Chris Cornell’s Black Hole Sun

As rock fans know, on May 18, Soundgarden’s Chris Cornell was found dead in his hotel room in Detroit. It was officially ruled a suicide by hanging. His wife says she thinks it was related to Ativan, a prescription drug mostly used to treat anxiety disorders. I know he had a history of depression and drug addiction. That combination often ends in tragedy.

Still, I have a hard time understanding it, because I saw him on CBS’s Saturday Morning show last month, and it looked like everything was going well for him. He wrote the theme song for “The Promise.”

I was interested in the movie before. The song was so beautifully poignant, I really wanted to see the movie after that. My girlfriend and I both loved the movie. We had never heard of the Turkish genocide campaign against the Armenians, so we learned something important. Cornell made us both want to see it.

Chris Cornell was touring with Soundgarden and excited about the new music they were making. He was proud of the music he wrote for the movie. He sounded optimistic, and it seemed like he had every reason to be happy with his life now. He did not seem like he had any reason to want to die. That’s why the news came as such a shock. And yet I know that’s what depression can do to you.

I don’t know if Cornell’s case was related to depression. The last time he spoke to his wife, he told her he had taken extra Ativan. I’ve posted before about my use of antidepressant drugs. In my case, they have helped tremendously, but they don’t work for everyone. Sometimes they can make the condition worse, so you have to work closely with your physician if you decide to try it. Any kind of psycho-tropic drug affects everyone differently. It’s possible that too much of it took his mind to a place we can’t understand, where hanging himself made perfect sense. The fact that an anti-anxiety drug was prescribed for him shows he was having some struggles.

When your sun is a black hole

I’ve seen it before, especially in people who struggle with both depression and/or drug addiction. They get treatment, they get clean and sober, and they look happy. They show no signs of being suicidal. They get their career and family life back on track. You think they’ve turned their lives around, then BAM! The news hits you like a 2″ x 4″. You saw them just a few days or weeks ago, and you wonder why you didn’t see any signs.

Since my girlfriend knows I have a history with depression, she couldn’t help wondering about me. I reassured her that I’m not just pretending to be happy. I really am, thanks in large part to her. But that’s what happens to the people left behind. It makes you second-guess yourself and everyone you love, especially if you know they have struggled with depression and/or drugs in the past. They look happy, but how do I know? And so with her worried about me, I gave her my word I would never do that to her. Is that enough? I hope so, because it really was the only assurance I could offer.

I wouldn’t do that to her, or my mother, or sister, or father, or niece or nephew, or brother-in-law, or all the relatives I see most every year in our family reunions, or my friends at church. When I think of Cornell, I feel at a loss. Such a great talent. Such a great voice. Such great music he made. He had a wife and children who loved him. If I was shocked, sad, and baffled, how must they feel?

Higher truth

I don’t care who you are, you have people in your life who love you and care about you. Suicide will leave them devastated and agonizing about where they went wrong. Even if it’s just one person who cares, think how they will feel if you go through with it. Even if no person on earth loves you, God does. If you don’t believe in God, God still believes in you.

God put you here in this life in this time for a reason. If you can’t see that reason, keep trying until you do. I’m still not sure what purpose God made me for, but in my lowest points in life, what stopped me from suicide was I didn’t want to hurt my family, and I didn’t want to die without fulfilling God’s purpose for me. I just kept trudging through the darkness, not knowing if I was going in the right direction, with nothing but the hope that someday, somehow, I would find out my reason for living. And now, I’m finally starting to see that as a possibility.

Some of those things I went through for so long when I was really in the depths of depression, I wouldn’t wish on anyone. I would never want to go back there. But the fact that I can see the light now proves I did the right thing to keep living when that was all I could do. And if I can use that experience to help one person who is lost, who doesn’t see any possibility for happiness in this life, if I can convince you to never give up on life because one day I promise you, you will find your way, then everything I went through was worth it.

Keep hanging in there. Seek, and you will find. You can have a happy and fulfilling life. You just need to learn how to stop depression from sabotaging it.

Related Posts

How Christians Think about Mental Illness Needs to Change

3 Reasons Why Faith Matters in Recovery

Depressed Christian, Part 1 – Four Principles Guiding My Recovery



3 Reasons Why Faith Matters in Recovery

#faithanddepression #12steps

A couple of months ago, I got a notice that someone liked one of my posts. It happens sometimes. (Why do you look skeptical?)

Because we’re both on WordPress, the email gave links to a few of his posts. I clicked one where he talked about reading his official diagnosis from his therapist, and it got him down. I knew what he meant. When I got tested for depression, the therapist was very helpful after the fact. But when I read the report, it was probably the most depressing thing I had ever read.

If you are considering getting tested for depression, I do want to encourage you to do it. It was very enlightening for me. But I’ll give you the same advice I gave this person: Do not read the report unless you absolutely have to. Keep a copy of it in your file cabinet, in case one day someone needs to see it, but DO NOT READ IT YOURSELF. It was written for other health professionals, with jargon that sounds much worse than it really is. Only two parts of the report will help you: The diagnosis (clinical depression, bipolar, whatever), and the recommended treatment. Nothing else in the report will be helpful to you. In fact, it may do more harm than good.

He said, “Amen to this. Focusing on the treatment is much more productive. Of course, being depressed, my mind enjoys wandering to the negative. Fighting it, one day at a time. Thanks for your perspective!”

That might have been the end of our exchange, but it sounded like he needed a little more encouragement, so I responded…

“That’s how it is with the depressed brain. Our vision tends to be dark, so we need to find light wherever we can. One thing I like about my religious tradition is it says our purpose is to glorify God and to enjoy God forever. God is for our joy and our recovery. So keep turning toward the light.”

I didn’t think I was forcing my religion on him. First I acknowledged a depressed brain does gravitate toward darkness. I know the same way he does, from experience. So I was just offering a bit of light I’ve found. I didn’t say this, but when I share with you something that’s helped me, I’m not trying to convert you. All I’m saying is this helped me. If it helps you, great. If it doesn’t, find something that does.

This was his response, and I’ll warn you there is some rough language in it.

“I’m glad you find strength in your religion. However, we are all a product of our circumstances. There is no god. And I think a part of us knows that this is true. There are about two billion Christians who believe to be blessed to the have true faith. Now replace ‘Christians’ with ‘Muslims.’ The truth is, none of us know what the fuck we are doing. All of us are just desperate for meaning.”

Apparently, it was not received the way I intended. Of course I wanted to smooth things over, so I said,

“Whatever you believe or don’t believe is fine. I don’t subscribe to any idea of one and only one way or one and only one truth. Even with my faith, I have felt lost at times. As you say, we are all desperate for meaning, so I just want to encourage you to find your source (or sources) of light and meaning.”

I’m writing now because it needed more of a response than I could put in the Comments. I think he expressed something a lot of people are thinking. Even if they don’t believe with assurance that there is no god, like a genuine atheist, they do sometimes wonder, “Is there a God? I mean really? How do I know?” So to address this, I want to break down what he said.

