“This is where the healing begins,
This is where the healing starts.
When you come to where you’re broken within –
The light meets the dark.”
I still vaguely remember the first time I heard that chorus. That’s the chorus from a song by one of my all time favorite bands, “Healing Begins” by Christian group Tenth Avenue North. That song came out when I was 16 – I was a sophomore in high school. That was the one year out of the four that I did NOT have any kind of significant mental breakdown; when I recall my high school experience I think of sophomore year as the “calm” year. It was the first single off of their second album titled “The Light Meets the Dark”. That album is likely my favorite of theirs and has been for a long time, but I honestly had no idea how much meaning it would come to hold in my life nine years later.
The fact that I have struggled with mental illness, specifically severe depression, for most of my life… well, it’s no secret. Not only am I the kind of person who deliberately chooses to live her life as an open book, but my depression has hit a point – more times than I care to remember – where it completely rules my life and I have no choice but to step back from everything I love to do a hard reset. I can’t tell you how many times it has taken away things that I love, sometimes even people I love, due to my own instability and inability to get a handle on my life.
The worst of the depression and other mental illnesses have come since graduating high school in May of 2012 – now nearly seven years ago. It was after that when I was first hospitalized for suicidal ideation, an experience that would become all too familiar in years to come. It was after graduating that I entered the world of treatment programs, multiple medications, taking time completely off of work and/or school… basically, after graduating high school, the demons of depression made my life into a living hell.
I could go into great detail about the events of the last seven years, but that’s not the purpose of what I want to share right now. I will say that since high school I have gone in and out of intense seasons of depression and mental illness, but that in January of 2017 it all came flooding back in a very ugly way. And since then, in all honesty, things haven’t been the same. Have I had good days? Of course. Have I had short periods of what one could argue is hypomania? Sure. But they’ve been just that… good DAYS. Since essentially “restarting” two and a half years ago, the depression has never really gone away. At least, not in the way that it did for certain periods in the years prior.
So, by the time I got to the start of this year, of 2019… I was exhausted. I was depressed, I was discouraged, I was hopeless. I was getting to a point where every time someone would say “oh it gets better, this will pass, you’ll make it through this”, I wanted to scream and throw my bible out the window… no joke. My relationship with God was suffering. Yes I was in church every week, mainly because the routine and the promises I was hearing were some of the few things I could cling to in the darkness of my life, but… I didn’t feel close to the Lord. And I didn’t know what to do about it. I was embarrassed; I was ashamed. However, as time moved on and as things got worse and worse and darker and darker, I found myself at the end of my rope. Anger, fear, hopelessness, all of it – it was ugly.
What I’ve come to learn in a very real way, though, is that our ugly is when God loves to step in and do His thing.
And what’s so, so crazy? He did just that. He is DOING just that.
What do I mean? Well, back at the very end of February and the beginning of March, God brought me to my knees. Just as I was at the end of my rope, not sure how I could keep going when there was no real end in sight to living in the hell of depression, He stepped in. He began to reveal to me some truths about who I am and some of the negative (and FALSE!!!!!) beliefs that I have been carrying… probably ever since I remember feeling symptoms of mental illness… sometime around age 8. AGE EIGHT EVERYONE. That’s over fifteen years of being plagued and paralyzed by this darkness.
What God started to teach me and reveal to me is that I had been living with a massive burden of shame. And no, I’m not talking about some healthy guilt. I’m not even talking about shame that haunts you and tells you you’re a bad person for… fill in the blank.
I’m talking about shame that can take any object, any situation – even joyous occasions – and find a way and an excuse to tell you the lie that you deserve to die and that you should just go off yourself somewhere. I’m talking about the shame that robs you of any semblance and hope of a decent quality of life because it is lying to you constantly and incessantly about the horrible person that you are. I’m talking about the shame that causes you to physically harm yourself because you feel that you need to and deserve to be punished in such a horrific way.
I’m talking about the shame that plagues you with suicidal thinking for years…
and the shame that nearly cut my life tragically short.
THAT is the shame that I had been carrying. THAT is the shame that started likely not in a huge way, but started over fifteen years ago, and festered and grew and grew and compounded with many traumatic events and eventually led me to a place of which I could never find my own way out.
And while some people may say, yes, you can find your way out! Find healing! Yeah… no. The healing I have finally experienced in the last few months? It has come from the Lord and from Him alone. There is absolutely no way that it could be from anyone or anything else, including myself. ESPECIALLY myself.
