The Truth About My Depression - Pt. 1
“You keep track of all my sorrows.
You have collected all my tears in your bottle.
You have recorded each one in your book.”
Truth is, I’ve been waiting for weeks for my depression to completely go away so that I can write about how great of a breakthrough I’ve had or how I turned my life around 180 degrees, but the honest reality is that depression is oftentimes the sad dog that comes crawling back no matter how many times you kick it to the curb. My depression (sparked by PTSD) just happens to be one of those reoccurring things, and although I’ve gotten comfortable living with it for a while, coming clean about it to others is still such a terrifying thing. I worry about being judged as inferior, incapable or disabled in some way. It somehow feels shameful to admit to one’s depression, especially as a devout Christian. The stigma of mental illness often extends even to the furthermost corners of the church culture, I feel. After many doubts about whether or not I should write an in-the-process article, I finally realized that holding back from being vulnerable about my problems out of the fear of judgment is not the right way to go about it at all. After all, fear is what’s crippling me and is the main factor that’s causing my brain to react in such unhealthy ways. I’m writing this article to overcome those fears and to hopefully provide some insight on how to find the hope to ‘keep on keepin’ on,’ as they say, even in the midst of being drowned in mental darkness. The Word says that God is so holy that darkness is like light to Him, so there is no need to fear the darkness of depression. God is not afraid of the dark. He actually steps right into it with us, and He’ll keep shining his light until we can finally catch a glimpse of it ourselves.
Going back to the beginning, I’ve always had a sense that something was wrong ever since I was in high school. I didn’t think anything was wrong with me, per se, but I felt that life wasn’t very significant and there was just a whole slab of PURPOSE missing from this structure. I would go through alternating spells of extreme anger, apathy, and excitement, triggered by both external and internal occurrences. My life at home was chaotic, my romantic life was broken, and my life at school was underwhelming. I felt so disappointed at the overall shabbiness of the brief time on Earth that I’d been given. I wanted more meaning out of my life, and joy, fulfillment, and the big P word—Purpose. I was so desperate for a sense of relief but I didn’t really know where to look or the specifics of what I really wanted. I just wanted OUT—even suicide seemed tempting. I remember several occasions where I lingered around the knife rack for way too long, trying to reason myself out of doing something overly dramatic or drastic. Eventually, my mental health problems worsened when I started chasing after things that gave me temporary happiness and relief. Whatever it took to get even the slightest sense of relief, I took it. This led to a whole strain of substance abuse and self-mutilation.
Isn’t that painfully ironic? In our ignorant desperation for true joy and fulfillment, we turn to self-destruction instead. We even revel in our darkness sometimes, just because the more we let it marinate in our bones, the more it numbs us to our problems. I’m not going to lie—it sure did its share in making me numb to my thoughts for a moment, but it had never given me any substantial sense of peace, hope, or fulfillment. Not even close. If anything, it made me feel a whole lot emptier. The huge downside of all of these mood enhancers—and the main thing that I tried to forget—is that they took a toll on my dopamine production, which means… yep: more depression.
One Saturday night, when I was just 16, I found myself intoxicated, stoned, and high on ecstasy all at the same time. It wasn’t an unusual Saturday for me. I had long been on a quest to get myself as trashed as possible any chance I got. This particular Saturday, though, I felt the numbest. I mean, I was so numb inside and out that I couldn’t even feel the temperature that night. I stumbled out of the house party and into someone’s car with a few people whom I didn’t really know. Techno music started blasting in the midst of drowned out laughter and incoherent conversations. I sat in the back, still numbed to my surroundings. Then the weirdest thing happened: I started sobbing. I cried my eyes out in that car despite not being able to cry for a long time leading up to that incident. I wept and wept, but the techno music continued playing, the voices never waivered, and the conversations were never disrupted. Everyone was intoxicated and numb. No one noticed that a girl was sobbing in the backseat.
While all of this was happening, I thought to myself, “Nobody truly loves you.” That was the heart-wrenching truth at that moment. It had been something I’d felt and had a sense of, but I had never given myself time to face it head on. That night, I did. I felt like my chest was being ripped open. It was a deep, excruciating pain that hurts down to the soul, to know that no one gives a fly about your existence. I continued to wallow in this pain for a moment, but then something amazing happened in that car. I suddenly had this image of a painting of Jesus in my mind—a painting that was displayed on the altar of my childhood home. It was as if God, at that moment, had reached out and said, “I love you.” And then I felt a huge wave of comfort, love, and warmth wash over me from head to toe. It was unlike anything I’d ever experienced in my entire life. I believe it was the embrace of God. He hugged me and said, “I love you,” in that car, in the midst of all that darkness and brokenness. I felt so grateful and overjoyed I just sank back in my seat and enjoyed the comforting embrace for as long as I could. This was the beginning of my interest in Christianity and, thus, my personal journey with God.
