The Old Upper Room

Jeannie was depressed. She walked into the little back room of the Methodist church. She was giving therapy a try.

She is a mother of four, works part-time, and somehow manages to scrape dinner together every night. She wonders how her mother did it when she was growing up. Her mother was single, overworked, and strong. She never showed a hint of depression.

Depression. That horrible word. How could Jeannie be such a wimp?

But then COVID-19 hit. Followed by unemployment. Followed by more bills. And fear.

She managed to get a new job working at a local hotel cleaning rooms for a pittance. But the world is not the same as it was. And neither is Jeannie. Depression is real.

The Methodist back room was dimly lit, with soft music playing. A little bookshelf. Scented candles. An older woman welcomed Jeannie into a little den she lovingly called the “upper room.”

Methodists call everything the upper room. Even the family dog.

Jeannie sat on a sofa, embarrassed to be there. Therapy does that to newcomers. It makes some feel ashamed.

But this was not “therapy” in the official sense. The woman was clear about this. This was not a professional consultation. This was just two ladies talking.

So Jeannie told her everything. She told her how difficult it was being a 44-year-old who should have her life together, but didn’t. She told her about the dark days. The thoughts of self harm.

The lady therapist offered no judgments. In fact, since this was not technically a consult the woman simply listened.

When Jeannie finished talking, the older lady took the opportunity to speak. She told Jeannie that depression doesn’t work the way most think. It’s not a devil cloud from the primordial underworld. It’s a medical thing. It’s situational. It’s complicated.

Depression can be just like breaking your foot, or spraining your ankle. So why be humiliated about it?

A doctor doesn’t tell a child who breaks his leg that he should be ashamed. The doc doesn’t tell the kid he’s a freak. Little Johnny’s friends don’t shun him when they find out he’s wearing a cast. Nobody teases him for being “imbalanced” even though he walks with a limp.

It’s just the opposite. When the fourth-grade class finds out Little Johnny is wearing a cast, everyone breaks out the Sharpies and starts WRITING THEIR NAMES ON THE CAST.

Now imagine that this same kid goes to the doctor because of a depressive disorder. Imagine this kid is 44 years old. Do his friends break out any Sharpies? Does anyone send get-well cards? How about balloons? Where are the flowers?

Depression hurts worse than a broken leg, but it’s not discussed the same way. We treat it like a filthy secret, like an egg on the face, like a dirty transgression.

Jeannie started crying. Because she knew she was depressed. Not only because of COVID, but because of everything.

The older woman gave her the tissues. Jeannie had to undo her face mask just to blow her nose. Which was a gymnastic feat.

“I’m embarrassed,” Jeannie kept saying.

The older woman smiled the way Methodists do. She told Jeannie about potential medications, and said that meds might be something worth looking into.

Jeannie was starting to feel like a total failure now. Her embarrassment tripled. Quadrupled.

“Meds?” she said. “You think I need MEDS?”

More tears.

So the woman told Jeannie a story. It was a story about a young lady who once became so depressed after a divorce that she couldn’t leave her own house or tend her kids.

The young woman had grown suicidal. She had even tried, unsuccessfully, to do something terrible.

But in a brief moment of clarity, the young woman realized her children needed her. And she knew this depression business was serious.

So the girl saw a therapist the next morning. She was on meds by lunchtime. No, the meds weren’t a magic bullet, but the young woman’s moods lifted, and she felt human again. And a little stronger.

Meds helped her life resume its medium tempo. The young woman started hanging out with friends, taking her kids out for pizza, and exercising. After two years she was off her medication. After several more years she was still going strong.

Then someone suggested that this young woman should become a therapist. It seemed like a natural thing.

She went to school, blitzed through her credentials, and pretty soon she wasn’t a young woman anymore. She was a white-haired Methodist who talked with people in the upper room.

She doesn’t charge anything. She just wants to help.

