Don’t Give Up: Even When You’re Depressed and Anxious Like Me

Note: This is the continuation of a series on the idea of not giving up in different scenarios. Previous posts include entries on work and relationships. The previous posts have not had a particular audience, it can be applied generally. But my heart is for the Church, for the body of Christ. So the next two posts will be aimed at a Christian audience.

This post dives into the subject of depression and anxiety, something I’ve written about countless times. Please read my other posts on this subject for more of my thoughts and experiences. Just search “depression” in the search bar and you’ll find them all. This piece gives a brief overview of my story.

I originally wrote this for submission to an online magazine but it was not picked up, so I share it here.

The biggest problem with mental illness in the Church is not that it exists, but that we don’t talk about it.

If we do talk about it, it’s a passing mention, with an emphasis on “read your Bible” and “pray.” Oh, I wish that were true.

I’ve had depression for at least six years, probably more. And it nearly killed my faith.

When we think about depression, we often don’t associate it with the word “Christian.” When we think of “Christian,” the list of words that come to mind don’t usually include “depressed.” In a way, “depressed” often can seem anti-Christian to people who don’t understand it.

Depression implies that someone is down or sad, that it’s a state of mind that is hard to get out of. And that seems to go against what it means to be a Christian. We’re saved, let’s be joyful! We’re forgiven, let’s celebrate! God loves us, let’s be excited! Those are things to get excited about. Those are things to celebrate and be joyful about. However, when you’re depressed, it’s hard to join in that crowd.

The majority of my time as someone who has depression was spent in college at Elon University. I was studying print journalism and participating in a campus ministry. The campus ministry was a good experience and had an emphasis on evangelism and spiritual disciplines, things that were good. However, evangelism and discipline are two of my biggest “weaknesses,” if you can call not being good at those a “weakness.”

Within the context of that ministry, it felt like a weakness. It felt like I was not “good enough” to be a part of the group because I wasn’t as passionate about sharing the Gospel with the lost. I wanted them to know Jesus, but I would rather spend time at the house I shared with a couple guys playing FIFA or doing my homework (I was a bit of an academic when I wanted to be) than building superficial relationships with guys just to try to convert them.

For wanting that, I felt like I was less. And because I felt like I was less, I got depressed. Struggles with sin also depressed me.

I talked about this general feeling of depression every now and then, but it was not a comfortable thing. The guys I talked with, as awesome as they were as brothers in Christ, just didn’t get it. And they seemed to be quite happy with their lives. “What was wrong with me?,” I wondered. “Why didn’t I have the same joy, the same drive?” I chalked it up to that I wasn’t good enough as a Christian, and I had to get better. Then I wouldn’t be depressed anymore and people would think I was an awesome Christian.

That was my driving force in life for a long time, and to today still is to a degree: being the best Christian there is. I wanted people to look at me and see my spiritual life and see perfection. That’s what I thought had to happen. See, everyone around me didn’t act like there was anything wrong with them. Prayer requests usually revolved around sick relatives, hard business presentations and that freshman they had been “pouring into,” hoping to get them saved. I felt like there was no place for me to share the mental anguish I went through on a nearly daily basis. No one talked about their personal struggles in their head, and I wasn’t bold enough yet to share it and start the conversation on my own.

Now I feel a little more comfortable talking about my personal experience with depression, at least online. But bringing it up in person with people is still a struggle. I have a few times in my small group, and it’s been fruitful each time.

The problem comes when we think that being a Christian means you don’t struggle with anything like mental illnesses. Being depressed and being a Christian is not a contradiction. It’s just like being a Christian and being born in the South or being a Christian and being a journalist (I’m both of those things) – it’s just part of who you are. The key difference between those things and depression is that you can be a Southerner and a journalist and that often doesn’t seriously affect how you live as a believer. Depression does.

But I’m writing this to all of you out there who are Christians and have depression: it’s not a losing battle. It’s not a battle that you have to fight alone. You don’t have to be joyful all the time to be a Christian. Being a Christian simply means Jesus saved you. There’s no other prerequisite for being called a son or daughter of God. Don’t let the conversation, or lack thereof, about depression in your church or your local group of Christians make you think you’re all alone.

I’m there with you. I don’t struggle as much anymore, mostly because I take medicine for it and I’m engaged to a beautiful young lady who knows everything about me and loves me anyways. Just like Jesus.

What I’ve found is that the answer to depression is the Gospel. It’s the truth that perfect love casts out fear (1 John 4:18), fear of being rejected by God for our feelings, fear of being not good enough for the Father. It’s that God loves us throughout our struggles. The Gospel doesn’t necessarily heal us from depression, but it will help and guide us through it.

So be open about it. Share your story. Don’t be afraid to take medicine. Don’t let people discourage you. Find someone who echoes the love of Christ to you and build a friendship with them. You’re not abnormal. You’re just like me.

Don’t give up. Please don’t give up. It’s not worth it.

Don’t ever give up.

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Don’t Give Up: A Series on Why You Shouldn’t Quit on Yourself

I’m someone who likes to give up. Always have been.

