In Response to the Death of Rick Warren’s Son: My Battle With Depression

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I have thought about writing a post like this for a while. But I kept shying away from it. It seemed so risky.

Risky because I didn’t know how you would respond.

Risky because some of you might believe I don’t trust God.

Risky because people I know and love read my blog and might look at me differently.

Risky because I am a Christian minister of the Gospel. I am not supposed to feel this way.

But after the son of Rick Warren took his life this week, I feel like it is needed.

Henri Nouwen said “what is most personal is most universal.”I love that quote because it gives me courage to say what I have to say, knowing that many of you out there are in the same place. You need to know you are not alone.

So here it is: I have struggled on and off with clinical depression since I was fourteen years old. It is a disease I inherited from my father, who self medicated for many years. I feel so much compassion for my dad, because he never even knew that he needed help. He just thought that he was incredibly sad and that there was nothing he could do about it except self medicate. I am at least blessed enough to recognize that there is something physically wrong with my body, that I don’t have to live like this if I don’t want to, and that I can escape a life of addiction by getting the help I need.

If you knew me, you would be really surprised that I struggle with this. Most people have no idea. As my roommate said to me, it’s not that I hide it, it’s that I fight hard to see that it doesn’t take over my life or ruin my relationships. That’s why people don’t often know.

My first bout with the depression was in middle school. My family was in shambles. My friends at school had all abandoned me. In my mind, I had no reason left to live. I had suicidal thoughts and cried all the time.

Thankfully, about a year later some wonderful believing friends came in and became like family to me, introducing me to Jesus.

I thought that was the end of my depression. I was wrong.

In college, I went through the worst bout of depression I have ever suffered through after a bad break up. I would cry for hours at a time. I would even hit my head on the wall sometimes without wanting to. I didn’t know how to control these emotions. They seemed to overtake me.

Then, I had a life changing experience in Mexico, where God told me that as many times as the ocean waves kept crashing to the shore, that’s how many times he would heal me. I believed him. It changed my life.

That story became my testimony for ten years. I have told that story a hundred times. It always ended it with “I threw away my medication, and I have never been depressed again.”

But I was wrong. That wasn’t the end of my depression.

I felt small bouts of depression throughout those ten years, but I would push them away. These are just attacks of the enemy, I thought. If I just say the right words, (in the name of Jesus! Do not be anxious for anything!) everything will be ok. The leaders in my life supported this kind of thinking. Any time I ever mentioned medication, people looked at me like I was crazy. Of course you don’t need to do that, Kate! Jesus is your everything! Just step into the joy he has already given you! So I tried and tried to do that. It just didn’t always work.

Some time in the middle of those ten years I contracted Lyme disease. I was very sick for seven years, as a lot of you know. The worst symptom was extreme insomnia.  I would go four nights without sleeping day or night, sleep for three hours the next night, then go another four nights. It was like this for six years. It was horrible.

I thought this insomnia was just a symptom of the Lyme disease and that it would go away now that the Lyme disease is cured. But I found out from a psychiatrist recently that the insomnia that was initially from the Lyme disease  actually jacked up the chemicals in my brain until I was suffering from a more permanent disease called cyclothymia. This disease can make me depressed during the day and then revs my brain up so much that I can’t sleep.  Cyclothymia was not a disease that was in conjunction with my inherited depression. It was ON TOP of the other depression, two totally different diseases.

I finally realized that the problems were so bad that I needed to get medication. When I got on the right medication, I started sleeping through night for the first time in years.

Did I stop loving God when I started taking medication? No. Did I stop trusting that God could be my everything and my joy? No. I still love God, just like someone with cancer still loves God when they choose to use radiation.

I have read before that if David were alive today, he would probably have been diagnosed with bipolar. He was an extreme, brilliant man who went from the highest of highs to the lowest of lows. All symptoms of mental illness. Yet he was a man after God’s own heart. In the midst of David’s bouts of highs and lows he prayed this prayer:  “Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.” (Psalm 42:5)

David talks to his soul as if it is another person, and I understand that, somehow. My soul feels separate from my true self. My soul is the part of me that gets so sad that I can barely handle it. My soul is the part that feels like I have no hope. But my soul is not all of me. I may never be able to make the sadness go away, but the sadness is not who I  am.

Maybe I can say, like David “Soul, I love you, but you are not the boss. My spirit is the boss. And my spirit says that we are going to get through this. My spirit says that it is not time to give up. My spirit says that we can keep praising God in the midst of our sorrow.”

