Depression. Suicide. I know what you’re thinking – just another post about mental illness after a rash of high profile suicides. But here’s the thing – here is me being completely open and vulnerable with you: I have suffered from depression on and off for most of my life.
We generally don’t like to or want to talk about depression and mental illness. It makes people uncomfortable if they aren’t familiar with it, and it makes people who do suffer from it sometimes feel “less than.” It is time to talk about it, REALLY talk about it. This post has been quietly percolating over the last month, but it felt too difficult, too personal to write. I have put it off, but the events of the last two weeks (the suicides of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain and countless others that were not covered by the media) have prompted me to finally sit down and write it. It’s not an easy topic, but it’s one that we MUST talk about.
Depression is a strange and unpredictable thing. For me, it comes and goes, sometimes without provocation, and seems to take on different characteristics each time. In the past, I have felt undiluted rage for weeks on end. Other times, I have felt hopeless and simply cried every day for weeks. During the last bout, I felt nothing at all, which was probably the scariest feeling (or lack thereof) of all.
For those of you who don’t suffer from depression, one of the first things that happens is that we tend to shut down and shut people out. We tend to disconnect because connecting and communicating feels exhausting and the outcome of those interactions always feels uncertain. If you notice someone has withdrawn and either ignores invites, declines invites or accepts invites and shows up just long enough to not sound an alarm, stop what you’re doing – look he/she in the eye and ask how he/she is doing. A frequent response is, “I’m fine.” And they might be fine. However, if their body language or tired eyes don’t line up with their response, stay.
I was watching the new show Reverie last weekend, and there was a scene between the main character, Mara, and the character in need of rescue because she had isolated herself so completely, she couldn’t discern fantasy from reality. Mara says to her, “You tell people to leave. You push them away, but you don’t mean it, not really. I didn’t. . . . What I really wanted, what I hoped was that one, just one, would ignore me and stay. And that’s what I’m going to do for you – whether you like it or not.” Stay – even when we tell you otherwise and our body language screams, “Go away,” – stay. We need you. I know you will feel at a loss because you don’t have the words. We don’t need words; we just need you to be there – to offer a shoulder cry on, to listen to us vent and rage, to pray for us, to let us know, through your actions, that you love us, even when we can’t return that love in the moment.
During my last bout of depression, a numbness began seeping in, and I instinctually knew I needed help right away. I knew I couldn’t fix what was happening on my own. The first thing I did was tell my community group, and they immediately surrounded me in prayer and unconditional love. Then, I swallowed my pride and chose to rely on someone whose training could point me in the right direction. And that’s one of the really hard things about depression – you MUST rely on others to help pull you through the most difficult times, even when human interaction is the last thing you wish to be doing. In a world that champions independence and self-reliance, it doesn’t feel natural to be vulnerable or to admit that you need help, but making that choice, even when it’s difficult, will save your life.
I have finally found an exceptional therapist who knows exactly what questions to ask in order to keep me engaged without driving me away. It has taken years to find the right one. He has taught me how to get to know myself, and more importantly, he has taught me how to spot the lies that float through my brain and stop them in their tracks before they take root. It has been a process – a process of getting to know myself and of learning how to love myself, no matter what, just how God loves me.
Those are things I’ve learned – the vital importance of the support of my community, the importance of prayer and the necessary help of a trained professional to guide me back to reason. Now, here is what I know, and what I finally believe, as a child of God that has helped me navigate the mine field of my depression:
- God is for us (Romans 8: 31)
- He never forsakes us (2 Corinthians 4: 8-9)
- He is ALWAYS with us and is ALWAYS fighting for us (Deuteronomy 20: 4; Isaiah 12: 2)
- God wants us close to Him and draws us near when we need it most (Psalm 23; Psalm 34: 18)
- God is faithful – in all things, always (Deuteronomy 7: 9; Hebrews 10: 19-24; 2 Thessalonians 3: 3-4; Psalm 33: 4)
For those of you suffering in that desperate, hopeless place, hear me and believe me right now – you are NOT alone. You are NEVER alone. Find that one person you can confide in and tell them where you are. If you don’t feel like you can tell a friend, call your church – they always have a list of counselors or go to Safe Harbor’s website (it has a list of Christian counselors in CT, DE, GA, MD, NC, NJ, PA, VA and Washington, DC). If you don’t have a church, go to TalkSpace or other online resources that can provide you licensed counselors. If you are in the moment when you don’t feel like your life is worth living anymore, please call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline (1-800-273-8255) right now.
Please know this – the statement, “You are alone” that you hear in whispers is a LIE. You are never alone. And if you do feel alone and feel as if no one truly wants to know you, there IS Someone who ALREADY knows you and loves you. God “knit you together in your mother’s womb” (Psalm 139) and loves you unconditionally.
Believe that you have a God who adores you, that you have people in your life who love you and that there are resources available to you and designed to help you. You can still THRIVE in this life, even when dealing with something like depression. It doesn’t define you. Don’t hide from it, and don’t hide it from the people who care the most about you – confront it head on. Even when it doesn’t feel like it, you have a God that pursues you, even in the darkest moments, because He wants to be close to you. He wants you to feel His comfort. He’s just waiting for you to reach out.
Jen is a Connecticut transplant by way of Williamsport, PA and Washington, DC. She has spent the majority of her career in the arts and volunteers in various capacities at Black Rock Church, in Fairfield, CT. Although writing has been more of personal outlet for Jen, God has given her opportunities in the past year to publish some of her writing, including a series of internal posts for Black Rock’s Read It, Live It initiative and now, on The Path I Follow.