My mom has told me several times that when I was younger, I would start to build a block tower. If the tower collapsed, I would give up. Most kids would probably try again. But me? Nah, I’d quit. For whatever reason, I wouldn’t find it worth it to attempt building the tower again.

There have been many things in my life that I’ve quit that I didn’t need to: jobs, relationships, projects, studies, etc., all things that I could have completed, but because I didn’t “feel” like I could, I quit. Books to read, books to write, blog posts to write, many things I’ve ditched because I thought it wouldn’t be good enough.

Even this series I’m about to start.

It’s called “Don’t Give Up.” It’s all about why we quit, why we shouldn’t and how to see quitting in light of who we are as God’s creation.

This series is for believers and non-believers, unlike the majority of my work which ends up being for Christians. If you are a non-believer and you’re reading this series, welcome. I hope you find something beautiful here, something that will inspire you to keep going. And I sincerely hope you see the worth you have as one of God’s creation and choose to trust Him with your life.

It’s worth it.

I’ll share a lot of personal experiences, per usual with this blog, and some biblical truth while exploring several areas of life we like to quit on ourselves in and discussing why (most of the time) we shouldn’t. I want to share myself and my life as well as what Scripture might have to say. I kinda want to say I’m an expert on quitting because I’ve done it a lot. Sometimes it was a good thing to do, and sometimes it wasn’t.

But this thought of not giving up has been on my mind a lot recently. Perhaps it’s my personal struggles, perhaps it’s the prevalence of suicide in recent years among people my age and younger. There just seems to be a lot of giving up going on.

It doesn’t have to be that way. And I hope this series will encourage you to keep going.

Being ‘On Fire for God’ Isn’t Easy for Anxious and Depressed Christians Like Me.

Perhaps the most common response people with anxiety and depression get from others when they bring it up is this: “Just move on. Deal with it and move on.” There seems to be this expectation that, like most people, those dealing with mental disorders have some masterful ability to control their emotions.

This is far from true.

At this very moment, I am depressed. In the past 12 hours, I’ve experienced immense anxiety. And I can’t seem to push it away. I’m trying to deal with the emotions, the anxiety and the depression, but it doesn’t seem to leave. I’ve prayed, I’ve thought about biblical truth, I’ve listened to worship music. I’ve done everything I can think to do, and I’m still in this rut.

One of the most difficult questions that people like me – Christians who struggle with mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety – face is this: how do we relate to God when our emotions are so far out of order?

Far too often in the Church today, in modern Christian culture, we talk about the stirring of the emotions, of the affections, for God. We should be in awe of His power. We should be amazed by His grace. We should be joyfully overwhelmed by His love. We should be avoiding worry, stress, doubt. We should be “on fire” for God.

All these “should” statements sound great on the surface.

But these are all statements based in a controlling of the emotions and directing them in a certain place. For some of us, that’s not so easy.

There are many blog posts, articles and even books dedicated to how to pursue God when He “feels far away.” But what if He always feels far away? What if we feel so distant from Him every single day?

As someone who deals with anxiety and depression, I’m constantly battling my feelings. I have a tendency to feel sad or feel bad. How I often interpret this is an assumption that God is unhappy with me and I must do something good to feel better, which is a sign that God is happy with me. So often that’s how we all interpret our feelings.

An article on Christianity Today about not feeling close to God said this:

So, next time you don’t “feel” like a Christian, do a gut check. Go to God and ask, “Have I sinned against you?” (See Psalm 139:23-24.) If you determine your bad feelings are a result of sin, ask God to forgive you. And ask the Holy Spirit to help you go on walking with God.

And think about those times when you’re on fire for God. What are you doing during those times that gives you joy? You’re probably reading your Bible, spending time in prayer, hanging out with Christians, going to Bible studies, telling others about your faith.

These are the kinds of things you need to do regularly and consistently. As you do, I think you’ll experience fewer and fewer roller-coaster rides and that fire will burn stronger all the time.

For a Christian dealing with depression and anxiety on a regular basis, the rules are a little different. Studying the Bible and praying don’t necessarily help. Heck, when I’m depressed, I don’t want to do those things. All I want to do is stay in bed, play video games, watch Netflix, and waste away in a heap of self-pity.

It’d be so easy for someone to say to me: “Just push through.” So easy to say when you’re not in the midst of it. And most of the time that’s what I find myself doing because there are not many people who want to dive in and help those of us who are struggling with these things.

So how do I follow Jesus?

There is an emotional side to our faith, true. God can use our emotions to lead us to a place where we are in desperate need of Him or where we’re overjoyed at His provision in our lives. But nowhere in Scripture does it say we have ultimate control over our emotions. Nowhere does it say where we need to have our emotions always attuned properly. In several places, the New Testament instructs us to be “sober-minded,” which means to not be led by our emotions.

What the Bible does tell us to do is to bank on truth all the time. The Bible itself is truth and gives us plenty of pieces of truth to hold onto.

But for those of us with anxiety and depression, it’s a lifelong fight. One worth fighting. But it’s exhausting. It’s tiring. It’s overwhelming. It’s not simply as easy as read your Bible, pray a prayer, go to church. Some days are awful.

