Archive for the ‘Depression’ Category

Every once in a while, a dark and heavy thought floods my mind. I try to dismiss it because I know it’s not going anywhere healthy, but when things happen like the recent suicide of Robin Williams, I can’t avoid it.

What if I sink, too?

dark cloudsIf you’ve had a history of depression, I suspect you know the train of thought I’m talking about.

I remember feeling this profoundly the first time I watched the movie, “A Beautiful Mind.” Russell Crowe’s portrayal of mental illness in that movie rocked me to my core. It scared me.

Despite the fact that my depression is currently under control, what if the darkness returns and overwhelms me? What if I, like hymnist/poet William Cowper, enter a darkened state that plagues me for the rest of my days? Or – what if I develop Alzheimer’s disease and degenerate into helpless forgetfulness?

Morbid, I know – but you’ve thought about it too, right? Come on, be honest – our minds wander into these dark places whether we want them to or not!

That’s why this reading from Charles Spurgeon’s classic devotional book, Morning and Evening, was such a comfort today:

“And I will remember my covenant.”
Genesis 9:15

Mark the form of the promise. God does not say, “And when ye shall look upon the bow, and ye shall remember my covenant, then I will not destroy the earth,” but it is gloriously put, not upon our memory, which is fickle and frail, but upon God’s memory, which is infinite and immutable. “The bow shall be in the cloud; and I will look upon it, that I may remember the everlasting covenant.” Oh! it is not my remembering God, it is God’s remembering me which is the ground of my safety; it is not my laying hold of his covenant, but his covenant’s laying hold on me. Glory be to God! the whole of the bulwarks of salvation are secured by divine power, and even the minor towers, which we may imagine might have been left to man, are guarded by almighty strength. Even the remembrance of the covenant is not left to our memories, for we might forget, but our Lord cannot forget the saints whom he has graven on the palms of his hands. It is with us as with Israel in Egypt; the blood was upon the lintel and the two side-posts, but the Lord did not say, “When you see the blood I will pass over you,” but “When I see the blood I will pass over you.” My looking to Jesus brings me joy and peace, but it is God’s looking to Jesus which secures my salvation and that of all his elect, since it is impossible for our God to look at Christ, our bleeding Surety, and then to be angry with us for sins already punished in him. No, it is not left with us even to be saved by remembering the covenant. There is no linsey-wolsey here–not a single thread of the creature mars the fabric. It is not of man, neither by man, but of the Lord alone. We should remember the covenant, and we shall do it, through divine grace; but the hinge of our safety does not hang there–it is God’s remembering us, not our remembering him; and hence the covenant is an everlasting covenant.

The book of Isaiah uses striking language to make a similar point:

“Can a mother forget the baby at her breast
    and have no compassion on the child she has borne?
Though she may forget,
    I will not forget you! (Isaiah 49:15)

Even the bond, the memory, of a mother for her child may be broken. But God is way beyond these human limits. For which I am profoundly grateful.

I might, in fact, lose it. I might sink. I might forget. But my hope isn’t in MY remembering. It is in God’s infinite memory, and commitment, and power, and covenant. He alone is unfailing.

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This past weekend, I lost a friend to suicide.

Despondent over painful issues in his personal and family life, this man – a well-respected businessman who was loved and respected by hundreds – ended his own life.

Trey Pennington was a friend and social media collaborator, someone I had begun to know over recent years and wanted to know much better. I, and many others, will miss him deeply. The sorrow at this loss, and the angry sting of knowing that this gracious gentleman was finally overcome by depression and personal grief, has led me to take action on something I’ve put off long enough.

No-one can stop the wholesale carnage caused by depression each year. But maybe, by telling my story, I can help someone here or there who is living under dark clouds and doesn’t know what to do.

I lived under those clouds for decades. And, I’m recovering.

After Trey’s passing, I decided that, in his memory, I would finish and publish this story. I had put it on the backburner many times because, to tell the truth, although I have felt for years that I was destined to write in both short-form (blogs) and long-form (books), I was intimidated. My perfectionism – which once fed into depression like gasoline feeds flames – kept me back from writing more than a few posts.

No more. It’s time to take the fight to the enemy and try to take back some prisoners.

I have never been able to forget the wonderful foreword of J.I. Packer’s classic book, Knowing God, where he introduces the volume by saying, “As clowns yearn to play Hamlet, so I have wanted to write a book about God. This book, however, is not it….if what is written here helps anyone in the way that the meditations behind the writing helped me, the work will have been abundantly worth while.”

I feel like a clown among giants when I see the works of real authors. Nonetheless, my story may give understanding to a loved one, or help someone in darkness to face reality and get some help. If so, the work of writing – and the pain of living with depression for so many years – will have been “abundantly worthwhile.”

