Mental Illness Shows No Partiality

When I was fourteen, I faked it at the shrink’s office so I could get a bipolar diagnosis like my friend Katie. Judge me if you must, but I had just watched Girl, Interrupted three times over and frankly, I wanted a diagnosis that would explain the imploding way I felt.

I wasn’t bipolar, by the way, though I should have won an Oscar for my performance in front of that poor, trusting psychiatrist. If you or someone you love has bipolar disorder, I am highly sympathetic. It is no small matter to suffer from mental illness, and it can happen to anybody.

Which brings me to the point: mental illness shows no partiality.

In fact, no illness has been known to skip over certain people because of who they are. I’m sure Billy Graham has had the flu, for example, and I don’t doubt that Phil Vischer of Veggie Tales has been hospitalized at some point in his life. Mental illness is like any other illness, just as our minds are like any other part of creation: fallen.

Some of us are prone to certain health conditions. My mom gets a headache at the drop of a hat. I get eczema on my hands like you wouldn’t believe. Some of us are prone to worse conditions. For one of my best friends, Alicia, cancer is a dominant trait in her family. We pray fervently every time she goes in for a scan that this will not be the time they find cancer in her body. It is serious stuff.

And some of us – and I include myself in this category – are prone to mental illness. Sure, stress might bring it on or make it worse, as it does with my eczema or my mom’s headaches, but the tendency toward depression or anxiety is there all the time. Another repercussion of the fall. A thorn in our sides. A sleeping dragon.

And then there are people who have never had a health glitch in their lives, with no family history of disease, and suddenly out of nowhere the doctor tells them they have blood cancer or a brain aneurysm. Depression, similarly, can bowl over some unsuspecting soul who never knew what hit ’em. In fact for these people depression can be particularly dangerous, as it’s horrid feelings are often misinterpreted as marital discontentment or an identity crisis. Marriages can needlessly end, good jobs can needlessly be abandoned – or suicide needlessly resorted to – all because no one pointed the finger at the true culprit.

I say all this to say this, friends: there is no shame in depression or anxiety. Did you catch that? I’ll say it again. THERE IS NO SHAME. Christians get depressed, too!

Well-meaning people in your circles will say “You’re just not spending enough time in the word,” or “You must have unconfessed sin.” Sure, sure, you probably need to sit down with a counselor, as all of us should do from time to time. And sure, some things might come up from your upbringing – from your mother’s withheld affection or your father’s drinking – that need to be laid down at the foot of the cross. Absolutely. But then, please consider taking medication. You would take medication for indigestion, wouldn’t you? Of course you would. Well, in this case, it’s your mind sending burning acid into your body rather than your esophagus. The one really isn’t all that different from the other, nor more shameful.

If you are depressed, don’t put on your Christian face all day and then go home to implode on yourself, dying from the inside out like a rotten peach. Get help. Get real with yourself and with others. Lift up your head, unbind your heart, and let those tears flow.

You’ll be happy you did.

How have you seen depression play out in your life? For you or others you know and love.

Join us the rest of this week as we hear stories of depression, offer resources and on Friday at The Grove we’ll gather to share on the prompt “Valley.”

Photo Credit: crsan via Compfight cc

19 Comments

  1. Amy Young March 17, 2014

    Kayla — thank you for your post. You basically said what I have said for years 🙂 … I’m a firm believer there is a good and healthy place for medication and while not the end all be all, it’s certainly also no measure of faith. I have two family members who have been on anti-depressants. I know in one case, they helped save her life and gave her enough of a boost to begin clawing her way out of the deep and awful pit of depression.  Choosing to take them, and live for all of us instead of kill herself (which would have been her choice) was one of the most gracious gifts I have been given. To this day, I tear up when I think of how very brave she is to have fought this fight not once, but multiple times. And on that go around in particular, thoughts of me and others in our family and knowing what her death would do to us … I am grateful. And meds were one piece of her healing. Go drugs!

    1. Kayla Rupp March 18, 2014

      I hear you, Amy! We came to a point where my husband had to say, “You need to get some medicine for this, Babe, or none of us are going to make it.”

  2. S.O. March 19, 2014

    Kayla, thank you for you courage in sharing this with us.  And thank you to Velvet Ashes for bringing this topic up…and realizing that yes, there are many of us out there who don’t feel able to “breathe” or rest easy because of current struggles/doubts/crises of faith/illness/a-dozen-other-things-that-could-be-included-here.

