Five Things I Have Learned After Living With Depression For Ten Years

candleinthedarknessTen years ago, on Good Friday in 2006, my life took a profound turn for the worse and for the better. I was on partial disability for clinical depression, and I was barely hanging on. Trying to “do” disability, be a pastor, and a father to two girls and a newborn only weeks old, it was all getting the best of me. I was barely holding on, only I didn’t know it at the time.

When I got back from my morning constitutional (nine holes of golf), I received a phone call from my insurance company. They told me matter-of-factly that they had determined I was no longer ill, and that my disability had been canceled/revoked as of two weeks previous. I hung up the phone. It was the last straw, the end. I could not hold all of this together anymore. I was (so my disease was telling me) not worth anything to anyone, and it was time to give up. I resolved to end my life.

Well, after church, of course. I was a pastor, after all.

So the day continued. I didn’t tell my wife anything. She was quite used to me wandering around the house as a zombie. By that time it would have been strange if I did anything else.

I went to our noon service, a joint Good Friday Tre Ore that we held with our sister congregation in town. I was preaching. Right before we went in I told my pastor (my colleague and friend), that I was going to kill myself after the service. It probably didn’t come out sounding that dramatic. I have no idea what I actually said, anymore than I have any idea what I said in the sermon. But I will say that it is a, well, unique experience to preaching on the death of God for the salvation of the world while you are planning your own death.

But I didn’t die.

My pastor wouldn’t let me out of his sight after the service. We eventually went to Panera and stared at each other over a cup of coffee for an hour or two (six? Half an hour? I have no idea). Eventually I came out of the fog enough to call my counselor. Somehow we/they developed a plan to get through the weekend, appeal the determination of the insurance company, get me to someone’s home where I could stay without responsibilities for some weeks, and slowly, slowly, rebuild my life.

Now, I’ve written about this many times. You can find some of them HERE, HERE, and HERE, for example. But after ten years, it strikes me that it might be useful to highlight a few things I’ve learned after ten years of a life that was saved:

First, my story is not unusual. While it may seem strange or unusual because I’m a pastor, there are many, many people with stories much like mine. Sometimes they are darker, sometimes brighter, but in almost every case there are commonalities. A sickness that no one fully understands. A low point that no one could see coming. Friends and family, or even a stranger stepping in so that life may go on. At the time it felt like no one could possibly understand what I was going through. Today I am more amazed that someone doesn’t understand, at least a little bit. We all have darkness in our lives. It is either our own darkness or someone else’s. But it is there. I have come to recognize that as a part of our common humanity.

Second, one can never be too grateful for the people around you. Family, friends, pastors, doctors, counselors, all of these and more are God’s instruments to bring you life, to hold you together, and to give you a glimpse into God’s mercy when the darkness surrounds you. The kindness that has been shown to me and to my family just never seems to end, and I am constantly amazed at the people that God continues to place into our lives so that we might be cared for and loved.

Third, recognizing our common humanity can serve as the beginning of healing. C.S. Lewis once wrote, “Friendship … is born at the moment when one man says to another “What! You too? I thought that no one but myself . . .” (The Four Loves). If this is true of friendship, how much more is this true of our weaknesses, our diseases, and our need for mercy! Speaking with others who suffer, giving them permission to say “this stinks!” (or something more colorful), it is a liberating thing. While it is sometimes hard, very often I benefit more from the conversations that those who have reached out. We are never alone.

Fourth, healing never really stops. The last years have had plenty of ups and downs, health wise. I’ve tried going off medication (not a good idea for me). I’ve tried and transitioned through different counselors, and doctors, and even pastors. Each of these have held their challenge, but they have all pointed to the simple fact that while life is fragile, things do change. And that is okay.

eucharist.jpgFinally, it is the Lord’s Supper that continues to give life. I know, the pastor had to get one “pastor” answer in to this. But it is true. No matter how I feel, Christ is present delivering His gives to me. My mood or health don’t keep Him away. My confusion or hurt doesn’t deter Him. He gives Himself in the Eucharist, and in doing so, is with me to the very end of the age (Matthew 28:20). That rock, that certainty beyond all doubt, is what sustains me when everything else seems to go dark.

