Loving Depression by Hannah Campbell Gustafson

written by Hannah Campbell Gustafson

As a social worker and as one who wrote a master's thesis on mental health in the church, I've done a lot of reading and thinking about these topics.  I've preached sermons about mental health and healing, I've read articles about people who choose not to take medication for their mental health, and I've had many conversations about neurodiversity.  I live with anxiety and minor depression.

I've known that my husband lives with depression since earlier on in our relationship.  A few months in, I encouraged him to talk to his therapist about restarting medication. I've supported him as he discloses about depression in sermons and community meetings, and as he'd worked to re-establish his meditation practice, and periodically worked ongoing for regular runs as a "happy pill" (as our doctor called it).

And yet.  Recently, we were listening to a podcast together from the show Death, Sex, and Money in which Trevor Noah talked a bit about his depression.  He spoke about how by pitying people with depression, we often end up stigmatizing it even more. And for him, something is liberating about just being comfortable knowing that he has depression, and treating it as something like "having a bum knee"- that there are things to do to address it, but it is still there, and he talks about it and then moves on.

I looked at my husband, and he was nodding along the whole time.  And it hit me- sometimes, on the awful days, I wish the depression away.  And maybe, by doing that, I do not love my husband fully, or in the way that I want to. Perhaps to love him the way that I aspire to love him, I need to love his depression, too.

And it feels so obvious to me now.  But somehow, in the last several weeks, thinking this way has felt revolutionary.  It hasn't changed the ways I support him in his self-care practices or sometimes prod him outside for a walk or run, but something has changed.

And for that, today, I am grateful.

*I have my husband's permission to write this short reflection.  He, too, says he's working on loving his depression.  His therapist likened depression to a passenger on a bus—it isn't worth it to try to kick the depression off the bus, because it isn't going to go, plus the act of trying will probably rile it up even more.  The depression is staying on the bus.  So we're both working on loving it.

Hannah Campbell Gustafson and her family recently made a leap of faith and moved to Minneapolis, MN from rural Wisconsin.  She is the outreach coordinator at Plymouth Congregational Church.  Hannah is treasurer for the Mental Health Network, is trained as a social worker, has an MDiv, and is a Member in Discernment with the Southwest Association of the Wisconsin Conference of the UCC.  She and her partner (an ELCA Lutheran pastor) share their lives with their young child Leona and their standard poodle puppy Óscar.