Our co-host Ted Lowe sat down for an interview with friend of the podcast, Todd Graham. Todd is a speaker, author and the family pastor at Eastside Baptist Church in Atlanta, Ga. He’s got many years of experience leading marriage and family ministries at a few different churches across the country. Todd has been married for 19 years and has three kids.
About Todd Graham
Todd has also been very involved with MarriedPeople over the years. He’s written for our blog, spoken at our conferences, and been a tremendous leader behind the scenes. But perhaps our favorite thing about Todd is his transparency. Todd gives so much hope through what he does by being real about the tough stuff.
Todd shares about his struggle with depression, the impact it has had on his marriage, and how he has learned to handle his depression in a way that is actually helpful and empowering to his marriage. It’s important to note that Todd is talking about people who experience every day, common depression tendencies vs. those who need legit professional help.
You were a first responder before being a pastor. Talk a little about that.
While I was pastoring I was a police officer in a county just north of Atlanta for several years and I’ve also worked on their fire department and part time in the trauma department at the children’s hospital.
How has depression impacted you personally as a husband and dad?
As a pastor, I see it all the time. The thing about depression is that it never just impacts one person—it also impacts their marriage. It’s a lonely thing because it can be a taboo topic. I’ve struggled with it for years—probably most of my life. It’s amazing how many leaders deal with it.
Why do you think people suffer in silence with this? Why don’t we talk about it?
Most of the people I talk with that are dealing with it ask the same thing. Things like diabetes or other illnesses are provable—you can document and put them on paper and there are clear action steps to take care of them. But the emotional or mental conditions are more difficult. And there are so many different types. I think a lot of people don’t even realize they’re dealing with it.
What would you say to people who don’t understand the struggle?
That is one of the biggest struggles that makes people who are dealing with it not want to talk about it. Depression is not something you can just turn off or turn on. It takes them over and they don’t know how to deal with it. You often don’t know how to deal with it and don’t even want to because nothing can fix it right away. It’s a multi-faceted thing that takes you over physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually.
How do you respond to Christians who say “Isn’t Jesus enough”?
That’s just one more reason people won’t talk about it. So many people come into my office hurt by statements like that. Christ is supposed to be our joy. But the thing is that things aren’t working right in your head. If you’re having a hard time figuring that out, it doesn’t mean you’re broken or that there’s anything wrong with your relationship with Jesus.
What’s the difference between sadness and depression?
Everyone experiences sadness, but one of the biggest myths about depression is that it’s sadness. Sadness is just a byproduct. Depression is when the passion of life actually fades—your desire to do things that make life what it is goes away. You become cynical and feel drained. You can get numb without being sad.
What are the differences with people you see who are in depression?
Guys have a tendency to get angrier about it. In general, men are fixers. When they can’t fix it, they tend to get angry. Women tend to be sadder, because they’re sad that they’re sad and can’t figure out why.
Other clues are that little things will get you disproportionately angry or frustrated. Or things that are a big deal aren’t a big deal anymore and you stop taking care of things. Passion in life fades and things you usually like to do don’t excite you anymore. Some people start sleeping more to get away from it. Laughter is often replaced with cynicism and productivity drops. Those are all hints when you get into a cycle or become constant.
What does this look like for people who are married to someone with depression?
A lot of times people don’t know. It can be very difficult for the person who is dealing with depression to communicate how dark it gets on the inside. If your spouse is trying to explain this to you, realize the effort that took to explain to you.
Many times, it can be hard to separate between marital issues and depression. When it doesn’t feel like one of the spouses is energized by the relationship, it can feel like something is wrong between them. Which is often not the case. It really has nothing to do with the other person, but it can be hard not to feel like it’s about you.
How do people usually respond to a spouse with depression?
Men in particular are fixers and they want to press a button and fix their spouse. If you love the person you’re going to want to fix it to help them feel better. But with depression, another person can’t fix you. At this point, it’s common for both spouses to want to fix it. But just to have someone understand helps a lot.
