We carry this precious Message around in the unadorned clay pots of our ordinary lives. That’s to prevent anyone from confusing God’s incomparable power with us. As it is, there’s not much chance of that. You know for yourselves that we’re not much to look at. We’ve been surrounded and battered by troubles, but we’re not demoralized; we’re not sure what to do, but we know that God knows what to do; we’ve been spiritually terrorized, but God hasn’t left our side; we’ve been thrown down, but we haven’t broken… We’re not keeping this quiet, not on your life. Just like the psalmist who wrote, “I believed it, so I said it,” we say what we believe… Every detail works to your advantage and to God’s glory: more and more grace, more and more people, more and more praise! So we’re not giving up. How could we! Even though on the outside it often looks like things are falling apart on us, on the inside, where God is making new life, not a day goes by without his unfolding grace. (2 Corinthians 4:1-16 MSG)
With my last depression (which as I described was a doozy), I re-entered the life of a non-depressed right where I had left off. I was so in love with my Savior. I was committed more than ever to love and serve Him with my life! I was still in love with my husband and we could return to doing the things we used to enjoy doing together! I had a whole new relationship to build with my kids (as they were now adults) and my grandkids who hadn’t known me as anything but, “Oma feels sick today!”
It’s important to remind you that even in my very last depressive episode, I was unable to escape the torment and the lies. I was trapped inside that horrid existence. But as I emerged, I remembered all the things God had taught me during the previous 12 years and to my delight my spirit righted itself. Truly, the Anchor still does hold you even though you don’t even know He’s there. When the storm finally subsides, you might find you haven’t drifted too far from shore, after all.
As I consider all the anger I directed at God for abandoning me, only He knew that within the most violent depression I had ever experienced (to which I almost lost my life,) He was actually healing me! As I reflect, I can’t help but wonder how my life could’ve turned out without my kind, compassionate, prayer-warrior, Aaron!” It is an amazing story of God’s patience, kindness and miracle-working power! He was working behind the scenes through all the incredible, tortuous suffering to accomplish my healing. He was working it for my good! He had it all under His control after all! Wow! And, praise the Lord!
On this side of my experience, I can declare that my soul learned to say, “Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say, it is well, it is well, with my soul.” Horatio Spafford
A Plea For Compassion
Before wrapping up this blog I want to say a few words about suicide. Even after all the verses I claimed, the spiritual Foundational Truths I learned and how I learned to live with depression in the most self-compassionate way that I could, my final depressive episode made me suicidal. Think about that a minute. You see, most people just can’t comprehend that while a properly functioning mind might be able to reason clearly and integrate spiritual truths, a suicidal individual does not have a healthy functioning brain so they cannot access those spiritual answers that the Christian community thinks should be so simple.
Suicide is the evidence of the desperation of a very sick mind, not the selfish whim of a healthy person. Suicidal individuals aren’t selfish; they are sick. First, I want to make it clear that suicide is never a good solution to one’s suffering. But when I read the harsh and condemning statements made by healthy-minded people, they clearly, after all this time, still don’t truly understand that suicide is the result of a sickness that ended very badly. Many responses are cruel, resentful, angry, and harsh regarding that person’s supposed selfishness and cruelty to abandon their loved ones in such a violent way.
Instead, suicide should make us all break down and weep! These people only considered suicide when their minds could see no other solution to keep on living. What sorrow and sadness that someone had not been able to reach into these people’s suffering and pull them from the flames that licked their feet. I had an incredibly supportive family, but the last episode for me was so intense, in that I spiraled so deep and so fast, I lost all hope and no one could convince me that there was hope, except for my “Aaron” who stepped in to love on me and pray for me. My daughter’s unrelenting confidence and kindness to me and her hope for me likely saved my life.
Anyone who commits suicide is very sick with an illness that no diagnostic machines can measure, as it is all hidden deep inside their brains. It’s a silent killer. The world will never know unless they are listening carefully to their conversations about giving up and the haunting peace that comes from a sense of finality in their statements. This is a call to compassion and empathy. Can you just imagine the depth of suffering in their hearts and minds? Can you imagine the despair that they must have felt to believe that their loved ones would be better off without them? Can you just imagine how distorted, tormented, and twisted their thoughts were to choose death over life?
I wish the world would empathize with that degree of sorrow, sadness, sickness and despair, and weep for them rather than judge them. In fact, rather than allow them to suffer alone or get to that point, reach in and become that someone that they would be willing to confide their thoughts to, and offer them incredible 100% love and grace.
The week was almost done, and I was out walking; Bill would be home soon. Of course, walking is where I could think. I started asking myself, “Why is this depressive event not going away? Why is it so violent and extreme? What makes this particular time so despairing that I’ve actually been trying to come up with a way to kill myself?” While I had longed for heaven before, while I had idealized dying so I could finally be free of my suffering, I hadn’t ever considered the final step, the plan of how I might accomplish it. I hadn’t felt the need to write these kinds of notes before explaining why I might not be around some day because I had never gotten that close. Rereading those notes now, I believe that I was finally trying to say, “I am sorry and goodbye.”
Anyway, I started asking myself, “When did this depressive event begin? When did it start getting this bad? I figured it had been just over a month, which was unheard of in my whole history of depression, 1) that the event would be ongoing and increasing in intensity for over a month, and 2) of course, that it never had felt this severe. And then it dawned on me. I had begun a new drug about six weeks prior, an appetite suppressant that my doctor wanted me to try to kick-start a new diet. I rushed home to look up the side effects. Typical side effects? Nope! Frequent side effects? Nope! Rare side effects? Nope! Extremely rare and potentially deadly side effects? YES! What?!?!?!?!?
I had been enjoying regular weekly weight loss! It’d been years since I had lost 3-4 lbs. a week. Even in my depression, it was satisfying stepping on the scale. Better yet, I had no hunger! My doctor had implied, if I didn’t buckle down and lose the weight, it could kill me. I thought to myself, “If this is the reason for this depressive event, this might kill me!” I spent the night considering which way I wanted to die, by heart attack or by suicide. I texted my daughter first and told her what I discovered. She asked if I was going to stop taking them. I was still torn! Plus, I wasn’t absolutely sure yet that it was the drug. What if I were to stop it on a whim and the drug had nothing to do with it? Then, I texted my husband whom I had hardly texted all week, and asked him what he thought? Did he think it was the drug?
Both of them said, “Toss the drug! It’s not worth it.” It was a weight loss help! It wasn’t directly saving my life! It needed to go! The next morning, with some sadness, because I had tried for so many years to lose this weight, I didn’t take my pill. Nor the next day, or the next. In fact, I never took another pill. Slowly, I started to feel my “self” return. It was slow; in fact, it took about two-three weeks to feel like myself again. In fact, it was about a month before I felt depression-free for the first time in a few months. But I felt like I was back; praise the Lord! When I went back to my doctor, I was his first patient to experience this type of reaction. He sat there in the room and looked through the known side effects, and sure enough read, “Can make existing depression and mood disorders worse.” It is now listed on my chart as an allergy!
My Rescue Came From My Worst Depression
Glad to be relieved of this really bad episode, life went back to normal! My normal, anyway. I had a good week, then expected to fall back into another regular depressive episode the following week, one less severe as was typical. A week went by, then two. Then three! Then a month! I didn’t say anything! For months after that horrible month, I wouldn’t experience another episode of depression. I even experienced some other really difficult physical health issues. Yet, the type of incapacitating sorrow and irritability never returned. It was surprising to both Bill and me but neither of us dared to utter a word about it. We were almost afraid to believe what might be true. We’re not at all superstitious but yet, I think we were both just waiting for the next episode to show up as it had for twelve years. Still we waited, not believing it could be over. Another year and a half would come and go, and normal human emotions of frustration or discouragement would show up, but they felt “normal.” They felt like they had the first 39 years of my life: appropriate, rational and fleeting.
