by Dale Wolery
Margot Kidder struggled bravely during her interview on “20/20” with Barbara Walters. “I’m not going to cry” she said, as tears leaked over their threshold.
Margot continued to describe honestly and vulnerably her long battle with depression. Her particular brand of depression is called “manic depression”. It is a severe depression characterized by desperate lows and equally painful highs. Like many people who struggle with depression, Margot has spent a good deal of energy throughout her life trying to keep her depression a secret. This life-long pursuit of secrecy, however, come to an end. The beginning of the end for her secret was her discovery at the end of a major manic episode, half naked, behind bushes of a Glendale, California residence. It was big news to find Christopher Reeve’s Lois Lane disoriented, disheveled and shrouded in shame. Now, we learned with Barbara Walters of Margot’s painful journey with depression.
Depression does not always come with manic episodes nor is it always revealed as dramatically as was Margot Kidder’s. Some depression invades a typical everyday life from out of the blue. It may creep in unexpectedly after a loss. Even when we think we are “over it all.” Some kinds of depression can be passed on via unwelcome genes. Biochemical changes or deficiencies can pull shut life’s drapes blocking all sunshine from entry. Sometimes depression can hover like a shadow over an entire lifetime. Low grade depression can keep us just enough in the dark that the gladness of light always seems foreign but never quite dark enough to force a crisis that would require us to get help.
Depression and Shame
The Christian faith is not a magical protective shield or automatic cure for depression. Tragically, it may, in some cases, even serve to insulate us from available help. This happens because in some Christian communities it is especially shameful to be depressed. In these settings, unhappiness is thought to be sinful. To admit to being unhappy, let alone depressed, is to insure that you will be thought of as a failure. To be depressed in these circles is to be a spiritual failure, to have “let God down,” to have been “a poor testimony,” to have not prayed hard enough or . . . the list goes on and on.
Being depressed about being depressed is a very common experience. Margot Kidder, Jane Christian and Joe Everyman all experience shame at simply being depressed. As with Margot, it becomes a secret to hide.
Unfortunately, this shame is dramatically compounded if we also experience shame about getting any help for the depression. These dual shames are paralyzingly powerful – it is shameful to need help and it is also shameful to get help. Right when the depressed person feels like every step in life requires more effort than it is worth, she/he must climb these massive shame mountains.
When we seek help we encounter all of the shaming stigmas associated with being in clinics, going to counselors and depending on medications. Instead of being appropriately proud of ourselves for seeking and getting the help we need, we even try to hide the help! Instead of having a supportive community who celebrates people when they recognize their need and take positive action to get help, many of us find ourselves in communities where neither the problem nor the solution can be discussed.
Those of us who are seeking complex solutions to troubling issues like depression understand the awe inspiring significance of every move toward healing. We salute and honor the Margot Kidders of the world who get help and share their stories.
The NACR supports those who are courageously chipping away at depression’s darkness. If this is your struggle, you are not alone. Most of us have been there at one time or another. We know what it’s like.