Thursday, July 3, 2014

Trading the Shame Ashes of Depression

“Treatment resistant depression…”
These are the words I heard the intake director at Emory say to me after she told me I was accepted to the adult psychiatry program there and would be working with a brand new doctor that specializes in treatment resistant depression. “That’s what you have,” she said kindly. I smiled. I know this but in that moment when I heard someone else speaking those words, it was just different. I felt an onset of emotions flooding me—fear, hopelessness, hopefulness, sadness, relief… It is an answer of prayer to be accepted into such an amazing program, but I am scared too. The intake director went on to explain that there were several new therapies being developed, new studies I could take part in that could potentially save me thousands of dollars, and she was so calming. She treated me like a human—she saw past my illness and believed that Emory could help me. It was a surreal moment.

As I held onto my friend going down the elevator and cried all over her in the parking lot, we stopped to pray and thank God for this amazing opportunity. I know this may not be the answer—not a magic “cure” or whatever, but as Robert De Niro’s character says on Silver Linings Playbook (sorry it's one of my favorites!), “When life reaches out with a moment like this, it’s a sin if you don’t reach back.” I will try. I have an amazing support system that will help me—sometimes they drag me kicking and screaming, but they believe in me and want me to keep going. So, this is now another part of my journey. This experience will be woven into my story no matter the outcome, and I’m sharing this with you because I want you to see my struggle is current. It is real, and it is ongoing.  

If I’m going to have courage and genuinely tell my story with my whole heart, I have to share an essential element of my life.  I have struggled with depression for a long time—on and off intensely for the past ten years. Even when I was a young girl in elementary school, I recall having many tremendous highs and lows. I have tried numerous medications, combinations of medications, talk therapy, Christian counseling, prayer, meditation, spiritual and inspirational books, etc. I have had moments of relief, moments where the darkness has subsided, and I remember these times fondly and vividly. I thank God for these times. But truthfully for so long what I remember and what I fight every day is this gray cloud of depression looming above me.

Some of you reading this may question my faith—if I truly believe that the God I claim to serve and the Words He’s given us in the Bible are true, then why am I still sad? Where is my faith? Shouldn’t I just trust Him and pray more?  Well it’s not an all or nothing type of thing. Many of you reading this do believe and trust in God , but also have struggled or suffered or are still today fighting some form of depression—whether it is chronic like mine, post-partum, manic, or situational. I want to encourage you not to give up fighting, and I want you to know that suffering with depression does not say anything about you. It does not mean you are a failure, are not good enough, or that your faith is weak. It does not have to control you, but you cannot ignore it. And I pray that while I’m attempting to write about this still sadly taboo subject, those of you that question and may sometimes judge or do not truly understand depression, may find some clarity in my words.

There are many famous people who have suffered from a type of depression. I know that may not encourage or help some of you, but it helps me tangibly put into perspective that this illness does not limit my worth. Van Gogh painted one of his most famous and one of my all-time favorite paintings—A Starry Night, after a breakdown while being treated for severe depression in a mental facility. Sir Winston Churchill was very outspoken about his depression. He even named his depression flare-ups “the black dog” and would frequently take respites from his duties when as he would say, “The black dog is upon me.” King Solomon—one of the richest and wisest kings from the Bible struggled. Also from the Bible, Naomi, Hannah, and even King David—the “man after God’s own heart,” all suffered from depression at some point in their journey. The list could go on and on of amazing, influential people that changed the world, but also had another side to them that we sadly do not hear enough about.

And you know what? These are the people though who inspire me the most! These stories touch me and ring true more than a story about someone who never struggled—who never was broken—who never experienced such unbearable, excruciating darkness and heartache. Why? Because their stories are real life!! We all have been broken in some way at some time. I don’t want you to wallow in that, but don’t run from it either. Embracing our vulnerabilities leads to true connection. Exposing our vulnerability grows compassion in us where before there was no understanding or maybe even judgment. Sharing your story, just letting someone else see a glimpse of what you’ve been through or are going through does more than just help them, it allows you to grow and heal as well. I do not mean you should just tell everyone you meet or know—you have to listen to that still, small voice inside you and use your discretion, but if you feel led to share, you should. Brene’ Brown, one of my favorite authors and speakers says, “Share your story with those who deserve to hear it.”  

There’s one song I have really connected to within these past few months by Tenth Avenue North entitled “Worn.” Just read the lyrics to the first verse and chorus:  

I’m tired I’m worn

My heart is heavy

From the work it takes

To keep on breathing

I’ve made mistakes

I’ve let my hope fail

My soul feels crushed

By the weight of this world


And I know that you can give me rest

So I cry out with all that I have left


Let me see redemption win

Let me know the struggle ends

That you can mend a heart

That’s frail and torn

I wanna know a song can rise

From the ashes of a broken life

And all that’s dead inside can be reborn

Cause I’m worn

You know we can’t let that ashes referenced go unnoticed right there at the end. It’s just too powerful. You may be crushed, you may be worn—you may feel dead inside and not know how you will even get out of bed the next day. I have been there. I am fighting alongside you, but please don’t give up. I more than just believe. I am a real life testament to the fact that “a song can rise from the ashes of a broken life.” Every day, I experience recovery and healing—even those dark days that I ignore my phone, close all the blinds, and just cry in my bed. Even in those moments, I still have hope. My faith wavers at times. I suffer from depression, and I say suffer because to me it’s more than just a struggle. Having depression doesn’t have to define you. It is only a part of you that you have to learn to embrace. And as the author Alex Elle says, “I’m thankful for my struggle because without it I wouldn’t have stumbled across my strength.”

So knowing and accepting those truths, I want you to trade the ashes of the shame of depression with me. You are not alone. You do not have to hide what you are going through. It is nothing you should feel ashamed of—I am learning this every day. Even while writing this, I cringe to reveal this part of my story, but then I remember it’s worth it. It’s so worth it. Let’s trade those shame ashes for the beauty of redemption and rise from them knowing that we are worthy of love, peace, and hope. Hold onto that hope. Hope is something no one can take from you. John 14:18 says, “I will not leave you comfortless; I will come to you.” Another translation reads, “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.” I love that verse the most because it shows Christ’s amazing, unconditional love for us. HE is coming to us. HE is coming to YOU. There are no conditions. There are not stipulations on His love and comfort.

Today let’s trade the shame of depression for the beauty of accepting our flaws, creating true connections through our own vulnerabilities, loving ourselves, and the gift of hope. Doesn’t that sound so much better?

You are strong. You are beautiful. You have hope. You are real—and that is the best and only way to be!

With all my love,