In the area where I grew up winter brings freezing fogs so thick that someone across the street appears as just a blurry shape and everything becomes coated in frost. These fogs and associated hoar frost can last for six weeks. Six long weeks of below-freezing temperatures and not seeing the sun or blue sky. Yet if you get out from under the inversion layer and up above the fog, there are beautiful calm sunny days completely removed from the misery down below the cloud.
Depression is like this fog. It oppresses me and cuts me off from joy. Life becomes a struggle, things that are usually easy and enjoyable to me (such as being alone) can become as treacherous as driving on ice. My world shrinks dramatically and I am numbed, insulated and isolated from society. Just as the hoar frost’s cold seeps in and chills my body, so depression seeps into my soul and chills my heart, a smothering fog which descends upon me and isolates me from my emotions and from other people.
Like the fog, depression is real. It is also deceptive. It feels like I am cut off from the world when in fact there is something smothering me, blanketing my heart with a gloom not its own. At such times hope is elusive, joy is a fading memory and not only is there no visible way out but it also seems impossible to know what direction to start searching in for it.
The way ‘out’ of depression is different for each person, but at least I do know what direction to begin seeking for it – up. Even in darkness and fog I can figure out which way is up. Even in deep depression I can call out to Jesus. Often all I can manage is, “Jesus help me!” That is enough. No matter how distant I may feel from God, He is still there, still knows me better than I know myself, is still all-powerful. Something has shrouded me and cut me off from consistently seeking or knowing Him. Peter, James and John were standing right beside Jesus but were still afraid as they entered the cloud (Luke 9:34). Yet even if all I am grasping is the conviction that God is good, I can at least cry out to Him for help.
listen to my prayer;
from the end of the earth I call to you
when my heart is faint.
(Psalm 61:1-2 ESV)
I do literally live at the ends of the earth with respect to the geographic region where this psalm was written, and when my heart is faint is when I am most desperate for God to hear my cry because I don’t have the strength to offer sophisticated long prayers. Then sometimes I just keep on crying out to God for help because I am so desperate. I consider this to be a better situation for my soul, though it never feels ‘better’ at the time:
Save me, O God!
For the waters have come up to my neck.
I sink in deep mire,
where there is no foothold;
I have come into deep waters,
and the flood sweeps over me.
I am weary with my crying out;
my throat is parched.
My eyes grow dim
with waiting for my God.
(Psalm 69:1-3 ESV)
The odd/infuriating/depressing/ironic thing about the Central Otago fogs that cause hoar frosts is that they form in clear, sunny calm weather (i.e., cold but beautiful weather), and depression can be like this too – life can be going really well yet the fog descends and I feel depressed when there is no obvious cause to feel that way. There are no easy answers, each time it happens I respond slightly differently. Maybe I’m learning better coping mechanisms, maybe I’m just running out of options, maybe I am actually growing in Christian maturity? Certainly I do not consider it an option to give in to depression and crawl into a hole, despite very much wanting to at times.