I have never met Alan but have known him online for about 10 years and he is a friend on Facebook. He is the founding Pastor of New Life City in Albuquerque, New Mexico. This is his story of depression. I am grateful that Alan was transparent enough to share this publicly and for his permission to share his story here. Allan
Feb. 4 has always been a strange anniversary. I don’t always remember it and am not sure why it came to mind today. In 1990 on this date I was a pastor in Florida. It was Sunday and I had a public breakdown in the pulpit while commenting on John 14. ” God has promised to get us home safe,” I said, but “how can I preach about the love of God while my heart is so full of hate?” With those words I crumpled and began to ramble insanely. No one who was there will forget that frightening day. The background involves mental health as well and a stalker, but that is another story.
I can still feel the crisp air that hit me as bewildered men carried me from the building. I can feel the cold concrete on my back as I fell to the sidewalk. I can hear the questions and the inquiries about my pain. “I just can’t take the pain anymore,” was all I could say. I see the ambulance, taste the fear of my friends who couldn’t help me, remember my wife’s touch and voice when she arrived for the next service with the kids to witness an unfolding crisis.
It inaugurated a process that changed everything. From that day, I had to face that my depression was a mental illness that would destroy me if unaddressed. It was a catastrophic day for which I am now grateful. In 1990 depression was a public mystery. For many it was simply regarded as a sign of weakness. Today I embrace that weakness as my humanity.
The public knowledge of depression was wafer thin. Being a pastor who could not hold it together raised painful questions. If you cannot help yourself how can you help others? It seemed a fair question, but hard to face. I was falling apart and had no idea what to do. I seriously feared that I was descending into insanity. It took a major shift of thinking to consider that this problem had a solution which was not purely spiritual. How could a mental and emotional problem have a medical solution? It was a high wall to climb in my thinking.
A pastor friend introduced me to a psychiatrist named Herbert Wagemaker. He saved my life. In our first conversation, he said, “Alan, I am 90% sure I can help you.” Hope rose. His book “The Surprising Truth about Depression” can still be found. We became friends as most of our conversations were about theology and Jesus, not psychiatric treatments. He was a Young Life leader in his Episcopal Church and a fascinating man. He was God’s gift into that crisis. When I moved from Florida to Albuquerque my local doctor, Dale Gray, now retired, continued overseeing my care with wisdom and understanding. My present doctor is equally helpful. The medical profession has been my friend.
I write this to say that if you suffer depression there is hope. Depression does not define my life, but it has always been part of my story. Medication has not controlled my health, but I am an example of how proper use of meds can help through hard seasons. Too many people self-medicate with drugs and alcohol and too many die. On the other hand, too many people are overdosed and controlled by psychotropics. That has not been my story. Along with helpful doctors I had to learn strategies to overcome. It has been there that my faith in Christ and understanding of the scriptures has mattered. It has been there that I have at times helped others.
I also write because this condition too often ends in suicide. Many sufferers of depression want to die and contemplate that dying is better than living. There is a better way. There is a way that ends in life. I am not a mental health guru. I am a depression overcomer. Choose to get help; it can save your life. Learn strategies of overcoming not just coping. Perhaps more can be said about that later.