I am going to take a break from my more abstract discussions and share something that is both very difficult and incredibly important for me to share. Know that I am only sharing my story because I strongly believe there are many who have suffered in silence like I did for so many years. Before I start, let me share a verse that I believe speaks freedom and clarity to the issue that I am about to share:
“The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life.” – John 10:10
My name is Benjamin J. Denen and I have battled for most of my life what I can only describe as the darkness and fog of depression. My journey had been full of a loneliness and despair that I could not understand until one day I finally had the courage to get professional help (to which I must give a tremendous amount of credit to my incredibly supportive and encouraging wife).
From as early as middle school I can remember having bad days. Some days would string together and turn into bad weeks. As I got older, the bad days became more common. Eventually, things got so bad that I had to start describing them as “bad seasons”.
I was depressed. But for those who are suffering out there and don’t understand why, I want to explain that I didn’t always know that I was depressed. I felt off, fatigued, unhappy, insecure, stressed, or just plain not like myself. Depression is almost always unfairly associated with selfishness or a lack of faith in God which is why I refused to seek help for so many years. How can a professional church worker battle depression? My full-time job was to be close to God wasn’t it? Well, no, my “job” has never been about my relationship with God. That is a privilege. My job is about doing what God wants me to do with my occupation, not my relationship.
Back to the depression. I would go through long stretches where I felt so overwhelmed that I literally felt like I was suffocating. It was horrible. I did my best to hide it, but of course most people who were close to me knew something was wrong. Others just assumed I was moody or distant. The reality was I was dying inside from a pain that I could not articulate let alone understand. Again, how could I be depressed? I loved my job, my wife, my son, my family, and my God. I also felt very valued and that all of the above loved me back. What was there to be depressed about? Therein lay the majority of my battle… self-loathing for the way I felt.
When it came to a head
Ministry can be a difficult career path. There are lots of ups and downs and a tremendous amount of criticism. After a while, that criticism began chipping away at my soul. Believe it or not, the image-driven recording industry in Nashville was FAR kinder than full-time ministry. Sure, I felt constantly like I had to prove myself, but in the church world everything from your spirituality to how good of a husband you are constantly is under scrutiny. Though I am extremely thankful of my calling, it can be extremely, extremely brutal, especially for someone who has been battling depression their entire life.
Fast forward to this year. My life went through a major upheaval. I moved my family to a new state and a new ministry position. Before all this kicked into gear, I went through a serious bout of mononucleosis which at the time of this publication I am still battling fatigue symptoms from. That all combined to put me in an especially vulnerable state to where my depression dipped to lows that quite honestly terrified me. I found myself entertaining dangerous thoughts and questioning all kinds of things. In short, the darkness had overwhelmed my very soul.
Now, I know what many would say, “Why didn’t you pray and have faith?” My answer is that I did that over and over and over again. I burned holes in my carpet (figuratively speaking) on my knees in prayer. I agonized in prayer. I begged God to help me out of the hole I was in, to free me from the despair. I would lay awake for hours at a time with tears streaming down my face pleading for help, but I didn’t realize that help was available to me the entire time.
Before I get into the treatment, let me assure you that I never lost sight of God through any of this. I never felt abandoned or questioned His existence. I knew He loved me dearly, but I couldn’t find true peace for longer than days.
Relief and the road to healing
Finally, what pushed me over the edge was how horribly my spirit collapsed after going through some criticism. It felt like my heart was dying. The thing was, I even knew that the criticism wasn’t that abnormal or difficult to deal with. I just felt that my spirit had broken.
Then, the Holy Spirit began to breathe life into me through the words and teachings of one of my professors in my graduate program. He directly challenged the misguided notion that Christians, particularly pastors, are not supposed to need counseling or therapeutic help, especially anti-depressant medication. He used scripture of how Jesus valued holistic healing, as well as many more examples than I have time to get into in this one post.
