By Rev. Debbie Sperry

This year, I faced the most significant bout of depression I’ve had in almost 15 years. For nearly 25 years, I’ve faced situational depression, which I’ve come to later understand as grief.  Whether it was “depression” or “grief” didn’t really matter. It weighed me down, stole my joy, clouded my focus, convinced me I couldn’t share my truth with others, and consumed me none the less. That type of pain, which for me feels like a suffocating darkness, can be hard to wrap your head around if you’ve never experienced it. Amid it, it was hard to imagine one person I could call and talk to honestly and openly. The particulars of my struggle felt shameful. My struggle to offer compassion, give of myself, or look with eyes of empathy felt antithetical to my faith and my call as a Christ-follower, let alone a pastor.  So, I didn’t dare share my doubts or my hardened heart.  And, as it always has, the darkness kept encroaching and pulling the air from my lungs, making my circle smaller and smaller.  

In the Spring, I fought hard to write an Easter sermon. I knew I’d see hundreds of people that morning, but I had to rally to find some good news I felt I could share honestly, given my state of mind. I struggled to proclaim the Good News of Easter when I barely felt any resurrection power in my own life.  

I’ve struggled to find my “old self.”  Shifts because of the pandemic, a change of appointment, and various factors in my personal life added layers and layers of grief to my story, as well as layers and layers of depression. I’ve had to work at moving through the sludge of emotion this year. Climatically, I had a scary night where I clearly saw how terrible I was feeling and how urgent it was to open doors to healing. I began to name my truth to a few trusted individuals timidly. I found a counselor. I found a counselor for a family member. I made some changes around me. 

One thing I’ve found helpful in my journey is the phrase: “If you can’t change your insides, change your outsides.” When I want to feel better emotionally but can’t quite get there, I organize my desk, sort the big stack of papers, or rearrange furniture—I make a dramatic change in some location in my environment—changing my outsides to remind myself that I can affect change to my emotions by how I engage with the world. I made sure I was eating to fuel my body and not to assuage my emotions. I was intentional about getting outside and in the sunlight. I tried to drink more water. I walked regularly and added cardio to help push out negative emotions. Those changes and the warming weather and longer days have brought new life, new hope, and more air into my lungs.

I’m better—much better, actually.  I still have the deep roots I grieve from my last appointment, and the swirl of personal changes continues, but hopefully, there is an opening for more space for healing coming soon.  Alongside feeling better, I’ve been at various conference meetings and engaged with colleagues face-to-face. In those exchanges, I’ve been reminded of rich and valuable relationships—people I indeed could have called on when things felt so stifling and dark. 

Recently, I connected with a local clergy colleague. We find ourselves both friends and colleagues and sharing openly and vulnerably comes easily. It’s been a couple of months since we’ve had a one-on-one, so there was lots of catching up and plenty of time. I confessed that it had gotten so bad that I had considered the worst and most permanent of ends to my pain. My friend said something that struck me as profound and true. He said, “I think when we hit that point, maybe something has to die—not us, but something—maybe our view of self, or our expectations for ourselves or those around us, or our dreams.”  

It was a helpful insight for me. I could almost feel an “amen” rise from my soul—an acknowledgment that much of what had been weighing me down—grief, high expectations, a lack of grace for myself—all needed to die in some way so that new life would have space.  

There’s not a perfect ending to this story. It’s just part of my ongoing journey of faith, which sometimes includes deep pain and profound grief. There’s an ebb and flow in my life that helps me remember, especially when I feel desperate or hopeless, that it does get better. I wish there were a concrete timeline, but there isn’t. But the new life I’ve found after such tremendous struggles reminds me to hold onto hope. I also must remember to hold onto people who care and personal practices that make a tangible difference.  

If you’ve struggled as I have, I hope you know there is hope, you are not alone, and there is something on the other side of the worst of it. And, if you ever feel you have no one you can turn to and tell your whole truth—there is—likely someone you know and love, and if that feels too risky, you are welcome to call me.  

Rev. Debbie Sperry serves as pastor of Wenatchee First United Methodist Church in Wenatchee, Washington.

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