“I was you, a long time ago,” said the older woman. “And the meds saved my life. I might have been dead without them.”

“Serious?” said Jeannie.

“As can be.”

Jeannie trusted this woman for some reason. So the next day the woman put Jeannie in touch with a doctor who could prescribe anti-depressant medication. Jeannie filled her script the next week. That was a month ago.

And here’s what Jeannie says about it:

“This COVID crisis about ruined me, but I’m getting healthier, and I’m glad I took my life seriously. Sean, I hope anyone hearing my story can feel less embarrassed about their depression, or whatever it is, and I hope they know it can get better, it really can. ”

Jeannie says she’s glad she made that informal therapy appointment. She’s doubly glad she listened to that older woman.

But of course, Jeannie had to hear the Methodist woman out.

Because that Methodist was her mother.

36 comments

  1. franfluker - August 15, 2020 10:49 am

    I have a family member who is struggling with the burdens of life, thanks for this timely story.

    Reply
  2. Charles Vianey - August 15, 2020 10:55 am

    Thank you for writing about mental illness. You will encourage someone who needs to hear this message.

    Reply
  3. Ed - August 15, 2020 11:28 am

    Sean, thank you once again for this incredible message and timing. You’re a good man. God Bless you and your family.

    Reply
  4. Steve Watkins - August 15, 2020 12:35 pm

    Don’t know why; made me cry.

    Reply
  5. Jo Ann - August 15, 2020 12:51 pm

    Thank you, Sean, for telling Jeannie’s story. And thanks, also, to Jeannie’s mother for what she overcame & being able to help others, especially her daughter. What the “experts” aren’t telling are the increase in depressed persons, increased suicides, & increased drug overdoses. We need the reins loosened sooner rather than later.

    Reply
  6. Marilyn - August 15, 2020 12:59 pm

    You are right when you say depression/mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of. Having gone through those dark days many years ago, I know how it feels. Thank you for the heart warming story. Jeannie, you are headed in the right direction. May God be with you and all who are suffering. Especially the children who are having a hard time dealing with the confusion and chaos.

    Reply
  7. Jan - August 15, 2020 1:13 pm

    Great and much needed story. We often set such high bars for ourselves and particularly in our current times. Thank you, Sean, for shedding a light where it is badly needed in the world we live in today.

    Reply
  8. Amy Brinkerhoff - August 15, 2020 1:19 pm

    Dear Sean,
    Please keep writing about this subject. I (along with many others) need your encouraging words and hope. Your column is somewhat of a daily devotional for me. It seems like I am the only one who is sad so I can relate to the the stories you have been sharing.
    It’s hard to admit you feel depressed or sad when everyone sees you as the strong one. I feel guilty about being depressed. My head says I have nothing to be depressed about and that I should be thankful for all that I have. I am thankful, everyday. I am fortunate that I still have my job throughout the COVID crisis, I have a safe home, enough food and good health. I am thankful that my son is grown & that I don’t have to make the agonizing decision about sending him to school. My heart breaks for all of the parents I know. My parents age-wise are in the high risk group but have not been sick. My dad is a little stubborn about wearing a mask but you can only tell your 80 year old dad what to do so much!
    I feel like all fun has been cancelled. I am pretty much a loner & a homebody so you would think that staying at home wouldn’t bother me. I don’t have any close friends to lean on. In general I tend to rub people the wrong way so I am better in small doses around people I know. Yet, it is wearing on my last good nerve. A near perfect day for me is reading on the porch but I do miss the few things I do used to do like listening to live music. Or wandering in a store. I’m not a big spender but sometimes I just like to look around. These days it is go in Publix & get out as fast as possible and that’s the big outing of the week. And you can’t even stop and chat with anyone you know even if you can recognize them behind theIr mask.
    Anyway, please keep writing about this. I’m just a few miles away and I am thankful for your company every morning.
    Amy

    Reply
  9. Jo - August 15, 2020 1:44 pm

    Yes Sean, you are a good man

    Reply
  10. Celia - August 15, 2020 1:48 pm

    While reading your column today, I was reminded of convincing my husband 25 years ago that depression was a brain imbalance, not a personality flaw. He finally decided to seek medical help, and our lives have been greatly improved since. The feeling of public shame and embarrassment of mental imbalances is difficult to overcome, but much of society is finally realizing it is not just something “ to get over”. How thankful we should all be for medications that help, and medical personnel who advise.

