Struggles with Depression

In some ways, I was afraid to write this. I worried that maybe I didn’t have enough time, as I was in the middle of so many projects and deadlines. That maybe I should just push through. But the more I reflect, the more I realize that it isn’t healthy, and it isn’t fair. It isn’t fair to anyone. My breaking point came from a phone call that I received earlier today. I’ll get around to that in a moment. For now, let me make something clear: depression is a very difficult thing that impacts nearly every facet of life.

Depression can creep up on you unexpectedly, and that happened to me without realizing it. It is something that I struggle with, as I am bipolar with high anxiety. I don’t really keep that a secret, but it doesn’t pop up in normal conversation.

“Hey, Pastor Cam, how was your weekend?”

“Oh, it was fun, I’m bipolar you know. I managed my anxiety well enough. Did you see the game?”

That isn’t how conversations go. Though I do not try to hide it, I also don’t walk around with any sort of pin on my lapel to say that I am bipolar. Maybe I should, but I don’t like to highlight that one part of me. I have dealt with it for more than 20 years. It isn’t something new. However, it also isn’t just going to get up and go away. No matter how much I work on being in control of it, it is just that. Being in control. Some days are better than others. Some weeks are better than others. It is a mood disorder. For those who would like more information, there’s plenty of materials available online that describe it. You can feel free to contact me about it. I’m always more than happy to discuss how I’ve been successful and unsuccessful with handling it. Today, I’m wanting to talk a little about being unsuccessful.

If I had to trace this back, I would trace it back to this summer. As you may know from reading my earlier post about weight loss, I’ve shed a few pounds this year. About 40 pounds at this point, which is good. Really good. I can’t emphasize that enough, I’m very happy with the weight that I’ve lost. However, I’m 15 pounds shy of where I set my goal. And for 3 months I’ve been hovering at that point. There’s a number of reasons why, but it was simply getting stuck that caused a problem. I began to get frustrated, and I began to get dejected. This played into my anxiety, which is like a spiral. I’ve learned to deal with most of the mini spirals pretty well. But this one was playing the long game. This one was slowly building so that when it swung around again it would hit me like a truck. Anxiety is like that. No matter how much Jesus tells me not to worry, my brain still likes to ask “what if” questions on loop at times.

For those of you that have never dealt with high anxiety on a regular basis, it can be hard to describe. Have you ever been super nervous about a test or a performance? Get the jitters before speaking before a crowd? That is anxiety. Now, imagine that you get that panicky feeling where you were about to tell that someone you have a crush on in second period math that you think they’re neat, but instead you get sweaty and can’t talk and you simply want to run away and hide in a dark corner. Now imagine that happens over insignificant things, like simply being in a crowd. That is my anxiety. At least, it has been. I’ve learned to manage it over time, but there was a period not long ago where my darling mother-in-law would be sure to try to get me a seat on the isle to any concert we were going to, in case I needed to escape for air. I don’t know that I can explain how much that meant, so thank you Patty. I’m really just trying to paint a picture of what it means to have anxiety that can spike for about any reason. Which doesn’t pair well with bipolar. You might be wondering how all of this pairs with being a pastor and delivering 3 sermons every week. One of the marvelous things is how at home I feel in church, and that combined with my improved skills in handling anxieties have made it possible to follow my calling. However, it doesn’t mean I’m impervious to all anxiety.

Having gotten stuck, I couldn’t seem to motivate myself. I kept thinking of things I could change to help move beyond where I was. But then I didn’t do them, and the more I didn’t, the more I would look at it as failure. Admittedly, as I type this, I know that losing 40 pounds isn’t failure. But anxiety and depression aren’t logical. I have a lot of things going on, and this feeling of failure began to creep into all of them. It is like an infection. Dejection on all fronts. Am I being too hard on myself? Certainly. I can guarantee it. But I know that it began to seep into everything. Everything.

“Am I putting enough time into my ministry? Are my sermons starting to falter?”

“Am I failing my kids? I want to be a good dad, but I don’t know if I really am.”

“Can I pass this class? What if I can’t finish all my homework on time? What will that do?”

“Am I still attractive? Am I being a supportive husband? Am I giving this my all?”

This is just a sampling of what happens. The big problem is that with each of those doubts, they give way to greater doubts. One of the things that can happen is that the doubts begin to cloud judgement, and then they actually impact the things that I’m worrying about. It is certainly a case of psychological self-fulfilling prophecy. Those cycles can be broken, but this last torrent was a pretty big one. It snuck in under the radar, and it really caught me off-guard. I had begun to have doubts about everything. But earlier today, something happened that made me really stop and think about things. It broke the cycle. What happened was a fairly random act of praise. It was the unexpectedness that threw everything off, but in a good way.

I got a call. It was a parishioner. He didn’t want to take up too much of my time, because he knew I was busy. But he wanted to thank me for my sermon on Sunday. He really thought it resonated and he seemed to be very pleased with work I was doing. He simply wanted to say thanks. I don’t get a lot of Monday morning calls. As it turns out, I needed this one. This simple act of kindness was the love I needed to start healing. In one call, I was reminded that my time is valuable, that I was appreciated, and that I was loved. The Lord works in mysterious ways, and today he worked through a simple phone call.

I’m a bit ashamed to say that my pride had caused me to think that I was above falling into the grip of depression. But as I have further reflected over the course of the day, I decided I needed to put a pause on everything and write this.

I am not immune from depression. Nobody is.

Those are words I have told myself countless times, but for some reason I had begun to ignore them. I wanted so much to be above it all that I didn’t want it to be true. I thought I was too busy to deal with it. Which created a spiral of not being able to fully come to grips with everything that I was dealing with. I couldn’t show myself the grace that I so fervently believe everyone should be afforded. Today, I took a breath, and I really took the appreciation to heart. As soon as these words stop flowing from my fingertips onto the page, I will be making a phone call. A sort of “thank you for being thankful” and a “thank you for showing me Christ’s love” call. Because I was reminded that that act was the kind of loving thing that we always talk about. Going out of the way to let people know that they matter. The kind of thing that Christ calls us to do, to love without limits. I might have remembered all those things, but I forgot something else – I’m people too.

So here I am, thinking about all the things I need to do but with a different attitude. I’m thinking that I’m capable. I’m capable of managing, and I’m capable of asking for help. I’m capable of asking for help where help is needed. I’m capable of loving. I’m capable of being loved. I’m capable of failing, but I’m capable of lifting myself up from failure to try again. I’m sitting here today, reminded that I’m capable of falling into depression. I’m sitting here today, knowing I’m also capable of rising above it. I must remember I’m not alone though. God knows we aren’t meant to be alone.

Then the Lord God said, “It’s not good that the human is alone. I will make him a helper that is perfect for him.” – Genesis 2:18 CEB

The more I have thought about the story in Genesis 2, the more I have come to realize that this statement is about us all. None of us is supposed to manage on our own. We are not isolated creatures. We are not a rock or an island. Christ reminds us of that community when he calls us to love each other. Because we need each other. Sometimes we just need a little reminder. Today, I try a little harder at remembering this. And I try a little harder to not get swept up in my own fears. Today, I try a little harder to remember that help is all around me.

If you or someone you know struggles with depression, please, know help is available. You may contact me or a local mental health professional. Getting help is a sign of strength – you’re strong enough to admit you need help. You are not alone. May the love of God go with you, may the peace of Christ reside in your heart, and may the Holy Spirit guide you on your journey.

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