My Journey Through Depression

I’m wired with a type “A” personality….a high “D” if you’re familiar with the DISC personality test. Very driven…an overachiever…never satisfied with status quo.

I entered full-time ministry over nineteen years ago. From the start, I had an extreme passion to make a difference for Christ and reach others with His message. Many times during those nineteen years, I became unbalanced. I was so driven that it caused me to work too many hours, not take care of myself physically, and not get enough rest.

After just a few years in ministry, the door opened for me to serve in a mega church. This fueled my drive even more. My pace quickened as my responsibilities increased. My unbalance became even more apparent. This was no one’s fault but my own. I served under Pastors and leaders who cared for me and encouraged me to slow down and find some balance. But I wasn’t wise enough to listen…I mean really listen. I’d nod my head in agreement and then continue right on with my unrelenting pace.

In spring of 2008, my drive had reached a breaking point. For the past three years, I had been working 80-90 hours a week…getting into the office at 5:00 a.m and going home after 8:00 p.m. The ministry I was leading had exploded with growth and I was just trying to keep my head above water. I was also writing a book with deadlines to meet. In addition, I was flying around the country speaking at conferences. I would leave for the conferences on Friday, speak all day Saturday, get back after midnight on Saturday, and then be up early on Sunday to lead three services that day. Monday it all started again with no break.

Fridays were supposed to be my day off…but I rarely took them. If I wasn’t speaking at a conference, I was at the office working. My excuse was, “My wife is working and my kids are in school…so I’ll just work.” I had over six weeks of unused vacation time.

Finally in May of 2008, my body said, “That’s enough.” I woke up in the middle of the night with extreme chest pains. I thought I was having a heart attack. I went to urgent care and they ran an EKG and several other tests. They couldn’t find anything wrong with me.

The chest pains continued and over the next several days, I developed what felt like the worst case of the flu that I had ever experienced. My body ached all over. I lost my appetite. I could barely sleep at night.

Added to all this was the fact I was in the middle of a ministry transition. I knew God was done with me at the church I was at and He had opened the door for me to serve at another church in Florida. The stress of moving only made my condition worse.

My flu like symptoms continued. In fact, they got worse and worse. I continued to go to several different doctors and have multiple tests ran trying to figure out what was wrong. None of the tests showed there was anything wrong with me. I continued to have no appetite and lose weight. I also continued to have a hard time sleeping.

I finally hit the bottom. I could barely walk. I could not sleep at night. I went seven nights without sleeping. Yes…that’s correct. A full week without sleeping. I would just lay there at night staring at the ceiling…my mind racing.

I thought I was going to die. I felt like I had fallen into a dark pit and couldn’t get out. I had no emotions. I couldn’t laugh…I couldn’t feel any joy…I didn’t care about anything. I didn’t want to talk to anyone, I didn’t want to go outside, and I couldn’t stand even the slightest noise. Even a spoon hitting the side of a plate made me want to scream. I felt like a zombie. I wasn’t myself. It was like I was stuck in a bad dream and couldn’t get out.

Finally when I got to Florida, someone told me about a doctor who they thought could help me. He opened my eyes to the possibility that I was going through depression. My first reaction was “Depression…what’s that?” I had heard it mentioned, but just thought it meant you were sad or discouraged.

Through talking with this doctor and researching online, I found out more about clinical depression. I discovered there is a chemical in your brain called serotonin. When we go through stress it depletes it. Continued stress can eliminate it. When it is eliminated, the result is called “clinical depression.”

It became clear this was what had happened to me. I was going through clinical depression. The nineteen years of drive, stress, and not resting had finally caught up with me. I thought my life and ministry were over. I desperately needed help.

I discovered that you can’t just “pull” yourself out of clinical depression. People who don’t understand what clinical depression is may just say “Read a Bible verse, pray, and get over it.” That’s what I would have said before I experienced it. Now I realize you need medical help. Yes, God can bring instant healing…but He may also choose to bring healing through a doctor. That’s how He brought hope into my life.

The doctor told me I needed to give my mind and body time to stabilize. I needed to take medication that would help my serotonin build back up. He gave me medication to help me sleep. The reason I couldn’t sleep was because my adrenaline was stuck. My mind couldn’t slow down to rest. The medication he gave me helped my thoughts slow down and allowed me to start sleeping.

It was a gradual process. After a month of taking the medication, I gradually started feeling more like my old self again. I started to enjoy being around people again. I still had ups and downs, but with each passing month I begin to crawl out of the deep dark pit called clinical depression.

It’s now ten months later and I’m feeling great. I’m still taking the medication and probably will for at least a year or longer to make sure my serotonin level is where it needs to be. I look back and realize God used this experience in my life in a great way. Here some of the things I learned in my journey through depression.

Rest. I now take my days off. I finally learned my lesson. Even God took a day off! I don’t work crazy hours. I usually go home at 5:00 pm. Sometimes I even sleep in and go into the office after 10:00 a.m.

I don’t let my drive completely drive my life. The work will be there tomorrow. If I don’t get it all done…so what!

I take vacations. I won’t end a year without unused vacations.

I’ve learned to say no. I don’t travel as much. Last fall I said “no” to outside speaking engagements. I needed some time to recoup.

Family is what matters. My wife and kids stood by me through all this. I wouldn’t have made it without them. They are the most important thing in my life. They are my most important ministry. 

I exercise. I make the time to work out several days a week.

I am nothing without God. At my lowest point, I realized that my work, gifts, and drive are nothing without God. I was stripped down to the point where I realized that He is my all in all. I can do nothing without His help and blessing.

Listen to those around you. I should have listened to those who were telling me to slow down. I now have several people that hold me accountable and make sure I am taking my day off, going home at the right time, taking vacation, etc.

I have more empathy for those who are suffering from depression. You can’t fully understand it unless you’ve been through it. I have been able to help several people who were going through depression.

Friends are important. In the midst of my depression, I was supposed to start a new ministry position at another church. I had agreed to take the position before I was sick and now as I arrived in town, I was in no shape to begin work. I remember sitting in the Pastor’s office and crying because I could hardly walk much less work. I didn’t know how he would respond. I didn’t know if I would ever work again or have any future in ministry. I had already made plans for our family to move in with my parents since I might not have any income coming in. But this Pastor reached out to me in friendship. He told me when he hired me I had become part of his family. He took me in and said he would begin paying my salary immediately. He told me to take as much time as I needed to get better. So for the first six weeks, he paid my salary even though I couldn’t work. He stood by me and showed me what true friendship is. Without his support and the reassurance that he would take care us for as long as needed, I don’t know if I would have been able to recover. It was a big factor and I am eternally grateful to him.

So there you have it…the short version of my journey through depression. If you are reading this and you are experiencing depression, I trust it will help you see there is hope. You can make it. Things will get better. Just stay close to family and friends…trust in God…get medical help…and remember that others have been where you are. You can make it through it!