Friday, August 15, 2014

Peace Be With You - My Contribution to Not Alone: Stories of Living with Depresion

 Available here on Amazon
The following is my chapter from the book, Not Alone: Stories of Living with Depression. I have avoided posting it in completion because as with any writer, my hope is that everyone I know will buy the book in it's entirety. My hope still lies in your purchase or download, but in light of the recent suicide of Robin Williams and the vital discussions that have developed, I thought it critical that I share my experience with this debilitating disease. Although I encourage you to purchase the entire book, I hope that by sharing my contribution to this project, it will offer comfort to those who like me, live with and battle depression. I also hope that it will shed some light on what it means to suffer with depression for those on the outside. Not Alone is a collection of honest and raw stories from a community of writers that have all dealt with depression and learned how the light of faith can intertwine with darkness. The stories give a glimpse into the depressed existence, while revealing a rich and loving community of Christians . I hope that you enjoy my contribution and find encouragement. 

Chapter 19
Peace Be with You
By Jake Kampe

The stigma of depression in our culture makes it somewhat of a taboo to discuss. Christians who deal with depression are often ostracized, ignored or accused of having weak faith. I’ve even heard some imply that I cannot truly be a follower of Christ, let alone a pastor since I deal with depression. “You know, Jake, depression is a curse from God,”  has always been my favorite explanation. A very interesting concept, considering the depth of depression that King David suffered, and yet what was he called? Oh yeah, “a man after God’s own heart” (1 Samuel 13:14 NIV). I confess that I’ve felt abandoned by God, felt that I had pissed Him off, even felt that He was punishing me for one of my many screw ups in life. But I never felt that God had somehow divinely cursed me with the burden of depression.  

To say that I have lived with depression is an understatement. To say that I’ve seen glimpses of Hell is much more accurate. To say that fear is a companion emotion of depression is not quite the right description. Terror that has brought me to the brink of contemplating suicide is much more illustrative. When I meditate on the landscape that has been my journey through this world, depression has been right there with me, every step of the way. You might say that it’s been an unwelcome traveling companion. As far back as I can remember depression has made itself comfortable with almost every aspect of my life. During major life decisions, crossroads or milestones that have occurred in my life, depression has been there, reminding me that I have to engage in a consultation before proceeding. 

When I was very young, I vividly remember periods of unusual depression. I may not have realized the full magnitude of what was taking place in my psyche, but the seeds were being planted, the soil was being cultivated, and roots were beginning to form. The dark cloud of despair was beginning to form itself around my soul and would eventually contribute to molding me into the person I am today. Depression was introducing itself and settling into a comfortable place that would eventually develop into a long stay.  

I live with depression;  I also live with peace. The two go hand in hand, and although they do not live side by side in complete unity, they’ve learned to accept one another. Peace usually dominates the relationship these days, but occasionally depression takes the upper hand. Depression knows peace’s weaknesses and although peace is much stronger, wiser and rational, occasionally depression outsmarts peace and takes temporary control of the household. For a brief period of time, depression wreaks havoc and can quickly destroy a lot of what peace has built. The relationship between the two has not always been this way. Not so long ago, depression was the dominant force in the relationship. In fact, there were long periods of time when peace was forced to leave. Remaining in isolation and forced seclusion, I wondered if peace would ever return. 

Being part of a church always provided me with some much needed normality. I was raised in the Roman Catholic Church, and the traditions and rituals brought comfort and stability into the life that seemed to be becoming more unstable. Most people were always loving and caring, especially during the traditional greeting of “Peace be with you.”  I’m sure that in many instances it’s extended with a certain amount of ritual and habit, but to me it was warm and comforting, especially from those older than me. “Peace be with you, Jake”  they would say, warmly shaking my hand. “Yes!”, I thought to myself.  “Peace be with me.  Please, God”.

As the years passed, I became increasingly isolated and began to reject most attempts of friendship and expressions of love. Throughout junior high and high school, manifestations of depression resulted in bouts of anger and frustration. In my attempts to control the debilitating and helpless effects of depression, anger became my weapon of choice. Anger was more controllable. Anger was my decision to unleash and more controllable. It was mine, and in many ways it kept me warm from the chills of depression. 

As I grew older and settled into college life, depression became deeper and more real. I began to see that depression often distorts reality. Not only does it seem to affect the emotions of one’s internal make up, it also emotionally manipulates the external. There is no physical manifestation of the changes that depression initiates. No one else can see what the mind’s eye witnesses. But nonetheless, for the person dealing with the onslaught of severe depression, things just don’t seem the same. Reality becomes twisted, contorted and dreamlike. Nightmarish, unreal and even sometimes hallucinogenic was my reality.  

