Who would guess that a lifetime of sadness could offer gifts like grace and sensitivity?
A few months ago someone asked me if there was anything good about living with depression. I answered the question but I must admit that I was stumped by it.
What could possibly be good about living with depression or any other mental illness?
After all my mental illness has repeatedly pounded me into submission, driven me to my bed for days, and pushed me past the end of myself for thirty-nine years. I have struggled through the seemingly impossible task of finding a decent psychiatrist combined with the stressful experiential process of figuring out the correct medication regime, and cloudy thinking that is the hallmark of a mental health crisis. Then there is the stigma that continues to cloak many of my fellow mental illness road warriors with a shame that only impedes our healing. The pain of living with a mental illness sometimes exacts a toll that is too high to pay.
Viewed through this lens it would be reasonable to conclude that there is nothing good about living with depression or any other mental illness. However, if nothing else living with depression has taught me to look beyond what seems reasonable or logical to my unquiet mind.
Lessons from an unquiet mind
I am a believer and person of faith. As such I choose to view my mental illness through the Word of God. Now I know that I lost some of you when I mentioned God and the Bible. Before you stop reading, I implore you to consider the entirety of my post. I urge you to take what speaks to you and leave the rest.
While in the throes of a depression crisis I sometimes think about the Apostle Paul. You may not know that Paul was originally Saul of Tarsus a Pharisee and zealous enemy of Christianity. Saul of Tarsus became Paul after his Damascus Road conversion. Jesus then selected Paul to be a member of his crew. During his travels preaching the Gospel, Paul endured beatings, imprisonment, starvation, rejection, and poverty. Despite his suffering, Paul accomplished great things for the cause of Christ and played a crucial role in establishing the Christian church. Paul wrote at least seven Epistles, letters, in the New Testament including 2 Corinthians.
When we meet Paul in 2 Corinthians Chapter 12, he is talking about the “thorn in his flesh.” Paul does not explain what the thorn is. However, it is clear that the thorn is quite painful and on three occasions Paul begs God to remove it. Each time God refuses to remove the thorn and ultimately tells Paul “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.”
Paul finally accepts the reality that the thorn piercing his flesh serves as a constant reminder that God’s grace is sufficient, strong enough, to help him endure any pain that weakens him. The thorn also stops Paul from becoming conceited about all that he accomplished for the church.
So you may ask how Paul’s thorn explains what is good about living with a mental illness. Over the last thirty-nine years I have wanted to tear off my depression many, many times. But like Paul’s thorn I cannot remove it. Indeed my depression is part of who I am. It gives me a heightened awareness and sensitivity often found lacking in many people who do not have a mental illness. My depression forces me to be mindfully present and accountable to myself and others. It reminds me that notwithstanding my personal and professional accomplishments I am still an imperfect person in need of God’s grace. Most importantly it drives me to continuously tap into a grace that is sufficient to help me endure my mental illness. We can all access the grace that is sufficient. But we must be willing to continuously tap into it.