July 28, 2010

When the darkness will not lift...

"Where should you start? Start at the easiest place for those in darkness. Start with despair. Despair of finding any answer in yourself. I pray that you will cease from all efforts to look inside yourself for the rescue you need. I pray that you will do what only desperate people can do, namely, cast yourself on Christ. May you say to him, 'You are my only hope.' "  [When the darkness will not lift, John Piper, pg. 21]

I think what Piper writes about here is a key aspect of actually surviving depression. Acknowledging that Jesus is our only hope doesn't mean that we will never again be depressed. It doesn't fix everything. It doesn't mean that we aren't in a pit. But what it does mean is that we know, even in the midst of sorrow, that Jesus is the only one who can rescue us from the darkness. And knowing this deep down, at least for me, helped me continue living in times when the despair was more than I thought I could bear.

The hope of Jesus Christ kept me going. It didn't keep me happy or keep depression from ever returning...but still, hope is hope. I believed in the secret parts of my heart that Jesus was faithful, that His mercies were new to me every morning, and that he loved me. I didn't always recite this to myself, but I believed it in the secret parts of my heart. And when I was desperate, I would somehow always end up in that dark, secret corner of my heart, and I would find that truth. With that truth came the peace to help me fall asleep in the arms of Jesus, or the strength to get me out of bed, a feat that I see now came only from God.

Believing this truth, that there is hope in Jesus, is one of the ultimate acts of faith a believer can face.  It is a choice to believe that even though God does not currently appear to be doing anything to help the situation, He is indeed good, and He is indeed our perfect source of rescue, redemption and restoration. It's a choice to believe that he could do what it took to fix the situation, and so since he isn't, it's because this is something that God is choosing to let me experience. It sucks. I don't understand it. And I can't say that I always felt rosy feelings when I thought "God is good, even though He's not helping me be happy." But I do know that that thread of hope is what kept me going. 

Piper continues on later in the book with an explanation on waiting for God to rescue us.

"One of the reasons why God loved David so much was that he cried so much. I am weary with my moaning; every night I flood my bed with tears; I drench my couch with weeping... It is a beautiful thing when a broken man genuinely cries out to God. Then after the cry, you wait. I waited patiently for the Lord. This is crucial to know: saints who cry out to the Lord for deliverance from pits of darkness must learn to wait patiently for the Lord. There is no statement about how long David waited. I have known saints who walked through eight years of debilitating depression and came out into glorious light. Only God knows how long we must wait... we can draw no deadlines for God. He hastens or He delays as he sees fit. And His timing is all-loving toward his children. Oh, that we might learn to be patient in the hour of darkness. I don't mean that we make peace with darkness. We fight for joy. But we fight as those who are saved by grace and held by Christ." [pg. 35-36]

I think that not knowing how long the depression will last is one of the cruelties of depression. If I knew that it would be over in a week, I doubt the depression would be as difficult. Sadness is sadness, yes, and it's never enjoyable. But not knowing whether you'll ever be happy again, whether you'll ever not cry yourself to sleep...well that is a mind game that can only be laid at the foot of the cross.

If you are a friend of someone who struggles with depression, this is one thing that I think is important to understand: God is absolutely a part of their struggle, and He, in His time, will provide rescue. This might not be good to actually say to the person who is struggling, but it is important for you to believe, as their friend, because you are an anchor in their life. You are there to believe the things that they cannot believe, to pray the prayers that they cannot pray, and to hold onto Jesus and hold onto them. You are a lifeline, an agent of grace in their time of darkness- no matter how long that may be. You are the hands of Jesus, and I think it is just as important for you to believe that rescue will indeed someday come as it is for them to believe it.

I'm not a huge fan of poetry, but I do love hymns, and this hymn that John Piper includes after he talks about waiting for God is absolutely beautiful.

Give to the winds thy fears,
Hope and be undismayed,
God hears thy sighs and counts thy tears,
God shall lift up thy head.

Through waves and clouds and storms,
He gently clears thy way;
Wait thou His time; so shall this night
Soon end in joyous day.

Far, far above thy thought,
His counsel shall appear,
When fully He the work hath wrought,
That caused thy needless fear.

Leave to His sovereign sway
To choose and to command;
So shalt thou, wondering, own that way,
How wise, how strong this hand.