At thanksgiving, our family has a tradition. After dinner, we go around the table and say what we are thankful to God for in the prior year. On Thanksgiving Day 2015, I would announce to my children and my little grandchildren who would not understand what Oma was crying about, “I believe God has healed me of my depression. It has been 19 months since I last experienced an episode of depression.” The entire table began to cry; it had been a terribly long haul and they had all been there. Praise the Lord! God restored my mind and my capacity to reason and to cope and to respond to the Holy Spirit’s promptings. The expected lifelong loop of negative self-hate simply went away.
For those of you whose jaws you need to pick up off the floor, there was a medical reason! In short, I believe this drug so violently affected all my hormones, that it crippled my reproductive system and chemically shut down my hormonal system for good, putting me into menopause. The menopause stopped the cycling, so my body and mind were finally restored to normal functionality. All that suffering just ended because my hormones just stopped.
Back In The Light
I remembered then what the research doctor and researcher had told me back in 2008, 6 years prior, that the current consensus among researchers at that time was that when women with my rare depression went into menopause causing the cycling hormones to stop, that the ravaging mood disorder would dissipate and go away. Remember, he warned me that I should continue to get counseling so that when it did happen for me, I’d be able to find my way back to the life I used to know— that is, I would need to create new pathways to learn how to cope, to make decisions based on my upbringing and my faith, and to be able to know how to make good decisions.
What I was fearful would permanently damage my brain after so many years with depression did not occur because of one thing, I believe. During my years of depression, when I was able to crawl out of the darkness into the light, I devoted my thinking to adjusting my expectations of myself and my view of God. You see, I’d been seeing a different kind of Counselor. God had been renewing my mind, teaching me about Him and His everlasting kindness for me. He was teaching me Foundational Truths which adjusted my view of Him.
God Was Working Behind The Scenes
As I look back, during my depression episodes themselves, I couldn’t see what God was doing in my heart. Even after twelve years of learning how to view my own condition, learning how God might view me and learning about Who God was in His person and character, I could not see those truths, nor could I see Him “inside” the depression. But “in the light” (when I would temporarily emerge clear-headed), deep inside my soul everything was changing; I was being remade. These lessons didn’t deliver me from my depression, but instead it comforted me and gave me an underlying peace about my depression—a hope and a confidence in the One Who knew all and controlled all. God didn’t rescue me from my hell, nor did He tell me to just push past it. He lovingly made a way to make His presence known to me. He simply walked alongside me, working behind the scenes, repairing the broken pieces of my heart and life, and making all things new in my view of Him while all the while He was repairing my own view of me.
Well, the week continued, and as had been my habit for about 6 years, I went for my daily walk down my street. I turned on my playlist and felt nothing. In fact, all I really felt was anger and resentment. Sometime during that walk, I heard, “The Anchor Holds,” sung by Ray Boltz. My ears perked up as the song bemoans that the songwriter’s dreams and life had slipped right through his fingers like grains of sand. Then, the chorus promised that God, being our Anchor, was strong enough to hold onto us in the most difficult of situations.
But for some reason, what I heard was that I’d only be held by this incredible Anchor’s strength if I were strong enough to hold onto Him. When I heard that, in my despair and the rage I was experiencing, I shouted at God at the top of my lungs, “But I can’t hold onto Your Anchor anymore!!!! It’s too hard! I just can’t do it anymore!”
I continued my walk, still frustrated, but I just let my music list play through on shuffle. I was pretty ticked off having suffered so long, learning a healthier perspective about God and embracing my new Foundational Truths, and now here I was shouting at God, because I couldn’t hold onto Him anymore. (Sigh) I felt doomed and condemned! Before this episode, I had had faith that I was trying to please God and had faith and confidence in my adjusted view of God, but now I was too weak to be strong enough to hold on to the only Hope I had! I fumed all the way up and down my street! It seemed so unfair! On the last leg of my walk as I was nearing home, another song began to play. I wish I could remember the exact song that played, but truthfully, when God revealed to me the following, my mind started racing to figure it out before my walk ended. I was on the precipice of something huge and I felt it in my spirit! This could change everything!
Misunderstanding The Anchor
It nearly stopped me in my tracks. I began to ask myself. “What is an anchor? What does an anchor do? Do ships hold onto anchors or do anchors hold onto ships?” I thought about the strength of an anchor. I thought of its potential for rescue and safety in the storm. I rehearsed in my mind the terrible storm I was in and I remember getting angry that my Anchor appeared useless to me. I knew my Anchor, Jesus Christ, was solid, strong and powerful, but what use is an Anchor, if I was too weak to hold onto the Anchor.
That’s when the Holy Spirit broke through the silence to speak into my heart. “You don’t hold onto an anchor! The anchor holds onto you!” I began to rehearse in my mind the dynamics and physics of an anchor. Let’s see: It’s attached to the ship. The weak link for a ship is its connection to the anchor; if it isn’t a secure connection, the anchor would be useless. But if the ship is designed right, the anchor is solidly built into the frame of the ship, tethered tightly to its hull. Once it is built, the anchor holds onto the ship. The ship doesn’t hold onto the anchor. (Gasp!)
I personified the Anchor and the ship. I pictured me as the ship grasping the anchor with imagined hands and holding on for all its worth, struggling to stay afloat. I thought how silly and worthless an anchor would be if the ship had to be strong enough to hold onto the anchor. Then I pictured myself as the ship, being tossed and turned on the waves, struggling, clamoring and clawing to find this anchor; one end was solidly tethered to my insides while the other end was firmly connected to the bedrock on the ocean floor. It was not at the top, in the storm, where I was looking at all!
It occurred to me that a ship in distress out in the storms of the ocean does nothing but let the Anchor fall to the bedrock below. Then, it waits safely through the storm while the anchor holds the ship in its current location. Yes, the storms still rage above, and the boat may get tossed about above the surface, but down below the surface, the anchor is firmly planted on the rock. It may feel desperate up above, but down below where the anchor is resting, it is calm.
I was definitely in the squall of my life. I was in a terrible storm, one which I felt could pull me under. I also knew in my brain that I was still a child of God. I knew God was supposed to be my Anchor. What I hadn’t realized till that day was that I had always assumed that in order to benefit from having an Anchor, was that I had to be strong enough to hold onto it through life’s most difficult storms. Me! I believed my strength would have to be strong enough to hold onto my Anchor. I asked myself, “What good would an anchor be if it’s merit came down to each person’s ability to hold onto it through a storm?”
Then I remembered it, a verse I learned during my youth. John 10:27-29 “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand.”
There it was: My Anchor and the Bedrock. Nowhere did I read that I better be strong enough to hold onto God. I only read that no one and nothing can snatch me out of my Father’s hands (the Bedrock) once I have been placed into them. I knew I was in Christ, even in this dark, empty, vile wilderness and that Christ was in me. And just for a few moments, the grace of that precious truth caught me off guard. I pictured the footprints plaque. I pictured Him picking me up, while I was still kicking and screaming, and carrying me through this storm, all the while I’m shouting at Him for abandoning me. While I could do nothing to help myself survive it, I wondered if He could hold me through the violence of this storm.
My mind wandered back to the image of the anchor but this time, I visualized the ship as having arms. Imagining the first scenario, I thought about how ridiculous it would be for my figurative ship to reach down through the murky water to find the anchor sitting down on the bedrock, trying with all its might to hold onto the anchor.
