When Depression Looks Like an Excuse



I think one of the hardest parts about living with mental illness is trying to explain it without sounding like it’s an excuse. The difference is that everyone wants a good excuse, but sufferers of mental illness aren’t looking to suffer. We would “snap out of it” if we could.

Depression isn’t “antisocial” or “moody” or “flaky,” but a completely debilitating fog that suffocates rational thinking. When I’m sad, it’s manageable. When I’m depressed, it’s downright crippling. I’ll force myself to work through it, but I hope you’ll understand that I can’t fight myself every time. Some days it’s easier not to pretend.
J.S.


Photo by Image Catalog, CC0 1.0

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30 thoughts on “When Depression Looks Like an Excuse

    1. That’s a tough one. At least medically, depression is a pervasive condition which lasts two weeks or longer. That’s the more clinical definition, and maybe it’s not helpful to have such an exact number (it’s like saying “an infection is a wound that lasts longer than …” which by that point, it’s sort of late to address). Some might say that sadness is more of a feeling, while depression is less of a feeling and more of a “numbness” or deep lethargy. Sadness can certainly be a trigger for depression, but depression doesn’t always entail sadness and can strike seemingly at random without stimuli (though personally I agree with the newer research that shows the propensity for depression is formed from trauma and social situations). I want to add that I’m not a physician by any means, and depression can be different for many people.

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    2. Hi J. S. Park, what you’re saying is really resonating with me. Im in a very, very low place in my life. I’m afraid i might do something, and I have two little boys ages 3 and 1.5… help me please. I reach out for your help. The worst it’s ever been in my life. I do not see any way to contact you. Please help Thank you

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  1. Unfortunately there is still a stigma around depression. If only those that are not depressed could feel what it’s like for a day. Well said article! I just had an article post on my site about depression as well.

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  2. I’ve been very depressed lately. I can sometimes manage some things, but not others. I do often feel I give excuses for the things I can’t do, because I always fear people think if I can do something I should be able to do even more.

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  3. Hi J.S.

    How do you deal with depression and the belief and expectation that all who know the Lord will be filled with the joy of the Lord?

    I am realising that a lot of the Christian people I know suffer from depression. I am not one of those who believe that Christians can’t or shouldn’t get sick or stay sick, but is it right for Christians to accept a diagnosis of depression as being part of who they are? Isn’t it like accepting defeat?

    Just some thoughts of mine about mental health and spirituality. I would love to learn your perspective on this.

    Thanks, Ufuoma.

    P.S. I don’t have a diagnosis of depression, but I am often melancholy.

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    1. This was a very good questions. I would also like to know your thought on this Mr. J.S. Park.

      Though I don’t really understand what it is to have this depression what comes to mind is this: In the book of Ecclesiastes the wise man Soloman says that there is a season for everything, a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn and a time to dance.

      I strongly believe that even those who didn’t have depression would face a time of weeping, mourning and sadness. Because that would make us stronger and I believe that it has its purpose. Even Old Testament characters have their ups and downs, David I believe has his time of fear and mourning. Even Jesus when he drinks the cup is somewhat felt differently but still obeyed.

      Though this might not answer the question regarding the view of depressions, I believe that there would be peace in realizing that in due time, in the future we will be living where there will be no pain, hurt, and mourning with God.

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    2. Hey Ufuoma, great questions.

      I’ve heard these questions quite frequently, and I think perhaps these are several separate ideas.

      I think a Christian can be both joyful and have depression at the same time. Depression is one dimension to an entire person. They are certainly not their depression (not to say that this was your implication at all). Even during an episode, I can experience brief periods of euphoria, and when I’m joyful, I can experience brief existential pain or numbness. We’re weird and complicated. We have squishy three lb. brains that get affected by bad pizza or pollen. We’re a mix of contradictory elements. I’m not sure that a diagnosis of depression is accepting defeat so much as accepting that this is a part of me, and my joy and my depression will always be in a street fight. Each day, one or the other will win. Even then, it’s not a conclusive victory or defeat; it can be a draw sometimes, or they’re both half-sleeping. My hope is that when I’m joyful, I can be thankful, and that when I’m depressed, I can remember (as hard as it is) that joy does exist.

      Where it gets troublesome for me is when someone equates depression theologically with a person’s “amount of faith” or “unconfessed sin.” On one hand, I think that certainly having more faith and seeking help for our destructive tendencies can help alleviate some depression. But to say that depression is a failure on the person who didn’t “try hard enough” is an awful moralistic burden (again, not saying that you’re implying this, but just to clarify my point of view).

