By Jan Meek
Do you remember playing “Hide and Seek” as a child when your hiding place was a small closet where not even a sliver of light could be seen coming in under the door.The darkness in this closet was so black that you could not see up or down, in front or behind you …the darkness so black that it paralyzed you? Do you remember the quiet stillness, the panic brought on by feeling all alone in a dark, silent world? Imagine how you would have felt if you had gotten locked in that closet, not ever knowing when or if you would get out. That feeling is how I would describe my episode of clinical depression.
Now think about how wonderful the light looked once the closet door was opened. On the outside, everything around you seemed a little brighter, a little more beautiful. It is impossible to truly appreciate the light until you have lived in darkness. Today, I view my life like King David did in Psalm 18:28 when he said, “You, O Lord, keep my lamp burning; my God turns my darkness into light.” I hope never to be locked in that closet of depression again “because no discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful” (Hebrews 12:11). Depression is excruciatingly painful. There is a reward for the faithful, however, as the verse continues, “Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it” (Hebrews 12:11). Yes, the discipline of darkness was harsh but I will never take the light for granted again! After being trained in the darkness and, by God’s grace, returned to the light, I feel compelled to share my story with others who are still waiting for the closet door to be opened. My hope is that the lessons I learned in depression will encourage them to press on to the light.
The first lesson I learned was “lean not on your own understanding” (Proverbs 3:5). It is extremely difficult for someone who has never experienced clinical depression to understand that it is a disease. Until my diagnosis in the spring of 1996, I, too, did not understand. One of the first things I told the psychiatrist was that my life was near perfect. With a loving husband, three great kids, healthy parents and an active spiritual life, what could I possibly have to be depressed about? This comment made about as much sense as saying, “With a loving husband, three great kids, healthy parents and an active spiritual life, how could I possibly have diabetes?” Because the symptoms of clinical depression (the disease) are similar to the symptoms of depression (the emotion), as a society, we think the two are the same. We think clinical depression is a character flaw, a personal weakness, and that the sufferer should count his blessings and get over it. Unfortunately, this stigma causes embarrassment and shame creating a stumbling block for the depressed person to seek treatment. This stigma also down-plays the seriousness of clinical depression as a disease, a disease requiring professional medical treatment much like diabetes or heart disease. Oversimplified, diabetes is caused by the liver’s inability to handle sugar appropriately while depression is the brain’s inability to handle the chemicals serotonin and nor- epinephrine appropriately. Seeking treatment for clinical depression should be seen as a positive choice, just as seeking medical help for diabetes or any other disease that threatens our health is seen as a positive choice. In my case, both medicine and therapy were necessary for my recovery to lead a normal life.
The second lesson I learned was that God said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5). I can remember standing on my front porch one day when the black closet of my depression was particularly severe. It was the same game of “Hide and Seek” as before; I was hiding but I felt like God was no longer seeking me. I wanted to pray but felt like a dark cloud hung right above me so thickly that I could not reach the Lord any longer. Then I remembered a story that I heard one time that went something like this: One day a man and his wife were going into town in his truck. The wife looked over at her husband and said, “Honey, do you remember when we used to sit next to each other in the truck? Why don’t we sit like that any more?” The husband glanced over at his wife and replied, “Who moved?” Although I knew God had not moved away from me, at that moment I could not find a way to return close to him and I was in despair. I prayed, “God, I know this has happened to me for a reason but I don’t know what that reason is. I would guess you are trying to teach me to ‘Be still and know that you are God’ and your ‘grace is sufficient for me’ but Lord, if there are other lessons you are trying to teach me, my heart is open. Please help me hold on long enough to learn them.” Soon after that, the medication began to work, the dark cloud lifted, and my emotional health began to improve. God was faithful and right where he had always been, seeking me in the closet where I had been hiding. He was waiting for me to seek him, too.
The third lesson I learned is that God’s “word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (Psalm 119:105). One of the more frightening characteristics of clinical depression is that it takes away your ability to make wise decisions and think logically. My simple, non-scientific way to explain this would be in terms of a filter. Our brains are bombarded with millions of images all day every day. It would be like if a healthy brain had a protective layer over it that filtered out most of the negative, inappropriate, and unrealistic thoughts that pass through our minds. When depression strikes, that protective layer is burned away leaving our minds exposed to all images, including some of the ones we filtered out in our past, resulting in sensory overload. This, in turn, disables the brain’s ability to filter and restricts the mind’s ability to distinguish between negative and positive, appropriate and inappropriate, realistic and unrealistic thoughts. While in depression, I went to the scriptures for comfort but the stories of war and God’s displeasure with his children in the Old Testament and stories of the crucifixion and early Christian’s persecution in the New Testament proved more forbidding than my weakened mind could handle. So, I lived in the Psalms, finding peace in David’s words of praise to God for delivering him from his trials and in Proverbs, finding direction for my life in Solomon’s words of wisdom. Truly, “My soul found rest in God alone; my salvation came from him” (Psalm 62:1). If you are hiding in the black closet of depression where I was ten years ago, take heart. Jesus said, “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost” (Luke 19:10). He is looking for you and waiting for you to seek Him, too. Don’t give up! It will be a great and glorious day when that closet door is unlocked and flung open so that His shining light floods in on you. The Lord says, “For I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you and will bring you back from captivity” (Jeremiah 29:11-13). I hope on that day your world, like mine, will seem just a little brighter and more beautiful.
Hide: A Christian Battles Clinical Depression
By Jan Meek