Then, the image shifted as I internalized my newly discovered thoughts about anchors. This time, although my ship was still being tossed in the storm, up from the bedrock an anchor with massively strong arms reached up and wrapped his arms around the floundering ship and embraced it, holding it secure in its embrace. With the anchor firmly established onto the bedrock and with its arms encapsulating and protecting the little ship, it was safe. What did the ship do? The ship just sat there and did nothing. Yes, the storm was still pounding it, but the ship was at peace within the safety of the strong arms of the anchor, which was tethered to the hull of the ship, the “heart” of the ship.
I finished my walk with these simple thoughts. Today, I’d be content with this new realization that I didn’t have to hold onto my Anchor. I was safe in my Father’s hands. Not even in my own frustrating attempts could I wriggle free of Him. Today, I’d be content with doing nothing to hold onto the Anchor but would rest in the knowledge that if His word was true, the Anchor was still, even in this violent storm, holding onto me.
Interestingly, my oldest daughter did check in on me during the week. She texted me the next morning and many of the same statements came up. I had been telling her I was in a bad way, worse than ever before. She’d offer to come over, but I didn’t want company; I was afraid I’d get angry at her, too. I often texted her when I wanted someone to pray for me. She knew that I wasn’t asking for advice or for her to cheer me up; I just needed a safe person to tell that I was suffering. This particular week, I could not pray myself! Her prayers for me were going to be the only ones being offered this week (although I later learned my husband was praying like crazy). Anyway, I knew she’d pray and beg God to give me peace and relieve my suffering. But this particular week, the tone of my texts as I reread them today, are haunting. Can you pick up on the cues of a suicidal woman? Can you sense the strange sense of peace and resignation that I was coming to a point where I was done with life, and was ready to just go to heaven and be done with it all?
Christine: “How r u feeling today? Or is it too early to know?”
Me: “Pretty discouraged to the point of despair regarding what I have to go thru and how it affects everything in my life, including my relationships. I’m just plain unhappy! I’m weary of this whole thing! I don’t see how anything good can come from it. I’m tired of surrender! I feel disconnected from daddy, God and everyone in between! I’ve lost hope. I feel this whole attempt to be made whole or to make whole what is broken in my life is hopeless. And I don’t think this is depression speaking. I just reflect on my life today and the joy or contentment I once knew, and the results or consequences are more than I can bear in my spirit…I think the sadness may be subsiding but now I’m just plain worn out, discouraged, despairing and I think even resentful of this situation. I am so tired of this! I am really struggling with accepting this roller coaster life – tired of this life that I’ve been asked to live! It is miserable! I’m pretty sure I’m losing the battle.”
Christine: “I just don’t get it, either, mommy. The only thing that makes sense is that there are sooo many other people out there going through the same thing I think …only with less of a foundation under their feet than what you guys have. There just has to be reasons still yet unseen as to why God has allowed this…Your life is not over yet. There could still be a lot of future for you guys. Maybe, there is still lots of purpose to come out of this.”
Me: “I saw your post this morning that said something like, help us to see the “blessings in disguise.” I no longer believe that there are blessings in disguise anymore! I’m angry that I have to go thru this torture and the end result is a bitter and lost heart for weeks at a time! Where is the “blessing” in that!? I just don’t buy it anymore!”
Christine: “Ya, I know. Well, while you are worn out and done with all of this… I’ll keep believing for you…Because I just can’t believe God is done with you.”
Me: “Yesterday when I walked, I tried to listen to the music that reminds me of God’s purpose, grace and mercy and it was just a bitter pill! I had to turn it off because the words offended me! I have to admit, I am far from God right now and I am bitter about this! I’m fed up! My longing for God has been silenced! And the same way I push daddy away like a hurt, cornered, rabid dog, I find myself this week pushing God away, too! I’m just telling you where I’m at today honestly! I cannot do this anymore!!!!!!!!!!!!!”
Christine: “I just can’t accept it’s been a waste. I mean other pastors or ministry workers have fallen away from the Lord or they’ve slipped into adultery or something like that…that’s not you guys. You were doing what God called you to and have not strayed. Yes, I know today…this week…this season…you may not feel that. I know you are feeling embittered. I can understand. But it’s just a season. I know it. You guys are soooo Job!!!! You were serving the Lord and He allowed you to endure something terrible. Why? I don’t know. But it’s not the end of the story. ‘He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.’ It’s ok if you can’t believe it right now, mommy. I’ll keep praying it for you.”
Me: “Scripture says that the enemy seeks to tear down and destroy! I give up! He’s won; this depression has torn down and destroyed everything in my life I hold dear! Over and over again! I am worn out! Then I read that ‘When I’m weak, He is strong?’ Who’s kidding who? God is not strong today. I am weak and He is absent…”
Christine: “Maybe you don’t feel it today…But I just don’t believe it…It’s not the end. You are sick at home. I know I just keep sounding like I’m trying to convince you or preach to you. You know I’m not trying to do that. I see where you are. And I’m letting you ask “why” …But while you are in the pit, I’m still praying. I’ll help hold up your hands. Close your eyes and rest while I hold your arms up.”
Me: “Well, when a mind like mine is sick, I can see how it is better to lock us away. Because whatever a mind thinks, the heart follows. A when the heart sludges thru this mud for days on end, the heart follows. That’s where I’m at. I think my brain is no longer being tormented. I’m just done fighting it.”
Christine: “Maybe. I can see that. And after a longer struggle, the recovery process will be longer, too. But I still don’t believe it’s over.”
Me: “There is a point in mountain climbing when the journey just becomes too difficult. Once you’ve lost your toes and fingers to the cold, you’ve run out of food and supplies, there comes a time to just give up and turn back. I’ve reached that point; there is no point in battling on. I’m turning back. I’m out of steam; I’m out of courage; I’m out of reserve to hold on to; I’m worn out!”
Christine: “I know…”
Me: “I appreciate your hope, confidence and prayer. I am glad someone is interceding for me. I just no longer have anything left in me to do that for myself. I’m the one who has to live in this tormented mind. What possible good can come from a mind who is scourged to the point of being embittered toward life, husband and God! What good? My mind pushes me away from all these!!!!!!!
Christine: “I wish I had the answer, Mommy…” (end of conversation)
First, did you sense the times I was trying to help her understand that I was throwing in the towel and why? She didn’t know I was really suicidal, but she wouldn’t relent and let me give up. I also want to draw your attention to something: she never rebuked me. She didn’t tell me how unspiritual I was acting. She didn’t express disappointment in me! Her love, mercy and grace just kept coming at me one shot after another. Why didn’t she just let me give up, already? She was not intimidated. She didn’t walk away flabbergasted! She stuck it out through everything I was vomiting up! Finally, she had confidence in our God when I had lost mine! You can bet she was a vicious, prayer warrior that week and took her job seriously, and I’ll tell you why I knew this in a minute.
What Did She Mean About Holding Up My Arms?
Exodus 17:8–13 (NASB): “Then Amalek came and fought against Israel at Rephidim. So, Moses said to Joshua, ‘Choose men for us and go out, fight against Amalek. Tomorrow, I will station myself on the top of the hill with the staff of God in my hand.’ Joshua did as Moses told him, and fought against Amalek; and Moses, Aaron, and Hur went up to the top of the hill. So, it came about when Moses held his hand up, that Israel prevailed, and when he let his hand down, Amalek prevailed. But Moses’ hands were heavy. Then they took a stone and put it under him, and he sat on it; and Aaron and Hur supported his hands, one on one side and one on the other. Thus, his hands were steady until the sun set. So, Joshua overwhelmed Amalek and his people with the edge of the sword.”
