I don’t normally share about my battle with depression with large groups of people. Something so personal and painful is more easily shared within the context of a deep friendship or while encouraging particular individuals who are struggling through their time in a dark valley. Writing about it is not something I am entirely comfortable with, but I’m feeling a strange combination of introspective and inspired at the moment and for some odd reason it is compelling me to re-open my old wound in hopes of helping someone who may be presently hurting.
I’m not sure when my general sadness turned into full-blown depression. That probably isn’t an important detail anyway. Both are bad and can become devastating if left unchecked. However, I do know some of the factors that led to my emotional decline and some of the key components that brought me back to a place of peace.
My childhood was fairly calm with very little change and no real reason to feel insecure. Moving only once (when I was two) and changing churches only once (when I was in the seventh grade) probably provided me with a false expectation that the rest of my life would be without many major upheavals.
This all changed in 1999; I was 21-years-old. In April I became the bivocational senior pastor of East Sunnyview Baptist Church. On May 15th I graduated from the University of Tennessee and on May 17th I began my secular career at a company that builds, sells, finances, and insures mobile homes. In June I bought my first house. And on July 3rd Kristy and I were married.
In looking back, I was no doubt too young and immature for at least two of those things. And when you throw all of those changes together at a guy who had experienced basically zero change until that point, the results probably aren’t going to be the best.
The pressure of all of this began to affect me even more as I saw that what I was doing was not bringing the results that I desired. I tried hard at work, only to fall short of my goals month after month. I tried hard at church, but I didn’t see the results or growth that I had envisioned. I tried hard at home, only to realize that being married is far more difficult than my parents made it look. And the bills–I never realized how hard it was to keep up with them all.
This may not seem like much to some, but it was tremendously difficult for me. I had been used to having success without trying very hard. Good grades, somewhat decent athletic ability, spiritual growth, a good family–all of these things had come to me quite easily or at least it seemed that way. But when I moved out, got married, got a job, and became a pastor all I did was fail.
And fail and fail and fail.
It didn’t matter how hard I tried, how much I prayed, or how many tears I cried. I kept on failing. This led me to one of the worst thoughts that people can have about themselves. I began to think of myself as a failure.
I know now that a failure is an event, not a person. I didn’t know that then. My marriage, job, and church were all having problems and it was all my fault. I began to feel that everyone would be better off if I simply went away.
Making this dark period even darker was the guilt I felt for feeling depressed in the first place. I was a Christian, a pastor even. I was supposed to count my blessings and see how good I had it. I was supposed to pull myself up by my bootstraps and keep going. The problem was that after being down for so long I couldn’t do either one.
I kept praying and preaching, hoping and crying. Finally, my emotional pain brought physical pain. My chest began hurting and my left arm began tingling. I was twenty-three years and it felt like I was having a heart attack. Kristy made me go to the doctor. The EKG and other heart tests showed that nothing was wrong with my heart.
The doctor then asked me two things that started me on the path out of my dungeon. In the presence of Kristy, he asked me if I felt depressed. I said yes. Then he asked me if I had ever thought about hurting myself. With tears filling my eyes I nodded my head. Kristy immediately began crying–she had no idea. I feel bad that she had to hear it this way, but I am thankful that she found out. It helped save my life, our marriage, and my ministry.
Over the course of the next few months, I got help that I desperately needed. A good therapist named Butch and good medicine that has a name I can’t remember helped. Finding out that I wasn’t the only Christian or pastor that struggled with this problem helped, too.
But the real breakthrough happened thanks to Travis Tritt.
My idea to turn the radio on and listen to a local country music station had to be a God thing; at the time I wasn’t listening to the radio during my morning commute at all. I spent that time talking to God. That day was different, though. I was frustrated and negative thoughts were clouding my mind. Out of nowhere I felt an urge to turn the radio on. I scanned through to stations and landed on 107.7, WIVK. That’s when I heard Travis Tritt singing these word:
“And it’s a great day to be alive, I know the sun’s still shinin’ when I close my eyes. There’s some hard times in the neighborhood, but why can’t every day be just this good?”
The song hit me the way that I need it to at precisely the right time. I don’t know the story behind it, but the words that I heard summarized what I had been hearing from God as I talked to him day after day. Keep living. Keep going. You’ll make it through this difficult time and there will be brighter days ahead. Enjoy each day, each hour, each moment.
This is exactly what I have tried to do. And it has worked fairly well.
It’s been a long time since I have went through anymore dark valleys. Yes, I’ve come perilously close. It is possible that I’ve been there and not fully realized it. But I’ve kept going and believing and trusting that God will see me through.
So far, so good.
If you are currently battling depression, keep fighting. Trust God. Find a therapist. Talk to your doctor. Be transparent with those you love. Listen to country music. Do whatever it takes to not give up.
The fight is worth it. You are worth it.
Keep on keeping on.
Thanks for reading. I hope it helped you. I know it helped me.
(Have you battle through the dark times? Are you there right now? Share your story–it helps.)