I wish I could end this with a happy ending, but not everything is happy.

God gives us grace and love all day, every day. This truth is beautiful and hope-giving.

But joy isn’t as easy to find. Especially when you don’t feel it. And I know joy isn’t necessarily a feeling. But it’s hard to have that attitude, especially when you don’t feel it.

Clinging to the Only Truth I Know Will Hold Me: A Poem

Note: A poem about the faithfulness of God’s Word for someone dealing with an anxiety disorder. I’ve had a rough weekend with my anxiety over the last couple days. When it’s high, it’s so hard to trust anything, even the Word of God. This poem is a reminder to you, but most importantly to me, of how much I need to hold onto that Word that will never leave me high and dry.


Can I explain to you the importance of God’s Word?

See, my mind wanders a lot.
It goes back and forth, forth and back
I’ve learned I can’t really trust myself,
because my anxiety makes my brain lack.

What does it lack, you ask?

Peace, assurance, confidence, trust.
Oh, I want these things. I beg for these things.
But it seems that God doesn’t hear.
Those things, it doesn’t seem He brings.

I’ve been mad before.

Oh I’ve been furious. Pissed. Ticked.
Wondered how a good God could leave me like this.
I can’t trust myself? Seriously?
It seems my thought life’s been given a death kiss.

So what can I do?

The one and only hope I have
is clinging to the Word that always gives back.
The Word that says I’m loved
and God’s patience with me will never crack.

What does that Word say to me?

It says He’ll never leave nor forsake
though my mind wanders and doubts that all day.
It says He’s on my side all the time,
even when I feel the furthest away.

It says His love is greater than sin.
All I must do is let it in.

It says His patience is unparalleled,
so my heart will always be held.

It says don’t lean on my understanding
but trust Him with all, a sure standing.

It says He’ll support the blameless and meek
every single stinkin’ day of the week.

It says He’ll make straight my path
and overcome my foolish mental math.

See, if we’re to believe Romans 8:39,
that nothing can separate us from God’s love,
I need to hold onto that promise
even though it seems there’s no help from above.

Because my mind lies to me.

And I hate that every day.

But with God’s Word on my side,

I’ll be able to say,

I’m forgiven and loved, no matter how I feel.
I can trust Him with all, even when it seems unreal.
He’ll catch me when I fall, and hear my appeal.
It’s the only truth I know will hold me; it’s set in steel.

Our Instabilities Aren’t Wasted. They’re Simply Magnifiers of God’s Greatness.

John 9 is an interesting chapter of Scripture. It’s dedicated solely to the story of a man born blind whom Jesus decides to heal. Verses 1-7:

As he passed by, he saw a man blind from birth. And his disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him. We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” Having said these things, he spit on the ground and made mud with the saliva. Then he anointed the man’s eyes with the mud and said to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). So he went and washed and came back seeing.

Let me key in on the bolded part because I think it’s quite revealing of God and His character and how He uses us.

One of the common evangelical statements is that God doesn’t need us, and it’s true. God has no need of man to accomplish His goals and display His power, but He chooses to show Himself through us, through changing our lives, through altering our futures, through working all things together for our good (Romans 8:28) whether we realize it or not.

You might say the man’s blindness was an “instability” to his life. It was something that made his life a little harder to deal with. I’m not blind, but picture for a minute that you are blind. Look around. All of the things that you see now, you wouldn’t be able to see. For example, I’m sitting in my office at work now and I can see my Bible, my phone, a photo on my desk, my water bottle, my laptop and a few other things. If I was blind, I couldn’t see any of those things. It would make life a little unstable.

Getting back to the blind man for a second…his blindness didn’t make him useless in Jesus’ eyes. He wasn’t disqualified from being part of God’s plan. He had been a beggar before (v. 8), he hadn’t been part of the community like everyone else. However, to Jesus, the blind man was a tool that God used to display His power. Jesus healed him, thereby showing the “works of God.”

It’s taken me a while, but I’m learning to see the instabilities in my life as an avenue for God to show His power in my life.

On this blog I frequently write about my anxiety and depression in my life, and I hope in the future to go into more detail about those things and how God has worked in my life. A couple weeks ago, I preached a sermon at my church on 2 Chronicles 14-16 and used it to talk about how our relationship with God can’t be based on feelings. Here’s an excerpt from the written part (I’m sure I said it somewhat differently):

I struggle daily with anxiety. Not just your normal stress about everyday things, but what’s been called a mental illness. An anxiety disorder akin to OCD. I’m also prone to depression. So prone, in fact, that I take medicine for it. Anxiety and depression affect the way I feel, the way I react to situations, the way I read things. I could go deeper into it, but I don’t have time here. Would love to talk to you about it on a separate occasion.

For a long time, my faith and my relationship with Jesus was based on how I felt. When you deal with anxiety and depression, you’re more prone to feel bad or worried about things. It’s a first instinct. I would live on those ups and downs of the emotionally spiritual life. I would wait for that next spiritual high. When I got to the latter years of high school, it became a daily thing where I would check how I felt about my relationship with God and that would be the barometer.

