In the spirit of Thanksgiving, I decided it was time to share my story. I’ve shared bits and pieces of it here and there, but in the spirit of the words above and below, I decided to write it out in full.
“I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart; I will recount all of your wonderful deeds… And those who know your name put their trust in you, for you, O Lord, have not forsaken those who seek you. Sing praises to the Lord, who sits enthroned in Zion! Tell among the peoples his deeds!” Psalm 9:1, 10, 11
The word forsaken comes from the Old English word forsacan which means to renounce or refuse. Many times in my life, I have felt that way. It is hard to justify, because there is nothing truly earth-shattering in my story, although I did experience my parent’s divorce at the age of 8. It was as much (or more) a case of my “wiring” and chemical makeup that caused me to be prone to intense seasons of depression and anxiety, which started, to my knowledge, around the time I was 12. Further, my mother didn’t really believe in medication or counseling, so for the most part, I was left to deal with it myself.
I want to add, not as an accusation, but just as a statement of fact, that I grew up in a rather legalistic religious setting. Although we come from a Christian tradition that does not like to call itself “religious,” but rather emphasizes our relationship with Jesus Christ, I have to be honest: often, without meaning to, we fall back into our own brand of religion. Spoken or unspoken, expectations become the measure of spiritual maturity. And condemning overtones shade much of our conversation, and even our teaching, if we’re not careful.
Someone who is “highly sensitive” like me internalizes that. When mixed with unmitigated depression and anxiety, it is akin to a death sentence.
I’ve always said, I’ve never tried to kill myself, but I understand why people do. There are many reasons. Many potential contributing factors.
My depression and anxiety aside, I also internalized messages from my Christian tradition (note that I am not implicating my pastor or any individual believer, it is simply a mindset that pervades a large segment of the American church) that I interpreted as needing to hole myself up in a safe cocoon, or be out on the streets preaching. Apparently there was no middle ground. No room for simple social activity outside of brothers and sisters in Christ.
Naturally this did not mix well with the lengthy bouts of anxiety I was already experiencing. My world became smaller and smaller. I also felt there was so much I wasn’t allowed to do. For years, I literally did not believe I was allowed to have interests. It was safer to just do my housework, teach my kids, read my Bible or other approved books… Ok, my husband and kids have always had things they liked to watch, but if I found something I really enjoyed, I immediately questioned myself. You can see how the damaged mind continues to distort things further. Over the years, every word I heard began to condemn me.
I began to see a counselor in 2020, but it was really the following year, 2021, when everything came to a head. One thing she told me was that my seasons of severe anxiety and depression in and of themselves produced PTSD.
I’m going to digress for a moment, because this experience has contributed to who I am. I suppose my PTSD is one reason I am so attracted to accounts of wartime experience (let me clarify that I am not pro-war… yet it is a thing that exists, and because of that, it is worthy of our understanding). Somehow, without suffering as men and women in combat have (God bless them), I relate to them, because there has been a war going on inside my body and mind for 30 years. While most people experience “the blues” from time to time, or even isolated periods of depression or anxiety, one cannot relate to the severity with which those things attack some of us.
Because God loves me, and because for too long, I had associated Him with the evil that had befallen me, He was unwilling that things go on as they had for 30 years. Last year is when things really began to change.
When I began writing my debut novel, I was elated that God was giving me “permission” to do something so outside of the box. The box that had created itself around me and in which I’d been living, quite unwittingly, for some time. Oh, I can’t complain. I have three beautiful children, a great marriage, a nice house in the suburbs, and dear friends. But I think isolation is something many people struggle with. Truly, I couldn’t put my finger on one interest or activity outside of church and family life.
Suddenly I was an author, exploring a passion which had lay dormant for decades. Naturally I went overboard and forgot to eat or sleep for two months. I tunnel-visioned completely, and threw my already-sensitive chemical balance into a tailspin.
Spring and summer of 2021 were the closest thing to hell I have ever experienced. As I said, the damaged mind continues to distort things, compounding one’s trauma like waves of an agitated sea crashing into the shore. I was continuing in counseling all this time. One also has to remember that the entire world was coming out of the greatest crisis of our generation. I was surprised that I had navigated Covid as well as I did up ’til then… but I guess everyone has their breaking point.
There was one ray of hope through all this: Psalm 42, where I had run many times before in seasons of deep darkness:
I went with them to the house of God,
With the voice of joy and praise,
With a multitude that kept a pilgrim feast
Why are you cast down O my soul?
And why are you disquieted within me?
Hope in God for I shall yet praise Him,
For the help of his countenance...
