Accomplishing Much in the Desert: My Journey with Depression
Depression is more like an ongoing enemy, but somewhere within myself, I want to call it an old friend. Not because it’s been good to me – no. But because it has always seemed to be more readily by my side than almost anything else for most of my life.
I remember the first time I felt its grip. I was twelve. I started taking birth control at a very young age to curve some health issues I was having, and the benefits of it made me always second guess the depression that walked in hand-in-hand with it. That medication was my companion for six long years. Six years that I wrote off feeling as though I had no hope and no joy and no substance to my soul because I thought it was just teenage angst.
I remember spending so many of those nights in a pool of tears. I felt so completely consumed by a weight I felt in my chest and a blur of disillusionment about my life. I struggled to see my way out of this pit. I felt crazy. Unsure of how to cope and unsure of what would happen if I confessed to my weakness, I pressed on. I fought back feelings of hopelessness and exchanged them for substance abuse and busyness. I thought this was who I was and that I was doing all that could be done.
At the age of sixteen, I met Jesus and found a purpose behind the drive to move forward. For two years still, the hormones of my medication made me feel so unstable but I busied myself with anything that anyone would let me put my hands to. I reasoned that those who knew God had no place for depression in their lives. I tried to convince myself that His joy and peace were enough.
But when I had a moment to myself, to really be alone in the quiet, I found depression still lingered there. To my surprise, even when I finally worked up the courage to stop that medication, this depression still remained. Like an enemy in pursuit, I felt that if I never slowed down I would never be overcome by it. I would pray and pray and pray. I would declare truths of His Word over my situation and fight through moments of reflection when my mind would want to revisit some of the darkest nights of this journey so far.
I felt less than victorious. I felt like a coward.
The older I got, the more that I began to realize the patterns and habits of this old friend. It scared me. I began to experience times when the darkness of it all would lift and I felt like I could breathe again.
I would dance with the joy I found in that freedom and feel like a new me. I would begin new projects and ventures and begin to rejoice in feeling so close to the Lord during those times. I would feel like I could finally be who I was meant to be and be a valuable part of building the Kingdom. I wanted so deeply to help others, to speak life, and to know my God more. I would convince myself this was the beginning of a new season.
And then, as I got acquainted with this freedom, I would find my times alone or of being still were tinged with dark undertones. Slowly – ever so slowly – would anxiety begin to creep back. And then all together, all at once, depression would crash back in. Full throttle. I would find myself floored again. Unsure of who I was within it. Unsure of what happened or what stole my joy. Unsure of what was to come.
Terrified. Terrified. Terrified.
Terrified because depression has taken the very best of me in the past. It has left me in weeping puddles on the floor. It has left me gasping for air that my lungs seemingly couldn’t take in. At the beginning of it, it tempted me with thoughts of self-harm. A couple of years into it, it convinced me that it could only be tamed with empty bottles and smoke that swirled in the air.
The absolute darkest moments of my life have been offered by the cruel hands of depression. And though as I got older I began to be less absolutely reckless with my attempts to cope, the memory of them made my heart wrench with physical pain.
I wish I could say that it has been years since I last saw depression face to face. I wish I could tell you my story of ending it for good and walking in the freedom and the joy of that victory.
But more honestly, sweet friend, I have to tell you that the last six months have been spent in the violent throes of it.
I went weeks at a time isolating myself from social gatherings because I felt so unlike myself and felt like I had nothing to offer to anyone.
I wasted morning after morning slipping out of spending time in the Word and in prayer and scrolling through Instagram feeds over a cup of coffee instead.
I spent nights sobbing in my dear husband’s arms trying to explain that I felt nothing but sadness and I had no idea why.
I drowned alone time in mindless TV binges and carbs and glasses of wine to try to avoid over thinking and over analyzing everything that happened within the day, torturing myself with thoughts of what I should have done or could have done or where I fell short.
I stopped writing and blogging because I felt so small in comparison to everyone else around me. I felt like I had nothing authentic to offer.
I garnished my lack of joy and peace with bouts of nonstop cleaning to make myself feel like I had control of something. Or sleeping only to wake up exhausted.
I spent a long, long time talking with my husband over the last few weeks about this battle. I had finally reached the end of my tolerance and couldn’t dwell any longer within the chains of depression. I began to ask him if this was just how it was. I began to wonder if it was time to talk to a doctor because I felt so, so broken.
For twelve years now, I have existed within a time that I was depressed or afraid of how long I had until I was depressed again. Twelve years! Believe me, there have been many, many seasons within those years and each one of them has been different. But I am so tired of living in expectation of this stronghold and its power in my life instead of expectation in God.
Instead of waiting on the Lord and trusting in His faithfulness, I have waited on depression and done what I can to live life between episodes. And then as they came, I would do my best to wait it out. One day at a time. One moment at a time.
As I talked about this with my husband, he began to ask questions. We started to discuss any similarities that surrounded the change of these cycles in my life. And as we did, he began to point out that a lot of the times that I have most struggled with this have been surrounding the winter months. Months when I have more time to spend inside, less sunlight to absorb, and less motivation to get out and live life. I had never tried to embrace a cause for my depression except that it was just part of who I am.
Because in all honesty, this is who I’ve known myself to be more than anything before it.
With his help and encouragement, we have begun to sort through the pieces of any source we can find. I took a few breaks from social media to set down my phone and set aside comparison. I’ve been intentional to get more time in the sun because of the vital role of Vitamin D. I’ve been spending more time trying to be active and eat healthier. We’ve been finding ways to live unisolated from other believers and begin again to surround ourselves with people who we feel in community with that speak life and speak hope. We’ve been coming together again in prayer and pressing into the Word of God.
Slowly but surely, I’ve been coming back to the heart of who I know I am. To the heart of who I’ve been longing to be for a long, long time. And though this journey will continue on, on, on – instead of being a bystander of the weight of depression, I’ve felt for the first time like I have been able to be strong enough to fight back. I’ve felt for the first time in a long time like I can see the intimate and compassionate love of God and how it has gently walked me through all these years. Never leaving, never wavering. Strength in my weakness. Strength for the day.
My heart has been so stirred to write again. To jump into this place and space again. To continue on what I feel my heart so yearns and is so created to do. I ran into a sweet family friend yesterday who, without prompting, immediately began to speak life into my passion as a writer and her belief that it was God’s calling on my life to continue on in it. For months I have missed it, and for months I have felt unworthy of it. I’ve been praying so fervently about whether or not it was worth my time, and it was such an unexpected and needed encouragement.
“I used to be confused if I heard someone talk about their love of the desert. My heart always seemed so inclined to tropical settings and the sound of rain on a rooftop. How could anyone think the desert was beautiful? But the older I got, the more I realized that the desert isn’t just a dried out canvas of what could or should or would be. It is altogether separate – altogether beautiful because of what it is, not because of a comparison. The vegetation, geology, wildlife and way of life are all so unique to it. Not because they saw the ocean and settled for disappointment. But because they have found a way to flourish within the life and the space they have been provided.”
That very same family friend promptly commented and spoke the most timely word that so beautifully sums up this time and what I feel God’s purpose in it all has been.
She said, “Jesus accomplished much in the desert. So shall we.”
I don’t know if you can resonate at all with this journey of mine, but I hope in it all that you can know and truly believe that in the space between my desert and yours that he truly can make much of this. Yes, sweet friend, the best is yet to come.