I have come into the deep waters–the floods engulf me. I am worn out from calling for help! Do not let the flood waters engulf me or the depths swallow me up.
Psalm 69:1-2, 5
I woke up with a start. Sweat beaded my brow. My heart was racing. My arms aimlessly beat the air. The nightmare seemed so real that my bed and surroundings did not. I blinked in the darkness trying to get my bearings.
In my dream I had been drowning. Caught in an ocean swell, I was tumbling ever deeper, deeper down. At first I could see the sun glistening off the top of the waves. But, soon it disappeared from sight and I was bathed in black. I couldn’t tell up from down.
My lungs craved air. My limbs flailed. My thoughts screamed, “God, help me!” But, like an anchor tossed overboard, I continued dropping lower and lower.
The next thing I knew, I was sitting up in my bed, my mind a swirl. I felt claustrophobic. I took deep breaths, as if still gasping for air. Fearing I would return to the ocean in my dreams once more, I forced myself out of bed and walked through the house.
When my heart finally slowed again, I went into my office, turned on a small light and curled up in my easy chair. As I sat there pondering the dream, something began to stir deep within me. I pulled out a journal and pencil and wrote...
This is what depression is like. Drowning.
Now, when I use the word depression, I’m not talking about feeling down now-and-again; or even about grief, although grief certainly can lead to that drowning sensation. What I’m talking about is clinical depression. Depression that physically, emotionally and spiritually throws you off balance and plunges you headlong into dark waters.
I realize that there are folks reading this that believe depression is strictly a spiritual issue. That if one has faith enough...prays enough...memorizes Scripture enough...depression will flee. That God can and will deliver the struggling one from drowning. The truth is, God can and does. But...not always in the way that you might think.
When my sister was diagnosed with brain cancer 25+ years ago, we all pitched in to help with her care and the care of her family. Being a burden-bearer by nature, it came naturally to me. One-hundred-and-eighty-mile round-trips were made frequently to care for the children. Often, they would come home with me. Periodically, I would make the trek down to take my sis to her doctor appointments or chemotherapy.
The emotional toll was huge. Sadness lurked just below the surface all the time. Physically, I was exhausted, trying to keep up two households.
Then, my father-in-law was diagnosed with cancer. Five short months later we gathered at his bedside to say our good-byes. Sadness clung like a second skin. I couldn’t shake it. Though I was rejoicing that dad was walking streets of gold, both my hubby and I grieved his loss terribly, especially for our two young sons.
More trials like tsunami waves hit shortly thereafter. With the little strength that I had left, I forced one foot in front of the other, trying to be strong. Burden-bearers need to be strong.
Writing curriculum for the new fall season for my 80+ third and fourth grade Sunday School class kept me preoccupied, and then some. But, I was weary. All I wanted to do when life allowed was to sleep. In private, I wept.
I pushed on like this until the following spring—two years to the day when life turned upside down. Fatigued, I finally went into the doctor’s office at my husband’s urging. Being my physician and my friend, my doctor listened carefully to what was on my heart; then she asked me to do something for her. She handed me three pieces of paper. On the first I was to list all of the trials and life changes I had experienced over the past two years. On the second sheet I was supposed to write down my symptoms and the feelings I couldn’t express. On the last, I was to list all of the roles, duties and activities I was juggling.
She sat scanning through my lists for some time. Then, letting out a sigh, she leaned in and whispered gently, “Julie, I think you may be struggling with depression.” Taking my hands in hers she bowed her head and prayed with me. I don’t remember a thing she said; I was too upset to hear her. When she finished, I adamantly said that I was not in depression, that I was just tired. I asked her to give me three months to prove it, during which time I would fast, pray, and elicit prayers from others. She agreed to my terms.
A group of precious friends came together to pray over me. I told them everything...even my thoughts of wishing that I could just disappear. They anointed me with oil and covered me head-to-toe in God’s protection.
I memorized Scripture. I listened to spiritually-uplifting music. I took up gardening, thinking that being outside in the summer sun and in God’s creation would surely break through the fog I was walking in. As my sis slowly regained her strength, mine slowly slipped away. I was going under...
One day while visiting my sister, she curiously slid a book she had been reading across the table at me and said, “I think you should read this.” It was a book about depression. I was shocked. She looked me right in the eyes and said, “Jul’, I think you might be struggling with depression.” And here I thought I was doing such a good job hiding my struggle! She went on to say that being a hematology lab tech, she often ran blood tests for depression, and that despite the stigma around depression, it is a physical issue. She explained, as my doctor had done before her, what serotonin is and how it gets depleted when trauma hits hard.
The ninety-mile trip home was grueling as I wrestled and debated with God. But, by the time I got home, I knew in my heart what I had to do. The next morning I scheduled an appointment to see my doctor.
The medication my doctor prescribed was a God-send. Within a few weeks I felt like my old self again. My brain was getting what it had so sorely lacked.
For the first time in two years I was finally free...emotionally, physically and spiritually free. The anchor that pulled me under released its grip and my face burst through the surface of the waters, and I gulped in fresh air once more.
No doubt, there are others of you out there who feel as if they, too, are drowning in a sea of depression. If my story resonates at all with you, dear one, I pray that you will find the courage to act. There is help.
Pray. Fast. Memorize Scripture. But, please reach up through the murky darkness and seek medical help and take hold of hope.
He reached down from heaven and rescued me; he drew me out of deep waters. He led me to a place of safety.
Psalm 18:16 and 19