I was thirteen when it happened.
I woke up to yellow tape across the street, darkness heavy in the air. It was a blue shed where he had done it, and although I never saw the inside of the shed, I could easily imagine how his body was found. I heard the stories; how his wife found the note on the counter by his ballcap, and ran out to find him out back. The blue shed only lasted a little while, a stark reminder in the February cold of what had happened. One day, finally, someone in town bulldozed it away. The physical reminder was gone. But my questions remained.
I can still feel his wife collapsing in my arms at the funeral, and the questions that had been ringing in my ears since that Sunday rang even louder. How could he do this? How selfish can one person be to leave behind a beautiful daughter and wife?
There was an underlying thought that somehow, suicide and mental health and depression was linked to selfishness. Because, in my thirteen-year-old’s mind, what else could explain such an act?
And then, in my third year at university, there was the book. Dark Night of the Soul. And it challenged me; it challenged me to see from the mind of someone severely depressed. To see the darkness that shadowed their every move.
The darkness fell upon me.
I felt like I was drowning. While everyone else around me was breathing.
Every choice became a source of anxiety. I couldn’t even decide whether to eat dinner in the dining room or the living room without stress.
The heavy weight of sadness followed me everywhere. I would find myself weeping for no reason other than the sadness I felt. I would seek anything to lift the darkness I was feeling – my family. My friends. Prayer. The Word.
And nothing was working. Nothing that gave me life was giving me life. I didn’t look at a lake and talk to God about the beauty He must have delighted in to create it. I didn’t see Him in any of the places I had previously found Him. And worse; I felt like I couldn’t feel Him anymore.
So I found myself in the doctor’s office, the imprint of the nurse’s sympathetic hand on my knee burning a hole on my skin. I told the doctor about this pit of despair I was drowning in. I needed a lifeline because I so felt like I was drowning. There was an ethereal feeling, though – I found myself asking myself, is this really me? Am I the one talking to the doctor across from me about suffering from depression?
As I walked out of the doctor’s office, and a week later walked into a therapist’s office, I have swallowed my pride. The Lord teaches us humility in gentle yet painful ways. I am not as strong as I might appear. I need so much help. I am learning the verse from 2 Corinthians that I have written down is so true for my life these days. “And He said unto me, ‘My grace is sufficient for thee; for my strength is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore, will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore, I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then I am strong.”
I say all of this because there have been two things that have encouraged me in this hard season, in this season of learning how His grace is sufficient for me. I have learned that I am not alone. Depression isolates you; but that’s the farthest thing from the truth. It has been such a ray of hope and encouragement for me to hear of other’s journies; to have people literally stop whatever they are doing to lay hands on me and pray. For each of you who have been there for me: from the bottom of my heart I thank you.
And the second is, whatever I am going through does not change who God is. I will choose to trust that He is who He says He is – even if, in this season, I don’t “feel” it. He is bigger and stronger than my feelings. And He has always, always, proven faithful in His sovereignty. For when I am weak – which these days, is every day – He. Is. Strong.
Sadly so many have struggled with mental illness and not sought help. I’ve been on the other end where I have sat and judged. It’s hard for me to even write these things because I know there are people out there who will judge – who will tell me that I need to pray harder, or “choose” happiness when I wish it was a simple as that. But I beg you – please don’t find yourself where I once sat. It could be you. I pray these words of mine encourage others to tell their stories; you aren’t alone. If you are feeling that darkness, let me lay down in it with you. If you are feeling alone, let me hold your hand and remind you that you aren’t. You’ll see rays of sunshine and joy again; and when you do, I will dance with you.