Being depressed did not make me “an innocent in hell”

People suffering from clinical depression are often likened to an innocent in hell by medical professionals and their loved ones. It always stems from a well-meaning attempt to lift the depressed individual from the quicksand of self-loathing and self-beratement. You are not any of those things you say you are. You are not evil, you are not selfish. I know you. You are an amazing person and you are suffering due to no fault of your own. Basically, an innocent in hell.

I disagree. Yes, it was never my fault that I was depressed, but I am in many ways flawed, just as you are. I am not innocent, just as you’re not.

The only difference is that those who are depressed feel the weight of their flaws, and the flaws of others (though mostly their own), far more intensely than those who are not depressed.

While deep in depression, I mulled and mulled over how I hadn’t fulfilled my duties as a daughter, how I’d been too absent as an older sister, how I was too uncaring as a friend, how I was a terrible girlfriend, how I’d been irresponsible with the resources entrusted to me, how I’d wasted so many opportunities in my life, how I was terribly hypocritical as a Christian. All those things are true to a certain extent. It’s just that while depressed, I was so crushed under guilt and regret and I wasn’t able to be realistic or to move forward.

And as we all know, depression distorts our perception. The key word here is distort. Depression doesn’t just make stuff up out of thin air to torment you. Depression reaches into the recesses of your memories, pulling up real memories of real thoughts you’ve had, real things you’ve said, and real things you’ve done (or have not done, as the case may be). You become hyperaware of these things — your flaws, deficiencies, failures — and that’s all you can think of. You’re so aware, too aware, that these images eclipse any positives you might still remember. And yes, it later magnifies them, such that you come to think that the damage is so big that you can’t ever do anything to rectify things.

And then the self-fulfilling prophecy is set in motion. Believing I was an irrevocably depraved person, I started thinking and behaving like an irreparably depraved person. I would sometimes try to drag my then-boyfriend down into “hell” with me so I wouldn’t be so alone in my inescapable misery. I shudder at this confession, thinking about how I acted like the thief who “comes only to steal, kill, and destroy” (John 10:10).

Too often, though, we are told that “depression lies to you”. I cannot count the number of times I heard this while deep in the throes of depression. I have a big problem with this phrase. It creates in the mind of the depressed person an impossible dichotomy: either I am the horrible person I make myself out to be in my head, or I am completely innocent of all the things I am accusing myself of. It seemed like wishful thinking to believe the latter, and so I’d stubbornly cling to my own (distorted) assessment of myself. The fact of the matter is that I am neither of those things, and there exists that middle ground we are so afraid to tread: I may not be a good person, but I can change that. And I have to start somewhere. Will you help me?

Thanks to medication, counseling, prayer, spiritual direction, and the support of those who love me, I am now a lot better. But I choose to remember the things that were brought to the surface while I was deeply depressed. They are real and I am making use of the energy and optimism I now have to seek healing. In myself, I am hoping, by the grace of God, to overcome my flaws. And in my relationships with other people, I am seeking to love and serve better, with Christ as my guide. He, after all, is the great physician.

There is great temptation for those coming out of depression to frolic in “the land of the living”, leaving all the pain behind. I fell into this temptation as I recovered from my previous cycle of depression. I was too eager to see myself as a good person, and I swept all my failings back under the rug, where they’d been for so many years of my life. But I now believe that God allows us to go through suffering not just so we can appreciate its absence. Suffering can grow, refine, and even heal us. We just need to sift through the rubble to find those hidden treasures. St Faustina wrote: Suffering is a great grace; through suffering the soul becomes like the Saviour; in suffering love becomes crystallised; the greater the suffering, the purer the love.

I would encourage anyone, clinically depressed or not, to occasionally sit amidst the rubble and ask God what you ought to do with the mess around you. Mend those broken relationships. Forgive those you haven’t forgiven (including yourself). Ask for forgiveness from those you have wronged (intentionally or unintentionally). Overcome those self-indulgent habits. Pursue a vocation that, rather than helping you not to run away from the messiness of the world, allows you play a role in healing it. And be there for those who were there for you, as well as those who weren’t, because you now understand the darkness of suffering alone, and you understand the power of solidarity and grace.

