8.12.2014

The stories that need to be told

They're raw and painful. No matter how many times we say we know we're over it (it looks different for us all - sexual abuse, depression, addiction, physical abuse, the list goes on), the story comes flooding back one random day. For me, it was in the shower a few weeks ago. The tears remind you you're human and not unbreakable. They remind you that even with prayer and growth and acceptance, sometimes we are overcome and we can't do anything about it. We are all broken people. My broken probably looks different than yours. But we can relate because we're both broken in our own way.

The thing is, lately I've had this growing, nagging feeling that my stories need to be told. Many times in my life I've felt this pulling. When I was saved, I knew I needed to share my testimony. I even wrote it here on my blog one day and published it and then promptly deleted it. I didn't want to tell my story. I reserved it for the people very closest to my timid little heart. Even though I knew I'd been made new in Christ, I thought about those who have only known me since. How could they know the old me and still love me - heck, like me?

But God hasn't stopped. He's put this on my heart, over and over, and he's not going to give up until I listen.

Robin Williams allegedly committed suicide this week. I'm sure this isn't news to anyone at this point. Very few celebrity deaths impact me. I try to say a quick prayer for the family and loved ones left behind any time I hear of someone's passing, but rarely does a celebrity death bring me to my knees like this.

Twice I've battled the utterly enveloping depression demon. Once I tried to kill myself. I guess my personal philosophy has always been to keep your dirty laundry to yourself. Not that I've given tons of thought to it, just that my upbringing and my genetics sort of melded together to create this Silence Epidemic. Cry in private. Hide in the closet to feel the feelings. Smile around others no matter the agony inside. Don't burden your friends and loved ones with your turmoil. Give it to Jesus and you won't need anyone else.

Giving it up to Jesus is what we should strive for, but when it comes to disease, faith alone isn't your ticket to guaranteed healing. We live in a fallen world, and like one of my best friends reminds me often when I'm lamenting my kids' skin, we aren't guaranteed health. We aren't guaranteed healing. Not in this world, at least. Most of us still see the doctor and still take the drugs, despite our own faith. Except for the most extreme in our faith, we don't see our child on death's door and say, "No thanks," to the antibiotics because we know with enough prayer, Jesus will save our child. We just don't. Whether we believe the drugs are part of God's big plan or that God doesn't promise us all healing, in America, we still seek out answers to our ailings outside of the Bible. We trust in God and we trust in His plan for our lives, but that doesn't give us an excuse to sit by and do nothing and just expect Him to sweep in and save us.

When we keep inside the darkness and the despair, we do ourselves a disservice. We push away the ones who could help us and calm us and fill in for us when the days are too heavy. But when we fail to tell our stories to others, we do tremendous harm to those living in the darkness right now. As long as the stigma is there (and it takes about two minutes on Facebook today to see how alive and well the stigma surrounding mental health still is), and those of us who have hit the bottom, taken the pills or made the plan and live to talk about it stay silent, where is the hope for the sufferers? Without the survivors offering hope to the sufferers, it is so hard for the sufferers to see a light at the end of the tunnel.

Depression is a disease. It can be, in its worst form, an ugly, all-consuming blanket of dark and despair that one cannot escape. Mine hit me at age 22. It began as pretty situational stuff. I'd gotten myself into credit card debt and done some other things I was really, really ashamed of. The months of shame and blues suddenly turned into that all-consuming despair one random day. There had been no other trigger, but one day I couldn't speak. I could speak in my head, but words would not come out of my mouth. I had seizure-like episodes. My boyfriend of a whopping month (who, amazingly, is now my husband), took me to the emergency room. They ran all the tests and eventually asked me if my boyfriend was abusing me (ha...hahaha). Then they told me, in front of him, that it was all in my head and there was nothing medically wrong with me. They recommended I see a psychologist, and I did. She put me on an antidepressant and I went on my way, assuming all would be well soon. My episodes waxed and waned over the course of a few weeks, and I apparently even had some really bizarre flashback stuff.

