Sunday, November 6, 2011

Interview With Joy Wilson and the Not Alone Project

Visit author Joy Wilson at her website:  joyleewilson.org/wordpress/  

Interview With Jake Kampe, Contributor to Not Alone
 
I had the privilege this year of being a contributing author to Not Alone: Stories of Living With Depression, written by people who have suffered from depression.  We have openly shared our stories so that other people with depression will know that they are not alone in their pain.
I’ve had clinical depression all my life, and know the pain and isolation it causes.  I know the shame of crying uncontrollably in public for no apparent reason, panic attacks, fear of falling into a black, bottomless chasm and never coming out again, despair that just won’t go away. There is often a stigma associated with this disease, because our symptoms aren’t rational or predictable. So we hide behind a fa├žade whenever possible, and suffer in silence, never knowing that many people around us have similar feelings.

I first met Jake Kampe when he e-mailed me after reading my essay in Not Alone.  I learned he was a fellow contributor, and we discovered we shared the same feelings and many of the same experiences (which is the point of the book).  I asked Jake if I could interview him, so you can hear his story of hurt and hope.

Tell us a little bit about your spiritual journey, and why you decided to write your story for Not Alone?

First of all, I’m fairly new to the writing scene, so basically I write for anything, everything and anyone that will let me.  The mere fact that anyone sees any value in what I have to say is amazing.  I’m often my worst critic and regularly have to convince myself that I just might not be as full of crap as I imagine.  But I realized that I “needed” to contribute for me more than anything else. Revisiting some of the darkest places in my life was a confirming indicator in how much God has given me and how far I’ve come.  I’m the kind of person that doesn’t necessarily see things as they are within the moment.  I live much of my life in a retrospective perspective, which is probably why I am such a nostalgic person.  By the way, did you know that “nostalgia” was once thought to be a mental deficiency? Makes sense.

I’ve dealt with depression and severe anxiety for most of my life.  It sucks.  The darkest periods were during high school and college, and if it wasn’t for God and my extensive collection of Smiths CDs, I probably would not be writing this today.  As with anyone who has lived with depression, the journey has been extremely difficult and filled with a deep darkness that most people cannot even imagine.   I can remember many times crying out to God, especially when I became involved in vocational ministry, Why?  What possible good could come from this?  What is this accomplishing for Your Kingdom, God? I’m utterly useless!”  As hard as I tried, I could not see how God would use my experience of personal hell to further His message of being the light of the world.  For me, the light was flickering.  I felt like a hypocrite, a failure and at the very least, a weak Christian.  I frequently found myself angry with God and cursed Him often.  Instead of seeing the God of love that I now know He is, I only envisioned a vindictive God that I wanted nothing to do with, or at the very least saw Him as a divine practical joker.

Once I began to find healing, more stability and a semblance of peace in my life, I soon began to see things with a bit more clarity.  When I began to accept depression as part of my life, it was as if a fog had been lifted from my vision of the world and I began to see reality for what it really was. I think that’s one of the more sinister weapons that depression uses most often: the inability to see things as they are.  Reality becomes warped and distorted, creating a deeper spiral of darkness that just feeds on itself.  Things don’t look the same, smell the same or sound the same.  Reality can become almost hallucinogenic in the deepest times of depression.  The mind feeds on itself in this vicious circle of demoralizing thoughts that screw up the mind, body and spirit.  But as the fog clears, questions such as the ones I asked God begin to find the answers in the realty that once seemed so elusive.

Why do you think it’s so hard for people with depression to talk about it?

Because we’re chicken shit. We’re so caught up in this societal “appearance” game that we’re terrified to look weaker or more inferior to someone else.  Instead of embracing that depression is part of who we are, we hide it, ignore it and push it deep down inside.  What we don’t realize is that we’re subconsciously hindering aspects of ourselves that enable beautiful qualities that culture and the Kingdom need to see lived out.  People with depression have great empathy for others, they love deeper, hurt more and care about the world around them.  Those are qualities that are nothing to be ashamed of.  The world is in short supply of people that love painfully.

Depression has historically been considered a weakness.  It’s only been in recent years that people are finally realizing that it is in fact an illness.  Just as someone with cancer would seek medical treatment, someone with clinical and/or chemical depression must do the same.  A person with a broken arm gets a cast.  The heart attack victim has surgery.  The one with cancer is treated with chemo.  Unfortunately, most people who have not experienced intensive chronic depression cannot understand from their limited perspective.  That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but we live in a culture in which one usually has to physically see something before believing in its reality.  So it is with depression.

The same issues exist within the Church, and unfortunately maybe even to a much higher degree.  As I stated in Not Alone, one questionably well-intended friend once enlightened me that depression was a curse form God, and that I needed to repent of some sin in my life that was keeping me in bondage.  Luckily, I dismissed his advice and rested in what I knew was true.  God may have allowed me to remain in depression, but I never felt that He “made” me depressed.  We serve a God love.  Just read through 1 John 4:7-21.
I think that this kind of perspective comes from a warped view of the Gospel, wrong theology and basically just wrong thinking.  A life of following Christ has never been promised to be free of pain and suffering. In fact, we should expect it and maybe even welcome it.  Christ promised that we would have trouble in this world (John 16:33).  He states very clearly that one of the requirements of being His disciple is that we deny ourselves and pick up our own cross.  It is only then that we truly follow Him.

