When Depression Feels Safe

It's possible to grow so accustomed to living in melancholia that it becomes a default countenance—a cave to retreat to when the pains of life feel too heavy to bear. While this reflex doesn't necessarily encumber all experiences of despondency, the solemn truth is that those who suffer from chronic sorrow run the risk of turning shadows into a refuge.

Before I continue, permit me a disclosure: I have nothing but sympathy for the plight of the melancholy. For nearly two decades I plodded through the Great Despond, into a diagnosis of Bipolar Disorder II, and out by the mercy of God. I labor to raise awareness about the compassion and grace required when caring for someone walking through deep, sometimes inexplicable sorrow. I do all God permits me to do in order to expose depression as a painful form of suffering that both secular and church culture have despicably stigmatized to the degree of social leprosy.  

Therefore, this very specific address to a very specific element of some experiences of depression is not presented here without first having laid a foundation of mercy and grace with my readers—a foundation which I’ve been laying for years.
You can hear a dirge for so long that it turns into the soundtrack of your life—not because there are no other songs to play, but because you refuse to listen to anything else.
So, while this article will not speak into everyone’s experience of depression, and I do not dare suggest that all forms of depression are elective, I'm confident some sufferers will be able to relate to what I'm writing about. They’ve sat in sackcloth and ashes more often than necessary because the position developed into a reflexive reaction to relational, circumstantial, or spiritual pain. A coping mechanism, of sorts. A misguided form of self-preservation. 

In essence, there are times when we grow so used to “being depressed” that it becomes a familiar hiding place to lick our wounds. This twisted logic informs the way we respond to life’s hardships and, over time, we become less and less willing to fight against it. In this way, depression feels "safe" because it’s predictable, constant, and commiserating.

Predictable, because we know what to expect from it, and so much of life itself feels overwhelmingly unpredictable.

Constant, because we know that darkness will always be “there” for us, while life itself feels irregular and unstable, most days.

Commiserating, because depression whole-heartedly agrees with the negative ticker-tape running constantly through our minds. 

You can hear a dirge for so long that it turns into the soundtrack of your life—not because there are no other songs to play, but because you refuse to listen to anything else.
The severe experiences of despair made me so weary, I began to give depression apathetic invitations instead of forceful evictions. 
A few years ago, I was convicted to confess depression as my default response to life's hardships. Some days I'd "walk in the light,” but as soon as my children caused difficulty, or I had an argument with my husband, or I faced some kind of disappointment, I retreated to the mournful darkness and permitted myself to sulk in despair.

I didn’t recognize the pattern until the Holy Spirit used a dear Christian brother to lovingly rebuke me. This brother had also laid a foundation of grace and mercy in his ministry to the melancholy. He, too, experienced debilitating sorrows over the course of his life, and would be the very first to admonish those who regarded God’s despondent ones in an unkind manner. He was a midnight traveler as well—one who knew the tremors of inexplicable darkness and often teetered on the brink of utter despair. This brother was Pastor Charles Spurgeon, and these are the words that roused my spirit one woeful morning: 
“Yet you, who have been at the foot of the Cross, are afraid that you will be cast away at the last! You have known the sweetness of Jesus’ love, yet you are cast down. He has kissed you with the kisses of His lips—His left hand has been under your head and His right hand has embraced you—yet you think He will leave you to sink, at last, in your trouble! You have been in His banqueting house and you have had such food as angels never tasted, yet you dream that you shall be cast into Hell! Shame on you! Pluck off those robes of mourning! Lay aside that sackcloth and those ashes! Snatch your harps down from the willows and let us together sing praises unto Him whose love, power, faithfulness, and goodness shall always be the same.”
Shame on me. Pluck off those robes of mourning, o my soul (Psalm 42:5)! My dear, oft-despondent friend from the 19th century was right. There were times I’d choose to affirm my depression instead of agreeing with God’s promises. On occasion, I would mistakenly count on depression’s predictability instead of calling to mind God’s proven faithfulness to revive me. In moments of weakness, I was tempted to treat my despondency as more reliable and constant than God’s unchanging character.