Toward the end of college, I felt as though my life was in full blown crisis. Regular cocktails of anti-depressants, downers, marijuana and alcohol only numbed the pain that was hiding just below the surface. The temporary alleviation of suffering created a false reality that only isolated me further. “Nothing seems real to me anymore” , I remember telling my therapist at the time.  He immediately said with a calm certainty, “Then Jake, you need to be in a place where things can feel real again.”  What was he saying? Did I need to be in a hospital? Institutionalized? Was I that bad off? I don’t remember much of those days, but I remember that moment very well. It was a sobering realization that my life had spiraled out of control. One question remained: Where was God in the midst of this downward journey into an unknown abyss?  

As I sought healing in my faith, even attending church, spending time in prayer or reading scripture became an uncomfortable experience. I suppose that even my image of God was distorted, but ironically my faith grew deeper. My convictions to know Him deeper and serve Him were growing as well. But like a car stuck in the mud, the more I spun the wheels of effort and faith, the deeper I seemed to sink. My prayers became mundane, spiritless and forced. I would frequently find it hard to focus on God and my anger and frustration soon became directed more toward Him. I began to envision God mockingly holding the key to my healing. Dangling it just beyond my reach, He would grin as I reached out.

If God loved me so much, why was He allowing me to suffer such a hellish existence? If He was real, why was He so apparently unwilling to lift me out of this despair. What possible good could my depression be accomplishing for Him and His Kingdom? Hebrews 13:5 & 6 says “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you”  “Really, God? Then where are you? Are you hiding from me? Playing games?” “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:10 NASB). “Then what is this miserable pit in which I’m living?” “Weeping may last through the night, but joy comes with the morning”? (Psalm 30:5 NLT). “Interesting, because the only morning visitors I ever had were fear and panic, God. Where is this joy you promised I am supposed to have?” “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you?” (John 14:27 NIV).  “Bullshit!”                   

But life continued on and I eventually met my wife who got to experience my ordeals first hand. In reality, I know that there were times when she contemplated leaving me to escape the nightmare that we now both shared. But by God’s grace, she remained by my side, as faithful and understanding as she could be. Ironically, in the long run depression strengthened our relationship, and we grew closer. My two sons came into the world and we began to build the family and life we had longed for. Despite the added stress and responsibility, becoming a father actually helped me deal with depression. Maybe it was because the focus shifted more from me and toward others that I loved. Maybe it was because I was learning and growing spiritually. Maybe it was because God was showing me that my life was actually blessed, rather than cursed. Either way, my children were a turning point for me. A much needed light in a long period of darkness.  

I awoke early on Easter Sunday of 2000 with a full blown, unexpected and unprovoked panic attack. In a cold sweat and with heart racing, I got out of bed and went for a walk just before the sun came up. As I walked, I began to pray. As I prayed, my pace increased to a run. As I ran, I began to scream at God in anger. As I screamed, I fell on the grass and broke down. I cried out to God, “Please, God! Stop this! Please! Free me from this hell that I’m in! I can’t do it anymore! What do I do? What have I done wrong? Please help me!”

God’s response? Clearly and almost audible, I heard Him say, “Be obedient, Jake.”  “What?” I thought to myself. Be obedient?”  At this point in my life, I had developed a regular prayer life, was involved in church, read my Bible and jumped through every freaking Christian hoop I could think of! How else could I be more obedient? “Be obedient to WHAT, God?” I cried out. He softly responded, “Just be obedient. You’re not being obedient.”  “I give up, God. You’re not going to help me. You’ve abandoned me. I guess I’m on my own!” I punched the ground and wept as the sun came up. “He is Risen!” I couldn’t have cared less on that Easter Sunday.             

Ironically, I look at this as my moment of healing, but there’s nothing magical that happened in me. No immediate change occurred in my soul, but as the days passed I meditated on what God meant. I realized that obedience had nothing to do with my feelings. It had nothing to do with my actions. And it really had nothing to do with me at all. What God revealed to me was that even though depression had taken over my life, it didn’t get me off the hook. He still wanted me to live as His child, free from darkness and fear. Depression and fear have no place in Kingdom of God, so I needed to show others just the opposite, even though I didn’t feel it. As I began to basically “fake it”, something interesting happened. I began to feel it. As others perceived me as being healed, I essentially was. As I became obedient, God did as well and peace found me again. That was over twelve years ago and although I still struggle with depression, it doesn’t control me. 

As bizarre as it may seem, I’ve found a way to thank God for depression. I see that it’s helped me become a better husband, father and even a better minister. I’m now able to not only sympathize with people, but I can also empathize. I feel the pain that others feel and it becomes real to me; so much so that I find myself wanting to avoid it. “God, please don’t make me go down this path with this person. The pain is too real. It’s too familiar.” But each time He reminds me that I’ll be OK. “Go with them. Feel their pain, Jake. This is not your life anymore, but you have to feel it with them now. It’s essential to your connection with them.”  So, I feel it. It hurts. My heart begins to race and I feel a cold sweat break out over my body. But I feel it with anyone who needs me to join them and I offer peace to be with them. As I feel their pain, I also feel peace rise inside of me, and as we share this common duality of emotions, the Kingdom of God becomes just a little more real for both of us. Peace be with you.        

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