If you asked anyone who knew me, some of the adjectives they’d use to describe me would probably be “outgoing”, “cheerful”, “positive”, “friendly,” and other words that make me seem like the nicest and most approachable person on the planet. The girl who is always full of smiles, extends help whenever possible, laughs way too loudly at lame jokes and is wonderfully loved by most around her.
Which is also why whenever my smile fades and I look down for a little, people start asking me, “What’s wrong? Are you okay?” To which my answer is always, “Yeah I’m fine just really tired.”
The truth is, I’m not okay. It’s not a face I put when I’m upset. It’s a default emotion that my body turns back to whenever I fail to engage this program in my brain called “Smile”. I’m not always happy and most of the time I’m in a down mood. The “sad” face that I put on is the face that I wear every single day when I’m away from the eyes of those I know: when I’m alone on the bus, when I’m in the comfort of my home, and sometimes (if not most of the time), in school during lessons and having lunch too. I could be laughing like crazy and enjoying company in general, yet the next minute I’m in a bathroom stall with trembling hands and tears that I can’t control.
Friends, don’t get me wrong. Sometimes when I don’t smile as much or appear as happy as I am in front of you, let me assure you it’s not that you’re boring me or I don’t like you. I promise, it’s not you, it’s me. And most of the time when I’m a little more down in front of you, it probably also means that I feel more natural around you. It’s more likely that I’m concealing my emotions when I’m in a constantly happy mode.
I have anxiety, I get panic attacks, I have constant bouts of depression which makes me moody and have breakdowns, and all of the above mostly leads to insomnia. Panic can hit in the worst times. Sometimes when I’m alone, but other times that are more inconvenient such as when I’m eating, out with company, or one of the worst experiences is having a panic attack in the middle of church service itself.
Usually how I’d deal with the panic is that I’d excuse myself for 15-20min, and just breathe and allow the feeling to pass. Contrary to popular belief, panic and anxiety is not just in the head. They have physical symptoms such as highly increased heart rate, sweating, having that sick feeling in your gut, and sometimes the bad ones can make me slightly dizzy and disoriented. When panic sets in it’s like a machinery with the gears kicking in, setting all the physical symptoms running, and eventually will lead to bouts of uncontrollable and unreasonable sobbing. It passes as quickly as it sets in. The worst part is being stuck in a situation where I cannot find a retreat and have to maintain my composure and smile while fighting the physical and mental symptoms within.
I couldn’t come to terms with it, and even till today sometimes I can’t accept it. I can’t count the number of times I’ve curled up in my own bed wide awake in the middle of the night sobbing uncontrollably for hours and thinking how absolutely disgusting I was; the number of times I’ve held a knife to my wrist and sometimes my throat; the number of times my brain repeatedly told itself that I was a freak and will always be one. It’s been this way for almost two years now, and it doesn’t seem to be getting any better.
I considered seeking professional help, perhaps take medication if it would make me better. I’ve tried sleeping pills and antidepressants, but they make me feel unnatural and stoned. Sleeping pills also screw up my body clock and cause me to be even less productive than usual.
For those who, at this point, say that I should get help and confide in a friend, should know that I’ve tried. Sadly, not many remember and even lesser care. Some just think that it’s a “self-pity zone” that I need to get out of. I mean, just trust in the Lord right? If I keep suffering through this I obviously have no faith and haven’t prayed enough. Some of the mocking answers are probably worse than the struggle itself.
If someone has cancer, nobody would pray harder than the victims themselves. Why? Simply because they want more than anyone else to be freed from this suffering. Personality wise I am a strong-willed person, I’m passionate about things and I love the thrill and excitement of a fulfilled life. If you think about it logically, why wouldn’t I, of all people, want to get out of this the most? If there was a method to stop those crying bouts and deal with anxiety attacks, I’d follow in a heartbeat. I prayed and begged and cried many many times for God to take this away from me. I absorbed every Word that pastors preached about anxiety, depression and fear. Fear is not given by God and I knew. I went down and asked to be prayed for when there was a chance, but healing never came. If I’d wanted attention, I’d tell the world and act like the most depressed person in the room, yet because I know that I had to overcome my wallowing self and pluck myself up and learn how to enjoy the worship and fellowship of the Lord in my suffering, against my illogical thoughts I willed myself to be happy.
Indeed, the joy of the Lord is my strength.
Slowly I began to come to the conclusion that there was nothing wrong with me suffering with depression and anxiety, because suffering is what humans do. People suffer from heartbreaks, diseases, debts, dysfunctional families, and many of these definitely include Christians too. It’s not a mistake or a lack of faith that’s the reason why people suffer. In John 9:1-12, Jesus healed a man that was born blind. The disciples asked who was the one who sinned, looking for someone to blame, yet Jesus gives no reason whatsoever behind the suffering, but simply proclaims that this man’s suffering is to bring glory to God Himself.
Isn’t it true in Christianity sometimes that we’re all looking for someone or something to blame? We didn’t pray, didn’t fast, didn’t come for service, didn’t do enough good, yet how wonderful is the news that Jesus looks past all those things and says that instead of having a reason why we are suffering, our suffering is the reason God will be glorified.
I suffer. Yes. I 100% believe in healing and know that Jesus has taken my iniquities and is faithful to me, but in my own devotion to Him I also know that even if it doesn’t happen, the very fact that He is my Lord and Savior will never change.
So how is it like having depression as a Christian? It’s like a constant three-part battle within my soul. Every single day, anxiety keeps me worried about all the things I need to do, depression whispers to me about how disgusting and worthless I am, then faith keeps me reminded that God is sovereign, and I survive another day.
Sometimes in my bouts of depression, I shut the world off, and sometimes I shut God off too. I curl up feeling absolutely blank and empty, crying and entertaining the worst possible thoughts about myself. Yet even in my enclosed and shut off state, God’s presence gently knocks and amidst the whirling storm of self-deprecation, His small voice reminds me that He’s here. In that moment I needed nothing more, but the assuring comfort of being able to cry in His arms like a child in her Father’s hands. Some days I could spend days and days never being able to feel God’s presence, but yet the only thing that kept me going was my purpose in His ministry.
I still struggle – every single day. But this struggle taught me how to lean on God’s strength, to experience His perfect love on a whole other level, to see that people will not be able to understand, but God can. Even if I struggle with this my whole life, I know that I have an eternity of freedom in Him.
I told myself one thing that no external help has told me: that it’s okay if I remain this way. My purpose stands and His promise remains. People disappoint, but God doesn’t. He is faithful even if we’re screwed up and feel like a huge freak. The greatest news is not that God is a blesser, a healer, a provider, or any of that, but the simple fact that His grace is more than sufficient for us.
All that endures is His love.