I’ve been meaning to write this blog post for a long time, but it’s never felt like the right time.
There’s been moments when I’ve started to. Occasions when I’ve typed a sentence or two, and one moment when I even had a full paragraph. But then I held the delete button down and cleared it all away.
I was especially tempted during the Mental Health Awareness week only a couple of months back; I got a few rough ideas penned down on some post-it notes, typed the title on my blog page and chose a picture that I thought best communicated, in an abstract way, my perception through the lens of my depression. But then I abandoned it all to gather ethereal, virtual, inter web dust.
Why? Well, because anxiety got the best of me. In my head I was worried that some would think I was merely riding a current trend; like some sick PR stunt. And so I thought it best to wait.
In some cases, I also thought, “who really cares, who would want to know this about me?”
But here it is (as long as don’t press delete from here on out)–I struggle with depression, and have done so for the past six years.
For some who know me, that’ll come as a shock; I’m the happy guy at work, who whistles his head off most of the day and has a smile most of the time; I’m the friendly person that most people find easy to get on with and talk too (so I’m told); I’m the church preacher, who talks about the extraordinary, scandalous, unconditional, securing love of Christ.
Before I continue, you need to know that none of that is a facade. Although I do try and keep myself reserved, I don’t wear faces–that’s just hard work and stress that I can do without. The thing is, like many others (I presume), I am something of a paradox. My emotional states often find themselves co-existing together; sometimes they get along, other times one wins out above the rest.
More than this–and this is a really important thing for those who don’t struggle with mental illness to grasp–I am not depression personified!
I am a human.
I am Tristan.
I am not depression.
I suppose that’s one of the reasons why I’ve so wanted, and not wanted, to do this post for so long.
I want you to know about this aspect of my life. I want you to know because it’s something that happens in my world. I want the people who care about me to see this, and not have to hide it and worry about it. I also want others to know, those who share this struggle, that they are not alone. And I want to somehow contribute to eliminating the stigma with mental illness that persists within our society.
But at the same time, I do not want you to define me by it. Nor do I want to define myself by it.
I can honestly say, that as a person who wrestles with mental health, there is nothing more frustrating than my every action–or reaction, or choice, or feeling, or opinion, or theology, or tastes in music, or concern, or advice, or faith etc–being categorised and labelled, by others, as just being a result, an expression, a manifestation of my depression.
Sadly, I have experienced the, “You’re only saying that because” and the “Your allowing your depression guide you”…
For the sake of repeating myself…
Those of us who suffer with mental health issues are not an illness, we are multi-facated, gifted, breathing, self-aware, divine image-bearing, human beings.
Yes, depression affects me–it is something that touches and taints and trips–but it’s certainly not the only factor of my life.
As someone who proclaims to be a follower of Jesus–who believes that my identity (the whole of it) is in him–my life declaration is “Jesus is Lord” not the state of my mental health. Plus, though I may follow after God with a proverbial mental-limp, so to speak, God is more than able to work through my weaknesses; the divine has my whole life, and the divine longs to reside fully in every aspect of my whole life, not just the “fab” and “glamourous” parts. Actually, like many others, I’m a firm believer that God can do more through my vulnerability and weakness than through my ego and gifts and strengths.
I hope that makes sense?
I’m sure at this point there are a number of things people maybe want to know, and I am certainly more than happy to answer what I can (although, please be aware that I don’t live in this blog, or on social media, and that it may be sometime before I can get back to you).
In the meantime, here’s a few starters:
HAVE YOU ALWAYS EXPERIENCED DEPRESSION?
I’d like to say no. But I’m not certain that’s the truth.
As I said above, I’ve been more aware of depression for the past six years. Back in 2010 I had a nervous breakdown, which I do feel has certainly left its scars (I talk more about my breakdown in my book, Love: Expesssed, in the chapter Expressed through SABBATH).
