Discouraged, exhausted, beat down, beat up, clawing and falling, it’s so far, but my God, by God, another inch I crawl.
Discouraged, exhausted, beat down, beat up, clawing and falling, it’s so far, but my God, by God, another inch I crawl.
Anonymous asked a question:
Hi J.S., as someone who has been diagnosed with depression, GAD, and PTSD, your writing has been a huge comfort. I wanted to ask this – have you come to accept your battle with depression? I still struggle to accept that my mood is out of my control. My faith has been rocked after the past few years of intense battling. I still get discouraged when I think that I have to work so hard to feel “normal” and even then, normalcy isn’t guaranteed. How do you continue to trust God and fight through?
Hey dear friend, first I want to encourage you: You are loved, you are incredible, you’re doing great.
My answer to your question, “Have you come to accept your battle with depression?” is both Yes and No.
Yes, I recognize that my brain is broken. Something essential to my well-being will always be missing. I will, out of nowhere, seemingly at random, fall into the abyss for long seasons. One day, my depression might win. I have accepted it as much as any person can accept they are mortally wounded. I have accepted the hand I’ve been dealt.
But no, I do not accept my depression. I am angry. I am livid. I am insulted by it. I hate what it does to my friends and family. And I have to fight. It’s exhausting. But I have to scream no. And I think part of my non-acceptance is what keeps me alive. I do not accept that God wanted this for me. I am open to therapy, to medicine, to every treatment available. I have to fight.
No one is the one-dimensional, evil caricature that they’re painted to be.
No one is the shiny version of a person that’s worshiped on a pedestal.
It’s easier to hate a cartoon-parody idea; to denigrate a hologram; to blast the artificial; to praise the effigy. It’s easier to demonize a faceless, disembodied, phantom enemy.
If you and I could sit down for coffee, we would discover hidden layers, messy dimensions, buried motives, unspeakable trauma, two fractured people hanging on.
We are wildly struggling, conflicted, complex.
We are not wholly evil nor holy good.
Yes, monsters deserve justice for their crimes. Heroes deserve more applause. But I will pause to consider that we are often both. We can be our own worst enemy, and we are just as capable of being our own heroes, overcoming the worst of us with the best in us.
Across a table, chair to chair, eye to eye, we might disagree—but I hope we will learn how we came to be. To hear the whole story.
Flashback. I’m twenty-one. I’m in the hospital. I’ve swallowed half a bottle of acetaminophen. My brother is there. He says, “That must’ve been a hell of a headache,” and we both laugh. I love that sound. In the middle of laughing, I vomit all over the place. It’s pitch black. The nurse had given me a cup of liquid charcoal to neutralize the pills. It’s blasting from my nostrils; my body is ejecting a nightmare. My brother yells for help. I try to tell him I’m okay, but I vomit some more. I think the charcoal is working though. My liver has stopped twisting into my ribs.
I go to a “mental institution,” one of those padded lock-ups with the words “Life” or “Care” or “Point” in the title. I’ve been discharged from the hospital. I lost thirteen pounds in three days. I have to be Baker Act’ed (the nurses keep saying it like that, “You’ve been Baker Act’ed”).
My bunkmate thinks roaches are crawling into his pores. The patients roll eyes at him. We go to a group meeting and the counselor asks, “What’s your goal today?” We get these giant rubber pens with round paper. One of the guys pulls the fire alarm and yells, “I don’t care, I’ll suck it for crack, this is a free country!” Two nurses sedate him. He’s dragged across the floor, sneakers scraping the linoleum, his shrieks drowned out by the alarm.
The counselor asks again, “What’s your goal today?” I write down, “To get out.”
Later that night, my bunkmate wakes me up. He’s spinning his mattress over his head, saying, “Roaches in my bed, my veins, come on, it’s true, it’s really true!” “Hey,” I say. “I know. Let’s look for them, you know? If we don’t find any, we can sleep, how’s that? Let’s look for them together.” He likes this plan so we get on our hands and knees and look for roaches. After thirty seconds he plops onto his mattress and falls asleep.
I try to pray for him. I can’t imagine how hard it must be for him, to think roaches are really in his veins. Never mind that it wasn’t true. It was true for him. “I’m sorry,” I say. “I’m sorry it hurts so bad. At least you can sleep tonight. God, be here somehow.”