When your spouse is dealing with something like this and fixing doesn’t work, the spouse not dealing with it runs out of ideas and feels like they’ve done their best. They can internalize it and feel like they’re broken. It’s easy to get defensive when you’ve done your very best and putting all your effort into marriage and there’s nothing positive coming out of it. It can feel like they aren’t enough for the other spouse.
Do you see a change with how the church is handling depression?
Yes, we are talking about it more and we need to talk about it. There are so many different levels of depression/burnout that a lot of it could be stopped before it gets intense by just talking about it. There’s a big difference between clinical depression and ‘regular everyday’ depression that’s being triggered by anxiety. We can do something about that second part, and if people dealing with the first part get more comfortable talking about it they can get the help they need.
How have you handled your own depression?
I didn’t know I was dealing with it for a while. One day, I read a blog post by Carey Nieuwhof and he was listing the top clues to know you’re burning out. I read that article and realized I was all of them. It explained what was happening. No one had ever talked about it. That was my wakeup call.
For me, I pick one thing physically, mentally and spiritually to do every day. If nothing else happens for the day, at least I did one thing. I’m a runner and I’ll get in over 1,000 miles this year. Most of those are to prevent the darkness from taking me over. Get outside and do something physically.
How do you get yourself up off the couch when you’re struggling with depression?
The first step is getting out the door. Go for a walk. Last night, I was planning on going on a long run and I went for a mile walk instead. The enemy of depression is doing something, because when it’s eating at you, you want to do nothing. Start with one meal and choose something grown from the ground instead of produced. Everything counts, no matter how big or small it is. The physical stuff is a game changer.
What are some other solutions for dealing with depression?
I always do something mentally every day. I’m a reader because I know it betters me and makes my mind stronger. Any kind of book you can read will activate the part of your brain that’s not is not wanting to function and will help kick start you out of the cycle.
I also use The 5 Minute Journal. It starts out with three things you’re grateful for and closes you out with one thing that happened during the day that you’re grateful for. There’s a lot of research on it and how it keeps you in a positive headspace.
Spiritually, I try to do one thing every day—get into a devotional to keep me connected. Just knowing that God loves you and believing that Jesus came and died for you, that’s great. But it doesn’t fix things around you. It gives you a new perspective on how to deal with things. Knowing who Jesus is isn’t the answer, but adding him back into the equation in your daily life is.
These aren’t quick fixes but they are the road for keeping your head about you and keep the dark times from staying so dark.
What are your views on depression medication?
God designed the brain so incredibly. When you’re in a space where you can handle and manage yourself, you should do everything in your power to do that. But there are cases where people need help, and God placed doctors who can help us.
Medication scan be incredibly important for people who need them. Anyone who says people shouldn’t take medication are speaking out of ignorance. I don’t think they’re trying to be mean, but they don’t understand. Sometimes we need some help and that’s the route to go.
What should people do if they’re feeling hopeless?
Those are people listening to the lies in their head. The dream is that they would experience life fully every day. But if you’re not there right now, take it moment-by-moment. You’re here and you’ve brought a smile to someone’s face or changed someone’s day. It’s hard to find hope in that dark space because you don’t feel you have value but that’s just not true. You can go prove it by doing something for someone.
How important is community and letting people in?
Isolation is what kills a lot of relationships. One of the difficult things about depression is that you do feel isolated. It’s why talking about it helps so tremendously—you find out it’s not just you. You are not the only person who is dealing with this. I say the same thing to spouses—you’re not the only person in this position. Keep up the work and know you’re not alone in this.
Your one simple thing
For those struggling with depression, pick one thing physically, mentally or spiritually (or all three) and do that each day.
For the spouse, don’t take it personal. Keep answering your spouse’s question (for men: “Do I have what it takes?” and for women: “Would you pick me again?) and you’ve done your best.
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