I crept into my bathroom, late one summer evening. My bathroom’s pale-yellow glow reminded me of a run-down hotel room. One with hidden cockroaches, bed bugs, and various stains on over-used mattresses. Just enough light for me, as I didn’t want to be seen. Or noticed. Or heard.
I was 25 years-old, had a job, a cool roommate, and a large group of fantastic friends. Everything was fine.
I opened the bottom drawer of the vanity and pulled out the black MK bag. Surely something sharp would be in there. I would “just” need a tiny slit, a small opening. Enough to release the pain that darkened my mind and crushed my chest. I held a sharp nail file in my hand, then shoved it back in the bag, and bolted from the dimly lit room. I catapulted into my twin bed, as I kicked my bedroom door closed. Tears ran down my cheeks. I pulled my quilt over my head, desperate to make myself small.
A few months later, I sat on a worn sofa in a therapist’s office. I wore a dark hoodie and dark jeans. I pressed my body into the cushions, trying very hard to fade into it. She asked me why I was there.
“I don’t really know actually. Counseling is for married people who are thinking about divorcing.”
When I was a young girl, I sat in a church service where the pastor recommended, if you felt sad, that you bake a cake for another person as an instant boost. He also said that reading the Bible more would cure any blues or depression. While I will never negate the power of Scripture, nor the uplifting effects of doing good deeds for others, this is a misguided view of how to treat mental health issues.
That is where I had relegated the notion of getting help: only if I was married and having problems loving my husband would it be okay for me to go to counseling.
No wonder I couldn’t admit I was suffocating.
I felt like an impostor, sinking into this therapist’s couch, questioning my choice to come, feeling a weight so heavy in my chest that it hurt to breathe. The shame surrounding depressed people, anxious people, and sad people keeps them walled away from help. It takes courage to ask for help. It takes bravery to step out from the crowd, to be different, and say, “I’m suffering.”
I was trying to be brave, but it felt like I was rolling a giant boulder up a hill. This is no heroine’s journey. I was simply lost, and sad, and worthless.
I was experiencing this while being known at work, at church, and among friends and family as the “smiling one” and “so sweet.”
Depression is non-discriminate.
Six months into my therapy sessions, I wrote this in my journal:
In my head it’s figured out and logical. It isn’t selfish. It’s thinking of them. If I left, faded away, was forgotten, my parents would have their sons. My brothers wouldn’t have a sister they don’t understand. My grandparents wouldn’t have to worry about the “worldly granddaughter”. Courtney could find another roommate. Amber would have one less needy friend. Thomas would find another girlfriend—a prettier, skinnier, funnier, smarter one. Target certainly would go on. The world of retail would not blink an eye at the absence of one more Guest Service Team Leader. The church might say, “Oh she was nice.” Everyone would go on with their lives. I wonder if they would notice I was gone. I wonder if they would speculate why I’d left. I wonder if anyone would cry.
I only shared pieces of this with my therapist because I didn’t want her to have to feel I was in danger. She would have been obligated to do something, of course. I portrayed myself to be as functional as I possibly could. I glossed over the deepest, darkest parts of what was inside me. I was afraid she would have me hospitalized, otherwise. Maybe she should have.
Oddly enough, for me, this practice of “faking it until I made it” significantly helped my brain improve. My frontal lobe grew to accept certain truths. My symptoms of depression receded as I worked with my counselor. My doctor prescribed me medication.
I no longer thought about hurting myself. I no longer struggled to leave my house. I could face the world again with strength and dignity. I could run and write and think clearly again.
I am lucky.
So many others are not.
However, do not mistake improvement for a cure.
Depression still lurks inside me.
Inside this smiling face right here. The smile for which I am still known.
Depression showed up after my baby was born. It reared its head when I lost my job in 2014. It tormented me when I gained weight, then lost weight, then gained weight. It came knocking when I switched careers, when the bank account ran low, and when my friend died.
There is no rhyme or reason to it. I wish I had a road map with a giant sign that reads, “Warning! Dark days ahead!” But it doesn’t work that way. The brain is far more complicated than this.
And I am so dog-gone tired of not talking about it.
