Is Depression Normal?None of us like to suffer, we just don’t. Suffering is most often painful, so no wonder our culture does not embrace the idea that suffering could eventually have positive outcomes. The media in Western culture reinforces this idea; how many movies end with a tragic and hopeless outcome? Usually, we see themes such as good triumphing over evil, the underdog somehow rallies and overcomes, and the guy always gets the girl.
Life is Full of Pain
Unfortunately, life outside of Hollywood is not always so blissful, predictable, and triumphant. People die, get divorced, lose jobs, become chronically ill, lose their innocence, and fail to triumph over adversity on a grand scale. Positive outcomes can and certainly do come out of our pain, but for most people the in-between time is filled with ambiguity and hopelessness. No matter the outcome when we lose, losing still brings about feelings of depression. Our symptoms may be slight and may pass quickly, or they may linger for a while. But sometimes our symptoms persist for an extended period of time and have a negative impact on our health and relationships.
My personal and professional experience has revealed that we tend to question our depression. “Is this normal…?” ”Am I allowed to feel this way…?” “Is it biblical to be depressed…?” While processing these questions, I have noticed that people tend to downplay what they are feeling for many reasons. “Oh I’m fine… it is not that big a deal.” Yet if we dig deeper and are real with ourselves and with God, what we are feeling usually is a big deal and affects much of our life. What is more, feeling this way is normal from both a psychological and a biblical perspective. There is not enough space in this article to discuss biblical figures who display depressive symptoms, but if one reads the bible cover to cover one discovers some pretty sad folks who experienced very serious symptoms of depressed mood. Interestingly, God feels that it is important to include in the bible multiple books that normalize depression.
The Pain of Loss
Loss hurts, it just does. Gerald Sitser notes that: “What is true in the body is also true in the soul. The pain of loss is severe because the pleasure of life is so great; it demonstrates the supreme value of what is lost.” Sitser lost his wife, daughter, and mother in a head-on collision. Reflecting on this tragic event, he argues that: “The screaming pain I feel at the loss… reflects the pure pleasure I felt in knowing them.” This tells us that if something or someone was so valuable, we should feel depressive symptoms at their loss. We have lost something worth our time, attention, and care. We have not only lost the person, possession, or dream, we have also lost a possibility. New possibilities can emerge, but what we have lost is gone. While the loss does not only exist in our minds, brain research shows that social and emotional pain activates the same part of the brain that is activated by physical pain (Siegel, 2010).
Coping with Loss
The author Parker Palmer shares a story about hanging upside down while rappelling down a rock face. Scared and unsure what to do, his instructor yelled out: “If you can’t get out of it, get into it.” I have heard Palmer use this story a few times when discussing his own depression. Palmer goes on to note: “Some monsters simply will not go away. They are too big to walk around, too powerful to overcome, too clever to outsmart. The only way to deal with them is to move toward them, with them, and through them.”
This experience was shared by Gerald Sitser who writes: “I learned gradually that the deeper we plunge into suffering, the deeper we can enter into a new and different life.” It, therefore, seems that it is facing our losses and depression that will bring healing. But unfortunately our sin nature takes over and we hide, afraid of what we might find. Fortunately for those who muster the courage to be vulnerable, they often find new life. This was also the story of the late Henri Nouwen, who experienced a major psychological and spiritual crisis at the end of his life. Nouwen tells us: “You have to live through your pain gradually and thus deprive it of its power over you.” There is a great paradox here, for it is in moving toward our pain that we are given the power to be relieved of our pain.
Christian Counseling to Overcome Your Pain
As a Christian counselor, I am privileged to accompany some of the people who are brave enough to confront their pain. If you are suffering from loss and depression, seek help. Life can be better than what you are experiencing. Seek professional counseling and support from others. Your wounds may persist, but life can move forward and healing is possible. To find out more about how Christian counseling can help you to overcome your pain, please contact me here.
“Portrait,” courtesy of grfkgke, http://all-free-download.com; Photo courtesy of the author, Michael Lillie
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