Saturday, September 24, 2016

From Darkness to Light

Everything I knew my life to be crumbled away in the middle of my 8th grade year. I don't recall how or when exactly and I certainly don't know why. There is no single event I can identify as a trigger. All I know is that as sudden as a surprise thunderstorm on a sunny summer day, anxiety and depression showed up and invaded my body and took up residence. Though their existence have waxed and waned in severity over the years, they have remained my near-constant companions, in one capacity or another, ever since.

The year I turned 13, my 8th grade year, is quite literally a blur. Though the details are foggy, I can say with full confidence it is one I care never to repeat. Thoughts and anxieties and sadness consumed me. I washed my hands incessantly. I became rather adept at opening door knobs and turning off faucets with my wrists, lest any "germ" contaminate my hands. I flipped light switches off and then on and then off again with one final burst of force to ensure they were really, truly off. Only then would exit the room, returning mere moments later to recheck the switch one last time, fearing my exertion on the last flip could have somehow caused the light switch to bounce back up and land in the middle, a position I knew to be a fire hazard of the worst kind. I counted and I tracked. I knew which seat belt buckles had been "contaminated" by my touching them with "germy" hands 3 weeks prior and therefore were off limits to me. Everything was a ritual. My behaviors perfectly paralleled those of one suffering from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD).

It is probably unnecessary to state the obvious but I will anyway: My life was absolutely miserable.

I recall very little about this season, likely due to the fact that my brain was absolutely consumed by the incessant tracking and worrying and depression. Beyond the more commonly recognized symptoms of OCD - the hand washing and counting and fear of germs - I was deeply plagued by worries and anxieties of a whole different realm. What I agonized over the most was my very salvation, where I would spend the afterlife. I cried about it more than anything else combined. I absolutely wanted to know that I knew that I knew that I KNEW FOR SURE that I was going to go to heaven when I died. I worried perpetually that I didn't believe enough. That maybe I was believing "wrong." That perhaps I didn't pray "quite right" for it to "count." And because of these worries, I spent my days sobbing continuously. Utter craziness, I tell you. I have done my homework and am now much better informed. Further research has made it clear to me that these spiritual struggles are actually very common in one suffering from OCD. We just don't hear about them in the same way we do, say, the hand washing.

I cannot even begin to imagine what this period of time was like for my parents other than to say it was probably a literal taste of hell. They reminded me how I used to follow them around the house, crying, with a notebook in hand. In it, I recorded all the scriptures they'd provided to assure me of the permanency of my salvation. When my mom wanted to take a moment to herself to shower, I would cling to her, bawling, for fear I would die and go straight to hell during the span of 15 minutes that I would be left alone.

As silly as this may sound to the average reader, this was my ever-present and ever-painful reality. I was scared beyond a shadow of a doubt that I would spend eternity burning in hell when I died and I had no idea what I could do about it. I'm pretty sure this wasn't how my fellow 13 year friends passed their hours and it certainly was not normal. I know that now but I certainly didn't then. I had no idea that my struggles were due to a chemical imbalance, a diagnosable, medical issue.

And Church, you let me down.

And Church, you let my parents down too.

Gosh are those words ever hard to type. Yet I know I need to say them. I know others need to read them. And I know that in allowing myself to realize them and let them sink in, healing will happen.

Allow me to take a moment to clarify - when I say the word "Church," I mean not just my specific childhood church, but the church in general, the collective of people, the broader Christian community of believers. We have absolutely, wholly failed each other on the mental health front. As unintentional as it may have been, so many of the churches of my generation (and I would argue the ones before as well), have led their congregants to believe that mental health issues are spiritual in nature, not medical. And the resulting damage from this false idea have been devastating.

The church I grew up attending was wonderful and amazing for so many reasons. I loved our community and the friendships that were formed there. It was there that I first asked Jesus into my heart and there that my faith grew. But, like any church, it had it's faults. As a child, and a very black and white thinker at that, I took everything I heard from the authorities in my life at face value and accepted them as truth. My church was very conservative in nature and, looking back now as an adult, had a tendency toward legalism. This posed a challenge for the very literal person that I was. There were a lot of "rules" and expectations for the attendees and the culture was one where we kept our flaws hidden. If we struggled in any particular area, we certainly didn't advertise it. The words "vulnerability" and "authenticity" were not a part of my childhood vocabulary. There were a few instances where failures was made public and the results were heavy in discipline and shame and grace was limited, at best. I didn't question any of this, of course, because it was all I knew.

