The following blog post is part of my Year of Healing in 2017. March is the month dealing with the topic of Mental Healing. For more information, please check it out here.
Two years ago around this time in 2015, I was diving deeply into intense depression—more intense than anything I had experienced before. I didn’t want to live, I was having major panic attacks, and I couldn’t sleep very well at night because of the intense anxiety I felt at any given moment of the day.
But I was very good at hiding it. Anyone at the job I had at the time wouldn’t have been able to tell things were wrong. In fact, I prided myself in how well I could pretend to be normal (as a lot of sufferers of depression can do).
When I started antibiotic treatment for Lyme in December of 2014, I was warned by my doctor that depression could be a true issue. “A lot of patients with chronic illness suffer from it, especially when they’re getting treatment,” she told me with grace and understanding. “Don’t feel bad if you have to seek help.”
But I did feel bad, so for several months after starting treatment, I pushed through—even though I felt increasingly awful. When I finally told my mom that I wasn’t sure life was worth living—that’s when she begged me to get on depression meds. I knew that something really must be serious if my mother was asking me to do that, and so I did.
For six months in 2015, I was on Lexapro—an anti-depressant that deals with depression and anxiety. It helped immediately. I had no strange symptoms other than having trouble sleeping at night. As I transitioned through the painful process of quitting my job, completely crashing, and resting—Lexapro helped me navigate the most intense time of my Lyme treatment.
Looking back over my life, I can think of multiple times depression hit. The most obvious moment was when I first came down with the symptoms of Lyme Disease. Up until then, I had been your average angsty teenager—but I had never been full-blown depressed. The signs were all there: I lost all joy in anything I used to love, I felt listless, apathetic, too sad for words. I went to bed at 8pm and I woke up at 10am—and I was still tired no matter what I did. I felt a sick sensation in my stomach at all times, and I was constantly beating myself up in my head because I felt like such a failure.
Lyme Disease (which we hadn’t diagnosed at the time) had taken over my brain, and depression was the result.
But there was no word for “depression” in my vocabulary. It was sinful and wrong to be depressed. Growing up, the concept of mental illness, depression, and anxiety weren’t real things. You could pray away pain; if you only trusted in Jesus, everything would be better. We were all supposed to have joy, joy, joy down in our hearts—and something as trivial as health problems, imbalances in the brain, or deep grief were silly.
In fact, on more than one occasion I had people pray over me for my health and sadness and tell me it was because demons were plaguing me. I had one man tell me I didn’t have enough faith in God, or I would be cured of all illness. Funny thing is, the prayers may have given me a spiritual high that lasted a few moments—but depression always came back. No one actively addressed the bacteria (Lyme Disease) eroding my brain and body. But of course, it was always my fault (or the demons) because I hadn’t trusted God enough in the process.
It wasn’t until my sophomore year in college that I began naming the feeling of constant sadness, apathy, and anxiety for what it was: depression. I began seeking counseling (none of that antidepressant stuff yet—that was from the devil), which was a positive first step.
While I had several close friends encourage me in my endeavor, I can remember telling one of my closest friends I was going to see counseling. She was a devout Christian, and she looked at me like I had lost my mind. I felt like a failure. I was just too broken for God to fix me on my own, I surmised. My faith just wasn’t strong enough to whether the storms of life without outside help.
In reality, that step into counseling at 22-years-old was the beginning of the journey towards actively seeking healing that would change my life and help me navigate some of the worst storms ahead.
Many of us look at people who struggle with depression, anxiety, or other mental illness with disdain. They should be able to pull it all together, we think. What is their problem? Or we are just too scared to ask questions, to engage people in honest dialogue about why they are struggling.
As I’ve looked back over my life, I can see truly valid reasons why depression developed:
Health: Lyme Disease being a key player. The bacteria called borrelia loves the brain—they literally bore down into your brain and hold on for dear life, causing so much brain fatigue, mental trauma, and yes—depression. Along with Lyme Disease and all the antibiotics I’ve been on, my entire digestive system was drained of all good bacteria—and your digestive gut is actually a huge component of your mental health, medical science is now finding. Your diet and digestion are linked to your mental health.
Trauma & woundedness: Having my heart broken (on several occasions) by people I deeply loved has truly been traumatic, along with the ramifications of losing one of my best friends in a cult—and trauma can quickly change the dynamics of one’s body and mind (especially if you’re already weak due to health issues). I also have had to deal with a lot of hard stuff in counseling that has helped me realize true hurt, damage, and trauma that occurred throughout my life. Multiple negative things can truly impact the brain and mind. Relational wounds can leave huge issues, and depression and other mental illness can be a direct result of past woundedness.
Chronic stress: Because of health, I have had a hard time paying bills over the past few years. This leads to chronic stress that constantly gnaws at the psyche, wearing the mind down over enough time if one isn’t careful. So any huge stress factor or strain can actively disrupt the brain and cause it to have depression.
When you aren’t following your true path: I truly believe depression can also be a sign from our bodies to ourselves that something is off about how we are living. If we aren’t listening to the deepest parts of who we are and following our true callings, sometimes depression can be a wake-up call. For example, I became increasingly depressed at the last job I had because I was no longer supposed to be there, and I truly knew it deep down. But I kept pressing through and ignoring my own body’s signs that something wasn’t right.
And yes—I trust God. I love God. I am a spiritual person. But again, like I said in my last post:
Depression happens to good people. Depression happens. Period.
But depression is a sign that something is off in one’s body. It is an illness, and it is not the person’s fault. It is not demons, it is not because the person is a horrible sinner, it is not because a person doesn’t have enough faith.
One can almost see depression as a sign that deep, deep damage has been done. It’s the invisible wound of the mind that people can’t see but that can cause the most damage if left untreated.
When someone has a broken limb, no one questions why they are on crutches, do they? The illness is obvious. It is less so with our brains, but our brains can become wounded and broken just like any other part of our body. If we all recognize that and actively seek healing for our minds, we’ll be in a much better place when hard stuff (health, trauma, grief) hits our plate again.
Case in point: My liver and digestion are all out of wack due to the antibiotics I was on for two years, and last fall I started caving into a deep bout of depression again. It was the direct result of health issues (digestion and depression are linked), trauma (multiple abusive scenarios last year), and chronic stress (the reality that I can’t have a full-time office job right now).
Because these things piled up on top of each other, I sought help through counseling, medical resources, family and friends. I did not let the depression control me (even though it was a very painful time). Every day, I got up and actively sought to fight it through the various means at my fingertips. I ate healthily, I did yoga, I meditated, and I actively took care of myself. I knew that this deep depression wouldn’t last if I continued to seek for solutions.
Right now, I feel much better. And I’m confident that depression can be something that doesn’t have to control someone. It can be managed—even if it can’t be fully overcome. Sometimes, it might never be fully over. Unfortunately, life is hard. Period.
Sometimes, depression will happen to even the best people. The choice then becomes: What will you do with depression and how will you learn to manage it?
Look back on your own life. Have you ever had signs of depression that you denied? What was the predominating belief about depression in your family, church, or friends?
Are you ashamed that your are dealing with depression? Where does that shame come from?
Why are you depressed? There are always reasons (be it medical issues, trauma, chronic stress, not listening to yourself, etc)? Maybe it’s time to give yourself grace and seek the help you need.
Photo by Adobe Stock/adimas