West Cullman DOM experiences God’s faithfulness, presence through depression journey

By Grace Thornton
The Alabama Baptist

In December 2015 — three days after their son’s wedding — Dennis Trimble’s wife, Shirley, sat down in their recliner for a nap and never woke up again.

“She had had some health problems for a number of years, but her death was not expected,” said Trimble, director of missions for West Cullman Baptist Association. “It was an extremely traumatic experience for me.”

As he walked through grief, he was well supported by the people around him, he said. But as time went on, he began to realize that what he was going through was something more than grief. By the time he made it to the following summer, he didn’t want to answer the phone or leave the house.

Unable to go on

“It had reached the point where I would clean up and dress and get ready to go out the door for one of my church visits on Sunday morning and get to the front door, put my hand on the handle and not be able to turn it,” Trimble said. “I was basically becoming a recluse. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to do anything in ministry, I was just mentally and emotionally unable to do so.”

Before that time, he had thrived in ministry and being around people. His son saw the change and finally encouraged him to go visit their family physician.

“When I went to see him, he talked to me about what grief is and the stages of grief and then he talked to me about what depression is,” Trimble said. “And as he described depression, I said, ‘That’s where I am. That’s exactly what I’m experiencing.’”

‘Great Comforter’

What he was experiencing is what Lisa Keane, director of clinical counseling for Pathways Professional Counseling, describes as a feeling much greater than simply feeling sad.

“Depression is pervasive, affecting almost all areas of your life,” Keane said. “It can sometimes be recognized as a lack of interest or enjoyment in tasks that typically bring joy, down to an inability to function through daily tasks due to feeling so low.”

It also can cause weight loss or gain for no reason, sudden fatigue, difficulty putting thoughts or words together, chronic pain, digestive issues or even feelings of suicide.

And it can happen to anyone at any time, Keane said.

“Depression is not an indicator of spiritual health or faith,” she said. “Depression can be the result of a situation, circumstances or trauma, but regardless of the source of pain or difficulty, a chemical imbalance has been created that could result in depression.”

Sometimes the triggers of depressions are difficult to pinpoint, but regardless of the cause, depression is a physical and emotional condition, Keane said. Faith can certainly play a part in helping someone manage his or her depression or heal from trauma, but the medical condition needs attention too, just like other physical illnesses.

“God is our Great Comforter, the One who hears us and helps us in times of trial and suffering,” Keane said. “But just because someone is dealing with depression does not mean his or her faith is not deep enough or strong enough. It simply means we live in a sinful, fallen world where sickness exists and can affect anyone. No one is immune.”

That’s where Trimble found himself — locked in a battle with a physical condition. It was one that ran in his family — his grandmother and his father also had struggled with depression. Trimble’s physician prescribed him medication, and that started him on a journey to find the right treatment plan.

“The medication worked initially. I was able to get back on the job,” Trimble said. “But as the months progressed, the symptoms of depression began to return.”

His doctor continued to adjust the dosage, but by December — a year after his wife’s death — he had reached rock bottom. He talked with his pastor and told him he was thinking about leaving his position at the association.

Peaks and valleys

“I knew I wasn’t doing the work I needed to be doing,” he said.

But instead of agreeing that Trimble should quit, that pastor and other pastors gathered around him. They encouraged him to start seeing Renay Carroll, a Pathways counselor who sees clients every Monday morning at the West Cullman Association office.

“I became one of her clients, and that began to help,” Trimble said.

Through the next several years, he went through several peaks and valleys. At one point he “tanked lower than ever before.”

His association’s churches rallied around him, told him they loved him and gave him a six-week sabbatical at one point to spend time healing. And as he met with Carroll, and as his doctor and later a psychiatrist worked with his medication, he finally found a combination that worked.

“When I first met with the psychiatrist, she said, ‘I’ve got lots of tools in my toolbox and at some point, we’ll find the tool that will work for you,’” Trimble said. “It was the first real hope I had to hold onto that I could come out of this.”

God’s grace is sufficient

They did find the right combination, and for more than a year now, “it has tremendously helped,” he said. “There are still moments when I wake up in the morning and have just a momentary thought that I really don’t want to get out of bed today. But I’m able to quickly shake that off and move on with my day.”

Trimble said he believes his depression is a condition he’ll have to treat the rest of his life.

“It’s an ongoing medical condition,” he said. “Just like you need to take that blood pressure pill, you need to stay on your depression medication to help your brain operate like it should and keep the depression under control.”

But no matter what his journey has looked like, he affirmed God’s grace is sufficient — and his relationship with God has gotten stronger because of what he’s been through.

“I tell folks that I would never, ever want to go back to where I was because in the very depths of it, I wouldn’t turn on any lights at night. I wouldn’t even go to bed. I’d just stay in my recliner,” Trimble said. “In those moments, those nights when it was so dark not only physically but emotionally and mentally, in ways I can’t explain, I could just feel the presence of the Lord surrounding me, letting me know that He was not through with me.”

The Psalms mean more to Trimble now, as does the Book of Job, he said.

“I wouldn’t want to go through it again, but at the same time I wouldn’t take all the money in the world for what I’ve learned about God and His faithfulness and His presence at work in my life,” he said.