I thought that this was a great way to start this off. “I am a mess and so are you!” How is that for an “ice breaker?” But aren’t we quick to pretend to have it all together? Truth is harder than a lie. The dark seems safer than the light. Surely what we are facing no one else could know how we feel?!? We even think that our “bad” isn’t as bad as the next person. Although I have not struggled with addiction I am very familiar with another kind of pain. I suffer from an affliction that causes great suffering too. The song says, “ Bring your brokenness and I’ll bring mine.” Isn’t that the great equalizer? Haven’t we all been broken at some point? No one that lives a life on Earth escapes pain. It just plays out differently in each of us. But what binds us together is our hope in the One who can handle our pain. We are wretched, sinful creatures headed straight to Hell. But God, in His great love, rescues, redeems, and restores. He loves us whether we are broken or “fixed.” And in my story, when I hurt the most, He was the closest.
On the outside it may appear to some that I “have it all together.” I have an incredible life. I have a supportive husband, three beautiful kids, a wonderful place to live, great friends, and a godly support system when the struggles of life come my way. I have had a relatively uneventful life, from a crisis perspective, and have known the Lord since I was a young child. My faith life feels like it has been on an upward trajectory as I have learned to trust Him with bigger and bigger things. I was diagnosed with depression in the spring of 2009. It seemed to have come out of nowhere and hit me like a freight train. I had all the symptoms of clinical depression – no appetite, lethargy, sleeplessness, etc. I also wanted to avoid interacting with people. Like a computer I totally SHUT DOWN. The doctor searched for a physical cause, even thinking I might have a brain tumor because my personality had radically changed. I remember hoping that if it was at tumor then at least there would be a reason that made sense. Instead, they came back with the diagnosis of “major depressive disorder.” I spent the first year or so thinking that there must be something that I was doing (or not doing) as a follower of Christ that was causing such turmoil. I thought that to take medication would certainly mean that I was throwing up the white flag in failure. Thankfully, God used a Christian friend, who was a doctor, who got through to me that it might help. At last I was ready and was willing to try.
The medication, although at first erratic in finding a good fit, ended up helping me to function very well for many years. Certainly, I had ups and downs but overall I was not limited by the illness of depression. This past Fall, however, the medicine essentially lost its effectiveness. Around Christmas (through supervision of my counselor and psychiatrist) I was weaned off the old drug and put on a new one. This brought back many of my original symptoms. I spent a great deal of time in bed. I got through the holidays and started off the New Year hoping that there was something better. Little did I know that the next medicine would change my life so much that I wanted to take it.
To say that I felt like I was in a dark place would be an understatement. It felt like the pit of hell. My husband of 28 years had never seen me so desperate. My mind was filled with thoughts of suicide. It made total sense to me to take a bunch of pills to take the edge off and then finish the job with a handgun. I am a perfectionist, type A personality, so if I was going to do it, I was going to do it. This seems so weird to admit but I literally mentioned suicidal thoughts to one of my leaders while simultaneously leading a powerful children’s ministry program called AWANA. The war within my head was raging! It was a battle between the enemy’s lies and the Lord’s truths. The battle that I almost lost.
All of my horrible self talk and lies tormented me for what felt like weeks. If I had fought against this for seven years and this is where I was at, then Heaven sounded like the much better option. I voiced my suicidal thoughts to my husband, counselor, and the psychiatrist. When it felt like I couldn’t endure the pain any longer I surrendered. It felt surreal to be sitting in the Emergency Room because I was a danger to myself. There was confusion about where I would go since I had come in voluntarily. Some options were a facility in Fergus Falls, the Grace Unit, and a place in Eden Prairie. We were told that someone from the psychiatry department would come talk to us. Our pastor, who “happened” to be at the hospital visiting someone else, came right away to pray with us. But no one came to talk to us. There was some confusion about a “hold” or “no hold” and the next thing I knew I was walking upstairs with the security guard. I was being escorted to the locked psychiatric ward on the fourth floor, aka the Grace Unit.
There are really no words to describe the dark, lonely, vulnerable, and scary place that I was in in my mind. For someone who has never even had a speeding ticket it was so bizarre to have to disrobe in front of the intake nurse. Of course she was only doing this for my own protection. After all, I was suicidal, and had been talking about my plan to end my life. The good news though was that the drug that I was so severely reacting to was slowly getting out of my system. Two days before my psychiatrist noticed my suicidal fixations and suspected adverse side effects and told me to stop taking it. Each hour that passed I was slowly coming out of the pit of darkness.
Pain. Darkness. Misery. Suffering. Our Lord Jesus knows suffering. Oh what love! What great cost! The pain and suffering for me! For you! He offers hope for anyone that calls upon His name. But not without repentance or our side and great cost on His. Our sin was very costly. But Praise God He sees us a white as snow and without fault or blemish. The Cross- there is freedom in it when we lay our secrets down. Too bad that it does not mean that things will never get messy. Too bad that it doesn’t mean that things will always be easy. What I have learned through my particular trials is that Lord gives me hard things because He loves me. He takes away my comforts and idols so that I become more dependent on Him. He keeps increasing my faith so that I can overcome what the enemy throws at me. The enemy has been busy deceiving God’s people since the Garden of Eden. But he is a defeated foe! As my dear friend summed up the teachings within Revelation as “God is in control, Jesus is the Victor, and Satan is the eternal loser.”
Please remember that the “take away” in this story comes from all that the Lord has done through my brokenness. He has done it for me and He will do it for you. Because I have struggled with depression I have been given an opportunity to glorify God. The mental illness is not my identity. I have a thorn in my flesh that the Lord has not taken away. But with the Lord, miserable things that the enemy intended for harm, He can turn to good. He alone takes misery and turns it into ministry. Let every heartbreak and every scar be the picture that reminds you of who has carried you this far. He is working all things for your good.
My desire is to be open and transparent so that I might be able to encourage someone else. The enemy tries to get us to believe that whatever we are facing that we are alone. Depression isn’t an illness one that others can always see or know if/when it flares up. Sadly, it certainly isn’t something that will clear up in few weeks with a round of antibiotics. Many have battled bouts of depression that last for years. It can be crippling and debilitating. But it does not have the power to label me as damaged. Approximately one in four people face mental illness at least once in their lives. It may be depression, anxiety, or panic attacks. But this is a story of hope. I am here to encourage you to continue to trust in the One and Only source of that hope – our Lord Jesus! He overflows with unrelenting love for each one of us. This is a testimony to what He can accomplish through regular folks when we are willing to step out of our comfort zone. I may feel weak, vulnerable, and ill equipped sometimes but those are just that – feelings. We need to be reminded of unshakable truths. Our identity is in Jesus Christ and in Him alone. He offers hope that cannot be found in anyone or anything else. Remember that He sees you as clean and mended. To God be the glory.
I want to conclude with the powerful words from the song MENDED, by Matthew West.