All I Did Was Survive


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.
— J.S.

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I Want My Life to End—What Do I Do?

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.

Continue reading “I Want My Life to End—What Do I Do?”

“Suicide Is a Ticket to Hell” (and Other Bad Theology)

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.

Continue reading ““Suicide Is a Ticket to Hell” (and Other Bad Theology)”

Working Through Depression As a Team: What to Do and Not to Do with Your Friend’s 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:

Continue reading “Working Through Depression As a Team: What to Do and Not to Do with Your Friend’s Mental Health”

Mental Illness Vs. Religion: 4 Thoughts About the Church Against Depression

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:

– An Interview About Mental Health, Minority Stigma, and the Church Vs. Depression

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:

Continue reading “Mental Illness Vs. Religion: 4 Thoughts About the Church Against Depression”

How Hard It Really Is: A Short, Honest Book About Depression


**Edit January 2018** My book on fighting depression has been revised with a new a cover and about a 10% change in content. If you’ve already purchased the book, please email me at pastorjspark@gmail.com and I’ll send a digital copy of the updated version.


Hello lovely friends! After a year and a half of painstaking work, my book on fighting depression is here. It’s called: How How Hard It Really Is: A Short, Honest Book About Depression.

The book covers:
• The science behind depression
• The helpful (and unhelpful) dialogue around mental illness
• The debate between seeing it as a choice or disease
• Stories of survivors
• A secret culture of suicide worship
• An interview with a depressed doctor
• The problem with finding a “cure”
• My own attempt at suicide
• A myriad of voices from nearly two-hundred surveys conducted over a year

The paperback is here. The ebook is here.

For my video on depression, check here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xggg6xFObIE

Be blessed and love y’all, friends. A reminder that if you’re in a dark place, I hope you’ll reach out. You are truly more loved than you know. 
— J.S.


An Interview About Depression, Its Myths and Misunderstandings, When Faith Fails, and Talking It Out

– Suzanne of biblesteps recently interviewed me about my book on depression. Her post is here. The entire interview is below. You can find my book on fighting depression here. –

Given that depression can be a fragile and, at times, controversial topic, what made you decide to write a book about it?

Depression can feel like a solo sport. There’s no team backing you up. It’s like swimming or gymnastics; once you get going, it’s up to you to make it to the other end of the pool or the mat. (I was told this is why writers get depressed, because writing isn’t really a team effort).

Most of the resources I found on depression began with the “solo” premise: It’s up to you, go get help, here’s this method, try this and this. But that sort of individualized isolation was very vacuum-ish to me. Life doesn’t work in such a frictionless shrinkwrap; we affect others in a causational web and we need their help, too.

So I started with the premise: How do we collectively get through depression? How do we manage the stress and cause-and-effect and even the global consequences of depression? I wrote the book for both those who struggle with depression and those who don’t. I wanted to bring in every person involved, because depression affects families, cultures, marriages, churches, all of it.

I always knew that the topic of depression itself was a game of telephone — “I’m depressed” sounds like “I’m antisocial” to most people — but when I got to the research and surveys, it was even worse than I had thought. There was this nearly impermeable membrane around the discussion of depression. And then this phrase kept popping up in my head: If you could just know how hard it really is …

And as cheesy as that might be, it became the title of the book. My whole goal was to peel back that weird membrane around depression so, if anything, there would be more empathy on every side of the discussion.

Continue reading “An Interview About Depression, Its Myths and Misunderstandings, When Faith Fails, and Talking It Out”

The Scary Horrible Thing About Depression


Clinical depression will often do whatever it wants with you. It has no rules or code or fairness or dignity.

I have every reason to be fine, but depression is a dirty sneak attack that leaves me completely naked and debilitated. It’s a liar that sells truth: a false reality that says how-I-feel is who-I-really-am. And when a grafted lie overruns the truth, it doesn’t matter that I have “every reason” to be fine: the lie has switched every goalpost and sunk the baseline.

Depression is the worst kind of lie, in that it not only attacks your self-worth and value, but steals the meaning out of words like “self-worth” and “value.” It is cold inertia, slowing down worlds in orbit. It leaves you carved open, constantly bleeding out, unable to retain the vital stuff that makes life. There is spiritual discombobulation; every emotion is a phantom limb, and no amount of affirmation about “life-gets-better” can reach me there.

