No one would assume that it was my fault if I developed Alzheimer’s or breast cancer. What makes mental illness so different? From the start, the consensus was that I just wasn’t trying hard enough. People told me to count my blessings, to choose joy, to “get a grip,” but I couldn’t shake the darkness no matter how hard I tried. Surely God was ashamed of me, the way I was ashamed of myself.
But God doesn’t work that way. I couldn’t see it at first because I projected my thoughts onto him, and my thoughts can be belittling and cruel. But when I searched the Bible with no preconceived ideas, trying to find out who he really was, it was everywhere: Jesus, God’s Son, invited the sick and the broken, not because he was disappointed in them, but because he felt compassion for them. He walked through sorrow and suffering himself and understands it personally. He does not blame me for bearing the scars of a broken world.
Don’t misunderstand. I made a lot of decisions that worsened my situation and feelings. I’m responsible for what I do in response to my depression — for the thoughts I linger on, the things I do to cope, and the ways I take care of myself. But the feelings themselves are not there because I am ungrateful and they aren’t a punishment for something I did wrong. They are just part of having a broken brain.
Truth #2: I am not alone.
“Okay, that’s enough about me,” Betty says over the phone. “How are you doing?”
I bite my lip. We have been talking for 15 minutes, and I have carefully avoided mentioning that I am lying in the ICU flushing poison from my body. Betty is a new friend from the recovery group I joined recently, and I don’t want to scare her off. And if there’s one thing I have learned, it’s that telling the truth is the fastest way to lose people.
Which came first: the loneliness or the depression? It was a never-ending cycle. I was a downer to be around unless I pretended to be happy. When I covered up my struggles, I felt even more alone. No one else was like me. I was the only one who couldn’t hack it, and even if they were too nice to say it, no one wanted to take on the burden of my darkness.
But at the recovery group at church, I was astonished to hear people say their issues out loud. Each one was proof that I was not the only one who didn’t have it all together. And each time I forced out the words “Hi, my name is Ginni. I struggle with depression,” and the group echoed back, “Hi, Ginni,” it strengthened my hope that there might be people who would not run away from my mess.
That day in the hospital, despite my fear, I was honest with Betty. Instead of rejecting me, she showed up with flowers and sat on the end of my bed and listened and made me laugh. I didn’t know that it was the start of sushi nights and movie marathons and sharing clothes and pointing each other to God. I didn’t know that Betty was just one of many people who would show me God’s love in a way that felt real. At that moment, I just knew that telling the truth had made me less alone.
Truth #3: This is not forever
“Please.” I grip Alan in the dark, sobbing into his chest. “Don’t make me stay here to suffer forever. It hurts so much. Please let me go.”
It’s 3 a.m., and my husband and I are in yet another late-night standoff. We have both cried so much our bodies ache. I’m terrified to fall asleep because then I will have to wake up again, still trapped in this pain. He’s terrified to fall asleep because then I will kill myself. Rage overtakes me: If he really loved me, he would give me his blessing and hold me while I died instead of making me sneak off to do it alone.
After years of what felt like unrelenting darkness, it seemed foolish to hope that life would ever be better. I knew there had been times of relief, but I couldn’t recall the feeling; even happy memories were swallowed up by depression’s black hole. The pain seemed infinite, claiming past, present, and future alike.
But time proved the truth. This world is still painful, and while I live in this body, depression might not ever leave me. But Jesus offers rest, hope, and unconditional love that does not diminish. I live with depression, not with despair, knowing that I am loved and that I am never alone. I have not cut myself in over seven years, and my scars remind me of how much God brought me through. I have peace and a purpose. I have an amazing family, satisfying work, dear friends, and a mission to introduce other people to the same love that saved me. Depression told me I had nothing to live for, and it lied.
God’s love means hope not just for a future after this world, but also for life to the full here and now, even in the middle of brokenness and pain. The darkness is not forever. The light of his love is.