  1. There is no god.
  2. A part of us knows this is true.
  3. All Christians believe they have the true faith. So do Muslims. [Implied: which one is right?]
  4. None of us knows what we are doing.
  5. We are all just desperate for meaning.

I’m not sure how numbers 4 and 5 mean there is no god. To me, they just sound like a description of the human condition and point out the need for a good recovery program. So what about 1-3?

There is no God, and everyone really knows it. They’re just afraid to admit it. He might really believe this. If someone honestly believes there is no god, I have no quarrel with that. However, I know these are the kind of thoughts a depressed brain will tell you. That’s one thing everyone needs to understand about depression. There is situational depression, and there is clinical depression. My tests showed that I have clinical depression, and that means my brain wasn’t producing normal levels of natural antidepressants like Serotonin and Dopamine. And a brain like that will make you have depressed thoughts, even if there’s no reason for it. It shocked me, but it also helped me understand my life. My sister said she had always experienced me as depressed. Even at times when I thought I was happy, I felt some underlying sadness that wouldn’t go away. I finally understood why. I was living with a depressed brain.

The depressed brain will speak with the authority of ultimate truth, and it will be easy to believe. It’s like Poe’s Raven. The narrator in the poem is depressed. A raven flies into his house. The raven can speak, but only one word: Nevermore. The narrator asks questions that need positive answers, and he’s asking a bird that can only say, “Nevermore.” You see the problem there? No matter what he asks, the bird’s answer will always be, “Nevermore.”

The love of my life has died. Will I ever be happy again? Nevermore.

When will God stop hating me? Nevermore.

Will the Cubs win the World Series? Nevermore.

On that last question, what if an overzealous Cubs fan who lived to see his team win the World Series asked the Raven that question two weeks ago, and because of the bird’s answer, killed himself? That’s crazy, you say. No one would kill themselves over their sports team. Have you seen sports fans? But you see the irony. Three weeks ago, it could have appeared to be true. But the bird isn’t speaking “the truth.” It does not even know how to give positive answers. It’s the same with the depressed brain. It says things like, “You’re worthless. No one loves you. There is no god and everyone knows it. Everyone’s dishonest. You screw up everything. God hates you. God has abandoned you.” What does your depressed brain say to you? Like the Raven, that’s all it knows how to say. So never take your depressed brain to be the ultimate truth. You are just as likely to get “the truth” from a Magic 8-Ball.

Image of Magic 8-Ball, Don't ask me. I'm a ball.
My sources say, “Nevermore.”

One of the most important things I heard someone say when I was at a low point in my life was, Don’t believe your feelings [or thoughts] when you’re depressed. Your feelings will tell you God does not love you. God has abandoned you. You are all alone in this world. But God’s word says I will never leave you nor forsake you. God so loved you that He gave His only Begotten Son. While we were yet sinners [i.e., worthless], Christ died for us. That is true no matter what you feel. Feelings will change according to circumstances, but God’s word is always true in any circumstance.

But when the depressed thoughts come, it’s so easy to believe them. I don’t know why. Maybe it’s because it comes from our own mind, so we automatically assume it’s the truth. My own mind wouldn’t lie to me, right? WRONG! It lies to you all the time. And when it assaults you with dark thoughts like these, you are in a battle like what Paul described in 2 Corinthians 10:4-5.

(For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds;) Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ (KJV).

This is true no matter what religion you are. In order to stop the dark imaginations from taking over your mind and your life, you need to have the tools and weapons to fight against them. When De-elevator attacks you (I’ve started calling the depressed voice in my head De-elevator, as in Prince’s song, “Let’s Go Crazy”), you need to fight back. Ephesians 6:10-18 is the famous passage about the Whole Armor of God: Faith, Salvation, Truth, Peace, the Word of God – these are powerful armor and weapons in the fight.

If you’re not a Christian, you don’t read the Bible, that’s fine, but you’ve got to find something, some power and authority and truth that is greater than your own thoughts and feelings. And whatever your greater truth is, it must be based in love, or it will fail. That is the only saying of any religion I hold to be absolute truth. God (or the higher power) is love (1Jn 4:8).

If you say, “Which God? The Christian God? The Muslim God? The Jewish God? Some pagan God?” I say, When it comes to recovery, that is the wrong question to ask.

As a Christian, Presbyterian to be specific, I would love it if everyone believed in the same God I do. But history has shown over and over you cannot force everyone to believe the same way. Any religion can resonate with some people, but there has never been any religion that resonates with everyone. In order to live together, we all have to make room for people who come from a belief system or culture that’s different from our own. This is one reason I’ve found Alcohlics Anonymous’s 12 Steps to be helpful. I can’t name off all the 12 Steps, but I always remember the first three.

  1. Admit that you are an alcoholic (or addict, depressed, or whatever you seek to recover from).
  2. Believe in a higher power.
  3. Submit your life to your higher power.

Notice in those second and third steps, they don’t say believe in the Christian god or Muslim god or any particular god. They don’t even say, Believe in God. They say, Believe in a higher power, i.e., some power greater than yourself that you can trust to help you on your journey of recovery. Your higher power does not have to come from any particular religion. It doesn’t even have to be a god in the traditional sense. Most forms of Buddhism, for example, have no formal belief in God, but any Buddhist I’ve met still believes in a power greater than him or herself.

The reason for the higher power is if you could recover under your own power, you would have done it by now. But your own thinking and your own power got you where you are. It’s like you found yourself in a pit, and someone handed you a shovel and said, “Dig your way out.” You dug and dug and instead of getting out, you got further and further down the hole. Then it hit you. Digging was only getting you deeper into this pit. You look up and see you are in too deep to climb out. Your only way out is to find a higher power, i.e., someone at the top of the pit to throw you a rope so you can climb, and maybe to help pull you up if you are too weak to climb all the way. For me, that person at the top is God Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, and the rope is the way of all-inclusive love that Jesus taught.

So who or what is that higher power for you? Once you’ve identified that, you’ll be able to see the rope He/She/It/They have thrown down to you and start to climb out.

The Voice…that no one wants to hear

To my Tools for Depression, I want to add Nature (Ecotherapy) and TMS. I posted about TMS, a new therapy that involves strategic use of magnets.

Ecotherapy – exposure to nature is good for mental health. An article on gives some easy to understand info on the research in this area. A recent study at Harvard University, published in April, is only among the latest of many to confirm this. Peter James, a member of the research team, summed up the findings up this way. “[T]here’s a direct cognitive benefit and restorative quality of being in nature, that we’ve evolved in nature to enjoy being in nature.”

This doesn’t mean you have to move out to the backwoods and reject civilization, a la Thoreau. Simply incorporate time with nature into your routine.

