Recently, a local church pastor stopped by the newsroom to talk about depression — his.
He had just come through a second bout of it and thought it was important to tell people that Christians and Christian pastors are not immune to it.
It’s not a character thing; it’s a chemical, brain thing, he said.
He called his depression a “dark night of the soul.” It made him tired and unable to eat, doubtful of God’s love for him, although not God’s existence.
He said he felt guilty getting up and preaching on Sundays, encouraging people when he felt discouraged.
Things were dark, but he was never suicidal, he said.
I told him that a few years back I had gone through something that might be depression, although for me it was never a dark pit of hopelessness, but more like a constant, dulling fog.
I was sad, sort of, but I didn’t cry. Instead, I’d go to Wal-Mart a lot and push a cart around, thinking about buying pajamas because what I really wanted to do was go to bed.
Maybe it wasn’t true depression. Maybe it was depression-lite. Depressionish. Not enough to check myself into a hospital but enough to feel like I was in a fog and unable to see clearly, feeling out of sorts and out of touch.
Depression-lite isn’t as obvious as a dark night of the soul or the black hole that swallows some people, but it’s real nonetheless.
According to the World Health Organization, depression is the second most common cause of disability after cardiovascular disease and is on-track to be number one within 10 years. As many as 25 percent of people in the U.S. will experience some form of depression during their lifetime.
Mine lasted about a year. During that time I had a hard time getting to church. I’d get into my car and try to get to a particular intersection. If I made it that far without turning around I knew I could make it into the building, and if I made it into the building, I knew I’d stay.
However, more often I wouldn’t — couldn’t — make it to my regular spot down front. I’d sit somewhere way in the back, praying to be invisible.
A Christianity Today report said depression is “in part a withdrawal by the weary into an inner world, an attempt to create a protective cocoon against real-world demands.”
That’s how I felt as I still went to work, still wrote my column every week, still told you all about God’s mercy and grace, still believing it was true, just not quite feeling it through the fog.
Years ago, we lived on the Monterey Bay in California, where the summers are foggy and cold. Sometimes it would stay foggy all week.
One time I had to drive through fog that was so dense I could barely see, which was quite scary. All I could do was stay behind the car in front of me with my eyes fixed on its taillights, praying all the way.
After about 10 or so miles, the fog lifted — and I was never so happy to see daylight.
During the Monterey summers, when the fog would finally burn off I would grab towels and sand toys and head to the beach with my girls. We’d wade through the tide pools looking for crabs, watch the sea otters on their backs in the water cracking open abalones on their bellies or watch people hand gliding over the bay.
I rejoiced when the fog lifted. I loved the feel of hot sunshine on my face and bare arms. After days on end of grayness you forget how good it is to be warmed by the sun. You forget that there could be anything different, anything better. You forget that the sun is always there, above the gray and the cold, damp mist.
However, I never completely forgot, and neither did the pastor who came to see me. That’s because God never leaves his children without hope, never leaves his children alone, even when it feels like it.
The psalmist cried out to God in his distress and God sent thunder and lightning, hurled spears and reached from heaven deep into the deepest pit, pulled him out and set him safely in a “spacious place” because “he delighted in me” (Psalm 18).
In the deepest darkness, in the thickest fog, even in depression-lite, God is still there, still able to save, still holding out hope, still loving his own.
Nancy Kennedy is the author of “Move Over, Victoria - I Know the Real Secret,” “Girl on a Swing,” and her latest book, “Lipstick Grace.” She can be reached at 352-564-2927, Monday through Thursday, or via email at email@example.com.