Suffice it to say, I finally went to a doctor and told her honestly and truthfully how terrible I felt. Just admitting it to someone felt like a tremendous load was lifted from my shoulders. With incredible care and Godly kindness, she prescribed me a medication to help with a chemical imbalance as well as connected me with other life-changes that would help me out of the darkness. It was hard for me to accept that I was struggling with a disorder of any kind, but accept I did and that was truly one of the greatest decisions I have made in my entire life.
Four months later, I am writing this post because I know I am not alone in my struggles. Why do I believe that God led me to this treatment? The answer is simple. I have never felt closer to my Savior than I do today. Relying on medication discovered by His creation has only drawn me closer to Him. I firmly and fully reject that the medication I take daily is evidence of a lack of faith. Quite the opposite, it took a tremendous amount of faith that He would stand beside me as I stood in front of a doctor, as I took my first pill, and as I take this step of sharing my story. My faith has grown stronger because of this process.
Is my life better now? Yes, immeasurably. I cannot find the words to explain how different I feel today. I will never forget the day I first truly felt a difference. After taking the medication for a little while I woke up one day, and for the first time in as long as I could remember, I truly felt joy, the kind that the Bible promises. During my battles with depression I had completely lost that feeling and really didn’t believe I could feel it again. Now, I am walking in a joy that I never imagined possible.
Is life perfect for me? No. I still get down sometimes. Criticism still hurts. But though I may get down, I have not felt anything even remotely close to the soul-numbing despair I battled nearly every day. Now, it is the normal range of the blues that faith in God’s plan rescues me from. Now, along with the medications I am currently taking on a daily basis, I can turn to prayer and faith as the solution to trials.
What about you?
Do you or someone you care deeply about suffer from depression? Maybe it isn’t in the “obvious” sense of the word. I certainly didn’t accept or see it for years. Why are you not seeking help or encouraging that person to seek help? Is it because of social stigma? I can tell you that is why I did not. I felt pressured by false doctrine to stay away from that kind of help.
Let me explain it to you in the same way my professor did me. Say you suffered from a debilitating chronic pain that made it all but impossible to continue doing even the most basic functions in life. Sure, you could do them, but the pain was so great that enjoyment was all but snuffed out. Then, a doctor comes along and says, “Oh, that? That is super-easy to fix. All you need is to take this non-addictive aspirin with pretty much zero side-effects every day, and the pain will go away.” Would you take the aspirin? I know I would because I did.
Just a little over a week ago I read another incredibly tragic story of a teenage girl committing suicide. How many suicides could have been prevented if the stigma was gone and anyone battling the darkness could get immediate help? How many marriages could be saved? How many children could have more active parents? How many disciples of Christ could be empowered to live the mission God has for them?
I firmly believe that Satan’s mission is to steal, kill, and destroy the wonderful life that Jesus wants to give us in abundance. That “abundance” is not about possessions wealth, or success, but is a life of joy and contentment in whatever situation we live in. Depression has a cure, just as many diseases do. If we can credit Jesus for those cures, then we can credit Him for the cures available to those like me who have suffered through Satan’s mission long enough.
Some have cautioned me that this post might damage my reputation. That is a risk I am willing to take. I did not enter youth ministry to advance a career or reputation through my own ambition. I did it to help adults and students find their way out of darkness and into God’s amazing light. It is my prayer that my story, warts and all, can help someone in pain. If it does, any consequences I may endure are worth it.
My name is Benjamin J. Denen and I have survived a battle with a deadly foe. Jesus Christ is still my Rock and my Salvation. It is because of the strength He gave me that I sought help. It is because of His providence, wisdom, and grace that I am living in a joy that I had begun to thought I would never feel again. It is my prayer that anyone who is suffering as I did can be led by the Good Shepherd by the still waters and made to rest in His peace and love. The valleys of shadow and death will still come, but I chose to not die in my valley of depression. He led me out and He can do that for you as well.