I stood on the curb by a busy road. Cars and trucks roared past, the wind ruffling my hair. Just one step forward, and my pain and suffering could be over.
I had been experiencing depressive episodes on and off for four years. The most recent one struck hard, and I found myself dreaming and wishing for my existence to end. It wasn’t that I wanted to kill myself – no, I just wanted everything to stop. Just stop. On the surface, I was a strong, confident, and cheerful person. On the inside, I was writhing in anguish. Every part of me cried out for help, for relief, for peace. How could no one see the pain in my eyes or the wounds on my arms?
I wish Christians talked more about mental illness. If they did, maybe I could have saved myself the exhaustion of pretending I was okay.
I was desperate for help, but I also felt the invisible weight of keeping up appearances. How could I be a leader in small group, a part of the worship team, or a children’s Sunday School teacher if I was falling apart? After all…isn’t Jesus supposed to satisfy? Shouldn’t I be able to “pray away” my illness? No one else seemed to struggle the way I did, so I kept everything under wraps – come to think of it, maybe they were masking things too.
Speaking of Jesus, where was he anyway? There I was, sobbing silently under the covers every night and begging him to help me. I received no answer.
I wish Christians talked more about mental illness. If they did, maybe I would have realized that it’s okay to feel angry at God. It’s okay to doubt sometimes. It’s okay to not have the answer. Maybe I wouldn’t have felt like I was the only one.
When I finally got the courage to tell a trusted friend that I was depressed and suicidal, I was thankfully met with love and encouragement to get help.
He sat with me while I made an appointment with a social worker to do counselling and therapy. He drove me to my first few sessions when the terror of revealing myself almost led to me bailing. This is the kind of friend we all need and should strive to be, no matter your mental health situation. A friend who walks beside you through your pain even though it pains them. A friend who listens without judgement. A friend who sees hope and healing for you.
My counselor helped me create a safety plan and requested that I approach my family doctor about the depression. I was afraid that my doctor wouldn’t believe me, but the counselor walked me through my fears and encouraged me. So I made an appointment with my family doctor, who prescribed me anti-depressants. When the anti-depressants did nothing to lessen my depression after a few months, I was referred to a psychiatrist who then diagnosed me with Bipolar Disorder Type II and put me on a mood stabilizer.
Over the next few years I learned about chronic mental illnesses and self-care. I practiced being vulnerable so that I would never find myself in such a lonely place again. I told others about my experience so that they knew I was a safe person to share such things with. I created a mood tracker to keep an eye on my emotional patterns. I actively became more conscious about nutrition and physical health.
I wish Christians talked more about mental health. Maybe I would have known earlier that self-care is important, and that mental illness is just like a physical illness. It requires attention, treatment, and preventative measures.
I wish I knew it was okay to ask for help. It took a while, but now I know. And now you know too.