World Mental Health Awareness Day
My junior year of high school, I saw a counselor once a week for several months. I saw her and she saw me. She saw the very worst parts of me. My darkness, the raw pain that I had buried, all of my tears of sadness and anger and frustration. She was incredible. She prayed with me, cried with me, helped me uncover the roots of my self destruction and much, much more. To this day she is the most Jesus-like person I have ever met, but that's beside the point. A little less than a month ago I ran into her at a conference in Lexington. We shared many hugs and smiles but the most significant part of our encounter was when she told me that I "looked beautiful" and that I was "glowing," not because I appreciated the compliments but because I knew how she meant them. I knew she wasn't talking about my physical appearance. I knew she could see my spirit and I knew that when she saw me, the girl she saw was very different from the one she saw 3 years ago. I knew she could see how far God had carried me.
Let me take you through a brief summary of my past, not to dwell on it but solely for the purpose of testifying what God has done for me.
From my 8th grade year through my freshman year of college, I battled a pretty severe case of depression. Now depression looks very different for different people but one thing is for certain: it changes who you are completely. It sucks your life away. I remember coming home from school and sleeping for several hours, waking up to eat dinner long after everyone else had already eaten, taking a shower and going straight back to bed because that's all I had the energy for. Many days I couldn't even muster up the strength to get out of bed. I gave up on school, my perfect grades went down the drain, I didn't want to go anywhere or do anything or see anyone. The things that I loved were no longer enjoyable for me and my relationships with the people around me withered away to nothing. I intentionally damaged my body for years because it made me feel something when I was otherwise numb to the world around me.
I absolutely believe that depression is a direct attack from the enemy and no one can tell me any different. On one hand I was told, "you're being dramatic" and "you're just looking for attention" and on the other hand I was told, "it's just part of being a teenager" and "everyone goes through it." But they didn't know. They didn't know that every day I laid in bed wondering why anyone would ever have to go through that kind of pain. They didn't know that most nights I cried myself to sleep begging someone to just please make it stop. They didn't know that I spent a lot of time thinking of ways to kill myself because death would certainly be better than continuing to live here in this hell. Throughout those years I did attempt to take my life on more than one occasion. I (obviously) was never successful and I never understood how or why. God always showed up and intervened but I never recognized that for what it was. Either someone I loved very much showed up on my doorstep on a night I shut myself in my bedroom with a loaded gun, or I woke up the next morning after taking handfuls of mixtures of pills from our medicine drawer, or my body cleansed itself after I had drank myself into unconsciousness, or the cars coming toward me somehow always managed to stop just in time instead of hitting me when I would run red lights on Nicholasville Road in the middle of traffic. Whatever it was, it never made sense.
But now it all makes perfect sense. God stepped in every time because He wasn't done with me. He knew I would overcome and share these stories, and that people would know that it was only by His goodness that I made it out alive. I would never wish the things I went through upon my worst enemy but I am thankful that God allowed me to walk through them because through the process I have developed so much compassion and understanding for mental illness and have been able to help people I love and even people I don't know through their own battles.
I can't pinpoint a specific day or time when I was delivered from depression because it didn't happen overnight or instantly. I'm not telling you it just magically disappeared because it didn't. I'm not telling you it's easy because it wasn't. It took time. It took prayer. It took me deciding that I wasn't going to claim it over my life. There are still days when the enemy takes the form of depression and rears his ugly head but instead of allowing myself to saturate in it, I take authority over my mind and stand against it. God taught me to be very intentional about speaking life and positivity into myself and I'm still doing it because it works. I spent (and still spend) my time in the car and in the shower listening to worship music because it opens the door to the presence of God instead of pouring negativity into me the way most secular music does these days. I often read stories of people like Job and David in the Bible who also battled depression to encourage myself. I try to watch uplifting podcasts or funny TV shows instead of the news because I know that the latter is meant to brainwash me to believe the worst about the world. I surround myself with people who radiate positivity and who I know will cover me in prayer because I don't have time for anyone who speaks nothing but negativity. I seek council from God because I know that the world will point me to temporary fixes that will eventually leave me feeling more empty than when I started. I am very careful about what and who I allow into my life because I know that my mental health is very important and very fragile.
So no, I can't give you a time when my depression melted away. However, what I can give you is a snapshot of my life now as opposed to a year ago. Overall, I am happier than I have ever been. I love my life, I cherish every moment and I recognize that every single breath is a blessing. I genuinely look forward to the days to come and I am so excited about my future, which is something I never thought I'd be able to say. I do my very best to walk in the Joy of the Lord and to spread that joy to the world around me. That's who I am. That's who I wanna be, it's who God created me to be. It's how He wants me to live. Happy.
If you've never battled a mental illness, I encourage you to educate yourself. Do research, ask God for understanding and for compassion. Be kind. Listen to people when they reach out. Give them grace, be patient with them. Love them and most importantly, pray for them. They could be struggling to survive and you'd never know.
And if you're currently fighting a war inside your mind against depression, anxiety (this is a big one for me but I'm still in the process of trying to break it), PPD, bipolar disorder, OCD, addiction, MPD, any eating disorder, PTSD, whatever it may be, I want to encourage you as well. First of all I want to tell you to keep fighting. Wake up every morning and tell yourself that there's no way you're giving up now, you've made it this far and you'll make it even further. Remember the times you wanted to let go so badly and God gave you the strength to hold on. Do more of what makes you laugh. Get around people who will speak life into you until you learn to speak it into yourself. Reach out and ask for prayer. Someone will stand in the gap for you and cover you and if you don't know anyone who will, I would love to pray for you. Talk to someone. But if I can encourage you to do one thing more than anything else, talk to God. About anything and about everything. He will listen. Make Him your best friend. He will carry you. I am living proof.
"Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light" // Matthew 11:28-30
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A child of God who believes God can set the captive free.