    Reply
  11. Robert M Brenner - August 15, 2020 2:00 pm

    Depression is real, I’ve seen it in our family! Wonderful Sean. You do hit the “ Nail on the head” with your kindness ❤️. Bob

    Reply
  12. peggy dickey - August 15, 2020 2:17 pm

    Thank you – you reached a lot of people today.

    Reply
  13. Sharon Brock - August 15, 2020 2:20 pm

    I have been there and I have a sister who has been on depression meds her entire life. Growing up with a mean, verbal bully can cripple one’s self esteem. I have fought that battle for as long as I can remember. I have also developed tricks for avoiding depression. I focus on being grateful for what I have not for what I don’t; I avoid subjects which I know can trigger; and I pray. A lot. Footprints in the Sand is almost a mantra for me. I don’t know whether is gets better or whether I have just learned to live with it.

    Reply
  14. RCK - August 15, 2020 2:23 pm

    As the saying goes: “Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem.“

    Young people, especially, can’t grasp that permanent really means forever….over….done… and that they don’t get another chance. They also don’t know how much they still have to look forward to. Young brains are still forming well into the mid-20s and, consequently, the judgement and decision-making of young people is impaired. Humans are social animals and being too vigilant on the physical dangers of the virus, rather than the depression resulting from isolation and disconnection, may bring about a greater number of youth suicides.

    Reply
  15. Grace - August 15, 2020 2:27 pm

    Surprise ending. Beautiful. Thank you.

    Reply
  16. Lisa Wilcox - August 15, 2020 2:35 pm

    Excellent. Thanks for writing something that helps de-stigmatize depression and mental health issues.

    Reply
  17. Phil (Brown Marlin) - August 15, 2020 2:46 pm

    Wow! Beautiful!

    Reply
  18. Cynthia Russell - August 15, 2020 3:03 pm

    Stop making me cry!!
    I did the same thing for a friend. I lived in Texas & she in Alabama… she was at a low point when I called her.. I realized how bad she was mentally.. I called my sister-in -law who lives in the same area & who knows EVERYONE.. she gave me the name of a doctor my friend should see … I called & made her an appt.. My friend was on meds in a few days.. I know it saved my dear friend’s life.. I know they also saved my sister’s life..
    Meds are necessary to SEE the CLEAR picture when your mind is so dark..

    Reply
  19. Keloth Anne - August 15, 2020 3:56 pm

    Oh Sean—this is just so from the heart and so needed — I’m so tired of the opinions of others “if they wanted to they could snap out of it” or “I’ve never been depressed because I stay busy”.
    It’s a horrible illness and truly needs so much attention and much care, love, patience and the right medical help🙏♥️
    You are an amazing young man and loved by so many — you and Jamie stay safe and healthy 🙏💕

    Reply
  20. cronkitesue - August 15, 2020 5:13 pm

    Freud’s “talking cure” actually works. Getting the hurt and embarrassment out in the open helps a depressed person be able to see it for what it really is. If meds are needed, they should not be frowned upon. Caring about people makes all the difference, especially if the therapist is your mother. This is a fantastic column, Sean. It is very helpful.

    Reply
  21. Linda Moon - August 15, 2020 6:08 pm

    Life is hard. Very. COVID-19 has made it even harder. I learned from a wise woman that there are no could’ves, should’ves, or would’ves in LIFE…..only reality. And it, the reality, sometimes overwhelms us. I’m happy Jeannie talked to a listening woman. And, then you got me at your last sentence, Sean, because my hard-working Methodist mother finished raising me well after a divorce. Very well. Thank you, Mother. And thank you, Jeannie’s mother, too.

