sometimes the hardest part about getting depressed is that it isn’t so much, “everything is going badly today, so now I’m feeling down”. it’s more like, “for some reason, I can’t process any of what’s happening in a positive light, no matter if it’s good or bad.” I’ve had some of the best weeks of my life interrupted by onslaughts of just crippling self-loathing, doubt, and depression, and the notion that there’s nothing I can do to combat any of it. typically I just form myself into something that vaguely resembles a ball and cry for a while in a really pitiful, crumpled sort of way in the darkest corner I can find.
I think it’s important to talk about our struggles. this generation is more encouraged to open up than any before it, as far as I can tell, and I’m glad for it. (I do think it’s important to check ourselves for motivation, so that we’re not bearing our souls just for attention; unfortunately, social media can be an easy platform for self-pity-parties. to my chagrin, I’ve hosted a handful of my own. that’s not what this is.) I’m glad that I live in a time where people are talking about hard things.
in that vein, I’ve shared a lot with y’all over this blog, facebook, and twitter. writing helps me to process. when I try to talk about my feelings, they come out in a jumbled, ugly mess with tears and fumbling words. when I write them down, they make a little more sense. in past posts, I’ve talked a lot about not having an answer to the things with which I’m dealing. and that I think that’s okay. I need to talk about them with or without a solution.
but to close out 2015, I want to share with you a story that falls into the hope-filled category.
I don’t have the answer to depression. I don’t have the quick fix for self-loathing or the moments of hatred I have for this person God made. but I do have a victory story. a single, high-flying, epic victory that reminded me there *is* hope.
back in May (as I drew close to the end of those horrendous first six months of the year), I attended the 2015 TeenPact Massachusetts State Class as the State Coordinator. it was my first year in the position, and after a really emotionally damaging week at staff training prior to the event, I went into the week feeling stressed, small, and inadequate in every possible way. what I got for all of my anxiety was what was arguably one of the best weeks of my life. the staff team made me feel reassured, encouraged, and valuable, and I was shown a lot of grace by a lot of people while I did a job that I’m still not good at, six months later.
half way into this amazing week, as we were driving from the capitol to our host home, something hit me. the biggest freaking wall I can remember being hit with since maybe 2012, or 2013. I wanted to hide from everyone I knew, cry myself to sleep and not wake up, crumple up and die. I hated myself, my personality, my looks. and the voice in my head, the voice that sounds exactly like my own, that pretends to be me, told me that everything I was feeling was logical and spot on.
I managed to make it inside the house (after an hour’s drive) without crying (something I’m proud of) and upstairs to “use the bathroom”. I stayed away long enough that I knew the others would start dinner without me, and then I slipped into my assigned bedroom and shut the door.
what followed wasn’t pretty. I quite literally crumpled to the ground, sobbed my heard out, and lay in a trembling ball for the next several minutes, wishing I could disappear.
it’s hard to realize you’re being attacked when the beating is coming from a voice that sounds like you.
when it’s your own voice telling you you’re worthless, it’s easy to think it’s a kind of humility to put yourself down.
when it’s your own voice telling you that everyone is just pretending to like you, how can you help but doubt every relationship?
when it’s your own voice, why wouldn’t you listen?
but then. then.
“I know that my redeemer lives.”
a voice that wasn’t my own. a voice in my head from no where (by which I mean, from Jesus), a piece of a verse from the book of Job, words I couldn’t shake.
“I know that my redeemer lives.”
again and again, I kept thinking it, seeing it, hearing it.
moment of bluntness. I’ve had some really well-meaning friends send me scriptures when they know I’m depressed, without context, without saying, “I’ve been praying this for you”, or “this applies because…” and it feels like the cheap band-aid fix that Christians are allowed to get away with. the word of God is mind-blowingly awesome, and has application for every situation. but you can’t just slap it onto a friend’s hurt and smile and think you’ve done your duty. (pro tip to my Jesus-following friends: relationships are important. don’t just cite chapter and verse with a pat on the back. it usually feels insincere.)
this wasn’t just a random scripture thrown at me. this was the grace of God showing up to remind me that my. redeemer. lives. redeemer. saver of my soul. lives. present tense.
suddenly I felt like the Holy Spirit was there with me. I didn’t feel all right, but I felt hopeful.
I got up, to my knees.
there’s a song you may or may not know called “break every chain”. the verse states very simply, “there is power in the name of Jesus/there is power in the name of Jesus/there is power in the name of Jesus/to break every chain/break every chain/break every chain”. it’s repetitive, which isn’t usually my thing, but it’s an incredible song, and you should look it up if you don’t know it.
I started saying it to myself, in my head, then in a whisper, then a little louder. “there is power in the name of Jesus,” over and over. and then I got this image of one of my old favorite Bible stories, from the book of 2 Kings, in chapter 6, where the prophet Elisha and his servant have been surrounded by an army of their enemies with orders to seize Elisha and bring him to their king. verses 15-17 say, “15 When the servant of the man of God rose early in the morning and went out, behold, an army with horses and chariots was all around the city. And the servant said, “Alas, my master! What shall we do?” 16 He said, “Do not be afraid, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” 17 Then Elisha prayed and said, “O Lord, please open his eyes that he may see.” So the Lord opened the eyes of the young man, and he saw, and behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.”
can you imagine that? a heavenly host, surrounding the army that’s surrounding you?