Are those words a secret formula that will make a physical illness go away? No. They do however depict this truth: even in the midst of emotions that feel out of control and horrible we can still choose hope. We can try to find our spirit in the midst of our soul and ask that spirit to be strong. The sad part of us needs to be loved, but it does not need to be fed. We can visit the same places, but we don’t have to stay there as long.

(If you haven’t read my poem “You Are Stronger Than You Think You Are”  which is actually a response to my battle with depression, you should now, especially if you have similar struggles.)

I want you to look at me, now. I am a worship leader on staff at a church. I have a blog you read. I am an author. I make music and tour. I look totally strong and pretty dang successful. But I have all of this going on inside of me.

How many other people do you think are struggling with hidden depression and other mood disorders in your very own church? My psychiatrist has told me that half the population will have suffered through some kind of depression or other mood disorder in their life. That’s a lot of people hiding a lot of pain. We as the church need to make a safe place so that people feel like they can come forward and heal.

The Alcoholics Anonymous Big Book says “When we are crushed by a crisis we could
not postpone or evade, we had to fearlessly face the proposition that
either God is everything or else He is nothing. Choose.”

Tragedies make us choose. There is a door of opportunity that has opened before us because of the horrible death Rick Warren’s son.  We as a church can choose  to keep ignoring the problem of mental illness, or we can collectively turn around, our arms open wide, and welcome those that have felt ostracized for years.

Side note: If you didn’t read the last post, my book is here! I think you will love it! You can buy it by clicking the “My Book” tab at the top of this page.

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21 thoughts on “In Response to the Death of Rick Warren’s Son: My Battle With Depression

  1. Beautiful. Thank you for sharing this deep part of yourself with us. i have similar struggles and take medication. Doesn’t make me less of myself or less of a believer or less of a child of God.

  2. Amen, amen, amen, Kate. I recently left my men’s group at church after the leader informed us that clinical depression is at all times the work of demons possessing us, generating the chemical imbalances. I discussed it with the Associate Pastor, who understood that, if that were the actual belief of the church, I would be out the door like a vapor trail.

    Please know – YOU ARE LOVED. There are (as you recognize) a whole bunch of us going through this garbage. Thank you for this post.

  3. Thank you, Kate. I was recently diagnosed with bipolar disorder after I thought everything was a spiritual battle, “fasted” to the point that I was very malnourished, and ended up in the hospital. Praise God, I am doing much better now- with the help of wise physicians and therapists, with the help of medicine, with the support of family and friends, and with the help of God in my life. I agree with you that we need to start talking about mental illnesses more. We should not be any more ashamed to take medication for mental illnesses than people are ashamed to take antibiotics for strep throat. God is not against doctors- Luke was a doctor. Nor is He against medicine- Paul advised Timothy to take wine medicinally for his stomach illnesses (1 Tim. 5:23). It is time for us to start coming out of the shadows in our churches and to be all that we can be- fully accepted and whole, moving on a path towards following God more intimately that we are all on, regardless of whether or not we take medication. For I believe that we are all broken in one way or another, and that God leads us all towards intimacy with Him, especially when we come to Him in our broken state and ask Him to lead us on.

  4. A year ago I was kicked out of seminary and ministerial internship for irresponsible behavior: drugs, excessive alcohol, and profound laziness. When I started I had loved God always praying the request of Moses, “God, show me Your glory.” I wanted to literally and tangibly walk with Him. Then through a series of unfortunate events I realized the hidden darkness inside of me and instead of going up the mountain I fell into a snare, the aforementioned behavior. I wish I had known then what I now – it was depression, highly advanced. It makes me laugh now but I’m getting treatment starting tomorrow. I’ve never read your stuff before but i saw this on Facebook and what an encouragement! Thank you so much.

  5. Kate, thank you for writing this. I have gone through the same struggles, depression runs in my family and auto-immune issues add to it. I honestly feel like I am managing an image more than i am living in the healing God had given me for the time. I know i work hard to avoid depression largely because it scares me and because I don’t want others to think my faith is failing. I often feel like it’s a problem that just has to be fixed. I love your perspective and faith. I wish more people had your view of it. Blessings!!!