My foundation was my feelings. My foundation was not the beautiful Gospel truth in 2 Chronicles 16:9, that God is supporting me no matter how sinful I am, no matter how much I disregard Him, no matter how crappy I feel, simply because He calls me His and He loves me. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned more and more that Christianity is much more about thinking properly, and the basis for that proper thinking is returning to truth about God and what He’s already done in your life.

God didn’t let my instability go to waste. He used it to teach me the “beautiful Gospel truth in 2 Chronicles 16:9,” that “the eyes of the LORD run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to give strong support to those whose heart is blameless toward him.” Just like God used the man born blind to display Jesus’ power, God has used my anxiety and depression to display the greatness of His truth and His consistent support of me.

Nothing is wasted. God doesn’t waste your instabilities, things that might even drag you away from God at times. He may simply just be using them to remind you who He is, that He loves you and cares for you and is desperate to help you. He doesn’t need you, but He wants you. He is powerful and mighty, and, child of God, He’s on your side.

Don’t let your instabilities scare you. Simply let them lead you to trust in a God so bold, so powerful, so brash, that He’d hang out with and heal those born blind.

Prayer and Anxiety Are Like a Really Badly Mixed Drink

I hate silence.

Silence gets on my nerves. So if you see me at work or at home, there’s probably something being played, whether it’s a TV show episode or music or something that goes into my ears. Just about the only time there’s nothing played is when I’m in conversation with someone, and that’s because there’s noise being thrown in my direction.

The main reason silence gets on my nerves is resultant of my anxiety. Because I’m constantly on edge, I need noise to distract me from what’s going on in my head. If I stop to think, my brain kicks into overdrive and I start thinking about the millions of things that are going on in my life. OK, perhaps the “millions” is a bit of an exaggeration.

One of the major side-effects, I’ve learned, of dealing with anxiety is that prayer becomes a million times harder.

Sorry, exaggeration again.

Just now, I was sitting down and I was going to pray for a little bit and I got anxious about a couple things. I began asking questions of myself, thinking over and over about the pertinent questions I currently face. I couldn’t calm down my mind enough to pray.

To pray! To spend time talking to my Creator, my Lord and Savior! I couldn’t calm down enough to do that. The guilt is overbearing in those moments. I want to pray, but I don’t want to overthink. One of the easiest ways to combat anxiety is to just change the topic, do something different, but in this situation, I was going to pray.

If only prayer was as easy for everyone as it is for the dude in the picture at the top of this post.

So I end up avoiding prayer. It’s become a pattern over the last few weeks. I can’t just sit and concentrate on prayer alone. I can worship, I can read the Bible, but I need something going on in the background or else I can’t focus. I’m listening to music right now as I write this so I don’t get distracted.

I don’t know if this is a result of the society I live in where distractions are left and right. I don’t know if this is solely a result of my struggle with anxiety. Heck, it could be something entirely different. Living with anxiety means you rarely ever get to slow down, relax, enjoy what’s going on around you. It takes very special circumstances.

Perhaps I need to explore more options for those circumstances. Perhaps I need to be more intentional. Perhaps I’m being sinful. Perhaps I’m missing something.

I’m writing this really as a way to get all my thoughts out and, perhaps, help someone understand more about the spiritual implications of physical anxiety. Lots of people deal with anxiety and stress, but for some of us, it’s a chemical affliction that’s a daily part of our lives, not just something that comes every now and then when there’s a big decision. It affects your whole life, everything about you. And it can be quite damaging spiritually.

That’s where knowing the depth of the Gospel grace that Christ gives is so important in dealing with anxiety and depression. It’s so easy to just say, “Let go and let God,” but it’s not that simple. It takes work, effort and time.

All things Jesus gave so that it’s OK that I struggle to pray. It’s not the end of the world. God’s grace is much bigger than my anxiety.

Now let me try praying again.

TABOO: Don’t Talk About It! At Least Not For Too Long

Unfortunately, Christianity is often known for the things we are against rather than the things we are for. Whether it be alcohol or gay marriage or profanity or secular music, we picket and protest and write Facebook statuses and start Twitter wars and YouTube comment battles over every little thing that just might offend us. If the topic comes up, we make our strong stance and then we drive it home.

It’s stupid. Let’s just be honest here. It’s stupid. We spend so much time emphasizing things that, in the long run, don’t really matter all that much to us while ignoring things with which our own community are struggling and need desperate help. I think Jefferson Bethke puts it well in his book Jesus > Religion:

The biggest difference between religious people and gospel-loving people is that religious people see certain people as the enemies, when Jesus-followers see sin as the enemy.

Last time I checked, I was my own worst enemy. No one has caused me more grief, pain or heartache than I have. The Bible rarely tells me to fight against someone who doesn’t believe what I believe, but it frequently tells me to fight against my sin and the disease in me that’s drawing me away from Jesus. (p. 63)

I love that statement because it accurately captures one of the biggest problems with Christianity today. We miss the big things because we’re so focused on the little things! It’s the very picture of Jesus’ perceptive words in Matthew 7:3-5.

3 Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.

Today I want to bring up two things that we don’t talk about as much in church but should, or when we do talk about it we don’t talk about it the right way.

