I grew up hearing that depression and most mental illnesses were a result of guilt or emotional pain, and knowing Jesus would make all the difference. To this day I'm grateful that my dad used his background in pharmaceuticals to challenge this viewpoint, because even when I wasn't sure I believed my dad, at least he showed me another perspective.
Suffice to say, although I wasn't one-hundred-percent sold on the "Jesus will fix everything" view of mental health, I did view depression with suspicion and I mocked the ever-growing list of diagnoses shrinks seemed to come up with. I even feared other mental illnesses - schizophrenia, for example - were demonic.
Then, when I was in high school, my mom participated in a research study in which antidepressants were used to treat a clearly physical disease that the scientists suspected originated from the same chemical imbalance as depression. And guess what? She got better, as did most of the people in the study. So for those who claimed depression didn't have a physical basis, well, science indicated otherwise. Still, I remained wary of mental illness well into college.
***I've never been a super-cheerful person, and I've definitely had a lot of down periods, especially in college. In fact, in a Bible study on the fruits of the Spirit sophomore year, I was struck by how impossible the word "joy" seemed for me.
I felt guilty about that, of course. I mean, clearly my priorities were not right, clearly I just needed to trust God more and give Him my anxieties on schoolwork and talking to people. And I tried. I really tried. And then I prayed for God to help me. I believed that all I needed to do was yield my life completely to God, and I'd overcome my fears and find joy.
Then, last summer my anxieties seemed to build and build. In between preparing grad school applications, long workweeks in the lab of my dreams (seriously, organic synthesis is AWESOME!), and guilt over my relatively rushed time with God, coupled with increasing doubts about my faith, I couldn't seem to calm down. I wasn't able to talk to the neat people I met in lab. I wasn't able to face the issues of the moment, and so I ignored problems until they collapsed over my head. I was a coward, I thought, and I could always find something to be anxious about.
Needless to say, when this sort of unhealthy thinking carried over into the school year, the results weren't pretty.
***Is there any title that can contain what it feels like when darkness crashes in on you? When all you can do is either cry or feel numb? When you pray for a train to hit you, when you plan out your death, over and over, only to back out by what has to have been a combination of the grace of God and the desire not to disturb other people? Because you don't want to live, not like this. If life improved, you'd take it and live, but months pass and it doesn't improve, and all you can think is that it's hopeless and you are hopeless. You take your finals and your cousins get engaged and your friends have kids and you know you're happy, intellectually, but you can't feel it and you want so freaking badly to feel it.
You can't even hear God anymore. It's your fault, you're too busy and anxious and you can't seem to stop worrying, and don't you know worrying is a sin anyway? And underneath it all grows the secret: you've lost most of your desire for God, too. You're angry at the people who seem to have it under control, who can trust Jesus and love Him, and you even wonder if it's all a sham.
You know you need counseling and you want it, but you don't have time and those counselors you did contact don't respond. So you keep it in, except to a select few - and thank God for them - because you're scared of judgement and you have too much pride to admit something is very, very wrong.
And then the semester is over and you hope this thing fades, but it doesn't. The depression, malicious, masochistic beast that it is, lingers over you and by lingering, crushes the last crumbs of hope you had. You question all your passions and plans and want to run away and be free, but would that bring freedom? Christmas is stale, seeing old friends and family you dearly love is stale, and you panic after socializing too long.You're collapsing all around and crying yourself to sleep, all while screaming silently at the sky, HELP ME, GOD!
But your family cares, though you fear them knowing just how far gone your mind really is. "It's a chemical imbalance," insists your dad after he finds you crying and you admit there's no one event, there's no one reason, that you feel this misery.
And so you finally go to a counselor, who says the words you needed to ear: "I won't judge you." And then she tells you that you've "lost your voice" and she will work with you to gain it back, and there it is: a wisp of hope.
She refers you to a psychiatrist who tells you that after so many months, you have no choice but to take antidepressants. And after such a long period of hopelessness, you're desperate enough to know that no, you can't help yourself, and trusting Jesus more isn't the cure. And so you have one more mite of hope, in the form of a little blue and white capsule.
***So began my resurrection. My passions, my desire to live, even my willingness to climb of of bed and face the morning, began to re-emerge after about a week and a half on the medication. And somehow I became able to hope that maybe hope itself was not in vain.
In fact, I'm able to choose not to be anxious for the first time in months, maybe years. I'm able to choose to be vulnerable and smile with more than just intellectual knowledge of my feelings. I'm even able to communicate with God and I'm slowly regaining faith, tentatively believing He loves me and I'm capable of loving Him. Being able to make these choices and to feel again is awesome, but it's also a rough process and it's scary - yet there's a deep relief that runs through my veins and a hope that's starting to shine.
I've been told I'm brave for opening up about my depression. Since I'm terrified of judgement, maybe this is so. But why is confessing brave? We're all human, we all struggle with something, and I'm not less because of a mental illness and you're not less because you're addicted or cynical or ignorant or judgmental or sickly.
It's harder to admit I was, so wrong, about mental illness, than to admit that I was diagnosed with depression. It's scarier, for me, to ask that if you believe mental illness is caused by sin or demons or weak-minded people, please re-consider your perspective. Meet and get to know the mentally ill without judging first. Embrace us. Listen to us and hug us and believe in better times for us when we're not able to believe ourselves.
The weak are as valuable as as the strong, and maybe weakness is a means to empathize and help and act. And so maybe St. Paul was right when he claimed to boast in his weaknesses, for in his weaknesses the glory of God, which I think can be reflected in the goodness of humanity, shines through.
I want to end with this: if you're inundated by a stigma or a problem commonly misunderstood, hang on. You can recover and if you want to share or talk to a person, I'm available at firstname.lastname@example.org and I already love you.