  • Go to a park
  • Notice what’s in your backyard
  • Plant a tree
  • Enjoy a local greenspace
  • Take a break at your favorite lake, river, arbor, or any natural attraction

If you none of this is available in or near your city, maybe you need to petition the authorities to add some. Any locality should at least be able to plant trees along a street or open a park.

image of double rainbow by road


Taking medication for depression is still controversial for some people of faith. When a psychiatrist first recommended it for me, I had some reservations. However, he had just told me I tested high for depression in every possible way, so I took his advice. There is no doubt it has helped me. Sometimes I have wondered if it’s really working, especially at times when I have been sad, moody, anxious, just fill in the blank with any negative emotion.

I can still say, though, that medication does make a difference for me. I don’t care what Tom Cruise said. I know because a couple of times, I have changed medications. When you change from one anti-depressant (AD) med to another, you first have to wean yourself off of your current med. That usually takes 2 – 4 weeks. Then you can start taking the new. It can take up to two weeks for the new medication to start taking effect. During that transition, those depressed thoughts you had forgotten about can come back.

The first time, I had suicidal thoughts. I can’t say it was the first time, but it was more frequent and intense than ever. Is the new med not working? My doctor said it was a low dose and suggested trying a “medium”dose. Within a few days, the suicidal thoughts stopped. That medium dose worked for me. But without that doctor helping me, I might have thought it was the wrong medication.

The second time was more recent. Bad thoughts came but in a different way. Instead of feeling depressed in the way we usually think of (deep and persistent sadness, suicidal thoughts, etc.), it came in a way I had forgotten: Anger. I was angry much of the day. Angry at family and friends over past slights that my balanced brain had forgiven long ago. Angry at the world for the state it’s in and the downward spiral we seem to be in. Unreasonably angry. But when the new medicine kicked in, I was back to being happy. And I am proud to say I did not take my anger out on anyone, even the ones I felt angry towards.

Now some of that anger might not have been unreasonable, especially about the sorry state of the world. I mean, have you seen the election campaign since June, 2015? I think anger toward a certain candidate in particular is very reasonable. Not to name names, but he’s the unhinged one who seems hell-bent on finding just how low you can go and still be elected president. Though he may have finally crossed that line by talking about what he likes to grab. Admittedly, there were a few times the other one made me say, “What the hell were you thinking!” But at this point, I think it should be clear that one may have a gaffe here or there, the other is a nonstop gaffe machine. And that’s putting it as nicely as I can.

But through it all, I did not unleash that anger on my blog. Maybe that’s why I had to let out a little here. Why did I not act out my anger or my suicidal thoughts during those times? Before I started transitioning medications, I made a crucial decision. Until I know if the new med is good for me and until I get my brain normalized again with either the new or return to the old, I WILL NOT BELIEVE THAT VOICE IN MY HEAD.

I got the idea from the movie A Beautiful Mind.

Russell Crowe plays Nobel Prize winning Mathematician John Forbes Nash, Jr., who was found to be paranoid schizophrenic. He had more than just a voice in his head. He had full on hallucinations of three people telling him all these conspiracies around him. When he was diagnosed and got medication, the hallucinations disappeared. However, he was having difficulty with the side effects. He decided to go off the medication. But those imaginary people will come back. Yes, but this time he will know they are not real, and he will absolutely refuse to believe them. It was not easy. Those hallucinations had a life of their own. They tried really hard to convince him to listen to them. But he remained resolute. You are not real. I won’t listen to you. I won’t believe anything you say.

Because of past experience with Depression, I knew I needed to reject, ignore, and otherwise neutralize those thoughts TEMPORARILY. Let’s review what happened in these two instances.

  1. I stopped taking AD medication.
  2. The Voice in my head that fuels my Depression went from being a surly kitten to a roaring tiger.
  3. When the new AD medication kicked in, the Voice calmed down and the bad thoughts sunk back to a normal level.

What is going on? In earlier posts, I’ve talked about the chemical imbalances that exist in a Clinically Depressed brain. It is a medical condition where your brain can’t produce normal levels of “happy chemicals,” and so the “stress chemicals” overwhelm it. Medication helps your brain produce more happy chemicals so it gets balanced. When your brain chemistry is balanced, your emotional state can get back to normal – in a good way.

That last experience changing meds really drove that home for me. The Voice in my head didn’t bother me when I was on meds. But when I was in that transition phase, the Voice came back with a vengeance. Now that I’m on meds again, the Voice is gone. And that’s when it hit me like a revelation of Biblical proportions. THAT VOICE IN MY HEAD IS THE PRODUCT OF A CHEMICALLY IMBALANCED BRAIN.

If you have that Voice too, let that last sentence sink in. That Voice in your head that tells you “I’m no good. I’ll never get anything right. I’m a burden to everyone who loves me,” or even worse, “No one loves me.” Or if you pray or try to live by faith, the Voice will tell you, “There is no God. God hates me. God has given up on me, and I don’t blame Him. I’m like the tree that bore no fruit, so God has cut me off. I’m cursed.” Or maybe you have that angry voice, like I just experienced. And you believe it, don’t you? IT’S THE PRODUCT OF A CHEMICALLY IMBALANCED BRAIN.

And the problem isn’t so much the voice itself, but that we believe it so readily. At some point, in thinking about this, I was amazed at how anything we hear inside our head, we just believe it. We don’t question it, we don’t evaluate it, we just accept whatever it says, even when it has no basis in reality.

“Everyone hates you.” Oh really? 7.5 billion people in the world, and every single one of them hates you? Oh you just meant everyone in your school or in your town. But still, how many people is that, a few hundred? A few thousand? A few hundred thousand if it’s a major city? How could every one of them hate you? Simple logic should tell you that’s not even possible. But you believe it. Because it comes from your head, so it must be true, right? Are you telling me my head is lying to me? That’s exactly what I’m telling you. THAT VOICE IN YOUR HEAD IS THE PRODUCT OF A CHEMICALLY IMBALANCED BRAIN.

Or if it’s that angry voice, it might be saying, “They’re disrespecting me. They think I’m an idiot. They never listen to me. They’re idiots. They don’t care about me, so screw ’em all.” (Again, that’s as politely as I can say it). And again, IT’S THE PRODUCT OF A CHEMICALLY IMBALANCED BRAIN.

And bottom line, don’t believe a chemically imbalanced brain, even if it’s your own. You’re just as likely to get the truth from a Magic 8-Ball. Yes, it might tell the truth occasionally, but you’d better ask some questions before you accept that it’s right this time.

I suppose this begs the question, If you can’t believe your own mind, what can you believe? How do you know what the truth is? There is no simple answer to that, and anyone who tells you there is is setting you up for failure. But I will reiterate something I said in a previous post.

