Yesterday I wrote about not allowing hatred, fear and prejudices to lurk in the dark shadows of your mind and influence your daily life. There are other things that lurk in the dark places in the minds of many; things which can be debilitating and cause them pain. Fear’s cohorts – anxiety and depression – can live there, too. Self-doubt at the dusky edges of the darkness can lead to self-loathing in the depths of the pit. The sense of powerlessness and hopelessness that may accompany these things can lead to thoughts that suicide as “the only way out”.
We saw on the news last night the story of a man, Jason Kandor, in Kansas City who withdrew from the race to be mayor there because he suffers from PTSD and depression from his time in the military serving in a war zone. The memories of that time had been living in the dark places in his mind for over 11 years and had pulled him into bouts of depression. For years he suppressed it, because that just what we do.
Some of the women who have come forward in the #MeToo! Movement have described the experience of suppressing the events of their sexual abuse in terms that sound a lot like PTSD – reactions of fear, anxiety, depression and more resulted not just from the actual event, but from the holding in of it, rather than reporting it.
Compounding the problem form many, especially the men, is a macho, sports-oriented culture in which phrases like “shake it off”, “man up”, or “play through the pain” are used as solutions to both physical and mental injuries. It wasn’t until recently that athletes began to realize the permanent, life-changing damage that concussions can cause. Before that, it was “shake it off and get back in the game.” We still don’t appreciate as a society the debilitating impact that depression can have on people. We are still saying to them, “suck it up and get back in the game.” We try to force them to push their depression back into the shadows of their minds. For most that really doesn’t work.
It would be easy to throw in some reference to Jesus and God here; and some readers would probable say “Oh good, he finally got the religious angle in”; but that is not appropriate here. This is not about religion and whether or not the person suffering through depression believes in God or not. They may have doubts about that because of their depression, but just telling them to pray about it is not the answer. If you want to tell them to pray; tell them to pray for the courage to get these things out into the light and to seek the help they need to deal with them. Tell them to make the same decision that Jason Kandor did and admit to themselves and others that they need that help and will seek it. This is not something that they can shake off or that they need to suck it up about, nor is it something, for which they can play through the pain.
So, what is our role when someone we know finally gets these dark things out into the open and seeks help? Many might turn their backs to them, trying to avoid being associated with someone who has “problems”. This is a time for unconditional support and friendship, not for criticism. This is not the time for a “Get back in the game” pep talk, nor for a “Oh, you poor thing” pity party. Those who are truly Christians will open their arms and ask, “How can I help you?” They need more than a pillow to cry on; they need a pillar to lean on. Be there for them. Be there to listen. Be there to understand. Be there to comfort. Be there to encourage. Be there to accompany them on their journey out of the darkness. You will never do anything more important in your life.
Have a great day in the light of the Son. If there are those around you who are dwelling in the darkness of PTSD or depression, be there for them. If you are wearing one of those little WWJD bracelets you will know what the answer is to that question when you extend your hand to help. Be there.