The Depressed Missionary. Part 3: Recovery

A couple months ago I posted about how Joy and I have been having an incredibly difficult time while overseas. I shared how we had finally “arrived” at what I believed to be God’s calling on my life. Somehow in the process of arriving there however, we had become so damaged and hurt that we, specifically I, could not actually fulfill our role there in Nabire. During perhaps the most difficult few months of our lives, we came to the realization that I was experiencing a depressive episode and that we needed some serious help.

In a previous post, I shared how we were moving back to the US for a year. The plan was for Joy and I to return to the MAF headquarters where I would continue working, and we would be seeking professional help as we worked through our brokenness.

The best way to describe this summer is to compare it to a roller coaster. If you’ve walked through a depressive episode, diagnosed or not, you understand that even during recovery, you have good days and bad days. There are moments when you feel the darkness creeping back in around the corners of your world. There are moments when you take a deep breath, look around, and realize that you are happy, not because of a drug, or something you ate, or something someone said, but just because you are. And then the day comes when you realize that you haven’t been actively trying to hide for days.

It happened just a couple weeks ago. I was working in the hangar at MAF, up to my elbows in project when I paused and looked around me. A sudden thought had come to me. I was content. It was an unlooked for epiphany. The darkness was gone.

The path to this point has been long, expensive, and uncomfortable. It’s been hard on my family, especially my wife. But we are doing so much better now.

When people ask us if we want to go back to Nabire, our answer has become a “Yes, but not yet.” Part of recovery for us has been learning to recognize our own needs, call them what they are, and choosing to be unashamed of them. Something we have to see that we need is time to be stable. Time to be home. And time to be with our friends and family.

That’s what this year is about. It’s about time to recover. Have you experienced depression and recovery? What helped you?

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10 thoughts on “The Depressed Missionary. Part 3: Recovery

  1. I was thinking about you yesterday and wondering how you were doing. It is so good to hear about your recovery and I’m so glad you were able to get the help you needed. Take whatever time you need, we are so happy that you and Joy are healing. Our prayers remain with you. Phil and Angela

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  2. Wow, my heart just broke 100 times. I was in Uganda 3 months last summer and became very depressed upon arriving home. My initial thought was that I had to go back because there I had so much peace. Well I have had a handful of opportunities to go back, but God is walking me through this depression that I so evidently pushed away and hid from for 10+ years. I’m am currently seeking recovery, but am at such a low place that I don’t get up to function. Thank you for sharing your journey. I long to do full time missions in Africa among children after I walk through healing.

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    • Thanks Cassandra for your comment. As a male, as someone in a performance based job, and as a professional Christian, admitting that I had a depressive episode almost felt like a failure, a deep personal flaw, or even a sin. There were many people who were incredibly supportive, and there were some who simply didn’t know what to do. Thankfully, no one ever told me to “just get better” though I heard things that weren’t far from it. It was a big step to put a name to what I was experiencing, and an even bigger step to go public with it. In the end though, it has been incredibly liberating. My depression was brought on by specific circumstances, and hopefully, those circumstances are not likely to reoccur, and so I don’t know the full depth of depression brought on by hormonal imbalances and such. However, regardless of the cause, recognizing it, and choosing to get help from professionals was the best move I could have made. Anyone not trained to understand and work with someone who is depressed will in the end just cause more hurt and suffering. For you Cassandra, don’t loose the vision God has given you. Don’t doubt that God can use you better because of what you have been through.

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  3. It is interesting to me to hear these few short descriptives of the inside of depression. Yes, I have felt some of that. Maybe I still do. Post partum depression is, for me, something that swirls in shades of grey. Some days are better. Most days are a bewilderment. I feel like I ought to feel better, be happy, be productive. But some days it’s all I can do to maintain and not feel like I’m floundering. It’s so hard to pinpoint, isn’t it? It just feels like I’m incapable or incompetent. It doesn’t feel like something that’s happening TO me. I wonder how long I will feel like this. I wonder if it will happen with every baby. I wonder how many years I will give of peace and rest and sanity to the very noble (and desired) course of having a family. I want kids more than I care about the rest. But I still think about it.

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    • The world of post-partum depression is not one I know anything about. (More than the obvious, I’m a dude issue.) Some of what you are experiencing may be the grieving of a lost independence and freedom as a new mom. If that is true, I can say this: It’s totally normal and OK. If what you are experiencing is deeper, then getting help can only be good. Perhaps there is a mom’s group you can visit, or a friend who has experienced that before who help give advice.
      Either way, know this, you don’t have to be alone, and you can find the full color of happy life again. My wife and I will be praying for you, Annie.

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      • What a kind reply!! Thank you!!

        I suspect it is partially what you say: the MASSIVE re-inventing of myself. I know that a good bit of it is nutritional, as I have found supplements that distinctly help with it. I think it is largely due to the incredible demand breast feeding puts on the body. I’m just being sapped of everything faster than I can replace it and it strongly affects my mood.

        Thank you again for the kind words. 🙂 And I do appreciate your openness in sharing your journey. Depression is not a very “accepted” thing to discuss. I’m glad you are.

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  4. Practically, I echo Amy’s sentiment of learning to set boundaries and say no. It’s hard, especially in full-time ministry, but soooo very necessary. Fight for a Sabbath, and keep it, even if it can’t be Sunday. I notice that I struggle more when I have too many “priorities.”

    Knowing your body helps too – what helps and what seems to trigger low cycles? Is there an effective way to counteract the triggers without a nasty backswing? Junior and senior year of college, I jogged down by the lake and back – sometimes with a friend, sometimes alone – first thing in the morning, and then usually rollerbladed for several hours at night. I know you used to jog, and maybe bike? It didn’t cure anything, but it certainly helped take the edge off. At Hume I hiked and swam, and here I’ve actually just taken a ‘demotion’ in one of my jobs so I can have a more physically active position. I’m basically allergic to this entire region, so any activity I get has to be inside 6 months of the year. Now that’s depressing. Only half joking.

    A huge encouragement was the writing of Henri Nouwen. I just deleted a huge paragraph to say: go look him up. The Inner Voice of Love is my personal go-to book, and I usually keep a pile of copies to give away, but they’re all given at the moment, even mine. He’s been an on-going encouragement and reminder that Christianity and depression are NOT mutually exclusive, and that amazing ministry comes from broken people.

    Lastly on here, choose your music carefully. My go-to album was Jars of Clay “Who We Are Instead.” But I learned pretty quickly that, in my case, music played a HUGE role in my perspective. Stuff that I could listen to normally (in one ear and out the other) was neutral at best and dangerous at worst. So I chose songs that told me what I needed to hear and remember and believe when I couldn’t call it up for myself. Some of that was Christian, and some of it was not. Garth Brooks “Standing Outside the Fire”, Rich Mullins “Hold Me Jesus”, and U2 “All That You Can’t Leave Behind” all made the list.

    Hope these give you new ideas, or encourage that what you’re already doing is worth it.

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  5. Hey Goose, thanks for sharing and being open and honest. Honestly, the depressed
    Goose seemed like a pretty nice guy, I cant wait to meet the healed Goose! Joking there. But I bet I am missing some great opportunities to add to my Goose quotes list while you are away. But it is good to hear you feel like things are going well and you are feeling content and not in the darkness you mentioned there in Nampa. Continued prayers for you guys for sure! Cant wait to see you in Nampa. We’re going straight to Red Robin! Ricky

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