Lowering the Mask

I have a little book in my collection titled "Why Am I Afraid to Tell You Who I Am?" I don't know if I've ever read it from cover to cover - possibly because I know the answer already. If I tell you who I really am then ... you might not like me ... you might judge me ... you might confirm my [poor] opinion of myself ... you might not be my friend any more.

And yet there is freedom sometimes in letting the mask slip and in revealing who we really are.

Statistics show that in New Zealand alone 1 in 4 women and 1 in 6 men will experience depression at some time in their life. If that's the case then there are a lot of people out there who are suffering and hiding it very well.

This was brought home to me quite vividly last night. DH, Son#5 and I attended a dinner for those who are planning to go to India soon to complete the building of houses for a village that was destroyed by the tsunami. I was sharing with someone why DH may not be going after all and she began to share with me her battle with depression and panic attacks. I had no idea! Here was a beautiful and seemingly confident woman who has struggled with the same things that I have struggled with - yet until we were prepared to be honest and vulnerable, we had no idea that we weren't alone in our battle.

I wonder if it's just Christians that feel that they have to keep the mask from slipping or is it universal? Certainly in Christian circles there's the unspoken - and sometimes spoken - thought that you must be lacking somehow as a Christian if you experience depression. Perhaps you don't have enough faith or perhaps you have unconfessed sin or even worse, perhaps you're not even really a Christian.

Yet, we don't choose this illness just as others don't choose cancer or diabetes or any other physical illness. It's not a case of just 'snapping out of it' or 'getting over it'. For many of us, it takes incredible - incredible - courage just to leave the house each day or to go to work or to meet people.

There's no easy cure for our illness. Medication can work but it has its side effects and is considered controversial in some medical circles. Lifestyle changes can help. Meditating on Scripture and counselling certainly helps. Some people are cured while others learn to manage it for the rest of their lives. Fighting depression is a moment-by-moment battle that takes courage and fortitude and energy - energy that we sometimes feel we don't have. But one thing that does make it easier is your understanding and concern and love. Whatever you do, don't give up on us. Ring. Email. Visit. Write. And most of all, pray.

The Lord is my shepherd: I shall not want.

He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: He leadeth me beside the still waters.

He restoreth my soul: He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for His name's sake.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for Thou art with me; Thy rod and Thy staff they comfort me.

Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: Thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.

Psalm 23


Anonymous said…
Know just what you are talking about, Jules. No, this is not something just snapped out of, or dissipated by just serving others, etc. Sometimes it is brought on by other illnesses (thyroid, alzheimers), sometimes comes on its own (maybe incident related like being a victim of a violent crime, ptsd, death of a child), and sometimes ends up in serious medical illnesses if not treated by a licensed psychiatrist and medicated. There should be no Christian taboo here. Anybody who trivializes this or acts like you are not a good Christian, not praying enough, reading your Bible enough, or serving others enough, and/or condemns those receiving treatment, does not know what they are talking about and should not be listened to. People need to see a doctor for this. Mary R.
SchnauzerMom said…
My husband is bi-polar and suffered for a long time before he was finally diagnosed and started to get medication. I know that depression isn't something that you just "snap out of." I believe that Christians are subject to all the pain and suffering that non-Christians have. The main difference is that we have One who will love and care for us. Even in the depths of depression.
Amy said…
I wrote in one of my recent blogs that it seems life is one big performance where we all walk around trying to appear to have it more together than the next person, but underneath it all we have similar battles, insecurities, fears- maybe to differing degrees, but fundamentally we are all broken human beings trying to come to a place of healing. Most people do have at least one significant depressive episode in their life, but yes it is an up and down battle also for many many people. I think the key is opening up to each other and being vulnerable because I think often the greatest fear is that we are alone and nobody else could possibly understand what we are going through- however once you start talking to others you realise there are often similarities in your lives- even through different experiences.
Jules said…
Mary, Kathryn and Amy, Thank you for your comments. I have been amazed at the support and encouragement I've received since I decided to stop hidding and be honest. For months I failed to seek treatment because I was afraid of what others would think. The wonderful thing about being honest though is that others then feel the freedom to open up and share their stories.

[I do have to be honest though and admit that I haven't yet told my children apart from through my blog - and I know that only one reads this so I've still got some explaining to do! lol]

Mary, I agree with all that you've said. I think though that there are still those in Christian circles that think any illness of the mind and/or emotions must either be the individual's fault or be of spiritual origin (either 'not good enough' Christian or demonic). It can make it extremely difficult to admit the truth and to get the help that is needed.

In my experience, we need to be careful what treatment we do agree to and I guess this also muddies understanding for many people. There are many options and I believe that some of those forms of treatment are not appropriate for a Christian (such as hypnosis). For me, finding a Christian counsellor was of paramount importance (and she's great!) and working with her and my doctor who has known me for years (and my aversion to taking any medication) has made this whole journey a whole lot more tolerable.

Kathryn, yes Christians are subject to the same pain and suffering as non-Christians but for some reason we seem to put extra pressure on ourselves that makes illnesses of this type so much more difficult to handle. Perhaps it's because we don't want others to realise how broken we are - we'd prefer to hide behind a mask.