Sexual Addictions

When the topic of sexual sin comes up, we usually spend a lot of time condemning homosexuality. But I think the more prevalent topic here is sexual addictions.

Honestly, I don’t think homosexuality is as big a deal as the Christian culture makes it out to be. And why don’t we treat every sin like we treat homosexuality? We’d at least be consistent if we condemned malicious lying as much as we condemned homosexuals and homosexuality.

Sexual addiction is actually a bigger deal, much more than homosexuality, whether it’s same-sex or opposite-sex lust. It’s something that separates man from God and taints our view of sex in a nearly irreparable way most of the time.

The issue comes here: we take an “above-it-all” approach when it comes to handling these issues. We act like we’re better and we don’t deal with that, so we condemn freely and strongly. We throw Bible verses at them like arrows at a target, hoping and praying something hits the bullseye and changes everything.

Even worse, when it comes to homosexuality, we throw marches and go to meetings and write blog post upon blog post on why it’s harmful when there’s already been at least four million blog posts on the topic. We just won’t let it go!

However, when it comes to sexual addiction, particularly in the church, we butcher it by either not touching it at all or going about it all the wrong way. In his book Ashamed No More, pastor T.C. Ryan writes this:

A clergy friend shared with me an example of what not to do. His denominational office sent an official message to every ordained person regarding Internet pornography use by clergy members. The message reminded the pastors that any sexual deviance—including use of Internet porn—was a violation of their ordination vows. They were offered a short-term window of opportunity to come forward and admit their problem. The implication was that they wouldn’t be defrocked, but it was unclear if they’d be removed from their position. There was no mention of any help. Everyone using Internet porn and not coming forward during this opportunity was warned that they would eventually be found out and the discipline would be severe.

What a terrible abuse! How is this even helpful? No wonder people don’t want to talk about it. Instead of reaching out and helping the people who deal with these issues, we either get really harsh or really silent. And because of that, very few come forward willingly because they’re afraid of the response they’ll get.

Depression/Anxiety/Mental Illness

As readers of my blog will know, this topic is very personal to me because I deal with these things on a regular basis. I wrote a pretty long piece about it last week. By the way, I was blessed by the response I got from friends and family who shared messages of encouragement and love. Thank you all.

One thing I heard several times was that the post was refreshing because it seems like nobody talks about this. Well, that’s one of the reasons I wrote the post. When you deal with something like mental illness – depression, anxiety or anything like it – you feel alone, like you’re the only one suffering. I think back to my church experience and I can’t remember anyone in my local church context really tackling this. I read an excellent book by Perry Noble called Overwhelmed in which he actually talked in-depth about it from his personal experience, but for the most part it’s touched with kid gloves if it’s touched at all.

This is the absolute last way it needs to be handled. I’m not saying we need to overwhelm people who are already overwhelmed. We just need to be open to the conversation actually happening and be willing to not know all the answers.

I was talking with a friend recently who deals with similar things I shared in the post and they talked about how they shared it within a small group context. The people loved my friend through it and listened, but they didn’t really understand. They loved my friend in the group and shared words of encouragement with my friend, and sent e-mails later with Bible verses and more encouragement.

Hearing that, I loved the heart and the initiative of the people in my friend’s group. But they missed the point. And I don’t blame them for missing the point. The church’s normal tactic with mental issues is the “Bible verse bullseye” method I described earlier: throw Bible verses, hoping and praying that one will finally fix the issue. It’s often well-intentioned, but that’s not what those people need. Friends and family of those struggling with mental or emotional issues, please don’t use Bible verse bullseye!

So what do we do? How do we move forward?

I think the first thing we need to do is to be aware that we don’t handle these things well.

Then we need to talk about them. Honestly, openly, without judgement, without condemnation, without fear, without bias. As Jesus would.

On My Depression, My Anxiety and Following Jesus: It’s Not Really a Contradiction

One of the most devastating things that can happen to me is going to bed.

Don’t get me wrong: I love sleep. I love getting rested for the next day, whatever that day may bring. I love waking up refreshed. But if I go to my room, shut the door, turn off the lights and it get silent, I’m done for.

Why is that? Well, my mind starts to go nuts. I start calculating, thinking, analyzing whatever big thing it is that’s on my plate at the moment. It could be something to do with work, relationships, fighting sin, following Jesus. And this happens just about every night. I’ve gotten a lot better over the last year at controlling it and handling it, but there are still some nights where it’s a knock-down, drag-out fight with my own brain just to get to sleep.

I have anxiety, but more than the normal person. Or so I’m told. I look at other people and how they live their lives and how they seem to be so carefree and I’m thinking, “How the heck do you do that?” I’ve also dealt with bouts of severe depression, so much so that I’ve started taking anti-depressant medication.

But before I get any further, let me start at the beginning.

My Shy, Nervous Childhood

I don’t blame my parents for any of this. Just want to make sure that’s made clear.

Growing up, I was pretty shy. I’m not the kid who’s going to walk up to you in the park and say hello or tell you that your shoes are awesome. Now I think it’s adorable when kids do that, but I never thought that was a good idea when I was younger. I remember my parents taking me to events and introducing me to people, and I would shake hands as firm as I could, but I would mutter a “hello” or “nice to meet you” under my breath.

