20 Years Of Depression

Last week, Stephen did 2 posts on depression and anxiety. My wife Kristi told me I could write about her experiences in the hope that some would be encouraged.

20 years ago, my wife Kristi awoke in the morning with a rapid heartbeat and intense anxiety.

We went to the emergency room, where they did all kinds of tests to try to determine the cause of her abnormal heartbeat, which was between 140-160 beats per minute (60-90 is normal). They found nothing and by the time we left a couple hours later she was back to normal, though she remembered that a few days before she had felt strange sensations in her head.

A couple days later, it happened again as she was playing a game with the kids. Her intense anxiety continued for weeks. This was a horrific time for Kristi. She would cry constantly for no reason. My sweet wife, who was normally lighthearted and cheerful, sat there with a hopeless expression on her face. Her eyes looked dark and empty to me. She was unable to be around people. She was completely incapacitated. She was suffering pain I couldn’t fathom.

I didn’t know what was going on. I thought it was a demonic attack. I fasted and prayed and rebuked the enemy. I thought it must somehow be my fault, that I wasn’t leading and caring for my wife somehow. I thought I might have to step down from being a pastor.

Eventually after seeing several doctors, Kristi was diagnosed with a depressive disorder that initially manifested with anxiety. She started on some medication, and about 6 weeks later she began to feel better and able to care for the kids and house again. Finding the right medication was God’s mercy to us at that time, though that would not be Kristi’s last bout with depression and anxiety.

Sadly, many well-meaning Christians were not helpful in the months and years that followed. Often they assumed Kristi’s depression was caused by sin and taking medication represented a lack of faith. One pastor’s wife told Kristi, “I know the Lord would never lead me to take medication.” We hoped she would never have to experience the onslaught of depression.

Depression and anxiety are complicated.

Physically caused depression and anxiety are different from spiritual depression and fear-based anxiety though sometimes they can overlap, which makes it very difficult to sort out and care for people. In 30 years of pastoring I have known folks who regularly give into unbelief and negative thinking who don’t get clinically depressed, and others who trust God and search their hearts who battle depression.

I can say, “God causes all things to work together for good to those who love him,” to one woman, and when she is taking her medication she responds in faith, yet when she goes off her medication she hears the same verse and says, “I guess I don’t love God then.”

Medication can be a wonderful mercy from God. In our culture many are too quick to take medicine, but when someone is suffering the fury of a depression who wouldn’t desire relief? It is not a sin or unbelief to take medication. We’d never tell someone with diabetes it is a sin to take medicine.

Yet, as an experienced Christian doctor told me, medication should never take the place of sanctification. Even when one takes medication he must continue to do heart work, seek to trust and think right thoughts about God.

Physically depressed/anxious people don’t want to be that way. They are suffering. They are in pain. If Kristi could have escaped it by simply changing her thoughts she would have. In 20 years of battling depression and anxiety, Kristi has consistently examined her heart, sought the Lord, exercised faith, and graciously endured much misunderstanding.

Care for those who suffer with severe depression. Be slow to speak, quick to listen. Pray for them. Be patient with them. Be a friend to them. One person I know went for a walk every day with her depressed neighbor. I hope I can be that kind of friend.

photo by qwz

I’m a pastor at Saving Grace Church in Indiana, PA. I’m married to Kristi, have 5 kids, and a growing number of grandkids. I enjoy songwriting, oil painting and coffee, not necessarily in that order.