OK, so if you've read my blog over the years this subject is no secret. I've talked about it many a times. It's not something I spill to everyone everywhere anytime, but it's also something that I don't hide either.
I recently read this post and it kicked me in the gut. Hard.
This pastor's wife is honest, I mean brutally honest about her depression history and current struggles. It gave me courage to keep on writing about my own journey. To continue being vulnerable with my heart and not hide. Not so that I can whine or be annoying, but so that my voice can travel through this post and penetrate the thoughts in your head if you are struggling as well. So many times (especially as women) we think we are all alone. Take your pick. Alone with work struggles. Alone with family struggles. Alone with relationship struggles. Alone with parenting struggles. Alone with financial struggles. Alone with weight struggles. Alone alone alone.
Friends, I am here to remind you that you are not alone.
No matter what your pain, no matter where your journey has led you, there is someone somewhere who can identify with you. The beauty of our social media culture is the ability to find others in our same boat. Of course I rely on close friends and family to support me and share life with, but I can't tell you how groundbreaking it has been for me to join online groups that are experiencing the same life conditions as I am.
A few months ago I joined an online pastor's wives group (from this website) that meets monthly for a google chat. We see each other's faces and hear each other's voices (and boy do those voices sound like angels to me!) Breath. Of. Fresh. Air. We are scattered all over America but it feels like we are all sitting together at a coffee shop. I also have joined many other forums and facebook groups for pastor's wives (and some other groups for topics like running and eating healthy).
But if there's one thing I've learned from these groups, it is that community and fellowship are medicine for the broken heart. We may not all have answers for each other's problems. But we can listen. We can cry together. We can smile together. We can say, "I've been there..." We can pray for each other. We can say, "You are doing a great job!" It helps. It really really helps.
The same goes for depression. Sometimes you just need to find someone who also struggles with it and give each other a pat on the back. You might not have all the answers. You might not have anything to offer except a, "Yup. I'm with you on that. I feel ya. I'm so proud of you and I love you." Never underestimate the power of community and friendship.
Sometimes just getting it out, letting it loose, opening yourself up into the great expanse and shouting out loud, "I have depression! But I am overcoming it through Christ's help and the love of my family and friends! I can do this. I admit it, but I won't let it define me," can do wonders for your weary soul.
I love life. I really do. I am optimistic and bubbly. I love people and adventures. But for some odd reason, I have wrestled with the darkness of depression for the majority of my life. If you didn't know that about me already, then I guess that just goes to testify to the goodness of God. He helps me. Every. Single. Day.
It started when I was young. Elementary school age. I struggled with feeling "not quite enough". I was always the shortest in my class, had a pudgy nose, was slightly chunky, had big red glasses, and wasn't extremely athletic. I did possess some mad piano skills, but unfortunately that doesn't seem to turn heads of the fifth grade boys. I was geeky, smart, and a people pleaser. I never felt pretty or confident compared to the girls one foot taller and one step ahead of me all those years.
I started owning my "geek"ness and totally rocked the smart gig through junior high and high school. I loved playing flute in the band, joined clubs like Odyssey of the Mind, math club, Future Problem Solvers, Honor Society, sign language club, the "B" team in volleyball, and always participated in Christian groups at school. I was extremely involved in my church youth group as a leader and volunteer in every avenue possible. I was happy with myself and had a great group of friends. The depression seemed to vanish.
But in my later high school years, I started experiencing signs of depression again. At the time I didn't realize it, but looking back now I see it for what it really was. I wanted to sleep all of the time. I was tired. My passions and desires for normal things started to wane. I started writing dark songs and poems. I wanted to be alone a lot. I didn't know how to navigate some typical teenage feelings and didn't turn to my parents or any adults for help and advice. I kept it inside and let it fester. I struggled with suicidal thoughts. I didn't know how to manage my pain.
After a seriously low point in my life, I turned to family and friends for help and finally admitted what I was going through. Some friends vanished. I'm sure they were confused and scared. It probably was weird to have a depressed friend. I don't blame them, I really don't. But for the faithful few that stayed with me and were willing to sit in the trenches alongside me while I cried on their shoulder, I am eternally grateful.
That was a pivotal time in my life with my relationship with Jesus. I had accepted Christ as my Lord and Savior very early on in my life. I loved the Christian walk and church was pretty much my favorite place to be in the whole entire world. But for the first time, I really reached out to Jesus with my raw wounds and felt Him near. I wrote songs on my guitar on my bedroom floor with tears streaming down my face for hours upon hours. I pounded the keys of the piano until my fingers turned numb. I opened up my Bible and sang scripture straight from the pages. I belted out my pain. Loud. And He heard me.
I graduated high school early and worked like crazy to save money for a two month missions trip to Costa Rica by myself. It was such an incredible time of my life and I am so thankful that my parents believed in me and let me go. I grew up so much in those two months. It cemented the call to ministry in my heart and fueled my passion even further. Serving the poor, sharing Jesus, and exploring new countries became my life goal.
