Back in August, I wrote this post in an effort to illuminate, in a surfacy sort of way, the dark valley through which I am currently walking. Until now I have been hesitant to write much more about it. Depression’s got a bad reputation in Christian circles. Surely, if one is depressed, then one must be engaging in some sort of great sin. And if one sees a therapist? Might as well walk through the doors of the church with that scarlet letter tattooed on one’s chest. This is, in our plastic-molded mindset, unacceptable. Even unforgiveable.
I’m here to burst your bubble.
A little over a month ago, the day after attending a Women of Faith conference, I sat alone in my living room. Chris was with some of his extended family; I told him I didn’t feel good and wanted to stay home. Accepting that as a perfectly legitimate excuse, he left me to myself. Looking back, I wonder if I should have gone with him. Maybe that would only have delayed the inevitable. I don’t know.
I cleaned up the house, making sure that everything was in its proper place. I turned on the porch lights and flicked on the heat. I wanted the house to look warm and inviting. I wanted Chris to step inside and feel safe.
Because I didn’t plan to be there when he got back.
Sinking onto the couch, I held my keys in my hand. Tears streaming down my cheeks, I quietly ticked through a checklist. I would say goodbye to my dogs. Grab the knife. Get in the car. Drive as far away as I could. Abandon the car. Walk into the woods. Slit my wrists. Lay down and wait for animals or blood loss to overtake me.
I was going to kill myself.
I didn’t want Chris or anyone else to have to deal with a body. I thought it would be better for them all if I just disappeared.
Yes, yes. I hear you. “Suicide is selfish.” “Suicide is a permanent solution to temporary problems.” “Suicide is an angry act.”
Believe me, I know.
Thing is, I don’t think anyone contemplates or carries out suicide because they want to hurt other people. The depth of pain within my own heart was so great, so crushing, that I just couldn’t bear to walk around with it anymore. And, honestly, I didn’t really think that anyone would mind if I were gone. I thought that everyone I knew would be happier and would be able to carry on with their lives without any trouble or mourning. I thought that killing myself would make the world a better place.
Writing that, I can see how irrational it all is. That’s the thing with depression, though: irrational seems rational.
Some depression is situational, brought on by traumatic or stressful events. That’s not my kind of depression. Flipping through old journals and notebooks, I see references going back about ten years to “the darkness.” It seems as if there has been a cloud chasing me, trying to overtake me. Unfortunately, the process was so gradual that I didn’t even realize that I had fallen into that darkness until I was in the midst of it.
This is clinical depression, also known as major depressive disorder. There is something physically wrong with the structure and wiring of my brain. Signals don’t travel like they should. The hypothalamus is one region that is impacted greatly by clinical depression; this part of the brain actually shrinks. This small slice controls many automatic or subconscious bodily functions, like hunger, and plays a significant role in pituitary output. Subtly but powerfully, faulty perceptions generated by these improperly transmitted signals within the hypothalamus result in feelings of emptiness, deprivation and dissatisfaction.
In John 9, the disciples ask Jesus whose sin was responsible for a man’s blindness.
So, tell me, who sinned? Who sinned that my brain and particularly hypothalamus shouldn’t work properly? My parents? Me? My husband?
I dare you to answer that.
Yes, I’m angry. Angry at all the misconceptions and judgments. Angry about questions like, “Are you still depressed?” Of course I’m “still” depressed! While I do believe that I won’t always be at this low point because God is never content to leave us where we are and that there are many things I can do through cognitive behavioral therapy to learn new ways of living and coping, I will probably always be on medication. I will probably always have days where I wake up feeling melancholy. Unless God has plans to the contrary and there is a complete healing in my future, this is the reality.
I know that the purpose of this blog is to educate and encourage. While I had originally envisioned that the educating would have to do with Bible study, depression and anxiety is what we’re going to be talking about for the foreseeable future. It is not within me to sit idly, contented with frustration at the lack of understanding. You need to know what this is all about. You need to know how to respond. Whether you struggle or have never had a down day in your life, this is part of the fabric of our fallen world. It’s beyond time we face up to it.
I don’t know all there is to know. I’m not a medical professional – frankly, medical professionals don’t know all there is to know. I can’t diagnose you and I certainly can’t fix you. I can’t even fix myself. What I can do is share with you my own journey with an honesty that you might find borderline offensive. While it’s not my purpose to anger you, I don’t have the energy to wear a mask anymore. I can’t play the games.
Let’s talk about what is real.
For all the posts in the What Depression Means to Me series, go here.