Consider it a sheer gift, friends, when tests and challenges
come at you from all sides. You know that under pressure, your faith-life
is forced into the open and shows its true colors. So don’t try to get out
of anything prematurely. Let it do its work so you become mature and
well-developed, not deficient in any way.
– James 1:2-4 (MSG)
I suppose I’ve always been the melancholy sort. Glass half-full. Everything
that can go wrong will go wrong. Even as a child it was difficult for me to
see the bright side. Instead my eyes were drawn to unseen fears and terrors.
One moment stands out in a lifetime of moments. The night before a
standardized test, I broke out in a rash all over my body. I was so afraid
of failing. No matter what my parents did or said to reassure me, the fear
squeezed my heart tightly. Six years old and already full of dread.
The mind is a strange thing, really. As I slipped off of the shores of
childhood and onto the choppy seas of adolescence, the agonies rose in
direct proportion to the ecstasies. I did very well in school. Had friends.
Participated in the drama club. Held down a steady job. Played basketball.
Yet no matter the accolades, the sense of impending doom simply would not
Success followed me into college. I studied journalism. Won awards writing
for the paper. Sat at the top of the Dean’s List. But I carried around a
whole lot of dead weight. Terrible relationship choices. Flirting with
anorexia. Panic attacks. One day I couldn’t hold it together anymore and
passed out in the middle of a routine in a Latin social dancing class.
I’d been taught to believe in God. My mother tells me that at age four I
announced, very matter-of-factly, that I had asked Jesus into my heart. I
then went straight back to coloring. Around 10 or 11 I read through 1 and 2
Samuel, captivated by the story of David. My faith was babyish, insecure.
Other things easily pushed it to the back burner.
I never completely forgot God and He certainly never forgot me. Shortly
after my husband and I got engaged, we decided to start attending church. A
few weeks in and we were hit with the, “Gee, we probably shouldn’t sleep
together on Saturday night and go to the church the next morning”
realization. We threw ourselves into cleaning up our lives and into the
life of that church.
A few years, some broken friendships, some disillusionment and the
discovery that marriage isn’t always a picnic later, I sat on the couch in
our living room. A pile of neatly folded laundry to my left. Keys in my
right hand. I felt…nothing. Or so much of something that it didn’t
register. Just numbness. I had crafted my suicide plan and was ready to
carry it out.
This is how I know God never forgot me: My husband came home earlier than
he was supposed to. I didn’t tell him anything. Not immediately. I threw my
keys into my purse and started putting the laundry away. It all came out
the next day, after a session with my counselor. I’d begun seeing her a
couple of months prior to that September day. I knew something was wrong. I
just didn’t know how deep the wrongness went.
I would love to tell you that I was set free from anxiety and depression
after confessing my suicide ideation and slogging through a year-and-a-half
I would love to tell you that I don’t miss the medication that I can no
longer take because of a jacked-up liver.
I never drank or did drugs. I grew a tumor instead. So just about the time
I felt I was stable and doing well, through the disjointed hell of
withdrawal I went. Crying, shaking, sweating, vomiting, the “brain zaps.”
The longest two weeks and then some.
Out with the tumor. A scar running from just beneath my sternum, down
around my rib cage and ending at my waist. For the rest of my life I have
to be careful about what I eat, what I drink, what medications I take. No
more Cymbalta. No herbs, either, because they could cause further damage.
So I’m left sitting here, back where I started in many ways.
This is okay.
The thing about this lifetime of worry and woe is that it’s led me straight
into the arms of Christ. Oh, I’ve been stupid. A real idiot. I’ve made bad
decisions and spent years doing my own thing without caring too much about
Him. I’ve played at religion, going through the right motions on the
outside while wondering if my heart would ever stop being cold. I’ve let
myself be distracted by the pettiest of concerns, the grossest of grudges.
I am not and will never be perfect this side of eternity.
But I know One who is perfect, and He has preserved my life through all of
the rebellion I could control and all of the janky physiology I couldn’t.
His presence is the gift of grace I’ve done nothing to deserve. I am the
greatest of sinners and the slowest of learners, but this I know to be
true: He is my life.
I often wonder why Christian people assume that the anxious and the
depressed have committed some great sin to be afflicted so. My teeth are
set on edge when I hear some claim with great hauteur, “Just confess and
you’ll be healed.” Faulty, shallow theology. Why is there this assumption
that mental illness must equal lack of relationship with God?
You know what they say about assumptions.
My mental struggles have nurtured my faith. They burn away the
inconsequential and insignificant. They move me to fall on my face and
declare with the psalmist:
My mental struggles have nurtured my faith. #DoNoHarm Click To Tweet
Unless the Lord had been my help,
My soul would soon have settled in
If I say, “My foot
Your mercy, O Lord, will hold me up.
In the multitude of my
anxieties within me,
Your comforts delight my soul.
– Psalm 94:17-19 (NKJV)
Marie Gregg lives somewhere in the Pacific Northwest with her husband
Chris and two neurotic dogs. She loves studying Scripture, libraries and
chocolate. You can connect with her over at Along