A little while ago, Kyle came in the house from running errands, took one look at me and said, "You're just sitting there crying?"
"Yessssssss," I sobbed.
I told him how I had clicked through to a link a friend had shared on Facebook, a link that is getting lots of likes and shares, a link written by a blogger who long ago figured out the formula for pageviews and works it for all he is worth, seemingly with the little regard for who is wounded in the wake of his prophetic digital preaching.
I had promised myself I wouldn't read his words anymore, wouldn't dignify his sentiments with so little as a mouse click, but this friend who posted it is dear to me and I thought maybe I should go look and see.
And what I read there devastated me.
Following his musings on suicide as choice, he wrote of depression more generally, saying
Second, we can debate medication dosages and psychotherapy treatments, but, in the end, joy is the only thing that defeats depression. No depressed person in the history of the world has ever been in the depths of despair and at the heights of joy at the same time. The two cannot coexist. Joy is light, depression is darkness. When we are depressed, we have trouble seeing joy, or feeling it, or feeling worthy of it.
And that's when I fell apart a little bit.
Flashes of the past eighteen months of life filled my mind in technicolor:
I see myself laying in my bathtub, staring out the window, choking back sobs of prayer, begging God to please, please lift this darkness I could not shake.
I remember staggering down the basement stairs with a load of laundry, standing over my washing machine and whispering against the noise of the tub filling with water, "God, if you are real, please heal me."
I think of the time I burst into tears in the grocery store when a well-meaning elderly woman stopped me with my double stroller full of twins and groceries and proclaimed how blessed I was and all I could think was "then why do I hate my life?"
In that season, I went back to my roots: reading the Bible, praying, singing songs of praise, trying to keep gratitude lists. No matter what I did, no matter how hard I prayed, no matter how often I cried out, I couldn't force my mind to course-correct. I was acutely aware of how broken my brain was but felt absolutely powerless to fix it.
And yet in the midst of that dark time, my heart absolutely thrilled with joy. Watching the boys sleep next to each other, tucked into each other because that's how you sleep when that's all you know - it made my heart crack wide open with joy. Silly conversations and long hugs from my girls, giggly text messages from my husband ... yes, there was light and joy and love and moments of clarity in the midst of those hard, hard days.
And then like a troll from the old children's stories, Depression would be on the scene to gobble my joy right up.
The beautiful glimpses of joy were precious grace to me, but no matter how tightly I wrapped my fingers around that joy, I couldn't find a way to make that joy fix my broken thoughts.
But strangely, I was able to fix one thing as a result of depression. I was able to fix my thoughts about my childhood growing up as a child of parents who battled depression. As I got older, I would speak into their darkness, "You just need to get back in church!" "You just need to get back in the Bible!" "You just need to be better at spiritual warfare!"
I so desperately, desperately wanted them to see the solution for their depression was just so easy if they would just let God fight this thing for them. And I so desperately, desperately wanted for the joy of family life to be enough to make them choose to keep the darkness at bay.
I wanted their souls to be better, stronger, more determined. I had no idea at all what their brains were going through. But now I know. And I am humbled beyond words.
I guess that's why I feel compelled to write today. Had I read this blogger's words ten years ago, I probably would have thought, "Darn tootin! The joy of the LORD Is our strength! That's the cure for depression right there!" And if I had read this blogger's words one year ago, my fragile grasp on peace would have been destroyed because I would have read in his words that not only is my brain incapable of working right, my very soul - my soul who found no lasting solution in joy - was damaged, too.
In a moment of poetic justice that I am smiling on as a gift of grace, immediately after I read the words of one blogger that tore my heart to shreds, I found light and healing in the words of another blogger, one of my long-time favorites, Simcha Fisher. In her article on What Does The Church Teach About Suicide at National Catholic Register (spoiler: it might be different than what you thought), she writes:
We do not believe in a Mental Prosperity Gospel, where God rewards His faithful ones with a sense of well-being and good cheer. A good many of the saints were as close to God as they could come -- Mother Teresa comes to mind -- and yet they struggled constantly against the darkness. Depression and mental illness are not a sign of personal sin, but one of many signs of the weakness we all inherited when Adam sinned.
Amen and amen. And to her words I would add not that we inherited not only weakness but also a propensity for brokenness and that all of us would do well to be ever aware of that as we navigate our interactions with others.
There is no epilogue to my story yet. I have found tremendous help in some supplements that have significantly helped re-balance the chemicals in my brain, but even still there are days when something as insignificant as a skipped naptime sets off familiar tremors and I find myself like a cat resisting being put in her carrier, claws-out and angst-filled at the thought of being closed in that cage again. (Um, that analogy might be really specific to Cat People, but if you've ever tried to put a cat in a carrier, YOU KNOW.)
But the gift I will take forward from my struggles with depression is knowing on a heart-level what it is to feel that the God you love has abandoned you to the dark, I know what it is to feel staggering guilt that the family you love isn't enough to pull you back from the dark, and I know what it is to both loathe the working of your brain and feel powerless to fix it.
It is a gift because never again will I suggest to someone that the solution is so easy. It is a gift because I can now speak to other Christians about the struggle, offering to them dignity instead of shame. It is a gift because when I read of suicide or other depression-driven acts, my first response is to sob rather than preach. And it is a gift because I can say with certainty that the LORD is close to the brokenhearted even if He feels far, far away.