Written by: Claire Auriemma
“Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!”
I know you think you’re alone.
I know you think everyone else has their [ish] under better control than you do.
How would I know? Oh, no reason. I’m only writing this in the midst of an emotional breakdown. Yep. I’m talking two hours of sobbing out gallons of tears, desperately trying to remember why I should keep living. Or at least trying to figure out how to die in a way that will cause the least amount of trauma to my husband.
How’s that for an ice-breaker?
I’m 25, successful, working in a field I love, pursuing a graduate education I’m passionate about, married to my best friend, and I’ve known Jesus for nearly a decade.
Oh, and I’m also depressed. And have crippling anxiety. But I didn’t realize that for most of my life. It wasn’t until last summer that I finally got a diagnosis for what’s been plaguing my mind for most of my life. You see…
Depression and anxiety are nothing more than fearing man more than I fear God, A.K.A. sin, and therefore if I try to address them like the world through Psychiatry and medication, I’m just putting a band-aid on a gaping, sin-wound. Instead, I should just repent of my sin and trust God more…at least that’s what my Bible College taught me.
Only spoiled, rich, brats in First World nations have the luxury of being depressed because everyone else is too busy just fighting for survival. There’s nothing more selfish I could do than commit suicide…at least that’s what my dad told me (by the way, he’s definitely depressed too).
This is the world I grew up in. To admit I was depressed would’ve brought derision and shame. I just had to pray harder. Renew my mind more. Be. A. Better. Christian.
Except that’s not how mental illness works at all. I was living like I could pray away a brain tumor and didn’t need doctors or surgery. As you can imagine, as time went on, the pressure built, and I didn’t get better.
Through the faithful wisdom of some of my friends, I grew in my understanding of mental illness. If the fall of mankind caused spiritual death, physical death, and illness, why was it so hard to believe that it also caused mental illness? When a person is physically sick, we pray AND tell them to visit a doctor. I accepted that I struggled with depression but wasn’t ready to deal with it beyond prayer, discipleship, and sheer willpower.
The biggest clue should have been that I’ve had suicidal thoughts off and on since I was 10 years old. But the thoughts were coming more frequently. Last summer I was diagnosed with an incurable neurological disorder. While reading up about what this meant, I learned that others with this disorder nearly always also suffer from Depression.
Okay. I’m depressed. This isn’t my fault. This isn’t a sign of my unfaithfulness to Christ. This is mental illness. So, I finally sought professional help and medication.
I wish I could say that everything is just peachy now and I’m totally joyful all the time. LOL. Still haven’t quite recovered from the emotional breakdown of this evening.
But there is no quick fix to mental illness. Since this is fairly new for me, I’ll probably be using trial and error for a while to find the right medication and dosage to manage my symptoms. I’ll probably be dealing with this for life.
These conditions are not life-consuming. They are not the end to my story, but simply a new setting. I’ve been given so many good gifts, so much unmerited favor (grace) floods my life that I have to put on blinders not to see it. I have moments, days, weeks, months even when my peace and my hope can’t be shaken. When I’m filled with childlike wonder over the aesthetics of a sunset, or the sound of my man’s heartbeat, or the cuddles of my sweet dogs and kittens.
But sometimes simple decisions still paralyze me. Sometimes I stay up half the night repetitively playing a game on my phone because I can’t bear to face the reality that the sooner I sleep, the sooner I have to go to work and school. Sometimes (okay, often) I question all of my life choices and want to give up. Sometimes I become overwhelmed by the weight of uncertainty and exhaustion and disappointment and insecurity and body-image and my desires and my plans and injustice and hopelessness and these thoughts plummet simultaneously into an abyss threatening to crush my mind so that I can’t even form a single sentence. Sometimes I feel like I can’t live with the pain I have caused others by sinning against them. Sometimes my thoughts terrify me. Daily, I just want relief. “Oh wretched [wo]man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Ro. 7:24)
Only Jesus. Medications and therapy definitely help, but only Jesus can ultimately deliver me.
But like Paul, I probably won’t see that deliverance in this life. And I’ll never stop spiritually wrestling with this either…identifying where my sin makes my illness worse…working to maintain balance in my spiritual walk to prevent cascading into despair…desperately wringing my hands and wailing for mercy from my Abba, Father.
I’m thankful that God is in control and I am not, because seriously, my mind is crazy-town. I’m glad that even though my thoughts and feelings don’t always align with reality, I can trust that God’s promises are true. And despite my deep longing for heaven, I know that every time my lungs inflate it’s a gift from God. If he wanted me to come home to heaven, then I’d be there. And though I don’t understand why I suffer from depression and anxiety, I know that his plans are infinitely wiser (and better) than mine. Life is precious. Life is beautiful. God is glorious. And I want to live in light of that.