This is a quick read – maybe 15 minutes. And it has a particular focus on men, who often live in denial about things like depression. It is definitely not a literary masterpiece – it’s primarily a call to action.

The book is free to download and the file may be distributed freely:

Click to download –> Clearing Clouds

We can’t bring Trey back. But maybe we can pull some others back from the brink.

>> If you want to take a look at signs and symptoms of depression in a quick-read format, WebMD has the following helpful links:

Women and Depression

Men and Depression (on the topic of men, this is also quite helpful, from the Mayo Clinic)


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Four Words

“I can’t be that.”

Enervating words, from self to self.

“I’ve got you covered.”

Energizing words, from Father to son.

Every Sunday, there will be people in the pews whose minds replay those 4 words of discouragement, over and over, like an mp3 player stuck on repeat. Every great and inspiring example from the Bible and from real life is another whip with which to self-torment. Every stellar saint is a ghost, haunting the conscience; a glorious cause for fresh doubts. Good, godly, sensitive souls who have an over-developed sense of self-loathing.

These inward-looking saints – I count myself among them – cannot seem to hear good news without rummaging through the trash cans to find yesterday’s expired and moldy cold cuts.

Yes, some, in foolish pride, think when they hear the Word of God, “I can do that!” God will, in His wise and gentle power, reprove that presumption. But others are in a guilt cycle, unable to hear about holiness without fixating on inner uncleanness. After years of “I can’t…I don’t…I never…I’m worthless,” soon despair settles into the soul.

This is where we come in and say, “You have value.” This is where we say to our brethren, “I believe in you, and Jesus is looking upon you with favor.” This is where we give the ultimate good news, for both sinner and saint: “God has it covered. He gives a robe of pure righteousness to those who simply trust in Him. Your wretchedness, traded in for His righteousness.”

“I’ve got you covered,” says your Savior. Maybe you aren’t the apostle Paul, maybe you’re not George Whitfield, maybe you’ll never be Martin Luther or Charles Spurgeon or one of the many famously gifted, out-front saints of old.

Let those ghosts go. They aren’t your standard. You’re covered. And you have a unique role to play, one which will bring delight to your God and your own soul.

No, you can’t be that. But you’re not a nobody. Be His.


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The Alone Monster

In recent days, I’ve been able to re-establish contact with some long-ago friends – people with whom I was very close, but, as life circumstances changed, the relationships drifted into near-hibernation.

To pick up the phone, and to pick up right where we’d left off – the same affection, the foundation of mutual knowledge – is an immense joy. I love the new friendships I’ve made through social networks. But how I treasure those ties that have survived through decades. I’ve changed, they’ve changed, but the roots of trust built through prior vulnerability and many steps walked along the path together remain.

In a comforting way, they re-affirm that I’m not alone.

The reality is, many of us have deep secrets, dark troubles, monsters with which we wrestle – alone. For years, I tried to fight my way through depression, and failed – until I stepped out of the aloneness to acknowledge my problem and get help (what I had needed all those years was a pill to fix the biochemistry, and a willingness to be vulnerable).

A number of my friends and contacts are struggling, sometimes in deep loneliness – broken marriages, mental illness, messed-up kids. Who wants to go public with that? A recent suicide letter by a young man hiding a profoundly awful childhood trauma has become public – he tried to fight the darkness, that monster that grows larger the more alone you are – and finally gave up. He could not bring himself to divulge what was eating him away from the inside out. Heartbreaking.

We hear in the news about young men in the military who cannot take the trauma, and give the Alone Monster permission to point the gun inward and pull the trigger. There are great outreach programs for service people and vets but some try to go it alone. And lose the battle.

You can’t go back and unwind things done to you (or even by you, for that matter) in your childhood. You can’t wave a magic wand and fix a crumbling family. But you can do one thing – get help. You can slay some beasts alone, but others require warriors at your side, both personal and (perhaps) professional. The shame diminishes when you finally get honest, and the monster shrinks in size when others are there to come alongside.

Please – don’t go it alone. You can’t fix it all right away, but that doesn’t mean you’re destined to be swallowed up by the beast. Just do one thing first – get some help!


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You’re a man. And you’re down – a lot.

But depression? That’s for weaklings. Pills? Therapy? Not for men.

Get a clue, brother.

Manhood does not equal being stupid. And if you have a clogged artery near your heart, you don’t tough it out on your own and pretend it will go away.

You get it treated. Because it’s profoundly selfish not to.

I toughed it out for decades. Tried to “manage” and control the darkness. Finally hit the wall. Then, with the help of some medicine, I became a new man. The clouds cleared.

