I had no idea what was happening to me.
It started with terrible bouts of insomnia. I was in a constant state of fatigue and everything ached.
My thinking started to get muddy at work and during other activities. Every pursuit that I normally enjoyed tasted like the blandest vanilla ice cream you’ve ever had.
My emotions would redline over the smallest thing; I would drop a fork and fly into a rant about it. The coup de grâce was the dark thoughts that would enter my head and come out of my mouth (e.g. “where’s a fatal car wreck when I need one?”)
Like the proverbial frog that gets boiled to death one degree at a time, I had become a victim of depression in a slow and insidious way.
It’s common knowledge that depression rates increase over most holiday seasons. When you add all the body-blows inflicted on us during 2020, it’s no surprise things this year are even worse.
Even with all the visibility, normalcy, and education about the subject, people still have a hard time recognizing and admitting their struggles with depression. Christians, in particular, shy away from acknowledging it because we’re supposed to have the Holy Spirit and be filled with joy and power for living, and therefore, not supposed wimps who are vulnerable to the ailment.
Well, I’ve been a Christian for decades. I am also an anti-wimp who has advanced degrees, been in high-level leadership positions in my secular career and the church, resemble Spock when it comes to my emotional wiring, and am a 200lb gym rat who trains six days a week.
And years ago, I had depression.
If you’re reading this, there’s a good chance either you or someone you know is ensnared by the disease, so let me walk you through the three steps I traveled to overcome it and be free today.
Although I was clueless about all the symptoms I was experiencing, a good friend of mine was not. He sent me this video of a pastor I respect – Tommy Nelson – who talked about his encounter with depression.
After the video, I said to myself, “Yep, that’s me.”
The first step with beating depression is properly recognizing / diagnosing it. While the video had me convinced, I confirmed it with my primary care doctor.
The good thing is, lining up and confirming the symptoms of depression is not difficult today with all the powerful tools and education that’s available.
Even though there are countless testimonies from people on the subject, the it-can’t-happen-to-me syndrome and feeling that an admission of depression equates to weakness are still with us.
Yes, it can happen to you and no, you’re not weak if it does.
For me, accepting it wasn’t hard because Tommy Nelson’s story was an exact match to my own. Like him, I hadn’t experienced a terrible loss or similar event that brought on the depression.
My problem was that I was working a heavy-duty director job at a major software company. And completing my Master’s degree at an accelerated rate. And jumping right into my Ph.D. work. And writing for three different websites. And maintaining my own apologetics website. And teaching classes. And constantly working out. And trying to be a father and husband to my family.
In short, my depression was caused by an overload of my own doing.
The excessive burden came from doing things I wanted to do. No, actually more like things I loved doing! But it was far too much and I carried all of it, all the time, with no breaks.
For others, the overload can come in the form of continual hardships and events that cause deep grief. But whether the load is bad or good, the effect on the body and mind are the same. I can be given a wheelbarrow full of either good or nasty things that each weigh 300lbs and both will wear me down if I have to constantly carry them day in and day out.
Do something about it
In the beginning, I prayed constantly for God to lift the burden I had. But I never experienced any magical, overnight change. However, God answered my prayer in a different way.
It wasn’t some gross immoral sin in my life that needed eviction nor did I require a supernatural event to bring me back to normal. Some Christians go to these places every time something negative occurs in a person’s life. Oftentimes, however, the necessary remedy is far more mundane, but nonetheless spot on effective.
My doctor explained to me that what was happening was a medical event. Because I had overloaded myself, the invisible stress levels that I failed to detect had drained every molecule of serotonin from my body. Without it, I was malfunctioning like a car that was running on fumes, except in my case, I didn’t even have the fumes.
So, in the same way God doesn’t miraculously fill my car’s gas tank when it’s empty, but instead supplies me with the common sense to look for the nearest gas station, I needed to act to help my body with things He’d already made available.
The first step was to deal with the things that had gotten me into my hole in the first place. In my case, this meant reducing the items that were on my daily plate, which I did.
Next, my doctor gave me an SSRI, which, over time, gave me back my missing serotonin. It was the first and only medication I’d ever taken in my life, and I wasn’t thrilled about it. The thought of “being on medication” was abhorrent to me until I realized that what I was doing was returning to my body what I had robbed from it.
I vividly remember when I realized my depression had been sent packing. I was giving a major presentation to a very sophisticated audience. During my depression, I struggled to speak well and constantly had failing trains of thought.
But this time, I cut through my presentation like a knife through hot butter. At the end, I said my goodbyes, stood there and thought to myself, “I’m back!”
This is an important point worth underlining: the SSRI didn’t change me into a different person. Rather, it restored the chemicals my body should have had in the first place and let me be me again.
I’m now off the SSRI and am careful not to overburden myself like before. Further, as a precaution, I take supplements each day that replenish my serotonin in a natural way.
Going through my depression was a miserable process. If you’re experiencing a case of it now, I am sorry and understand what you’re going through.
I want to encourage you, remind you that there is a lot of help out there, and tell you that there’s zero shame in seeking it. Yes, you may be a Christian but even armed with God’s Holy Spirit, you’re not immune to the effects depression can have on your body and mind.
Depression is a dark and joyless experience, but there are multiple paths to victory and Scripture tells us that God will ultimately use experiences like it for our good (Rom. 8:28) even if, for the moment, we can’t how.
Robin Schumacher is an accomplished software executive and Christian apologist who has written many articles, authored and contributed to several Christian books, appeared on nationally syndicated radio programs, and presented at apologetic events. He holds a BS in Business, Master's in Christian apologetics and a Ph.D. in New Testament. His latest book is, A Confident Faith: Winning people to Christ with the apologetics of the Apostle Paul.