    Can I say that I am both surprised and not surprised by the lack of comments to your post?  I myself considered not posting.  Not because I’m ashamed of my story, but because I didn’t feel like it was necessarily something I “needed” to do.  I have wondered over the last few days if there aren’t more women talking about depression here on this post is because they are waiting until The Grove, or maybe there just aren’t any who read this blog who are depressed (which I am doubting), or because they fear typing it out (very possible), or perhaps because they may not even realize that what they are currently struggling with is called depression.

    So I decided I’d just bite the bullet and go ahead and post, and maybe our words together would help someone else be brave too.

    I have been depressed.  I have doubted God in the midst of my depression.  I have considered that death might be preferable to living.  I have given up hope.  I have retreated into a dark place deep inside myself and refused to look at the light.  There.  I said it.  I have been, and perhaps still am, depressed.  And the interesting thing about it is that for most of my life that I’ve felt the way I have, I didn’t know it was depression.  I just thought I really sucked at finding joy and believing God and holding onto hope.  I didn’t think the way that I felt was valid.  I thought that I had made my life go terribly wrong somewhere and was just suffering the consequences.  It took a few friends from home to help me see that maybe there was something bigger, deeper, and less within my control that was happening to me.  But I still didn’t want to believe them when they suggested it.  Because dammit, I refused to be any more like my mother than I already was.  My mother was depressed for a lot of my childhood.  And not just the “I feel like a black cloud follows me around as I go throughout my day” depression.  But the kind of depression that made her not get out of bed to even try to go throughout her day.  The kind of depression that made her overdose on the very medication she was taking for her condition because she felt like it would be better to die than to keep on living with the pain and suffering that were constant companions.  The kind of depression that made me have to live without a mother for so many years, though she was still physically present.  No.  I wasn’t like that.  And I wasn’t going to be like that.  There had to be some other explanation.  And I was pretty sure it had a lot more to do with what a horrible person I was.

    And then there’s the whole Christian culture (at least if you grew up in an uber conservative Christian atmosphere like I did) that essentially tells you that you’re not supposed to have any problems, any struggles, any doubts, any fears, any diseases of the heart.  But if you do, then please keep them to yourself because we can’t deal with them and we can’t have that kind of thing infiltrating our circles.  And an even bigger woe to you if you are in leadership or full-time ministry (like serving overseas) as you are expected to basically be perfect.  Geez, no wonder we as believers have so much anxiety and fear and sadness and, to some degree, hopelessness when we’ve been fed messages that our experiences and feelings are dangerous and highly un-Christian.  No wonder we pack things away in crates in the crawl space deep under the stairs of our heart where they, Lord willing, will never been seen or have to be dealt with.  We do so easily become overtaken by that fear of being seen and known and how would people respond if they REALLY knew me?

    But let me continue on with my story.  I have come to discover that depression is a silent killer with a trifecta arsenal at its disposal: Powerlessness, Doubt (which I think I could also name Hopelessness), and Shame.  In the midst of my depression, I felt like I had no ability to fight whatsoever.  I couldn’t make my “black cloud” go away.  I couldn’t “choose joy.”  As much as I wanted so badly for all of the heavy feelings to leave, I just couldn’t banish them.  It was impossible.  I was powerless to improve my heart’s condition.  And for people who have never struggled with depression before, I think it’s hard for them to understand that you can’t just “fight through” what’s going on.  You can’t just say a prayer or read more scripture or do this list of 7 things for a happier you.  I think that depression in its very nature breeds a kind of loss of will; a loss of desire to try.  And it also breeds doubt/hopelessness.  It is SO. VERY. HARD. to believe when you are depressed that God is going to come through for you.  So hard to believe that things will ever get any better.  And these two things (not being able to fight and not being able to hope) make for the perfect place for the enemy of our souls to come in and throw the paint of shame all over everything.  And lies start turning into truth in your mind – “You should be able to fight this but you aren’t even trying.  And you should have faith in God, but you don’t.  What kind of Jesus-follower ARE you?  You are a mistake.  That’s exactly what you are.  You got yourself into this mess because of all of those sins you committed.  God is just punishing you because you’re such a horrible person.  You don’t even deserve to be in a better place.  God doesn’t care about you.  Neither does anyone else.”  Left to this arsenal of assault, the cycle of depression only intensifies.

    Sound familiar?  Anyone?

