I am a survivor. I owe my life to the grace of our Lord, and to the wisdom of a pastoral counselor, who knew what to do for me when my crisis exceeded his expertise. I live daily as a “recovering depressive.” That is not a sentence; it is a reality that shapes mindfulness about meds, exercise, sleep, and the like.
We are survivors; we have stared in the face of depression and suicide and chosen life. That choice is enabled by our faith, by the support of family, and friends, and by the community of others walking this way, helping each other over the hard places.
Mental disorders—clinical depression in my case—teaches us many things, and if I may, I would like to share several of my lessons.
• I am not perfect. I do not have to be perfect. The quest for perfection and my desire to impose my view of perfection on myself and others is counter-productive.
• Approval addiction is a dangerous, real narcotic. Over the years leading to my collapse, I became so starved for approval that I often manipulated people to gain their compliments and approval. I learned that I am worthy just because I am—created in the image of God.
• Adrenaline addiction is another dangerous addiction. Adrenaline addiction often forced me to live on raw energy derived solely from body chemistry not from health or ability.
• Emotional energy is not infinite. I have learned to choose wisely how and in whom to invest my finite emotional energy.
• Self-love is not evil. Before I became stable, I did not even like myself, nor did I understand how anyone else could actually love me. Self-love is not self-absorption or narcissism. It is an honest, full, free acceptance of who and what I am.
• Guarding my mind and heart is necessary for mindful well-being. That sense of well-being—that I had “grown whole in the world, at peace and in place”—was so long absent that I forgot what it was. Mindful well-being is the sense of wholeness and health as a constant companion.
• God accepts me as I am for who I am. Though his transforming work is ongoing, he is the one who made me and knows me like no other.
• Investing in family and friends has enduring value. Nurturing primary relationships is a way to have support throughout life and especially in times of difficulty.
• Clinical depression is not a death-sentence. Medications, talk therapy, and spiritual nurture allow me to live a mentally healthy life.
• Endeavoring to please others all the time is deadly. I cannot please everybody all the time. If I try to do this, I will please nobody any of the time—and I will make myself sick. I must strive to do my best in all situations, and allow the results to speak for themselves.
• When others are upset with me, I do not have to feel guilty. Yes, I do things that are thoughtless, and maybe even stupid. At times people are not pleased with me. But, their displeasure has nothing to do with me, but more to do with them.
The learning never ends. Certainly, I have learned other lessons along the way, but these form a foundation which I hope helps others.