I think this is just a part of how I was made, part of my personality I can’t change. I still have moments like that today when I meet new people. Ask any of my friends who have introduced me to their friends; they’ll probably tell you that, except on the rarest of occasions, I don’t warm up to the idea of meeting or hanging out with new people.

O'Neal. And a dog.

O’Neal. And a dog.

When I was entering the fifth grade, I moved to a new school, The O’Neal School in Southern Pines, N.C. It’s a fantastic school where I basically prepared for college from the time I got there until the time I graduated. Nothing about college academically threw me off. But socially, O’Neal was a nightmare, particularly in middle school. My naturally shy personality led to me trying to do everything I possibly could to get people to think I was cool, girls to have a crush on me and not to get ignored. I got in two fights in fifth grade trying to “defend my honor.” I was really just being shy and insecure, trying to show off and get people thinking I was cool.

Case in point: I remember playing basketball at recess one day that year. A couple sixth graders were standing just off the court and were talking about me. “You see that kid?” one said, pointing at me. “He gets angry and wants to start fighting people.” (Side note: I don’t remember if those were the exact words, but something like those.) I heard him say that and started looking for an opportunity to get ticked at somebody. I found it, and shoved someone. Nothing really came of it, but it’s an exemplary story of where I was in fifth grade. I wanted people to know who I was, talk about me, etc.

As I progressed through middle school, my need to fight diminished but my need for attention and affirmation rose. I don’t think I was any different from any other sixth or seventh grader. I wanted girls (particularly the cute ones) to like me, guys to think I was cool and to get good grades. That last one is just one example of where my Christian upbringing had an interesting impact. I wanted to fit in and I wanted to be cool, but I didn’t want to do it at the expense of being a “good guy.” I’ve written before about my goody-two-shoesedness. I had to be the “best kid” in the whole school.

When it came to girls, it was especially complicated. I wanted to look at girls the “right way,” not going around comparing which one was the “hottest.” I also didn’t want to scare them away, which happened in the eighth grade. Long story short, I freaked one girl out, in her words. Not exactly my brightest shining moment.

So I left middle school and transitioned to high school trying to get people to like me, all the while not trying to freak out girls and be a “good Christian kid.” As if algebra and chemistry didn’t give me enough to worry about already.

My Lonely, Depressed High School Years

I went to high school and found myself resorting to a lot of the same patterns. I had legitimately become a believer during the summer before my ninth grade year, but little seemed to change. I still wanted people to like me, particularly girls, and I wanted to do the right thing. Those things often collided.

There were a couple weeks during my freshman year of high school when I cussed about every chance I could. Never at home, and almost never at church (I did under my breath once), but at school, I let it fly. One time in particular, I got ticked at someone on the basketball court (I’m seeing a pattern here), and let loose a string of expletives so prolific that led someone to tell me that I cussed pretty good. That gave me a sense of satisfaction, that someone saw something I did and recognized it as good.

Let me go ahead and throw something else in here: my parents and my home life were great. I have nothing to complain about there. The issues all came at school. The thing about being at school when you’re that age is that’s where you spend the majority of your time. From 8 am to 3 pm Monday through Friday, you’re surrounded by the same people, doing the same thing, in the same building(s), for four years. That’s at least 35 hours a week, minus the summers, for four whole years. Add in extra-curricular activities, and it’s more. You feel a need to prove yourself.

Things got a little better during my sophomore year. I got into filmmaking and made a short film that won me an award at my school’s small film festival (trailer here). There was some recognition from people and some friendships that were really blossoming. I had my first girlfriend the summer afterwards. Things seemed to be looking up.

Then: depression. For some reason, my junior year was the hardest year of my life up to that point. I had girlfriends during that time, things seemed to be, on the outside, going quite well. People liked me, I was getting along with girls. But something just turned in me. Looking back, I can’t seem to explain why. But at school, things were awful. I felt that no one at school liked me or cared about me. I didn’t think I had any friends. The people that I loved hanging out with the year before didn’t seem to be “caring enough” for me anymore. Again, I can’t explain it.

Me and some of the guys I graduated with.

Me and some of the guys I graduated with.

I would spend all my free periods and sometimes lunch periods sitting away from everyone else. When I started driving to school in the November of that year, I would take those periods in my car, watching episodes of The Office and just generally trying to stay away from people. I didn’t think people liked me, so I figured it would just be easier for me and them for me to stay away.

Let me remind you: I had no real logical basis for this. I had no empirical evidence that people hated me or didn’t want to hang out with me. I’m sure there were people who wouldn’t choose to hang out with me, but you get that everywhere. Anyways, I imagined all or most of it. My anxious desire for people to like me led me to take the slightest probability that someone didn’t want to talk to me and run with it, believing that that person didn’t care if I was alive or not.

During this time, there were occasional moments when I wrestled with thoughts of suicide. I never got serious about it, planned anything. There were just brief moments when I would consider it, consider what it would be like, then shake myself and realize that was not a good idea.