  1. God is for your recovery and healing, not against it (Isa 53:3-5).
  2. God will not kick you when you’re down (Isa 42:2-3).
  3. Some churches and spiritual leaders are good for recovery, and some are bad. Make sure you know the difference.
  4. With the right help – spiritually, psychologically, emotionally, and perhaps medically – you can live a happy and fulfilling life. You just need to learn how to stop Depression from sabotaging it.

image of Russell Crowe and Jennifer Connelly in A Beautiful Mind (2001)


Depressed Christian, Part 2: Searching for help

The Internet has a lot of good information, and a lot of bad. If you are a Christian struggling with depression, you might want to search on the Internet for helpful information. You want something that not only helps with depression but addresses the extra dimensions that Christian faith adds to it. For example, I came across one person who said when a psychiatrist told him he would need medication, he felt “like a failure.”

I know what he meant. He felt like a failure because, for Christians, it’s so easy to get the idea that you shouldn’t need help for depression beyond talking to someone, praying, living a faithful life, and obeying the Word. “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Phil. 4:13), so Jesus and faith in Him should be all you need. That might be what you’re telling yourself, and it might be what your church tells you and what you hear from preachers on TV. But you’ve done all that, and you’re still depressed. It must be your fault, right? Wrong. The causes of depression are not just spiritual, and they are not a failure of faith. You need to address more than just spiritual issues. You need to understand there are physical and psychological reasons for depression. And most of all, you need to arm yourself with accurate knowledge so you know how to find the right kind of help.

Separating the Wheat from the Chaff

To see what’s out there, I searched “depressed christian” on Pchsearch. (Google isn’t offering the chance to win $5000/week for life. Who knows? I might win. And, as unchristian as it might sound, I think some financial security would help my depression to some degree. I’ll probably need to say more about that another time).

As usual with the Internet, the results were relevant but very unequal in quality. They ranged from wonderfully helpful to downright awful, with varying degrees in between. I have ranked my first page results using the customary 5-Star scale, and included notes below about the reasons for the ranking. This is just a first step. The goal here is to help you separate good information from bad.

The articles with a 5-Star rating meet these 4 criteria:

  1. The author has experience helping people with depression, either professionally or personally, and uses sound research.
  2. The author understands the unique ways a person’s Christian faith affects their experience of depression – how it can either help or hinder recovery.
  3. The author addresses physiological causes of depression. Religious people will always recognize spiritual causes. That’s part of the equation, but just as with physical illness, you cannot properly treat it if you don’t acknowledge the physical causes.
  4. The author clearly distinguishes between Clinical/Major Depression (and similar types that are caused by deficiencies or imbalances in brain chemistry) and what I will call “situational depression,” a normal (and often healthy) response of sadness and grief due to some tragic life event or loss.

And of course, the scale goes down from there. Drum roll please…

Setting the Bar for everyone

Brandon W. Peach. (2014, February 20). 5 Things Christians Should Know about Depression and Anxiety. Relevant Magazine.

Not only meets the standards I laid out but also does a great job in identifying the most common pitfalls for people seeking help from the church – and the pitfalls of a well-meaning but ill-informed church giving “help.”


Mark Mounts. (n.d.). It Can’t Be Depression. I’m a Christian. Grace Commission International.

If you felt shame or failure over depression because you are a Christian and think Jesus should be all you need, imagine how that is magnified if you are a pastor or priest. That was this author’s situation.

Includes a Sidebar with the American Psychiatric Association’s definition of a “major depressive episode.” This part is a little technical, so here are some terms you might need help with:

  • Psychomotor agitation = purposeless, intense restlessness brought on by mental tension
  • Psychomotor retardation = slowing down of thought and action, most commonly seen in major depression or bipolar disorder.


Author unknown. (n.d.). Christians: Take Depression Seriously. Beliefnet.

The colon is very important in this title. With the colon, it’s an imperative, as in, “Hey Christians! Take depression seriously!” Without it, you have “Christians take depression seriously” as if it’s a statement of fact. Unfortunately, not all Christians take depression seriously.

As the article says, “Those who try to dissuade religious people from getting medical help for clinical depression, claiming that faith alone is the cure, can do devastating harm.”

I’m giving it four stars instead of five because 1) It talks about situational depression vs. clinical depression, but does not distinguish them as clearly as the two five-star articles, and 2) This sentence is confusing: “Psychoanalysis can dig out of the subconscious such ugly realities so that they can be dealt with the effects negated.”
…so they can be dealt with the effects negated. What is dealt with? What is negated? Are the effects dealt with or negated? This is why grammar and proofreading matter.

Still, though, the information is good. The author uses real life and Biblical examples that illustrate vividly just how important it is to take depression seriously and get proper treatment.


Karen Morgan. (2004). Depression in the Christian Family: (Part 4 of 5 in Depression series). Focus on the Family.

Both this article and the series have very good advice. I would have given it five stars except it comes from Focus on the Family. I have heard James Dobson, the ministry’s founder, tell parents to reject their LGBTQ children until they agree to live “according to the Word of God.”

This is exactly the kind of rejection that causes LGBTQ teenagers as a group to have a higher rate of depression and suicide than their straight peers. Therefore, I cannot recommend this without a caveat of saying if you are LGBTQ, then aside from this article and series, stay away from Focus on the Family and Dr. Dobson.

However, if you can separate out that baggage and judge the article on its own merits, it’s worth reading. It tells the story of Earle and his experience with severe depression that led him to seek counseling, medication, and even go on disability for a few months. He describes the issues honestly and in a way a depressed Christian will understand.

Another reason I like this article is indicated in the title. Earle’s depression affected his entire family. And that’s something many people don’t think about. Depression doesn’t just affect the depressed person. It causes you to behave in ways that people around you don’t know how to handle, no matter how much they love you. Hopefully, realizing that will prompt you to get the help you need.


Stephanie Husk, M.S.W. (2013, April 11) Do Real Christians Get Depressed? Crosswalk.

First impression, I gave it three stars. However, as I’ve looked over it again, I decided to upgrade it to four. For the most part, there is good advice here – for situational depression, and Clinical Depression as well. It might appear to point to sin, i.e., personal failure, as the cause of depression, but it’s actually more nuanced than that. Take this statement for example (I bolded some parts to make the meaning clearer):

  • “…problems in our brain’s chemistry or in our body’s functions are ultimately a spiritual problem…since all of creation is affected by sin. However, this does not mean that the depression is necessarily a result of individual spiritual shortcomings. It also does not mean that a person shouldn’t seek out healthy relief wherever it may be found. Every good and perfect gift comes from above. Solutions to prolonged depression are no less spiritual if they come in the form of changed diet, exercise, cognitive counseling, or medication.”

The “sin” talked about here should probably have a capital S, because it is much bigger than your or anyone else’s individual sins. It is much bigger than social sins of a community, institution, or nation. It is even bigger than the sin of all humanity, as in “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). It is a condition of brokenness, decay, and mortality that afflicts not only humanity but all of creation (Rom. 8:22-23). In this sense, I think it is healthy to acknowledge Sin (with a capital S) as a cause of depression. But I reject any preaching that says you are depressed because you are not “obeying the Word,” you are not praying enough, you don’t have enough faith, or anything along those lines. When you have Clinical Depression, the primary cause is physical, not spiritual.