If you are suffering with depression, bipolar disorder, or the myriad over other mental illnesses that seem to afflict us day by day, know this: you are not alone. Christ has suffered for us, and we in turn suffer with each other.

“My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” (Psalms 73:26 ESV)

Pastor Todd Peperkorn

Things That Time Cannot Mend, But Jesus Can

“How do you pick up the threads of an old life? How do you go on, when in your heart, you begin to understand, there is no going back? There are some things that time cannot mend. Some hurts that go too deep…that have taken hold.” ― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King

“He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”” (Revelation 21:4 ESV)

It is these two realities that I struggle with today. Today is the ninth anniversary of the death of my mother, Susan Peperkorn (nee Troy). There is nothing really new or different about this year. We are in California now, enjoying the gifts that God has given to us at this stage in our lives. My children are happy. My wife is, as usual, moving about three times faster than I am. It is sunny outside and warm. I have a wonderful, supportive congregation and staff. But I cannot get the feeling of stuckness out of my head, the overwhelming blanket of death which infects us all to one degree or another.

In the quotation from Tolkien above, Frodo is remembering the knife wound from the witch-king at Weathertop. It was an evil blade, and the would bothered him all the days of his life. Even though he was physically healed, the wound would remind him evert year that he was not whole, that in his journey there had been loss, and that time does not heal all wounds.

This is how it is for me and death. I feel sometimes that I could go from anniversary to anniversary. From death to death to death, and that Satan would drag me down until there is nothing left. Mom, Bruce, Nadia, Emmanuel, Grandpaw & Grandma,Uncle Bill, Grandma Ardis, Grandpa Wilbur. I can remember them all and more. And this does not include all those whom I have buried over the decades as a pastor. Signe and Margaret. Blackey and Ed. Anastasia and Gabriel. Sometimes it seems as though life is one big funeral, and that we simply go from one to the next without any break or even time to recover.

Time does not heal all wounds, but Jesus does. I do not mean this in a pious, syrupy way. What I mean is that Jesus heals all wounds in His resurrection. While we were yet sinners, Christ died for the ungodly. And in HIs death, all of our loved ones near and far were covered. They were covered with His blood, so that now as they arise in the waters of Baptism, their earthly deaths will have an end.

Only Jesus can heal the wounds of a broken soul. Only Jesus can heal the wounds of death which envelop us all. This side of the grave there are wounds that can never fully heal. But this side of the grave is not the end. Jesus breaks the bonds of death itself, so that there will come a time when there are no more tears, no more sorrow, no more morning. Indeed, there comes a time when death itself will be no more.

I, for one, cannot wait. My sadness will pass. The darkness will give rise to the dawn. I rest in Christ, just as all those who died in the faith rest in Him even now.

Be near me, Lord Jesus, I ask Thee to stay
Close by me forever, and love me, I pray;
Bless all the dear children in Thy tender care,
And take us to Heaven to live with Thee there.

On the Reason for Curmudgeonness

[Originally posted on Lutheran Logomaniac]

Curmudgeon

I often wonder why I get so, uh, curmudgeonly during Christmas time. It is one of the two highest feast days of the Christian Church. The music and Scripture readings for the season are sublime. In every measurable way, it is a time of great joy and happiness. Family gather together. There is festiveness in the air. All in all, it is a good time.

But then I remember.

Nadia. Emmanuel. Mom. The many people whom I have buried over the years who are no longer with their families. The families who now are at a loss of what to do because of this emptiness.

To quote the hymn, “In the midst of earthly life, death has us surrounded.” Or to quote St. Paul, “the wages of sin is death.” Death has a way of messing up and just bringing down everything around us. Some years or season are greater reminders than this of others, but the sad reality is always there, always present, always trying so very hard to draw us into the pit of self-pity and despair.

That is why I get curmudgeonly.

But that is also why I don’t stay curmudgeonly.

Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners, to defeat death by taking it into Himself, and to wipe away the tears of grief which wet our faces year after year.

One hymn, perhaps more than any other for me, encapsulates this reality. I hope it brings you joy this season.

Oh, rejoice, ye Christians, loudly,
For your joy hath now begun;
Wondrous things our God hath done.
Tell abroad His goodness proudly,
Who our race hath honored thus
That He deigns to dwell with us.

