Cara Strickland is one of the friendliest people on the internet. Her writing makes spiritual things sound delicious and food feel like a spiritual experience. I’m so excited to have her kicking off 2015’s God and Suffering series:
“I must be such a disappointment to God.”
That was my first though when I began to seriously consider that the dark clouds in my mind might not be circumstantial, but depression.
I was raised in a Christian tradition that suggested that therapy was for people who didn’t have friends, and that those suffering from anything resembling mental illness needed to pray for the sin in their lives to be revealed. No one ever said it, but I heard it loud and clear: Good girls don’t get depressed.
And I was a good girl, make no mistake. I knew all the memory verses by heart, only allowed myself to consider dating youth group boys, and did my daily quiet time like clockwork. Unlike many I’d known who questioned and released their faith in college, mine had held fast. How could I be here, now, several years post-grad, trying to think of escape hatches from my life?
But the thing about being a good girl, is that I’m very skilled at seeming fine. I pull out my customer service smile and offer polite greetings to those I meet. When my undiagnosed depression was at its worst, I would drive to a large parking lot on my lunch break, cry until I couldn’t breathe, and return to work without even a trace of tears.
I’m a bit lonely by nature. I have so much desire to be in relationship with people (and I’m still learning not to be co-dependent in order to get it). Naturally, I couldn’t tip my hand and let the people in my life see what I was feeling. I was the strong one, the together one. So I talked about “difficult weeks” and “challenging seasons” and didn’t tell anyone that I had regular urges to crash my car into something hard and fast.
But it got worse. I was feeling so trapped in my life, and in my mind. I’ll never forget the day that I began to fantasize about the knives at work, while I was at my desk. I was terrified.
I lurched through the next few steps toward a breakdown, finally losing grip of my facade completely in front of a church small group. They didn’t judge me, as I had thought they might. They helped me take the first steps toward help. I went to the doctor, and a counselor. I quit my job and began to heal.
But then the support stopped.
As I thought about suffering, it became clear that what hurts the most in my memories of hard times is this pattern: I am vulnerable, people respond, and then they drift away.
“This is as bad as it gets,” I remember saying to my mother. “If people don’t see the urgency now, how can I ever expect them to be there for me?”
It’s a question I still wonder about, sometimes.
But something wonderful happened in that place. I learned a secret about so many of the people I considered my friends: we weren’t friends. I was the one who called, maintained, and showed up. I had never asked them to be there for me before. I opened my hands and let those relationships move of their own accord.
At first, it was wrenching. But like so many moments when I’ve released control, it was freeing, too.
It’s easy to think that God was punishing me. That’s certainly the sort of theology that permeated my childhood. My depression, and the scattering of people from my life were one big judgement. I found a home in the wailing language of the Psalms.
Slowly, painfully slowly, other people began to float into my life. It takes a while before anyone can know what another is made of. It was in those days that I began to relearn friendship with God. Not worrying about whether or not He was disappointed in me (mostly because I didn’t have the energy), but simply sitting, mindful of His presence. Allowing myself to believe that He wasn’t disappointed in me after all.
But I’m not the same masked good girl that I was before all of this. I have learned to admit my needs up front, and I’m speaking the word depression out loud (even though my knees knock). I’m listening to what new people say with their words, their bodies, their silence. I am becoming secure in my brokenness. I am radiant in my flaws.
Good girls don’t get depressed – @littledidcknow tells her God and Suffering Story for @Tanya_Marlow:
“I am vulnerable, people respond, and then they drift away.” – @littledidcknow on depression for @Tanya_Marlow:
“It’s easy to think that God was punishing me.” – @littledidcknow tells her God and Suffering story for @Tanya_Marlow
“The thing about being a good girl is that I’m very skilled at seeming fine” – @littledidcknow on depression
“I found a home in the wailing language of the Psalms.” – @littledidcknow talks depression for @Tanya_Marlow:
“I began to relearn friendship with God” – @littledidcknow tells her God and Suffering Story for @Tanya_Marlow:
Over to you:
- If you’ve ever experienced depression, how did other Christians respond to you?
- What masks are you tempted to wear when you’re with other Christians?
- “I found a home in the wailing language of the Psalms” – when has this been true for you?