It’s unfair to rush someone into forgiveness. It’s powerful and necessary, but forgiveness is not a one-time moment that magically seals up the wound. It takes a deliberate, daily battle over a lifetime. That occasional angry twitch doesn’t mean you’ve failed at finding peace; it’s only part of the process. Let it happen. It hurts because it meant something. It has to pass through your body, like flushing out poison. No one is allowed to rush your healing, including you. No one can just “get over it.” It’s your pain, your pacing, your tempo. But I do hope to see you on the other side, where there’s freedom. You can take all the time you need, and I’m with you.
Here are my Top Twelve Posts of 2018, including topics like the benefit of grief, dealing with depression in marriage, misogyny in the Bible, people-pleasing, and my brush with suicide this year.
Earlier this year, I called the Suicide Lifeline. I was in pretty bad shape. My depression has been a lifelong street fight and it’s always been ugly. It’s not romantic or glamorous or poetic or anything like that; it’s the kind that makes people leave. But most of the time, nobody can tell I’m hurting just by talking to me. I tend to smile real big and laugh just as loud. Only in small quiet moments, when I‘m not “on,” not performing, there‘s a shadow across my face. A fog. I can pretend to be okay for a long time.
I’m glad I called the lifeline. I didn’t talk to anyone. The phone started ringing and I hung up. But it was enough to get me moving again. Even the possibility of human connection, sometimes, is enough.
There is a moment after crawling out of an episode of depression where I can hardly believe it happened. It seems silly, even. I think it’s because life is so filled with wonder and goodness, it’s hard to imagine giving it up. But when depression hits, it’s hard to imagine why I should go on.
I’m trying to hold on to that wonder and goodness. To remember there is a sun behind the fog. It’s a cheesy thing, I know. It’s also kept me alive. The dark always looms, encroaching, and I am afraid one day it will win. But I’m always glad I survived. I’ve been blessed and hopefully have blessed some. I am glad to know life today. By the grace of God, I am here.
Anonymous asked a question:
I’m only a teenager, but I already feel like my life should just end. For my whole life I’ve felt like I am only a burden to those around me, and feel I don’t deserve to live. Honestly, I cant even get myself to pray because I feel I am undeserving of gods love and insight, and that he couldn’t love someone as foolish as me anyway.
Hey dear friend: I love you. We love you. Stay alive. You deserve life. God loves you. I have experienced God’s love, and while it’s hard to believe sometimes, He does love you. I promise that if He can love a guy like me, He can love anybody. I mean it. I seriously mean it.
Maybe this won’t be very comforting, but I love this study. Almost everyone who tried to jump realized later that their pain was bound within time, within a crisis, rather than a permanent pain. One of the people who survived jumping the bridge said, “I instantly realized that everything in my life that I’d thought was unfixable was totally fixable—except for having just jumped.”
I cannot promise that life gets better. Life can be cruel, unfair, intolerable. People can be downright mean. Failure and rejection will happen. Risks don’t always pay off. You will miss chances and opportunities. Injuries and disease are a real danger. Our brains are often broken by depression and other lifelong illnesses. People will leave.
But none of these things, none of these things, determine your worth as a person. Nothing that has happened to you gets the say on who you are. Of course, life hurts. We’re allowed to hurt. We’re allowed to be mad. We can vent and yell and shake a fist at God. All of that is being human. But all the ways in which life can be unfair do not have a single thing to say about you as a person. You are loved, regardless. You are loved simply because you were born. For me, that’s often enough for the next breath. Looking back, I’m glad I breathed again.
Anonymous asked a question
Will I go to hell if I commit suicide?
First, my friend: If you are hurting right now, please reach out to safe people and tell them what’s happening. I hope you will find therapy, community, or medicine to get you through. I’ve been in a really bad place before, and it will feel impossible—but help is not far away. You are loved, my friend.
Also, my answer to your question is no way. I don’t believe that, not for a second.
I understand why this idea is passed around in churches. The hope is that by saying “suicide will send you to hell,” then this would actually prevent you from taking your life.
At first glance, it sounds logical. In some psych evaluations, I’ve seen the counselor ask, “Do you believe you’ll go to hell if you take your life?” This is asked as a positive question. In other words, if the patient says, “Yes,” that means the patient has one more safeguard which will prevent suicide. It’s seen as a good thing.
