I told you that one of the things I was going to talk about this year was my struggle with depression. Below you will find written out what I said when I was asked to give my testimony at a church about a year ago. It was a hard process for me, but one day soon I will tell you about the many amazing opportunities that came out of it. For now, we’ll just start with this:)
My name is Jennifer Holmes. I am 32 years old, wife to Michael Holmes, which also makes me a Pastor’s wife and camp-dweller, mother to three beautiful children and aunt to three more. I am a daughter, grand-daughter, sister, teacher, friend, musician. I am a child of God and have been for 26 years. There is one other fact about me that touches, moulds, colours every other part of my life. I struggle with depression. I’ve had this struggle for more years than I haven’t. I’ve often imagined my depression as a pit. There have been days in my life where my pit is small, shallow, light. It only requires a prayer, a song or a verse to climb out of. Other days the pit seams vast, as though there is no end to the falling and the depth of it blocks out all hope of seeing the light. It seems as though it would take a thousand verses, a thousand songs, a thousand prayers to make any difference. It seems to me as though it is a living, breathing force that has taken over me, stealing away my energy to read those thousand verses, sing those thousand songs, pray those thousand prayers. Some days, sometimes months, I can stay completely out of the pit. Some days, I purposefully sit on the edge. Some days it just seems easier to jump right in. Even though it is dark and soul killing, it is familiar. And sometimes familiarity wins. Praise the Lord, my days in the pit are becoming farther apart, the time spent in there shorter. My pit is becoming shallower, smaller. But it is still there. It may always be. I hope not. I pray that one day, my spirituality will be strong enough to always stay out, but I know that I am human and will never be sinless. So I will continually be on guard against the falling.
If you asked me ten years ago if I saw myself standing in front of a church confessing my struggles, I wouldn’t have believed you. First of all, I’m standing confessing my struggles in church and it isn’t even my church! Secondly, I’ve spent most of my life trying to hide the fact that I struggle with depression. Actually, ten years ago I may not have even admitted it to myself! When you have had many difficult circumstances in your life, its easy to write off depression as something that you’ll get over when your circumstances change. I could bore you with my list of difficult situations, but suffice it to say, between circumstances, pregnancies and miscarriages, I always found a reason to write off my depression as something else. I’ve always known that I am not a happy happy person! I would have described myself as melancholy. And I think that personalities play a large role in depression. The fact that half of my family also struggles with it is another factor. But it wasn’t until I identified it as a sin in my life that I could start to claim some victory through Christ. Let me just interject here that I believe that some people have depression as a mental illness. While I believe the way I am leaves me more prone to depression, I don’t believe that for me it is a mental illness. My depression is powerfully impacted by my physical state. I exercise, make sure I get enough sleep, watch my stress level and see a homeopath, all to combat my depression. But for me, it is primarily a spiritual fight. I know for me personally, the times that I fall into depression, it is a sinful state in which I am not depending on God for His strength and not practicing the truths found in God’s word. And since God is the great physician, I believe that the truths in God’s word will work for any level or type of depression. Always enlist the Lord on your side!
So, why am I standing here confessing my sins. Well, that’s a question I’ve been asking myself a lot over the last week. There is a sort of tearing about this. A stripping away of a facade that happens. Its a scary, pride-crushing process. I wasn’t asked to come here because of some amazing thing I’ve done, or because I’m a famous public speaker. I am here because my struggles are now public knowledge. This all started last year at our winter camp. Our camp director asked us to talk to the teens about something that we struggled with when we were teenagers. I started thinking about things I could talk to the teens about. The list was long and I was trying to decide. That night I spent some time in prayer about it. It was as though God directly said, “you need to talk about depression”. Ugh that was the last struggle I wanted to admit. Some of the very people that I tried so hard to impress all these years were going to be in the very room where I would talk with the teens! I kept thinking how Pastor Hollen believed I was a very good teenager who had it all together. All those years working at Help, I was able to keep up this facade of a happy face, a well-adjusted life. After wrestling with God, I obeyed his leading and spoke to the teens about depression. I talked to two girls that same day. One of the girls I have sent Bible verses to on a regular basis. She has facebooked me at midnight and we have wrestled through issues together. I caught a glimpse of how the Lord could take something that was a terrible thing in my life, something I constantly wished away, and could use it for good. Why is depression so prevalent these days? Well, I’ll leave that to better educated people to write papers on. All I know is that it is a serious problem and I’m hoping that I can be a small part of a solution. So, what do I want to tell you, what part of me am I hoping to leave behind as a solution?
