Being able to see that one is not alone in their suffering or their experience of depression demystifies norms and beliefs about suffering. For example, reading a Psalms of lament can remind congregants that depression is not abnormal and can be a form of worship. Lament can also serve to challenge (implicit) beliefs and help individuals demystify a theology of depression.
As leaders model personal and professional care, congregants learn how personal struggles can be incorporated into long-term healing trajectories. No doubt, it can be difficult to share your story with your congregation. You might be afraid, as I am, about what other people might think of you, especially if they find out you are "not perfect” (you can replace ‘perfect’ with another word that may fit for you). Recent research on leadership and failure is helpful because it suggests that leaders can fail and still be loved, supported, and accepted by their group.
To share my story, I was diagnosed with depression at the age of 17. However, I had been experiencing depressive symptoms since I was about 8. Depression, for me, centered on meaninglessness, hopelessness, and purposelessness. As a child, I would often lay on my bed and clinically dissociate because I believed life had no purpose, and subsequently I did not have purpose, value, or meaning.
In addition, I grew up with ADHD. I did not have the ability to control my impulses and had a difficult time sitting still, paying attention, and being a “good boy”. I recall my first day of first grade. My teacher walked me out to the parent pick-up zone and waited for my mother to arrive. As she came within ear shot, my teacher, still holding my wrist, shouted, “There is something wrong with him!” Having many similar experiences as a young child, I internalized a lot of shame and a negative self-image. Internalized shame turned into self-hatred and self-contempt. The feelings of worthlessness turned into hopelessness and my depression spiraled out of control. In high school, I considered suicide nearly every day, and I would often daydream about how good it would feel to not exist.
While I would love to say my life changed overnight, it didn’t. It required 5 painful years, from 18-23, of hard work. By painful I mean forcing myself to get out of bed, forcing myself to do things that I didn’t want to do or was too depressed to do, and self-exploration. For me, many of my answers have come from my faith and the support, love, and encouragement I have received from pastors, congregants, family, and friends.
To this day, I still have practices and a health plan that I have to continually monitor and evaluate. Going to church, participating in fellowship and other community activities, spending time with friends, and exercise are core commitments that are a part of my plan.
While this is a condensed version of my story, I hope you will notice the how church was an integral part of my story of healing. Scripture, worship, liturgy, pastoral care, community, small groups, fellowship, and mentoring were all key to my journey of healing. I believe that religion has many tools psychology and clinical care does not.
You can learn more about becoming an agent for healing by becoming an ICTG Affiliate. ICTG Affiliates have access to dozens of resources, including the 2016 ICTG Resource Guides.
Follow the entire 5-part series here:
Tell Your Story and Create a Culture of Hope and Healing - Part I
Understanding What is Going On - Part II
Understanding Change - Part III
What to Do: Insights and Reflections in the Practice of Pastoral Care - Part IV