In short, when Moses became weary and his arms began to fall from fatigue, the enemy they were fighting would start to overpower them. But, when Moses arms were up with the staff of God in his hand, Joshua’s army would begin to overpower their enemy. So, Aaron and Hur, realizing that Moses was incapable of doing it himself, stationed themselves, one on each side, and physically held up Moses’ weary arms for him. At the end of that day, Joshua overwhelmed the enemy and killed them. Here’s the principle: There are times when people become so fatigued that though they desire to do what God is asking them to, they just can’t. In those times, God calls along Aarons and Hurs to help them do what God desires, but they carry the full weight of it themselves. I knew this biblical story well. I knew what she was telling me.
She said, “I will believe for you. I will intercede for you” (not just about me, but as a replacement for me). She was saying, “I trust God! I will trust God FOR you!” She didn’t offer any ridiculous advice to try to talk me out of what I was saying! She let me vent! The vomit kept coming. The only thing she wanted me to remember was to trust in God’s eternal purposes. She simply offered love, grace, mercy and support. Incredibly, she refused to be dissuaded to become discouraged herself! She believed when I couldn’t!
Well, I had a doctor’s appointment that day, so that was the end of the conversation. But later that day, I returned home from my doctor’s appointment and discovered that Christine had brought me a single red rose in a lovely little vase, beautifully wrapped up by a florist. Attached to it was a card which simply said, “Love, your Aaron.” Scrawled across my 6-foot bathroom mirror she had written in soap: “Love you! Both of you! Praying for you!” It was there on our mirror for months as a constant reminder. I texted my response to her in tears!!!! “Christine, Thank you!! This means the world to me!”
“Your faith will not fail while God sustains it; you are not strong enough
to fall away while God is resolved to hold you.(J.I. Packer)
The last true episode of depression I experienced was during late March through April of 2014. It ranked at the absolute top in intensity and lasted all month. It culminated with Bill being away on a business trip during the last week of the month. He almost never went away without me, but this particular time, his hands were tied; the trip was required training for his new part time job and, furthermore, I was not welcomed to join him.
For the most part, his departure was just fine with me. The episode I was in had brought such intense anger with it (in fact, I was actually enraged), so we weren’t doing well as a couple. But then again, my depression tore the rug out from under my relationships every time and the first relationship to go was always ours. So, I didn’t think twice about the fact that since I was in a depressed state, I would be angry feeling he was abandoning me for so long while I was experiencing such intense suffering.
But I remember very distinctly it being one of those times when he asked me before leaving, “Heidi, why are you so angry? Are you angry at me? Is it because I’m leaving? I have to leave!” Even after twelve years of this terrible illness, he was still asking me questions I could not possibly answer! When I was well, we might have been able to have a conversation about it, but I was lost in a rage I didn’t understand. This particular episode was so intense and was so pervasive that it figuratively had me by the throat.
This time, as he pushed and pushed me to answer, I actually shouted at him, “I don’t know, Bill! I’m just angry. I’m not angry at anyone and I’m not necessarily angry for any particular reason. I’m just mad.” I was mentally and emotionally controlled by this and the rage that was building up in me was confusing and frustrating. But, even recognizing that I couldn’t think of any specific reason why I was actually angry, I still couldn’t shake it. Whether a “symptom” of my lack of control or a “result” that I had lost emotional control of my life, I didn’t know, but it got worse by the day.
In addition to the anger, the despairing sadness and grief was taking its toll. Normally, I knew that if I just relented and waited for the sadness and emptiness to pass in a few days, 7-10 days at most, I would eventually see my way out to the other side. But this particular episode was strangely the most intense I’d ever experienced and was not letting up. That confidence that it was a temporary setback wasn’t there; it didn’t feel like I’d ever come out the other side. Worse yet, now I was alone in the house. My husband was busy in North Carolina with his work and could not stop to check in on me, but even if he had tried (and he did try), I didn’t answer my phone, I didn’t answer my texts, I turned off my “read receipts” and I refused to read his emails. I wanted nothing to do with him. The fact is, without anyone else to be angry at, he was the only one left besides myself that I could focus my anger on. So, I was alone in every way, not only was I physically alone in the house, but I was completely ignoring him.
Mind you, God had already taught me so many life-breathing truths about Himself during the former 11-12 years of my illness that had completely overwritten a false view of Him and His everlasting love, kindness and grace. I was trying to use my coping strategies. I was trying to calm my mind with soothing music and a quiet, tranquil space. I took my daily walks. I even listened to my “depression playlist.” I reminded myself of the grace of God, but it felt meaningless. My self-talk that what was happening to me didn’t define me nor did it reveal my true self, fell on deaf ears. The things I had learned to do to get through my episodes weren’t working. This time, rather than caring how God felt about me, or how Bill felt about me, or anyone else, I just simply did not care. Most of the day, I felt mentally incapable of emotion. When emotion squeaked through (against my will), none of it was appropriate. It certainly wasn’t spiritual. But I digress…
My point was that I was in the darkest place I had ever been in. I remember heading out for my walks, anyway, and forced myself to listen to my playlist of songs. But this week, I just really wasn’t in the mood for these songs. I was angry at every one of them, especially those that spoke about God. Yet, in my heart, I knew that those were the very things I needed to force myself to hear. So, even though they were still an offense to me, I willingly cracked the door open in the hopes that “Truth” would get in and speak to my brain what my heart was unwilling to say or even to think. But I certainly wasn’t ready to believe them.
The Week I Almost Went “Home,” and God Told Me, “Not Yet!”
So, I’d lie there and cry, weeping uncontrollably for a period, then when I’d had enough of that pathetic, weepy person that I hated, I stuffed those pathetic, weepy emotions down as far as I could, and forced myself to become emotionally empty. “There, now I don’t feel anything.” Empty felt better than out of control and pathetic. Still, I felt lifeless, suffocated, dead, alone, and abandoned. I began to see myself from the outside in. I watched myself be pathetically ill; I was a mental basket case. I perseverated over what a wreck my life was and had been (also despairing that it would likely continue to be so until I died as, obviously the Lord wasn’t healing me). It was like I was watching myself from the doorway of my room and thinking, this girl just needs relief! If only she could just die and go to Heaven, she’d be done with all this suffering.
Of course, then, as if there were two little devils on each of my shoulders, the other whispered, “It’d be the kindest thing you could do for your family who has had to endure this long enough. Your poor husband serves you like a nurse (cooks for you, feeds you, cleans for you, runs interference for you) and yet, you are the most unkind to him because he is the closest. Though, he might grieve for a while, your death would surely bring him relief. After a period of grieving, he’d recover, go on to another ministry he is longing to do and be able to embrace good memories with his kids and grandkids. I bet he can’t wait to remarry so he could find relief in replacing you.” Of course, this made me rage.
Then, I thought of my kids. For most of my youngest’s life, her mom was mentally ill, in bed, nasty and testy. She was the most likely of all the kids, near the end, to become my husband’s comforter (getting him cold drinks, trying to take care of some of the household duties, spending time keeping him company, and taking care of him)! Although, I felt sorry for my husband, it always made me mad that people seemed to feel more compassion for him, but became frustrated with me, the one who was sick. I felt invisible and unnecessary as a mom, because “mom is messed up;” I felt more like a stepmom whom they didn’t have to concern themselves with, as I wasn’t in my right mind.
The older kids started getting married, (2007, 2008, 2010), so their visits felt more like, “Well, mom’s sick, but we can still go over and spend time with dad.” I felt like (though, now, I’m sure it wasn’t so), if I were gone, after a short period of grief, they would all be able to reestablish a happy familial environment when they came home to visit. The saddest realization for me was that my grandkids would never know a sweet, loving, fun “Oma” (grandma in German). It was likely mortifying for them to come over and observe what a scary person Oma was, always crying, never sweet and tender and not at all fun. I’m sure they could sense that the whole family was walking around on eggshells when Oma came downstairs, everyone waiting to see if she was depressed or was in a non-depressive period when they could treat her normally.