    Reply
  22. Susan Parker - August 15, 2020 6:09 pm

    Amy, thanks for being so honest. Please reach out to someone, even over the phone. I’m a retired therapist, and I can’t do any actual counseling, but if you like, we can talk by Messenger or maybe on the phone. Look me up on Facebook. There are a bunch of Susan Parkers, but I’m the one in Sugar Land, Texas.

    Reply
  23. Paul Alge Moore - August 15, 2020 6:23 pm

    I’ve always suffered from depression Runs in the family. Lost my son a year ago. Most of his problems were based In depression. My only child. Covid has not bothered me. When you loose a child nothing can touch you because the very worst has already happened. After awhile my GP put me on meds. It took awhile to get the right combo and I can make it through the day now. Try meds people don’t wait to late ☮️❤️

    Reply
  24. MAM - August 15, 2020 6:25 pm

    OK, you released the tear ducts again today, but beautifully as usual.

    Reply
  25. MARYLIN ANDERSON - August 15, 2020 6:46 pm

    A beautiful column, Sean. Amy, I went through a period of depression several years ago. I was already on meds, but still crying all the time. My doctor referred me to a counselor and it didn’t take me long to realize I didn’t belong there. THOSE people had REAL problems. I still take meds (not sure how I’d feel if I didn’t) but I am VERY blessed with a loving husband, wonderful kids, and extended family. You do need friends, even if they are just FACEBOOK friends. Listen to praise music on YouTube and read your Bible. If you get a copy of the Gideon Bible or New Testament, there is a place in the front called “helps.” For every emotion or problem you may have, there is a Scripture to speak to that need. As Sharon Brock said in the comment below — pray. God will hear your prayer and give you His peace. Even in these crazy times, He is still in control. I will pray for you to find His peace.

    Reply
  26. Patricia Gibson - August 15, 2020 7:21 pm

    So glad she shared her story. Hopefully it will help someone ❤️

    Reply
  27. Patricia Gibson - August 15, 2020 7:28 pm

    Hang in there Amy! You are never alone ❤️I will pray for you. It is tough for a lot of us so remember we are with you❤️

    Reply
  28. Melanie - August 15, 2020 8:47 pm

    Amen to infinity. Everyone who has had/has/will have depression raise your hand 🖐🏻 🤚 👋🏻🖐🏻🤚👐🏻🙌🏻 🙋🏼🙋🏻‍♂️🙋🏼🙋🏻‍♂️🙋🏻‍♀️🤷🤷🏼‍♀️🤷🏻‍♂️And do not discount the power of medication. It may take time to find the right one but it is worth it. Could save your life.!Thank you for speaking to this Sean. Needs to be shouted from the mountain tops.

    Reply
  29. meg widmer - August 15, 2020 10:04 pm

    Maybe most anyone of a ‘certain age’ can identify with this lady’s plight…I can. Some of us are hanging in there pushing forward, praying and, though we don’t understand the whole ‘picture’, somewhere deep inside there is a knowing that “this, too, shall pass.” The generations before us got through World Wars, Depression, no birth control, no meds and sometimes scarce medical help. AND don’t forget no TV or home entertainment! We can get through this, too. I hate the expression….but it says it very well…we’re in it together. Be kind to your neighbor. Be kind to that Methodist sitting next to you in church, be kind to animals, ….just be KIND. iT’S amazing how much better we all will feel if we just do some of these simple things. The sun will come up tomorrow and we can say…”Thank you for another day.” That’s my story and I’m sticking to it. It’s got me through nearly 80 yars!

    Reply
  30. aleathia nicholson - August 15, 2020 11:22 pm

    You’ve helped more people than those whose answers we’ve just read. You never know when you offer help to those in need who will respond and be able to watch the sun rise and thank God for another day to give life another chance to “Git-up and go!”

