Depression. It’s a word that means nothing for some and carries a whole load of baggage for others. It’s a word that some use too lightly and others are afraid to even have in their vocabulary.
My story begins long before my start in full-time ministry, when I was a teenager. A number of things happened in my life which led to me feeling down. But instead of talking to people and asking for help, I swallowed these feelings and negative thoughts. Instead of talking about my experiences and pain I turned to coping mechanisms that were not healthy. Over an extended period of time this led to me self-harming on an almost daily basis and three attempted suicides. This was a very dark period in my life, one that I do not wish to live through again. But by God’s grace it was during my final attempt to take my life that I realised that I couldn’t live by my own strength any more. That night sparked a journey of searching the Bible and the truths that I’d been told my whole life about who God is and what Jesus did on the cross. This all took place about 11 years ago.
Is depression something you can ‘get over’? I genuinely don’t know. I wouldn’t say I have depression any more, but do I have bad days? Yes, but by God’s grace they are fewer and further between.
So if this is my story, why is it relevant for this site? I believe it’s relevant because of the perspective I have and how my personal experience of depression helps me to pastor and care for others.
In the last few years I have invested a lot of time into studying depression, out of personal interest but also out of a desire to care for others. I’ve discipled guys who have suffered from depression and have felt the pain of a friend losing his battle with mental health. Therefore, I’m an advocate of people talking about their experiences and their struggles. I’ve done the ‘bottle it up and don’t talk about it’ thing and it did not work.
I often get asked if I would go back and change my life, change those experiences of the depths of despair and forget they ever happened. In the moment I wished it wasn’t happening, I wished it would end. But now looking back, I see how those experiences, as horrible and hard as they were at the time, have brought me to a place where I can help others in their depths of despair.
Where is the “grace in the depths” of my depression? I see God’s grace in the fact that I’m still alive. By his grace I have come to the point where I can help others and I can relate to the mind muddle, the brain storms and the despair that often accompanies the black dog of depression.
One of my favourite quotes from Charles Spurgeon is, “I have learned to kiss the wave that strikes me against the Rock of Ages.” Spurgeon had depression and wrote about it on a number of occasions. My prayer is that I, and you, would learn to kiss the wave that throws us into the arms of God, who shows us grace in the depths of our despair.
Alistair Chalmers is the Assistant Pastor of Bruntsfield Evangelical Church and regularly blogs at https://achalmersblog.com