I gasped in disbelief yesterday when I heard the news that actor/comedian Robin Williams had died.
An even greater sadness washed over my soul like an inky blanket when I learned he committed suicide. My heart mirrored the all too familiar path of the pain of depression.
I quickly went from sadness to anger when I watched the journalist report of his demise driven to despair because of his struggle with depression and addiction.
Something rose up in me to be angry with DEPRESSION. Mad at the debilitation of how depression comes in like a thief. It robs people of joy. It terrorizes one deep in their soul. It leads one to believe the insidious lies in a sea of darkness to snuff out the light of their life.
Depression isn’t something I personally like to talk about mostly because people seem to think that if you admit you struggle with depression that there is something fundamentally weird about the core of who you are. I wrote candidly about my own journey with clinical depression in a post last year, The True Facts About My Depression. I took another step and unmasked a weakness that I have struggled with up and down since I was a teenager. I also publicly wrote about a more difficult season of clinical depression in my book, Unlocked: 5 Myths Holding Your Influence Captive.
I wanted to talk about it now in light of what’s happened this week surrounding the tragedy of a beloved funny man, Mr. Williams and to let people know that this is a very real struggle that isn’t easy to overcome.
I will not judge.
I will not speculate.
I will not seek to provide answers to the many questions of, Why? Because I’ve been there more times than I can count.
I’ve sat in the dark inky hole clawing to climb out and make sense of the how and why of depression lingering in my soul. Robin Williams through his movies was for several times a lifeline in my own depression because he made me laugh, belly laugh. Laughter is cathartic for someone suffering with depression.
I have found some answers through counseling, reading and a great support system. I do know I have to keep vigilant to work at it constantly and ask God to help me when I am on the slippery slope of disappointment and despair.
I don’t know what circle of support Robin Williams had, but we do know he was working at his struggle even recently. I am sure his family and friends might be asking themselves at this moment, what else they could have done to be there for his troubled soul. They might even be blaming themselves.
The reality is, when you wrestle with depression, sometimes you can feel very alone even if you have a strong support system. You can feel like your soul is disconnected from the person you really are and want to be with others.
I know this to be true, and I’ve found my soul resonating with the raw conversations between David and God in the Psalms. I don’t know where I would be without God’s promises of hope, hearing my laments and Him whispering words of comfort from those pages.
If you are marked with depression, please know that you are not alone, and there is hope. Even if you don’t struggle with depression, I hope you could see yourself throwing on a cloak of kindness to others who suffer. Don’t try to deeply analyze, understand or diagnose, but just work to be fully present with a person in your life who might be at this place in their journey. Those of us who wrestle with depression need people not to feel sorry for us, judge, or write a spiritual prescription, but rather throw us a lifeline of hope and patient kindness.
I’ve included this excerpt from my book to tell a piece of my depression story in hopes it might encourage you or someone else.
And so my story…
My journey with depression began early in the spring of 1997—that’s when I had been officially diagnosed with clinical depression. The long days and weeks of care giving for my grandfather had taken its toll. Blackness and despair sought to submerge me. The diagnosis of depression, though, was difficult for me to digest. I could swallow a diagnosis of arthritis or diabetes, but depression? In my mind depression was for weak people and weak Christians who didn’t have enough faith. I argued about the diagnosis with God, my counselor, pastor, and doctor, all people who were trying to help me. “I am a visible leader, a Pastor’s wife in the church. What will people whisper about me behind closed doors if they know,” I worried. The lies flooded my mind and I was overwhelmed at being exposed.
As my desert of depression continued over the next few years, I discovered that the depression wasn’t just from the losses I had experienced the past several months. Nor was it from my physical exhaustion. Actually I learned it was from deeper issues that had been tucked away-issues that God was beginning to bring to the surface. Some of those issues included false expectations and a warped perspective of needing to perform in order to be lovable. Those lies were sabotaging me and had plunged my spiritual and emotional being into the black hole of depression. I started to learn that performance had a stronghold in my heart, life and ministry that God in his faithfulness desired to root out of me. Through my counselor I realized that the depression I was experiencing was a symptom of something deeper, something below the waterline that I needed to face in order to be a whole person again.
My good friend who was also my counselor helped me significantly when she used this illustration:
If I had a broken leg, would I lie on the sofa, not tell anyone and just hope it would heal? No! I would go to the doctor immediately to get treatment. The same must be true for depression: a person often needs professional, spiritual and medical help to overcome their extreme feelings of despair and hopelessness. Through professional help, they will be able to explore the root of what is causing the depression so it they once again can lead a life of joy and fulfillment! That is how I came out of hiding into the realm of living in freedom and authenticity.
I can remember struggling at first alone because of the fear of rejection, failure or being told, “If your faith was stronger, you wouldn’t be depressed.” (Believe it or not, I was told similar statements!) I know that I have been more fortunate than some and was blessed mostly to have a body of believers who came around and supported me. I thank God that the churches I’ve served at as a leader in that season didn’t see my depression as a sign of weakness or spiritual failure. Rather they sought to help me to a path of healing.
The undeniable reality of being in that black hole was both devastating and yet opened the door to living in emotional health and freedom. It radically changed my life and ministry approach and defeated the lies of rejection. In fact, it triggered the opposite. As a leader, it cultivated a leveling place of humility in experiencing God’s abundant grace. It has built bridges with hundreds of people and provided opportunities to help others recognize that God wants to use their past to shape their future. It has opened the door and allowed me to be a cheerleader for others who thought that God could never allow them to lead.
This dark night of the soul was exceptionally a long season in my life. Partially, there were some root causes in issues I needed to face and honestly, I can’t fully figure out the other part, but it’s okay. I’ve come realize that every path of depression is different. Sometimes it is how we are wired, events of loss and trauma, or our family of origin can pre-dispose us to depression and other physical and/or personality traits.
For me, I am just a plain ol’ melancholy person. My wiring immediately can place me crossing that line into disappointment and despair, I think myself to death at times. I have gained the resources and tools how to monitor negative thoughts and replace them with gratitude and godly truth. I also have a family background of depression, that too can play into it. It is a weakness and yet I have made progress and have lived for several years since that episode in great victory managing the dark thoughts and turning them into a flourishing well of life as God intended.
I have had shorter relapses in the years that have followed but I am not undaunted. I remain vigilant to this day believing that it doesn’t define who I am but rather is a part of my story and the influence I can have with others. I receive it, embrace it and even welcome it believing that it has helped to shape who I am and cultivate a very meaningful intimate relationship in understanding the unfathomable grace of God.
Excerpt from Cynthia Cavanaugh, Unlocked: 5 Myths Holding Your Influence Captive, New Hope Publishers 2013
Quote in Picture from Beth Moore