You see, though I had experienced a degree of suicidal ideation in prior episodes, during this descent lower and lower into the pit, it was becoming less about how much I was currently suffering, and more about how I just could not imagine how I could live—that is, suffer—this intensely forever, years and years, thru old age until death. I started to actually believe the kindest thing I could do for them (though it might take time for them to recover) was to just find a way to end my life so that they had some hope of living the rest of their life without the burden of my life among them.
For the first time, I started to spend some real earnest time, trying to think of a way I could kill myself. Walking into a train? Too gory! Slicing my wrists? The failure rate was too high! I didn’t want to go thru the effort of killing myself only to end up a vegetable in a care facility. Now, where could I get a gun? That might be quick! I wonder if the river down by my house would give me hypothermia before it pulled me under, or whether I would have to die the suffocating death of drowning, as it would surely, eventually, pull me under, instead! You see, I was clearly trying to create a successful plan.
During this period (nearing the end of Bill’s business trip), I wrote him an email. An email was very unlike me, but I didn’t want him interrupting me, questioning me and dismissing my despair as abnormal. I wanted him to know that I had decided that I couldn’t live life like this anymore. I bemoaned every sense of loss and spilled out every despairing thought. I was angry that our relationship was in shambles and might forever be. I told him he couldn’t possibly understand the depth of my pain. Then, I told him, “I am just tired of living this life in this way!” The haunting thing about reading this email now, five years later, was the finality it expressed between the lines and in the specific phrases I was using. I was expressing that this whole never-ending battle to just stay alive and keep enduring the excruciating mental and emotional anguish was just too much. There was almost a peaceful tone to having finally come to that point where after 12 years, I was ready to give up.
Yes, I’m writing a book about my 12 years with a depressive illness and mood disorder. In fact, we are doing the final editing now. The working title is “Discovering God’s Grace in Depression: A Personal Account of Suffering and Discovering God’s Intimate Love and Sufficiency for My Brokenness.” I thought some of you might want to start reading a portion of it. In light of that, here is Chapter One. Feel free to leave a note at the end.
CHAPTER ONE: IMPLOSION
2003 had been a rough year to say the least. In fact, up until that point, it had been the worst year I’d ever experienced. During the previous two years, we wouldn’t just live through some major transitions and experience a few nuisance stressors, we’d find ourselves swallowed up and drowning in deep waters. We’d live by barely surviving from one day to the next, neck-deep in those tumultuous waters. As a couple, my husband and I had experienced various ups and downs growing up and subsequently in our eighteen-year marriage, but for the most part, I didn’t believe it had been a bad life. In fact, I might have even called it good. Then, in a matter of twelve months, it all crumbled down around me.
TRANSITIONS ARE STRESSFUL
Starting at the beginning, in the Spring of 2000, almost every area of our lives changed simultaneously. Bill, my husband, graduated from seminary and a little community church a few towns over would call him to be their pastor. We’d spend the next year living either at home, or at church, or halfway in between. Added to that new stress, it would be a tent-making pastorate (which basically means that he’d have to support his family with a secular job on the side so that he could devote himself to pastoring without additional undue financial hardship on the small church). He continued his full-time secular job as a professional firefighter, meaning he’d be gone two or three 24-hour shifts a week serving the department. This would still allow me to stay at home with the kids and home-school them. We’d juggled ministry like this for twenty years so we were pretty sure we could make it work.
It wasn’t too long before we started looking for a new home in our church’s new community. Unfortunately, we found we were unable to afford most of the homes there, so we decided we’d just build our own home. Bill was a handyman and was fully capable. Besides, several of our friends were building their homes as well and it was a perfectly doable project. “No problem. Instant equity.”
So, we sold our home, bought some property, moved 95% of our stuff into storage and bought a 37’ travel trailer. There was no way we could rent a home and pay for a construction loan, so we convinced ourselves we could temporarily live in a travel trailer on our property which would allow us to build in our “spare time.” We had experienced seasons of stress before; we’d simply put our heads down and just get through it this time, too.
As if things weren’t crazy enough, the property we purchased didn’t yet have power or water. So, after looking for a place to park our new temporary home, we landed in the back lot behind our new church. There we were, my husband and I, our four kids (ages 6-16), a dog and 4 cats, living a few steps away from our new church.
We knew going into it that the church wasn’t very healthy when we arrived. It was understood that this was a rescue attempt; the physical, mental and emotional demands were exhausting. It was kind of understood that one’s first pastorate after seminary graduation shouldn’t be expected to be an easy one. No healthy, established church was going to take a chance on a young, untested, wet-behind-the-ears seminary graduate no matter how much youth ministry he had under his belt; we’d have to pay our dues and prove ourselves worthy first. So, besides the overwhelming time and energy it takes to lead a small church without solid, healthy leadership in place, it was a stressful period of change that wasn’t always embraced by our new flock. We seemed to spend a lot of energy the first couple years putting out fires; it was difficult, but we assured ourselves that anything worth doing was worth the investment of time and energy. “It was just a season,” we thought.
This was also a season of change for our children. Our older girls transitioned from home-schooling full-time to attending the new local public high school. Our son transitioned from public grade school to being home-schooled and our youngest daughter transitioned from a Christian school to a public school. It seems crazy but it made sense for us.
In some ways, the burdens seemed to ease a bit. My husband stepped outside our “home on wheels” and stepped right into his office at work. I’d spent several years as an administrative secretary at a very large church before we were called to this new little church, so it wasn’t a stretch for me to jump into the role of church secretary here. It wasn’t a paid position (it never was), but I had always been my husband’s secretary in our former ministries. I found a great deal of gratification being so intimately involved in his ministry. The work was something I was good at and I felt useful.
But even though we felt an incredible sense of fulfillment and joy serving in our new church, we really were unprepared for how much time and energy it took to pastor, to work a full-time firefighting job (Bill) and to build a house. There were days we’d work all day, go back to the trailer to eat dinner, then go right back over to the office. There was also a sense that the church’s very existence depended on our ability to bring this little church into the 21st century. We chalked it up to embracing it as a “season;” we would invest every ounce of energy for the promise of a better, healthier future.
The kids often stretched out into the church building where they’d find a quiet room to work on homework. The church was our younger kids’ playground. If we needed a second bathroom, the church was only a few steps away. If we started to experience cabin fever, we could step out of our 330 square foot home and into the church building. We were doing it; and everyone was just fine, we thought.
As if we weren’t swamped enough with doing ministry together, Bill holding a second full-time job and keeping both the county building inspectors and the bank happy, we’d have to do as much of the work ourselves as possible. This meant first pricing out everything it would take to complete our home (acquiring all the bids and estimates, submitting it to the bank and the county, then obtaining the permits and the financial backing to do so).
There was incredible financial pressure having undertaken multiple loans to make all this life-change possible. Building a home with a construction loan is not for the faint of heart. The bank required accountability. The county who granted us our permits demanded progress and accountability. The church required accountability. We tried to balance family time with church life. But truly, we were being pulled from multiple directions. Every day seemed to require just a little more from us.
Of course, no sooner did we begin building but we ran into setback after setback. Not the least of which was getting utilities to the site. This was completely unforeseen; even the power company was unaware of the easement predicament that kept us from hooking up to the grid.