In the Independent Baptist culture in my childhood, we would often sit at dinner tables, dressed in dark suits and fancy dresses, talking grandly of our plans to save the world. Whether the meal was served on real china or paper plates, it came with a side of superiority. We knew we were saved. We knew we were Heaven-bound. We knew we had the answers.
Such a pity for everyone else.
They did not. They were out. They were other.
The problem was, we forgot who we were on the inside. James, in his short book in the New Testament, says, “We all struggle in many ways.”
From my perspective, there is the perpetual belief among Christians that just because we follow Christ that we are better. That healing is automatic. That we are safe from tortures of the mind more than any other human.
There is a danger in thinking that because grace has saved us, that we are rescued from all other struggles, pain, and suffering. This encompasses our mental wellness. Physical pain is still socially acceptable malady among believers. Even if only my head hurts, I still garner sympathy. “Oh, I hope you feel better! Oh, I hope you are on the mend!”
I am done pretending I am okay all the time because I have so many good things and people in my life. I’m being honest about my inner life, so that others will follow my lead.
Because honest conversations bring healing.
We need to stop assuming just because someone looks healthy and happy on their Instagram that they are fine. We should start having real conversations with people. Face-to-face. No phones. No texts. Words to words. Our calling – my calling – as Christ followers is to go into uncharted territory with a “yes and! You are not alone! You are loved and you are going to be okay!”
I am writing this today because I have had people in my life who said, “Yes and” to me. They did not treat me as diseased. They did not judge me. Instead, they looked at me, full on, and said, “We love you.”
My husband who comforted me again and again in the wee hours of the night, saying, “You are more.”
The roommate who pulled me from the couch (in the most loving way) to take me to dinner or to a movie or to a family game night.
The friend who helped me fill out paperwork for a counseling center and attended the first session with me when I was so nervous that it seemed I had forgotten how to hold a pen.
The therapist who worked with me.
The medication that helped stabilize me.
I’m still here because of caring people, the actions of good friends, and helpful medication. This support system worked for me. Perhaps I haven’t opened up about it enough. Perhaps I didn’t want to draw too much attention to myself.
Now, though, it’s time to express my gratitude.
I was never alone.
Neither are you.
It’s time to stop the ostracizing of those of mental health issues. It’s time to stop thinking that people who seem “normal” and “functional” are just fine. We need more grace extended towards those who suffer from depression, anxiety, or other mental distress. We need to normalize asking for help. We need to extend out branches of hope to our family, our friends, and our neighborhoods, because we don’t know which child, teenager, or adult may be crying alone, under some covers, thinking their life doesn’t matter.
It’s time to recognize that everyone, at some point in their life, needs a little help. It’s time to wash away any shame associated with asking. It’s time to get out of our comfort zones and be there for those around us, in whatever way we can.
I recently had this experience with two close friends around my kitchen table. We held mugs of tea and opened our hearts to each other. Shared our stories. Communed. Nothing was held back in this conversation, which was bathed in love and respect. We rolled all the dark stuff out into the light. There were tears. Then laughter. Then hugs.
Only acceptance and grace reigned in my kitchen that day.
My goal is to repeat this experience as often as possible.
Until from the pulpits in churches, pastors say that they suffer from anxiety and depression too, and that medicine and therapy are God’s gifts….
Until inside our health care system, we offer valid coverage for mental health and wellness….
Until we start sharing that therapy is good, that medication helps, that exercise and nutrition are vital to the brain….
Until we stop assuming most of us are okay because of glistening social media pictures…
Until we start checking on our friends, our family, and our neighbors with watchful, caring, compassionate eyes…..
Until we stop pretending we have all the answers and shut up and listen….
Until we remove the stigma associated with asking for help with our mental health….
Until we put these actions into practice every day and commit to taking small steps toward tighter communities and stronger support systems,
We won’t see any change.
And change is desperately needed.
I’m not saying we will all be cured….or that everything will magically be better…or that depression, anxiety, and the myriad of other mental health illnesses won’t rear their ugly heads….
But at least, for the love of God and all His children…. we will be talking about it.
For resource to help with mental health issues, please visit: