Why Depression in Ministry Doesn't Have to End in Tragedy

Don't continue to drown. Get help. You're not alone. (Photo by Ian Espinosa on Unsplash)

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I'll never forget the moment.

I woke up in the middle of the night with severe chest pains. I thought I was having a heart attack. I was rushed to the hospital to find out what was wrong with me. The hospital ran lots of tests on me, but they all came back negative. On paper, nothing should have been wrong with me. But something was wrong with me, and over the course of the next month, I slipped into a deep, dark place. I didn't have a name for it, but it felt like the worst case of the flu ever. No appetite. No human contact wanted outside of my family. Deep despair for no reason. Severe insomnia. I would lie in bed and simply never get sleepy. I went seven days without any sleep. Yes, you read that right: seven days without any sleep. You know how it feels to miss one night of sleep? How about seven nights?

I could barely walk or function after missing that much sleep. Basically, I was like a zombie. I was spiraling down and down and down. I knew if I didn't get some help, I wasn't going to make it. It hurt that bad. I found out that you can burn out doing what you love.

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Finally, I got with a doctor who looked at me, listened to me and provided a diagnosis I hadn't thought about before. His diagnosis was clinical depression. I didn't understand what that meant. I had heard of it but thought it just meant you were sad and tired. This doctor helped me understand what depression is and isn't. It can be hereditary. I found out my mother had gone through depression. My grandmother had it. My cousin had it. And now I had it.

The doctor explained that my brain is a physical part of my body just like my arm, leg, hands and so forth. When you are stressed, it depletes some of a chemical in your brain called serotonin. Sustained stress can completely eliminate it. When that happens, your body locks down, and you feel even more miserable. This is when you go into full-blown depression. At the time, I had been running hard in ministry for over 18 years. Finally, my body said, "This is enough; we are not doing this anymore."

And it goes into lockdown mode. That was where I was. I literally could not function.

You can't understand what is happening if you've never walked through it. It is one of the worst experiences a person can go through. It's like falling into a deep, dark pit with no signs of getting back up. You get so low that death does seem like the only way to get out of the physical and emotional pain you are experiencing. But I didn't give up. I started taking medication that would balance my serotonin levels out. Slowly, it started working. With each passing day, I felt a little bit better and began noticing the beauty of God's creation that I had forgotten existed. A year later (yes, it takes a while), I started feeling like myself again.

I still take medication to help prevent relapse and will continue to do so. I am thankful that I have not had a major episode for over three years. It has been heartbreaking the last few weeks to read about high-profile pastors who could not survive the death grip depression had on them. And in their moment of desperation, they got to a point so low that they couldn't go on. If you are reading this and you are suffering with major depression, I've got good news—you can survive it. You are not alone. Other people are feeling the same way you do.

I know you want to be left alone during this time. You want to withdraw and not talk with anyone. But you need to know this—you can get past this. Yes, it will take some time (it took me a year to get back to "normal"). But there are brighter days ahead. The sun will shine again for you. Reach out to someone. Get some help. Go see a reputable doctor in your town that knows how to treat depression. See depression for what it is. It's an illness just like diabetes, cancer and emphysema are diseases. Yes, God can bring instant healing. But He may also bring healing through a doctor.

This is not about you not praying enough. It's not about you not reading enough chapters in your Bible. It's not about being weak and vulnerable. It's simply a part of the curse of sin that fell on us when Adam and Eve disobeyed God. You have too many blessings from God to walk out now. I know you can't really see them anymore. But they are there, if you look closely enough. You are not alone; the verse promises you this. Jesus will never leave you nor forsake you. He will walk through this with you. I can remember on my sixth night of not sleeping, I had tried to sleep, but it was useless. I finally got out of bed at around 5:00 a.m. I began walking around the living room singing a worship song. In that moment, God gave me a glimmer of hope that He would work through the doctor to bring me back. I was not alone. He was with me.

My friend, you are not alone. You have friends and family who want to help you come back. And God is for you. Lean on Him. You are here for a reason. God still has much for you to do. Your best days are ahead. If this article is about you. Feel free to contact me if you need help. I can help point you toward help.

Dale Hudson is a ministry builder. As a children's pastor, he has helped build some of the largest and fastest-growing children's ministries in the country. At Cross Church, he led the children's ministry to double in size. At Central Christian Church in Las Vegas, he helped the church grow from 8,000 to 16,000 in four years, with the majority of the growth coming from reaching unchurched families.

For the original article, visit relevantchildrensministry.com.

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