The death of Robin Williams this week has brought a ton of information about depression and suicide bubbling to the top of social networks and message boards and content aggregators. That’s probably a good thing. Much of the power that drives a person to that point and keeps one from asking for help is the feeling that one is alone, that no one understands. So it is good that people are at least talking about it. We might experience a brief moment of understanding and compassion before we revert to charges of selfishness or cowardice. (Too late? Oh, well.) However, there are still a thousand reasons I shouldn’t talk about my own experience of depression and suicidal thoughts this Sunday.
As a true example of selfishness, it can hurt me professionally. Even though ministers are more likely to suffer depression or consider suicide than most other people, it is not exactly a plus on a resume. Churches don’t want someone who might tank; they want a steady hand. Worse, it can erode a minister’s authority in the pulpit as well as in providing pastoral care. Many people don’t want a message of hope from someone who experiences such hopelessness. I am grateful for a church where I believe I can be honest about such things.
My bigger concern is that it becomes a sideshow. As a minister, my job is to inspire and educate others to faith, hope, and love, to care for them in times of struggle and celebrate with them in times of joy. The church exists for others, not for its leadership. In short, it’s not about me.
However, in spite of these concerns, I think it is the right thing to do. Part of the problem is that we don’t see people talking about these things from positions of leadership. Sure, the hoi polloi is plagued with depression. Their lives are terrible. Of course they are depressed. But those who have succeeded, the people in pulpits or in executive’s chairs or wearing the doctor’s white coat or the judge’s robe, they don’t feel these things. That is both why they are successful and the reward of success. Again, fortunately, the people at Church in the Cliff know that I certainly do not have it all together. They may not know how bad things have gotten at times, but they do know me and they love me, just as I love them. If there is a church that can handle this discussion, this is it.
I want to put a human face on the endless, well-intentioned lists and pithy quotes and even substantial articles that tell us “what depressed/suicidal people think/feel.” I read those and I recognize myself in some of it, but a lot of it is alien to me. Some of it is downright insulting. Such lists give the impression that there is a formula for this and there is a checklist for dealing with it: say this; don’t say that. If we can just generate the right cliché at the right moment, we can lick this thing! So I will try not to make any general statements or present myself as the exemplar of what depression looks like. I can only speak for myself, of my own experience.
My hope is that others will feel free to do the same. Perhaps in an honest conversation, we can get beyond the caricature and into a more nuanced and human picture of what depression looks like. Then, perhaps, we can find healing.
Please join us this Sunday, 11am at Kidd Springs Rec Center, as we talk about the depths of despair and the things that might pull us out. I know this is a heavy topic, but I promise there is a hopeful conclusion. After all, I’m still here.
Grace & Peace,