The Battle of Redemption.

…Death wrapped its ropes around me;  The terrors of the grave overtook me. I saw only trouble and sorrow.  Then I called on the name of the Lord. “Please Lord, save me!”How kind the Lord is! How good He is! So merciful, this God of ours! The Lord protects those of childlike faith; I was facing death and He saved me. Let my soul be at rest again, For the Lord has been good to me. He has saved me from death, My eyes from tears, My feet from stumbling……..In my anxiety I cried out to You, These people are all liars! You have freed me from my chains. I will offer you a sacrifice of thanksgiving And call on the name of the Lord. 

Psalm 116:3 NLT

            Redemption doesn’t always mean healing: A believer’s battle with mental illness.

The couch was ready and waiting for me, but I wasn’t happy about it. As I sat down with my therapist for our first meeting, my mind was flooded of all the other times I’d been in therapy. I knew the drill. I tell the therapists what’s bothering me, they ask me questions, validate me and I schedule a follow-up appointment. Over the past twenty-five years I’ve seen numerous therapists. My experience with therapy was mostly positive. My journey with therapy began with the suicide of my father, at the young age of twelve.  As I grew both physically and mentally the need for therapy only grew. Not until my twenties did I fully began to process all that I had experienced and how it affected me. I buried five members of my family by the age of eighteen. Not exactly a typical teenage experience. I entered college just desperate to be a normal kid. I realized very quickly I wasn’t. Now in my thirties, on my third diagnosis with depression I was at a loss. I didn’t even know where to begin. I hadn’t seen a therapist since the beginning of my marriage when I struggled with feelings of abandonment.   Because it was this was my first meeting, the therapist asked that I give a timeline of my life; my episodes with depression. I thought to myself buckle up lady, you’re in for a ride. 

            I took her through the twist and turns of my life. Burying two grandfathers, a grandmother, a great grandmother and a father by the age of eighteen. College for the most part was a blur. I engaged in lots of self-destructive coping mechanisms and had a complete lack of structure. This is a recipe for disaster. Unfortunately, this wasn’t rock bottom.  I barely made it out of college. My mom breaking into my apartment and demanding I come home was definitely a highlight. After I managed to get my depression under control and seemed to be doing well, my best friend was killed in a motorcycle accident. At the same time a coworker took his life, I had a brush with the law and my mom getting married. A recipe for a relapse. It was not an easy story to share even twelve years removed. I explained how I was diagnosed with postpartum after my son, but with medication it was easily resolved. 

            Things were different this round of depression. I was equipped. My gloves were up, ready to battle, but all the routines and practices that had worked before weren’t working this time. As I sat there recounting my story, I was secretly begging for her to impart some words of wisdom that no one else had. More was at stake. I had a family. This affected everyone not just me.  Instead she took a punch to the gut. No warning, no heads up. 

“So, have you seen a psychiatrist before?” the therapist asked. 

“Uh, no.” I said. A psychiatrist is for people with severe mental illnesses. That’s not me.

“You’ve had major depression two other times, so it’s highly likely you’ll get it again.” 

 “You mean currently?” Surely, she was mistaken.  

“No, I mean again, after this time.”  

Clearly, I was at the wrong therapist’s office.  

            Not only was I depressed, but my depression would likely come back. Not just once, but multiple times over the course of my life. Oh, and I should probably be on medication the rest of my life. The rest of my life. Didn’t she know that I’d kicked it before? Didn’t she know that I did all the right things? Didn’t she know that I had fully given my life to Christ after my lowest point? She devastated a depressed person. Doesn’t seem possible, but she did. This is the vicious cycle of depression, anger and sadness. 

            I left that office more defeated than ever, not because of her, but because of the reality of what she had to say. This began a new journey, that I never saw coming. I’d actually have to spend the rest of my life learning how to live well with anxiety and depression.  Now what? 

            The only thing I knew to do was fight. I’ve survived much worse.  If this was going to be the card that I was dealt, then I was going to figure out exactly how to fight. Unfortunately, the Christian community seemed to be lacking. As I perused the Christian bookstore, eagerly searching for a book that would impart a new perspective, nothing appeared. Whether it was a book written by someone who was healed from their depression or a book about mental health from someone who had never experienced it, they were too fluffy. They weren’t realistic. They perpetuated the idea that mental health was a spiritual issue that could be healed with a greater faith. I had faith. Yes, there was plenty for me to work on, but I was a walking believer.  This only feeds the idea that there’s something wrong with me. That I’m different from the rest of the Christian community. This isn’t true. Yes, I believe that God can heal. Yes, I believe that sometimes our lack of faith fuels the flames of anxiety and depression, but that’s not always true. I am not the first nor will I be the last. 