That doesn’t mean I don’t doubt. Trust me, I have plenty of doubts. Just call me Thomas. Probably the scripture I pray the most is, “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!” (Mar. 9:24)
I struggle (a lot) with the promises that “we are more than conquerors (Ro. 8:37)”, that God has given us a spirit of, “power, love, and a sound mind (I Tim. 1:7)”, or even the often misquoted, “all things work together for good for those who love God (Ro. 8:28)”. We have to wrestle with these truths (because they ARE true) in the whole context of Scripture. Those cherry-picked verses will leave us in despair if we don’t consider…
We are guaranteed to suffer in this life…(there are literally so many verses, I couldn’t pick one to share because #anxiety)
Trials are sanctifying, refining fire, because Christ suffered too…(Ro. 5:3; II Cor. 1:5)
His glorious grace is put on display when we are weak…(II Cor. 12:9)
It’s okay to mourn and to be vulnerable with one another…(Ro. 12:15; Eph. 4:2)
All these burdens we experience in life are temporary. They might seem like they’ll last forever, but depression can’t hold a candle to the incomprehensible glory that God is preparing for us: for you! For me! His beloved daughters…(Ro. 8:18; II Cor. 4:17)
I’m preaching these truths because I need to hear them. Oh, how I need to hear and believe these truths…Lord, help my unbelief!
I’m a mess. I’m so broken. And I’m with you. So don’t ever think you’re alone. I pray that this might give you some hope. I pray that we can persevere together through the pain with joy knowing that we were not made for this sin-sick world – we were made for an eternity free of sickness and sin, worshipping our sweet Jesus.
Anxiety? You Are Not Alone
Written by: Nicole Beachum
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding.”
When I was five years old I passed out. I can vividly recall hearing my mother scream my dad’s name over and over again – in complete panic. We left my uncle’s house and rushed to the hospital, getting pulled over by the cops for speeding on the way. Ultimately, the doctors sent me home without any answers.
Everything in life continued “normally” until I was 11. Again, I fainted while my mom was putting earrings in my ears. The paramedics came to our house and checked my blood sugar, among other vitals. This episode led to a variety of doctor visits and tests, including a CAT scan. Again, no answers.
Fortunately, that was the last time I fainted; however, my life drastically changed. I would be taking a shower and would accidentally knock the shampoo into the floor – and my mom would rush in, totally freaking out. As a child, I didn’t understand what was happening, but her fear and panic coupled with my fear of passing out again led to severe anxiety.
From the time I was 11 until 16, I was absolutely miserable. Every single day at school (especially during lunch time in a crowded, loud cafeteria) my heart would race, my palms would sweat, and the room would spin. It was terrifying.
To tell you that I was miserable at this point of my life is honestly an understatement. I did not come from a Christian household. I did not know the Lord. My parents had a horrible relationship. Furthermore, I told no one about my anxiety – not a soul. At 11 I was suffering alone and felt utterly hopeless – a reality that stayed with me until many years later.
By the time I was 15, my parents were divorced. A year later they were both remarried – and being an only child I was left alone to deal with the heartache and brokenness that comes from divorced and then quickly blended families.
There were many times in the span of those five, unbelievably long years where I honestly did not want to live anymore. I was miserable, alone, and hopeless.
One night when I was 16, I hit my knees and called out to a God I did not even know. I begged for Him to save me. I committed my life to Christ in complete and total desperation. In this way, my testimony is simple – God came in and saved my life.
Slowly, but surely my anxiety decreased. It definitely did not completely go away. I went off to college and for the first time in my life I was well enough to get involved. I joined social clubs, the Student Government Association, and leadership organizations all throughout campus. I also started attending church my freshmen year of college – it was a life-changing experience. Anxiety was still there, but it was far less severe than before turning my life over to Christ.
In 2008, I was in graduate school and the anxiety started to become more severe again. Note, this was not due to sin or not walking close to God. I would be walking across campus and would slowly, but surely feel like I was walking sideways. It would also occur sometimes in class, and when I tried to go to football games and other loud places with my friends.
I felt led to go see my general practitioner and he lovingly told me that it was chemical – and that a small dose of antidepressants would help. He was right. Since 2008 I have been on antidepressants. The anxiety? It’s 99.99% gone.
Now, this is when I feel obligated to clarify that I think there is one English word for two very different things. There’s anxiety in which we are not trusting the Lord and are unnecessarily worrisome. Medication will not and should not be used for this type of anxiety. Then, there’s clinical anxiety that needs medication.
I thank the Lord that someone had the wisdom to explain this to me – a believer who loved me and loved our Lord.
Looking back over my life I would have never said this when I was in the midst of suffering with extreme anxiety. Today, however, I am so thankful that the Lord made anxiety part of my story. More than drawing me closer to God and introducing me to my Savior, anxiety kept me out of trouble when I was growing up. It provided me with a resource to help encourage others who are struggling with chemical anxiety. It made me the person I am today.
Anxiety is part of my story – something I did not understand at the time, but God used it for the Kingdom and for His glory. It also allows me to have confidence in other difficult trials in my life.
Right now we are in the process of possibly losing our foster daughter, which has been in our care since she left the hospital. Am I sad? Sure. Is it hard? Absolutely. But I know God is there, I can trust Him, and He is in control.
The first verse I memorized is still close to my heart to this day:
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding.”
Sisters, my sincere prayer is that if you are struggling with anxiety or depression that you know you are not alone. That you reach out and allow your church community to encourage and help support you – pointing you to Christ. Most importantly, I pray that you turn to God – you can trust Him… even if you don’t understand the “why” just yet. You are loved. You are not alone.