“Son, we’ve been praying for you, to get through this dark season in your life for some time now,” the pastor said with a foreboding expression.
“Usually I’d say this is a faith issue,” he continued, “but I know you have plenty of faith for God to break through this. There’s only one possibility left—you’re possessed by a demon.”
I couldn’t believe my ears. Possessed? Was that even a thing that could happen to Christians? I wasn’t sure, and I still don’t know the answer to that.
“What about some antidepressants?” I asked. “I hear these can be helpful for people who are struggling with depression.”
“Chris, you should know better than to ask that question. Do you want medicine to cloud your mind, cloud your judgment, and cloud your ability to be faithful to God. No, antidepressants are not a valid option for real Christians.”
To be frank, I was pissed off. It seemed like there were no options for me to find health, and my church wanted to burn me at the stake. I wasn’t going to let the church elders pray over me to be freed from demons, because I didn’t believe that had anything to do with my unending sadness.
But I trusted my church leadership. I wanted to, anyway. It’s the only church I’d ever been in as an adult, and I found a path toward maturity there. But this. This didn’t make any sense.
I walked out of that meeting more hopeless than I’d been in a very long time. I couldn’t take any meds, prayer wasn’t working, and—according to the leaders—I was also possessed. I didn’t know what to do.
So I did nothing.
For almost a decade, I never asked for prayer about my depression again. I faked it.
As a matter of fact, I made sure to hide any sadness that I felt whenever I was around church people. I wasn’t ready to deal with another accusation. I put my Sunday smile on, no matter how overwhelmed with sadness I was. Because I learned that the church wasn’t a safe place for my mental health, I decided to button up my emotions and act the part of a good little Christian.
At the same time, those words of judgment about antidepressant medications stuck with me. I didn’t want to be a sub-par Christian who was reliant upon outside help—especially since this help would only result in a muddled existence. So for seven years, I silently battled depression.
Too many days my depression would come out as anger, directed at my wife or my children. I did my best to survive, and I did, but just barely. I had no sense of joy, no sense of purpose, and nothing to look forward to every day when I woke up.
It stayed this way for seven years, until I had an appointment with my new primary care physician. As part of the normal work-up for a new patient, I took a simple “depression identification quiz.”
I aced the quiz—and ended up with a diagnosis of severe depression.
My new physician was also a Christian, so I talked with him about the spiritual side of antidepressants. He asked me a simple question: “Do you want to stay this way, or do you want to have a sense of hope in your life?” I was tired of being angry or sad all the time, so I agreed to start taking medication.
I wish I could tell you that my depression went away with the first pill. That wouldn’t be the truth. I still have good days and bad days. Not too long ago, I experienced a week of really, really bad days. But, I made it through that week, and I am making it through my life with more joy and a better sense of happiness undergirding my days.
It took me almost a decade, but I was able to overcome the lie that says depression equals possession.
I created a book that touches on experiences like this, moments where mental illness and the church intersect. Whispers in the Pews includes seventeen essays from men and women, pastors and nurses, parents and children—all of whom have experienced mental illness in the church. Some of the stories are positive, others less so. Together, they paint a tapestry of how the church responds to mental illness.
My hope is this tapestry will open doors for more honest conversations about the intersection of faith and mental health.
Chris Morris is a husband, father of four, CPA, and author. He writes honestly about pain, chronic illness, and hope. He’s the author of the new book Perfectly Abnormal, and co-author of the new release, Whispers in the Pews, Voices on Mental Illness in the Church. www.ChrisMorrisWrites.com