“But God demonstrates his own love for us in this:
While we were still sinners,
Christ died for us.”
Precedently, I hadn’t had the slightest interest in religion. I was forced to be Catholic when I was a toddler, but I never understood the point of all the rituals and the countless games and Morse-code-learning shenanigans during Sunday School. I didn’t know why Jesus had to die and it seemed like everyone I asked had no real idea, either. What do our sins have anything to do with him? If he himself chose to die, what does it have anything to do with us? And why are we learning Morse code? Those were some of the questions I’d ask myself very frequently. I was through with Catholicism and religion by the time I hit the 6th grade.
Yet, God reached out to me when I was at my darkest, most broken point in my life. Despite me not ever having a relationship with him, and even disdaining what he stood for, he had compassion over me and reached out to me like a heartbroken father would. That embrace was the most sincere and reviving experience I’ve ever encountered. Thanks be to God, who orchestrated my salvation even through all the self-destructive choices I made. What a wonderful God and father!
I believe that I was saved that very night, when he personally reached out to me. Saved as I was, I still continued to make conscious mistakes to hurt myself, other people, and even God after that incredible incident. I experienced my ‘honeymoon phase’ with Christianity, and then I became utterly lukewarm in my passion for God and my faith. As a forgetful human being, I’d soon forgotten all about the great encounter I had. I continued to make harmful choices both relationally and physically, all the while still going to church. I felt like I was attached to God by a thread. But right when I was beginning to lose hope yet again, he reached out to me in the nick of time and convinced my heart to take a leap of faith. I decided to go on a mission trip, and it was the best decision I had made since I accepted Christ into my life. The mission trip opened my eyes to the spiritual warfare that goes on every minute of the day. There truly is “no rest for the wicked.” The demons work extra hours to get us to the point of self-destruction, but the God of heaven’s armies is always steps ahead. On the mission trip, I was able to share my testimony with hundreds of people who have probably never even heard of Jesus before, and it empowered me to live with a purpose I’d never known before. It was that amazing P-word again. In my brokenness, I asked for purpose, and God gave me himself. If I had to choose only one lesson I learned from this eye-opening mission trip, it would be that there is a spiritual war waged for our souls. This reality catapulted me in a completely different direction in life. I soon started the TBM Project to sell art and used the proceeds to help local schools and homeless individuals. I gathered a group of young girls in my church and shepherded them in a group called The Ladies’ Covenant. I wrote about all of the great projects I spearheaded and it moved a UC Berkeley admissions tutor, who threw my personal statements in the “in” pile and gave me the chance of a lifetime to the attend the number one public university in the world. I did social justice work, got involved with my church’s nonprofit (WorldHarvest), and I lived out of the zeal and passion I received from my powerful encounter with God on the mission trip. I fell in love with God after spending so much time with him.
Let’s now fast forward to present day: November 2015. I’m still in love with Jesus, still working on getting children sponsored to go to school, still can’t believe I graduated from Berkeley, and still… depressed? How can that be? After all of those irreplaceable experiences and encounters with the creator of the universe, why am I still depressed? Well, there have been a lot of external stressors I can pinpoint, and quite a bit of reasons I can throw on the table that would widen your eyes, but that’s not the point. Bad things will always happen. My reaction to those bad things, however, could be changed, and I’m doing whatever it takes to take care of my own mental health so that I can keep falling in love with Jesus and not, you know, falling off a bridge instead. I’ve thought many times about jumping off of one, or even stabbing myself, but thank God for sending me the support I needed to push through till today. I’ve had such dark moments these past few months. It took all of my strength to not grab the closest sharp object and kill myself during those moments of extreme anxiety. Even writing about this stirs up so much anxiety inside of me that I’m trembling. My body remembers what it’s like to be that desperate for a way out. It is incredibly hard for me to type out these words because I have only shared these details with my counselor and my best friends. But I think there are more people who could relate to this than meets the eye, so this needs to be addressed.
