Several members of the New Direction community face daily battles with depression and other forms of mental illness. The rejection, marginalization and isolation they often experience as LGBTQ+ Christians can exacerbate these realities. One of our hopes at New Direction this year is to talk more about mental illness and de-stigmatize it. Together, we can learn how to best support one another as we pursue mental health.
Mary, who participates in our Mississauga Gathering group, has agreed to let us share a blog post she wrote describing aspects of her journey with depression, and how it relates to her faith. We’re grateful for her vulnerable, honest, vivid writing, and for this glimpse into her experience.
Ashes to Ashes, Dust to Dust
by Mary Pepper
An excerpt from a journal entry of mine:
May 20, 2013
We all experience a bit of death each day. He leaves a bad taste in our mouth and an ache in our heart. These past few months I have tasted death more acutely than ever before. I have felt close to him – felt his hot sticky breath on my skin and his talons gripped around my neck. Depression is terrible. It is agony of the heart. How are we to live through all this pain? It is devastating and destructive.
Since my depression began, I haven’t written much about matters of faith or religion. That’s not to say matters of faith haven’t been on my mind; they’ve just been a bit too heavy for me to put into words. Living with depression has been an incredibly spiritual experience. For me, the pain and suffering of depression happens at soul-level.
Growing up in a Christian home and attending church regularly meant that words like sin, brokenness, evil, and death were familiar. Usually these words referred to the idea that the world isn’t as it should be. Depression has become a good real-life example of that concept. When I say depression has been a spiritual experience, I mostly mean that depression has taught me so much about death. Not just physical death, but spiritual death. The Bible teaches a lot about death – most religious traditions do. Whether or not you count yourself a religious or spiritual person, I’m betting you’ll recognize that the world has some terrible stuff in it and you wish that stuff would go away.
Isn’t it true that sometimes life just feels really heavy? For me, depression has meant that the heaviness of life is always apparent, often crushing me under its weight. Depression has meant a loss of ambition, vision, mission, desire, and passion. It’s kind of like having a constant existential crisis that has no cause, no solution, and no meaning. It’s maddening. Depression has meant that the future and the hope of possibility that it holds seem like silly fairy tales. Not only does the future often seem unattainable, it’s also completely undesirable to me. It’s scary and stressful and meaningless, because the only thing it promises is more pain. Depression steals the life right out of you. It makes everything good whither away and turn to ash. I can brush the ashes off but they fly up and form clouds around me, filling my mouth and lungs. I cough and spit them out, but I can still feel their grit between my teeth.
I f***ing hate depression. But it exists. It’s part of my life. I can’t deny the thin layer of ash that I’m covered in every time I wake up. One thing I love about God is that he doesn’t deny the ashes either.
“As a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him; for he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust.” Psalm 103:13-14, NIV
God knows about all the ash in the world, and he has compassion for us. “He remembers that we are dust.” I don’t know why God’s compassion doesn’t include taking away my depression right now, but I wish it did. You have NO IDEA how much I wish it did. I cling to a hope that says God’s compassion will ultimately end in the elimination of all my pain and sorrow. But right now it’s a hope as fine as ash. And sometimes that hope leaves a bad taste in my mouth too. Sometimes that hope feels like a curse – an obligation to keep on living when all I want to do is heap ashes on my head, weep, and give up.
But then there’s Jesus, sitting right there at the juxtaposition of life and death. Jesus knows that I’m made of dust and he knows that my life is full of ash. Jesus experienced death himself – felt it’s weight as he hung on the cross. But Jesus also promises redemption…sort of like the Phoenix who dies and is re-born from the ashes. Maybe life will come from my ashes too.