The thing is, when I’m hit with depression, I already know what to do. I know I have to fight for air. I know I have to crawl for every inch of territory that’s stolen. I know I cannot make decisions unless I talk with someone first. I must reach for my phone. I must reach for every scrap of surface to escape this tunnel.  I must remind myself that there’s so much worse in the world, and that the war inside cannot compare.

I know. None of this makes the fog any easier.

By the tiniest shred of sight, I must crawl.

— J.S. Park | How Hard It Really Is


Photo by Brandon Woller

Journeying Together Through Depression


Thank you to Nissi, Andy, Sandra, Crupa, and Amber for picking up my book on fighting depression, How Hard It Really Is. Grateful to Sandra for picking up five copies to give away. Praying the book blesses each of you.
J.S.

Paperback: https://www.amazon.com/How-Hard-It-Really-Is/dp/0692910360

Ebook: https://www.amazon.com/How-Hard-It-Really-Is-ebook/dp/B073TX15LB

Everyone’s Got Advice About Your Depression


You’re going to find very quickly that when you’re depressed, nearly everyone’s got advice for you. Everyone thinks they know what’s best and what you ought to do.

It’s well-intentioned, and it’s not all bad—but in that very moment, when you’re in the colorless fog, those motivational one-liners are often tacky, tone-deaf, and untenable.

If depression robs you of your ability to logically comprehend and make sense of life, then any advice or solution is not going to reach into the heart of depression.

Both the church culture and pop culture endorse a sort of “powering through” because it really translates to, “I don’t have time to get involved with your struggle.” What’s really being said is: “Pray more and be positive so I don’t have to deal with you.”

Theology and wisdom have their place, but I suspect that we spout them to rush the hurting past their hurt, because it hurts too much to sit in their furnace. It’s a kind of reverse projecting: I can’t bear to look into my own uncertainty when I see yours.

My urge to offer advice has good intentions, but it’s also a way to offload the hard work of navigating the wound with the wounded. I offer a reason of certainty because it’s easier than traveling with the hurting in the uncertainty. It’s a way to protect myself from answering the unanswerable. I don’t like the silence because it makes me uncomfortable. I have to offer something or else it makes me feel helpless.

It’s the same reflex that happens when some of us see someone cry. “Don’t cry,” we might say, even though very often, crying is the only way to heal through the river of all we have held inside. I’ve found that when I say, “Don’t cry,” that’s about protecting me from discomfort rather than leaning into your hurt and healing.

So all my advice makes your pain, your tragedy, and your depression, about insulating me, instead of moving towards you.

You can do one from the rooftops, but the other means diving into the smells and groans of their misery.

It’s dirty. It’s work. And no one naturally wants to pay the high cost of navigating someone’s pain.

— J.S. Park How Hard It Really Is


Photo by Chris Wright

The Thinnest Thread Across a Chasm: I Survived.

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I did this photo shoot a few years ago with a ton of smiles and silly faces—but this picture was a bit closer to how I was really feeling. It was during one of the most miserable seasons of life, when depression had hit full force and I was contemplating The End every waking moment. I had gained over twenty lbs from binging and I randomly fell asleep in my office and I kept letting go of the steering wheel, daring myself to crash. No one knew what was happening; I tried to tell someone but he laughed it off: “Look at you, how could you be so stressed when you’re so blessed?” So I kept up the smiles and silliness, all while my insides were wax dipped in acid, melted to the thinnest thread, stretched between bones across a chasm. I was Zeno’s paradox, motionless in motion. I was begging God to kill me.

I wanted to give up: but no. God said no. He was stubborn, and so I was, too. I hustled. I fought the dark with everything, both fists swinging, screaming and laughing at the same time, crawling by my bare fingernails to the lip of the well I had been cast down. Slowly, painfully, somehow, I made it through, mostly because I kept waking up and I was astounded to find myself still breathing, and because I gained ground by inches. Colors returned; the fog lifted over time; I found people I could tell; I got a dog and I lost the weight and I survived. It’s not as romantic as it sounds, and I don’t know if the next one will win. But that time, at least, I did. He did. God didn’t answer my prayer then, and it was the best “no” that I’ve ever gotten. I’m here, just barely. So is He, completely.
J.S. Park

Depression: The Sneak Attack Phantom


This is the Preface to my book How Hard It Really Is: A Short, Honest Book About Depression.



Depression is a rumor, until it is reality, and then it’s as if nothing else was ever real. Still, no one will believe you. I find it hard to believe it myself. I wrote this book for those who believe, and for those who want to.

