In many ways, this is the post that made me start my little blog—this journey, these thoughts, these steps forward. They have been the words that constantly rattle in the back of my head as I stir donut mix and plan new crafts. They have been my motivation when I’ve thought, “Why do I even spend time doing this…what will another little blog on the internet do for the world?” In the middle of a busy life and a crumbling world, will another pie recipe really make any difference? Can I say a prayer with an oven mitt or sing a hymn with the stroke of a brush? Can the time it takes to knead bread or construct sentences or play a game with a 4-year-old really begin to heal broken places? Well, the reason you’re reading this is because I believe the answer is a resounding yes.
A little different than usual, today’s post is personal, cutting straight to my heart and my brain. Today, I’d love you to pull up a chair. Lean in a little deeper than usual if you don’t mind—this soul-bearing business is not for the weak (but then again, isn’t it for the weak?). Perhaps we can find a bit of light in the dark together. You have your coffee ready? I have mine.
Each morning I take an anti-depressant, and each month I take communion. I hear Christian friends say one is a crutch and watch non-Christian friends hint the same of the other.
“I’d rather walk tall with a crutch than crawl around insisting like a proud and bloody fool that I didn’t need one.” (Ann Voskamp)
The bread can sometimes get stuck in my throat, the brokenness a little hard to swallow. The wine helps, bitter and warm; it woos the hard pieces down my throat and I’m reminded:
The only thing that soothes the broken soul is the blood of the Broken Man. It makes broken things whole. Thank God communion does not end with the bread. We’d all be plum choked.
(Just took the new medicine the doctor prescribed. I don’t feel any different yet, but we’ll see.)
Journal – Jan 4. 2017
“Why are we all so damn stressed?” The doctor chuckled and winked at me, trying to break the tension. Maybe my tear-glazed eyes and fidgety hands made him feel uncomfortable, too. He rambled for a bit on his theories and proposed solutions to his own question (something about taking a mandatory vacation every 3 months) and settled on, “you know…it all comes down to knowing our position in the universe.”
“What?” I thought. “Yeah…sure.” I said.
His profound revelations on stress management were my last concern at this point. My main objective was to convince him I wasn’t crazy. I had already explained to him in my awkward jumble of words why I was here. I was determined not to be “just another millennial on medication.” Trying to convince him that I had tried everything else I possibly could have. Or maybe trying to convince myself.
My mind was a few towns away, on a mini-road trip I had taken less than a year ago with a dear friend. It was the beginning of spring of my senior year of college, months before I married the man I had come to love. I felt really depressed, I shared. She knew. It wasn’t getting better like I had hoped. “I think I have a plan, though. I really want to try everything they say helps…eating really well and exercising consistently and all of that. But if it doesn’t help by the end of the year, I think I’m finally going to try to get some professional…help or whatever.” I knew all of those things helped, because I was already doing them. They just didn’t help enough.
Long story short, I didn’t make it the whole year. Fall came, the leaves changed, and so did I. The cold of winter brought with it a very unwelcome darkness. And then the words “chemical imbalance” bounced off the walls of that counselor’s office on that abnormally warm day in November, and I breathed a sigh. Relief, really. It was a possibility I had fought off for years due to my own pride and the incredibly opinionated people of the internet. “I just have a very extreme personality.” “I’m a deep feeler, that’s all.” “I’m just a little dramatic.” “I’m just really stressed right now. I just need to eat better, and run, and pray more.” But I knew it was always a little more.
A train track tragedy a few years back had jolted me to the core. I think that was the start of it. It was a slow fight as first – not feeling “up to it” a few days a month. Then what seemed like all at once, life changed – graduation and moving, a new job and a new schedule, a new roommate who was now my husband and my mirror into myself and my sin. And all at once, it seemed like getting out of bed was the bravest thing I could do each day.
Now I know that trauma, grief, and drastic life changes can be huge triggers for brains already prone to “depressive episodes.” But before a professional helped me understand what was going on in my brain, I was terrified and ashamed and so confused. I was a newlywed to the love of my life, I had a deep faith that was my own, I had a job that I liked, I had family and friends who loved me well—why was I always so sad? How could my good God just sit and watch this all happen? How will I forgive myself for how incredibly crappy I treated Josh on “bad days”? Will my community think I’m crazy or that I’m just doubting God’s ability to “heal me”? Will I ever be able to have fun and be the loud, outgoing, creative person I used to be? And why does getting out of the damn bed feel like running a marathon every morning? Will I always feel like this?
Those were all questions that would get their time to shine in the coming months.
But now, I’m sitting on a patient table at the beginning of the new year, starring at this eccentric doctor’s pictures of his high school children, wondering if they take vacations every 3 months with their dad or if any of them have ever struggled with clinical depression. Probably because I’m young, he ends the meeting with a fatherly expression, telling me everything will be okay, and that we’ll check back in 2 weeks to talk about how the medication is working. I walk out, feeling both a little embarrassed and a little proud of myself. My phone vibrates with a text from J, “Call me when you’re out, babe! Praying it goes well. Love you.” I pick up the phone to call him, and I know that everything will be alright.
I continue to learn so much about my God, myself, and the world through the depression. God has not taken my depression away from me, and I am okay if He never decides to. There are still dark and light days alike; only now it’s a little easier for me to see in the dark.
Medication is far from the only thing that has helped me – medication, counseling, community, self-care (good food, exercising, meditation/prayer), reading…the list could go on. Everyone’s experience with mental illness is different because every person is different. However, medication gave my mind the space and ability to participate in and process the other gifts and resources God has given us to heal and restore broken parts of us. It helped my eyes adjust to the dark; instead of being overwhelmed by it, day by day I make my way through it (and some days, seeing lots of light! It isn’t all doom and gloom over here).
To my community, especially my brothers and sisters at Redeemer Presbyterian Church – you have loved me and known me in the dark and in the light. Unknowingly, you have carried me through times of song when the tune did not come easily to my lips. Whether you said, “I don’t understand. Please help me learn,” or “Really? Me too,” you’ve taught me humility and grace. You’ve stood imperfect but faithful as little lighthouses pointing to the Great Light, Who gently leads us to shore. You are some of my favorite gifts from our Father.
If you struggle with depression or suicidal thoughts, please tell someone you know and trust, and seek professional guidance. Here are some resources for that. You are not alone.
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255
This month I’m raising money for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention — you can donate here.