But we trudged on anyway; we’d adapt, and we’d get through this. Up until sheetrock, we’d run all the power tools off one small contractor’s generator. During late nights at the site, freezing cold, we’d sit down around a little kerosene heater wrapped up in coats and blankets, warm up some microwave dinners (yes, we ran our little microwave off the generator, too) and then go back to the various jobs my husband had assigned us all. That was “family life” for months. But it was only “a season.”
Finally, in the early winter months of 2003, we were able to hook up to the power grid. We moved our trailer onto our property. We were glad to be out from under the public eye of every church member and we were finally independent again. There was a huge sense of relief that the end of the daily stress that I’d gotten used to would soon come to an end. Yay!
However, trailer living in the mud and in the cold reminded me that my stress was far from over. There was dirt everywhere. The trailer began feeling increasingly smaller as we started to accumulate more stuff inside. I don’t think we realized how much we had depended on being able to spread out into the comfort of the church offices when trailer life was closing in on us.
We soon decided with six individuals needing a bathroom, we’d better order a Honey Bucket. So, there we were, living in a dust/mud bowl, in our little home-on-wheels, with a Honey Bucket outside our front door. Our children were stacked like cord wood on one end in bunk beds. Our bedroom, on the other end, was crammed with as many of our personal belongings as would fit and still allow us to crawl into the cave-like space which contained our bed. The living scenario was chaotic and claustrophobic.
But, “this was just a season of life.” So, we trudged on, determined that none of these difficulties were too much to handle in and of themselves. “Sometimes you just have to do what you have to do,” we thought, “period.” Some days I was surprised at how well we all took it all in stride! How deluded I was! Like the lost boys in the movie, Hook, I felt like life was calling out, “You’re doing it, _____.” (I’m sure you know the character.)
However, on other days, I was simply overwhelmed by the exhaustion of it all. Throughout this insane process, we juggled, and we managed. We spread ourselves thin, but we gave each area of life its due time allocation. Usually, I worked on church administrative stuff from home while my husband held office hours at the church. Then, he’d come home, and we’d work into the night wiring or plumbing or something or other. What we naively missed was the quantitative effect all of this had on us, but especially on me.
By the spring of 2003, the church had doubled, maybe tripled in size. From all appearances, people seemed happy and excited about the progress and direction of the church. For three years we had completely spent ourselves; especially draining was the prior 6 months. Sheetrock had just gone up in the house. We were almost to the finish work. I couldn’t wait to bring this season of my life to an end.
And then, just when I thought life would ease up for me, it all came crashing down. As if our physical exhaustion wasn’t enough, we experienced “death” that spring when the birds did not sing, and new growth didn’t take place. A cancer had begun to grow in our little church, but we were too naive, immature and busy to see it for what its potential was. Before our eyes, our little church imploded. That little flock whom we loved with all our heart split right down the middle. Personally, and emotionally, we took terribly painful hits. As is frequent in church splits, somebody always has to play the part of the villain. There were lies spread about us and betrayal by some of our closest friends and church family. The power struggle that ensued began the demise of unity within the body and Satan used that to divide and destroy.
On Good Friday of April 2003, Bill sadly submitted his resignation in hopes of preserving the unity of the body, but it would prove to be too late. The freight train of destruction was already too far down that hill. The irony that this occurred on the day we remember Jesus’ betrayal before His crucifixion was not lost on us.
That Easter Sunday would be the first Easter in our lives we didn’t go to church. “How did this happen?!” we thought. We now had no church to pastor, no church family to cling to, no Christian brethren who actually knew fully the details of what had just happened to us let alone who were willing or able to comfort, console or counsel us. It had happened so fast. We were absolutely stunned. We were crushed, devastated and utterly broken.
Besides Bill losing his pastoral job and our family their church home, allow me to point out the other, maybe less obvious traumas our hearts experienced. We lost our closest friends and our co-workers. You see, when you pastor, your very closest relationships are developed inside the church and when you lose that, you lose all the people who mean so much to you and whose support you have come to depend on. We were isolated and lonely; there wasn’t an outside support system to whom we could turn.
Our motives and character had been called into question, but nobody stopped to wonder what our side of the story was. Worse yet, we felt it would be unbiblical to defend ourselves with the truth because it might defame our accusing brothers. (Unfortunately, that kindness didn’t work both ways). Our work and lives’ calling appeared to have been nullified in one devastating blow and we felt like all the good things God had accomplished in the prior few years had been completely erased. Maybe even worse than that, we pondered how much we must have disappointed our Savior. “How could we have been so reckless as to allow God’s flock to be dismembered and destroyed?”
JUST BECAUSE YOU CAN DOESN’T MEAN YOU SHOULD
What I naively missed during the prior year was that just because a body and a mind can experience on ongoing, chronic, high-intensity level of stress, tragedy and emotional trauma, doesn’t mean it’s okay. And, it certainly doesn’t mean that you won’t suffer the consequences of such self-abuse.
The hormone, adrenaline, is an amazing life-saving tool God gave us. Its miraculous function is to help us to survive critical, traumatic scenarios. It’s called the “fight or flight hormone” and it’s secreted by your adrenal glands. If you were to encounter a bear in the wilderness, it would help you run faster than ever before. Stories abound of people who have lifted cars off people after an accident, with seemingly super-human strength, because of the adrenaline that kicked in.
However, it was not designed to be used in a constant state of hyper-drive. The hormone was designed to be turned on when our lives are at stake or in short term, high stress situations when a kick in the pants is necessary, but to be clear, it’s supposed to be turned off during the normal routine of life so your body and mind can replenish and restore itself.
But as I lived the former few years, adrenaline was being used more and more just to get through each day. The reason I woke up amazed at my ability to cope during my high stress life especially during the preceding six months was adrenaline! It pushed me past just feeling stressed to “I need to survive this.” When I crawled out of my bed in the morning, I was already under an intensely heavy load of stress. It said, “Get up, get moving. Here’s a snort of adrenaline to help you survive everything that’s going to come at you today.” And off I’d go, with my new best friend, adrenaline.
Unfortunately, because the stress didn’t dissipate, more and more adrenaline was needed to get through the day. I got so used to having it turned on that I didn’t realize that it never had the opportunity to get turned off.
And how did I truly feel I was doing? I thought, “I’m doing just fine. I’m coping! I’m surviving. I’m okay. In fact, I’m amazed at how well I’m doing!” Frankly, I didn’t see any other choice; the situation demanded that I just keep pushing through it. Either I’d survive this, or I’d fall apart, but quitting at this point wasn’t an option.
Already at the end of my rope, the church tragedy kicked my legs right out from under me. I had already been exhausting my body’s supply of adrenaline for daily activities. When everything blew up, I still had to cope with daily, ongoing stress. We were still living in a trailer because our house wasn’t completed yet. In fact, the majority of the portion we had planned to do, the finish work, was just beginning. But after we experienced devastating blow after painful blow, there was nothing left in me, no adrenaline for my emotional or physical reserves to help me deal with the trauma of the experience. Not only was there incredible sadness and grief and even anger, but I could barely crawl out of bed in the morning. I was absolutely exhausted. There was nothing left in me to deal with either the trauma or daily life. I felt so incredibly weak, like Superman who had been given kryptonite.
TRYING TO MOVE ON
Some mornings, I just laid in bed and cried, overwhelmed at the cruelty life had dealt us. How cruel people could be! How wearying life could be! How devastating it could be after trying to give the very best of ourselves for others, only to be tossed to the curb, not to mention vilified. We sacrificed all for the sake of that ministry and now it was gone.
