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Unmasking depression

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I no longer feel the need to hide my emotions, my fears or my mental health status as if I were hiding something shameful or secretive.

From an early age, I faced challenges with head-strong determination, or as my mother said, I was “hard headed.” I’ve always been optimistic, hard to get down, a go-getter—someone who never allowed my circumstances to dampen my overcoming spirit. Then one day, things changed. Suddenly, it became more difficult, if not impossible, to surpass sadness.

I began to wonder if I could attribute it to menopause or the loss of my father followed by the sudden death of my husband. Yet it was sadness and not so much grief that was clouding my thoughts. The shadow of sadness hugged me closely, like the feeling of being weighed down and of losing hope.

“But, I’m a Christian,” I would tell myself. “I need to trust in God with all of my heart. How do I lose hope when Christ is my hope?” It seemed like everything I knew about my faith denied the reality of what I was experiencing.

It was a futile exercise, as I tried to make sense of how I felt while using Scripture to talk myself out of these feelings. It seemed like everything I knew about my faith denied the reality of what I was experiencing. “I just wasn’t supposed to feel this way, if only I had enough faith,” I thought. These were real, condemning thoughts that consumed my mind and debilitated my heart.

I even tried convincing myself by reciting 2 Timothy 1:7 (KJV) “… believers have a sound mind.” I used that verse to substantiate that what I was going through could not be an unsound mind. Unfortunately, I erroneously believed for a long time that true believers could not possibly have mental health issues. Only adding to my confusion were the accounts of sad and depressed people that I would read about in the Bible, yet they were instrumental in their journey with God. My hope and what kept me glued to God was that maybe he could also use me even while I struggled with my thoughts and depression.

In all honesty, when suffering with depression, life seemed bleak and dark. I have wanted to fully participate in activities, and sometimes I’ve done so out of obligation or necessity, but, deep inside my soul and mind, I’ve been absent. How many times was I physically present and emotionally absent? Too many to recall. Just counting the moments until I could return home, jump into bed and resume my stay in nothingness.

It happened more than I wanted. That is what depression looks like when it’s wearing a mask. Why put on a mask? Simply, much of the world doesn’t understand depression or its debilitating outlook.

I’ve worn that mask on and off for over 10 years now. And like many other people, when I began suffering with this illness, I neither understood nor cared to understand it. As far as I was concerned, depression was a mysterious illness that my mother’s friends sometimes suffered. And honestly, I suppose that I considered them kind of crazy or even lazy for not putting any effort into “helping” themselves.

Ignorance on this issue, including my own, was compounded when someone at church told me that there should be a time frame for my sadness and that I should make efforts in convincing myself to get better. And when it didn’t get better, I just sank deeper into depression.

There is no need for the reader to be frightened. I am not suicidal, and I don’t think about ending my life. I do suffer from intermittent depression. Sometimes my depression is masked with outgoing joyous expressions of hopeful feelings. Other times I feel great, with no need to hide.

But why do I still sometimes hide? Because depression is misunderstood. Depression is sometimes categorized with craziness. For way too long, there has been a stigma attached to it. Moreover, sharing how you’re feeling when you are depressed tends to make people uncomfortable and scared.

person with back turned looking out window

Some years ago, a dear lady officer asked me, “How are you doing?” It happened to be a particularly awful day for me. For some reason, I shared my heart with her. The look on this poor woman’s face expressed nothing short of horror. She didn’t know what to say about my sadness and bleak outlook. I ended up feeling more horrified than she will ever know as I stood there and witnessed the look of despair and discomfort on her face. After that, I would shrink at the thought of being asked how I was doing and thereafter began a long-standing journey of: “I am ok, and you?”

Had I been facing some illness with which she was familiar, we could have compared notes and come up with strategies or treatment expectations. She probably would have responded with concern, not fear.

Depression is an illness, which I hope to be healed and cured of. Not unlike many physical illnesses, it too sometimes requires medication and therapy to treat and cure. The difference is that it’s your brain that is ill. What a difference it would make if depression was treated like an illness, not a spiritual failure!

I’ve come a long way since the days when I routinely put on my “I’m ok” mask. Through the passing of time, I have learned to embrace the person that I am, with all my challenges—and breakthroughs. I give myself “permission” to have sad days, during which I take the time to heal and not judge. I feel more confident to speak about how I feel. I no longer feel embarrassed or ashamed over something that I cannot control. As I have begun to share my story, a friend has alerted me to my 2 Timothy understanding. It is only in the King James Version and the New King James Version that the words sound mind are used. After researching for myself, I discovered that a better translation is self-discipline. In these verses, Paul is speaking to Timothy and encouraging him to put on a spirit of power, of love and self-control, as he ministers to the people he has been charged with. Paul reminds Timothy that all he needs, he has in Christ.

My breakthrough is that I no longer feel the need to hide my emotions, my fears or my mental health status as if I were hiding something shameful or secretive. I no longer hide behind the mask I’d display to comfort others in their awkwardness toward my issues. I can live with people’s discomfort—it is better than hiding behind a mask.

We must continue to speak up about mental health. Discomfort and shame have no place when it comes to our healing. I know sometimes there is a real need for a more aggressive intervention, and those that need that type of help should be getting it. However, the days of darkened asylums and frontal lobotomies that have been stamped in our minds need no longer be the status quo.

“Be kind for someone you meet may be fighting a hard battle.”

I saw this quote online. Though I don’t believe that everyone is fighting a hard battle, I know that I am. I believe that it is important that we get the word out and help others to not only fearlessly disclose their mental health issues but also to help them without judgment so that they do not feel the need to wear a mask.

I pray that if you are a person struggling with depression (or some other type of mental health issue), that you be kind to yourself and disclose that information to a professional or a friend. This step is important so that you can begin the communication that can help lead to your own freedom and well-being.

God so graciously reminds us that as believers our hope lies in Christ.

Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal (2 Cor. 4:16-18 NIV).

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