July 19, 2010

looking back

Here is something that I wrote back in April a year ago, not even a month after we got engaged. I had no reason to be sad. I was happier than I had ever been, looking forward to spending the rest of my life with an amazing man starting just four months from the time we got engaged. No, indeed I had no reason to be sad. But there I found myself. Here's what being sad for no reason felt like.

...April 30, 2009

Here I am again. So depressed. Numb. Not sure what it feels like to feel.

I’ve been “happy” for months…but when I look back at the past 6 months of my life, I see a lot of shallow happiness, and a void in the places where I used to think, ponder, and relate to God. Ever since I started taking meds to help “even out” my moods, I have felt weird. Stable. But not like a real person. Not a human with feelings.

Last week, I realized that in the busyness of school, I had put off reordering my meds and had gone two weeks (time flew by) without taking my meds. And we definitely noticed it. All of a sudden I wasn’t stable. I was weepy. Sad. Ridiculous. Depressed. Suicidal. Hopeless.

And I can’t help but wonder–is that who I really am?
I hate the fact that I can’t be happy without a pill. It scares me to think that my future “happiness”–if you call numbness happiness- depends on a little yellow pill.

Last night I told Jeremy the truth–that when I think about the future, I’m very afraid that it will find him sitting in a room alone, crying, wishing that last summer when I was depressed, he would have gotten out. Wishing he hadn’t married me.

I don’t know how it’s okay for anyone to feel the way that I do sometimes. It shouldn’t be possible to be this sad for no reason. To be so numb. So lifeless.

it’s weird, because even when I’m happy, I’m not really happy. Even when I feel good, I don’t really feel alive deep down.

I hear people say that spirituality isn’t about feelings, that you have to just read your Bible when you don’t feel like it, praise Him even when it doesn’t feel right. And I just wonder...would they say that if they knew what it was like to feel dead inside more often than not? Would they say that if they truly knew how it is to not feel anything except blah and numb? Because honestly, this isn’t about me not “liking” God. This is about not being able to enter into my own life. I feel like a spectator. A bystander. Like someone dreaming, watching themselves go through various activities, have conversations, “live life”...and from afar I find myself asking, Is that really me? Is this really my life?

I feel bad for my fiance. I think about ending my life for his sake. I know this isn’t logical, but it sometimes does feel like it would save him a lot of heartache. I’m sure it will be hard having a wife who is depressed for the rest of her life. I’m sure it will be heartbreaking to hear your children ask “why is mommy always so sad?” And I’m quite positive that having wife who doesn’t know how to relate to God, who doesn’t know how to function in a state other than numbness, surely isn’t a life to desire. How can a man walk toward marriage with a woman that is sure to be more of a burden than a help mate? How can he bear to see his dreams dwindle and fade in light of my struggles, in light of my deep limitations?

...happy spring.
here’s to hoping my spiritual winter will end someday too. for good.

...Looking back on this make me praise God from the depths of my heart for healing me. Though my life isn't perfect, and I still have fears when looking toward the future, I can't deny that God has taken care of me thus far, has preserved my life when ending it seemed the only logical move, and has set my feet on a rock. Even if I find myself in a pit someday in the future, having been there often in the past, I finally realize that Jesus will be there with me. And having the hope of Jesus being there with me makes the pit seem a bit less scary.

July 18, 2010

Expectations within the Church

My friend Jake asked me to write a guest post for his blog recently. He has been focusing his blog lately on gender issues within the church, and asked me to write about being a woman as a member of Christ's church. I chose to write about the passage in 1 Peter that says a "quiet and gentle spirit" is the path to beauty in God's eyes.

If you are interested in reading this, you can visit his blog:
Notes from a Small Place

After reading it, I would love to hear your thoughts. What do you think it means for a woman to have a "quiet and gentle spirit" ?

July 15, 2010

When is it time to go on an anti-depressant?

One of the blogs that I read on a regular basis is Abraham Piper's blog, 22 Words. Recently he asked the following question on the post 2 questions I have about antidepressants and the physicality of depression

"1. If antidepressants help with a physical malfunction in the brain, how come so many people treat them as a last resort? We don’t attempt to talk away problems in other parts of our body–athlete’s foot, stomach flu, throat cancer, etc.–before we use medication.

2. On the other hand, if depression is a physical malady, why is it diagnosed with conversations in an office rather than tests in a lab?

I’m not trying to make any kind of point with these questions. I’m genuinely curious (and ignorant)."

If you are interested in this discussion, I would recommend that you look through the responses that this post received.

