I'm the pastor at your church, for all these years you've listened to my words, you think I know all the answers...
My name is Kris. I am a pastor, community leader, missionary, coach, husband, father and friend. I have a severe case of depression and I am not scared of fighting. This is the story about the day I became stronger. I am taking back my life.
What I am about to write is not going to change my life, but it might save yours.
My life has already been changed. In the most pure form of authenticity I can offer you, this journey you are about to read is one of a successful, confident, broken man who is ready to confront his demons. The hope of doing so is meant to speak to the heart of the person sitting behind the painful, dark mask of depression, mental illness or emotional instability, and tell you that you are worth much more than what you have convinced yourself to believe.
Stay with me, I think this story is worth it. It culminates on a Sunday afternoon drive alone. It didn't end that day; I just decided to change direction.
But I've got doubts and questions too, behind this smile I'm really just like you. Afraid and tired and insecure.
I hopped in the car for the first time in my life and drove for a period of four hours without any contact by phone, text or personal conversation. The last thing my wife heard was "fine, I'm leaving. Bye." And after preaching two services on Sunday morning and bringing my kids home from church, I embarked on a drive and refused to respond to anyone attempting to reach out to me.
The thoughts in my head were borderline demonic. I was going to escape, I was going away. I said that I was leaving, but I really did not know where I was going or what I was leaving. To say that I had destructive or selfish thoughts about harming myself physically is a war within me, for I never had that true physical desire to end my life although the temptation of the enemy was causing me to think that I wasn't even worth being alive. I cried, I worshipped God in song, I prayed, I screamed, I drove in silence and in a complete lack of normal character, I refused to answer.
I refused calls, help, texts. I rejected the reach of my family and my friends. I landed at a stopping point two hours from home in the semicircle driveway of a small church. I prayed and asked God what to do, but with seemingly no reasonable answer, I turned back toward home still with no contact with my family.
What you are about to read may be difficult. The selfishness of refusing to deal with a mental illness or depression is that I left my wife at home wondering the absolute worst. For a man who is connected to his phone almost 24 hours a day, she and my children - not to mention my close friends - had to endure a full afternoon of wondering the worst. Not only did I refuse to respond, I did not tell anyone my location, even closely. I promise you that where I was, no one would have ever suspected or found me unless I told them first. My wife unfortunately had to wonder the ultimate fear...was I even alive?
It was selfish. It was horrific. It was awful. And it was the day I decided that I am not doing this anymore.
If you look me right in the eye, would you see the real me inside, would you take the time to...
You see, four years I admitted publicly a slight struggle with depression. At the time, I lost close friends who abandoned me. I lost church members who said "I cannot follow a weak leader." You do not know how difficult those words were to digest when it filtered back to my family. I was betrayed by a colleague who used insecurity as an attack on my personal character. And for the sake of trying to save my dignity, I refused to seek the proper help for treatment out of fear that dealing with this monster would cost me my friends, my career, my family and my livelihood.
For the last four years, this has controlled me. I have spent sleepless nights, ran away from circles of support, and cried uncontrollably believing there was never any hope. I have written resignation letters, threatened to leave the people who love me the most, and said and done harmful emotional things to the people who I need the most.
I have news for you. If you are battling depression, it WILL cost you everything if you do not seek help. And the church, the business community and our families are at a critical place in dealing with emotional instability and mental illness that ignoring it or creating a stigma to attach to it is doing more damage than it is good.
It's time that we take a stand. I want to give you some practical steps today that are saving my life, in the hope that you will have the courage to face your battle and include the people around you in the story of victory and overcoming.
Tell me what I need to hear. Tell me that I'm not forgotten. Show me that you're the God that can be more than I've ever wanted. Cause right now I need a little hope, I need to know I'm not alone. Maybe God is calling you tonight to tell me something that might save my life.
Sunday evening and Monday morning, I admitted to my family, my close friends and my church staff that I needed to continue to seek help. I refuse to resign. I refuse to give up. I refuse to be labeled, forgotten, excluded or excommunicated because I am willing to stand up and take control of what has possessed me.