I went off to Bible college that fall, celebrated my 18th birthday on my new campus, and drank in all that college life had to offer. I had so many ups and downs over those years. There's no way I could write all that happened in this little post. But I will say that I struggled with depression on and off for many different reasons. Circumstances out of my control, mostly. I ran straight into the arms of my God and sought out mentors to pray with me and give counsel. I had the best friends a girl could ask for in college and they were anchors for my soul during those times.
Fast forward eleven years and you find me here, twenty-nine years old, wife and mother of two, photographer, runner, musician, and pastor's wife. And you know what? I still struggle with depression.
If you don't struggle with depression, it is very hard to understand. It's not something that just goes away. Things don't just get better. You have good days, months, maybe even years! But the bad days will come. Sometimes it's not your fault. Something happens to you and the depression flares up. You are faced with your old feelings of doubt and darkness. You have to chose to fight the battle and let Jesus carry you through it at the same time. I know that sounds crazy. You fight and yet you surrender. It's twofold.
I wake up almost every morning with a cloud in my head. Even before I open my eyes I feel thoughts like, "You have nothing to wake up for today. Who do you think you are? How are you going to accomplish everything you need to today? You have no friends. You are worthless."
I kid you not, my friends. I'm not lying. I hear these thoughts every day.
And I have to take them captive and surrender them to the Lord Jesus. Every. Single. Morning.
I take very strategic steps to fight them. I listen to worship music, I open my Bible and soak in the truth, I journal my thoughts, I cry if need be. I make a yummy cup of coffee and look out my window and drink in all the beauty I can. I call a family member or friend, I read an encouraging article online. I snuggle my children. I read them books. I fight the depression. Like a boss.
Like I've mentioned in past posts, I have never used medication for my depression. Have I considered it? Yes. Yes and yes. But somehow I always feel this nudge deep in my heart from the Holy Spirit that He has gotten me this far without it, and I'm sure He can get me through the rest of my life the same way.
Some days certainly are better than others. Like if we are visiting family or traveling. If I'm with friends or on a coffee date. If I'm playing with my children or watching a movie snuggled up by my love. Those moments with the ones I love lift my spirits like no other. I need people to keep my depression at bay. The more I slip into seclusion, the more the darkness creeps in.
Other things that help me battle depression are exercising and getting outside in nature. Not only does it give me a boost of energy and excitement, but it keeps my physical body healthy and active. Nothing adds to depression like lethargy and health problems. I also gave up gluten nine months ago and saw amazing results in my energy and mood.
I like goals. A lot. I think setting goals and reaching for them gives me something to aim for. It keeps me focused and alert. If I know I am working towards growing my photography business, or working towards running a half marathon, or working towards improving my knowledge in counseling and pastoral work, it gives me vision and renewed passion. I like to be challenged mentally and spiritually. I am constantly reading books. Topics on how to help others and how to grow deeper in my faith are my top book choices.
I write songs quite often and music has been a huge outlet for me. Those poor piano keys... they sure have taken a beating a time or two ;)
What is my point here? Why would I admit all of this, especially as a pastor's wife?
Because I want you all to know that Jesus is real, and He is wonderful, and He is faithful. His Word has given me renewed hope and peace every time I read it. When I don't "feel" happy, the Scriptures pierce my heart and pour in life-giving power. The Bible has been my anchor through the storms and waves of doubt. Reading His truth calms my restless soul.
Because I want you to know that even though I am a pastor's wife, I am not perfect. I don't have it all together. I am still lining up my "ducks in a row" and figuring out this thing we call "life". I have emotions and feelings, and I cry when I'm hurt. I am sensitive and real. I'm not a plastic mannequin.
Because I want you to know that I am able to minister because Jesus is ministering to me. Every single moment of my day. I love ministry. Always have, always will. I bleed service. Literally. I get a kick out of it. It is a deep passion in my heart to serve others and be the hands and feet of my Lord and Savior. I want to love you with the same love that He gives me with every breath I take.
Because I want you to know that if you struggle with depression, you are not alone. I am here with you. And many, many others are as well. Help is just a phone call, email, or text away. If you struggle, reach out for help. Please do not suffer in silence. It is a needless thing. So many people in this generation are admitting that they struggle, and never before have I seen so much honesty and life-giving transparency in all my life.
If you are struggling with depression, please talk to someone about it. Talk to your family, friends, a pastor, or a counselor.
If you know someone who is struggling with depression, love on them with all you have. Depression doesn't just magically disappear with a special pill. It is an ongoing struggle and your friend needs you to hold their hand and fight for them. Just a simple coffee date invite or text saying, "I love you. How are you today?" can mean the world to them. Calling them "just because" can lift their spirits for the entire day.
My final words on the subject? I can't wait for heaven. Seriously. We are going to have renewed bodies and MINDS! No more pain, no more sadness, NO MORE DEPRESSION! Praise God! For anyone who struggles with a physical or mental illness, there will be freedom and wholeness for all eternity. The minute I start day-dreaming about heaven my mind is blown. It never fails.
Depression can't keep you from the love of God. Nothing can.
Oh how He loves us!