Depression happens when you acknowledge the difference between your ideal and real life. This is most often something that sneaks up on you rather than something triggered by a particular event. You’ll be going about your routine, sinking lower and lower, and then one day your spouse or a close friend says something along the lines of “I’m worried about you.” And you look around and all you see is black.
It can also happen as a direct result of a traumatic event though, especially if you have no history of depression to start with. Something major happens which suddenly stops letting you ignore what’s wrong (sometimes newly wrong) with life. Most often this involves, naturally enough, death. Death in the family, death of a friend – maybe even your imminent death. A serious, hard look at death in the world is enough to bring depression to just about anyone.
If not death, then serious loss of another kind. Loss of a job you worked for a long time. Divorce, yours or someone close to you’s. Destruction of your home, car or a large portion of your possessions. Sometimes even just the loss of one item of particular value, like a photo album or a prized collectible will do the trick.
It’s worth mentioning how self-centered depression is. A natural disaster, unless it directly affects you, will almost never cause depression. You may feel sad for the people involved in a distant sort of way, but the spiral rarely starts. You can draw a direct line between depression and suicide, which is one of the most selfish acts possible. I’m not trying to say that only selfish people get depressed, far from it. But depression has to do with your world and how you see it, without regard for other perspectives. (Which is also why other people can’t just “cheer you up” when you’re really depressed.)
I said it’s when you acknowledge the difference, and I think that’s important. No person is living their ideal life – no one would say that the world is completely perfect, though of course some people are closer than others. Being a “happy” person simply means that you’ve come to accept and/or ignore the gap between your ideal and real for a decent amount of the time. Talk to a happy person long enough about that gap and you’ll find that they push back, become less happy before your eyes, and may even flat out tell you that they don’t want to think about that anymore.
In order to set depression aside, most people address the gap in some manner. There are bad and better ways of doing this. The bad ways have to do with distraction – if you pretend the gap isn’t there for long enough, maybe you’ll stop seeing it altogether. Addictions often come out of this due to an overuse of whatever happens to distract you most. Alcohol, drugs and sex are the most obvious offenders maybe, but most people at least know theoretically that these are not the answer. The gaining and hoarding of money is a common one nowadays. Shopping, as evidenced by our nation’s growing credit card debt. Playing games. Watching movies. Becoming invested in a television program, such that you never miss it and find yourself really caring about what happens. Even a series of books can cause people to latch on, preferring the lives of the characters to their own.
This isn’t saying that any of the above things are bad, in and of themselves. Just that we use them to ignore the gap. They don’t last.
The better ways have more to do with trying to fix the gap. “Work to follow your dreams!” is a rallying cry for many people. We tell inspirational stories and then put our heads down and work, convinced that if we just keep going, we can bridge that gap at last. We work towards the ideal. Or we become more spiritual – we try to “bring ourselves above the world” and work to bring the ideal closer to us. We try to have a better life, or we lower our standards.
Sometimes we even try to fix the way we feel about the gap. This is where prescription drugs come into play. We can’t get out of the blackness ourselves, so we try to fix our brains. We can’t make ourselves happy so we pump chemical happiness in. The goal being that we can look at the gap, smile at it, and move on with our lives. Sometimes this kinda works, so long as you stay on the drugs. And sometime you end up as one of the warnings on the label, because you haven’t really solved the problem, just made yourself look away.
This would be a great point to say that Jesus spans the gap. I could even put one of those cool little doodles in here with a cross acting as a literal bridge. That’s probably the official Christian line for a lot of pastors, especially those who have never really been through depression themselves, or never acknowledged it.
But it isn’t true. Even if you are a Christian, you will never live your ideal life. And Jesus won’t necessarily make you all ok with that. Your ideal is a moving target, and you’ll never get there, and you’ll never be satisfied with the entire world. That’s the truth.
There is another way to deal with depression, though. And that’s a world shift. Depression is self-centered. It’s focused on how you think your life should be, or at least how it shouldn’t. Where Jesus does come in, truly, is here – He can shift your world view. Your circumstances may not change at all. Neither will your ideal necessarily change much. But if the center of your world is God, you can look at the gap and shrug your shoulders. If God’s ideal is what matters, and your life is fitting with His plan, then who cares if your reality is less than your ideal? And depression can actually be replaced by something crazy – peace. In the worst situations. And the longer you live like this, the more you start to experience something even crazier – joy.
If you’re a follower of Jesus, you’ve probably already proven this to yourself many times. I know for me, anytime I try to shift back to centering my life around me, the gap comes screaming into view and depression hits nearly instantly. But when I turn back to Him, I have peace that really does “pass all understanding”. Though the world has not changed.
This is why people who have given up everything to follow God can seem so happy, while people who seem to have everything can drive their life off the rails. Sometimes we try to sell people on faith by saying it’s the best life possible, and to a certain mindset that’s true. But it might be better to acknowledge what’s really happening here – faith in Yeshua leads to a God-centered life. It’s that shift that brings you to the idea that you have the best life possible – not that you achieve your ideal, but that you become part of God’s.