I'm ashamed to say this is the first post I've written in months. There is no excuse, but there is a big, ugly reason: depression.
Warning: depression and suicidal ideation triggers follow.
I have fought depression and anxiety most of my life, starting in the tenth grade of high school when my grandmother died. She had lived with us since my parents married, and was very much a second mother to me. She died on a cold January day as snow fell. It kept falling, creating an unprecedented 12" snowfall which shut down my area of the South. It meant no school, and being holed up in the house in which Memaw had lived; it also meant Memaw could not be buried for two weeks.
For two long weeks all we thought about was her empty room. As her nighttime caregiver, I found nights oddly quiet. No one rang a little bell to ask for help to go to the bathroom, or to say her heart was hurting. I was to give her a nitroglycerin tablet under her tongue, wait 20 minutes, and give her another one if it didn't calm down. If, after 10 more minutes, her heart was still hurting, I was to get my mom up and we'd call the paramedics for a midnight ride to the emergency room. It was a heavy burden with which to carry at sixteen years old. Then, after Christmas Day, when her heart hurt and the paramedics came, Memaw did not come home as usual. She died January 6, and two weeks later was buried.
A month after she died I began to write dark, dark poetry. I didn't know it at the time, but looking back on it, I should have been on an antidepressant. I should have been seeing a counselor. I was depressed, and thinking that I couldn't go on with life. I missed a lot of school. I couldn't sleep and when I finally did, I'd sleep all day long. I lost weight.
It was the first time I began to think that ending it all would be easier than living through it all.
I twice attempted suicide in the tenth grade. No one outside of my husband Greg (until now) has known this about me. I tried to hang myself; my big black Lab Major ran under me, bracing my feet up. Barking. My knot slid out and I fell to the ground. I felt like a complete and total failure: I couldn't even tie a proper knot. This is not supposed to be funny; I was so utterly lost with zero self-esteem and a very empty prayer life that I believed I was a failure in everything.
One night, while battling a summer cold, I took an incredible amount of pills. Whatever I could get my hands on. That night, as the room spun and hot puffs of air came through the open windows, my cat Jojo clawed her way through the screen, meowing, and jumped on me. She ran to my mom and dad's room, woke them up, and made them come to me. Mom held my head as I vomited.
I thought, if my animals love me so much, maybe I just ought to stop. I didn't have the faith to see that God was using Major and Jojo to save my life--twice.
I've been depressed on that level three more times since then. I put on a good fake face and went to work and church and no one was none the wiser. I've become an expert at hiding the screams for help on the inside. Still, my husband Greg and some more astute and observant friends have noticed, and have called me out.
But if there is one thing that I have noticed since my faith life grew exponentially since the 10th grade, it is this: there is a definite stigma of depression in the church. We don't know how to handle it, and by "we" I mean the members of the capital-C Church, the Bride, who should be among the first to use the anointing of the Holy Spirit to sense when someone is teetering on the edge. Have we become so callused with hitting "sad faces" or typing "Praying" on social media posts that we think those things are reaching out to people who are hurting?
If a person of faith is posting hints of depression on social media, there is hope. If you notice that a previously active person's social media activity has dropped off and they're not coming to church as often as they used to-- those are huge warning signs that depression has dug its heels in.
There's a stigma to depression in the church body. "How's your prayer life?" "Are you in the Word?" "Maybe you have unconfessed sin." "God hasn't moved; you have." The church is better equipped to handle divorce than depression. We don't know what to do with depressed people: what casserole should be delivered for being in a pit of despair?
Listen: sometimes life can be so overwhelming that it's amazing that one is not depressed quicker or sooner. I also know this: though people of the church, who should be on the lookout for each other, fail--Jesus does not. Psalm 40:1-2 (NIV) states, "I waited patiently for the Lord; he turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand."
The slimy pit of depression is slippery and oozy; the shifting mud moves with each passing grumble of the earth below and around it. Isn't that like depression? It's highly environmental and tediously curcumstantial, growing with each passing issue and problem until the murk and mire weigh us down. But the Lord God, Who see us and will deliver us when we call on Him, will not just set our feet on a steady rock of unmoving truth and a firm place on which to know His goodness and grace, but He will "put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see and fear the Lord and put their trust in him." (verse 3).
He will not just deliver us from depression but put a new song of praise in our mouths! God will use the time of depression, after one has been delivered from it, to encourage other pit-dwellers and people longing for deliverance. Each and every time the Lord brought me out of a season of depression, my faith soared and people were encouraged tenfold. I am delirious with the thought of what He's planning to do in the season of faith coming up.
Why, then, scoffers and doubters will say, why then doesn't God just keep you out of depression? Christians who don't yet have their Resurrection bodies are still prone to the uncertainties of this world. We are not perfect; forgiven, yes; but not perfect. I believe with all my being that God, who made all of creation out of His spoken word, can take seasons of depression and use them for His glory and to share His Gospel. 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 (my life verses) state, "Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God."
Don't you see? When God brings you through the mountains, He is planning on using the moments spent in the valleys just as much, if not more, than the mountain-top experiences.
Listen, though, beloved: if you are in a church body, pay attention to those around you. Don't let people off the hook who answer "Fine" to the question of "How are you?" Dig a little deeper. Pay attention. We as the Church need to dismantle the stigma of depression among our pews and reach out to each other. Who knows? Maybe you can be like a certain large black Lab or calico cat, and bring someone back from the edge.
If you are reading this and have been contemplating suicide, I urge you to please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and let's talk. Or, visit your pastor and tell him of your plans, or go to the nearest emergency room. You are loved.
(C) 2018 Terrie McKee
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