But since then, through experiencing and acknowledging how living with depression feels, I can’t help but think back to being a teenager. Maybe my moody bouts weren’t just hormones? If you could ask some of my friends back then, I’m sure they’d mention those moments when Tristan would switch to being very down, shut people out and then go sulk on his own. You could also ask my brother Nick about the diary he once found! (Yes, I kept a small diary–up until that point, anyway).
DOES YOUR DEPRESSION ALWAYS AFFECT YOU?
No. I have many good days, and many “grey” days (as I’ve come to call them).
My depression comes and goes, it ebbs and flows. That doesn’t mean I am bi-polar (I think?), as I don’t experience any of the “manic” states. But the depression seems to treat me like a hotel; staying a few days, maybe a week, and then disappearing for a short break.
For this reason I’ve nicknamed my depression “my shadow”, as it behaves like Peter Pan’s. Except, unlike Pan, I don’t go chasing after it, and I’ve certainly no desire to “stitch” it on to myself.
CAN’T YOU FOCUS ON THE POSITIVE TO BANISH IT?
I’m certain no one is asking this, right?
But to correct a misconception that could possibly be lingering around; depression is not sadness, nor can it be vanquished through thinking happy thoughts. For me, it is caused by a chemical inbalance in my brain; think of it like a muscle injury, in the same way you would think of an athlete’s hamstring injury. Ergo, it is not a choice. Depression is not a consequence of external entities, and neither is it’s antidote to be found there.
To put it one way, I could be having the best day ever, with the best people ever, in the best weather ever, but that doesn’t guarantee that I won’t experience the shadow.
I just try and continue with it, whether life is good or bad.
Although some instances can “trigger” the depth of my depression (like lack of sleep, or pressure at work), I have yet to discover a trigger to switch it off. That said, I do have few disciplines I keep whilst it’s around:
- I’ll try and keep away from social media. No, social media isn’t evil; it’s a great thing. But when depressed, I can find myself interpreting things more personally and becoming obsessive about the apparent happiness of others. In short, my vulnerable self-esteem becomes prone to self-abuse.
- I’ll try and rest as much as possible. I’m naturally an introvert, so time-out works for me. Also, sleep is panacea (along with dark chocolate!)
- I make sure I don’t make any major life decisions when depressed. However, sometimes the depression provides an insight on life that might be worth holding and bringing into any choices after the phase has passed.
- Finally, although I get alone time, I must also spend time with others; especially Steph, my kids and others I’m close to. I find it also helpful to create, work, and do something. In my case, due to the length of my working week, my role as a structural engineer provides a good distraction, and my writing helps counter-balance the self-esteem issues that the depression can induce/nurture.
DOES EXPERIENCING DEPRESSION CLASH WITH YOUR FAITH? SHOULDN’T YOU BE FULL OF JOY?
In short, no and yes/no.
Firstly, I have yet to meet anyone who has some kind of faith that doesn’t have issues in some way–and I’m suspicious of those who say they don’t.
Secondly, if you understand faith as some kind of “positive thinking” or spell, like “Wingardium Leviosa”, then I can understand the clash. But faith, in a Judeo-Christian context, is better understood as trust and faithfulness to God. Although I am certainly not the best disciple going, my depression does not hinder me in leaning on Christ, learning from Christ, or attempting to following his way in life. Furthermore, I believe God can work through me and in me regardless of my mental health, and that God is the redeemer of whatever circumstances befall me.
Thirdly, with regards to joy; we shouldn’t confuse joy with happiness! Joy is about worth. And, as scripture reveals, it’s the Lord’s joy that is my strength, not my own strength or charisma or gifting or ability. Our worth is sourced in the divine’s faithfulness to his creation, not in ourselves (see my previous post, Stained by Love).
So yeah. I’m full of divine delight, you’re full of divine delight, because God delights in his work. That’s true whether I feel it or not. And actually, when the shadow lingers at my door, that’s a truth that I cling to.
I hope all this helps somehow, but I’d love to hear from you.
But for now, goodnight and God-bless, T.