      When I’m told, “If you had more faith, you wouldn’t get depressed!”, I think I get what this means, but it’s the opposite for me. It was my tiny little shred of mustard seed faith that usually got me through depression. Faith is what helped lead me through the valley. Faith was not some kind of barometer for being a “good witness to the Lord.”

      One thing I like about David is that he openly acknowledged his doubts and fears. I know it’s easy to point to David as our go-to guy for every painful emotion, but it’s true: there are many passages where he abruptly states his own feelings (and I’m certain he had an episode of depression at least a couple times). Was stating these emotions a harmful thing to do? Like a “power of words” curse sort of thing? Maybe, but I don’t think so. I think he spoke these things under the umbrella of a loving God who empathizes with our broken brains. I think David accepted his condition knowing that speaking it out loud was naming the demon, and naming it is the first step to gaining some power and normalcy over such a helpless, abnormal situation.

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      1. I think your reference to David is highlighting something I’ve found about people’s diagnosis of depression. As someone who studied Mental Health and worked in Mental Health establishments as part of gaining my degree, I know that Depression is not a word we should throw about lightly. But it is thrown about lightly these days, with some people saying they are depressed when they are just sad. The diagnosis is not given liberaly, so saying that David had bouts of depression, I think is propagating that confusion.

        I don’t know if David was depressed or just being REAL! We all get sad and gloomy at times, and some personalities suffer more than others. I know for a fact that I am melancholic, but I’ve never been diagnosed with depression. But maybe because that is the country I live in! Not much awareness nor appreciation for Mental Health and its significance.

        Some people have also said that Paul suffered some form of mental illness. That is believable. I think some of the prophets probably were depressed, and not simply sad, even though they had great faith and knew God. I think being in touch with the depravity of men will make anyone depressed. My lowest points are when I ponder on how wicked men are and think this whole existence is pointless. And knowing God brings the joy that there is meaning in everything.

        I guess my point is, it seems that it is becoming cool or the norm for people to be claiming depression or assigning folks who have a healthy perspective of life that allows them to be sad and express sadness, to mean that they must suffer from depression. Maybe not as people actually suffer from depression, and they are just express normal sadness, or the world has made it harder for people to feel happy more often.

        Sorry this is long, but I see this in my country with Malaria. Malaria is common, but not as common as people make it out to be, and so they actually undermine its importance and impact. People self-diagnose themselves with malaria, when they get a slight fever and then take anti-malaria tablets, though they don’t even have malaria!

        I believe that Depression is a disease like Cancer and Malaria that can be treated with medicine and overcome with prayer too. People still die of cancer and malaria though they take medication and pray, but no one accepts it as a part of themselves that even faith can not overcome. So, why do we think Depression is something that cannot be overcome by faith?

        Just my thoughts… Sorry, it’s long.

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        1. Very good thoughts. I think I agree. I’m sure that faith can overcome depression, and maybe just as sure that it won’t always do so, either.

          So I hate to be like this, but my book on depression just released this week, and I wrote an entire chapter on how certain subcultures can hijack the word “depression.” It was a really difficult chapter for me to write since I don’t want to invalidate anyone’s pain, but I also felt this subject doesn’t get much radio play. I researched a ton and threw myself into the culture of faux-depression. Here’s an excerpt:

          One of the stigmas around mental illness is that it often sounds like an excuse. The difference is that everyone wants a good excuse—but sufferers of mental illness aren’t looking to suffer. We would “snap out of it” if we could.
          As much as I’d like it to be true, depression isn’t a cover; it isn’t “antisocial” or “moody” or “flaky.” It’s a completely debilitating fog that suffocates rational thinking. When I’m sad, it’s manageable. When I’m depressed, it’s downright intolerable. There’s nothing about it that I want to flaunt or fake.
          Unfortunately, the word “depression” has been increasingly hijacked into a cult-like subculture of quirkiness, so that it does sound like an excuse. “Depression” and its cousins anxiety, bipolar disorder, and introversion are used flippantly as a lifestyle, a cheap dress for trending bloggers, a kind of non-conformist calling-card to appear relatable, and even a retroactive excuse for laziness.
          This is an extremely difficult matter to approach, and even now, I feel sick at the thought of casting more doubt and fear on the suffering who want to find help. I don’t ever want to say there’s a “right way to be depressed” or that we have free rein to judge who has “real depression.” I absolutely want to believe every story of depression, at face value, without equivocation.
          But I also don’t want the word “depression” to be so easily thrown around that we are in fear of being laughed down. Such nominal piggybacking of real issues always cheapens the actual issues and the people within them.
          If any other illness, such as cancer or heart disease or Alzheimer’s, was faked for decoration, the outrage would be swift and merciless, and rightly so. If I’m to treat mental illness as seriously as cancer, I cannot shy away from this very tricky balancing act of making space for the depressed while calling out the fraudulent few. It pains me to say it, but this casual masquerade of faux mental illness does happen.
          My hope is that you’d stick with me to the end of this chapter, as I carefully attempt to be fair to every side of this discussion and reveal the larger truth behind our motives, which may surprise you.