Various. (n.d.). How to Cope with Depression as a Christian. Wikihow.

It gives seven steps to cope with depression. Most of the advice is good, though the style makes for awkward reading. Also, some of the “related articles” are not what I ascribe to. Particularly, one says “How to convert a Muslim to Christianity.” My experience of engaging religion and spirituality with a clinically depressed mind is almost exclusively Christian. How Depression affects the experience of Islam, Judaism, or any other religion is something I’d like to address at some point, with people who are more qualified than me.

Now if a Muslim is interested in what being a Christian means to me, I’m happy to share it. And if anything about my experience helps them with depression, to God be the glory. But I know how I would feel if someone said to me, “You must convert to Islam in order to be saved,” or, “Only Muhammad can heal your depression.” I won’t be the one who does that to someone whose faith is different from mine.


Various. (n.d.). What Does the Bible Say about Depression? How Can Christians Overcome Depression? Got Questions?

Distinguishes between situational and clinical depression, which is very important. The description of clinical depression is pretty good, but it needs some editing. As in the following with my comments in parentheses.

  • “It may not be caused by unfortunate life circumstances…” (Change may not to is not. We are talking about clinical depression now, not situational),
  • “…nor can the symptoms be alleviated by one’s own will (True. A five-star statement).
  • “Contrary to what some in the Christian community believe, clinical depression is not always caused by sin (Delete always. Clinical depression by definition means the cause is physiological, not spiritual).
  • “They should make sure that they are staying in the Word, even when they do not feel like it. Emotions can lead us astray, but God’s Word stands firm and unchanging (This is an example where, yes it’s true, but it’s important to put it in the right context. And I have to ask, what do you mean be staying in the Word? That can mean different things to different people).
  • “Although being depressed is not a sin, one is still accountable for the response to the affliction, including getting the professional help that is needed (stress the last part of this sentence. Without that, I would reject this advice. For someone in major depression, you
    are accountable for your response is like you should have more faith – whatever that means. The thing to understand if your depression is as bad as Earle (see “Christian Family” article above) is you are accountable in as much as you cannot get out of this darkness on your own, but you can and must get professional help).

One statement was dead on, though. “However, in some cases, seeing a doctor for depression is no different than seeing a doctor for an injury”

Amen and amen! If you remember nothing else from this article, remember this. Seeing a doctor [or psychiatrist or therapist] for depression is no different than seeing a doctor for an injury.


Various. (n.d.).  Christian Testimonies about Depression and Suicide., Christianity.

47 stories of people who found peace to “overcome” depression. Why the quotes? I am always skeptical when people say they are cured or have overcome depression, as if Depression has been banished to the Outer Darkness, wailing and gnashing its teeth, never to return. If so, it probably wasn’t Clinical Depression but situational. They don’t give specifics about how they were cured beyond “Jesus is the answer.”

There was a time when I would have given this five stars. “Jesus is the answer,” I would say as the solution to any problem. Well, that didn’t always work for me, so how can I expect it to work for Muslims, Jews, or even all Christians? I can’t promote that or anything as the one and only answer for depression anymore.

But the stories might give hope to some people.


Various. (1996, 1999). What Should a Christian Do if Overwhelmed with Depression? Christian Answers.

Although it does acknowledge some kinds of depression are caused by chemical imbalances and may require medication and/or professional help, it puts the stress on spiritual causes: sin, not following the Word, not believing the Bible, etc.

It says, “Aim to work on the causes of your depression, not just the symptoms,” which is what I advocate as well. But working on the real causes requires professional help, not a few Bible verses and a sermon.


Author unknown. (n.d.). Overcoming Depression. CBN.

Causes named: Physical (not taking care of yourself, illness, medication), Losses and other hurts, Sin.

Not one mention of clinical, bipolar, or any form of depression which is primarily caused by chemical imbalances. Here are some examples that show why:

  • “The Bible says that Jesus ‘bore our griefs’ on the cross (Isaiah 53:4 NAS). He feels our pain as strongly as we do and will carry it for us. Give your hurt to Him. (As in the article above, this can be helpful in the right context. But what do you do next? His answer is…).
  • “Then resolve not to dwell on it again.” (The worst thing to say to someone with Clinical Depression! Right up there with, Stop sinning. Snap out of it. Pray the depression away. All the answers are in the Bible. You’ve got to have more faith.)

Faith, prayer, and Bible study can all be powerful tools in recovery. They are often enough to get over situational depression (though even then not always). But if you are Christian and seeking help for Clinical Depression, I know you’ve already done these things, and they were not enough. And most importantly, it is not your fault that they weren’t enough. Refer to Earle’s story above in the “Christian Family” article.

Downright Awful

Melissa Barnhart. (2013, April 11). Christian Counselor: Depression Demands Living by Faith, Not by Sight. The Christian Post.

Author named is not the professional referred to. Subject of the article is the “professional” who gives this advice. At first I gave the article one star, but then I realized it does not even deserve that, because it comes from a licensed professional. So what is the opposite of a star? A black hole (which happens to be shaped like a Zero).

All about “spiritual causes” of depression, not a word about the physiological causes. Christian or not, a licensed neuropsychologist really should know better.


So that is a sampling of the advice that is out there. As I said above, the intention with this article is to help you separate good sources of information from bad. Some of the “bad” advice can be true and helpful in the right context, as I alluded to a couple of times. What is the right context? That is something I hope to address in future posts. In general, it goes back to the criteria I named above. If you have a type of depression that has physiological causes, you need more than a “spiritual” answer. Just like if I break my arm, I will pray. But I will also get to a doctor as soon as I can.

In coping with depression, I used and still use spiritual sources of comfort. However, I did not get better until I was properly diagnosed and able to address the physical causes as well as the spiritual. That is why I am so adamant about not reducing everything down to “sin” or “lack of faith.” If that messes with your theology, I’m sorry. But I know what kind of religion/faith/spirituality (whatever you want to call it) helped me, and what kind made everything worse. And to paraphrase Paul, I will not submit again to bad faith just to accommodate your dogma.

Related Articles

Roots of Depression, Part 1

Roots of Depression, Part 2

Depressed Christian, Part 1


What is Depression?.

How Christians Think about Mental Illness Needs to Change.

Diet & Exercise



Roots of Depression, Part 3

I started this series called “Roots of Depression” to track some of my experiences working in the yard and seeing some of the work as a metaphor for recovery, particularly removing weeds and other undesirable plants so that the good plants can recover and thrive. Gardening, it turns out, is a great metaphor for recovery, happy living, and the human condition in general. No wonder the Bible uses it so much.

In a more recent post, I spoke more directly about my experience of depression and recovery up to this point. It looks like those two series are going to intertwine like vines around an azalea bush but in a healthy way. See? Another metaphor! So as a writer in search of metaphors (really more interesting than it sounds), I want to try to connect the dots between gardening and recovery.