Since the beginning of March, I have come to realize and start voicing the shame that has plagued me. I have started to shine the brightest light on the darkest places of my life. I have come to see that my mental illness and depression had a spiritual component far larger and far greater than I ever imagined possible. Once I did that, the “shame about the shame” began to surface and eventually lift. But, so did many other things. And as more and more things came up, God just kept proving Himself more and more faithful.
I have had chances and the safe space to process and learn many things about myself. I have had the support and safe space to finally get rid of and permanently part with my sharp objects. I have had the inspiration to put some pretty significant words to paper in a beautiful way. I have had support from more people than I can count, because that is one way in which God just loves to prove Himself faithful in my life. I have been constantly exhausted because I am learning so much and seeing God in so many real ways that I never even dreamed possible.
As this has all been happening, I have been more grateful than I can ever say. However, so many times, I still felt so very… stuck. Still even decently hopeless, that I would never really be able to feel worthy of and accept the forgiveness, and more importantly the unconditional love, of our Savior Jesus.
But then… oh, but then.
Last weekend happened.
The sermon at church was on “Power vs Pretending”. Ironically enough, when I first looked at the three part series a few weeks prior, this was the message I was thinking I would connect with the least. God just has such a sense of humor, doesn’t He?!
Sunday morning, when I listened at the 8:15 service, God gave me something powerful. He led me to the realization that, just because my biggest struggle and battle right now has to do with my relationship with Him… that’s the time when I should be running TO Him and His great power, not FROM Him. I realized that I’ve been running from Him and His ability to fight this battle for me. It has felt so strange, the thought of asking God in a very real way to help break down my walls of fear… walls that are directly keeping me from Him. It just felt… like, God, even though I know You know, I don’t want You to know how much I don’t want You right now. I’m not sure if I’m even making any sense, but basically… at the end of that service, I was like – OH MY GOODNESS. Lord, I am sorry that I have been running from You and not letting You fight this battle. I need You now, and I need You more than ever.
Long story short, I stayed for another service and a half. I listened. I took it all in. And slowly, I began to let Him fight this battle, to let Him knock down my walls. I mean… if He has the power to beat death itself?? He absolutely has the power to get through to my heart.
I’ll pause for a moment here. When this all started back in March, I couldn’t help but wonder… is this going to be completely a gradual process? Will God give me any “moments” that can be markers of a change in my heart and my perspective? While it wasn’t necessarily this hugely dramatic moment at church (though I did have one back at the end of March), the moment where I came to notice the most change, where I came to realize that I’m finally starting to take it in and let Him love me and to let my guard down…
… it happened on my way to work, to the airport. And while I sat in my car, parked in the “Long Term A” lot at STS. It happened in such an everyday, mundane way. Side note – thank goodness I was early that day! It gave me a chance to write and reflect a bit before I had to go in and put on my customer service persona.
What happened exactly? God happened. I finally started to feel it… to feel what it’s like to let Him love me. To feel His freedom and the freedom that comes with knowing I am already completely and fully loved. To know that I can never do or not do anything to make Him love me any more, and I can never do or not do anything to make Him love me any less.
It’s crazy. Crazy crazy crazy. And I’ll make sure I say this… do I expect my depression to be gone completely? No. But what I do hope is that I now feel worthy enough to use my coping skills. I know I have the skillset and tools to cope through pretty much any situation. And for so many years, despite knowing the skills… I think I’ve just felt so unworthy of using them. Like I don’t deserve to feel better, so I’m not going to let myself do anything to improve the situation.
I know I still have a long way to go, and I know I will always be learning. But man, God is good. And seriously – SO many things make sense now. I mean, how many times have I tried to move and leave the area?! I think I lost count like three or four attempts ago, no joke. But… it all makes sense. Being at the church that I’m at, being surrounded by these people, still being here in Santa Rosa, still having so many familiar things in my daily life. This season, this growth, this healing… it wouldn’t have happened any other way.
God is good. So, so good. I’ll close for now with what is arguably my new favorite scripture, and with the quote from the other song that makes up the title of this writing.
“For this reason I bow my knees before the Father… [that you] may have strength to comprehend with all the saints… the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge…
Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly than all we ask or think, according to the power at work within us…”
Ephesians 3:14, 18a, 19a, 20
“When You move in power
A miracle can happen
We believe You do wonderful things
You are here with us
And anything can happen
We believe You do wonderful things”
Amen. He absolutely does wonderful things. Wonderful things that are far greater than anything we could ever ask or think.
And praise the God of the universe for that.