    Praise God He eventually broke through.  But I think that healing process  was only able to really begin when I was finally able to truthfully name what was going on and come to the realization that it was far far more than I could handle or carry, and that I needed help; help mostly and finally from the One who knows what it is that is broken in me and how to heal it, but also help from His body here on earth as He calls us to encourage and hold one another up.

    Any of you ladies out there who are reading this and are struggling with feelings of depression or even with sad feelings that seem overwhelming that you don’t really know how to name, it is ok to not be ok.  I will say that again like Kayla did about shame: IT IS OK TO NOT BE OK.  Please please hear that and be comforted in the midst of what you are experiencing.  Jesus, our kind and tender Savior, does not condemn you.  And though you may still struggle to believe that you’ll live again, and though the darkness may not lift as quickly as you’d like it to, and though depression may in fact even continue to live with you in the day-to-day, it WILL NOT overcome you because the One who is in you is so much greater and has already overcome every evil and death-filled thing that the enemy of your soul and the effects of sin can throw at you.  Hope lives.  And if you struggle to hold onto that, then borrow the faith of those around you who can believe it for you.

    And for those of you who wonder what you can do for friends and family who struggle with depression, don’t try to fix them.  Don’t tell them what you think they need to do to get out of where they are (Jennifer said this well in her first response to the “Not so great in the valley” post from March 18).  Just be present, be gentle, help remind them of truth, and above all believe on their behalf that God alone can and will be and do what it is that they need.  When you’re depressed you lose sight of who God is and who you are.  You lose sight of what’s real and what’s not; of what is truth and what is a lie.  We need people to help us see what we can’t see – what’s true about God and what’s true about ourselves – offered in a way that doesn’t make us feel ashamed if we can’t believe it, but that says “I will stay here and help believe it for you until you are able to.”  Shoot, we need that even if we aren’t depressed.

    Thanks for the space to share this.

    1. Kayla Rupp March 19, 2014

      THANK you for these honest and powerful words from your heart. I, for one, am darn ready to get real. I am thinking we need shirts with “Christians get depressed, too!” printed on them. You and I might be the only two wearing them, sister, but wear them we would. And I would like a coffee mug with “It’s OK to not be OK” written on it. In fact I’m thinking I’ll order one today, from one of those personalized mug businesses on Etsy, and have it shipped to me in the next care package from America.
      I also LOVE that you suggested borrowing faith from those around you when you have no faith or hope of your own. What a lovely picture of the church – or what the church should be, what the church COULD be, if we all got real.
      You should know that when I read your response, my heart soared while my depression waned. I’ll take a dose of that medicine every day.
      Kayla

      1. S.O. March 20, 2014

        Haha, I LOVE the shirt idea!  I would wear one loud and proud with you as we sip from our “not ok” coffee mugs and recount all the ways that we’ve seen God come through in this wide world, and in our lives and the lives of people we love.  His mercies are indeed new every morning, and His faithfulness is great.

    2. Amy Young March 19, 2014

      S. O. — what a beautiful gift you have offered us. When you ask, “Anyone relate?” I can say with 100% confidence many who read this felt a stirring in their soul that whispered, “you are not alone. You are not the problem. You are valuable as you are.” I don’t know if you have been reading the book club posts on Tuesday (and no worries if you’re not :)!!) — but part of the reason I chose this book The Gift of Imperfection is, in part, for what you mentioned: to start a moment among overseas workers that it is a LIE we need to (or even can) have it all together. Especially if you want to serve longer than a short stint. Blessings sister. I am thankful you had people who were willing to lovingly let you know you might be depressed and walk with you in that process.

      Have you heard of Kathleen Norris? She’s a protestant who has spent a lot of in Catholic monasteries with nuns and priests. She wrote, about one of the nuns saying that part of the beauty of the convent is that when she is not able to carry her own faith, the other nuns will carry it for her for a while. I have cherished that image the last 15 or so years since I read it.

      That is one of my hopes for the body … we can carry each other and let others carry us when needed. Again, thanks for your offering of yourself.

      1. S.O. March 20, 2014

        Hi Amy,

        I am not reading along in the book, but I have been keeping up with the posts and comments as time allows.  Good stuff that you all are discussing.  It’s a book I’d like to read at some point, but I am currently already in the middle of another book and I’m not one of those people who can read several things at once and succeed at it!

