Surviving one of the most difficult times in my life: my bout with depression

When I was younger, I didn’t think I could ever fall into depression. Not that I wasn’t susceptible to it but that it just would happen to me. But, I was naive.

I was working at a church in Queens, New York, learning how to start churches. I was young and full of hope.

My life was a beautiful dream. I was living in the city I loved, working in the career I felt called to and I was making new friends. My future looked bright.

Then, I got fired.

I called the lead pastor a “control freak.” And, three days later the church leadership slid a letter before me without any words. It was my termination letter.

My pastor terminated me.

I was shell shocked, angry, then, furious, then raging. Eventually, the world all seemed to settle into some shade of deep blue. And, it was getting darker by the day.

I fell into a deep depression.

Everything hurt. Everything was difficult. It felt like I was living in a pool of tar. Eating, showering, or seeing anyone, all seemed like impossible feats.

I couldn’t even get out of bed. My bed felt like the safest place to be. It was almost like I was on an island that was surrounded by molten lava ready to singe me at any moment. The world was dangerous and unpredictable. And, I resigned to stay in my bed at all costs.

What made matters worse was that I didn’t know where a young failed minister could go to find gainful employment. “What else can you do with a Masters of Divinity (you probably have no idea what that is)? How can I stay in New York City without a job?” I thought to myself, balled up in my bed.

I imaged what an interview would look like: “Hi, I’m John Pa. I have an English degree, with a concentration on composition of poetry, from a state school in Missouri you’ve probably never heard of, oh, and don’t forget the Masters of Divinity from a school in St. Louis, I know you’ve never heard of. Oh, Oh, and I just got fired from the last church I worked at.”

I didn’t know much then. But I knew my resume wasn’t a winner.

Then, there was telling my mom that I got fired. I had no idea what I was going to say to her.

I imagine the conversation would go something like this, “Mom, guess what? I got fired. And, I don’t have any idea what I’m going to do next!”

Time seemed to have stopped. I didn’t track it, and it didn’t seem to track me. Days mixed up with weeks, but I knew that it was time to tell my mom. I usually called her once every two weeks, and I was way overdue.

I mustered all of the strength I had, said a desperate prayer, braved the lava surrounding my bed and grabbed my phone from my desk. And, I quickly jumped back into bed and buried myself under the covers.

My fingers found my mom’s number and the phone dialed. My hand was shaking as I held the phone up to my ear, and it rang. I heard the most familiar voice. She said hello in Chinese, as she usually does.

“Ma, I have to tell you something…(long pause). I’m not working at the church anymore,” I tell her in Chinglish (Chinese and English words).

“What? Are you taking a break?”

“No, Ma. They fired me.”

It was a nightmare with my eyes wide open. Somehow uttering the words to my mother made the reality even more real and the pain sharper. And it cut even deeper into my heart, my identity.

After telling her the story and trying to quell all of her concerns as best as I could, I said the only thing I knew I could say.

“God will provide the way. I don’t know how, but He will.”

It felt empty. But, they seemed to ease her, enough to let me get off of the phone.

A few days or maybe several days later my mom wrote me a letter. She had never written to me in my life.

It was very simple. There were some Bible verses on them with a sign off of “Love, Mom.” That was something. Old-school Chinese mother’s don’t use the L word. It’s too emotional. But, she did. She must have thought that I was in a bad spot. I was.

I read and reread the letter in my bed. It did lift my spirits, some. But, then the reality of what had happened and its consequences continued to crash over me. And, again, I was enveloped by dark thoughts.

It wasn’t that I just failed. I was a failure. It had become my identity. Failure became my name.

Life didn’t look like it was worth living. But, I was also too scared to die. I was in purgatory, stuck in a world that didn’t seem to want me and I was too ashamed to stay in.

Tears wet my pillow most nights. Here I was a twenty-seven-year-old crying. I felt so weak and helpless. I hated myself.

As I’ve been writing all of this, I wondered what I would have told my twenty-seven-year-old self now that I’ve gathered almost two decades worth of experience and, hopefully, wisdom. The truth is, even with all my so-called wisdom, I don’t know what I would have said to myself.

I hope I would have just listened to, prayed for and loved on me. I would have brought me a delicious healthy meal. And I would have recommended a good counselor that I know.

And, as I reflect on that time, I think that I needed to go through that pain. I needed to feel it. Losing my career path was a massive loss to me. My dream was killed. And, it needed to be grieved.

When life breaks your nose and knocks you out, it takes a minute to get back on your feet. There was nothing that was going to heal my pain quickly. My wound could only be mended by time and hope.

My faith also faltered. I wondered if God was with me. It didn’t feel like it, in that dark season. I was also deeply angry with him for putting me here.

But, it’s far easier to see God’s presence and work on your life in hindsight than when you’re in the midst of suffering. I didn’t lose my faith, but rather it was strengthened, eventually. Even though I was losing my grip on God. He never lost His on me.

Lastly, going through that helped me put all of my other failures that followed in perspective. I never fell quite as deeply into a depression as I did then. And when I did, I was able to remember this season, and it reminded me that these kinds of moments can pass.

Months had passed since I was fired. And, one of the women from the congregation decided to offer me an entry-level temp position at the bank for which she worked.

I couldn’t believe it.

It was too good to be true. But, I took it like a starving child takes free bread.

It forced me out of my bed and back into the city I loved. I didn’t have a clear path in my career or life. But I started to want to live it again. Each day seemed to get easier, as I walked forward one step at a time.

The darkness and winter retreat, as they always do, when the light and spring pierce the gloom.

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4 thoughts on “Surviving one of the most difficult times in my life: my bout with depression

  1. Thanks for sharing this John! I appreciate your vulnerability. It helps me to know that I’m not alone as I recover from the traumas of my own life.

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