This week’s gardening

This was a tough root, so I pulled out the hand spade to remove it.

root with mystery bulb

You’ll notice there’s a bulb at the end. I didn’t think vines had bulbs at their roots, but as I was removing it, I felt a resistance, as if the bulb were attached to something bigger. I used the spade to continue digging around it and encountered something harder than the soil, bulb-like but much bigger.

big bulb of unknown type
alien bulb

Soon the thing was revealed to me. It was much bigger than a bulb. In fact, it almost looked like an alien pod. I used a toothbrush to remove more dirt from the top and took a picture to show the scale.

alien bulb with toothbrush for scale

If this is a bulb, I have never seen any other bulb like it. What is this thing? What is it doing in my flowerbed? Is it connected to the Azaleas or the vines that keep popping up underneath them like Kudzu? What will it do to the flowers if I remove it? So I’m leaving it for now. But if anyone can tell me what kind of bulb this is, please tell me in the comments below.

In relation to recovery, as you dig up and remove the weeds and their roots beneath, you may find things that you have no idea what they are or where they came from. That’s okay. If you’re not sure what it is or what will happen to the other plants in your garden if you remove it, leave it for now (Mat. 13:24-30). Learn more about it. See what tools are available for you, then put together a plan of action. The video below shows what’s involved when you start removing a root or vine. I looked at the pile of roots that were connected directly or indirectly to one vine and thought, “Wow! This is a mess. And it’s what recovery looks like.”



Tools for Depression

Now I want to list some of the tools you can use to remove the “weeds of depression” from the garden of your soul. Each of these requires more in-depth discussion than I can give right now. Like any list, this is about breadth, not depth. I want to name as many tools as I can for you, because like weeds in a garden, you will need many tools to remove them all. Real life gardening and yardwork has been good not only in living out metaphors for recovery. It gives me two forms of therapy at once: Exercise and sunlight.

Medication – If you have some form of Clinical Depression, your brain needs help producing “happy chemicals.” Medication is the most direct way to do that, but using it raises issues for some people, and particularly for people of faith. This will be the subject of a future post.

Counseling – It was very disorienting when I had a neuropsychologist tell me I tested high for depression in every possible way. If you’ve been diagnosed, you will most likely need professional counseling to help get re-oriented. If incorporating faith in your recovery is important to you, there are counselors who specialize in that.

Tell that voice in your head to shut up! – You know the one I’m talking about. We all have a voice in our head. If you’re depressed, that voice is the opposite of a motivational speaker. It tells you you’re a loser and gives you all the reasons why. It is quick-tempered and brings back old anger, even for things you and the other person have already made up for. What I finally realize is that voice is not real. It is the product of a chemically imbalanced brain. So drown it out with something positive and uplifting, like…Music.

Music – Does it have to be happy music? Not necessarily. Any music that makes you feel better will help.

Diet & Exercise – I don’t want to be like a certain actor who suggested that all you need to cure Depression (Post-Partum in that case) is diet and exercise. However, you should pay attention to it. Certain nutritional deficiencies can exacerbate depression. And you’ve heard of the “runner’s high”? That’s your brain producing happy chemicals in response to exercise.

Laughter – You’ve heard the saying “Laughter is the best medicine.” It’s hard to be sad or angry while you’re laughing. So watching a funny movie is more than entertainment. It’s therapy.

Sunlight – Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a type of depression specifically linked to lack of exposure to sunlight. Even if you don’t have SAD, a little more sunshine (with sunscreen) might help lift your mood.

Meditation – Many studies have shown meditation affects the brain in very healthy ways. It promotes calmness, reduces stress and anxiety, and increases your sense of well-being.

Prayer – This doesn’t necessarily make me feel better, but it has been absolutely crucial for coping with stress and with life in general. People of faith, however, tend to think prayer should be the only thing you need to cure depression. I’ve learned the hard way prayer is a great tool – but not the only tool – for recovery.

Favorite activities – This might be the best advice I ever got for coping with Depression: Find something you love to do, and do it (from Kevin Gates, rapper).

Forgiveness – You cannot recover if you are weighed down with anger, grudges, and resentment. If the wounds are fresh, it may take time. But make the choice to forgive, even if it doesn’t look possible right now.

Gratitude – The Law of Attraction says whatever you feel, the Universe will give you more of. If you walk around feeling angry and bitter all the time, the Universe will give you more to feel angry and bitter about. If you walk around feeling happy and grateful, the Universe will give you more to feel happy and grateful about. I don’t hold it as an absolute. I do think there is something to it, though. It’s not the full equation, but it is part of it. Maybe this is why Paul said to the Philippians,

Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus (Philip. 4:6-7).

Set the timer – This is a trick I read in an interview with Christopher Reeve. If you remember, he had a horse riding accident that left him quadriplegic. In public, though, it looked like he never let it get him down. One of his tricks was each morning, he would set the timer for twenty minutes. During that time he could cry, rant and rave about how unfair this is, how much it sucks, and when the timer went off, stop right there! Time to stop feeling sorry for yourself and get back to living.

Posture – Will changing your posture really change your mood? There is a mind-body connection. If you are hunched over, arms crossed, looking down, you look depressed and most likely feel depressed too. Straighten your back. Lift your head. Look forward. Open your arms. You’ll not only look confident but most likely feel more confident as well.

Recovery programs like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) – I’m not an alcoholic, but I have found the AA model of recovery very helpful in a number of ways. Its compassionate approach is conducive to healing. It teaches you to take responsibility without beating yourself up. You never say you are “recovered,” but you are recovering. It teaches you to recognize the triggers of addiction, so you can avoid them. It gives you tools to choose happiness over addiction. It invokes the help of a higher power, but what that means is left open to you. And it incorporates the power of a supportive community, which is my next tool.

Community – I believe we were made to live in loving community, at home, at work, in public life. The more places you have it, the better. I remember hearing of a news article with the title, “Loneliness: The Number One Disease in America.” I didn’t read the article, but the title alone is enough to get the point. Depression, especially, is exacerbated by loneliness.

The cure for loneliness is loving, supportive community. I experience that in my family – including oodles of extended family – and in my church. I have said before, even if I did not believe the tenets of the church, I would still go because of the relationships I have there. Whatever a loving community means to you, seek it out. It is the one place where I have always found this scripture to be true:

Give, and it will be given unto you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back” (Luke 6:38).

Human touch – Studies have proven what I think most of us know in our hearts. Affectionate touching, from holding hands, to an arm around the shoulder, to snuggling, to hugging, to sex (when it is a genuine expression of love) reduces stress and anxiety and increases feelings of connection and well-being, all of which go a long way to alleviating depression.

But keep in mind, this is only true if the touching is desired by both people. Some people don’t like to be touched (so they say). And not all forms of touching are appropriate in all situations. If you want to incorporate touching to help your recovery, be appropriate and make sure the person on the receiving end welcomes it.

These are some of my tools for weeding out depression. If you don’t mind, tell me in the comments below if any of these have worked for you, or if you use any “tools” that aren’t listed here.


