Hi, I’m Jim. I have clinical depression.

That probably comes as a shock to those who know me only as a humor writer and motivational speaker.

I’ve joked that my depression probably began at birth since my blood type is B-Negative.

And so, I remember feeling a dark cloud of sadness during elementary school. In fact, while walking to the bus stop one day, I saw a huge earth-mover that was working on I-94 near my home come thundering down our road. I thought I could step out in front of it and those eight-feet tall tires will end all this sadness. However, the one thing that kept me from taking my own life was knowing if I committed suicide, my parents would kill me. (Such is the thinking of someone with mental illness—or a six-year old.)

I managed to plod through junior high—probably the source of all our deep-seated psychoses—high school, college and several years as youth pastor and then as full-time speaker for children, youth and adults camps and churches, and then my dream job working at a Christian publishing house.

I should have been happy. Lois and I loved our jobs and had two wonderful kids in a Christian school, I was having my books published, had earned national writing awards, was speaking all over the country. My tag line was actually “hope and humor!

And yet it often took all my willpower to simply get out of bed. I got a lot of ministry done, but it felt like I was carrying a big black boulder on my back which seemed to be getting heavier and heavier and heavier. I would drive past cemeteries and think Lucky stiffs!

Unfortunately, I got absolutely no help from the church. I was told I should have more faith and quit my “stinkin’ thinkin.’” And to reinforce that I was spiritually defective, we sang, “I’m so happy and here’s the reason why, Jesus took my burdens all away!” I wasn’t . . . and he didn’t!

It was so confusing as I thought I had a great spiritual life. I was an ordained minister, serving in a meaningful and productive ministry, and—most of all—felt so close to God in regular Bible study, prayer and journaling. Yet, my depression was always blamed on me and my lack of faith.

Finally, fortunately, after 30 years of suffering, a Christian doctor correctly diagnosed me and changed my life. He assured me that clinical depression was probably something I was born with. It was bio-chemical: a lack of serotonin and dopamine in my little brain. So, after trying three or four different antidepressants, I finally found one with the best benefits and least side effects, so I’d like to make a couple encouraging points.

You are not alone

First, if you’re depressed, you’re not alone. One in four people suffer with depression. So, if you have three friends who are not depressed—you probably are! And, you’re in good company with Job, King David, prophets Elijah and Jeremiah, as well as Martin Luther, C. S. Lewis, and Mother Teresa.

It has nothing to do with your spirituality

Second, clinical depression is believed to be a chemical imbalance and probably has nothing to do with your spirituality. It’s a result of the Fall just as much as physical suffering and natural disasters. All the positive thoughts and prayers probably won’t relieve it. So, to those who tell me to just have more faith, I’d love to tell them, “And you need to have more faith for your diabetes, your blood pressure and your ED!” Yeah . . . but I’m too nice!

All of us have a cross to bear. And over the last thirty years, I have not only learned to bear the cross, but to embrace it. Here’s why: People with clinical depression have been shown in study after study to be more empathetic to other people’s hurts, to think more deeply and to be more creative. No wonder almost all the authors I know—especially the humor writers—are clinically depressed.

So, I’m actually grateful to depression for making me caring, compassionate and creative. It’s allowed me to, as Paul writes, “to comfort those with the comfort I myself have received from the God of all comfort” (2 Corinthians 1:4).

And, most important . . .

There is hope

There’s a wide range of anti-depressants and your family doctor can help you find just the right one. However, a quick caveat: Meds are not the cure-all, but they do provide that extra mental strength to eat right, exercise, and to think, as Paul writes, on those things that are “true, honorable, right, pure, loving, admirable, excellent and praiseworthy” (Philippians 4:8).

And there are licensed, Christian therapists who can provide hope and help. I certainly needed counseling to shed years of guilt and shame heaped on me by previous churches.

You are not alone. You are not a spiritual failure. There is hope.

You can find more resources at my Hope and mental health post.

So . . . Hi, I’m Jim. I have clinical depression. But I have hope and joy in Jesus Christ!

Copyright © 2020 James N. Watkins

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