My name is Jessica, and when I was 13 I was diagnosed with severe depression. I was not an ‘emo’ kid, a trouble maker or a victim of abuse. I was a straight A student, was brought up in the church and developed a relationship with Christ at a young age. I had a good family and attended a well-off Christian school. By all accounts, I had a pretty good life.
But life inside my head wasn’t good. I thought obsessively about harming myself, I had anxiety attacks about the simplest activities, and I didn’t know if I wanted to be alive anymore. On the outside my life looked perfect. On the inside, I felt like I lived just short of Hell.
There were early indicators of my depression. After seeing the events of 9/11 on TV, I became terrified of the outside world. I began to pull back from my church activities. My school attendance lessened and my normal, bubbly nature shifted to that of a shy, insecure girl. I felt like a completely different person and what began as a slow, crippling poison soon developed into a fully-fledged illness.
I was diagnosed with severe depression a few years later. I became non-functional. I couldn’t think and I couldn’t talk. I was a living, breathing corpse. The scariest part was I didn’t care anymore. All I knew was that life was darker than I had ever believed possible – even with Jesus in it. I cried out to God, but I felt like there was a chasm of darkness sitting between me and every other person on earth. That’s the lie of the illness: it tells us we are alone when we’re not.
I am one of the fortunate few who received the help they needed. I began counselling and moved slowly toward recovery. I didn’t belong to a church community, but God still used the church to show me his love. I saw God’s love in my family’s commitment to check on me night after night, in my teacher’s grace and willingness to refer me to a youth group, in the actions of my psychologist who challenged me to overcome my fears. God was real to me during this time because people were willing to support me.
I am alive because I promised God I would not give up until I fulfilled my purpose. God reminded me of this purpose daily through the people who stood with me. I saw the best of the church as the believers around me refused to condemn, judge or avoid, but to love me, broken and all.
I wish I could tell you that depression doesn’t haunt me a decade later, but I would be lying. Yet depression doesn’t define me, and in no way has it ever defined my God. I know this because when I was at my lowest point, people showed me that I mattered. And when they did, God showed me that life was worth living.
I am one of 350 million people who struggle with depression and I now understand why suicide is the third leading cause of death for people aged 15-24 in the United States. These aren’t just statistics about people outside of church walls; this is a truth for members of the church body as well. It is my truth. It is the truth of the mega pastor. It is the truth of the elderly lady who has been a member of your church all of her life; and it is the truth for the man whose wife just died.
When depression and mental illness are no longer taboo within the church, we can face it together, one story at a time. Each person matters to God. We can jump over the chasm and remind one another that life is worth living, that God is for us. God’s people showed me that I was alive for a reason. A decade later I still hold on to what they taught me – my God is bigger than depression.
To learn more about mental illness and to find resources in your area, visit www.twloha.com. If you are experiencing thoughts of suicide, please call 1800 273 8255 (USA) or 13 11 14 (Australia).