Please enjoy this post from my friend Gillian Marchenko (you can read more about her and find a link to her beautiful book Sun Shine Down at the end of this post). Gillian is a courageous and honest writer who is serious about sharing her struggles in the interest of making sure no one else believes she is alone.
I’m a former missionary and a current pastor’s wife, and sometimes the Joy of the Lord is my strength, except when my mind insists that it isn’t. I’ve battled major depressive disorder on and off for about a decade. Although I suspect a low grade melancholia since childhood, depression didn’t awaken fully within me until building trauma occurred in my adult life; the trauma of having babies and not knowing what to do with them, the trauma of moving to another country as a missionary, the trauma of giving birth to my third daughter while living in Ukraine and her diagnosis of Down syndrome, the trauma of adopting a second child with Down syndrome three years later and not knowing how to love her.
I tend to hate my depression. I hate what it does to me. I hate what it does to those around me. But while writing my upcoming memoir Still Life, Living Fully with Depression (InterVarsity Press), I realize I have learned some significant lessons through my experience with mental illness:
1) Depression is an illness, not a weakness.
2) There is absolutely no shame for a Christian to take medication for mental illness, or to see a therapist, or to spend a few days in bed watching mind numbing television (I, um, accidentally watched nine seasons of The Real Housewives of Orange County).
3) Depression is a family illness. Not only do you need treatment and care, odds are your spouse and your children and even your extended family need education and treatment as well. Depression is usually not just a drip of water in the pool of life. For most families, it is a canon ball and it splashes over the heads of everyone around us.
4) If you know God as your heavenly father through the life, death, and resurrection of his Son Jesus, I’m certain that he does not move away from you in a depressive episode. Contrary to what our thoughts might tell us, he’s there, and he draws us closer to himself. My therapist tells me thoughts don’t equal truth and Scripture backs this up. Second Corinthians 10:5 says, “We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ.” This is certainly a difficult thing to do when one’s mind wages war against her. But with God’s help, and with treatment for depression, it can happen.
5) Depression is an active illness. It is vital for us to participate in our recovery. Sometimes I call it maintaining the warrior pose. In order for some healing to occur, I work to hold the pose. When able, I stand against the thoughts and feelings my broken mind accost me with. When I fall (and with chronic depression, I will fall; my goal is to fall less often and not as deeply), with God’s help, I get up again (and this may take a while) and attempt to get back into the pose. The warrior pose has roots in other religions other than Christianity, but the image remains powerful. One yoga journal says the warrior pose is about the “spiritual warrior” who bravely goes in to battle. Paul talks about this as believers too, by putting on the full armor of God in Ephesians 6:14-15: “Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace.”
6) And my sixth lesson, one that I’m sure I’ll have to learn over and over again for the rest of my days, is this: Life with depression is still life. Our lives are just as important as anyone else’s. Our lives are not wasted even though they often feel like a waste. People love us, people need us, and people need our stories about mental
illness for education purposes, or to simply realize that they are not alone in the battle. We have a loving Heavenly Father who has not deserted us or has given us a less-than life. His purpose remains for us, like all of humankind made in His image, is for us to know Him, and to glorify Him and love Him forever. Nowhere in Scripture does it say, only if we are healthy should we know him, or only if we don’t struggle can we glorify him. No. We glorify Him because we are His. That’s a really good reason, in my opinion, to try to keep the warrior pose. Love and peace and endurance to you, my friends, in the battle.
Gillian Marchenko’s work has appeared in numerous publications, including Chicago Parent, Today’s Christian Woman, Literary Mama, Thriving Family and MomSense Magazine. Her first book, Sun Shine Down, was published in 2013. Her second memoir, Still Life: Living Fully with Depression, is slated to publish in the spring of 2016. She lives near St. Louis with her husband, Sergei, and their four daughters. Connect with her at gillianmarchenko.com.
© 2015 Amy Simpson.