“Depression increases our longing for the
Healing one, yet veils our view of him.”
- Rev. Dr. Kathryn Greene-McCreight, Darkness is My Only Companion
Not too long after I wrote the preceding article, I experienced another terrible panic attack on the 210 Freeway. Everything happened so quickly that I’d forgotten what sparked my anxiety altogether. All I remember from that experience is that I had felt the lows of depression and the highs of stress and anxiety all day, and something trivial finally happened to ignite my brain and trigger a full on suicidal panic attack. As soon as I got onto the 210 Freeway heading homeward, I sobbed my eyes out. The next thing I knew, I was screaming so loud my own ears were shocked. I screamed until my vocal chords didn’t allow me to scream any longer. I damaged them pretty badly. By this point, I think I was going about 2 miles per hour on the freeway. Cars were avoiding me left and right. Rather than being afraid of getting into a car accident, however, I felt more lonely and lost than ever. Through my blurry vision, I saw myself lost in a sea of cars—every one of them avoiding me (for good reason). I was like a sore splinter—unwanted, avoided, dreaded.
To make matters worse, I began to experience something so terrifying I could only describe as the sudden withdrawal of the presence of God. I know that we don’t normally walk around feeling God’s presence everywhere, but most of the time, as Christians, we have this lingering sense of his presence that keeps us hopeful and comforted. In that particular moment, however, it felt as if that lingering presence was completely taken away from me. Gone. I was absolutely terrified. Through my sobs, I screamed out, “DAD, WHERE ARE YOU?! I’m LOST. Where did you GO?!” I don’t even know how many times I repeated those indignant questions. I demanded that he showed himself to me. I couldn’t wrap my head around why he would abandon me at that time, when I desperately needed his comfort the most. Of all the emotions I was experiencing, I never thought I’d have to experience God’s utter abandonment. I was infuriated, disappointed, and scared out of my mind. I wouldn’t wish this feeling upon my worst enemy. It gave me a true taste of what hell might look like—godless, abandoned, and excruciatingly dark.
Somehow, I got home safely (now I know that it was by his divine providence). I raced up the stairs to my apartment with only one thought on my mind. I opened the kitchen cabinet once more—a repeated scene of my mid high school years, and I bent over the kitchen counter wielding my choice of weapon. I couldn’t bring myself to do it. A few ‘tests’ showed that the darn thing was too blunt, and I was too afraid of the pain. I was enraged at how cowardly I behaved. I couldn’t even bear the physical pain of hurting myself. I hope you’ll never have to go through the same pathetic experience as I did—caught in between the ‘cowardice’ of life and the painfulness of death. When it comes to fragile moments like these, I think that God’s angels are fighting to keep you alive. I imagine that they’re scrambling frantically to get you to notice something—anything—that’s worth holding onto. At that moment, I was convinced to throw the dull knife down when a loved one decided to rush over to help me. I would never forget the details of that painful night. Just having a soul there to weep with me through the pain helped me bind up some of my mental wounds and heal for the night. I calmed down in their embrace and found the will to utter, “I felt the withdrawal of God’s presence.” I couldn’t even bring myself to explain any further—I was already shaking and shuddering from that reminder. It was absolutely terrifying. There really is no other way to describe how scary the lack of God actually feels. In retrospect, however, I now know that it was a symptom of my depression. God didn’t leave me there on that freeway all by myself; neither did he abandon me while I struggled to kill myself in my kitchen. If he weren’t there, I would’ve been gone.
“My brain certainly was sick, and my mind was sick,
but God held my soul firmly throughout,
keeping me longing for him—even though it felt to me
as if I had been abandoned.
Abandonment, however, is not God’s way of operating.”
- Rev. Dr. Kathryn Greene-McCreight
The problem is that depression and anxiety oftentimes block our view of God. It really does suck because we tend to seek God the most when we’re hurting, but this particular type of hurt prevents us from feeling his presence. Like Rev. Dr. Kathryn Greene-McCreight explains in Darkness is My Only Companion, “During a depression, as during Noah’s flood, the good providence of God is hidden from view.” In my personal experience, I found this to be convincingly true. It is not that God plays hide and seek with us, or that he is ashamed of us and thus chooses to leave when we’re at our lowest. No, I imagine that he sits through the pain with us and sends help for us. He is proactive in preserving us, even if we can’t feel him. Another thing I found to be extremely comforting is the fact that our relationship with him is not at all based on our feelings. Like Greene-McCreight powerfully explains, “If we really believed that feeling is the essence of the Christian faith, the depressed Christian would be given all the more ammunition for self-destruction.” I believe this passage to be true, because if our entire relationship with God is based on how well we feel we’re doing with God, then the ones who are diseased with apathy are utterly doomed. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Although our sickly brains and minds prevent us from perceiving his presence, our souls are still held firmly in his mighty hands. God’s relationship with us is based on his grace and mercy, not whether or not we could feel his presence. Despite our sick brains, our healthy souls are still held captive in his embrace—outside of our awareness. That is the power of the grace of God.
Rev. Dr. Greene-McCreight explains more of this in detail in her eye-opening book, Darkness is My Only Companion. Despite the ominous title, I assure you that this is one of the best texts you could read about how to reconcile Christianity with mental illness. I’ve been gobbling up as many Christian self-help books I could get my hands on because of my determination to battle this life-sucking disease. I want to desperately encourage you to not give into the temptation of giving in. Does that make sense? Sometimes, it is just so easy to let ourselves think, “Life sucks. I’d rather die instead. Why not? There’s nothing to live for, anyway.” Even if all of those things seem absolutely true in the moment, our apathy, or anxiety, is a master of blocking out the big picture. What is the big picture? When you zoom out of the crosshairs of “life sucks, I want to die, life is purposeless,” etc., you will see that:
1. You still have life in you, which in itself mean that you still have purpose. Chase that purpose down to the very end. Deck it out with God if you have to. He’d be more than willing to wrestle it out with you until you’re humbled by his truth.
2. People do care about you. Even if they’re not available during the times when you just happen to go through some of your episodes, it doesn’t mean that they don’t care enough about you. I fall into this trap all the time and it often comes close to pushing me over the edge. But it’s a lie. People do care; they’re just not perfect. And neither are we. If they’re unavailable, there are countless hotlines for us to consult. Even with pure strangers, we can experience a profound sense of care. YOU ARE CARED FOR!
If you ever experience something as detrimental as the hiddenness of God, as did I, your memory would serve you well. While you are still sober minded, it will be beneficial to remember that God’s presence is never dictated by your awareness. He is omnipresent—everywhere, at all times, during all circumstances. On the other hand, we are not omniscient. We don’t always have the awareness to detect his presence—especially when our brains are unhealthy. That is OKAY. Our relationship with God is NOT determined by our ability to sense his spirit. Our relationship with God is determined by his decision to love us and to keep our souls protected in his mighty hands. Let’s allow this head-knowledge save us from doing something regretful when we are flipping our lids. God is always with us— albeit above our shallow awareness.
I hope that this article will come in handy for those who could relate to me in some way. I hope that my experiences and small life lessons are of comfort to you and to those whom you love. I would love nothing more than for my measly writings to help those who feel like they are on the edge of life get to a more hopeful place. When it seems like there are all the reasons in the world to end our lives, God is always willing to give us just one more reason to hold onto. Just let go of your ammunition and let God reveal to you his amazing, tear-jerking, undeserving, PURPOSEFUL blueprint for your life. It’ll be worthwhile to stick around to see his perfect plans unveil.