You may feel that battling depression is a medical problem, and you would have every legitimate reason to do so. There are medications and doctors which can be of great assistance, and I encourage those who are professionals in the medical and psychological field to make the proper diagnosis and determinations for you. I also believe as a pastor there is a spiritual component to this grip of sickness. Whether or not you consider depression to be a demonic stronghold, let me re-emphasize that Satan, the enemy of God, works in the painful platform of the flesh against all of God's people. And his biggest enemy against you is sickness and death. Depression is so staggering and severe that it both is a sickness and results in powerful physical side effects which can damage your health for many years to come. Worst of all, depression is a leading factor among suicide rates in teenagers and adults.
I refuse to be a statistic and to let you believe that is your only option.
Thank you for reading thus far. Here comes what I believe to be the most practical advice for anyone facing this harsh reality or a circumstance like the one I have just written about.
1. I am not weak. I am strong.
The haunting words stick with me. "I cannot follow a weak pastor." To the person who spoke them, I know your name and I forgive you. But you empowered me. I am not weak. I am strong. I am stronger than I have ever been in my entire life. Today, I choose to win, and I am not going to hide behind a cloak or a veil believing that I cannot be who God has called me to be.
You see, at our church we say "we love broken people, we are just not satisfied they stay that way." I am not satisfied with being mentally and physically broken and I have made a decision to seek help, three-fold: medically, professionally and socially. I am going to attack this bandaid-lacking disease with force, and I refuse to be labeled weak.
I have been insecure. I have told others I do not believe in myself. I have sat in front of a mirror and believed that every person in the world was better than me. No more. I am a child of the most-high king, and I was fearfully and wonderfully made. If you need a stronger person to follow, then it is perfectly ok if I don't exhibit the leadership you are looking for.
But in a church and a family full of brokenness, I am making a decision today that depression does not win. My countenance, my talk, my spirit, my life is changing. I will be boldly authentic and I will cry on a shoulder as much as I will be the shoulders for others who are battling the same.
You MUST face this and the very first step is slapping the lie of the devil in the face that admitting your battle with depression makes you weak. Contrary, I am strong. I am standing up today and telling you with the help of my God, my family, my church and my friends, no weapon formed against me will prosper. I'm going to win.
2. I am not alone. I have a team.
If you're going to face your giants, you will find out who your friends are. And when you do, they will be your friends for all time. But more than the supporting cast, you must remember that there is a friend that sticks closer than a brother, and God has promised that He will NEVER leave you, and NEVER forsake you.
I have a team. These are my teammates.
I have an amazing wife. Jen Freeman is the most incredible woman on the planet. God sent her to me, and she has endured the worst end of this battle to the point of utter exhaustion. But she is my rock and my fortress, sent to me by God to be my helpmate, my strength, my everything. She completes every single weakness in me and she is my all. My journey started with a heartfelt confessional of every single struggle and reality with my spouse and she loved me unconditionally. I am going to win because she is a winner. I love her more than anything other than my God.
I have two amazing children. Don't think my kids don't know this struggle. They have an exact pinpoint knowledge of their daddy at his best and his worst. I have a wonderfully smart and intellectual young lady who kisses me on the cheek every morning and every night and never gives up on me even in my worst days. I have a fun-filled, charismatic young man who can light the room on fire with his charm and then bless your socks off with his gentle mercy. They are my anchors on this team, and their daddy is going to win because of it.
I have a church staff that is out of this world. Instead of resigning a position, running from my problems or hiding from the truth, I entrusted my deepest struggles into the people I work with closely and they loved me, supported me and stood by me. I am a winner because God surrounded our church with a team of servants whose heart is bigger than their body. I am a winner because I learned to trust in them.
I have friends that I trust who know me at my best and my worst. Pardon my expression but they call me out on my worst days, and they let me wear the super cape on my best. They laugh at me, with me and for me, and a few times they yell and scream at me to get my stuff together. But they don't abandon me, and they see me just as the men who held up the arms of Moses when he got weary. They are willing to love my family and support my journey, and love me enough to tell me that it was time to seek help. I am a winner because of my friends. They are my shield, and through Christ, many times my social salvation.