Life continued like that throughout my junior year. As senior year rolled in, things continued. The relationship I was in was not healthy, and that just complicated matters as I spent hours a day trying to figure out what to do. Deciding to go to Elon University didn’t take a lot out of me as most students’ college decisions do; I applied early decision and found out October 31st I was in.

I ended the relationship I was in during the January of my senior year and things started to look up. My depression began to fade as I made new friends, enjoyed life, had some fun. I made a short film that’s probably one of the most depressing short films about high school relationships ever if you understand it properly. But I had fun doing it. I went to my senior prom with a girl I had a crush on, but I think she was just being nice. But I didn’t take it too seriously. It was great!

I went into college with a little bit of anticipation, but mainly just looking forward to what was ahead, learning how to be a filmmaker, learning how to make movies that glorified God.

College Years of Anxious Depression

I went into college and things started off with a bang. The first night on my hall, a group of about 10 of us worked on putting together one of our new friend’s set of drawers, just hanging out, getting to know each other, having a laugh. I was ready to deal with some of the awkwardness of being around non-Christians a lot – I was one of a few Christians in my entire high school, my brother being one of the other ones – but didn’t exactly handle it well, coming across as quite self-righteous.

Once again, though, I fell into the trap of wanting to impress people and make them like me. But it was a different kind of trap. My anxiety revolved around wanting Christians to like me. I had grown in my faith to the point where it was involved in just about everything I did, and I realized that worrying about how non-Christians perceived me because of it was not helpful. But Christians was another story.

My dudes Eugene (left) and Ryan. Shout-out to Jerry, too.

My dudes Eugene (left) and Ryan. Shout-out to Jerry, too.

During my freshman year of college, the ministry I got involved with was super-loving, super-welcoming and I really enjoyed their company and their ministry. But the next year, I started hanging out with another ministry and, for whatever reason, all the old anxieties and depression came back up. I don’t blame the ministry for it. But being around new people and trying to make new friends brought up all the old feelings from fifth grade – the insecurity and the shyness I naturally carried just reared its ugly head again.

During my sophomore year, I was the RA on my hall, which started off wonderfully, but ended in a mess when a couple bad conversations and questionable decisions by me and others led to factions and divisions in a formerly tight-knit community. I felt solely responsible for the whole thing, and that took its toll.

Another thing I began to realize around this time is how sinful I was. And somehow I missed out on grace and the Gospel and how that applied to me every day. I knew the Gospel, believed the Gospel, but ignored the everyday affects of the Gospel in the life of a Christian. I struggled with sin daily and took it so hard. I became the opposite of the self-righteous person I was in middle and high school. I went from thinking “Oh look at me, I’m such an awesome Christian” to “Oh, don’t look at me, I’m the worst Christian in the world.” So now not only was I anxious about how people viewed me and grades in college, I also had to worry about my sin. “Had” is the operative word there; I didn’t absolutely “have” to worry about it, but it seemed like I did.

And, to be real with you all, I dealt with that until I graduated. Through overseas mission trips, multiple small groups, leading a weekly prayer meeting, living with other believers, I was anxious.

Really Examining the Depression

I haven’t really gotten much into the depression part of things, but it was mainly my anxiety that fed my depression. I would get anxious and overthink something, and then I would get sad about it.

Depression is awful. I can’t exactly put into words exactly what it is but here’s a shot: a condition where you fall very easily into a crippling sadness. The key word there is “crippling.” The Mayo Clinic staff define depression as “a mood disorder that causes a persistent feeling of sadness and loss of interest…it affects how you feel, think and behave and can lead to a variety or emotional and physical problems. You may have trouble doing normal day-to-day activities, and depression may make you feel as if life isn’t worth living.”

I’d say that’s pretty accurate for me. Sometimes the littlest things could set me off into a stretch of depression. It could be a stray word in conversation or a certain look someone gave me, or a life-altering event that threw my previous plans in a tizzy or a serious losing bout with sin and temptation. And it’s not something you can simply “snap out of,” or just quit.

It’s so easy, when you see someone who is at that very moment depressed, to just say, “try smiling” or “just push forward” or “let go and let God.”But it’s not that simple. It’s not that easy. If it were that easy, almost no one would still be dealing with depression. Most people don’t want to feel sad. But for some, it just comes. And it’s not something we can control.

One of the things that made me feel even more depressed was the thought that Christians shouldn’t struggle with depression. We’re supposed to be joyful and happy all the time, right? Was I really that rebellious that I felt sad at random times for seemingly no reason? Was I that bad a Christian? This led me to doubt my faith, doubt that I was really saved, doubt that I actually had a relationship with Jesus. There were a few times I begged God to save me again if necessary.

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That boy Trip Lee.

And for the most part, I held it inside. There were a couple times I did say something about the anxiety and depression, but I felt, for the most part, people didn’t know how to handle it. Christians didn’t know how to handle it. I remember one time being super honest and transparent about all the things I was dealing with, but the person just told me to change myself, do something different. I wanted to yell “It’s not that simple!,” but I didn’t have the guts to.