Some days, I felt like I could hardly breathe; it hurt so badly. Other days, I would actually be surprised by the resiliency of the human spirit to be able to experience such hurt, such exhaustion and such tragedy and still be able to get up and face another day, then another, then another, not at all joyful or triumphant, but just able to take another breath, then another, and another. In all of this, we both remained confident that the pain would lessen, and life would eventually get better. We’d grieve this loss and move on. So, that is what we did. We grieved and then we moved on. Or… so I thought.
During the next three months, solely dependent on Bill’s continuing income as a professional firefighter, we busied ourselves completing our unfinished home. It was exhausting labor, sunup to sundown and into the night. We still lived in a trailer, with our four children, two of whom were seniors in high school, trying to complete senior projects and term papers and all that.
During those few months, God brought a few of our wounded sheep back to us; we found a calling in trying to help them heal from the violent bloodbath they had witnessed. They needed a shepherd and God knew we needed a church family, so we began meeting with them on a weekly basis.
Six months later, with our home freshly completed, we were entrusted with a new baby ministry (praise the Lord). We had a supportive church family and had developed new friendships (praise the Lord). “We were healing,” I thought, and life was getting better. The seasons of life that almost took us out were behind us.
THE FIRST HINT THAT I WAS BROKEN
But personally, I still found myself utterly, physically exhausted. I felt numb at times and tearful at others. For the first time in my life, I asked myself, “I wonder if this is what ‘depression’ feels like.” I kept that question private, not even sharing it with my husband. “It couldn’t be,” I convinced myself. “I’m more resilient than that.” Plus, God was putting our lives back together. I generally dismissed any notion of depression pretty quickly. After all, “the joy of the Lord is my strength,” and “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Yay, me! Right?
Yet, some days I didn’t even bother getting out of bed. Whatever this was felt like it was suffocating me; it seemed to reach its little fingers into every area of life and stole the good and the joy from every situation. I just lay there motionless feeling next to nothing and the tears would just roll down my cheeks. I’d wonder again if this is what “real depression” felt like. It felt pretty crappy, to be honest. It felt so different than simply being blue, sad or discouraged. It was absolutely incapacitating. “But, nah… Christians don’t get depressed,” or at least shouldn’t, I’d been told and had come to believe. My religious training told me, “depressed people were individuals who wallowed in self-pity, choosing to remain in a sad, defeated state, who refused to get over sin or to let God strengthen them.”
Bill and I both spent a lot of time individually, with each other and with our little flock grieving, and learning about and practicing biblical forgiveness. It hurt, sure, but life goes on, right? “Get over it.” The hurt, though not gone, was dissipating. The sting of betrayal and grief over the loss of our friends was painful but now new friends had surrounded us and were sustaining us. Our new house was complete and beautiful. We had begun a new ministry. Things were getting better, or at least should have been.
So, daily, I’d try to force myself to do as I had been taught, to pull myself up by my theoretical bootstraps and do whatever the “next thing” was that needed to be done. But it just wasn’t happening. I was losing the battle on a daily basis and this new helplessness was quite uncomfortable. I felt myself slowly slipping into an unknown emptiness and darkness I’d never experienced before. It was a void where nothing felt alive anymore and I felt dead.
SOMETHING IS TRULY BROKEN
I faced each new day telling myself, “Just get through the next thing.” The next thing on this particular morning was visiting my gyn doctor for my annual exam. Besides what generally occurs at these exams, I intended to ask her whether I might be experiencing premenopausal symptoms or whether there might be something wrong with me hormonally that was making me so weepy and often lethargic. I knew that perimenopause sometimes makes life emotionally and physically difficult on women, so I figured that must be the reason I wasn’t bouncing back. I reasoned that it was simply the change of life knocking at my door. “Why not?” I thought. “It doesn’t hurt to ask, as long I was there.”
“The first lie depression told me was that I did not have depression.” 1 Kelly Jensen
The kind motherly midwife sat me down and asked one of those psychologically leading questions that literally could have led the conversation anywhere. “So, what’s going on, Heidi?” Transparently honest, I replied, “I just don’t know!!! I’ve been so emotional lately. It seems I’m breaking down into tears for no reason multiple times a day. I’m tired, almost lethargic. I really think my hormones are out of whack!” I looked hopefully into her eyes, looking for that “aha” look which would assure me that she’d have a pill or cream or something to magically make my life less emotional and easier to cope with.
Instead, I’ll never forget her words (verbatim): “Honey, I think you’re clinically depressed.” I’m not sure I physically rolled my eyes at her or whether I just thought it in my head, but I responded, “I really don’t think so…” and then went on to list my reasons. “First, I am a Christian and we have a faith and a hope that just doesn’t jive with people who get depressed.” Wasn’t that spiritual? I just witnessed to her. “Second, if by some chance, I do have depression, my husband is a pastor. He counsels people for a living, and we’ve talked things through thoroughly. If anyone can help me and would have by now, he was the most qualified to help counsel me from a spiritual perspective.”
She persisted, “Has anything happened recently that has been more stressful than normal?” I chuckled, I think, and then started to list a few of the things that had happened recently that had been stressing me out. Intentionally vague, I was also clear to add that what I was feeling had nothing to do with those things.
“Well, we just finished building our house after living in a travel trailer for over a year with our four kids. My oldest daughters finished their senior year of high school from a trailer equipped with an outdoor Honey Bucket! Did I mention we also had three cats and a dog? It was an enormous strain trying to complete it and do life and ministry. But that was last year and now our house is done. It’s beautiful and we’re living in it. It was a rough year but it’s great now,” I tried to convince her. “Wow!” she responded, “That’s an incredibly stressful situation to live through.” I quickly assured her, “Ya, but that’s over and done with now.”
She went on, “So how are your relationships and your family life?” I smiled and said, “My relationships are great. My husband is the sweetest man; we’re still in love and we are great friends.” She smiled acknowledging me.
“What about your job and ministry and your other relationships?” she naively asked. “Well…,” I responded, “that area has endured a lot of stress and there has been a lot of hurt but that sometimes happens in life.” I dismissed it as if I were brushing a leaf off my shoulder. I was careful to try to represent the Lord well and not give a bad testimony to this unbelieving midwife. I left out the horrors, the backstabbing, the untruths, the betrayal, and the loss of people in my life whom I loved but had abandoned us. I did admit that my husband had to give up his ministry (“a job loss,” she would call it later in the visit, as if losing your life blood and passion is just a job loss) and that we had lost many friendships over it. But we now had new supportive friends and a new ministry with people who loved us very much (looking for the bright side to turn my sob story into a story of redemption). She saw right through me, “That sounds like it’s been a very difficult year of transitions for you.” I admitted, “Yes, I suppose so.”
She went on to explain to me that sometimes when life hands us such extreme stress and tragedy that sometimes our brain and body finally say, “Enough!” The avalanche of stressors can trigger several things in our body chemistry to stop functioning correctly and cause our brain to go haywire. “This chemical meltdown,” she said, “can trigger what we call clinical depression. Sometimes, people just need a little support to help their brain reset itself.”
“I could start you on an antidepressant,” she urged me. “No, thank you,” I responded. “I’m sure I don’t need antidepressants. Isn’t it most likely because I am beginning the change of life and that my hormones are messed up?” In my mind, she wasn’t listening very well. I privately reasoned with myself, “As a Christian, all the emotional pain was something I could and would overcome with the Lord’s help in time.” I was talking to her about lethargy, fatigue, being unable to sleep, being unable to keep up mentally, a lack of energy to function in the most menial of tasks and being unable to hold it all together.
Obviously, I had forgotten that all the while I was trying to convince her that I was fine emotionally, I had been sobbing buckets of tears. She was visibly uneasy, I believe, by a feeling of helplessness yet felt a strong sense of responsibility to help me whom she recognized was denying what was as clear to her as the nose on my face.
