By Jan Shannon
Living with depression is like riding a bicycle with flat tires. You try SO hard, pedal with all your might, but you just crawl along, never able to achieve that feeling of flying that riding a bike should give you. Mild depression can just be annoying, making it tougher to navigate hills but still able to be productive, though requiring you to ride in a lower gear, but as depression deepens, the tires flatten out. When you’ve got more rubber on the road than air in the tubes, living with depression is a moment-by-moment slog. Every stroke of your legs saps your strength. Pedaling along, you long for a downhill so you can rest and enjoy the ride until you remember that hills don’t last forever and you’ll have to start pedaling again, and with this thought you can hear even more air hiss out of the tires.
When it gets bad enough, when you have to get off the bike and push because there’s not enough air in the tires to get you home, you need to find some help. If you have the tools, you can air up your own tires at home by resting, reading, prayer and meditation, or getting a good night’s sleep. Sometimes a good friend can fill you up, help you gain some perspective and get you back on the bike. (Beware the ‘friend’ who pushes your button letting even more air out!) For a lot of us, though, what’s needed is professional help – a counselor or psychologist who is trained to find the pinhole leak, the nail in the rubber, or the weakness in the sidewall. These angels of mercy not only get us pumped up and back on the road, they teach us the tools to put in our shop so when the air starts to leak out again, as it eventually will, we are able to do roadside repairs for ourselves.
Imagine now a bike race where 7 percent of the “racers” have flat tires. The majority go speeding along only to abruptly encounter either some poor soul slogging along on half-empty tires. Even worse when the pack goes flying by the one stuck on the side of the road, bike upside down, repairs in progress, desperately attempting to get back in the race. Heaven forbid that the pack laughs at that stranded fellow racer or they might decide that repairs aren’t worth the trouble and quit the race, and God bless the few who are willing to pause in their race and lend a can of Fix-A-Flat.
I wish I could convince the world that depression can’t be cured by ‘putting your big girl panties on’ or just thinking positive thoughts. Like a flat tire on a bike, sometimes that’s the hand life deals you, and you wouldn’t tell someone that the nail in the road was their fault, would you? People who struggle with depression aren’t weak…quite the opposite, and if you’ve ever tried to ride a bike with a flat tire, you know truly how strong that person has to be.
Be gentle with each other, folks; some of us are struggling, but we are all in this race together.
Jan Shannon is a full-time seminary student at Iliff School of Theology, a wife, mom, granny, and gay Christian.