I sat there on my knees with that image in my head, crying and calling on the name of Jesus out loud (side note: speaking the name of Jesus out loud makes all the difference, at least for me. so does being on my knees), and my friends: it worked.
it was as if I could feel the devil being repelled. as if reminding Satan that he’s already been beaten, that my soul belongs to one stronger than he, was a battle. it was like a fight for my life, where the name of Jesus and the reassurance of his word were my weapons. and I was winning.
real talk: I didn’t leave that room (when I’d fixed my mascara and came down to dinner pretending nothing was wrong) with any certainty that I’d never get depressed again. I was shaky and may or may not have covered up a good many more tears that evening. I felt pretty battered.
but I had – and still have – this hope that no one can take away from me.
for me, that hope only came from experiencing the tangible power of God. from getting to actually see that he is stronger than the enemy of my soul. it only came when he opened my eyes to the heavenly host encamped on the mountains around me, ready to fight. for me.
I know that my REDEEMER lives.
I was a hot mess the following Sunday when our worship set at church opened with “break every chain” and I happened to be sitting in the front row, so everyone could watch me crying. I also cried my way through Pastor Donny’s perfectly-timed sermon on the fruits of the Holy Spirit in our lives, and the bit when he casually mentioned the fact that God looks at us and sees his son’s righteousness, and not our brokenness.
over the rest of this past year, I learned a lot about my feelings. for years, holed up in my bed or hiding in a closet, I’ve begged God to let me feel less. less pain, less anxiety, less panic, less defeat. it seemed like too much to bear up under. it’s only been over the course of this fall that I’ve realized what a blessing my feelings are. I don’t want to feel less love- I love strangers and friends fiercely and I wouldn’t want that to stop. I don’t want to feel less of the empathy that brings me to tears when I read about terrorist attacks across the ocean or one-human-to-another brutality here on my own shores. I don’t want to give up the excitement that I’m so quick to grab a hold of, about a piece of art or a snatch of music, or a book I can’t put down. I don’t want to give up compassion for a broken world, which pulls at my heart with an often painful thrum, keeping me up some nights in tearful prayer.
I’m thankful, finally, for the feelings. even when I think they’ll crush me.
the truth is, 2015 carried more darkness with it than any year I’ve known. in sharp contrast, it brought more light than ever as well. more people I love, more gratitude, more prayer. more news and celebration, more frustration with the place I find myself. I don’t know where I’m going or what I’ll be doing a year from now, but I’m learning who I was made to be. I’m also learning that I’ve missed out on a lot of blessings by insisting that my own low view of myself was more accurate than what God thought of me, and I’ve missed so many chances to bless others and be used by God because I was stuck in my own rut of insecurity. I’m tempted to be haunted by all the “what would have beens”, but I’m also learning valuable, difficult, huge lessons about the magnitude of God’s free grace. free things are oh-so-hard for me. accepting the unmerited gift that his mercy is has yet to become easy, but I’m learning. learning to shut up and stop trying to pay God back for things. learning that the obedience that comes from gratitude is the sweetest and most rewarding obedience.
this has been my year. learning, learning, learning. victories and humiliations, all for the glory of God.
so to close it, I wanted to share this victory of mine with you. not because I’ve found the cure, or because I’ve gotten over self-loathing and depression. I share it because it’s important to talk about the bad things, and it’s important to talk about the good things. that’s where redemption comes into play. by sharing with friends the things I struggle with, I’ve gotten to a place of knowing I’m not the only one, knowing I’m not unlovable, knowing I’ll survive this. by calling on God’s name I realized I’ll beat this, because he already has.
please don’t despair if you’ve tried this whole God thing and you’re still depressed. depression is complex, but it’s not hopeless. I’ve called on God in darkness before, and occasionally it’s “worked”, but more often the crushing alone-ness didn’t let up. you may not be at a place where you can even think about fighting. maybe your first step is some help from science, and recognizing that you need outside help may be what you need; I don’t believe depression is a purely emotional condition. for me, the necessary shift was calling up the already-not-yet of God’s victory over darkness. I needed to say it out loud and I needed to know I had hope, for the next time. because there were next times since then. and there will be more. all I want to convey is that there can be victories. that this fight isn’t a futile one, just because it feels that way. that the story doesn’t have to end badly.
so here’s the deal: if you want to talk, message me*, call me, text me, email me. I may know what you’re going through, I may not. let’s be vulnerable and live real life together and not pretend to be okay. but let’s talk about the days when we are, as well. that hope might be what someone needs.
thanks, 2015. I liked you a lot.
*(I’m notoriously bad a facebook messages (okay, all communication really) but I’ll do my best.)