When my struggles with depression and OCD surfaced in 8th grade, I was at a loss on so many levels. I don't recall what, if any, words may have been preached from the pulpit of my church regarding mental health and depression. It wasn't something that was talked about (maybe therein lies the problem?) But reading between the lines, the unspoken message that was impressed upon my young heart through the culture of the leadership there was clear: counseling and medications were not looked upon fondly. The idea prevailed that the Bible alone stood as counsel enough for our problems. People in the congregation may very well have been struggling with depression or seeing a counselor but they sure as heck didn't talk about it. It was something to be ashamed of, to keep hidden. What I heard was that my struggle with depression and anxiety and everything else that made up that horrible year of my life, were the result of me "just wasn't trying hard enough," sure evidence of a lack of faith in God.

And so the trickle-down, take-home message that seeped into my sensitive heart and seared itself on my soul was that I was a complete and utter failure.

What a very hopeless, helpless place to be. And what a heavy load for a 13 year old girl to be carrying.

By the grace of God (and through my parents' strength and willingness to push outside of what was the "norm" in our community), I remember eventually landing in the medical office of a family physician who also attended our church. My parents were at the end of their rope with me, their child, who was passing most of the hours of her day sobbing. I'm sure it was obvious to them that I was very much not ok. I was mortified and ashamed to be struggling with issues that had such a negative stigma and I begged my parents to keep my problems quiet, a request they honored, sharing only with their innermost circle of friends out of a desperate need for support.

I can only imagine how terrible this experience must have been for them - to have a daughter, wrought with pain and sadness and yet to feel like their Church (or at least a some of it's members) viewed such challenges as spiritual in nature, not medical. Thankfully, the doctor they took me to had a different take on the situation and immediately recommended I start medication AND see a counselor. I don't recall the conversation but I imagine his medical perspective regarding chemical imbalances must have been SO refreshing for my tired parents' ears! Despite the embarrassment of seeing a doctor I would encounter in other settings on a regular basis (he eventually became one of my youth group leaders!), I am forever grateful to him as he is the first Christian I encountered to categorize depression where it belongs - in the medical realm.

I believe wholeheartedly that the Bible is the inspired and true word of God. In fact, Isaiah 9:6 says Christ is our "Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace." The Bible is filled with scriptures that impart wisdom and encourage faith. The words in it most certainly provide wonderful counsel, yes, but I also believe with all of my heart that God created skilled and incredibly intelligent human counselors and physicians to help us with our broken bodies as we live this life in this broken world. Do we need bigger faith? Most assuredly, yes. But sometimes the struggles in our physical bodies run so much deeper.

It pains and angers me to think of how many people have been or are still being hurt by the church (or members of the church) who send outright or subliminal message that depression is a deficiency in faith. Thankfully I now worship alongside a pastor and community who is fully-aware of the pervasiveness of mental health challenges and depression in our society. We recognize it for what it is - not as a lack of spiritual discipline, but rather a chemical imbalance. I have some amazing people in my life who support me in seek help when help is needed though I still fight feelings of shame and failure because of it every single day.

So I guess that's why I'm putting this out there. I want others to know that are not alone if this, too, is their journey. I am still very much in the middle of my story, one whose plot line involves a hard-fought battle with depression and anxiety and shame that, in retrospect, have likely been a part of my story on and off since my 8th grade year. At that time, I was put on medication and went to see a counselor who instructed me to journal about my feelings (my mom is quick to point out how hard I resisted that assignment - ha! These days I would give anything for more time to write!) The result was incredible - like night and day for me. In a relatively short period of time, my world was righted again and I literally remember feeling peace wash over my entire body. Freed from the prison of the worries in my mind, I could once again really, truly rest. I remember laying on my mom's bed and thinking to myself "This is what it must feel like to have faith like a child."  

Praise God I have never again experienced anything like what I did that terrible year. What happened to my body and mind once I finally got the treatment I needed felt like a miracle. I was essentially "healed" from my OCD (if that is even medically possible) and have never struggled with counting, checking, hand washing or worrying over my salvation ever again. But yet I continue on this journey. My struggle with depression has been real and I only fairly recently sought treatment for it again, 5 months after Jack came into our live and only because it felt more acceptable to label the beast as a case of "postpartum depression" rather than the more likely underlying case of general depression that it is. (I mean, my "baby" is nearly 3 and the dark clouds still shadow me on many-a-days). My stubborn self does not want this to be the case, but some trusted souls in my life are helping me go deeper and see that my struggle for what it is and I am taking steps to make a change right now.