Depression is, when you’re in it, absolutely ridiculous, because it seems to be the most important thing in the world when it’s happening. At the same time, it robs the world of any importance, as if nothing could ever happen again. It is a nightmare of infinity wrapped in cellophane.

Whenever I describe it happening, it sounds absurd. And it is.

At the grocery store I’m thinking about how to grill this salmon, and my chest folds inward, a curled up canvas of wax paper in a cruel, gnarled fist. It’s the familiar feeling of drowning, of disappearing in frothing acid. I fight back both tears and laughter, and I tell myself, Everything’s fine, everything’s fine, a cognitive trick to pull myself out of the falling, but nothing is fine, nothing is fine. There’s nothing I can do. My basket full of trinkets is weightless and a wrecking ball. I see people rushing to somewhere, but the illusion of significance slips away in a long, defeated sigh. I hate this part. My shoulders crumple because I’ve stopped holding them up. I can barely look at the cashier and I don’t remember paying when he hands me the receipt. I can’t turn on music in the car; it’s unbearable to turn the wheel. I’m someone else’s ghost in someone else’s body.

I wish I could say it gets easier each time, but I never know how long it’s going to be.

I never know when the colors will come back.

I never know if this will be the one that wins.

The bad news is that I don’t have a magic formula, a six-step cure, or a silver bullet. I wish I did. But I don’t believe there’s a right combination of words that will unlock depression.

The best thing we can offer each other is each other, our set of experiences, our voices, our ears, so that the tunnel is less intimidating and the light is not as distant as it was.

I wish I had more than this. I wish I could cover every angle. Maybe, though, I can cover a few.

At the very least, I can tell you what I’ve been through, and what’s worked for me. And maybe some of that will work for you, too.

— J.S. Park | How Hard It Really Is

Dealing with Depression: What to Say (and What Not to Say)


There’s a lot of unhelpful dialogue when it comes to depression and the way we talk about it matters. As a lifelong fighter of depression, here are some things I’ve learned to say (and not to say), and how presence matters more than advice.

My book on depression is here: https://www.amazon.com/How-Hard-It-Really-Is/dp/B073TX15LB/

This is the first in a series of videos called “Where Faith Meets Life,” covering topics like politics, abuse, marriage, and mental illness.

Subscribe to my YouTube channel here: https://www.youtube.com/user/jsparkblog

Be blessed and love y’all, friends!
J.S.

Does Social Media Really Help a Cry-for-Help?

shatterrealm asked a question:

When Internet strangers rally together to assure a suicidal person that they are loved and precious, are we really helping? Or are we making things worse by arguing with their depression? Should we simply be referring them to professionals?

Hey dear friend, this is an excellent question that I can’t possibly hope to adequately cover, but I’ll offer a few thoughts on this to consider.

– On one hand, if you can save a life with words, do it. I think it’s absolutely a good idea to press in when someone expresses depression, anywhere, every time, all the time. It might really pull back someone from the edge, even for one more day.

I can’t really stop to evaluate the whole thing on whether it’s real or not, or if it’s really helping. That’s not for me to decide right then. If someone is drowning in a river headed towards a waterfall, I don’t ever want to think, “Am I enabling this person to not learn to swim?” I can think about that later. At this very second, I have to throw a lifeline, or I’ll jump in there myself.

– On the other hand, I’m less sure about how this will work for the long-term. It’s the old dilemma: “Give a person a fish for a day or teach them how to fish for life.”

In the short-term, rallying together online can certainly be helpful for a person who cries-for-help. I’ll be the first one there. But at some point, the online world becomes very limited in truly helping a depressed person. It doesn’t go deep enough, and in some cases, can actually be more harmful.


Continue reading “Does Social Media Really Help a Cry-for-Help?”

YouTube: “We Can Disagree, And That’s Okay”


Here’s my first YouTube video, called “We Can Disagree, And That’s Okay.”

You like cats AND dogs? That’s okay.
You’re into science AND religion? That’s okay.
Single and not looking? That’s okay.
Introverted or extroverted? That’s okay.
You prefer romantic-comedy Ryan Gosling over Oscar-serious Ryan Gosling? That’s okay.
Republican or Democrat or neither? That’s okay.
Cheese on your ramen noodles? Well … maybe not okay.

Please subscribe to my channel and love y’all!

— J.S.


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