I’ll never forget the day my (very) pregnant wife and I had joined some friends on their small boat, and we realized a bad storm was coming. We needed to get ashore quick, pedal to the metal; or we were in for some serious trouble. But the faster we went, the harder we hit the waves. I had to watch helplessly while my wife’s pregnant body bounced and slammed back down repeatedly against white-capped waves that felt as hard as concrete.
I gave my friend a “Do something!” look, and he returned it with a “What am I supposed to do?” look. We both knew that we couldn’t slow down. It was scary, but we endured that boat ride and everything worked out fine. That baby is now my 12 year-old little girl, Gwenny.
Now I’ll go further back in time to our first and only cruise-ship experience as a newly married couple. We passed through some treacherous waters then, too, but the cruise ship was so big that we didn’t really feel the motion or slam of the waves like in that little boat. The cruise ship simply glided on through the storm as we sat comfortably inside and had some nice, refreshing drinks.
That feeling of being on the waves in big boats versus small boats is how I can best explain what it’s like to deal with depression and anxiety. As one who has struggled with depression and anxiety for the vast majority of my life, I encounter people who can’t relate to the feeling of different brain chemistry literally changing the way one views, processes, and thinks about life. So let me explain.
Big Boat Days
I can wake up on a Monday with a lot on my to-do list, a half dozen projects to manage, and as a pastor, some delicate situations to help walk people through. And I love every bit of it. On this “typical Monday,” I see myself as a decent father and a pretty darn good husband. I can enjoy the chaos of my four kids and their friends traipsing in and out of the house. As a husband, father and pastor, it’s common for any given day to bring difficult challenges that weigh heavy on my heart, but on a Monday like this, I remain calm, and collected. I take some deep breaths and think, “I really love my life.”
But then, maybe on Tuesday, my brain chemistry is off.
Small Boat Days
It’s basically the same exact type of day as Monday, but now I feel spent, overwhelmed, sad and I find myself scrolling on Google to find another job. With different brain chemistry, I’m likely to be more selfish and irritable with my wife, or short-tempered with my kids. My kids’ friends aren’t even welcome to come inside. I start to think: Why is my existence so chaotic, so impossible and draining? This can’t be all there is to life. Same type of day, but two totally different experiences.
One can never know the feeling of this drastic fluctuation unless it’s personally experienced. We aren’t talking good days and bad days. Those are normal. What’s happening here is two different brain chemistries filtering and processing two relatively identical days. And that’s where the boats come back into the picture.
“Why is my existence so chaotic, so impossible and draining? This can’t be all there is to life.”
Being on that small, “don’t hurt my baby on these violent waters” boat is like that dreadful Tuesday with poor brain chemistry. Manageable challenges feel unmanageable. I feel every wave. I hyper-focus on my shortcomings and simply cannot enjoy my life or see how good it is.
But on “cruise ship Monday,” the problems are “not a problem.” I love it all: a demanding job and a crazy home life. I’m a good father, a good husband, and all friends are welcome inside! It’s like taking in the ocean scenery and sipping on that yummy drink during a week-long cruise.
Staying on the Big Boat
I have to work hard to “stay on the cruise ship.” I have a genetic disposition to depression and anxiety, and it’s chronic. I’ve learned I can’t manage it on my own. Help is needed. My help comes from anti-depressants, talking with a therapist, and reaching out to our church family. Leaning on their faith reminds me that brighter days are ahead and the God of hope is still in my corner.
I still have “small boat days” when things feel overwhelming, but for the first time in my adult life, I can say I’m the healthiest I’ve ever been. It’s been quite the journey to get here.
If you’re anything like me, and you can relate to “different-sized boat days,” help is out there. Don’t let another day go by without seeking help. Reach out to your church family at Seacoast. We’d love the opportunity to pray for you, connect you to resources, and help point you in the right direction. God has big plans for you, trust Him in taking your next step. You could even be in for a nice long cruise.
- We were not made to go through challenging circumstances alone. Seacoast offers encouraging support through pastoral counseling or the Encouragers team, made up of volunteers who want to help you along the journey.
- Watch as Pastor Joey and his wife, Priscilla, talk to Pastor Greg Surratt about their journey with depression.
NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness)
NAMI Charleston Area offers monthly support groups for family members and friends of those who have a loved one who suffers from a mental illness and also for individuals recovering from a brain disorder/mental illness. For more information, namicharlestonarea.org/ or nationally, nami.org.
(SC Lowcountry) A mental health resource center that provides counseling sessions. For more information, visit myliferesources.org/getting-started.
The National Suicide Hotline for crisis situations: 1-800-273-8255.
The United Way
(Association of South Carolina) This nonprofit provides mental health support and recovery program resources. For more information, visit: United Way.