- Depression doesn’t only target a certain type of person. I can look back and see it starting as young as 14. I didn’t start to get a handle on it until I was in my 30s. I had many life changes in those 16 years. It wasn’t something that I grew out of as a teenager. It wasn’t something that started when I had young children. I was a faithful Christian who was striving to please God. I had daily devotions for the vast majority of those years. I never stayed home from church just because I felt like it. I shouldn’t have been depressed! I had this idea that good Christians just don’t get depressed. Most people looking into my life from the outside wouldn’t guess that I was at risk for depression. I hid my emotions very well. At least I’m pretty sure I did! When I was young, I was a regular teenager, living in a Christian home with both parents. It would have appeared to have been a great environment for turning out a well-adjusted, spiritual young person. When I turned 20 I married a wonderful man and my life again would have looked wonderful. And in some senses, it really was, yet I still could not find the peace I was looking for. I don’t think at many points in my life, anyone would have looked at me and targeted me as being at risk for depression. But there I was. Someone who broke the mould. I would challenge you to be aware of your family, your friends, your church family and realize that any of them could be suffering a burden that you don’t know about. This struggle is more common than most realize. Also, don’t think that just because you’re a good Christian that you won’t have this struggle. It only takes one read through the psalms to see David, the man after God’s own heart, and his struggle with depression. Many other Bible characters fought it too. Its important to learn about, because at any time this struggle could hit you. Unexpected things happen in people’s lives every day and any one of them could cause your own struggle with depression. One of the first people outside of my husband who really helped me was my chiropractor. I’ll never forget the day she sat down beside me, put her arm around me and said “Jen, you really need to get help. You have to talk to someone.” I broke down and cried heavily in her office that day. My chiropractor was a wonderful person who took time to really see me. To see past the facade when most people didn’t have time to. I’m not blaming anyone else for my struggles, I should’ve gotten help when I needed it, but I hope that its left me with a better ability to see others. A knowledge that people are struggling in secret.
- Secondly, I want people to know that getting help is so important. Why did I struggle to keep it a secret? Why was I always hiding it? We tell people to get an accountability partner for almost everything else. I didn’t mind asking someone to check up with me on my Bible reading, but felt I had to hide my emotional battle. We praise the young man who comes forward and asks for help with a pornography addiction, the woman who battles anger with her kids, the teenager looking for more faith and anyone asking for help. We rally around them, pray for them, encourage them and then go home and hide our sins away for another week. If you can’t ask the other broken, struggling, sinning saints for help, who can you ask? Oh, I know its painful! But its such a necessary pain. The cutting away of pride only ever heals us.
- Thirdly, and most importantly, the answers are always, always in the Bible. I have learned so many things from these past years that it would take me hours to tell you all about them but if I could make you remember just one thing it would be that God’s word has become precious to me. God’s word was always important to me. Always the basis of my faith and always where I looked to for guidance. But I have to admit that it wasn’t always precious. One day I discovered anew Psalm 42. Reading that psalm I learned a step by step plan for dealing with my depression. I learned to sing songs in the night, to dwell on past victories, to cry out to God, to trust God’s truth and to trust Him for future joy. I clung to it like I never had clung to God’s word before. It became a life line. A rope dropped into my pit. No, more than that. It was God’s hand reaching down into my pit and lifting me out. I read that psalm every day for many many days as I learned more about myself, about my pit and how it was possible to live a different way. The Bible became a living, breathing, precious book. Some days you could’ve convinced me that God wrote that passage and saved it through the ages just for me. After a while, other passages came up that became precious. I’m always clinging to something now! And that for me has made the difference. Instead of always seeing the Bible as just something to continually strive for, it now holds me up. My current passage is Psalm 40.
What an amazing God. That He would take someone like me, test me, try me, use me.