She tried a different, back-door approach. She explained that sometimes the brain needs a little help normalizing its chemistry so that a person can start to process things correctly. By correcting the brain’s chemical imbalances, the individual is better capable of absorbing healthy counsel and implementing their own spiritual strategies, whatever that religion is. She told me, in fact, that my brain was likely unable to use my own strategies for spiritual living in its currently broken state; it just couldn’t use those learned mental pathways that I used to depend on. She warned that if it were allowed to go unchecked and untreated too long, it could actually keep me from recovering at all. She did admit that hormones could indeed have something to do with it, as that is simply just another stressful life event, I was describing.
“So, here’s what I recommend,” she said. “Would you consider starting a very mild antidepressant for just a short period? Three months to start, maybe six at the longest, just to help you get past this emotional and mental strain that you’ve found yourself in? You don’t have to be on it a long time. Just long enough to reset your brain. Maybe you just need it long enough to help you clear your head to work through everything with the help of your own faith and your spouse and all the other resources you say you have. Would you be willing to just try it and see if it helps you get over this bump in the road and then… if you want to stop it, you can choose to do that?”
“Very keen, that midwife,” I thought. I reassessed my condition by the pile of soaking wet Kleenex in my lap. Exhausted by the line of questioning and shaken that some of the things she was saying were starting to make sense, I finally agreed. “I’ll take something mild for a short time and that will be all I’ll need to get past this emotional roller coaster I’ve been living on and get back to normal life,” I reasoned. “It’s just another season! Like for a respiratory infection, I’ll take a pill for a couple months, to strengthen my immune system, then I’ll be as good as new.” On the way out the door, she also recommended a book about women’s hormones and how they relate to emotional mood disorders. It would come to help me understand from a medical standpoint what might be happening to me hormonally. 2
Embarrassed and ashamed, I stopped by the fire station on the way home to admit to my husband that my midwife diagnosed me as having “clinical depression,” whatever that was. (As if, you know, it wasn’t the bad or good depression but the “clinical” one). I asked if he was okay with my filling the prescription. I was really feeling ashamed and pathetic asking for his permission to medicate my emotions but assured him that it would only be “temporary.” It’d just be to help me get back on my feet; I was sure I’d bounce back, and I’d be as good as new soon.
He agreed, in fact, encouraged me to go down this road. We both understood that for the past several months, I had clearly NOT been bouncing back, clearly not coping, clearly an emotionally wreck, clearly overly fatigued, having a very hard time getting anything done with my time and absolutely confused by my lack of resiliency (hmmm, look at that list of symptoms that are the epitome of diagnosing one with clinical depression).
Ashamed but hopeful, I took my first pill. Within a week, I started to feel somewhat differently but wasn’t quite ready to admit it. But within two weeks, I felt as if the weight of a hundred men had been lifted off my shoulders and I felt myself doing something I hadn’t done much of for over six months; I could smile. I didn’t feel happy or giddy; I just felt normal again. I felt a calmness and a peace; I felt the joy of my salvation again. “Wow! Where has that been for so long?” I sensed the Holy Spirit’s refreshment. I’m not saying this world’s medicine gave me joy; I’m saying the barrier that blocked my brain from experiencing it was removed and the joy the Holy Spirit gave was available to me again.
Suddenly, I didn’t feel like life was too much anymore. It was manageable. The extreme sadness and despair lifted; I was healing. “Praise the Lord,” we both thought. There was a renewed sense of identity in my life and a new sense of purpose in our new ministry. I felt a positive sense that we were going to be okay. God was putting the mess in our lives back together.
WHAT I LEARNED
This would only be my first year into and through my journey with depression. What did year one teach me? Christians can and do get depressed! Sometimes illness, traumatic experiences or long periods of stress can trigger a once healthy brain to become “broken.” Sometimes the world’s resources really do have scientific credibility. And… sometimes medication really is necessary to help normalize one’s brain chemistry so that one’s healthy natural emotions and feelings, even spiritual ones, can be reawakened and renewed.
PRECIOUS LORD, TAKE MY HAND
“When I am exhausted, completely poured out and the well of my strength has run dry. When it’s so overwhelming, the needs come in waves and there’s no way to hold back the tide. When all that I am is still not enough; when fatigue and frustration speak louder than love. [chorus] Precious Lord, take my hand. Without You I’ve got no chance to do this. You alone understand how much I need Your help to get through this. And when I don’t think I can, Precious Lord, take my hand.
“When my heart is breaking ‘cause I know the end and I’m looking for someone to blame. When I’m pushed to the limit, emotions are raw, and the anger erupts hot like flame. When every last ounce of patience is gone, when I feel like a failure who’s getting it wrong….
[chorus] “Precious Lord, take my hand. Without you I’ve got no chance to do this. You alone understand how much I need Your help to get through this. And when I don’t think I can, Precious Lord, take my hand.
“When reality is more than my shoulders can bear, Lord, give me the grace to care the way that You care—when tasks go undone and I’m aching for sleep; when there’s not enough time and there’s no time for me.
[chorus] “Precious Lord, take my hand. Without You I’ve got no chance to do this. You alone understand how much I need Your help to get through this. And when I don’t think I can, Precious Lord, take my hand.”3 Steve Siler and Scott Krippayne
Most depressed Christians don’t fully reject God as they experience their depressive symptoms, but they call out for and worship the King expecting Him be victorious for them, expecting them to rescue them from their suffering. What rarely occurs to them (or what their heart is unwilling to surrender to) is that Jesus may not desire to remove their suffering. He might want to be “Emmanuel” to them. What does Emmanuel mean? It means “God With Us.” In other words, it means God, present with us!
The same Jesus came to offer Himself as “Emmanuel” to the Jews. He came to offer His presence among them, for the purpose of saving them in relationship rather than establishing an earthly victorious Kingship. He longed to offer them intimacy with the Godhead. He longed to offer them reconciliation with the Father. But, the Jews rejected that, thus rejected Him and what He came to offer. They wanted victory or nothing.It was all about them and how they wanted to use God to escape their hardships.
Maybe, you experience depression but you fight it and fight it and fight it. You beg and plead for victory and for your suffering to end. Have you ever considered that your depression was intended to make you appreciate God’s loving presence in your suffering instead of your healing? Maybe, He’ll heal you; maybe He won’t! Maybe, He’ll rescue you; maybe, He won’t! Maybe, He desires you to call Him in invitation into your suffering and show you what “Immanuel” can mean to you!This I know: “Immanuel” is one of God’s names so I can claim confidently that whatever you suffer, He wants to demonstrate “Immanuel” to you. He wants you to experience His intimacy in presence with you!
When believers can only see God as a God who always takes away suffering, who always gives us victory in our life situations, who always overcomes and destroys the things that painfully assault us or come against us, there is nothing left in their paradigm where their suffering, their disability, their sickness, their hurt, their pain, their depression, or whatever it is has been ordained by God. They miss the sweet presence of God ,and that my friends, makes Jesus weep! Because He is pushed aside for a God who will act to give them what they want, instead of embracing the God that He is, One who desires intimacy with us.
How can I claim that? Because He demonstrated this before His triumphal entry, shortly before He was rejected by the Jews, and then crucified shortly thereafter:
Luke 19:41–44 (NIV): “As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it and said, “If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace—but now it is hidden from your eyes. The days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side. They will dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls. They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you.”
Has peace been hidden from your eyeswhile you suffer because you haven’t welcomed Him into your place of suffering and experienced His tender presence, “God With You?!”
Note: The Greek words for “God’s coming to you” means: the act of watching over with special reference to BEING PRESENT, visitation, of divine activity. (BDAG)