“I WOKE up one morning when I was 12 years old,” remembers James,* “sat on the edge of my bed, and wondered, ‘Is today the day I die?’” James was in the grip of major depression. “Every day of my life,” says James 30 years later, “I have fought this emotional and mental illness.” James felt so worthless when he was young that he tore up his childhood photographs. “I didn’t even think that I was worth remembering,” he recalls.
Because we all contend with feelings of sadness occasionally, we could conclude that we understand what depression is all about. But how does it feel to have clinical depression?
A Cruel Intruder
More than just a spell of melancholy blues, clinical depression is a grave disturbance that often hinders a person from carrying out daily activities.
For example, for more than 40 years, Álvaro has been afflicted with “fear, mental confusion, anguish, and deep sorrow.” He explains: “My depression made it difficult for me to deal with the opinions of others. I always felt responsible for everything that went wrong.” He describes depression as “having a terrible pain without knowing where the pain is located, fear without knowing why and, worst of all, absolutely no desire to talk about it.” Now, though, he has found some relief. He knows the cause of his symptoms. He says, “Knowing that others have the same problem that I have has made me feel better.”
In Brazil, 49-year-old Maria was afflicted with depression that caused insomnia, pain, irritability, and “a seemingly unending feeling of sadness.” When her condition was first diagnosed, Maria was relieved to put a name to the cause of her suffering. “But then I became more anxious,” she explains, “because so few people understand depression and it carries a stigma.”
Nothing to Be Sad About?
Although depression sometimes has an obvious trigger, it often intrudes on a person’s life without warning. “Your life is suddenly darkened by a cloud of sadness for no apparent reason,” explains Richard from South Africa. “Nobody you know has died, and nothing distressing has occurred. Yet, you feel dejected and listless. And nothing will make the cloud go away. You are overwhelmed by feelings of despair, and you don’t know why.”
Depression is nothing to be ashamed of. Yet, Ana in Brazil felt ashamed to be diagnosed with depression. “In fact, eight years later I still feel ashamed of myself,” she admits. In particular, she finds it difficult to deal with her emotional anguish. “The suffering is sometimes so intense,” she explains, “that I feel physical pain. All the muscles in my body hurt.” At such times it is almost impossible to get out of bed. And then there are the times when Ana cannot stop crying. “I sob with such intensity and become so exhausted,” she says, “that it feels as though my blood has stopped circulating.”
“Your life is suddenly darkened by a cloud of sadness for no apparent reason”
The Bible acknowledges that people can become dangerously low in spirit. For instance, the apostle Paul’s concern about one man was that he might be “swallowed up by his being overly sad [“swallowed up in overwhelming depression,” Jewish New Testament].” (2 Corinthians 2:7) Some depressed people become so distraught that they wish they could just fall asleep in death. Many feel as did Jonah the prophet: “My dying is better than my being alive.”—Jonah 4:3.
What can depressed ones do to treat and cope with this distressing malady?
Names in this series of articles have been changed.