        I have heard of Kathleen Norris, but have never read anything she’s written.  Though upon hearing her last name, I had a random thought for the first time – “I wonder if she’s related to Chuck Norris.  Because that would be a whole lot of awesome.”  So of course I decided to do some research (which means I just googled it).  I didn’t see anything that said the current Kathleen and Chuck are related.  But I did find a previous writer named Kathleen Norris (who died in the 60s) who, oddly enough, was married to a guy named Chuck Norris (also a writer).  I had to CHUCKle at that 🙂

        But yes, a beautiful image indeed that the modern-day Kathleen wrote about.  And a beautiful thing to witness (and also be a part of) when the body of Christ functions as it was intended to function in its love and care of one another.  It always amazes me that God has chosen to reveal Himself most of all through PEOPLE.  Only a God of such magnitudes of love and grace and transformative power would choose to use (and invite) such broken vessels to help carry out His promises to redeem His creation.

        1. Amy Young March 22, 2014

          The Kathleen, Chuck, Norris connections ARE chuckle-ible!  And yes, to the wonder and awe of God inviting us into the process. Wow.

    3. Lizzie March 21, 2014

      Dear S.O.

      Thank you for your bravery and words!  I have been so conflicted these past few days as to whether or not I should share my struggle with the valley.  I told myself I’d let others meet at the Grove this week – I’d let others comment on this post etc.

      And yet, I think part of the valley is the belief that we are alone in the valley.  Like you said, we need to be present for our friends in the valley.  We need friends who hold onto hope until we can hold on ourselves.

      And so, I’ll use my words to show that we aren’t alone in the valley.  Thank you!

      1. S.O. March 22, 2014

        Lizzie,

        I am glad you have decided to share your voice.  You can speak forth something into this world about who God is that no one else can, has, or ever will be able to.  Every story is worth telling, and there is even worth in the telling of it.

      2. Amy Young March 22, 2014

        Lizzie, I bet there were quite a few waiting to hang out at the Grove (which is fine!), but I appreciate you commenting here!

  3. Jenny March 28, 2014

    Mostly I’m just behind on life at the moment, but I am so thankful we are discussing this topic. About a year+ into my time long-term my boss sent me home from work telling me to take a nap and email a counselor and talk about whether I was depressed. That was definitely not something I ever expected to be part of my reality but it is.

    The counselor suggested medication and I was open to it but the system where I am is so complicated I just didn’t have the energy to figure it out once they initial weren’t willing to consider it in my case. So 8 months later when I was on home assignment, about to head back, I met with our member care person who basically told me I couldn’t come back unless I saw a psychiatrist. Starting medication was an amazing change- within weeks my base emotions became more positive (though I thought I was doing “better” before I started) and the fog began to clear. It gave me the capacity to begin to walk through some of my issues both with God and others that I just didn’t have in the deepness of my depression. I’m so thankful God put those people in my life who were willing to speak truth, and speak it strongly, and to help me get help.

    It is definitely still a journey I’m on and at times feels hopeless and never ending (and maybe it won’t end until eternity). There are still days where I can hardly get out of bed and days where dying seems better than living. I don’t know yet if this will be a life journey but we need to talk about it more in the church and not try to hide it away or pretend it doesn’t exist.

     

    1. Kayla Rupp March 30, 2014

      Jenny, thank you for your response. It is difficult to discuss this topic, but bringing it out into the open is so important. Much love to you. We are all in this together.

      Kayla

  4. Cecily April 3, 2014

    Hi!  Better late than never, I guess, but I am a bit behind with my emails.

    I think I suffered from depression for many, many years.  At some point I went to see a doctor who gave me an anti-depressant.  And, usually, it takes a while for the medicine to kick in.  Well, with me it was almost instantaneous relief.  Oh, thank you, Lord!  The doctor said I would need to be on the medication for the rest of my life, but I have been off of it for ten years.  And, yes, life has its ups and downs, but I am so much better now.  I believe that the Lord used the medication to bring me out of a very difficult time, and then He healed me so that I did not have to continue with the medication.

    But, if someone needs medication and/or counseling, please get what you need.  Don’t set yourself up for self-destruction.  I came close.

  5. Let it Go…Or Don’t {Weekend Link Love} November 21, 2014

    […] {Maybe we need to let this way of thinking go? Over at alifeoverseas.com by Rachel Pieh Jones} Mental Illness Shows No Partiality   {A post on letting go of shame over in the Velvet Ashes community} Learning to Boil […]

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