Related Articles


Roots of Depression, Part 1

Roots of Depression, Part 2

Depressed Christian, Part 1


Depressed Christian, Part 1 – Four Principles Guiding My Recovery

You may have noticed I have been reblogging some articles about depression. The reason is I have been working on my own statement about depression, and posting other people’s articles has allowed me to (1) keep content flowing while I work on my own, and (2) start getting information about depression out there.

There are a lot of misconceptions about depression that keep people who suffer from getting the help they need. So in this series I’m going to try to clear up those misconceptions, especially within the church. In my own experience, religion sometimes brought healing and comfort when nothing else would, and sometimes intensified and made my depression worse in ways nothing else could. And so I say I am in recovery from two things: Depression and certain kinds of faith or religion.

The first misconception is thinking depression is only an emotional state. Typically, people say they’re depressed when they are VERY sad. So depression in this sense is extreme sadness. Anyone can feel depressed after the death of a family member or friend, loss of a job, divorce or breakup, or some tragic event in their lives. This is what I call “situational depression.” But depression in the sense I’m talking about is not that kind of sadness. It is a medical condition. It is not something that happens because of life. It is an ongoing condition of the brain.

Did you know that your brain is constantly producing chemicals? More than 100,000 chemical reactions are processed in your brain every second. Obviously that is too much to describe in detail here. For purposes of this discussion, you just need to know that an important part this activity involves the production of chemicals like Serotonin and Dopamine. I will refer to them generally as “happy chemicals.” You have happy chemicals and stress chemicals in your brain. When your brain does not produce normal levels of happy chemicals, you live in a constant, underlying, and invisible state of depression – even when there is no reason for you to be sad. This kind of depression is a medical condition, not an emotional state where you can just “cheer up” or pray your way out of.

I would not know any of this if it weren’t for my personal experience. Sixteen years ago, I was professionally tested for depression. When the psychiatrist gave me the results, he said, “You tested high for depression in every possible way.”

Floored. Stunned. Discombobulated. Those are the only words I can think of to describe how I felt on hearing that. In that moment, my entire view of life and myself changed forever. High in every possible way? There is no more room for denial after that.

And it was not a recent development. I have been living with Clinical Depression all my life. This means my brain needs help in creating a healthy level of happy chemicals. When it does not get help, I walk around moody, temperamental, irritable, and looking angry even when I’m not. I isolate myself and either dread or loathe social interaction. I think all kinds of bad thoughts about myself, friends, family, strangers, the world, God, and life itself. I suffer with anxieties for no good reason. I think no one understands me, so there is no point in talking to anyone.

Of course, I was not like this all the time. It would have been easier to recognize if I were. I had ups as well as downs just like everyone, or so I thought. My emotional/mood spectrum felt normal to me because it was the only thing I had ever known.

If any of this sounds familiar, especially if you can’t identify any good reason for it, you may be one of millions of people living with undiagnosed Depression of some kind. How do you know for sure? Since it is a medical condition, it needs to be diagnosed by a psychiatric professional. But if people close to you think you are depressed, you should seriously consider getting tested. My mother and sister thought there was more going on with me than just the normal ups and downs of life. If they hadn’t urged me to get tested, I would still be undiagnosed, still moody and depressed, and still thinking it was normal.

Sorry for all this boring technical explanation and my personal stuff. But this is important to understand and so easily misunderstood. The depression I’m talking about is not about feeling sad. It’s about living with a brain that does not produce enough happy chemicals. Not understanding that has led to a lot of bad practices and bad advice that make depression worse, not better. When religion gets mixed up in it without understanding what Depression really is, it creates more problems than it solves. An article on Beliefnet said it well. “As we consider the causes of Depression, those of us in the church must face the ways we might be responsible for creating it.”

I’ve experienced some of those ways that church, religion, faith – whatever you want to call your spiritual life and practice – can be responsible not really for creating it, but for making it a lot worse. I thank God from the depths of my soul that He led me out of that and into a church, faith, and spiritual practice that helps my recovery and healing, rather than beats me down for not having “enough faith,” whatever that means. Because the only thing worse than living for ten years (approximately) in a faith or religion that will only acknowledge “spiritual” causes of depression is living in that kind of faith for ten years… and one day.

What I say next, I don’t say lightly. I’m not the type of person who goes around saying, “God told me this, God told me that, God has called me to do this…” So many times I have heard people say things like this and thought, You know what? I bet if I could hear God talking as much as you claim to, right now I’d hear Him saying, “Leave Me out of this!”

It’s not that I believe God doesn’t talk to anyone. I believe God talks to us all the time, but some people hear better than others. I’ve learned from hard experience I don’t hear nearly as well as I would like to. Probably because it’s being filtered through a Clinically Depressed brain. With that disclaimer, I’m going to go out on a limb and say I believe God is calling me to help others who are in the same position I was 16 years ago. People who know they are depressed and in recovery. People who don’t know it but have a sense that something is wrong with them. People who think it’s normal because they have lived with depression all their lives. And more specifically, to help depressed people who are hurt by religion. I believe I am in a position to help point you to what is helpful – and away from most of what is hurtful.

I don’t think I will ever say I am healed from Depression, but the recovery model of Alcoholics Anonymous has been very helpful to me. Just recently I have been able to look at my life today and realize I have come a long way on this road of recovery, though I have by no means come to the end.

There are some lessons I have had to learn the hard way. I hope to spare you some of that drama. With that in mind, here is what I think is most important for you to know.

  1. God is for your recovery and healing, not against it (Isa 53:3-5).
  2. God will not kick you when you’re down (Isa 42:2-3).
  3. Some churches and spiritual leaders are good for recovery, and some are bad. Make sure you know the difference.
  4. With the right help – spiritually, psychologically, emotionally, and perhaps medically – you can live a happy and fulfilling life. You just need to learn how to stop Depression from sabotaging it.

Roots of Depression, part 2

In an earlier post, I talked about some of my gardening experience and how it relates to recovery from depression. I think some of the lessons can be applied to recovery in general. I thought I was done with that topic for a while, but I see some more possible application. Before I continue, I’d like to tell you a little background for how I ended up being the caretaker for this yard.

My grandparents passed away last year. I moved into their house, where they lived for over 30 years. The last three to four years of their lives, they were not in good health. They needed round the clock care. So of course, they weren’t able to take care of the yard the way they wanted to. Now that it’s my home, I feel a responsibility to take care of this land where I live now. And I hope this doesn’t sound new age-y or “Woo-oo-oo-oo-oo,” but I feel like by reclaiming their yard, I am in some way keeping their presence alive here.

Ok, so there’s a little bit of my sentimentality. Now here are my gardening/recovery tips.

Get your tools.

Across the yard I don’t do much work to remove weeds. Just spread some type of Weed-and-Feed. Grass and weeds sometimes pop up in the sidewalk or driveway. A shot of Roundup is good enough for that. I’m not going to use it on the whole yard, which I think is way too destructive. Just a few weeds here or there away from the yard or other plants.