Some days I had to write down what I wanted to say on paper because I just couldn't make the words come out of my mouth. I lost one of my best friends because she thought I was "crazy." I guess I was. But aren't we all, at some point, in some way? Shortly after I began taking my antidepressant, I started fantasizing about suicide. It became something that consumed my every waking moment. I researched the best ways to do it online for hours every day. I stopped going to my classes, I called in sick to work every day. I even found these horrible, dark websites where others went to share their same desires to end it all. It was so strangely out-of-body. I made my plan and I later executed it very matter-of-factly. I wrote out my notes and tossed them on the floor next to my bed. I knew what I was doing was absolutely horrible, but I was so outside of myself and in such despair I truly didn't know how life could ever be okay again. I tossed the pills in my mouth with such disregard for my own life. I read an analogy of a burning building, and jumping out of the window being the only possible solution one can find to escape the agony. I would say that is the truest explanation of the despair people in the darkest, deepest pits of depression feel. It's not rational. It IS a choice. But it's the same choice those people in the burning building face. Find a way out of the agony, jump and hope that you will escape the pain, all in a moment of sheer panic and despair.

I won't go into huge detail, but the moment I took the pills, I panicked and knew immediately that I wanted to hang on to hope for just a little longer. I wanted to wait for relief on this earth for just a few more days. So I called my then ex-boyfriend (now husband) and honestly don't remember a single thing after that. I just know that it all worked out and I stopped taking my anti-depressants the next day and I was one of the lucky ones who was able to make it out on the other side, totally happy and healthy a few months later, with no outside help. I don't advocate that. I think it's always best to find a professional and not just ride it out on your own, but my depression cloud lifted as quickly and strangely as it had formed over my life.

I got hit again in my third pregnancy, which I talked about pretty openly. It wasn't as severe, it didn't manifest in a suicide attempt, but it was still all-consuming, life-wrecking stuff. It was completely irrational, there was no real turmoil in my life. And that's the sad reality of mental illness. It is irrational. It's a chemical imbalance. It's a disease. You can't "choose joy" your way out of it. You can't think happy thoughts. You can't be rational in a state of medical irrationality. It logically doesn't even make sense. You can't expect those with cancer of the liver to just think happy thoughts and then their liver will suddenly function properly. Just like you can't expect someone with a disease of the brain to be able to think that disease away. To rationalize it out of existence. Especially when you consider that the actual organ affected is the very organ you need to do something like "choose joy." Your brain is what aids you in being rational. If your brain is malfunctioning in some way, does that even logically compute?

I've opened up about my suicide attempt in small, close circles of friends over the years. Surprisingly, my story has been met with many other stories just like mine. Sweet friends who've been to those depths of darkness and couldn't manage to find a thread of hope to hang on to. It's made me realize that there are an awful lot of us out there. Depression isn't selective - it can strike any of us at any time, regardless of skin color, affluence, education. Perhaps it's the result of a fallen world. Like eczema, we don't choose this disease. It chooses us, and once it does, we have to do what we can to survive despite it. There are so many resources out there for help, but often in the pits of irrationality, it takes another person reaching our their hand to you to guide you where you need to go. I had to be forced by my husband and midwife into a psychologist's office because in my mental state, there was absolutely no way I was going to rationally seek all that out on my own. If you know a friend or loved one suffering that greatly, it may not be enough to nudge them to find help. You may have to drag them, kicking and screaming.

As long as we keep our skeletons in the closet, we keep silent the hope that could have saved Robin Williams. When I was struggling greatly in my third pregnancy, I desperately sought out others online who had experienced what I was going through. I needed to know that it was temporary, that it was probably pregnancy-related, and that if I could just hang on, there was hope for me, because others had survived and lived to tell the tales.

Tell your tale. Give hope to the hopeless.