After pondering for a while, I decided to respond (something that I am usually too shy or uncertain to do).

Here is the response that I gave:

"Having lived with depression for 7 years before I was finally diagnosed with Bipolar disorder, I have been through the run of different medications. I guess just through personal experience, I would say that meeting with a Christian counselor and letting spiritual community minister to me and help me through deep emotional struggles like grief and anger with God helped me reach a place of emotional and spiritual healing. At this point, when I knew all other factors were “okay” and found myself still suicidally depressed on a regular basis, we knew it was time to figure out if there was something else wrong with me.

I went on an anti-depressant after a few years of counseling. I think that choosing when to start on an anti-depressant is something you decide upon with a doctor and wise counsel, because I do think that often there are physical factors at work along with emotional struggles. As my physician pointed out, it is a “chicken or the egg” question…did the physical depression cause me to become emotionally distraught with a skewed view of truth, or did my emotional/situational struggles trigger a depression that programmed my brain into a chemical depression? My understanding (though possibly wrong) is that it is possible that if you are situationally depressed for a long enough time, your body actually can become conditioned to that situation, and it turns into a physical issue.

All that to say, I think it would be foolish to not try medication if it seems that counseling alone (and continuing to work with God to align your heart and mind with the truth about who God is and who we are in Christ) does not seem to be working. For me, however, after years of counseling that righted the emotional issues, it still took a correct diagnosis and two medications found through trial and error for me to reach a place where I have been without suicidal thoughts for 8 months now–a major success and reason to praise God for healing through all the various people and means that He used to bring it about.

Anyways, thoughts from one who has recently been through the rigor of being diagnosed with a mental illness. Thanks for your concern and interest in this. It is nice to see Christians trying to understand this and right any misunderstandings that might have been programmed into their brains about how “good Christians” don’t struggle with things like depression or mental illnesses. It’s a lie that keeps many people in captivity, and it’s time to start educating each other with the truth about this situation."

What do you all think? When do you think it is right for someone with depression to start on an anti-depressant? I'm interested in any thoughts you might have, no matter what your background. Let's discuss.

July 14, 2010

ashes, mourning and the Answer to all of my questions

I have been mulling over the future quite a bit lately. A lot of our couple-friends are newlyweds, and one of the main conversations that comes up often is the topic of having children. When are you going to start trying to have kids? How many do you want to have? Have you thought about adoption?

A year ago, I would have said that we would probably wait two years until we started trying. I would have said that I wanted to have five kids, Jeremy wanted to have three, so naturally we'll have five. And I would have said Absolutely Yes adopting is an option.

But now, everything has changed.

Having children, which is something I have dreamed about since I was a little girl, always seemed like it would be such a natural thing for me. I knew that raising children would be hard, yes, but taking care of children has always been something that I loved so much, so having a family of my own has been a dream since I saw my mom holding my little brother when I was two. And I have always loved the thought of being pregnant.

Now, the thought of being pregnant is full of so many fears. How will my body react to all of the physical changes? How quickly after I go off the medication will I start to feel depressed again? What if I decided to stay on the meds- would it hurt the baby? Will I get postpartum depression? Will I physically be able to handle the late nights and tiring days of having a newborn?

Beyond that, I'll probably want to go off the meds when we start trying to have kids, just to remove any risk of the medication harming a baby, which could mean months of being off the meds.

At this point, it's becoming apparent that I will probably have to quit my job during pregnancy. I just don't know if I could handle being off meds, pregnant, hormonal, and stressed and exhausted. It just makes me so sad.

And adoption...adoption is something that I have wanted to do for so many years. At first Jeremy wasn't so sure about it, but recently he started talking about it, and we realized that he had had a change of heart. For fun, I started reading up on adoption websites about international and domestic adoption. And that's when I realized that during the screening, one of the things they check for is if either of the potential parents have a mental illness.

Duh. Of course people with mental illnesses would be flagged. We're unstable. The future is unclear. I don't know if that means they have a deeper process of investigation, or if they say No no matter what if you have a mental illness. Who knows, maybe God will surprise us and adoption will still be an option. But it still made me sad, realizing that our options are becoming more and more limited.

Here's the beautiful thing that my heart keeps clinging to, though.