Maybe you think it’s shameful to admit that there could be a problem you can’t resolve by force of will. News flash: biochemistry does not yield to machismo. Darkness of soul is not something to be trifled with. Get some help.

October 7th is National Depression Screening Day. It’s as good a day as any to get a clue about what may be draining your strength and vitality. Taking a pill or getting some other form of treatment is far better than years of regret.

Take it from me. And while you’re at it, take it from you. You don’t need depression. Real men need to say No! to this thief of vigor and life – but first, you say “yes” to getting checked out.

[You know all that disclaimer language about “this is not medical advice,” “consult with your doctor” “your results may vary” “brush your teeth twice a day” etc? Yeah – insert that here]


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They still creep in sometimes.

Those dark tentacles, those poisonous appendages of the declawed monster that once held me in its unyielding grip.

Nobody sees the invisible fingers as they snake up from my subconscious, ascending like smoke to cloud the mind and darken the spirit.

“You really are worthless,” they whisper. “Your life is a waste…it’s all for nought.”

Fainter than before, but still in earshot, the corrosive chant of “Failure…” echoes dimly from the recesses.

There’s a twisted logic at times to the irrational accusations, and an unfortunate affinity that the poison-thoughts find in the despair-shaped spaces of my soul (which they once occupied unopposed). Having lost its grip on my spirit, depression does not give up the field readily when there is a fresh opportunity for battle, a new opening for psychological warfare.

As the sun exists to spread light and joy, so the poisoners have only one intent – to drag down and smother. To isolate, and wear down with threatening clouds of angst.

There can be only one response. A decisive, defiant slamming of that basement door. Opening the windows, letting the tendrils of smoke drift away, while attending to people and things that matter (and if you’re not “there” yet, able to do battle – Get Some Help).

They had enough of my time. No more. Begone.


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I was reading this morning in Craig Groeschel‘s (excellent) book, The Christian Atheist.

This phrase leaped out at me: No believer is so broken that the Master Potter can’t put you back together (p. 221).

I had been talking to my wife just the day before about the long, convoluted process of liberation that I have been through – how we may be released at one point in time from the prison, but that doesn’t mean that all the chains come off right away.

You see, Jesus, as a Physician, is not just there for the occasional office visit or emergency house call. He moves in. Full-time.

Liberation from sin, addiction, brokenness, frailty, and pride is a lifelong process. It’s not some one-and-done – “thanks for the prescription, Doc, now I’m all set for the next six months!” This Physician is in it for the long haul. And sometimes the physical afflictions (which He could heal in an instant, if He so choose) are the very means used to bring healing to the deeper, spiritual afflictions.

It’s easy to look back and question why it has taken so long. I sometimes shake my head in shame and perplexity at the chains that did not drop off immediately, at the time that ticked by while I stumbled around, made little apparent progress, and saw through distorted and darkened lenses.

But the Physician was there all along. And He’s still here, in the house. For the long haul.

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My lease was up on my Mazda6, and I decided to get another one – the 2010 model had a new look and some updated features. Sometimes you read about high-tech gadgets and snort (do I really need something like that??), but this car had something I’d never heard of before, and I immediately liked it because it addressed a real problem.

The feature? A Blind Spot Detection System.

Signals are sent out from the area of the two rear wheel wells, and when another vehicle is in your “blind” spot, a subtle but clear-enough little yellow indicator shows up in the side view mirror. And, if you hit your turn signal when something is in your blind spot, indicating that you’re about to move over, a warning tone sounds.

Why is this nice? Because we all have blind spots. And the best way to deal with them is to have some indicator that is watching our back, and letting us know what we don’t see.

For cars, that’s gadgetry. But in life, that’s usually people. People who are kind and caring and committed enough to tell us when we’re missing something. People who stay alongside us and gently, but firmly, let us know when we’re flying a bit blind. Because blind spots are reality – and true friends want to help prevent a crash.

One of my blind spots is “hacking around” with people. I like to joke and tease, and, in fact, it’s really a sign of affection in my family (if you’re NOT being teased, that’s when you worry…). But not everyone has the same outlook or sense of humor. I’ve had to eat some mea culpa crow more than once for carrying things a bit too far on Twitter (and in other places). Flying blind right into other people’s feelings.

I think it’s relatively easy to admit that we have blind spots, but what’s a lot harder to acknowledge with others is the broken limbs that afflict us. By this, I don’t mean arms in a sling. I mean biochemical/mood disorders. Emotional/mental instability. A family history of autism. Scars of childhood abuse. Parents or spouses or children afflicted with persistent medical conditions. Disease guilt. Wayward children. And the multitude of other limp-creating troubles that we don’t like to show.