The severe experiences of despair made me so weary, I began to give depression apathetic invitations instead of forceful evictions.  

Recently, I witnessed the most beautiful sunrise. Pink and yellow and purple filled the sky. Yet behind my back, the skies were still gloomy and dark. In fact, if you didn’t know what time it was, you’d presume a storm was brewing in the distance. The contrast between colors in the very same spectrum of sky was breathtaking. I stood and considered the difference in perspective a turn of 180 degrees made to the scene. I looked one way, and my heart was filled with delight and praise! I looked the other way, and my heart wondered if relentless rains were coming.

Face the sun, and see that light is slowly conquering the dark. Face the gloomy horizon, and see that darkness is the only thing to behold.
Depression will never speak the promises of God—will never offer you a whiff of redemption.
Friend, I’m not saying “look on the bright side” of life. However, if any of what I have shared in this post resonates with you, pray that the Holy Spirit would invigorate your resolve to fight against the darkness. Do not lie down and let depression have its way with you over and over again. To the extent you have a choice, choose to lay aside that sackcloth and those ashes—choose to cast them toward the faithful morning Sun.

To the degree you can do something, do something. To the degree you can pluck off your robes of mourning, rend them faster than you’ve ever done before.

Remember the faithfulness of God—he has not left you to wallow in your sorrows permanently and without hope (Isaiah 42:16). Do not refuse the comforts of the cross! Has he not rescued you before (Isaiah 46:4)? Will he neglect to do so again (Psalm 91:14-15)? Does the same Spirit who raised Christ from the dead not also live in you (Romans 8:11)? Will the Spirit not also empower you to face the foe of darkness by faith (Psalm 51:12)? Have you not tasted and seen the Lord’s goodness before (Psalm 34:8)? Do you suppose you will never taste such a thing again (Psalm 27:13)?

Don't be fooled. Depression will never speak the promises of God—will never offer you a whiff of redemption. Spurgeon knew the power of calling out our depressed dispositions for what they can sometimes be: stuff and nonsense. The day I came to learn that a small part of my journey with depression was due to indifferent surrender, I began to push back: 
I don’t have to come here anymore. If I’m made to dwell in this place again, let me be kicking and screaming the whole way in. Christ died that I might have the power to choose, and to the degree this depression is prolonged by choice, I will resolve to choose it no more.
God doesn't rescue from the pit on occasion. Predictable is his faithfulness—He is for you (Romans 8:31)! Constant is his care—He is present with you (Isaiah 41:10)! Commiserating with you is Jesus Christ, the Man of Sorrows (Isaiah 53:3), who sits on high yet comes down close to hear your lament and to comfort you in your pain though his Spirit (John 14:16). Depression’s predictable, constant commiserating leads to death—yet with Christ, we are lifted to life, abundant and everlasting (John 5:24, John 10:10). This is the soul-satisfying safety we crave—and must reflexively retreat to—when walking through periods of despondency.

Lift your eyes, weary one. Turn and face the sunrise. Darkness may still loom in the sky, true enough, but it’s pleasant to see a new day dawning (Ecclesiastes 11:7).
Related Articles on Depression

4 Ways to Help a Depressed Mom

Surely somewhere in your close proximity, there’s a mother suffering from depression. As she attempts to beat back the darkness, you wonder how you can care for her. As featured at The Gospel Coalition.
Christine M. Chappell
Author • Writer • Podcast Host • Speaker
Christine is the author of Clean Home, Messy Heart and Help! My Teen is Depressed. She hosts IBCD's Hope + Help Podcast and is passionate about advocating for biblical one-another care and discipleship in the context of the local church. Her writing has been featured at Desiring God, The Gospel Coalition, Risen Motherhood, Servants of Grace, and other Christian platforms. Christine blogs regularly at christinemchappell.com and lives in South Carolina with her husband and three children.
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