But in the long run, the idea that someone will suffer eternal anguish after they take their own life is 1) not anywhere in Scripture, 2) an ugly theology to throw around at a funeral, and 3) not sustainable for mental health.
@cindahh asked a question:
Hi J.S. Park! I hope you and your wife doing well! I just wanted to thank you again for your book. It has given me a better understanding of depression. So I read it because my good friend battles it, and as someone who is helping him battle it, what are some of the things your wife helped you with; how does she support you? How does she snap you out of it? How does she help you be hopeful? What techniques does she use? What does she say? Are there any “don’t do’s?” What’s the most helpful? I would like to get a better understanding on how I can be there for my friend. I really appreciate it.
Hey dear friend, thank you for this question. It’s a super difficult one.
I have to say upfront: Even the most loving person in the world cannot fully help someone who wrestles with mental illness. Clinical depression will often do whatever it wants, regardless of medicine or therapy or a strong community (all which I strongly recommend, by the way).
While we’re called to love others as much as we can stand it, we cannot be responsible for someone’s actions. That’s too much weight to carry. We cannot save everyone, including ourselves sometimes.
I’ve come across two opposing views on supporting someone through depression.
One essentially says, “Do everything you can. Have empathy for their trauma and pain. Love despite it all. Love will eventually win. Research ways to help. Intervene. Always be there for them. People who leave are cruel and cowards.”
The other says, “Practice boundaries and self-care. Refer them to an expert. Admit when you can’t handle it. Keep a safe distance. You can’t pour out what you don’t have.”
My wife has embraced both of these, in different seasons, depending on her needs and mine.
No one can be everything for everyone. But no one should instantly run away either (excluding cases of abuse). We need a safe middle ground that covers both people involved.
To love someone through their mental illness requires a specific patience that many people don’t have. It’s not because they’re bad or anything. Some just can’t stick around because they themselves have too much going on. I can’t be mad at that, or them.
At the same time, some sneak out the second it gets too hard. I think that’s unfair. At the very least, we should go a little beyond what’s asked of us, whether that means going with someone to one of their counseling sessions, bringing them food, or watching a movie with them that they pick (even if it’s something you’d never watch). These things sound simple, but an accumulation of these things mean the world.
For me, I lean towards the view that people should stick around and help. I know there are situations they absolutely shouldn’t. But I hear stories all day long (at the hospital and with the homeless) where no one ever stayed. Maybe it was because the person left behind made too many poor choices, or they were abusive, or they were not willing to be helped. I can almost understand why they were left behind. But in so many cases, it seems like friends, family, and spouses walked away too early. In the end, it’s a strong community which we need for life, and it’s one of the points of living.
To answer you specifically about how my wife helps me:
How do I deal with the death of a loved one?
Dear friend: I’m so sorry. A close death is one of the most difficult things you will ever experience. There’s almost no getting over it. Grief is less like a cold and more like a shadow, always lingering even in the brightest light. It gets easier, but it stays with you in all kinds of ways.
As a hospital chaplain, I have seen hundreds of people die now, and there’s no formula or plan or mantra to get you through. All the hard things you’re feeling, whether it’s numbness or waves of pain or a deep soul itchiness or a tight chest or an empty stomach or rivers of tears, are all a part of grief. You’re not crazy. You might see a random thing that will remind you of your loved one, and it will hit you in the gut. You might visit a street or see someone’s smile or hear a movie quote that reminds you of everything, and it will hit you all over again. That happens. You’re not crazy.
Anonymous asked a question:
What are your thoughts on mental illness and religion? I’ve seen some Christians state that you can pray mental illness away and once you’re saved you won’t be depressed or have suicidal thoughts anymore. As someone in the mental health field, it kind of annoys me to hear people say this. Mental illness is so complex and multifactorial but obviously there is a biological component to it. These people need medications and counseling to get better, not JUST God.
Hey dear friend, I once did an interview about this subject here:
I agree with you 100%. The way the church has approached mental illness has been misinformed at best and atrocious at worst. It’s the same with the westernized brand of bright-sided “positivism” and attempting to tell someone, “Cheer up, snap out of it, don’t cry, it’ll be okay, you have to be strong.”
Here are some thoughts to consider about the church and mental illness:
A couple weeks ago, I called the National Suicide Lifeline.
I was in a really bad place. I was ready to go, permanently. After two rings, I hung up the phone. I was too scared to talk with someone. I had heard sometimes they call the police on you, and really, I was afraid of what my neighbors would think if I was carted away by red and blue lights. But the very act of calling got me off the floor. It was enough to get my feet moving.
