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.