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34 thoughts on “Being depressed did not make me “an innocent in hell””

  1. I love your insight! What we see is often neither “the truth” nor “a lie”, it is just out perception or our focus. In many ways, how we see things seems to be more determined by how we are looking than what is there. Eighteen years ago, my wife and I built our home. From the beginning, I knew in my minds eye that it was going to be beautiful when we were finished. Somehow, along the way, I got so involved with the details of the build that I lost sight of the big picture. We moved in and for the first three weeks, I was horribly miserable. Everywhere I looked, I saw problems, flaws, imperfections, issues. This year long labor of love was a total pile of shit! I was heart broken! On the Saturday of the third week, I woke up early and went down stairs. I sat down in the living room and looked around at this thing we had built, and for the first time, I saw it as a whole thing, not a collection of sticks and boards and shingles and switches and toilets and pipes and drywall. But a home. And it was stunning! More beautiful than I had ever imagined. Because it was real, and it was not perfect, and it was home.

    Thank you for allowing me to remember this!!

    Andy

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I think Paul struggled with depression. When I feel it coming on I run to these verses. My pain has a reason, to share his suffering so I can experience His resurrection power in my life.
    2 Corinthians 4:7 (HCSB) 7 Now we have this treasure in clay jars, so that this extraordinary power may be from God and not from us.

    2 Corinthians 4:8 (HCSB) 8 We are pressured in every way but not crushed; we are perplexed but not in despair;

    2 Corinthians 4:9 (HCSB) 9 we are persecuted but not abandoned; we are struck down but not destroyed.

    2 Corinthians 4:10 (HCSB) 10 We always carry the death of Jesus in our body, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body.

    Not to discount using the resources that are available or minimize others suffering. But speaking the truth to myself is key in my case.
    Faith is when I believe what he says instead of what I see or feel.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Took so long getting to my point I forgot it, sorry. I agree with you that speaking the truth is key to defeating depression. The truth is I am a depraved sinner. Once I recognize that, there is a real solution. But hiding from it or distorting it doesn’t allow me to deal with it. Good post!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. It’s like you read my heart. This is exactly how I feel about my depression: I am neither the negative things I focus on or the positive things. I am a mix, both good and bad, and my depression brought to light issues I need to work through.
    I have not had success with therapy because I am a people pleaser who tells the therapist what I think they want to hear. Now maybe this is an area to work on, so I should return to therapy. I’ll think about that.

    In the meantime, writing helps me view my past and sources of self hatred more forgivingly. It is my present therapy. Is it completely effective? Probably not, but it works for me now.

    Thank you for this post. It is a wonderful perspective on depression.

    Fondly,
    Elizabeth

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Elizabeth,

      Thank you for sharing. I am the exact opposite — I’m anything but a people pleaser in my therapy sessions, and that’s helped a lot. One valuable advice I heard, that I think would really help you too, is to go ahead and make the therapist’s job as difficult as possible. It’s their job and they know what they got themselves into, and they WANT to help us in our messiest state. Don’t turn it into your job to make sure they have a pleasant, enjoyable conversation with you — that’s not why they’re there!

      Karen

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  4. God thank you for putting this into words. When my loved ones try to depict me as some sort of martyr or “innocent in hell” as you put it, it actually makes me retreat more into my self loathing I’ve noticed, it would convince me that they don’t know the real me and I’m fooling everyone and I’m lying and blah blah blah. One of the things I’ve had to work on with my boyfriend, as you stated, was not pulling him down with me. And when I’m feeling better, I try to explain to him to take what I say with a grain of salt when I get so low, and I usually am able to warn him when I feel myself slipping. Thank you a lot for writing this, it’s really helpful to hear this all articulated so well.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much for this comment! You’re absolutely right, that’s something I forgot to include in my post — this approach also inadvertently pushes the depressed person further away, and makes them feel guilty for having portrayed a “fake” image the whole time.

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  5. Your imagery of distortion and magnification to describe depression reminded me of fun house mirrors. I never understood what was “fun” about deliberately fooling and deceiving ourselves by warping reality. Life can be challenging enough without adding to it this way.
    I join those who applaud your insight and pray that this will be something you can lean on if your vision ever starts to become distorted and blown out of proportion again. The truth sets us free! – Lois

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    1. Lois,

      A really insightful and wise comment as always! Thank you, and yes, that is definitely something I’m trying to work toward — to mine as much insight from my experiences as possible, so that I can turn back to my own writing (and to God, of course), should my world start spinning out of control again. Thank you for your support always!

