influences our choices? That’s why David Foster Wallace imagined depression as “The Bad Thing,” a dark monster that “tears you open and gets in there and squirms around...[and] not only attacks you and makes you feel bad and puts you out of commission, it especially attacks and makes you feel bad and puts out of commission precisely those things that are necessary in order for you to fight the Bad Thing, to maybe get better, to stay alive.” Kind of like the Smoke Monster from Lost, but worse because it’s inside you, installing the viral softwares of hopelessness and shame into the operating system that is your mind. On second thought, maybe we’re all depressed because of how disappointing the Lost finale was. I think David Foster Wallace would have agreed.
The other thing about bruises is that even though they have to heal from the inside out, there are some things you can do to help that healing process. Like ice. And massages. Hopefully not at the same time. At least that’s what Wikipedia tells me, and I pretty much trust Wikipedia like I trust our cat: implicitly/not at all.
The point is that there are some things that we can do to not only break the cycle of depression but also help the healing process (which typically lasts a lifetime). For me those things have included eating less fast food/more whole foods, jogging, getting out of my head, drinking pitchers of IPA with friends, watching lots of Netflix with my wife, counseling, counseling, and counseling. Did I mention counseling? Ok good. Cause that’s important. Picking a counselor is like buying a good pair of jeans: they should fit comfortably and not make you hate yourself more.
None of these things will fix you of course. After all you’re a human being, not a laptop. You can fix laptops, but you can’t fix human beings. Instead you have to do the hard work of loving them, which includes learning to love yourself the way God loves you. You have a heart, not a hard drive. If you had to be a laptop though, hopefully you’d be a Mac and not a PC. Unfortunately judging by your jeans you’re probably a PC.
The good news for depressed people is that God is gentle with us in the very places where we are often hardest on ourselves. In fact, He promises not to break a reed that is badly bruised (Isa 42:3), but instead to gently restore it until it is strong enough to stand again. If depression is like a bruise, then God’s love is like a balm, which soothes and restores. It’s not a quick fix, but something you gently apply over the course of a lifetime.
The bad news is that most times our depression won't ever just go away. The good news is that no matter how bad our depression gets we're in the care of a Great Physician who promises to never go away. And if you remember anything I’ve said, remember that I basically just compared Jesus‘ love to Icy Hot. Now let’s go eat our family at KFC.