The Anonymous Pastor with the Anonymous Disease

I struggled mightly on whether to make this an anonymous blog or not. Friends and colleagues basically convinced me to make it anonymous. I generally don’t like anonymous comments and statements, because I don’t like the idea of hiding behind a “nome de plume” in order to say what needs to be said.

Upon further reflection, though, it actually makes sense for a blog dedicated to mental illness. Pastors with mental illness generally hide it. They hide it from their children, their parish, their friends, even their wife. (Wives, it should be noted, usually know anyway.) But perhaps most importantly, they hide it from themselves. I know. I’ve done it.

Why is that? Why do we hide such things from ourselves, refuse to recognize that things are not right, that our lives are sort of collapsing all around us? I know that for months, perhaps even years, I couldn’t see it creeping into my life. I would put on the “super-pastor face” (this will be a topic for another post), and would refuse to let anyone, even my own family, in on my pain and trials. Unconsciously, though, I started to let things slip. Things that I couldn’t handle, I simply stopped doing. Little things at first, but it got to be so that some of the bread and butter things that pastors do became impossible. Hospital calls, shut-ins, even writing sermons and more. I wouldn’t return people’s phone calls. I would hide from my own flock.

That is, of course, the nature of depression. It creeps in unsuspecting, unnoticed. It takes over, so that you don’t know it’s even done so.

But you can’t see it. And when you do finally see it (most never do), we are ashamed. Guilty. Unworthy of others company. What can’t I just force my way through this? Why can’t I turn back the clock, make myself the way I used to be? So we hide it from others, until there is nothing left inside.

I suppose that this may be true of many diseases and illnesses. But unlike a heart attack, it is much easier to deceive yourself (and sometimes others) that there is nothing really wrong.

So for the time being at least, this blog is anonymous. For those who suffer alone. For those whose names and trials are hidden from others. We are anonymous for the sake of the One whom we hid from (Isaiah 53), because he is the One who knows our every weakness, every suffering. We are anonymous, but none of us are ever alone.

6 thoughts on “The Anonymous Pastor with the Anonymous Disease”

  1. Thank you Pastor, I have suffered from depression, sometimes hopitalized, since a small child. When I was first diagnosed a well meaning, I am sure, preacher asked if I had any unconfessed sin.

    Understanding this disease has come a long way since then. However, it is good to remain anonymous if you can for many people still do not understand.

    May God grant you peace in your battles while serving Him.

  2. Thank you for putting this together. I am a Lutheran pastor who has been battling depression/anxiety off and on for several years now. It wasn’t until around January of 2003 that I finally gave up fighting and hiding and I approached my family and told them everything that was happening to me. I went and got help and now I am even opening up myself to the parish I serve. Quite suprisingly I have found that I am not alone and I have been able to find strength and give strength to those who are battling these same issues. Yet it didn’t help that when I broke the news to my parish that I was undergoing some serious mental health issues that some of the folks in the congregation stated “he’s not stable, and we just don’t know if we can trust him to be our shepherd….we need to find someone else” I was appauled by that response but in the same sense I was able to open the door even more so by trying to educate these people. Whats been brought out is out and now they know. Hiding gives comfort, and lets you decide the parameters of where your life is heading in some sense. Yet, it only makes things worse. My problem is that I have been on meds. and have had some terrible counseling done through some “other” Lutheran counseling services and have no comfort in either one. The drugs caused terrible dreams and other strange things to happen. The counselor was encouraging me to let go of things that were not bothering me and tried to encourage me to take bold steps in find out who you are and where you should be in life…I didn’t need a career counselor, I needed someone who was going to diagnose my depression. So, I am still in need of help, but frankly I don’t know where to turn. I am making an appointment this next week to meet with my general practicioner and then hopefully on to a Pyschologist. Any other advice? This is a wonderful venue to flesh things out and I thank you for taking the time to help address what is in my mind diseases that so many have yet, so many do not realize.

  3. I must echo the thanks given by the other responders. I too am a Pastor diagnosed with depression in college (thankfully (?) I knew the warning signs because my dad is diagnosed bipolar, along with his mom and siblings.) I’ve been on and off meds since then. Almost quit seminary during one bout. Most counseling was not very helpful until my last counselor, who made me face some hard questions.
    Your comments on the creeping nature of depression was especially helpful – it made me recognize the depression that was creeping back in to my life, hiding in plain sight. I’ve been letting more and more stuff go, struggling a lot lately with writing sermons and relying a lot on other online brothers’ works. Hopefully now that I have re-identified the beast, it will remain only a minor depression.

  4. I am most intrigued by unhingedsquare+’s comment that he was asked if there were any unconfession sins. It first of all intrigues me because very few people (Lutherans or otherwise) actually confess sins. We may seek to deal with them in a therapeutic sense, but not have them released by the power of Christ’s Holy Absolution.

    Secondly, though, is the obvious and familiar notion that mental illness has some sort of direct link to hidden sins. If someone broke their leg, would anyone be asking if it was a result of some sin they committed?

    Yet I expect that this view is strangely common amongst theological type people. In our attempts to spiritualize everything, we have actually removed God’s created order and the Fall into sin from the picture.

    In one very real sense one can say that depression or any kind of illness is the result of sin, as sickness and disease is a part of the Fall. However, that does not mean there is a one to one correlation.


  5. Thanks for your post. I am a senior pastor in a non-denominational church in the northeast. I am currently battling depression, and don’t feel like I can trust anyone to talk to about it. I’ve seen other pastors get labeled as unstable and pushed aside as soon as they reveal they struggle with any type of mental illness. My darkness is steadily growing – and I don’t think there is any bridge of return. Almost every temptation known has been thrown at me in the recent hours as the circling wolves of the enemy sense my weakened condition…

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