    Reply
  31. Karen - August 16, 2020 2:24 am

    Oh Sean, this was me when I went through my divorce. I’m thankful for those meds. Thanks for sharing this story. Your stories are your ministry.

    Reply
  32. Christina - August 16, 2020 2:54 am

    Sean, thanks for raising awareness and de stigmatizing such a real condition that many struggle to live with. Kayla Stoecklein just wrote a book called Fear Gone Wild about her young (pastor) husband’s struggle with depression/anxiety and suicide. We need more understanding and championing each other in this battle.

    Reply
  33. jstephenw - August 16, 2020 3:08 am

    Sean, once again you have taken a VERY difficult issue and made it simple and personal. That is your gift. Please never stop. We need you more than ever in times like these. Hey to Jamie and tell her that her cousin Jim made the cut at the PGA tournament in Greensboro. He should be playing on TV tomorrow.

    Reply
  34. Darlene Fuehring - August 16, 2020 3:19 am

    Love your musings. It lifts me each day!!

    Reply
  35. Tammy S. - August 16, 2020 12:59 pm

    Sean, I cannot help but wonder just how many lives you have touched, encouraged, or possibly even saved, by not backing down from what continues to be, confoundingly so, the taboo subject of depression. We all know how very personal it is for you. I know you have encouraged me. So thank you!!

    This coming spring it will be 34 years since I was given the chance to come back from the brink of a horrible, in the moment, decision. I look back at all that has transpired since, and what I could have missed, and I thank God I am here. And any chance I am given, I encourage those I bump up against and realize they are battling the dark clouds of depression as well, to seek counseling, to get help. I have used, so many times, the analogy of a person having cancer versus a person dealing with depression. Just as with cancer: Did you ask for this? “No” Would you make it go away if you could, on your own? “Yes” Should a cancer patient be ashamed for having cancer? “No, absolutely not.” Neither should those of us, battling a disease of the brain, called depression, be ashamed. For anyone battling depression today, Please, seek help, seek out someone to talk to, a pastor, a good therapist or counselor. Also, talk to a doctor, because meds can and do help to bring balance for some. From experience, if you feel blown-off by any doctor or counselor, leave them behind and keep looking for the right fit for you. I’ve had that experience and when you are depressed it does not help. But, some how, I was able to realize that it was something that doctor was going through and willed myself not to take it personal. Years later, I found out about that doctors personal struggle and my heart broke for her. She’d just not had anything to give to me, emotionally, that day that I had sat in front of her. Depression does not discriminate. It doesn’t care your age, race, gender, bank account or popularity. I pushed through and found an amazing counselor that I referred others to as well. Above all, please know, you are not alone. You are here for a purpose, no matter how big or small it may seem. And you have no idea what 10 years from now may look like. For me, 10 years later, ironically almost to the day, I gave birth to a beautiful, blonde baby boy. He is 23 now and fills our home with the most amazing music. So, wait for it, this too shall pass, the dark clouds do lift some days, and a beautiful future lies out ahead, along with many amazing memories to come. I have learned to be defiant to the realness of depression. To talk it through on the days I need to. Some days, still, as I lift my covers in the mornings, along with pushing them back, I am pushing the dark cloud hovering there back as well. I plant my feet on the floor beside my bed and whisper, “God, I know You have this, and it’s just a day You are gonna carry me through. And He does. And it is so worth it!! And I am forever grateful for each and every day!! Life is a beautiful gift!!

    Reply
  36. Katherine Kempf Jones - September 7, 2020 8:54 pm

    This is SO wonderful & a story we All need to hear! Thank you, Sean, for sharing & for all the work that brought you to this place where you can and Are Sharing! This column and your Life, are Great Gifts for ALL of us. Methodist or not!
    Thank you! – DiAn

    Reply

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