Later on in the same Psalm it goes on to make a subtle change to this last phrase:
For I shall yet praise Him
The help of my countenance and my God.
Somehow, I knew that in spite of all this evil, much of which appeared to be coming from my faith, it wasn’t God who was at the root of it all. I knew deep down that He was good, and that I wanted to continue to serve Him rather than turn my back, because believe me, there were many, many times I asked myself why I still even called myself a Christian when my faith seemed to lay at the root of so much of my trauma.
I took a missions course last winter, and one sentiment rang out to me louder than all the others:
I am not willing to die for the religion of Christianity. But I am willing to die for Jesus Christ.
I think this was a watershed moment, and it is why I identify myself on my social media not as a Christian but as a Follower of Jesus. Christianity grew up around Him, with all of its flaws and shortcomings. I knew long ago that there was no perfect church, and that’s why I’ve opted to stay where I am for the last twenty years rather than hop from place to place. My church isn’t perfect, but it’s where I get together with “family.”
In The Forgotten Soldier, a German soldier’s account of WW2 on the Russian Front, Guy Sajer describes being trapped in a shack inside a Soviet factory during a fierce battle with partisans. The rest of the men with him have already been killed, he is alone save for a dead man lying at his feet, one comrade “somewhere” in the building, and Russian partisans hiding in the rafters above him:
“I felt as if my skull enclosed a black void, and that a nightmare enclosed me, like a fever. As the noise outside grew louder, I felt myself sinking into a pit of unimaginable depth. I was torn between the desire to flee and my paralyzing fear… Nothing else mattered to me.”
The factory is windowless. He is almost entirely in darkness. The noise outside, though, is his Kameraden, attempting to break through. And suddenly, the wall is broken through! Light pours in and his comrades stand outside. Their commanding officer appears and calls for survivors. That mental image of a wall being broken down, the daylight breaking through, and being found is something I will take with me to my grave. I’m reminded of it every time I sing these words from the song “Another in the Fire”:
I can feel the ground shake beneath us
As the prison walls cave in
Nothing stands between us
Nothing stands between us
Yes, I may be a little overly dramatic, but let me reiterate: a filthy soldier who is on the verge of losing his mind, trapped in a shed with a dead body that is minutes away from bleeding out, the wall breaking down, light bursting through — being rescued.
I am so thankful that God did not leave me here to die. Regardless of where one stands on Joyce Meyer’s ministry, she is right about one thing: the mind is a battlefield. The mind alone has claimed the lives of many. If not literally, then it has stolen years of life from people as it reduced them to suffering in silence. Often, the body internalizes much of that weight as well.
Sometimes, we need to break the cycles we have learned over the course at our lives that turn our natural tendencies into living nightmares. And sometimes, in order to do that, we first need to balance our body chemistry (because we are three part being body, soul, spirit). I had to level the playing field with medication before I could ever attack the psychological component of my war.
If I seem passionate about this it is only because I grew up believing that depression was an indication that there was something wrong with me spiritually, to the exclusion of the body, and therefore it was something that must needs be addressed only spiritually. Read the Bible more. Turn on worship music. Talk to your pastor. All those things are great, but they do not necessarily address the problem at it’s root.
My husband was the first person to try to break me out of that, twenty years ago when we were still dating. He really urged me to use medication if necessary. I did, for a season, but wasn’t ready to take the step into therapy as well.
When I am tempted to think that this is just another reprieve from my seasons of darkness, I take notice of how drastically my thought patterns have changed. Not that this was an immediate change — it has taken place over the last two and a half years. But having come through that, I am able to be, do, and accomplish things that I never dreamed were possible.
As I said earlier, Sometimes, we need to break the cycles we have learned over the course at our lives that turn our natural tendencies into living nightmares. If you want a non-technical, yet in-depth discussion of stopping thought patterns that spiral out of control, I highly recommend the following book. It is easy to read (I listened to it on Audible).
In the last year or so, many people have told me they had no idea I was going through any of this. Even my counselor herself said I didn’t really indicate the depth to which I had struggled. And, she said, people need to hear it, because there are other people who don’t think there is anyone out there that gets it.
This year, on Thanksgiving, I am thankful for healing. I’m thankful for new life and new beginnings. And I’m thankful that God never let me go. Thank you for sticking with me if you’ve read this far. If there is someone you believe could be encouraged by this post, please share it. There is still too much stigmatization out there, even in an age where mental health awareness has become a buzzword.
Here are two more books that I found assistive in my healing process:
God bless, Kameraden.