I have spent the past twelve years living with depression, and depressive tendencies. My journey has been a journey of discovery that has been facilitated by pastors, church community, family, and friends. As Charles Horton Cooley (1902) says, “Other people are a lens through which we can come to see ourselves.”
The following example shows how depression continues to interrupt my ordinary experiences, and also how ministers and fellow congregants have helped me over 12 years to manage my
depressive episodes well:
The other day while I was studying, I noticed I was becoming antsy and anxious. After realizing this, I stopped my work and began questioning the cause of my emotions. I realized that I was starting to feel depressed. For me, irritability is an indication that depression is beginning to set in. I decided to take a break. I went for a 3-mile run and returned 20 minutes later feeling better and refreshed.
Everyone has different coping mechanisms at times of stress. After some trial and error learning, I discovered exercise to be very helpful for me. I have become a scientist of my own life, hypothesizing, testing, and hypothesizing further about causes and coping skills. I work to explore, evaluate, and understand myself. This helps me to develop skills, tools, and resources to cope.
Pastors and my church community have played a crucial role in my experience of wellness as well. The first time I heard, “It is okay to not be okay”, a door opened. I felt as if I was finally able to be my authentic self. Often, I experience guilt and shame for being depressed. I think things like, "I shouldn’t be depressed.” This thought is shaming and often makes my feelings of depression worsen. My pastors and church community have created a culture where I can be myself, even if I’m depressed.
A friend once asked me, “How did you ‘overcome’ depression?” My first response is, “With a lot of God’s help.” St. Teresa of Avila once said, “God has no hands but yours.” The love, support, and encouragement from pastors, congregants, family, and close friends have helped me to have the courage, perseverance, and fortitude to face my ongoing reality. Prayer, encouragement, and empathy, to name a few, were empowering gifts that helped me to cope and heal. These were all helpful tools ministers in my life used.
Three important insights I have learned through my journey with depression are:
- Coping with depression is a journey – you can be a guild, facilitator, and co-explorer by the questions you ask, the comments you make, and the love you share.
- There is no “normative cure”, skills, tools, and assets for coping will/may be different for everyone. Be patient, listen carefully, and be hospitable.
- Healing/coping can occur through teaching, preaching, liturgy, and worship. Consider what narratives and norms exist in the messages you convey – is it “okay to not be okay?”
* Learn more about cultivating a healing culture among your congregation by becoming an ICTG Affiliate and making use of the General Ministry, Youth Ministry, and Spiritual Direction 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
What to Do: Insights and Reflections in the Practice of Pastoral Care - Part IV
Demystifying Norms for Leadership and Sharing My Story - Part V
A member of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, Joseph Kim Paxton is an ICTG Advisor while pursuing doctoral degrees in Practical Theology at the Claremont School of Theology and Clinical Psychology at Pepperdine University. His current research areas include clinical-community psychology, pastoral care, social scientific approaches to biblical interpretation, group processes, spiritual struggle, coping, and attitudes.