The temptation of suicide is a real nagging ache, and it is so very difficult to shake off. Even while thinking of all of my current blessings, like a wonderful and Godly boyfriend, supportive best friends, comfortable shelter, and two great jobs, during times of extreme anxiety, even those blessings become stressors because I feel like I don’t deserve them. That’s why for those who understand where I’m coming from, you have to absolutely take advantage of your moments of calmness to take the action you need to help yourself when you are in deep distress. While you are still fine right now, please do these things for yourself:
1. Pick two or three people to share your last suicidal incident with, or your suicidal tendencies in general. Then write their names and contacts out on a piece of paper and have that with you wherever you are. When you’re freaking out, take out those contacts and either call them or give them a text to let them know that something is up. Don’t ever go through it alone.
2. Sign up for therapy or counseling, even if you’re feeling fine right now. You won’t be fine for long, trust me. Bad things will happen and it will set you off in a flurry. Having a counseling session scheduled each week will give you something helpful to look forward to. It’ll be the one place where you can vent your problems and the listener will actually know how to give you the help you need.
3. Stop adding TASKS onto your schedule. Keep your schedule as is, and only drop the things that stress you out the most. Then replace those things with outdoor exercise, like hiking. Don’t just leave holes in your schedule where you’ll feel lost and have your mind wander down stressful routes. Get outdoors! Sunshine and exercise will make a huge difference in your mood.
4. Make it a point to sleep at midnight at the latest everyday, and do breathing exercises to help ease you into sleep. Here’s one that I do everyday and it has greatly improved my sleeping schedule: Breathe in through your nose for 4 counts, hold for 4 counts, and then breathe out through your mouth for 8 counts. Do this for 4-5 minutes every night before you sleep. You’ll knock out like a baby.
Through all of my truly insane breakdowns, I could still see God’s hand at work in keeping me alive and well. He carried me through the storms using the people around me. My counselor said something at our last meeting that really stuck with me. He said that we should recognize those traumatizing events as having served their purpose. They brought me to know Christ and to meet the wonderful people I know now, but the thing is that they’ve already served their purpose. We don’t need them anymore. Now, we just have to say thank you to them and get rid of them. They’re not helping us anymore, so we don’t need them. That was so encouraging for me to hear because it is absolutely true. My pain and suffering really did serve a neat purpose in bringing me to where I am today. If it was so important to God that I should be shaped by these terrible events, that he painfully allowed them to happen, then I know that his plan for me is still ‘active’ and that I am still treading on the right path.
But to be completely honest, a lot of times, these negative events make me feel like I’m falling away from God’s grace. They make me doubt whether or not he even wants to help me at all. But the truth is that God’s grace abounds ESPECIALLY when we are at our weakest, because that’s when we get to share those rare moments of deep intimacy with him. He has always come through for me, even when I doubt. I know that there is still purpose for me to be here, exactly where I am in life—except I don’t need to be tied down by those traumatizing experiences anymore. They made me wiser and more independent, and they’ve allowed me to share those deep, dark, broken areas of my life with God and understand his heart like never before, but now it is time to get rid of their bad side effects. That’s all it is.
Do you have any trauma from the past that’s significantly affecting the way you react to negative situations today? I’m not going to pretend like I’m a professional therapist, but I do know why you should keep living and fighting it. You still have a purpose for being here. Your past got you to where you are, and who you are right now is fully loved and accepted by God, but you just have to work on getting those icky, traumatic after-effects out of your life. Don’t let the past hinder you from living an abundant life in the present. Invest time, effort, and even some money in improving your mental health. You’re still alive because there is still a great purpose for you, and you are still so, SO loved by the creator of the world. He holds you close to his heart, and it pains him when you’re in pain. He doesn’t look down on you and he doesn’t condemn you. He’s a good father. When you’re weeping, it makes him weep, too. He feels your pain but a hundred times deeper because you’re his child. And he wants you to get better. He’s going to set a table before you and throw a celebration for you after you walk through this dark valley together with him. He’s not going anywhere. He’s always with you, closer to you than your next breath. Read that over and over again, and let it settle in the back of your mind. The next time you have a breakdown or one of those terrifying moments of apathy, think to yourself: But God is so close. He is closer to me than my next breath.
That is exactly why I keep going, and why I didn’t jump into the Arroyo no matter how envious I felt of Sam Sarpong. I recently circled the bridge four times, and finally drove back to my apartment with the vague sense of God being close to me, and I broke down. It was a hard moment, but I had the head knowledge that there was still purpose to my being here. I was not “stuck” at all. I’m journeying through this vast dark valley, but God is holding my hand and steadying me along. He remains closer to me than my next breath, even when my mind prevents me from sensing his presence.