My warped thinking and a little ray of lucidity

Here’s an example of how warped depression can make one’s thinking. I mean suicide is the obvious example, and for me, suicidal thoughts was the thing that actually triggered help seeking. At that point, I realized I couldn’t be ok and started to get help. But the example of crazy thinking that I want to relate today, was a little more subtle, but possibly as deadly.

I remember I used to wish I could get cancer.

See I was stuck in this position that was literally killing me. My ability to get the job done was slipping through my fingers in front of my eyes. The less work I got done, the more behind I got and the pressure ratcheted up. I was stuck in the position because my vocation was my calling, which in my mind was my destiny, therefore there was no plan B. This was it! Being in full time ministry, leading a large church that would grow and impact the region was my life goal. I had no thought of resigning and doing anything else.

In my mind, the only way out was to be too sick to do the job. Ironically, I was already too sick to do the job, I just didn’t know it. So I wished I could contract cancer. The way my messed up mind reasoned it, was that if I had cancer, I could bow out, and go to bed. My wife would stop nagging and criticizing me. The church would leave me alone, except for the well-wishers of course. I could get some sympathy. But best of all, I could stay in bed all day and never come out. Then in a few months I’d be dead and everyone could just move on.

You might think that’s a naive thought. No-one who knows anything about cancer, would want to contract it. But I did. During the time I was ill, a close friend of mine in the church suffered the loss of his wife to cancer. I was the first to arrive minutes after she died. She was emaciated beyond recognition. I had watched her die over the months she had fought the melanoma. Yeah I knew what it was like alright, but I still wanted it. That’s how badly I needed to get out of my situation. The mind really does do some crazy things when depression takes hold.

But in a lucid moment, self doubt crept in and I realized this wasn’t normal. I typed into my browser and looked at the checklist and mentally ticked off almost all the signs and symptoms of depression. This was the beginning and the end. The beginning of help seeking and the beginning of the end of my career as I knew it.


11 Responses

  1. I still find it ironic that in the middle of a job that was supposed to give hope to so many people, you were so lonely. Thank you for continuing to share your story. It is very brave and will empower others to re-evaluate their priorities. God bless you.

  2. Thanks for sharing this. I can certainly relate to the idea of loving your job/vocation and on the other hand wanting to escape from it. To the point of suicide. I also think this can occur also in non-ministry jobs.
    Yet their is something not quite authentic when it comes to ‘ministry position’
    Jack how much pressure to succeed came from your denomination (or the church culture), your church, or your self? Also the bigger question. At the time do you believe that ‘god’ was part of the pressure?

  3. I can really relate with this, John. Albeit I probably didn’t form such a detailed or articulate scenario in my own mind. There have been times, however, that I wished that what I was going through on the inside was a little more identifiable on the outside. People can deal with physical ailments, but outward manifestations of depression seem to annoy people more than engender any sense of sympathy or understanding.

  4. getto, the irony of being in a role “offering” abundant life isn’t wasted on me. I find it paradoxical and confusing.

    Scott, I agree there is definitely an inauthenticity in ministry. It comes from a belief that you can think and behave your way into change. While there’s an element of truth in that, if you push that idea, you end up ignoring your true state and your emotions and you’re just going through the motions and being a fake.

    Our denomination (pentecostal) has thrived on a large dose of “success” thinking and ideology so results are important, expected and believed for. The pressure didn’t come too much from church except there was always the negative voices that complained church wasn’t growing and people were leaving and I took that personally.

    In the main, the pressure to succeed though came from within. My identity was rooted in success or performance. I couldn’t decouple my own worth with my achievements. Depression has certainly taught me a difficult lesson and I hope I’ve learned it well.

    God? I’m a bit annoyed with God. I think he should do more to help himself. Here I was busting my gut, to try and build his church and reach the lost, and He didn’t seem to be doing anything much to help. After all, it was his cause I was bleeding for! He certainly is more mysterious than I’ll ever be able to figure.

    Dan, interesting you mention the physical aspect. Self harm stems from a desire I think to have some outward/physical evidence or sensation that connects to the inward pain. The most extreme form being suicide. While I seriously considered suicide by God’s grace I avoided it. I did however gravitate toward the pain and bleeding of tattoos, which was in some way an expression of my inward situation.

    thanks for your comments folks, I really appreciate your thoughts!

  5. I can relate to this so much. I used to wish I would get some deadly disease so that people would feel sorry for me. I thought the only way to get people to like me was to make them pity me. My mistake. Making myself a victim actually lost me more relationships than it got me.

    As far as God is concerned, I think he helps more than you realize. He knows what’s best for us and leads us along that path. Maybe he doesn’t want people to give up their dreams and goals to be so involved in the church. Maybe he doesn’t like martyrs or people that use him to preach hate or for their own benefit. I’m not telling you what to think, I respect your beliefs, I just think people put too much emphasis on God changing the world and giving us what we want. Maybe we should stop focusing on ourselves so much and actually think about the greater good.

    There’s a Gandhi quote I really like, “the way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.”

    • I agree that serving others is probably the most significant thing a human can do… but I really disagree with losing oneself. Our identity – self esteem and self concept underpins our mental and emotional health. You actually can’t give yourself away, until you know what it is you’re giving away…. “

      • I agree that we shouldn’t lose ourselves, but I think what the quote is saying is to forget about yourself and just focus on “serving” others. Get out of your head and stop being selfish, just give to others and be complete.

  6. Thanks for the reply Jack and your honesty in it. It sound like you are seeing things with much more clarity now outside of ‘minisrty’ than inside. Especially God.

  7. I think there is huge pressure for a pastor to be the main guy who runs the show aka church. Pastors are forced to wear too many hats and do too many things. I don’t think it’s odd your mind went to where you were wanting cancer. I think it was a defense mechanism to try and cope with being bogged down with too much. I also think society views pastors as having it all together when they struggle with the same things their congregants do. I think constantly being ‘on’ aka like being an actor on a stage is a pressure that doesn’t turn off once you go home. It’s like you can’t escape that constant pressure to look and act like you have it together. I’m glad you got help and are doing better. Do you still attend a church?

  8. rainbows, you are spot on. Being the “main guy”, “running the show”, “being on” all the time are all things that go with being the senior pastor of a large contemporary church. And they stink.

    I think the blame can be sheeted home to both pastors and congregations. Congregations lionize pastors, and pastors adopting the Steve Jobs charismatic corporate warrior model hold themselves up as the be all and end all.

    No I don’t attend a church. I’d love to, but there aren’t many around and it’s too painful to watch a group of truly committed genuine believers trying to push what I think is a bit of a dead duck. Or worse, being suffocated to death by the aforementioned waterfowl.

  9. I don’t blame you for not attending. I still struggle to force myself to walk in the door. I guess you could say due to experiencing a type of church split has made me leery of trusting other believers, especially in a church setting. But I still sense I need to go. I guess it’s been ingrained in me since birth.

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