I have mentors and doctors and professionals who understand this journey and want to see me succeed. Thank God someone didn't just throw a pill at me and expect me to get better. Instead, I have real people with genuine accountability who will open their time and availability to ensure that I reach the end of this journey and cross the finish line. I am a winner and a success story because of them.
I have God. I think that one is self-explanatory.
You must rely on your team. You are not alone, you are not alone. He will go before you, He will never leave you. And you need to find some people who won't either.
And if you're not in this battle for the long haul or for the best of my family, I must tell you that my journey with you may need a change in course. But that's OK. This battle isn't for everyone, but thank God some people are willing to stay.
3. I am not going back. I am moving forward.
You've heard that the past is in the past. That's good, except for the person battling depression. Because for many of us, the past IS the present and the future. Our ritualistic reach into where we have been daily alters where we are going. I have made a decision that I am not going back, but I have to address some things first, and you may need to do the same.
- I have destroyed relationships, and I am sorry. My attitude and my negativity have damaged my networks, my friendships and left me stranded alone among the company of what should have been allies. I am not going to be the grumpy guy in the room that no one wants to associate with any longer, and nor am I going to be the person that believes it is my task to point out the error of others ways and live in constant criticism. Those days are over. Depression will not hold my attitude and take that away from me any more. If you hear negative words from me, call me out. Put me on the firing line. Remind me that I left that person behind and he doesn't control me any more. In the words of Jesus, I am casting that legion out of me in Jesus name.
- I have damaged family, and I am sorry. I cannot tell you how many holidays, gatherings, conversations and relationships that my struggles have hurt. I am not going there any more. You can either give me a chance to change or hang onto it, but I am going to enjoy the things that matter most in life and it's time to set that stuff aside and move forward.
- I am not who I used to be. Time will prove it. The Kris that has hidden behind a mask for the last five years is coming out, and he is awesome. Try him on for size, because you'll like him so much better. I am not going to be controlled by shackles of my former self anymore. Let's break these chains.
- I am not scared. This is the most important thing I will write. You may think that the person battling depression is too fearful to confront it. That is often true. I have crossed a bridge. I will not shut up about this, and I am not going to stand idly by and watch another friend, colleague, church member, family member or even total stranger give up on their life for fear that they will be stigmatized by a brokenness that does not wear a cast or have a bandage. I am willing to stand up and fight and say the church MUST face mental illness. The church MUST face emotional instability. The church MUST face hard issues. I am not scared to say that I am going to beat this, and you can too.
- I am not living in a bubble. Depression isn't a contagious disease but it is a pervasive and destructive physical and spiritual force. I refuse to believe that I have nothing to contribute because I may not be perfect. In fact, it is just the opposite. I will succeed because I am encountering my demons and standing against them in Jesus name.
4. I am not going to win every battle, but I am going to be victorious.
The Bible says that yet in all these things, I am a conqueror. What that determines for me is that you must encounter great hardship before knowing the truest sense of victory.
There will be hard days, and mistakes along the way. There will be sinful reactions and great temptation to overcome. There will be destructive thoughts planted by the enemy of God and moments where the light does not seem possible at the end of the tunnel.
But I will put my feet on the floor, I will succeed. I will step forward.
And for you, these next words MUST become a part of your life.
- I will not value my life less than God does.
- I will not speak defeat against myself.
- I will not leave those who love me.
- I will not run when I am in fear.
- I will not EVER speak words of self-destruction and suicide and if I do, I give full permission to the people around me to act accordingly and take them seriously.
- I will not give up.
- I will not quit.
- I will not stop fighting.
I WILL wake up tomorrow. I will smile. I will live.
Today, I became stronger.
Now get on my shoulders. I need a few more teammates. Let's do this.
Depression, we're coming for you. So look out.
Don't be afraid, for I am with you. Don't be discouraged, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you. I will hold you up with my victorious right hand. - Isaiah 41:10 NLT
I love you, and these are my thoughts.
Song lyrics to "Save My Life" are copyright Sidewalk Prophets, 2015