The Gift of Depression
Pain can sometimes be a blessing in disguise.
Imagine for a moment that you could not feel anything with your fingers. And then imagine you accidentally touched a hot stove. Your hand would be burned beyond repair before you realized your mistake.
Thus, our pain is often a warning sign that something bad is happening or that a problem needs to be fixed. We need our ability to feel pain in order to prevent worse things from happening and to highlight issues that need addressing. The ability to feel pain is a gift.
The same holds true for our painful emotions. Too often we confuse the symptom with the problem. Mental suffering is viewed as something that needs to be stopped at all costs. And I deeply empathize with that feeling. Suffering isn’t fun. Usually it’s unbearable. I was so motivated to stop that suffering in others that I became a psychologist.
But such a mentality often distracts from the central issue - why are you in pain to begin with? If we cannot slow down and ask these harder questions, we can sometimes chase a quick fix for months if not years without making real progress.
Or, if you’re a Christian, you may be tempted to draw the wrong conclusions about why you are depressed. Scripture has a lot to say about emotions, but most of it is indirect. That, and an unhealthy relationship with our emotions taught from the pulpit [too often feelings (something that God clearly experiences as well) are treated with suspicion if not outright contempt on Sunday mornings across Evangelical America] has left a generation of believers deeply confused about their depression and anxiety.
“Count it all joy” says James, and “Rejoice!” says Paul - and rightly so. But what happens when we pray, we fast, we practice our spiritual disciplines, we read our Bibles, and still we feel lifeless? Still we can’t stop worrying?....Is it because we don’t care? Is it because we don’t have enough faith? Is it because I have sinned in some way and this is my just reward?
Maybe that is true sometimes...but I am convinced the answer is usually “no.” Sometimes, anxiety and depression just happen (meaning there is no causal explanation - life is genuinely good and I have much to be thankful for), and sometimes they are symptoms of more underlying problems.
Restlessness, work-a-holicism, and a hyper controlling relationship with our life and ourselves (often all self-diagnosed as “anxiety” or “stress”) are often symptomatic of a story of trauma. And the same goes for depression as well. Hopelessness and feeling like you lack the ability to make a meaningful difference in the world are often unchecked lessons we learned long ago in childhood and young adulthood.
So maybe our painful emotions aren’t all bad. And maybe, like breadcrumbs, they are leading us to deeper issues. Problems that need to be addressed. Wounds that, if we simply band-aid over by telling ourselves to have faith or to be grateful, will continue to cause us to suffer until they are addressed. Don’t put a piece of tape over your personal check engine light.
If this resonates with you, consider speaking with one of our therapists at The Well Clinic 225-692-4113 or with a licensed therapist in your area.