At this point in my journey, it's looking like God's going to definitely have to be working miracles for things to turn out. If we choose to have children, God will have to support me physically and emotionally the whole way. If we try for adoption, God will have to open all of the doors and hearts of the people throughout the process. Either way, He will be glorified, because it's all so far out of our control. And we will see our God be Jehovah Jireh, the God who provides. We will see His faithfulness in new ways, and will learn that there is nothing on earth that we need apart from Jesus.

It feels like things are out of my control, but isn't that always how it is? Life is never in our control. It feels like it is sometimes. We like to plan when we're going to have babies, how many, what we'll name them, how we'll raise them...but ultimately, Man plans, and God directs His steps.

Do I think it's bad to dream or think about the future? No. But I guess I'm learning that for me, thinking about the future means borrowing a lot of fear and grief. So I'm learning to think about the future WITH Jesus. I'm learning to talk TO HIM about it, and discuss the options and alternatives, keeping in mind although this news has been a shock to my system, He is not surprised by this twist in my story. He wrote this story, and is still in the process of making things very beautiful.

That's what I love about Jesus. He is a restorer. He brings beauty from ashes and bestows crowns of beauty upon those who mourn. Well, here I am with ashes and my fair share of mourning. Now I get to wait and watch Jesus do His thing.

The other thing I have been thinking about is something my friend Renee shared with the college group a few years ago. She was telling us about a time in life where she had a very difficult decision to make, and she was worried about the future, what decision she should make, whether it would be the right decision, and what if she made the wrong decision? And after much praying and grieving, Jesus spoke to her heart. And he said "Renee, whatever decision you make, I will be there with you." And that was the answer to her questions. Not a specific This way or That way, but rather Jesus reassuring her that He would be with her wherever she went, that she was never out of His grasp, that He would never leave her or forsake her.

That is what I hold to more than anything. Whatever happens, wherever we end up, Jesus is there with us. HE is my inheritance, my portion, my cup. He is ultimately the one that we live for, the One through Whom we live and breathe and find all meaning. For today and tomorrow, Jesus is my answer.

July 1, 2010


I promise this is the last time I will write about this, but I've been dwelling on it quite a bit because I'm doing Breaking Free by Beth Moore right now, and we're talking about broken-heartedness, loss and grief right now-- three things with which I am well acquainted.

What I want to share is the sense of loss that I feel when I look at the fact that every season of my life will be affected by my being bipolar for the rest of my life.

I have been struggling with this for some time now, and after doing this morning's Bible study, I think I know now why this has been such a bitter aspect to accept.

I was nine years old when my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer. I was young, but a very capable little girl. I took on a lot of responsibilities at that age- both physical and emotional. I took care of my sister, I cleaned a lot, and I tried (as best as I could) to help take care of my mom.

When I was 13 years old, her cancer returned, this time with vengeance. The doctors here in the states told her there was no cure, and the prospect of doing chemotherapy again just to help extend her lifespan was more than she could handle, since the chemo had almost killed her twice throughout the last season of treatment. So as a 13 year old, one week after finding out my mom had cancer again, she and my dad flew to Mexico to do alternative treatments. I was so heartbroken. I feel like I grew up so much in those 3 weeks she was gone. All of us kids went to different homes to stay. I felt so alone.

When she returned, although I had my mom back, life just got harder and harder. I was older now, so I took on the responsibility of helping my mom bathe, get dressed (she had lost the use of her left arm, so she couldn't dress herself), do daily chores, go grocery shopping, cook, and take care of my sister. And then it got worse. Toward the end of her life, she had diabetes, so I was trained to take her blood and give her shots four times a day. I gave her some of her last baths, and had to see how the cancer had ravaged her body and left her so wounded.

In a few words, I'll just say that by the time I found myself sitting by my mother's bedside on the day she died, my childhood had been stripped away, never to be recovered.

I have grieved the loss of my childhood for years. I felt like within the last year or so I was finally "getting over" it...and now, I feel like in some ways, I am grieving the loss of my adulthood. I know that seems silly, and honestly, I am very prepared for the fact that life only gets harder from here. But I think there was this secret part of my heart that thought "maybe I'll have a break for a while before things get hard again."

I suppose the lovingkindness of the Lord that never fails will have to be my support, since it seems like God will continue to allow various trials and difficulties to come our way throughout the rest of our life.

My deepest hope is that at some point, I will honestly be able to say that it is all worth it, because it has helped me know Jesus more. I'm not there yet. But until I am, I will keep trusting Jesus in the small ways that I know how to and believe that He is faithful to complete in my life the work that He began in me.