I'm really hesitant to put myself out here again on the internet, but Friends, if there is anything that God is teaching me, it's that He uses our stories. Even MY story has a purpose. And I'm willing to risk the embarrassment of you knowing I battle depression if it helps encourage even just one person. I absolutely can't stand thinking about the possibility of anyone suffering in silence, afraid to reach out because they've been told the lie somewhere along the line that if they just "tried a little harder" or "believed a little more," that the dark cloud of depression would dissipate. God created doctors and mental health professionals and counselors for a reason and they be a group of SMART people, let me tell you, a group I am learning to ADORE. No one should ever suffer in silence. And let's not kid ourselves - we ALL could benefit from therapy. All of us. 2 Corinthians 12:9-10 says "But he said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.' Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong."

Though I loved my church, I feel strongly that I need to call out their failure on this front because I know we can do better. We need to. At this point, I'm sure it would be tempting for many to write off the church and Christianity, to turn their backs and walk away. You hurt me, so I'm out. Our natural instincts tell us to avoid pain. But oh no, dear soul, this is not at all what I am proposing. Life does not work like that. Anytime humans are involved in the equation, there is bound to be hurt and pain and misunderstanding because we ourselves are broken people. Every relationship - whether spouse to spouse, friend to friend, parent to child, boss to employee, pastor to congregant - is saturated with opportunities for failure because we are human.

But you know the amazing part that God is teaching met? I am going to be OK. I can be hurt and knocked down by something (the Church's failures) and still cling to someone (Christ) who is my solid and firm foundation. What I suffered was the result of humanity's failures, not Christ's, the world's words, not His. I can cling to the knowledge that He is re-writing this story in me, revealing Himself in whole new ways. In the process, he is erasing any misconceptions I may I formed about who He is or how He views me. Through all this, this story of redemption in the making, God is helping me to see that in Him, I am complete. Do I still need help? OH YES DO I EVER! I live on this earth in a very broken body. And that, I believe with all my heart, is why He created all those lovely mental health professionals and physicians that are quickly becoming my best friends.

Dear friends, if you are reading these words today and hurting, I want you to know that you are not alone and you need not be ashamed. I pray that you would reach out and ask for help. I'd like to leave you with the words of Psalm 19:14 which is my heart's desire for what I shared here today:

"May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be pleasing to you, O LORD, my rock and my redeemer."


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  2. Kelsie, this is wonderfully written! And such a good message for us all!(PS: I'm glad we all made it through that tough time so many years ago! For a while, I wasn't so sure we would. :) I'm praying for God's peace to surround you as you continue to work through the on-going depression issue...both through medical professionals and through His Word!)I love you!

  3. Thank you, Kelsie. This is a very powerful and encouraging message.

  4. This is so beautiful Kelsie, thank you for sharing your life and your heart with us. You are courageous and wise and I am so honored to be related to you and feel so lucky to get to hear your story.

    1. What a very kind and generous thing to say Kari! I am honored to be related to you too and really hope we can arrange a time to see each other in the near future to catch up!

  5. You know I love you. And I love this! Such wise words and freeing words. Thank you for being vulnerable.

  6. <3 this was beautiful. Thank you for sharing. I needed to read this today.

  7. Beautifully written! Thanks for sharing your struggles, your heart, and your hope!

  8. As a fellow sufferer of depression and anxiety I fully agree that it should not be spiritualized. I would ask God to help me see reality and dive into what needed to be done, but sometimes when you go for several months without any sense of well being its pill time. My reaction to meds was so immediate and made such a drastic difference that it was great to confirm that it wasn't something I needed to fix with my self or my spiritual life. One nice thing is that since menopause I have had way less of depression/anxiety in my life.

  9. Im going to share this post with my spaghetti who is currently struggling with depression. I know she will be sharing her head "yes" to most of what you wrote about the church. Thank you for this x

    1. Somehow daughter got changed to "spaghetti" and shaking to "sharing." Darn autocorrect!

  10. Thank you for writing this. My son, Ethan, has OCD. It manifests as anxiety and hording. My daughter, it seems, also has anxiety issues. They get it from both of their parents. The church has struggled with dealing with mental illness. I hope that's changing. I wrote a related post this summer: I appreciate your sharing.


posted by kelsie