Jesus makes broken people whole. The “ugly” things about us, He makes beautiful.
I have been broken, but God never leaves me there.
I spent my early 20s running from what I viewed as “ugly” and broken about myself, self-medicating with the best of them. I began to research and advocate for my [mental] health more in my late 20s. And now, in my 30s…well, I’m still figuring it out.
But I have learned that mental illness doesn’t mean weakness and it doesn’t mean you are broken. I would argue it takes great strength to wade through the thickness of illness, to have any semblance of normalcy. And it is beautiful to love others–as close to the way you wish to—when in the throes of sickness.
I have trial-ed and error-ed my way through every antidepressant on the market. I have cried at the feet of Jesus more times than I can count. I have vacillated between super balanced and barely getting out of bed.
By being open with my own journey, I want to give hope for those in the pit of their own darkness and offer insight to those who have never experienced it firsthand. Everyone’s struggle is unique, but you are not alone, you are not broken, and there is so much HOPE.
I had my first panic attack around age 8. I remember feeling like I was being chased—heart pounding, couldn’t catch my breath, sweating, head spinning, thoughts racing. I was terrified. Obviously nothing was chasing me, but I could not calm myself down or talk myself out of this feeling. I was helpless and at the mercy of a body that felt out of control.
I didn’t have the language to call it what it was: a panic attack. It was the early 90s, no one talked about mental health. I’m not even sure I had ever heard the word anxiety. And I definitely didn’t know it could present physically like that. We didn’t have google or even the internet in our home for a few more years. I remember my little mind wondering what was wrong with me. What was happening to me? And as children normally do, thinking I must be the only person in the entire world who has ever felt like this.
I was a ‘highly sensitive’ kid, who felt things deeply. My parents definitely would have described me as “moody”. But I didn’t experience actual depression until my late teens. I was formally diagnosed with clinical depression when I was 18 years old. (And extremely late to be diagnosed with a Generalized Anxiety Disorder after my first daughter was born.)
Depression took my fairly normal life and turned it upside down. One day I was a typical college freshman excited to decorate my dorm room, the world filled with endless potential. The next, I was finding it hard to complete basic tasks, or see how any of it was worth it at all.
Depression is weird and hard and lonely. And the word depression feels deceiving, because it tends to imply sadness. But it’s not that. It’s not NOT that. But it’s so much more than that. Way more complex than “feeling sad.”
It’s different for everyone. But for me, depression feels like a physical heaviness. It feels like my body weighs 800lbs. Everything feels difficult. A tiredness no amount of sleep can change. A deep deep apathy, where there once was excitement, joy, anything. Other times it has felt like a deep-pit-of-the-stomach doom. Even though there is no imminent danger.
I’m unable to love the way my heart desires. And that makes me the saddest. Sometimes I want to scream. Sometimes I just cry. Sometimes I feel nothing at all.
Although I now believe the hope that Christ brings with his life, death, and resurrection, and cling to that desperately in times of darkness. I didn’t have that as a teenager and young adult. Back then, the thickness of depression didn’t have the eternal hope that is my life raft today.
And even with the hope of eternal reprieve and belief that God is using even the darkest times for His good, it’s still painful to wade through seasons of depression. You can’t “pray it away”. It’s not an issue of feeling distant from God when depressed, but instead my brain is so hazy and foggy and deluded with darkness and gray, that it’s difficult to even see my hand in front of my face, much less have perspective or vision for myself (or even reality at times). It’s as if the world around me has been drained of color. Everything is gray. Nothing has dimension.
Days consist of going through the motions, counting the minutes until I can crawl safely back in bed. And begging God to heal me.
And I want to want to do things. I want to “snap” out of it. But it’s completely out of my control.
Seasons of depression ALWAYS end. It may take weeks or even months, but it has never completely swallowed me. I do catch my breath again. I always feel joy again. I have never been abandoned in that place.
Recovery doesn’t happen overnight. I may need to switch or change medication and see my therapist more regularly. But the curtains of darkness slowly begin to part. Bit by bit… life begins to fill with color again.
Time, prayer, and professional help, help me to feel normal again. And by “normal”, I mean: I love the things I love, I cry when it’s appropriate, I’m able to love my husband and children, clean my house semi regularly, get the right amount of frustrated with life, see the hope of Christ clearly (without fog), and see the colors of the world without the gray haze.
Depression and Anxiety are my struggles in this life. When I’m most broken, I most realize my need for Him. God never abandons me in the darkness. Even in the deepest pit, He is with me. Even when I feel broken, I am never outside of his love or His presence.. He draws near to the broken hearted. He is with me in the pits of despair. He is making me whole. And He is using this–just like anything else—to grow my faith in Him.
There will be seasons I will need to slow down, no matter how difficult that may be. Some seasons will require me to rest my mind and body, make adjustments with my treatment, ask for help, and maybe even take a step back to get healthy again. Just like you would with any other illness.
God brings beauty out of the brokenness. He has shown this over and over again in the lives of the prophets of the Old testament and the disciples of the New Testament. He always leads me back to Himself, where supernatural peace is found.
I love these words Sandra McCracken sings:
Your deliverance is coming
for us who wait,
In the wilderness you walk before us,
give us grace
I will build my house
Whether storm or drought
On the rock that does not move
I will set my hope
In your love, O Lord
And your faithfulness will prove
You are steadfast, steadfast
By the word you spoke
All the starry host
Are called out by name each night
In your watchful care
I will rest secure
As you lead us with your light
You are steadfast, steadfast
I will not trust in the strength of kings
On your promise I will stand
I will shout for joy, I will raise my voice
Hallelujah to the Lamb!
You are steadfast, steadfast
Sandra McCracken (@sandramccracken)
Verses I find cling to when it feels like the darkness may swallow me whole :
I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.
The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it.
But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.
2 Corinthians 12:9-10
We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love.
Yet what we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory he will reveal to us later.
“And we believers also groan, even though we have the Holy Spirit within us as a foretaste of future glory, for we long for our bodies to be released from sin and suffering. We, too, wait with eager hope for the day when God will give us our full rights as his adopted children, including the new bodies he has promised us.”
I would love to connect and hear your story. The stigma around mental illness can isolate us, but I want to push back against that. I think there is power in sharing our stories, even if it’s scary.
So inspiring for those of us live with anxiety. And depression.