I was first diagnosed with depression at age 22, and I was certain the doctor was wrong. Didn’t everyone feel the way I felt, like their feet and their brains were stuck in quicksand, inching deeper into the mire by the second? Wasn’t it just a normal part of adulting, growing older and sadder and more miserable with each passing day?
Depression is a funny thing. It can come roaring in like a lion, catching a person off guard and without ready defenses, ravaging a life in what seems like an instant. It can also come creeping in like a sloth, slow and unassuming, stealthily easing its way into your everyday routine. This, too, can send life into a tailspin, albeit much more slowly and much less noticeably. (On a side note, did you know that sloths usually trek only 125 feet in a day? Lazy much?)
My depression was super sloth-like, moving in like an overlooked-but-unwanted guest. Over time I cleared out an entire room in my brain and allowed it to move in rent-free. Depression is very needy, and pretty soon it demanded all of my time and attention. It happened so slowly, though, that it didn’t seem out of the ordinary, and I thought I was feeling fine.
After six months of paralyzing anxiety and drowning in a sea of unending mental darkness, I saw a trusted counselor who bluntly told me, “You’re depressed.”
I thought surely he was mistaken, but because I trusted him, I saw my medical doctor, who agreed with my counselor. They both felt strongly that I needed to start on an antidepressant immediately, and, being desperate, I agreed to try it.
There’s something you need to understand about me. I’m not granola by any means; I’m actually about the farthest thing from a whole-foods-eating, chicken-coop-in-the-backyard, essential-oils-cure-everything lady you’ll ever meet. I eat GMOs (I happen to like blackberries the size of my fist), I use store-bought fabric softener, and I am not opposed to taking medicine when I’m sick.
That said, in my early 20s I was very much of the mindset that antidepressants were over-prescribed and that the people who regularly took them were just looking for an easy out. I am also a follower of Jesus Christ, and I was sure that any problems I was having were due to my own lack of faith, or something lame like that. So, you can see why agreeing to an antidepressant also meant I had to take a big ol’ bite of humble pie.
Eating that pie was one of the best things I’ve ever done.
I started taking Prozac. A few days passed and…nothing. Still ridden with anxiety and sadness. A few more days passed and…nothing.
The morning of day 10, I woke up and felt…different. I remember it like it was yesterday. I climbed out of bed, walked down the hallway, and rounded the corner into our living room, where my husband was sitting on the sofa. I stood there, staring, with a massive (probably-disconcerting-to-him) smile on my face. Just hanging out, not moving, looking like a total weirdo (and a happy weirdo, at that).
Finally he looked up at me. “Uh…you okay? What’s up?”
“I feel happy,” I told him.
My poor husband is so sweet, and I love his guts. It still makes me giggle to think back to that encounter, because his face gave away the fact that he was unsure of what to say in that moment. He didn’t want to say the wrong thing, so he gave a basic “that’s great” response.
“No,” I told him. “You don’t understand. I feel happy. Like, so-happy-I-could-burst happy. Giddy, almost.”
I really did. And the next day, I woke up feeling happy again…even happier, actually. This continued for a couple of weeks until the medicine was fully functioning, and slowly my emotions evened out until I was…(wait for it)…at peace.
Not at perfection. Not robotically blissful all the time. I still had ups and I still had downs, but suddenly I was able to cope with my life and I realized what it was like to be at peace. I had never felt so free in my life as I did then.
See, I had always seen antidepressants as “happy pills,” something desperate housewives took to become Stepford wives. Now I was beginning to understand that, while they are probably over-prescribed and unnecessary for some people, they are game changers for people who are truly suffering from mental illness and chemical imbalance.
I also realized how narrow minded I had been, theologically. God is all about our freedom, and He gave some really brilliant chemists some really brilliant thoughts and they have come up with some really brilliant drugs to help some really desperate people. Can God heal my depression with a word, should He decide to do so? 100%, unequivocally YES. Did He make promises to heal my depression? NO. Is my healing contingent on how big my faith is? NO. Is He any less faithful or good or true if I struggle with depression until the day I die? NO.
He can’t be anything but faithful, good, or true. It’s simply not in His nature.
If you’ve ever struggled with mental illness, whether for a short season or for a lifetime, and you’ve wondered why God left you to wither away, be assured of one thing: He has never, not ever, not even for a millisecond, left your side. He will never leave you or forsake you.
We often tend to think of the valleys we go through, the hard times and the seasons when God seems silent, as times of separation from God. Almost as though we’re navigating the wilderness alone, trying to make our way back to Him.
We couldn’t be more wrong.
He is actually a step ahead of us, every step of the way. He walks down into the valleys with us, and He navigates the harsh terrain so that we don’t have to. When the wind and the rain let loose and we’re caught in the middle of a horrific storm, He stands before us and takes the brunt of the beating. He’s light in the darkness and He knows where He’s going. And He’s always, always faithful to grab us by the hand and help us climb out of the depths.
He’s not removed from our suffering. He bears our suffering. And He feels every hurt and fear and bit of pain we experience along life’s journey.
We’re a hot mess, we humans, and because we live in an imperfect world, we will suffer. We’re only catching a glimpse, though, of the suffering Christ went through on our behalf, and God promises that through our suffering, His glory will be revealed (1 Peter 4:12-14).
A few years after my initial diagnosis, I relapsed into major postpartum depression. Those babies’ll do it to you 11% of the time (to be precise). Since then, I’ve tried to go off my meds a few times, and each time my body says, “NOPE!” And that’s okay. Will I ever be able to eliminate Prozac? Maybe so. Maybe not. Either way, it really is okay. I’m thankful for those super-smart chemists whose hard work pays off in my daily life. My husband and kids are even more thankful, I can assure you.
If you’re fighting through the dark fog, rest assured that you are not alone, and that you are loved so deeply, by me, by many others, and by a real God who made you and knows you by name. He’s a step ahead of you, and He will navigate the way through the uncertainty, if you’ll let Him. He’s the keeper of your heart, and the maker of your chemistry. Seek out counseling and medical help if you need to. He works through miracles and He also works through doctors. Take the steps toward freedom as He leads, and believe Him for the peace that is yours in Him, peace that is beyond our circumstances or understanding. He will be faithful to give it to you, I promise.