            I thought about King David who struggled with depression. I thought about Paul who was desperately pleading for God to take the thorn taken out of his side. These were esteemed people of the Bible who struggled. Their lives were far from perfect.  Yet there were no books about their struggles, their stories of redemption. 

            One thing I knew for sure. Everything that happened to me was only wasted if I didn’t share my story. I wanted to encourage others. Not everyone would be cured this side of heaven, and that had nothing to do with their faith. Christians don’t get a hall pass from mental illness based upon their level of faith. We all have the thumbprint of Adam; we are all broken in some way.  

            It was time to recognize that truly faithful believers could have these struggles. Since no one was writing from this perspective, God stirred in me a desire to write. To share my story. I read voraciously. Articles, books, secular and faith-based. Everything I could find about anxiety and depression. My walls were filled with facts, stories ideas and questions about mental health. 

            As I began to share my passion for addressing mental health in the church, more and more people told me I should write about it. Everything was pointing me to writing including the nudging in my heart. I listened not just because of what others told me. I listened because they already confirmed what was on heart. God was nudging me in that direction.

            In the beginning it was just for me. I wrote to get it out. I wrote to vent and understand my story better. As time progressed and my writing went from something I did out of obedience to something I did for enjoyment, I began to see a larger picture. This was how God was going to redeem all that I had gone through. Everything wouldn’t be wasted if I could share my story and encourage others. 

            We must trust that God has a bigger, better and far more fulfilling plan.

Five Simple Ways to practically help someone who is grieving.

 Last year over eight million people suffered the loss of someone in their immediate family.  (http://www.griefspeaks.com/id113.html) Let that sink in, their immediate family. That’s a lot of hurting people. Grief is as much a part of life as death and taxes. It’s guaranteed. We all will lose someone we love, and our hearts will break. The question is how we can practically help our neighbors, friends and family through these times? There’s no better time to show the love of Christ. You can show others who Christ is without ever even mentioning His name. 

  1. Cook them a meal. If you aren’t in to cooking (or you aren’t a good cook) pick up food from their favorite restaurant. I’d strongly encourage you to not just send them a meal but take the time to hand deliver it. If you’re on you’re a game, bring them a second meal frozen. This is time as well to splurge on good food, because in the hours of grieving you tend not to eat and when you do it’s been awhile. 
  2. Drop by their house unexpectedly or call them on the phone. As time passes those who are grieving are still in pain, while the funeral is over, and the planning is done those left behind are still in pain. Six months after losing a major family member you are still hurting like it happened yesterday. You still need someone to say I remember that your life has changed, and I still need someone to say I remember. 
  3. Invite them over.One of the hardest things after someone has died is the quiet. I mean quiet like you have never experienced. Quiet because someone is no longer there. Their walk, their smile, their presence, always knowing they’ll be in that same chair. There is great comfort in the consistency of someone you love. There is also great emptiness when they are gone. The loss is felt and noticed. 
  4. Do the daily tasks.For us there were so many things to think about. So many things that other person did you don’t even realize until they’re gone. Offer to mow their lawn, take care of their kids, send them out to do something for themselves. Help with chores around the house. Sometimes the simplest of tasks can be the most daunting because you’re so overwhelmed by all the other big changes. 
  5. Do all of these things even a year later.For the most part 3 months later, most of these things are forgotten and you go back to your life, but theirs is forever altered. Theirs will never look the same. Everything is different, and a new normal is beginning to develop. A new normal with a very large hole. 

Above all else pray for this person. Pray frequently and often. Bring them into your life into your every day. You don’t need to get out your best china, and prepare the fanciest meal, just have them over and fix what you have. My best memories of dinner with families involved the comfort of the chaos. A house full of kids and friends and smack in the middle of their daily routines. Nothing fancy, nothing special, nothing to make me feel set apart. The greatest gift you can give is inviting them in to your every day. 

What are some practical things people have done for you in your hour of grief?

Fellow warrior,

Sara

Above all love each other deeply, because love covers a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. 1 Peter 4: 8-9