Depression, Burnout & Ministry: Anne Jackson Interview, Part 1
Today I begin the first part of a two part interview I did with Anne Jackson. I first heard about Anne around two years ago when one of my church co-workers Matt Singley kept referring to some blogger named Flowerdust. I was told that she was one of the most popular and influential bloggers on the internet. Immediately intrigued I hopped onto her site and almost immediately felt a breath of fresh air as wrote with an authenticity, vulnerability and purpose that is sometimes hard to find–not only in blogging circles, but the “Christian” world. Since that day Anne is one of my favorite daily reads and I really appreciate her insight and passion that is obviously very contagious among her readership.
As you will see from the two-part interview, my main desire behind interviewing her was because of her often “lone voice” in the Christian blogging circles to openly talk about issues of depression, anxiety, mental health and medication. I think her willingness to talk so openly about these things has resonated with many, many people as is witness by the tons of comments she receives on a daily basis.
Oh, and lest I forget, she’s the author of the new book Mad Church Disease: Overcoming the Burnout Epidemic.
Anne, in a sentence or two, what was the impetus behind writing Mad Church Disease?
It was twenty seven years in the making…from watching my own parents burn out in ministry, to my own stress-induced hospital stay, I realized that left and right church leaders are being taken out – yet nobody is talking about it. I hope this book will catalyze conversations about not only our brokenness, but our health.
As you address the issues of burnout and self-care I was wondering if you have seen a correlation between burnout or lack of self-care and depression? Do you have any personal examples you could share?
Stress, when accumulated over time, can cause chemical changes in our bodies. It increases bad hormones and decreases good ones. As time goes on, these changes can lead to semi-permanent or permanent damage.
Over the two years I allowed the stress to run my life, I noticed how I went from feeling “stressed” to feeling hopeless and unmotivated. At its worst, there were days when I didn’t even leave my bed. Ashamed (and again, unmotivated), I withdrew from my relationships and my responsibilities.
One of the reasons I wanted to interview you as you know, is that not many Christians are forthright on the topic of depression, anxiety and what I would describe as adjustment disorders….so why did you decide to be more vulnerable about this issue in such a public forum such as your blog and book?
I remember feeling so alone as I struggled with anxiety and depression…especially in the church world. I would go to services at my church or even as I would hang out with other staff members, it seemed like everyone was so happy and put together.
Those issues became so bad, I had to take a three week leave of absence from work where I started some medication and went to see a counselor. Talking about it with her made me feel so free. Go figure…the truth will set you free…that sounds familiar, doesn’t it?
As I began to share what was really going on with my friends and coworkers, many times those same people would share with me their own struggles with anxiety, depression or other issues.
I realize when other people share their struggles with me, it builds an instant bridge of trust. I know I can talk with them because they’ve walked in my shoes. It also makes a “me too” moment. I think it was Rob Bell who said the words “me too” are the two most comforting words in the English language.
Again, just starting that conversation and allowing others the permission to share knowing they will be welcomed with grace and trust and love – unconditionally, is why I am so passionate about talking about these things.
Why do you think Christians and the Church in general are hesitant to talk openly about these issues? And do you see that changing?
I think most people see Christians as the goody-two-shoes of society. We are supposed to be the ones who are perfect and have all of our junk together. This perception and imposed expectations have gone on for as long as I can see. When it comes to matters of spirituality, we want to be seen as holy. Admitting we are flawed somehow makes us less than adequate or worthy. Unfortunately, the church also has a stigma of judgment when people have been honest with their issues, which only makes people want to hide even more.
There is a generation longing for rawness and honesty. I hope that we will begin to change it.
Stay tuned for Part 2 of my interview with Anne Jackson.