2016-7_LT-Depression

If you met me in high school and college you would see someone that had it all together. You would see someone actively involved in youth group, someone that did well in school, and a person that was well loved by friends and family.

What you wouldn’t see is a person that sat up at night writing journals about how worthless he was. You wouldn’t see someone that stopped looking at himself in the mirror because he only saw failure. You wouldn’t see a person that frequently went through a list of people that would be better off without him. You wouldn’t see someone that was quietly breaking down while smiling wide.

It is possible to be alone in a room full of people.

It is possible to be seen but not heard.

It is possible to fake happiness.

I lived a life without really living at all.

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I struggle with depression. A lot of people don’t know that about me – for a long time I was embarrassed by it. It was hard to tell my parents and friends, and honestly, I didn’t tell anyone for a long time. I felt weak even admitting it to myself.

I questioned my feelings:

“If you were stronger, you wouldn’t be here. Can’t you just pull yourself out of this alone?”

“Maybe you just aren’t cut out for the work you are doing or for school. It has already broken you.”

“You just aren’t good enough – if anyone finds out about this, they will think you are weird and not want to be around you.”

When I did speak to some people about depression I was met with a mixed response. Well-meaning people said some non-productive things. One friend, who is a faithful Christian, told me that, “It’s a spiritual problem and you didn’t need a diagnosis.” I felt even weaker, “He’s right,” I thought, “If I had a better prayer life and closer relationship with God, I wouldn’t feel the way that I do.”

Those feelings caused me to stay quiet. They caused me to keep the smile going on the outside while I quietly broke down inside. It wasn’t until I had a conversation with a priest about my struggles that I came to an important realization:

I am not depression. I am the son of the King. Even in darkness, He carries me.

I am not defined by my frailty. And neither are you.

I served as a parish youth minister for several years and during that time I sadly buried teenagers that struggled with mental illness and eventually took their own lives. Those funerals were brutal and heart-wrenching. Many family and friends repeated the same thing, “I just never knew they were struggling.”

I felt so much pain for those family and friends. I have seen the depths of suffering that losing a loved one to suicide causes. I’ve walked with many people through that agony.

Some of you that are reading this may be struggling with similar feelings. You may be feeling broken, tired, and sad more often than not. You may be even contemplating suicide because you feel that things cannot possibly get better. At some of my lowest points I allowed myself to engage in those thoughts.

Maybe you are the one that fakes that smile around your friends while your world crumbles.

Maybe you struggle to look in the mirror every day because you feel worthless.

Maybe the last time you tried to talk to someone you felt like that person shut you out or ignored you.

But I want you to know that it doesn’t need to be that way. You don’t need to be defined by depression and you don’t need to wrestle with it alone. If you are hurting, talk to someone. If you are contemplating suicide, there are numerous resources for you to utilize. Your life is something beautiful and worthy – even when we cannot see it. Talk to your parents about it. If you feel like they might shut you out, talk to another adult you trust. Visit your school counselor. Let your words liberate you.

There are a lot of us that wrestle with these feelings and we wrestle silently. We wrestle silently because we are afraid to talk to a therapist or we are afraid to be considered weak. We don’t want people to look at us differently or to think that suddenly we are going to go crazy.

Our silence solves nothing. You and I were not made to suffer quietly, waking up every morning to put on a mask so we can hide from the people around us. You and I were made to have abundant life with all that life brings. Jesus made you for more.

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It cannot be said enough: If you struggle with depression, anxiety, or thoughts of self-harm or suicide, talk to an adult you can trust. Speak with your youth minister, your parents, or your parish priest. They can help steer you in the right directions. It may involve counseling and that’s okay. It may involve some lifestyle changes and that is okay. Jesus walks with us through all of that. Even in our darkest moments, Christ is there, calling us out of silence and into life.

You deserve that. Never let anyone tell you any differently. You were made for life.

Here are some resources for you or those you love who may be struggling with depression and thoughts of suicide:

About the Author

Joel Stepanek

I spent most of my 8th grade year in detention because there wasn’t a dare I wouldn’t accept. But in high school, my youth minister dared me to follow Christ and I haven’t looked back. I love all things Wisconsin, especially the Green Bay Packers. I can probably eat more cheese than you. (Please don’t dare me to prove it.) Follow me on Twitter and Instagram at @LT_Jstepanek.