As I left college and moved back in with my parents, I began to confront this anxiety and depression head-on. I was tired of it affecting my work, my relationships with others and my relationship with God. There’s been some growing and some maturity, but I still struggle with it from time-to-time. As I said before, I’m taking anti-depressant medication to help with it, but there have been two things I’ve realized that have greatly helped me.

Grace and Sovereignty

The thing that I realized that has helped me with my depression is realizing the depth and the width and the power of God’s grace.

One of the most common forms my depression has taken is condemnation for past and present sins, sometimes future sins. I’ll look at myself and realize how much I suck, and then I get down. Sometimes I’ll think about how my present sins are going to affect my future and get depressed. There is no remedy for that greater than grace. Romans 8:1, which I’ve quoted at least 15 times on this blog as a whole, says there’s absolutely no condemnation for those in Christ. 1 John 4:10 says that love is defined by how God loves me, not by how I love Him.

That was so freeing to me! By the time I walked across the stage at Elon to receive my diploma, the majority of my depression came from my lack of obedience. I would sin in some way, and then I’d feel like crap. When I finally realized the depth of this, the width of the love which God has for me, it began to free me up to actually love myself and allow God’s love to guide me and fill me. I began to hold my sin against myself less and less. I began to believe the good things people said about me and actually be encouraged by others.

The thing that I realized that has helped me with my anxiety is realizing the depth and the width and the power of God’s sovereignty.

The majority of my anxiety has come from my fear of the unknown: what do they think about me, what will I do next, how do I handle this situation. I’ll feel helpless and unable to do anything right. Couple that with my fear of making the “wrong decision,” and it’s a deadly cocktail. There’s no remedy for that greater than God’s sovereignty. Romans 8:28, which I’ve quoted at least 7 times on this blog as a whole, says God works all things together for good those who love God and are called according to His purpose, so Christians.

This was so freeing to me! I can trust God with my unknowns and the decisions I make knowing that, whatever happens, EVERYTHING will work together for my good and God’s glory. And praise Him that it’s not my definition of my good, because that would turn out to be an absolutely dreadful definition. God’s timing is perfect, the cliché goes. It’s a cliché because it’s true. When I finally realized the meaning of this, it gave me so much more peace about decisions I’ll make, events happening around me. I began to be less and less anxious by default about things in my life, little decisions, big decisions, relationships, etc.

So the question is: am I healed from those things? No.

What? But you just said…

I know. I’m almost 100 percent convinced that these things will be things I carry to the grave with me. Thorns in the flesh, if you will. Rarely does an hour go by when I don’t spend at least two or three minutes collectively over-worrying about something I don’t need to worry about at all. It’s almost a constant thing for me, a constant analysis. I’m like those guys who comment on the NFL Draft Combine, but there’s a combine in my head almost all the time. I’ve gotten better at turning the volume down at times, but that doesn’t mean it’s totally off.

Why Do I Share This

As I’ve probably written before, “why” is my favorite question in all of language. You can learn so much about someone from getting them to answer the question why.

I share these things with you for a few reasons.

For those who struggle with anxiety and depression and are Christians: You’re not alone. We’re out here. And don’t feel guilty for struggling with these things. If you look at Scripture, you’ll find people who had anxiety and depression. Read Jeremiah. Read Job. Charles Spurgeon struggled heavily with depression during seasons of his ministry. Dealing with these things does not disqualify you from being loved by God or being used by God. If you ever want to talk about it, please reach out to me. I’d love to speak with you.

For those who don’t struggle: Please take the time to read articles like mine or this one or this one. Mental illness is often not handled well by the body of Christ, and most people who write about it come at it from a scientific or outsider’s point of view. The science part of it can be very helpful, true, but there’s nothing like getting down in the trenches. Speak with those who do struggle. Love them enough to let them share this struggle with you. This is a very personal issue that is hard for most people to share about. I don’t relish speaking about this for the most part. Please don’t judge. Be patient. Be understanding.

Me and two of my longest friends. And by that I mean longest time, not longest anything else.

Me and two of my longest friends. And by that I mean longest time, not longest anything else.

For those who are in ministry: I beg of you, come alongside those who deal with this and don’t just rush to saying, “You have to think this way or have this attitude,” and expect it to be fixed. The conclusions I came to about grace and sovereignty weren’t fix-alls. When I’m reminded of them, there’s relief and peace, but it doesn’t stay. It’s a thing I have to be constantly reminded of, either by myself or others. We don’t need ministers who treat depression and anxiety with kid gloves or a casting-off glance. It’s a fearful thing for some of us to be honest about it.

For those who struggle with anxiety and depression and are not Christians: I can’t tell you that following Jesus cures me. But I can tell you that following Jesus gives me reason to push forward and continue to live my life with a joy I can’t explain. Give Him a shot.

If anyone has questions or wants more thoughts from someone who’s been there, don’t hesitate to reach out to me at zacharyhornereu@gmail.com or tweet at me at @zacharyhorner.

I hope as you’ve read this that, if you’re a regular reader of my blog (which there might just be 5 or 6 of you), you’re getting a better understanding of where I’m coming from in most of what I write.

Love you guys.