This last year has been one of the most challenging years of my life. I wish I could point at each challenge that I faced and say, “look how well I handled it” or “my faith never wavered”, but I’m not about those lies. I want to be real and genuine.
The truth is, I spent a lot of time this last year struggling; I felt distant from God and isolated from those around me. Some of that is from my own sin and stubbornness, but the other piece of it is that big, ugly elephant in the room that no one wants to talk about. That elephant’s name is depression and he’s made his presence known in many aspects of my life. Depression has been something I have dealt with for years, but it became overwhelming this year.
The thing I learned about depression this last year, is that it doesn’t come on all at once. It wasn’t like I was happy and functioning one day, and then feeling hopeless and withdrawn the next. Slowly, over the course of a few months, darkness set in. Like when you’re reading at home in the early evening when the sun begins to set, and all of the sudden you realize you’re sitting in the dark because you haven’t turned any lamps on. So you need to get up to turn on a lamp so you can continue reading. Except with depression, getting up to turn on that lamp seems like an insurmountable challenge that you can’t possibly overcome. So you’re just sitting in the dark, hoping that you will muster the strength to get up or that someone will come in the room to turn on the light for you. This is just one of the metaphors that could be used to describe my experience with depression over the last ten years.
Depression is something that many people deal with, yet is something that is still very difficult to talk about. This last year, I learned the importance of reaching out and talking to someone who is capable of listening (that’s my subtle way of promoting going to therapy – it will change your life). I have some incredible friends who were instrumental in helping me to climb out of the pit of depression, but I couldn’t rely on them to pull me out if I wasn’t going to put some effort into it on my own.
That effort was a lot easier said than done. Especially when it took place during one of the most difficult years of my life. This year, I faced rejection and really truly doubted myself. I felt worthless and inadequate compared to my peers who were doing so well. I felt like a failure. It took everything inside of me to pick myself up off the ground and keep pursuing my dreams. Needless to say, all of this happening on top of an existing diagnosis of depression made it feel like there was nothing I could do to get my head above water. But I kept going. I knew there had to be something better for me.
During the week when I was devastated about one of my biggest hopes being deferred (which happened to be the week of the eighth anniversary of The Day I Didn’t Die), I came across this verse.
These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised, since God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect. (Hebrews 11:39-40)
While this verse gave me so much comfort at the time, it was still so hard for me to believe that it was true. That God had planned something better for me than anything I could have planned for myself. Even with my own doubt, I kept going, holding on to that thread of hope that God had planned something better.
These last few months, I have been living out part of the “something better” God had planned for me. And it has been amazing. But is my depression suddenly cured? Absolutely not. In some ways, it’s been more challenging. I’ve been alone more than I’ve been around people. I’ve worked lots of hours in an environment that is amazing but also exhausting. I haven’t had the energy or motivation to do the things I need to do on my days off. I’ve spent a lot more time in traffic, causing all of this hidden anxiety about driving to come to the surface. It hasn’t been easy.
But you know what’s been great? Finding the sweet moments in the midst of the bitter ones. Taking long walks on the beach when it’s cold and empty. Going on adventures by myself and learning to enjoy my own company. Opening up to those around me about my struggles and being met with nothing but support and encouragement. Recognizing that hard days happen and it’s okay to take a step back when those days come up.
It is my hope that my words might provide some insight. If you are struggling with depression: know that you are not alone in the dark. If you have a friend that struggles with depression: let them know they are not alone in the dark. Please don’t just walk into that dark room, turn on the brightest light, and ask “what’s wrong with you?” Please don’t walk in with the equivalent of a votive candle and think that will change their life. Sit with them in the darkness until they feel safe enough for you to turn on a light.
Depression isn’t something that defines me. But it is something that is a reality in my life (and in the lives of many, many others). It’s not easy, but it’s real.
With eternal encouragement and good hope.