I’m not depressed.
That’s what I tell myself.
Well, that’s at least what I hope for myself.
I think part of being depressed is that it’s hard to remember the times when you were just plain happy. I do remember times when I felt really happy, but for some reason those times feel more flickering images on an old film reel and less like, I don’t know, reality.
It'd be way too dramatic to say those happy times didn’t have their own stains of frustration and pain, too unfair to say I don't think others are living a similar reality.
Still, peering around this coffee shop humming with espresso energy & immense idealism, it's hard for me not to slink back to my keyboard wondering if I'm the only one stuck in a winter that can't be changed by a date on the calendar.
The way we type-cast depression in America would be a funny thing if it weren't so tragic.
Before I encountered it myself, depression felt like ghost sightings: I'd believe your sincerity if you'd experienced it, but I'd also secretly think you'd only see it if you had the desire to find it.
But here I am, & depression feels like anything but a mathematical equation sprung out onto the streets of life. It'd be easier if it was: if x circumstance plus y conflict plus z relationship equaled depression, I'd tinker with the left side to change the result on the right.
I see now that depression ain't like mathematics. I don't know my bout with depression like I know that 2 + 2 =4, but more like I know when I have a headache. I can tell you what it feels like but I can't spell out the logic.
So let me invite you into a vulnerable space of what this season of depression is actually like.
I co-founded a campus movement that ended up spreading nationally when I was in high school. I had just become a Christian a half year ago & had a Disney world experience of Christian faith. I secretly had a standard for myself that I'd be launching Jesus-movements, delivering dynamic messages, & orchestrating life-change for the rest of my life.
Well, I quickly fell short of that standard.
Have I become less than who I used to be?
There’s honestly no question that makes me more afraid. That’s because the question shutters a self-evident yes.
Have I been hiding behind hurts?
Have I avoided confronting insecurities?
Have I avoided confronting the beautiful gifts still inside?
Do I have the strength to stop sleeping next to Mickey Mouse & waking up expecting a fairy tale, needle-in-a-haystack life?
Questions are what this depression feels like, but they feel less like questions inviting a journey & more like questions standing above me like a playground bully out to make me feel ten inches tall.
It wasn’t until I almost died of pneumonia last fall that I realized how much change had begun to take place. There, in a world where I was stuck to a hospital bed & had to ask for permission to pee, I realized that I had officially come out of this happy & passionate Jesus-craze I’d been on since high school.
This depression didn't feel like night & day, but more like a nightmare for which I can't remember the beginning, a story I didn't pick, and an ending for which I only hope.
Maybe it was the Bible classes I took at college that shook a little bit of the kid out of me and made me wonder if any of the stuff in the Bible really happened. Or maybe it was being worn down by family conflict.
Or realizing that, in the “adult” world, people have to worry about financing more than just foot-long Subway sandwiches, 99 cent Arizona teas, and Twins tickets.
Or maybe it was just a matter of time. Either way, if what I’m living now is still authentic, it’s the kind of authentic that’s impatient, frustrated, and self-focused.
It’s the kind of authentic with daddy wounds balmed up in half-smiling & passing conversations where we wouldn’t know how to describe how we are even if the person asking cared to actually know.
It’s the kind that wants to be truly “with” Jesus, their fiancée, their family, and their best friends but still struggles to find that belonging place we shyly call “home.”
It’s the kind of authentic that loves God—really, truly, genuinely—but doesn’t know how to cast God in any other image except the fathers that either left or stood idle.
It’s the kind that knows it should pray but wonders how and why, the kind that wants to be caught up in that big, grand Bible story but still struggles how to make the 2,000 year jump from then to now.
Don’t get me wrong. I don’t know the blues genre well, and I’m not sure I could even give up hope long enough for it to truly sound like blues.
But that's the point. Maybe sometimes depression is pitch darkness, Spaghettio-stained sweatpants, non-stop weeping, & visceral self-hate.
But experience has taught me it's lots of grey, Guess jeans, a feverish heart, & wondering why I don't smile as much as I used to.
And I wonder what it'd be like to lift that veil & shatter caricatures, calling them stupid & unhelpful when they make us islands drifting further apart instead of ordinary people sharing a common humanity, wanting good things but tripped up by all kinds of brokenness both inside & outside ourselves.
I've got no pretenses. My hands are emptied of lessons to teach. But I've got a space you & I can share together. Together, we can break caricatures & confront winters beyond the calendar.
We can even hope for springs beyond the calendar, too.
photo credit: brian petry, again an EXCELLENT photographer of both nature & humanity. check him out at petryphotography.net
(comments below: what's your experience? let's talk.)