Carrying a cross is not easy.  It sucks.  It’s painful, embarrassing and difficult.  But suffering is an essential part of being a Christian.  In fact, many of the early Church Fathers considered it to be a spiritual discipline.  Imagine that concept being taught in today’s “Dr. Phil” society.

What has having depression cost you?

Well, let’s see.  If I add up the cost of hundreds of therapy sessions and medications alone….Hmmmm….Now that’s depressing.

When I look back in retrospect, I can see that depression has cost me a lot.  But it’s all relative.  It has to do with how you define “cost”.  Surely, I’ve missed out on a lot.  Depression causes deep fear, which held me back for quite a while.  Who knows what I could have accomplished much earlier in life had depression not been such an intricate part of my journey.  I might have decided to go into seminary in my early ‘20s instead of my ‘30s, or been the pastor of a mega-church (cringe!).  I might have written dozens of bestselling books.  I might have never met my wife and had the two amazing boys that I have today.  I might have never had the chance to meet you and the incredible people I know through the Not Alone Project.  I might have become an arrogant, cold, unloving, shallow, superficial person.  Everything I loathe today.  I’d say that maybe it’s cost me a lot, and maybe that’s a good thing.

Why do you say that depression can be a blessing?

I think I may have already jumped ahead and talked a little about this already, but I soon discovered that depression was somewhat of teacher to me.   And from its intensive education, I learned not only how to deal with depression in my own life, but how to minister to others suffering from the same demons that I once had.  I learned that I had been blessed with not only sympathy for others, but also empathy.  I hurt when others hurt.  When alking with someone with depression, I feel the pain that they feel.  I see what they see.  I hear what they hear.  And I find myself not wanting to travel down the dark road with them.  I think to myself,”Oh shit!  This is too real!  I can’t go there!  Too many familiar things in this story!”   But I go with them.  I take their hand and jump down that spiral of darkness just because they need me to.  I’ve learned to trust that God will not allow me to stay there anymore.  His hand pulls me back out, once the communal suffering is complete.  Kind of like a lifeline for a climber, descending into a deep crevasse.

I’ll be honest.   If could go back in time, and had the ability to change my life experience, I would not change anything.  As strange as it may sound, depression has been one of the greatest blessings in my life, because it made me into what I am today, and I like who I am.  Depression refined me, sculpted me and transformed my life.  Sometimes I see my life as a clay vessel, with God as the Potter. He created a vessel that for all practical purposes looked OK from an outside perspective.  But after careful analysis, God realized that what He had made was not quite what He wanted it to be.  The only way to transform a clay vessel into something new is to break it down.  It’s smashed into many pieces; the pieces are then crushed into smaller pieces and then ground into a fine dust. Water is again added and clay forms once again.  The Potter then begins to mold and shape the clay into the perfect vessel that He always intended to make by pushing, squeezing, stretching and cutting.  It’s not comfortable.  It doesn’t look pretty.

At last the vessel is as it should be, but still not complete.  For if it is used without being exposed to the heat, it will sag and wilt into a useless lump.  The furnace refines the vessel so that it can be used in fulfillment of why it was created. The fire is intense and burns away any material that is not mandatory to the vessel being hardened.  It’s ugly, chaotic and painful.  But when complete, and the vessel has been cooled, it’s now ready for use in the most essential way possible.

If there’s one thing you hope people can take away by reading your story, what would it be?

Like the title of the book says, you’re not alone.  That seems to be the essential message of all the authors and what we all tried to communicate.  Reading through the entire book, it’s as if a common thread of empathy runs through the pages of this community of people.   As a collective voice, we join together and agree that we share the same experiences and long for others to join the group.

My greatest hope, my humble prayer, is that people would see that recovery is not only possible, but a much fuller life is possible as well.  There were times in my life when I literally accepted that my life would not get any better.  I was convinced that my mind and psychological condition was beyond repair. I was broken and regardless of how much progress I might make, I would never have the life I had always hoped for. I resolved that I would probably never get married and subsequently never have children.  In the worst case scenario, I feared that one day my mind would just snap under the pressure of depression and I would have to be locked up in a nut house (I can say “nut house” because I consider myself a nut).

But man!  God not only blessed me with recovery and peace in my life, but He has given me more than I ever expected!  I got married to the same woman who suffered through the deepest and darkest days with me, I have two beautiful boys and God opened the door for me to go to seminary and dedicate  he rest of my life serving Him in vocational ministry.  Over the last 5 years, He also added writing to my life and ministry, which has opened even more doors of peace and joy.   How cool is that?  And it just continues to get better with age!  People ask me if I’m “healed” from depression and without hesitation, I tell them no, because I’m being healed every day.  I have peace, but just when I think my healing has come to fruition, God reveals something new and beautiful to me.  Peace grows deeper, and peace is an awesome gift of God, isn’t it?

Peace be with you!