And, in fact, it’s probably good that we don’t parade out for all to see every affliction that is behind those closed doors of our lives. But, like with our blind spots, and perhaps more so, we still need those who have our back. Those who come alongside, listen, understand, and provide warmth instead of judgment. Sometimes – most of the time – we can’t “fix” the situation. We just have to show up.

Do you have people like that in your life? If not, it’s time to stop pretending that you’re omniscient, or impervious to the troubles of this life. And, someone out there needs you watching their back also!

(and, by the way – like most people, I don’t particularly welcome boneheaded criticism from those who don’t even know me. But I DEEPLY value those who have earned my trust and respect, who are willing to be my Blind Spot Detection System. Or lend a hand when I’m limping!)


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My fellow-blogger Ann Handley wrote a wonderful little post entitled “I Suspect Everyone Else is Smarter, Better-looking, Taller, Cooler, Cuter, has Newer and Shinier Objects than I do (and is More Modest).

Beside winning this week’s prize for the biggest mouthful of a post title in the blogosphere, Ann helpfully discusses how the Internet makes it that much easier to compare ourselves to others, and to be found (at least in our own eyes) wanting.

Which got me to thinking about insecurity, a theme with which I have more than a passing familarity.

Most of us (save for the fanatically deluded) wrestle with some degree of insecurity, because truth be told, there is always someone – usually lots of someones! – better than us in a variety of ways. We might be OK-looking, but a quick glance at movie stars and models painfully reminds us that we’re not attracting a pack of paparazzi anytime soon. We might be reasonably intelligent, and paying the bills with a decent job, but we’re not retiring at age 32 with $500 million in stock options. And so on.

We can have at least 3 D’s of responding to our imperfections and insecurities:

1. Defeat. No matter what you have and how you’re put together, there’s always someone with more. People with very modest abilities, and even those who are greatly gifted, can equally succumb to the emotional paralysis of giving up in the face of comparisons and negative self-talk. Defeated people deal with their insecurities by taking no risks (it would only reinforce the sense of defeat) and spreading around the jinxie dust of glumness.

2. Delusion. When feeling insecure, there’s always the refuge of denial! And it can run two ways – the delusion that you can actually attain some form of perfection, and the equally dangerous delusion that you have nothing to offer. Folks inhabiting this “D” tend to wear masks and cannot risk self-disclosure.

3. Determination. A healthy response to your inevitable sense of imperfection is to embrace it, and to determine to cultivate what is good (and try to overcome or at least neutralize faults). Insecurity can drive some people to achieve great things, because a need is generated to both prove and improve something. These people admit their flaws, suck it up, and move forward – because surrendering to the stagnation of despair is a worse fault than all other faults.

I’ve certainly taken a 3-D approach over my lifetime; hopefully trending more toward Determination as the years have gone by. And learning the humility of limitations, and accepting the good company of other flawed people accompanying me on the journey, makes it that much easier to leave behind delusions and defeat. Feeling like you don’t measure up? Oh, good – another real person to talk to!

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It’s finally sunny out today. The winter has been long, and now I can walk out in the yard and see spring’s first flowers, some emerging green, and…my shadow.

shadow.jpgMy shadow.

It’s always there, that shadow. A darker projection of me. Stalking me. Talking to me. Following me around like a black cloud, ephemeral but inescapable.

Measuring every thought, word, and deed by a club-shaped yardstick. That “other” Steve Woodruff. The perfectionist.

He’s really starting to piss me off.

Restless and never satisfied, this shadow knows only one unreachable standard. Who can argue with the standard of perfection? But to reach it? Beginnings are insufficient – only final attainment matters. To try is indispensable, but to fail is inevitable.

“Hey, thanks for coming. Unfortunately, you don’t measure up. Like, never. Have a good day!”

Chased by the shadow, I’ve managed to drive forward relentlessly; some would say, quite successfully. But not according to that alter ego. He can’t be satisfied. He has taken the position of hostile witness, prosecutor, judge, and jury. In that courtroom, all defenses are in vain. Five steps forward, no steps back, or you’re through.

Having high standards is a good thing. Being addicted to perfectionism, however, really sucks. It sucks the joy out of living.

It is time to dismiss this winter-like apparition, this tyranny of displeasure, and walk out into the springtime, shutting the door on its oppressive presence. Oh, to enjoy the sunshine while ignoring the shadow! To be imperfect and perfectly OK with that! Surely there must be a place for high ideals and imperfect reals, for moving forward without gazing backward, for holiness without heaviness!

Get thee behind me, Shadow!” Ooops, I guess that’s sort of stating the obvious. Just stay back there and shut up, will ya? Time is short, and I’ve wasted enough of it…

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