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          1. Nice! I think we’re on the same page 🙂

            I would love to get your book, but I can’t get the hardcopy, even if Amazon ships to Nigeria. I’ve only shipped to Nigeria once, and that’s because I don’t trust the process. It is rarely reliable. Are you on Smashwords, so I can get the ebook version?

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  4. I think the most important line in your post is you force yourself to work in spite of your depression! Great! There have been times when I really wasn’t interested in living anymore because I was so depressed but I still went to work. We all have that choice! We can still be responsible in spite of our difficulties.

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  5. Pastor Park,
    I come from a family history of bipolar individuals, so I am well acquainted with what you are talking about regarding the debilitating nature of mental illness. When I was younger, I struggled at times with depression, and developed a mortal fear of turning out like my relatives who suffered with bipolar disorder. My response to this was generally to shut down my emotions and withdraw into a shell of safe distance from people and cultivate a strong detachment from my feelings so that I could function and live with my inner turmoil more easily. As a middle-aged adult now, I am often seen by people as distant, detached, and unemotional, because of this coping mechanism of mine, and it has complicated all of my relationships and made my service to the Lord more of a struggle as well. Other than my wife and children, I have no close relationships at all. How do I, at my age, find a balance between keeping myself sane and functional, but also not fearfully running too far away from my emotions and crippling any compassion and empathy for others in my life? I have spent my entire adult life trying to figure this out on my own, and have made very little progress. For the time being, I am continuing to work from a safe detachment, but the longer I live, the less satisfying this is. If you have any suggestions, I would like to hear them.

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    1. Hey Michael, thank you for sharing so honestly and I’m sorry in advance for what will most likely be an inadequate response.

      While I’m not sure of an exact, appropriate answer, just a few thoughts:

      – I can say that the balance of making friends, handling emotions, and being compassionate is difficult for any person. Many of us (including myself) pile a guilt on top of the guilt, as if I’m not meeting a particular threshold in which I must emote and “play nice” and be more social. I had to find a point where I was comfortable with the deeper relationships I had, even if there were few, and not judge myself based on degrees of attachment or detachment (I’m not saying you’re doing the latter, by the way, but only guessing).

      – It sounds like your coping mechanisms have been detrimental, and at the same, I wonder if those mechanisms have been put in place for a season while you heal well enough until you can reach out again.

      – Loneliness is hard, and the vulnerability of friendship is also hard. Feeling disconnected really sucks, but being connected also comes with a risk. Either way, it is difficult to be compassionate with others, and I think that part of your concern around people is legitimate.

      – I wonder if you can begin to move slowly into taking more risks with people, opening yourself up in the shallow end of the pool, at your pacing and tempo. There’s no set formula for that sort of thing, and no one should rush you. You mentioned that you’re middle-aged now and are seen as “distant” and such, but by whom? According to whose standard? Can no one give you the empathy that you also desire to give others? In other words, I think it’s unfair that people have seen you this way. I hope others can validate your fear and accommodate for you as you reach out to be closer with others.

      – I know this is a generic reply here, but have you sought counseling and pastoral dialogue? This may help to untie some of those fears.

      You have my prayers, friend. Please feel free to dialogue with me here.

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      1. Thank you for the reply. I do hope that this is only for a season. I have considered counseling, but haven’t yet reached the point of being willing to take the plunge. I guess I kinda see that as committing to “I have a problem that I can’t solve, and I need help”. Intellectually, I know this is actually the truth, but to get to the point of making the decision to act on that is a point I haven’t reached yet. Perhaps the fact that I sat down and wrote this on your page means I’m getting there, though…

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  6. I suffer from ADHD and can I tell you that I completely agree with you when you say that depression is downright crippling. I ended up eventually going to rehab and taking a boatload of pills but ultimately what helped me, in the long run, were my family, writing and swimming. I used to be a state level swimmer before I started popping the pills like cherries. So, that’s what I went back to. I think it is extremely important to keep yourself occupied. Also, surrounding yourself with people who make you feel good about yourself gives you this great burst of self-confidence and happiness. Writing, for me, helped me to share what I was feeling.
    It’s also vital to remember that you are not alone when you are spiraling.
    ~ Tahli ❤

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