Refrain

Joy, O joy, beyond all gladness,
Christ hath done away with sadness!
Hence, all sorrow and repining,
For the Son of Grace is shining!

See, my soul, thy Savior chooses
Weakness here and poverty,
In such love He comes to thee
Nor the hardest couch refuses;
All He suffers for thy good,
To redeem thee by His blood.

Refrain

Lord, how shall I thank Thee rightly?
I acknowledge that from Thee
Every blessing flows to me..
Let me not forget it lightly
But to Thee through all things cleave
So shall heart and mind receive:

Refrain

Jesus, guard and guide Thy members,
Fill Thy brethren with Thy grace,
Hear their prayers in every place.
Quicken now life’s faintest embers,
Grant all Christians, far and near,
Holy peace, a glad new Year!

Refrain

God’s richest peace to you this season. Merry Christmas in Jesus’ Name.

Pastor Todd Peperkorn

Seven Years

Seven years ago today I was ready to take my life. I’ve written about it many times (HERE, and HERE are the most recent).

I’m in a pretty good place, from a mental health point of view.  I have an excellent counselor, my medication seems to be pretty stable, and I have a loving and supportive family and church.  I haven’t found a father confessor that’s less than 100 miles from me yet, but otherwise I feel like all of the various pieces are as in place as they are likely to get.  For this I am very thankful.  

What always strikes me, as this day comes around, is how many there are who suffer with depression, despair, bipolar disorder, and so many other diseases and maladies both physical, emotional and spiritual.  Just yesterday I was contacted by three different people about their trials with mental illness.  I had only met one of them beforehand.  Sadly, these sorts of days are not that uncommon.

Our Lord’s death for our salvation was nearly 2000 years ago, and the world continues to be remade by His death and resurrection.  But it is still a sorry, broken world.  More than anything else, we need to hear and receive the healing balm of the Gospel, and we must continue to learn how to give of ourselves to one another.  I speak to myself as much as to my readers.

Know again, friends, that Christ is here for you.  He suffers for you, dies for you, and rises for you.  Rejoice in His salvation, no matter how dark the road may be.  You are never alone.

-DMR

(a.k.a. Pastor Todd Peperkorn)

 

The Forgotten Emmanuel

[originally posted on LutheranLogomaniac.com]

December 21st is the anniversary of when Kathryn and I lost our son, Emmanuel. It was 2009. And, of course, right before Christmas. Who has time to grieve when there is so much stuff to do?

While the death of Nadia always makes me wish others would remember such days, Emmanuel’s death always reminds me how quickly I myself can forget. Some grief we bury. Some pain is too close, too much to bear at the time.

For pastors, of course, the Christmas season is always a busy time of year. Sermons, bulletins, calls, Christmas programs, caroling, there are always a thousand things to pull us away from our Lord, and from anything else. Pastors don’t have a monopology on this time, either. Mothers, it seems to me, are always full of things that need doing. And holidays or Christmas breaks and the like, well, they may actually be more work for mom, not less. But the list could go on.

How do we allow the business of our lives to interfere from what the point of our lives is in the first place? I forget what is important. I forget even big things, like life and death. I get distracted or I distract myself. I run and hide. I flee from such all encompasing realities.

How many of us hide ourselves from our pain? How many walk around, hurting and wounded, in fear of being found out? How many flee at the thought of being weak?

I think that is why a name like Emmanuel is such an important one for Christians. God is with us. There is no “if” behind the name. God is with us IF we behave. God is with us IF we are good. God is with us UNTIL we die. No. It is a statement of fact. God is with us. Period. The words from Exodus come to mind:

“During those many days the king of Egypt died, and the people of Israel groaned because of their slavery and cried out for help. Their cry for rescue from slavery came up to God. And God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob. God saw the people of Israel—and God knew.” (Exodus 2:23–25 ESV)

God heard. God remembered. God saw. God knew.

That is the God of the Bible. That is the God who comforts me, even in the face of my forgetfulness and death. That is the God who would come as a little child.

-Pastor Todd Peperkorn

 

Nativity Giorgione 1507

A Lutheran View of Depression