We have all experienced moments in our life when we're listening to someone describe a feeling or a situation and suddenly we're seeing our own face appear along with their story. That's because you're relating to what they are saying and most times it can be reassuring. Maybe you're feeling heard? Maybe they've just given a voice to feelings you've had but could never quite explain and it feels liberating. Those moments are powerful, but have you ever been in that moment and felt completely defeated?
Sometimes when I'm getting ready for the day I like to listen to music or watch a show, but today instead of doing that I listened to a podcast by Ed Mylett where he interviewed Kayla Stoecklein. They spoke about mental health and the impact of her husband's death by suicide. I've struggled with depression in the past and often find other people's experiences very interesting because it's relatable to me, but I wasn't prepared for what I was about to experience listening to this podcast...
Kayla so gently explained how her husband struggled with anxiety attacks and how they came to learn that he was dealing with depression. It came as such a shock to them because he was this strong, steadfast man with such a love for the Lord so how could he be struggling with something so dark? Many people look at depression as a choice, like we choose to stay sad but that couldn't be farther from the truth. Depression is an illness. It's a physical condition and should be treated as one too.
I'll never forget a conversation I had with my mother when I was a teen. She said,
"Ash, I think you have depression and you need help."
I recall rolling my eyes and telling her she was wrong, "I'm just really really sad." I said as I pushed down the truth. See I was always taught that believers shouldn't struggle with mental health because they are supposed to possess this undeniable faith or something. You're not supposed to struggle if you're 'living right'. I didn't want people assuming that I didn't have a relationship with God or that I was somehow neglecting my faith. On the contrary, my faith was strong and I was probably spending more time in His presence than ever before, but I still couldn't shake this deep, dark sadness.
"Ash, if you had a heart condition would you go seek treatment?"
My mother's question seemed ridiculous.
"Of course!" I said, "I wouldn't want to risk dying."
She smiled as if I just exposed the punch line.
"EXACTLY!" she yelled. "Depression is a serious condition, and if left untreated you could have serious consequences. You could die!"....
I'll never forget that. Even though that conversation felt intrusive and heavy, I took my mother's advice and got some help. I accepted my pain for what it was and I began working on healing. I started to get better. My depression wasn't gone, but it became tolerable. I learned to live with it and when it would get bad again I was able to nip it in the bud before it showed its ugly face.
When I met my husband it was as if my mental illness finally left my body.
He was able to help mend so many past hurts, and for the first time in 10 years, I felt like I could breathe. We've been married for almost two years now and our marriage has been amazing, but last summer I miscarried our first baby and that shattered me. I still persevered despite it all. I pressed into my faith and I said, "God, I don't understand this, but I accept it." and I tried to move on as best as I could. 3 months after that I fell pregnant again and lost that pregnancy as well.
So many questions filled my mind and I began to let disappointment back into my life. My husband suggested we not try for another baby for a year or two and that pushed me farther back into this all familiar hole. Suddenly I felt like dreams of mine had died and I didn't know if I could move on if I had to constantly mourn things that I had held so dear to my heart for so many years... So I faked being okay because I was NOT going to accept that I was dealing with depression again.
I began to have panic attacks due to the bottled up emotions. They were so severe that I would end up having chest pain that lasted for days after each episode. I had random outbursts of crying, and I often found myself full of anger.
After I have a meltdown I'm usually good for the next week or so. It's like I let out all the pressure, but I still don't deal with the core issue so it just ends up happening again...
This has been my routine for the past 2 months, but today I had to face an ugly truth.
I was listening to the Ed Mylett podcast I mentioned, and as I listened to what led Kayla Stoecklein's husband to his death I began to see my face in place of his...
He had debilitating panic attacks yet he would continue his day to day life. He had such an amazing family and support system, but it just wasn't enough. He had outbursts of anger that he couldn't control, and had expressed his suicidal thoughts with his wife... and he still took his own life. It was like I was listening to someone recount events in my own life and I just couldn't believe what I was hearing. I was living the same story, but I spent so much time denying it I didn't even realize the negative impact it was having on my future.
Like I said at the beginning of this post, we all have moments where we see ourselves in other people's experiences and today I had one of those moments.
Instead of feeling heard or understood, I felt ashamed and defeated.
How could I have let it get so bad without seeking the right help?? I beat myself up about it. I even had to stop listening to the podcast because I felt such a heaviness.
In the midst of this, it was as if I felt Holy Spirit say to me "You are not weak. You are not broken beyond repair. You are hurting, and that's okay. Don't let this define you, but instead accept what you cannot change and improve on the things you can change."
I'm still learning... adjusting... but today's experience was eyeopening! I may still be dealing with mental illness due to traumatic events in my life, but at the end of the day, I am proud of myself for accepting that sometimes I need help. If you are struggling the first thing you should cut out of your life is denial. Stop pretending things aren't there. If you were bleeding you wouldn't ignore it. So why ignore this? Secondly, stop believing the lie that tells you you're a bad Christian if you struggle with mental illness. There wouldn't be so many scriptures about it if it wasn't something God knew we'd struggle with. And thirdly, accept what you can't change and improve on what you can.
You're going to make it. It may not look like that now, and you may need a gut-wrenching experience to help you realize, but nevertheless, you're going to be okay.