I think there should also be more support given to those that care for someone with a mental illness. I know that here there is more understanding of the pressures and difficulties they live with day-to-day and I hope it's a trend that will continue.

Amy, definitely broken people. Discovering that others have similar stories and knowing that they have survived has been so helpful for me. The very nature of a depressive illness is inward looking and it's too easy to feel that there's no hope - but when you can see that others have endured the same suffering and survived it can give you hope and courage to go on.

And as Christians we do have Someone who can help us through our suffering. "He restoreth my soul", "I will fear no evil", "Thy rod and Thy staff they comfort me." We are not alone - even in the depths of depression.
Jen said…
It took a lot of courage for you to share what you did. I really admire you for that. I think as Christians, we are just expected to not struggle with stuff like that, which is ridiculous because we are human! And because we are children of God, we are more attacked by Satan than people who don't know Christ! I think of the prophet Elijah. He saw how big God was. He saw God wipe out all the baal prophets. Later though, he ended up hiding in a cave in complete fear and panic from Ahab and Jezebel. He prayed that he would die. I would say that after reading about that in 1 Kings 19 that he was going through some serious depression and anxiety! Did God scold him for his fear and depression? No, he sent an angel, who told him to eat and rest. Then there was David, who went through great times of depression and anxiety. So these are people who were very influential in the Bible who struggled with these issues, and yet we as Christians feel that we are supposed to be above that. I think that is why so many Christians hide behind a mask, and pretend everything is okay. We aren't able to be real with people, which is sad.

I'll be praying for you as you are on your journey. I believe the verse in Psalms 147:3 that says, "He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds."
Ohtawen said…
Thank you for tackling this topic, Jules. It's a sensitive one, but that's just more reason to talk about it.

I too think many people go through one or more difficult periods in life when they are not feeling good enough, confident, adequate... not necessarily depressive, but in a low. For me, if a Christian is depressive, he or she is by no means less Christian than those who aren't. Depression is just a product of human nature. We all falter. It's hard to overcome feelings of shame, doubt and pride, but sometimes it's necessary to seek help.

I also went through times like those, times of self-doubt, great questions, times when I was down. But you know what? The tables have turned from the moment I realized there was always someone who I can confide in, who will take my sorrow no matter what. This happened to me about four years ago, when I was sick and tired of everything. Seeking consolation from the Bible, I randomly opened it and pointed my finger. I read a couple of beautiful verses from the Book of Job (sorry, I can't translate them well to English :( ) and had an epiphany (the Lord really does work mysteriously!). I understood I need to rely on God, because the times of darkness truly make sense!
I'm learning to glorify God more.
I can also take those bad, bad feelings and give them to Lord as a penance for my sins... and a million other good reasons.

It's truly wonderful how much good can stem from nasty things. I hope you will feel better soon, Jules. there's always a way... and people who can help, too.
Jules said…
Jen, thank you for sharing that verse. I'll add it to ones that I meditate on regularly. I've found that this is such an important part of my healing journey.

I agree that there are those in the Bible that suffered from depression. I think we could add Job and Jonah to that list.

Ohtawen thank you for sharing your story. I find it so encouraging. The more I open up the more I find that people have experienced similar things and it gives me hope.
winterwren said…
Oh, Jules--

I think there is more stigma about and judgement towards mental illness within the Christian community, although it certainly exists elsewhere. Sad and wrong, but true. Once a friend from church said that my sister's schizophrenia was due to moral failing. Of course, this was a woman who did not think that Alzheimer's patients should take medication. O-kay, then! Unfortunately that was not an isolated instance. Far from it.

I would not be too adverse to medication. There are certainly side effects and not all medications work, or work completely, for all people. For some people no medication works at all. There is a lot of trial and error involved. These are all totally valid concerns. However, if this is something you have suffered with for a long time, that is clearly biochemical, and you have not found enough significant relief from counseling or lifestyle changes alone, I would seriously consider trying medication.

I know a lot of people, Christians especially, who believe in psychiatric medication in principal, but do not want to take it themselves. Sometimes for the reasons stated above, sometimes because they worry taking medication might change their personality, or because they do not want to be "dependent" on a drug. However, mental illness is not a "personality" and no ones accuses a diabetic for being dependent on insulin. If a medication has intolerable and continuing side effects, it can be stopped. What is intolerable is up to you. A side effect that might be a deal breaker for some might be acceptable for others. You have to weigh the severity of the illness against the severity of the side effect (and make sure you taper off any medication slowly under supervision.)

Please do not think I am trying to talk you into taking medication, or that I think I know if it is right for you. I do not know the exact nature or severity or duration of your illness. Some people recover without medication, but for many people that is impossible. I just would hate to see you suffer through something that could be helped (or even cured) with the right medication.
busymomof10 said…
I am sorry to hear that you have been struggling with depression. I am trying to help my daughter, who is going through a deep depression right now, and spent some time on the phone today with Michelle from She Looketh Well. She has a lot of neat insights on overcoming depression and after just a short conversation pinpointed my daughter's root problem. You might check out her blog . . . or send her an email. I think she has been sharing some nuggets on her blog related to overcoming depression. May the Lord bless you and keep you and wrap His loving arms around you!!! ~Elizabeth

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