The first week of October is Mental Health Awareness Week, so I am writing a few posts about depression this month. This is my story.
The darkness first infiltrated my mind when I was 14 years old. I lay awake for hours in the dark, too terrified to fall asleep. I was convinced that if I laid in a certain position, I was inviting Satan to possess me. It sounds ridiculous, but in that moment it seemed not only plausible, but guaranteed. My brain could not sort reality from fictitious fear.
Throughout high school, the darkness came and went. I believed it was manageable. I called it “moods.” I didn’t know it had a name.
Sometimes the darkness was too overwhelming. I felt numb. I dug my nails into my skin just to remind myself I could feel. Sometimes I could only feel anger and hatred for myself. I cried myself to sleep.
College was a new and exciting time of growth. For the first time since I was a child, I felt comfortable in my own skin. I grew to know the Lord more than ever before. I began to learn grace. The darkness remained at bay…for a while.
During my Junior year, the darkness returned brandishing a sword. I made my way through class, then I came back to my apartment and slept. I wouldn’t talk to my roommates. I had my first panic attack. I couldn’t breath. I felt dizzy. I sat there and cried on the bathroom floor. I learned how to hide it. I still believed it was manageable.
The darkness disappeared for awhile. I thought maybe I managed it away. God called me overseas for a year where I was stripped of all the comforts in which I put my trust. The darkness again hovered. But, this time I named it, with the help of a friend. Depression. I “struggle” with depression. That seemed nicer than saying I was depressed.
God showed up under the dark cloud. I could physically and emotionally feel him carrying me in His arms.
I thought the comfort and familiarity of the States would chase away the darkness. Instead, it surrounded me until I could no longer see. All I could feel was numb or hopeless.
I was serving in college ministry. I forced myself to get up, to go on campus. Then, I returned home and cried for hours. My only escape was sleep, so I hid in slumber. I prayed God would just let me die.
I believed the lie that my life was worthless. I believed the lie that my loved ones would be better off without me. I believed the lie that if I was a strong enough Christian, I could pray my way out of this. But, clearly I was not strong enough, so clearly I was failing.
Worthless. Failure. Burden. These are the things I believed about myself.
God reached out to me through the darkness. He sat with me as I cried. When I held a knife to my wrist just to see how it felt, He gave me visions of my mom’s devastation if I took my life. The people -pleaser in me put the knife down. I am beyond grateful that God can use even our idolatry to save us.
He met me in a special way. I’ve never felt His presence so keenly as I did in the darkness. I believe He gave me a special grace because he knew I couldn't see in the dark.
I was desperate for help, so I asked the elders at church for prayer. Maybe with more people praying, this would be manageable? I downplayed how bad it was in my request.
One of the pastors and his wife called me for a life-changing meeting. They shared with me their own struggles with depression and anxiety. “Depression is an illness,” they told me. “If you had cancer, you’d get treatment, right? There is no shame in getting help, in seeing a doctor, in taking medication. Yes, depression can be a spiritual problem, but it is also a physiological problem. It is not something you can just pray your way out of. It doesn’t make you a bad Christian.”
Their words were healing salve to my soul, waters that quenched a whole desert. Here were two Christian leaders whom I deeply respected and they struggled too. I had permission to be weak. I had permission to need help.
Come to find out, my depression is mostly physiological. I suffer from a hormonal imbalance that causes my brain to not produce enough serotonin, the chemical responsible for balancing mood. This doesn’t mean my depression is never spiritual or situational, but medication helps me tremendously. It helps my brain produce balanced hormones. It gives me the edge to deal with sadness and anxiety with a clear mind. I’ve taken medication for over 10 years and I am incredibly grateful.
This doesn’t mean I no longer battle depression. After my first baby was born, I suffered from post-partum depression and anxiety. I lay awake all night, convinced she was going to die in her sleep. I had small panic attacks. I still have seasons where the truth and the lie duke it out in my head, where the darkness seems to loom or be just around the corner. I still am tempted to feel worthless and hopeless. But, I don't have to.
There is hope. I know a God who loves me beyond all I can imagine, who holds me in His arms. I have medication that gives me the edge to deal realistically with my ups and downs. I have loved ones who don’t really understand, but who love and support me through the hard times.
Depression is not a weakness to overcome. It is an illness. There is no shame in getting help. If you suffer from depression, tell someone now. Depression tempts us to isolation and isolation only breeds more depression. It is a downward spiral into nowhere but darkness. You are not alone, so do not face this alone.
I am sharing my story today in hopes that someone who is suffering will read it and know they are not the only one. I am sharing to help erase the stigma of mental illness-the lie that it is shameful and only happens to the spiritually weak and faithless. Someone shared their story with me and it saved my life, so I must share mine.
If you or a loved one is struggling with depression so severely, you or they are thinking of taking their lives, PLEASE Call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) at any time day or night 24/7, to talk to someone who understands. Or go online at www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org for more information and help.
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