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

20 thoughts on “Five Things I Have Learned After Living With Depression For Ten Years”

  1. Your journey through the darkness has provided light for many. Your willingness to share your struggle and the story of your recovery have allowed countless pastors and church workers to seek helpful care and counsel without feeling shame or guilt.
    We in the Lutheran Church continue to give thanks to God for His tender care in bringing you through and beyond the bleak and hopeless days . He continues to sustain you and use you powerfully to preach and teach His word and to distribute His gifts faithfully, for which we are all grateful. Thanks be to God! A blessed Good Friday to you, my friend.

  2. I too suffered a deep depression. I attempted to take my life. I thank God that I’m still here. I was fortunate to have a good VA psychological. I was a teacher. I’m thankful for my pastor at the time who saw me through this.

  3. Dear friend, you will never know what your words did for me. My beloved husband struggled with depression for over ten years. He and I faced it (once I discovered he was ill) by ourselves. I could not get help other than 48 hour hold at the psych center only to have him sent home on mess that were wrong. Trying to get him into a psychiatrist took weeks as he got worse. He had loved and served God for many years and received no help from our church or friends. I only wish he could have read your words before he was driven to take his on life. But you have helped me as I strive to cope with his death. Thank you

    1. God’s peace be with you in your time of hardship and trial. I cannot imagine that kind of suffering. Know that you will be in my prayers, and that God knows your sorrows, and will heal them.

  4. Thank you for sharing this. I was brought here via a link on Twitter and am so glad I was. I plan to bookmark this to share with friends & with family who don’t understand what it might be like to go through depression.

  5. God?? Whatever that is…. Why the hell does it keep being dragged into the mess of depression? Yes… I believe in God…. That doesn’t mean I have to like our worship it. I think the world would be a much better place if it would just take a long hike. Heave-Ho! Not kidding. I fired it’s no-show ass years ago. When somebody tells me they’re ‘blessed’ (shudder) I send them a sympathy card. Send the baby killing disease maker straight back to hell where it belongs. Afterall, it created it. F@#$+&g bitch!

  6. Bravo for being brave and sharing this! Some people have only a short time and others must fight this battle of darkness all their life. May the Lord continue to sustain you in your trials!

  7. Thanks be to God that you are willing to share your experience because getting the true word out about depression and mental illness is so important for those who suffer with this disease. Your story is so encouraging. I have 4 family members who suffer with depression and various forms of mental illness. Your story provides hope for them and others. Thanks!

  8. I appreciate your story because I have found that no one in my family seem to have a clue about my suffering from bipolar disorder, mixed severe. I try to maintain my balance, but as soon as I slip, my thoughts go immediately to suicide. I don’t want to kill myself,but it takes all my strength not to do it. I’m not weak, I’m strong.

  9. While my former husband was serving his first parish, I was out for a walk and ran into one of his parishioners. She was telling with great sadness and embarrassment that she had just been diagnosed with depression and put on medication. When I told her that I was on medication as well and dealt with depression/anxiety on a daily basis, she was shocked. Her response: “But you hide it so well!”

    That was when I realized that maybe it was time to stop hiding it.

  10. I want to do it; I have a medical condition that makes me miserable, plus I have nothing to live for anyway. No job or insurance. I prayed for help, but none was given. Sometimes there really is no hope. I need for people to see that.

    1. Rob,
      I hope you are still with us at almost 2 months since you posted. You are not alone. Could you call a pastor or know someone who has a pastor? lcms.org lists our pastors and congregations. Anyone reading your comment can feel your pain. Anyone who has been depressed for more than a few months knows how difficult it is to see any way out! I would encourage you to read the Bible. Mark the passages about God’s love for you. Memorize them if you can. And reach out to others anyway you can. Do not give up. Again, look for a pastor. He can help you find help, too.
      I will be praying for you, Rob. Let us know.

      1. No pastor can help me sleep. Just like a person suffering chronic pain, I suffer from chronic fatigue and have every right to end my suffering.

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