I know I’m not supposed to talk about this. I’m the guy who helps people. How can anyone trust me again? Will I be fired? What will they really say about me? What sort of hate mail will I get?
I worked at a church once where I told the lead pastor that I was suicidal; I was laughed off. Maybe everyone is tired of hearing the word “stigma,” but it still exists. Everyone says they care, but anyone can act like they care online. Up close, mental illness is an ugly thing that is hard for everyone involved.
Here’s how it happened: Someone had said something to me in anger, and of course, the person apologized. I felt in some ways I had deserved it. I was fine for a few days. And maybe for somebody who is “normal,” or maybe on any other day, it should’ve all been fine. But the words caught fire in my brain, got louder, loomed over me, and dug hooks in my stomach. I took ten Advil. I wanted to take the rest of the bottle. So I called the lifeline.
I have to make clear that none of this is the other person’s fault. I would never put that on someone. That’s too much responsibility for words said in a heated moment. I am, in the end, responsible for how I choose to react. I cannot rely on good or bad words to determine my health. And I realize my mental health has been a lifelong issue and will continue to plague me. No one should feel obligated to walk on thin ice around me. I have learned, not always willingly, to be resilient in a cruel world.
At the same time, words are powerful. They have the power to heal and destroy. Words are meaningful to me. They should not be used lightly. And I’m not impervious. I’m not some tough guy who gets tougher with every punch. There’s always that one exhausted, fragile morning when I can fall apart fast. I can’t be alone in that.
Whenever I think my battle with depression is getting easier, I’m reminded that progress doesn’t go on an upward track. It’s a real one-step-forward and two-steps-back situation. More like a thousand steps down. My progress on a graph would look like a fiscal nightmare. I’m not sure it’s healthy to look at progress on a graph this way. I can only see the one step in front of me. That’s about all I can stand to take right now.
I kindly and graciously ask that you pray for me. I know the world around us is blowing up. There is a lot to pray about. My problems are small. I am lucky to be alive. I am lucky to laugh and cry and eat today. May you still send a two second prayer? And I hope you may be kind to someone today. The only words that are worse than the harsh ones are the kind ones left unspoken.
An honest confession:
I struggle a lot with anger.
I’ve also been told that anger is wrong, so I tend to stuff it down. Eventually there’s a breaking point where it flies out like twice a year. I look pretty laidback and congenial until I have my semi-annual blow-up. It’s ugly. Embarrassing. Enough to make people leave forever.
Anger, of course, can be scary. I have thrown things. I have punched a wall. I have yelled uncontrollably. There’s no excuse for that sort of behavior and I deserve every consequence. People have a right to leave.
But I never knew there was a healthy kind of anger. That anger is pointing to something true, real, and valid. That it means something is very wrong around us or inside us, and it needs healing. At the very least, it needs to be heard.
No, we should never use anger as an excuse to hurt someone. It’s never okay to say, “I only did that because I was angry.” Nothing justifies abuse. Ever. We must be held accountable regardless of how we felt at the time.
I just wonder how we can talk about this in an honest way without totally writing off the angry person.
I’ve found that underneath rage is usually pain. Grief. A kind of hurt that has left us powerless.
The hard part is venting our anger in a way that’s constructive instead of explosive. The even harder part is to talk about it without people judging.
The common response is always condemning: “I knew he was terrible. His life is so good, he has no reason to be mad.” And maybe that’s true. But how can we correct this unless we talk about it? Aren’t there sometimes real reasons a person is mad? There must be a safe venue for an angry person to say, “I’m bitter, I’m resentful, I can’t forgive, and I don’t know what to do with this.”
My fear is that no one will make room for it. You can usually tell someone you’re insecure, sad, or lonely, and they’ll hear you. Tell someone you’re angry and they assume you’re a “bad person.” Sometimes angry people are also “bad people,” sure. But I wish we could find help for our rage without immediately being crushed and cast out. I wish we could talk through the stigma.
I think, in the end, that anger must have a place. You can be angry for instead of against. It can be motivated by justice. There are legitimate reasons to be righteously mad. A call for reparations. A proper outrage when someone is oppressed, exploited, abused. I wish I had known this sooner. I want to be angry for you, not at you. I hope there’s grace enough to learn how.