  6. I love your comment that the sad part of us needs to be loved, but not fed. I went through a deep depression once where I could not get out, and I finally realized I was nurturing the dark places inside of me and feeling like that was my true, neglected self, which is not true. Once I got to the point where I didn’t recognize myself anymore, then I was able to let God remind me of who I truly am in Him. And since then, I sometimes start to take the exit ramp back to despair, but then as I’m approaching the end of the ramp, I’m like, “Nope. I remember this place and I am not getting stuck here again!” So, I just go straight through the light and get back on the freeway. 🙂 I also think it is a lot less frightening to face dark places once you have been lost in one and God has brought you out. Because the next time you find yourself in that situation, you aren’t just quoting other people that God will find you. You know He will from experience, and that gives you hope. I like to think of those times in light of the parable of the wandering sheep. Those are the times when I’m lost in the wilderness, and I have to to trust that Jesus is coming to get me and carry me back on His shoulders.
    I also think it is very dangerous the fear that Christians sometimes have of brain science. When I was diagnosed with ADD and began taking medicine after nearly collapsing my freshman year of college, I had several Christian friends tell me that the Bible is all we need for life and wellness. Unless I’m mistaken, God is the God of science and not just the Bible. There is always a spiritual component to mental illness and brain chemical imbalances, and medical treatment alone will not address this component. However, God has given us knowledge of science and the human body for our wise use. And, it often takes the assistance of medical intervention to give your brain the clarity and energy it needs to tackle the spiritual component in my experience.
    So, here, here! Good article. 🙂

  7. Kate

    Thank you for this post. I tell clients that taking psychotropic meds is the same as a diabetic taking insulin. The brain is an organ just like the pancreas and you can no more will the brain to create neurotransmitters any more than a diabetic can will their pancreas to make insulin. I have the
    same hope that the stigma would be reduced and that more people will seek the help they need. Love and hugs!

  8. That you for sharing your story with such grace and clarity.

    As a Christian with a mental illness who has attempted suicide myself, I grieve for the Warren family and can appreciate Matthew’s struggle.

    At the same time, the way we respond when someone commits suicide needs to be both compassionate and truthful. While the Bible is not clear that suicide is the “unpardonable sin” of “blasphemy against the Holy Spirit”, one can not deny (no matter how awful the circumstances) that it is a supreme act of ingratitude against God’s gift of life.

    Most importantly, we need to send the message to people enduring the profound agony of clinical depression to never give up, no matter how bad it gets – to “Choose life” – for yourself and your loved ones.

    Thank you for the post.

  9. As always, this is extremely encouraging. I relate so much to your words. The last year has been about my discovery that the line of my former testimony (“and my depression was completely gone”) can’t be included anymore. It’s not gone. It’s dramatically better than it was ten years ago, but I still have the disease. Though I’m a student and lover of psychology an have always seen clinical depression as a disease, this has been a hard thing to accept in myself. Your words affirm what God is teaching me and comfort me in this difficult time. Thank you, so much, for sharing. I know it’s not easy.

  10. This is extremely encouraging. Thanks for writing this, being open and vulnerable about this…. it is so helpful to bring awareness that you can love and trust God but depression and other issues like depression are diseases… and they don’t negate or lessen your love for God and our desires to trust and follow Him. So thankful to you Kate – for how you allow God to use you in so many ways through your writing and music to bring hope and encouragement on our journey to love others (and even ourselves when we are suffering from depression) like Jesus loves us and all of His children.

  11. I am so grateful when people are brave enough to share about their struggles, especially when I can relate. I’m on my own journey of acceptance that God doesn’t always “magically” take away our struggles, even though well-meaning people in the church would have you believe that if you would only give your depression over to Jesus, you would be free of it. It’s simply not always the case. I’ve learned the hard way growing up in church and asking, begging, pleading with God for help and healing and not understanding why others appear to receive their miracle while I continue to fight for survival.

    Thank you for standing with those of us who have endured the impatience of others who cannot comprehend why we don’t just “snap out of it” and the humiliation of feeling so helpless and alone. I was recently asked what I needed in order to have change happen in my life. My answer was simply, hope. I haven’t been able to grasp it fully yet, but I pray that I can and will find it in the fog of my circumstances and that when I do, it will sear itself to my very soul.

    Keep up the good work, Kate. Your readers appreciate you!

  12. I don’t really have words to respond to this Kate.. this is just so deep, honest, and vulnerable. Thank you for sharing your story. I think more people are coming to the surface who suffer from depression, among other things. Indeed though, the church as a whole still has a long way to go toward giving them an open, loving, accepting, and healing place. Blessings Kate!

  13. “We can visit the same places, but we don’t have to stay there as long.”

    Thank you for sharing your story, Kate. As a writer and blogger, I know the temptation to maintain a sense of privacy that does not tell the whole story. I also know the gentle and insistent nudging of the Holy Spirit to begin sharing in those areas that I would rather keep hidden safely inside my inner circle. I applaud you for breaking off a piece of your struggle, a piece of your humanity, and sharing it with the rest of us. We are better for it. We are stronger for it. We are encouraged by it. And I bless you for it!

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