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  6. Thank you for this post, I needed to read this today, it explains so well why I get frustrated when people say things, trying to make me into someone I never was.
    I love your blog posts, you are able to explain so well the things I am struggling with. Thank you for posting this

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  7. I am sure with the insights you have, and the help of a Lord and Saviour you know is always there for you, you will find it increasingly easier to stay out of depression. God bless you in your honest writing. It must help so many!! x

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  8. Reblogged this on Meghan Tells It and commented:
    Living with a mentally ill husband, I learned, “Don’t argue with Crazy.” Reality is in the eye of the beholder. When someone you love is faced with a reality that you don’t see, it’s ok to let them have that reality. Stop trying to talk the depressed person out of their sadness. Stop trying to talk the psychotic person out of their delusions. Just offer a hug and ask if they need a ride to their therapist’s office.

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    1. Thank you for reblogging, Meghan! I’m so glad you were able to find something in here worth sharing. Thank you, also, for sharing about the journey you share with your husband. That’s profound advice you’ve shared, and I tried to get my then-boyfriend to see that it was unproductive to try to get me to see a different reality. Instead, it would be a lot more helpful for him to help me live with this “reality” I was seeing. That said, I’d also add that there might be great value in helping a depressed loved one move away from seeing in black and white, and start seeing grays.

      Meghan, I’d also like to invite you to connect on Facebook. I recently created a page for my blog, specifically so our community can share experiences, ideas, and advice. Hope to see you there! 🙂

      http://www.facebook.com/karenwriteshere

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      1. I’ll always tell him when I disagree with his version of reality. I’ve seen so many people beat their heads against a wall in trying to convince him of their truth under the mistaken impression that they’ll be able to change his mind. In his case, he’s very decisive. He either believes you or he doesn’t. No amount of arguing will change it.

        I’ll happily check out your facebook page. Maybe facebook will even let me see some of your posts in my feed. 😉

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  9. Karen, I appreciate that your recent posts have been your personal accounts of what depression feels like. I admire your honesty and courage in sharing your experience. I feel encouraged that these accounts of one of the most difficult, dark times of your life consistently reflect how faithful the Lord has been in your life. Your stories exude strength, faith and resilience. Than you.

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  10. Wow, just wow. As a Christian counselor, I congratulate you on your perception and your courage as well as your very right choice to rely on God, who is the one who heals. We counselors, even though Christian, are fallible and can and do make mistakes. It sounds like some did not listen to you and truly follow what you were saying. Congrats on your choices and your emotional and spiritual recovery. May God continue to bless your walk with Him as you share your story with us.

    Thanks for visiting our blog http://www.christiancounselorpastor.wordpress.com and liking my latest post regarding giving thanks without ceasing no matter how hard your life gets. I look forward to your return visits and comments.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. You expressed so eloquently, so clearly what Depression is in a way I’ve not been able to for my family & friends. I’ve often used the expression “Darkness is the absence of light,” to describe where I’m at, which is true, I lose my light, sadly, it vanishes without a trace. Thankfully I’ve been properly diagnosed with Bipolar II and not “simply” Depression so I am treated with proper meds accordingly. Thanks be to God for I am now recovering my light ☺. Thank you for sharing your truth here with us. And many thanks for visiting my new blog. I’m grateful for it’s led me to you a campadre in recovery 💙 peace, love & light, jules

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Thank you for sharing your experience and learning with me!
    While I’ve never struggled with depression personally, I have been by the side of many close friends as they have. It is so helpful to hear an honest and open account of some of the thoughts and emotions that you go through on a regular basis, especially those that are exacerbated or misunderstood by people who are trying to help. I often feel confused and frustrated by my friends’ problems, because there’s only so much I can do. Your story has reminded me of the effect that what I say can have, and I am again reminded of he importance of God in dealing with depression. Only He can heal the soul, and it is refreshing and encouraging to see that you understand that 🙂

    -Kyle

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Amen! A beautiful post and a beautiful rainbow. Thank you for visiting me and supporting me. I’m sorry I didn’t stop by here sooner. My light has been shining ever since I asked God for help. I have bipolar I, but it seems to be so much better now. It’s not completely gone, but I now feel that I have the strength to deal with it.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. I love this post, both as a Christian and as someone with a history of anxiety and depression. If I could suggest another element that carries this principle into life in general: the best response to someone’s confession of sin is “in Christ, you are forgiven,” not “oh, don’t worry about that – it’s no big deal.” Whether someone’s suffering from clinical anxiety or run-of-the-mill conviction of sin, Grace is an answer to guilt that satisfies; advice to shrug it off only shows that the advice giver doesn’t really understand the situation.

    (That said, of course there are times when guilt is completely inappropriate – especially when the person feeling guilty has significant problems perceiving reality or is a child who doesn’t understand the connections between their actions in the world. In those cases God’s grace is still important, but in a different way.)

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