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.