But when you get around the trees or into the flower beds, you don’t want any kind of chemicals there. They might kill or damage the flowers and trees you want. Weeds in those areas require a more hands on approach, which means you need the right tools: Gloves, hand spade, Garden Weasel(R) Cultivator and Weed Popper, hedge clippers, and pruner.

I wear gloves for all yard work because some of these weeds growing up have thorns. I need some protection to get a good grip and pull them out. Also, even though I’ve remembered the “Leaves of three, Leave it be” rule, sometimes I still get these welts like insect bites or poison ivy, so I’m wearing long sleeves to work anywhere in the yard.

image of hand spadeThis little hand spade gets me into the root networks deeper than I can with just my hands.

Some weeds are too entrenched to just pull out. You can get the weed, but too much of the root is left behind. This Weed Popper comes in handy.

image of Garden Weasel Weed Popper
Garden Weasel(R) Weed Popper, push button on top to remove weed from the blades
image of Garden Weasel Weed Popper, blades
Garden Weasel(R) Weed Popper, insert blades and twist

You place it so the little blades go into the ground on both sides of the weed, twist it around a full 360 degrees, and it pulls up the weed and root with it. It can even get ordinary dandelions pretty well. But I’ve seen these bigger weeds that are like dandelions crossbred with thistle. My friend called them dandelions on steroids.

image of dandelion-type weed
A friend called these “dandelions on steroids”

For this, I need another standing weed remover but bigger. This Cultivator I’ve found works well on them. You can get the whole plant out, and it pulls up the root as well.

It’s made for cultivating ground, but it’s okay to repurpose your tools. It works similar to the Weed Popper. You get these spikes into the ground, twist, and pull up the weed.

image of large weed trapped in Garden Weasel
Dandelion-on-steroids removed

When you pull up a big weed like this, it leaves a hole, and that brings me to my next lesson.

Do not leave a hole unfilled, because an empty space will be filled one way or another.

Since weeds grow faster than anything else, they will fill any emptiness if left unattended. Not to mention this Garden Weasel leaves a hole big enough for someone’s foot to slip in and twist and sprain and sue you. I try to leave as much of the original dirt as I can, not just after these big weeds but even the smaller ones, while leaving as little of the root behind as I can.

Soil is neutral.

It will grow almost anything you plant if it has the right nutrient content and is in the right climate. You can’t blame the soil for your weeds, so it’s up to you to keep the soil cleared of undesirables and plant and tend the right seeds.

Sometimes they’re not weeds. They’re just in the wrong place.

I want nice healthy green grass in the yard, but not in the flower beds. I’ve probably pulled up more grass than weeds in the flower beds. And the type of grass in my yard has a very extensive, intricate, intertwining root system, which is good for crowding out weeds in the yard, but you don’t want it getting mixed with the flower’s roots.

image of grass
grass in lawn, good; grass in flower bed, bad.
image of grass showing roots
You can see part of the roots here

It requires some pulling, digging, and breaking up grassroots along with the weeds and their roots. It’s a lot more involved than I expected, but I think flowers and trees need a clearly delineated space.

It’s not just about removing weeds. It’s about clearing space for what you want in your yard.

The bushes around the front are mostly azaleas. And there’s a big rose bush on the east end of the yard. They had looked a little sickly the last few years. My grandparents were living here, and they weren’t in any shape to take care of the yard or flowers. As I examined the bushes, it was easy to see why. Some vines grew up and wrapped around the branches and twigs, choking the life out of them. And there were other plants, like budding acorns, growing right underneath, sometimes they to the point that they looked like something had been grafted in to the azaleas and roses. I cleared them out a few months ago and removed most of the dead branches. This spring, those bushes produced more flowers than they had in years.

image of azaleas
Azaleas are coming back

Some bushes had grown so much, though, that they were crowding out their neighbors. For example, I had pink azaleas growing into and blending in with white azaleas. The pink was threatening to take over the white. So I decided it was time to trim the hedges. I pulled out the hedge clippers and pruners and went to work. It sounds a little backwards. I had done all this work to remove weeds and thorns so the azaleas and roses could thrive, and they thrived so much I’m actually cutting back on their growth. But gardening isn’t about letting the desirable plants grow indiscriminately. It’s about setting parameters so all the desirable plants are free to grow and thrive and contribute to the variety of the garden as a whole.

Know when to say, That’s enough for today.

I worked in the flowerbeds most of the morning and had lunch. I knew I had made progress, but there was more to be done. My body was telling me not to go back out, but I didn’t listen. I was just going to work on this one patch of weeds, but I continued to work through most of the afternoon. Two days later, I’m still sore.

When my grandfather was still strong enough to work in the yard, we used to joke about how he was “addicted to weed,” because once he got started pulling weeds, he could be out all day if someone didn’t call him in. Let me tell you, that condition is hereditary. You may intend to work on one very specific patch of ground this time, but then there are a few more weeds here, a few more there. Now the flowerbed looks unbalanced. If you just take care of that patch, it will look better. Ok, another patch and I’ll almost be through. Just one more patch… You get the idea.

Like reclaiming a yard, garden, or flowerbed after years of neglect, recovery is not going to happen all in one day. If you’ve made progress and are encouraged to continue, but it was draining – physically or emotionally – or you have other responsibilities to attend to, you have a life, leave the yard for now. It will still be there tomorrow. Give yourself permission to say, “That’s enough for today,” and then for the rest of the day, take care of anything else that needs your attention.

Final words

I was hoping these two posts could present gardening as a metaphor for recovery. I may not have made those parallels clear all the way through, and I apologize for that. Maybe you will see some application to your life that I don’t. That’s the nature of parables: They leave room for you to interpret them out of your own experience.

In general, I see the work of recovery as three things: 1) planting the seeds of your best self and best life, 2) promoting the growth of those seeds in healthy ways, and 3) removing the weeds and roots that crowd out and even choke to death the good seeds in the garden of your life – metaphorically speaking, of course.

So like gardening, I have found the following true in recovery:

  1. Getting it right takes time and work.
  2. There is a natural tendency for weeds to overtake and choke out the beautiful parts of your garden.
  3. All plants have roots. To really get the weeds out, you have to pull and dig up the roots. That can get messy.
  4. With the right tools and a little consistent effort, the weeds are no match for you.
  5. No one tool can do every job, so keep trying until you find what works.
  6. As you remove the wrong plants, fill in the empty places left with good soil and the right kind of seeds.
  7. Under the right conditions, the seeds of recovery – love, joy, peace, faith, hope, vision, purpose, camaraderie, and confidence – will grow and bloom. The conditions are as simple as simple as soil, water, and sunlight.

If you have any ideas of how gardening and recovery might be related, I would love for you to leave a comment below.

Grace and Peace to you.

If you want to read Part 3, click here.

David Anderson