Depression sucks. It really sucks. One of the worst things about depression is how it clouds your mind.
Reality can be a tricky thing. In reality, things were good. Not great, but definitely good. I have a wife, three kids, a dog, a house, a good job. I should have been on top of the world…and the weirdest thing was, I knew that.
But depression does something strange to your mind. Even if things are going well, depression makes you think that they aren’t. If you’re up, it convinces you that you’re really down. That was probably the hardest part for me: I knew that, based on the circumstances in my life, things should be going great. But I felt like crap all of the time.
And because I knew that my feelings were at odds with my circumstances, I always chose to do what I could to hide my feelings.
I convinced myself that others just couldn’t understand what I was going through. I was alone, and no one wanted to help me. If I were gone, I wouldn’t be missed.
In The Valley
I know that these are lies. I knew it then. But that only made it harder.
The best way I can think of to illustrate this actually comes from one of my favorite novels, The Hobbit, by J.R.R. Tolkien.
At one point in the story, Bilbo Baggins and the troupe of dwarves he’s traveling with must pass through a dark forest. They have been instructed to stay on the path, and told that they should not deviate from the path under any circumstances.
As they progress, they start to lose hope. They send Bilbo climbing up a tree to see if the end of their trek through the forest is in sight. He climbs to the top, encouraged to feel the sun on his face after so long. But when Bilbo comes down, he has discouraging news: the trees go on and on, in all directions.
In response to this news, the dwarves abandon the plan and leave the path, leading them straight into disaster.
What none of them realized was that they were actually nearing the end of their journey through the forest…but they were in a valley, and had no way to see just how close they were to reaching their goal.
That’s what depression does to your mind. A way out may just require a few simple, straightforward steps, but if you can’t see those steps, it feels like you may never make it back to “normal.”
Dealing With It…Or Not
For me, this mostly revolved around my struggles with debt. While I was paying as much as I could on all of my debts, I hadn’t changed my behavior. I wasn’t budgeting. I hadn’t stopped my wasteful spending. And while I made some progress, it wasn’t enough. I was still using my credit cards to fill the gap at the end of each month. Although my student loan debt was shrinking, I’d reduced my monthly payments as much as I could to give myself more flexibility each month, so it was shrinking very slowly.
I often wondered why my situation seemed so hopeless. My debt wasn’t that large. Here I am with a wife, and kids, and a house, and two cars, and a dog. This is the American Dream, isn’t it? So why does that dream feel so empty?
That was the hardest part about being depressed. In the overall scheme, things weren’t really so bad, and I knew it. I have a good life. I was depressed, but I didn’t feel like I had the right to be depressed.
So, I kept things bottled up. I wore my mask at work and at church, pretending things were going well while inside I struggled with thoughts of hopelessness and suicide. It was the knowledge that I couldn’t willfully put my family through the trauma that kept me from acting on those thoughts.
Turning It Around
I knew that something had to change.
I stopped drinking, both because I knew it was contributing to my destruction, and that I was wasting money I didn’t have on booze. It helped a little, but it wasn’t a solution.
What really turned it around for me was a class that my church was offering called Financial Peace University. I had never heard of Dave Ramsey before, but I knew that the last thing I had in my finances was peace.
What I hadn’t had up to this point was a plan. I had largely floundered through life, moving from one thing to the next because that seemed like the natural order of things. College followed high school. Master’s followed Bachelor’s. Through it all, I was living the all-too-typical modern lifestyle of instant gratification. Nothing too flashy, but enough to dig the hole that I had found myself in.
What I found in FPU was a plan that I could use to get my financial life in order. When I went to the classes, I felt like my brain had been lit on fire with hope and inspiration. My new-found exuberance and enthusiasm weirded out my wife, who wasn’t taking the class with me.
Intentionality = Success
It has taken some work, especially when it game to getting (and staying) on the same page with my wife regarding our finances, but we have turned a corner. The key is intentionality – instead of just blowing our money on whatever seems like a good idea at the time, we’re planning things out in advance. Our credit cards are little shreds of plastic in the landfill – one of them is totally paid off, and the other will be soon.
When I saw how being intentional in my finances quickly turned things around, I decided to be intentional about losing weight – my weight has been a struggle for years, and also contributed to my depression. As it turns out, my financial and health goals are pretty intertwined. I was wasting a lot of money on eating out, which made it practically impossible to lose weight and also contributed to my financial difficulties. Now that I’m not eating out all of the time, I’m eating healthier. I exercise every day, and I track how many calories I eat & how many I burn. I’ve lost 60 pounds so far, and I’m not done yet.
There Is Hope Out There
We hear a lot about the student loan crisis in America, and it seems like a situation without hope. It certainly did for me. But there is hope out there. It is possible to overcome past mistakes and make things better for yourself and your family.
One thing that keeps coming back to my mind:
Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.Romans 12:2
One thing I never want to be is a statistic – though, in today’s modern data-driven world, that is nearly unavoidable. But if I’m going to be a statistic, I at least want to be a good one. I don’t want to end up as some data point that the media uses to show everyone how hopeless our world has become, because there is hope out there.
All it takes is a little bit of sacrifice, and a lot of intention.